A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 16

Read Part 15  /  Ask a Question  /  Support End of Knowledge

Ashtavakra said:
9:1 – What is done and what is not done, as well as the pairs of opposites—when do they cease and for whom? Knowing thus, be indifferent to everything, even renunciation.

Action is defined according to the opposites of good and bad.  And resolving to avoid bad actions is renunciation.  Renouncing bad actions is essential for purifying the mind in order to prepare it for self-knowledge but upon gaining self-knowledge, renunciation loses its meaning.  Why?  Because you see that duality—such as good and evil—is not real.  And furthermore, you understand that as consciousness-existence you’re not the doer.  So you can’t perform any action, good or bad, let alone renounce any action. 

When you know you’re consciousness-existence, does that mean the body-mind you formerly identified with can abandon all notions of decent behavior and start robbing, killing or just being a self-centered jerk?  No.  Because as the verse astutely points out, doership and the pairs of opposites never cease.  They still totally apply to the body-mind, assuming it wants to avoid being an inmate or an outcast from society. 

If you contend that doership and duality cease for you, consciousness-existence, you’d be wrong.  Why?  Because they never applied to you in the first place.            

9:2 – One is fortunate whose desire for life, enjoyment, and learning have been extinguished by observing the ways of the world.

When you observe the world and truly see that everything in it is impermanent, it’s to your benefit to become dispassionate, meaning objective.  Because if everything is impermanent attachment is illogical and unnecessary, assuming you enjoy peace of mind.  But dispassion isn’t cold-hearted stoicism, it’s simply appreciating things while they last and for what they’re worth, never expecting them to give something they can never give e.g. permanent happiness.        

9:3 – Everything is indeed impermanent, spoiled by the threefold affliction of being worthless, contemptible and fit for rejection.  Understand this clearly and you come to peace. 

This verse reinforces the last and it employs a bit of hyperbole.  Are friends and family really “worthless, contemptible and for rejection”?  Well, maybe some people’s family and friends are but really, the meaning here is the same as before: Be clear that nothing in the world lasts; accept that fact and be at peace.  

9:4 – At what time or at what age do the pairs of opposites not exist?  Disregard them and you will attain perfection.

Duality is a problem for people of every age.  But the good news is that anyone at any time can disregard it by seeing that it’s an illusion.  Then you ‘attain’ perfection by seeing that you’re the ever-perfect, undivided self.  Technically, you can’t attain this status because you are, and always have been, the self.   

9:5 – After observing the diverse beliefs of the great seers, saints and yogis, attain equanimity by becoming completely indifferent to them. 

Every religion and philosophy has different views about your true nature.  And since those views often conflict with one another, they can’t all be right.  So at some point you have to investigate the ones that appeal to you and with luck, you’ll find out who you really are.  Once you’ve seen that for yourself, the so-called spiritual quest is over and you can rest easy.  And then the innumerable beliefs of various teachings which formerly seemed bewildering become completely immaterial.  Because what does someone’s opinion matter in the face of firsthand experience and understanding?          

9:6 – A teacher is one who has gained clear knowledge that they are consciousness.  Through indifference, equanimity and reasoning, they help others escape self-ignorance (samsara).

Knowing that you’re consciousness-existence is the most important prerequisite for being a teacher (because how can you teach what you don’t know?).  Your personal behavior, even though it can be an inspiring example to students, is secondary.  So don’t be concerned if your mind isn’t perfectly indifferent and equanimous—after all, self-knowledge is knowing you aren’t the mind in any way.  But if your mind lacks the ability to reason, meaning the ability to employ reason based on the logic of Vedanta, you’re dead in the water (at least as a teacher).  In that case, shut down your website, disband your satsang and quietly enjoy your enlightenment—otherwise you’ll just confuse people.          

9:7 – Look upon all objects as modifications of the elements and abide in your true nature (consciousness-existence) and you will at once be free from bondage.

Anything that changes is unreal.  If all objects—both mental and physical—are simply modifications of the elements (matter), they’re unreal and can’t be you.  Furthermore, as matter they’re non-conscious—another reason they can’t be you.  Once you see that you’re not an unreal, non-conscious object (specifically the body-mind) you’re free from bondage because you know that as consciousness-existence, you were never bound.   

9:8 – Your vasanas alone are samsara. Knowing this, renounce them all. The renunciation of your vasanas is the renunciation of samsara.  Be established [in your true nature] regardless of external circumstances. 

Your vasanas are your personal collection of desires and mental inclinations.  Samsara, in a general sense, is the world.  But more specifically it means the everyday cycle of identifying with objects (specifically the body-mind) and the suffering caused by trying to gain or keep desired objects while avoiding or getting rid of undesired objects.  If you think about it, what’s your personal world comprised of other than what you want, what you don’t want and how you’re inclined to go about getting what you want or avoiding what you don’t want?  In that way, your vasanas are samsara. 

Knowing this, it seems reasonable to try and escape samsara by renouncing or destroying the vasanas.   But this method won’t work.  Because even though you can achieve a significant reduction in desire and a drastic change in your personal inclinations, unless the body-mind is dead, there’s no end to your wants and mental conditioning.  So there’s no end to your samsara.  A different approach is needed. 

Enter Vedanta, which says that to escape the samsara of your vasanas, you simply need to realize that they aren’t your vasanas in the first placeThe mind, the container of all desires and inclinations, is an unreal, transient object.  And it’s not you, consciousness-existence, which is ever-free of the mind and all its vasanas.  So to end samsara, stop identifying with the mind. 

To be clear, working on the mind to rid it of excessive desire and negative inclinations is a very constructive endeavor, one that is an essential preparatory step on the spiritual path.  But it doesn’t equate to self-knowledge which is dis-identification with the mind in general.    

Read Part 15  /  Ask a Question  /  Support End of Knowledge