A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 14

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Note: This will be the last installment of the commentary until the New Year. 


Ashtavakra said:
6:1 – I am like limitless space and the universe is like a pot.  Knowing this, there is nothing to grasp, renounce or destroy. 

In the same way that space remains unaffected even when a pot seems to limit or divide it, existence-consciousness remains unaffected even when objects seem to limit or divide it.  So when you know you are existence-consciousness, there’s no reason to grasp, renounce or destroy objects because gaining an object, giving up an object or destroying (changing) an object has no effect on you whatsoever.     

6:2 – I am like the ocean and the universe is like a wave.  Knowing this, there is nothing to grasp, renounce or destroy. 

A wave and the ocean are non-different as water, just as the universe and the multitude of objects comprising it are non-different as existence-consciousness.  If everything in the universe is you, existence-consciousness, then there is nothing to grasp, renounce or destroy because you can’t grasp, renounce or destroy yourself.      

6:3 – I am like mother of pearl and the illusion of the universe is like silver.  Knowing this, there is nothing to grasp, renounce or destroy.

Just as there is never any silver in mother of pearl, even though there appears to be, there is never a universe in existence-consciousness, even though there appears to be.  Since the universe, like the silver, is only an illusion, it can’t be grasped, renounced or destroyed because you can’t grasp, renounce or destroy something that isn’t real in the first place. 

6:4 – I am in all beings and all beings are in me. Knowing this, there is nothing to grasp, renounce or destroy. 

“I am in all beings” doesn’t mean that existence-consciousness is contained in living beings like some kind of soul.  Existence-consciousness is only “in all beings” insofar as it is the essence of all beings, the same way that water is the essence of all waves.  “All beings are in me” means that all beings appear in the field of existence-consciousness and are nothing but existence-consciousness, the same way that all waves appear in the ocean and are nothing but water.  The meaning of this verse is similar to the meaning of Verse 2—that everything is you, existence-consciousness, and you can’t grasp, renounce or destroy yourself. 

But there is a subtle difference.  Verse 2 only mentions that the universe is existence-consciousness.  For some this could lead to the idea that only inanimate objects (the material world) are part of existence-consciousness and that living, conscious beings are something else.  But to dispel that doubt, this verse explicitly states that existence-consciousness is the essence of all living beings and that all living beings are “in” existence-consciousness, just the same as the inanimate, material universe.  Reality is non-dual: absolutely everything is existence-consciousness.     


All five verses of Chapter Seven are ideal for contemplation.  Saying them to yourself and thinking about their implications is an excellent practice for gaining confidence in your identity as existence-consciousness.  In a nutshell, each of these verses is saying, “No matter what happens, I am just fine.”  So even if you don’t yet understand how you can be existence-consciousness, repeating these verses to yourself can help you start to take the stance of being existence-consciousness.     

Janaka said:
7:1 – In me, the limitless ocean, the ship of the universe moves about by its own inner wind (nature)—I remain unaffected. 

Like a ship adrift at sea, the world goes about its business, impelled by forces that no one truly understands.  And for many people, that uncertainty can be unnerving.  But if you are existence-consciousness (which you are), then there is no reason to have fear about what happens in the world because it never affects you.  

7:2 – In me, the limitless ocean, the wave of the world—according to its inherent nature—arises and comes to an end.  I gain nothing by its presence nor do I lose anything by its absence. 

In this verse the metaphor is a wave instead of a ship but the meaning is basically the same as in Verse One.  But it does elaborate on what it means for you (as existence-consciousness) to remain unaffected in spite of the appearance of the universe.  Most people want to get rid of what they don’t want and gain what they do want.  But this verse clearly states that in either case you remain unchanged.  So there is no reason to be obsessed about gaining things or overly concerned about losing them.    

7:3 – The universe is merely name [and form], an imaginary concept that appears in me, the limitless ocean.  Despite its appearance I remain formless and at peace.  In this (knowledge) alone do I abide. 

There’s no need to be concerned about the world because it’s just an illusion that appears in you, existence-consciousness.  An illusion can never disturb you or limit you by superimposing its form on you.  For instance, even if you dream that you’re being beaten, your body remains untouched.  In the same way, no matter what happens to you (the body-mind) in the world—either good or bad—as existence-consciousness you remain completely untouched.     

7:4 – I am not an object nor am I within an object.  I am infinite, free from attachment and desire and ever at peace.  In this (knowledge) alone do I abide. 

The only object to really be concerned about in the world is the body-mind because it’s the one that you feels like it’s you.  No one—at least no one sane—worries about being a tree or a refrigerator.  So the question is, “Am I the body-mind?”  Verse Four answers that question by saying you aren’t the body-mind nor are you contained within it.  It never limits you in any way.  And because attachment and desire are purely products of the mind, you are never subject to desire and attachment. 

This means the presence of desire or attachment in the mind doesn’t change the fact that you are existence-consciousness.  The implication here is that you don’t need to completely eliminate desire and attachment to be enlightened.  Being enlightened is knowing that you’re existence-consciousness.  And if you know that you’re existence-consciousness, you know you’re existence-consciousness no matter what’s going on in the mind.     

7:5 – I am consciousness alone—the world is merely a net of illusion.  How and where can there be any thought of rejection or acceptance?

It’s completely normal to reject one thing as bad and accept another as good.  This happens all the time, especially in spiritual life when you determine what parts of your life are good or bad, meaning whether they promote or inhibit spiritual growth.  While those definitions do serve a purpose, at some point they have to be given up, at least on the mental level, the level of understanding.  Why?  Because how can you truly call something good and accept it, or deem something bad and reject it if it isn’t real in the first place?  It would be like saying, “Wow, that soup I dreamed about last night was really good.”  It was never there so it can’t really be good.