In Vedanta, the definition of bondage is self-ignorance i.e. believing that you’re the body-mind when you’re actually consciousness-existence. Liberation, therefore, is 1) The clear understanding that you’re consciousness-existence and 2) The subsequent dis-identification with the body-mind and its various states. This means from the absolute viewpoint that liberation has absolutely nothing to do with the state of your mind. Whether it’s angry, desirous, attached and full of egoism or happy, unattached and free of desire and egoism is inconsequential because as consciousness-existence you’re always untouched by the mind.
But on a relative level, a mind burdened with excessive desire, attachment, egoism and negative emotions can be conditionally defined as ‘bondage’ insofar as it’s uncomfortable and generally detrimental to conducting your day-to-day affairs. In that regard, it’s sensible to be aware of those states of mind in order to manage them for maximum efficiency and mental peace.
Of course, it could be argued that the mind doesn’t need to be managed because it doesn’t affect you, consciousness-existence. And that would be completely true. But if you extend that logic, it could also be argued that if you fall down the stairs and break your leg there’s no need to seek treatment because the body doesn’t affect you either. Or that there’s no need to go to work or tend to the welfare of your family and friends because it doesn’t matter to you, consciousness-existence. And that would also be completely true.
But in the same way that you’d prefer to have a healthy body, keep your job and maintain good relationships with your family and friends, it’s preferable to take care of your mind to ensure that it too remains healthy and happy. You just do it because it makes sense to do it. And you do it knowing that you’re always okay, whether or not your efforts bear fruit.
If, however, you’re satisfied with your mind being miserable, then so be it—it’s your choice. It doesn’t affect the fact that you’re unchanging consciousness-existence one single bit.
In this chapter, Ashtavakra discusses what bondage and liberation are from the relative level. Those interested in mental well-being take note. For all of you hardcore enlightened beings out there who don’t care, feel free to skip to the next chapter 🙂
8:1 – Bondage is when the mind desires anything or grieves at anything, rejects or accepts anything, feels happy or angry at anything.
8:2 – Liberation is when the mind does not desire or grieve or reject or feel happy or angry.
8:3 – It is bondage when the mind is attached to any sense experience. It is liberation when the mind is unattached to all sense experiences.
8:4 – When there is “I,” there is bondage. But when there is no “I,” there is liberation. Knowing this, easily refrain from accepting or rejecting anything.
The gist of what he’s saying is that it pays to be objective and dispassionate about your everyday life. Desire never solved anyone’s problems because it always leads to more desire. Grief over loss, at least excessive grief, isn’t warranted because it’s the nature of things to be impermanent—losing them is inevitable. Acceptance and happiness or anger and rejection aren’t necessary because the value assigned to objects to determine whether they should be accepted, rejected etc. is completely relative. What one person deems worthy of rejection might just as soon be accepted by someone else. Furthermore, all objects are unreal, and nothing unreal deserves to be the source of real desire, grief, acceptance, rejection, happiness or anger.