CHAPTER 15: Part 1
15:1 – One of pure intellect realizes the self even by instruction casually imparted. One of impure intellect is bewildered in trying to realize the self even after enquiring throughout life.
A pure intellect—meaning a clear, focused mind—is an essential component in self-inquiry. For some, this comes naturally. For others a bit of work is required. In that case, Vedanta recommends meditation and various spiritual practices. But while meditation etc. are extremely helpful tools for improving the mind’s ability to inquire, they aren’t necessarily mandatory (as some teachers and texts make them out to be). I personally know several self-realized people who didn’t meditate or have a formal spiritual practice while they did self-inquiry (I am not one of them).
They key is not to assume you’re such a person right off the bat. Be open to the idea that your mind may need work and save yourself the grief of inquiring—sometimes for years—to no avail (I know several people like this as well). Inquire, and if it comes to you easily then it’s a sign that your mind is properly prepared. If it doesn’t, then work is needed. The practices for preparing the mind for inquiry don’t fall under the scope of an advanced text like the Ashtavakra Samhita, so I won’t go into them here.
15:2 – Non-attachment for sense-objects is liberation; love for sense-objects is bondage. This is knowledge. Now do as you please.
Being attached to sense-objects can certainly be unpleasant. But it isn’t true bondage. True bondage is to believe that you’re the body-mind. Therefore liberation is to divest yourself of that notion. Because anyone can rid themselves of desire for certain sense-objects and increase their peace of mind. But being unattached to sense-objects doesn’t mean you know you’re really consciousness-existence, the self. That’s true liberation because it shows you that regardless of whether the mind is attached or non-attached to sense objects, you’re always the ever-free self, beyond both attachment and non-attachment.
15:3 – Knowledge of truth makes an eloquent, wise and hardworking person mute, inert and idle. Therefore it is shunned by those who want to enjoy the world.
Or it doesn’t you make mute, inert and idle. Why? Because since self-knowledge shows you that you’re not the body-mind then whether the body-mind is eloquent, wise and hardworking or mute, inert and idle is immaterial. The action or inaction of the body-mind says absolutely nothing about you. This is good because self-knowledge is about freedom, not about accepting another set of rules and regulations—from either family, society or scriptures—about how the body-mind should or should not be. So if you know who you are and you want to do something, then do it. Or don’t do it. Just remember that as the self you’re not involved one way or the other. Identifying with the actions of the body-mind is the problem self-knowledge aims to fix, not specifically what the body-mind does or does not do.
However, taken in a less literal sense this verse means that self-knowledge makes the normal aims of life seem less important or altogether unimportant. Because if you realize that you already are what you’re seeking, you don’t have to feel so compelled to accomplish things in life for the sake of feeling fulfilled. As the self, you’re always full.
15:4 – You are not the body, nor is the body yours; you are not the doer nor the enjoyer. You are consciousness, the ever-free witness. Go about your life happily.
15:5 – Like and dislike belong to the mind. But the mind does not belong to you. You are consciousness, changeless and free of thought. Go about your life happily.
I have a dog. While it’s clear that me and the dog are two different entities, I still feel like the she ‘belongs’ to me. And because of that I sometimes take credit for her good behavior and feel responsible for her bad behavior. But really, the actions of the dog—good or bad—have absolutely nothing to do with me.
In the same way, while Vedanta makes it clear that you’re not the body-mind you may still be tempted to identify with it thinking it somehow belongs to you. But Ashtavakra is quick to point out that it doesn’t. You aren’t the self that owns a body-mind. You’re the self that appears as a body-mind. But that appearance doesn’t affect you in the same way that the appearance of waves doesn’t affect water. So you can relax. Or not, as long as you remember that the state of the body-mind doesn’t have anything to do with you either way.
15:6 – Realizing the self in all and that all is in the self, free from egoism and free from the sense of ‘mine,’ be happy.
Understanding that everything is you helps you to shift from a very particular, personal perspective of yourself—the perspective of the “I” e.g. the ego—to a universal, impersonal perspective. At first this can be daunting because of the habitual conditioning to value one’s personal sense of self. But what does identifying with this personal self, the ego, have to offer? Nothing, other than the feeling that you’re disconnected from everything around you and that you’re completely defined by the ideas of “I am this” and “I am not that.” If you can see the value in that, then seeking self-knowledge is for you.
15:7 – You are indeed that in which the universe manifests itself like waves on the ocean. You are consciousness; be free from the fever of the mind.
Like waves in the ocean, the world arises and resolves in you. And just as the fundamental nature of water is unchanged by the appearance of waves, your fundamental nature as consciousness-existence is unaffected by the appearance of the world.
15:8 – Have faith child, have faith. Never confuse yourself in this. You are knowledge itself, you are the lord. You are the self and you are beyond the material world.
No faith is actually required in Vedanta because it gives you the tools to investigate its claims for yourself, allowing you to validate them with reason and personal experience. You can see firsthand that you’re knowledge itself—consciousness-existence. As consciousness-existence you’re the ‘lord’ insofar as the appearance of the world depends on you to exist and not the other way around. But because you have no location in time or space—and furthermore because there’s nothing other than you that exists—you can’t literally be ‘beyond’ the appearance of the world as if it were something separate from you existing in a different place. So in this context, ‘beyond’ means that you’re always unaffected by the appearance of the world.
15:9 – The body, composed of matter, comes, stays for a while and goes. The self neither comes nor goes. Why, then, do you mourn it?
15:10 – Let the body last to the end of the universe or let it go even today. Where is there any increase or decrease in you who are pure consciousness?
The body is a temporary collection of matter. This is plain to see whether or not you know you’re the self. But when you do know that you’re the self that never comes and goes, you can take the transient nature of the body in stride knowing that its presence, absence or current state neither adds nor takes anything away from you.