A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 26

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CHAPTER 17: Part Two
Ashtavakra said: 
17:11 – The liberated one is always found abiding in the self and is pure in heart; they live free from all desires, under all conditions.

If you are the self, then how can you abide in the self you already are?  Technically, you can’t.  So in this verse, “the liberated one” is referring to a mind that has self-knowledge (or a mind that lacks self-ignorance, whichever way you want to look at it). And a mind like that can ‘abide’ in the self inasmuch as it can dwell on the implications of what it means to be the self.  In other words, when a mind with self-knowledge is presented with problematic situations or uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, it can remember that it’s still okay because at its essence, it’s always the unchanging, limitless self. 

In Vedanta, heart and mind aren’t two different things, seeing as what’s normally regarded as heart is a  collection of feelings that only appear in the mind.  So is a mind with self-knowledge always pure?  Since the author doesn’t give a precise definition of the word “pure” it’s hard to tell exactly what he means.  Assuming he’s using the word “pure” in the common sense of being free of all negative thoughts and emotions, then no, a mind with self-knowledge is never completely pure.  Why?  Because the mind is part and parcel of the relative world and nothing in the relative world, being made up of parts that continuously change, can be fully purified or made to remain one way all of the time.  

For the same reason, a mind with self-knowledge can never be free of desires, at least not in the literal sense.  Desire will continue to arise naturally.  However, there is a certain level of choice that the mind can exercise when confronted with those desires.  It can ‘abide’ in the self, evaluating whether or not to indulge a desire in light of the fact that as the self, there’s nothing to be gained by doing so.    

But if you follow that line of reasoning to its natural conclusion, there’s also nothing to lose by pursuing a desire, seeing as the self is unaffected either way.  Furthermore, while I agree that a mind free of desire is preferable to a mind full of desire, wanting the mind to be free of desire is, ironically, just another desire.  So in order to have a mind free of desire, you still have to have the desire to ‘abide’ in the implications of self-knowledge in order to get rid of the desire.  That means the only way to really be free of all desires is to recognize that as the self, you’re free under all conditions, even the condition of desire being present in the mind.         

17:12 – Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, taking, speaking and walking, the great-souled one, free from all efforts and non-efforts, is verily emancipated.

When you realize you’re the self, you see clearly that you’re not the ego, the part of the mind that claims, “I’m doing this” or “I’m not doing that.”  In that way you’re free from all “efforts and non-efforts,” despite the continued thoughts and actions of the mind-body.  

17:13 – The liberated one neither slanders nor praises, neither rejoices nor is angry, neither gives nor takes. They are free from attachment to all objects.

As the self, the liberated one neither slanders nor praises etc. As the self, they’re free from all attachment.  Their body-mind may still slander or praise, rejoice or get angry, give or take.  Or have attachment to objects, even if it’s just an attachment for having peace in the mind. This isn’t a problem, however, because they know that they’re not the body-mind nor affected by it.         

17:14 – The great-souled one is not perturbed and remains self-poised at the sight of a woman (or man) full of love as well as of approaching death. They are indeed liberated.

To react the same way to the approach of death as to the sight of a loved one would truly be an admirable feat.  But to whom would the credit for this feat belong?  To you, the self, or to the mind?  To the mind.  So in this verse the “great-souled one” isn’t referring directly to you, the self, but a poised mind, firmly rooted in the knowledge, “As the self, I’m completely fine in all circumstances.” Because as the self you’re neither perturbed nor calm, poised nor flustered, liberated nor bound.  

Keeping in view the distinction between the relative level of the mind and the ‘absolute’ level of the self while reading these verses is crucial in order to avoid the confusion of identifying with the mind instead of the self.  If verses like this give you a constructive example of the type of mind you want to strive for, then great.  I honestly think that’s their purpose.  But don’t get confused, thinking that you’re more or less enlightened because of the condition of your mind.  Being enlightened is knowing you’re the self.  That means there’s nothing the mind can do (or not do) to make you more (or less) than the self you already are.         

17:15 – The steady one who sees the same everywhere, sees no difference between happiness and misery, man and woman, and prosperity and adversity.

The “steady one” isn’t you, the self, but a mind that knows that ultimately everything is the same as the self.  At times when the mind is experiencing something it doesn’t like, this knowledge is helpful because it helps to reduce your aversion to the experience, seeing as there’s no point in being averse to your own self.  But the knowledge only applies on a cognitive level.  Because it’s not as if you’d just as soon drink a hot, delicious cup of coffee thrown as have it thrown in your face, simply because at the ultimate level, both experiences are the self.     

17:16 – In the wise one whose worldly life is exhausted and who has transcended the limitations of human nature, there is neither compassion nor any desire to harm, neither humility nor insolence, neither wonder nor mental disturbance.

To be human is to be a body-mind.  How then can a body-mind, even a “wise one,” transcend its own human nature by simply behaving in a different way?  It can’t because it would still be a body-mind, just a body-mind behaving in a different way than before.  So the only way to truly transcend the limitations of human nature is to realize that as the self, you’re not human in the first place.       

17:17 – The liberated one neither abhors the objects of the senses nor craves for them.  Ever with a detached mind he experiences them as they come.

When the “liberated one”—the mind with self-knowledge—understands what it means to be the self, it can have less attraction and aversion for sense objects.  It can become more detached to experience in general.  But to be truly free from those things is simply to appreciate that as the self, you’re never attached to, or detached from, sense objects in the first place. 

17:18 – The wise one of vacant mind knows not the conflict of contemplation and non-contemplation, good and evil. He abides as it were in the absolute state.

If your mind is vacant—literally shunya, meaning “void” or “empty”—then there’s obviously not going to be anything going on, not contemplation or non-contemplation, not recognition of good or evil.  So I can’t argue with that statement.  But I will argue that being a “wise one”—meaning one with self-knowledge—doesn’t mean your mind is non-functioning, especially considering that enlightenment is knowing you’re the self, not an empty mind (I’ll elaborate on this point further in Verse 20). 

“Absolute state” is a translation of the word Sanskrit word kaivalya.  As I mentioned in the commentary to verse 11:6, this term has different definitions, depending on the school of Indian Philosophy that’s using it.  Literally, it means “aloofness, aloneness, isolation” (See “A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy” by John Grimes).  In this sense it describes the nature of the self, seeing as the self is aloof (impersonal, detached from the world) and non-dual (alone or isolated by default, because there’s nothing other than the self).  So to say that the mind of one with self-knowledge abides in the knowledge that the self is kaivalya is accurate.  It’s inaccurate, however, to describe kaivalya as a state.  Because kaivalya is what the self is, it’s nature, not a state or condition it achieves. 

17:19 – Devoid of the feeling of “I” and “mine”, knowing for certain that nothing is, and with all their inner desires set at rest, the one with knowledge does not act though they may be acting.

Being crucial to the functioning of the mind, the ego can’t disappear unless the mind itself isn’t present, such as when you’re unconscious or asleep.  This means a mind endowed with self-knowledge will surely still have an ego, the sense of “I” and “mine.”  The difference is that the one who knows they’re the self doesn’t identify with the ego, thinking it belongs to them or defines them.  In that way, the “one with knowledge” doesn’t act, at least not as the self, even when the body-mind does. 

The “one with knowledge” knows for certain that “nothing is” insofar as they understand that the body-mind—as well as the world it inhabits—are nothing but insubstantial illusions whose only reality is the self.       

17:20 – An indescribable state is attained by the wise one whose mind has melted away, its functions having ceased to operate, and who is free from delusion, dreaming or dullness.

As much as I’d like to, I can’t interpret “indescribable state” metaphorically to mean “being the self” since the self isn’t a state.  It just is.  Nor can I say that having self-knowledge causes the mind to melt away and cease functioning.  If that were the case, there would be no enlightened people or teachers of enlightenment, because you can’t live, let alone teach, without a mind.  You’d just be a vegetable.  And just being a vegetable isn’t enlightenment, otherwise you’d get enlightenment by going into a coma. Or by going to sleep.   

So I have to take “indescribable state” to mean that point in deep meditation when the mind truly does stop or disappear, at least temporarily.  At that time, since there’s no mind, there’s no delusion etc.  In a way, this is an “indescribable state” seeing as there’s no mental activity available to differentiate it from other mental states.  Having the mind stop, despite not being enlightenment, is actually a very helpful pointer towards enlightenment.  How so?  Because what you normally think of as yourself is the mind.  So when it disappears and you still exist, it indicates that you’re something other than the mind.  At first, you may not understand that that ‘something’ is the self.  But when you do, that’s enlightenment, not a blank mind. 

This concludes Chapter 17.  From here, Chapters 18, 19 and 20 remain, with Chapter 18—which contains 100 verses—being the largest of the entire text.  I’ll be saving the commentary on those chapters for a book version of the Ashtavakra Samhita I hope to release at the end of the year.  All of the previous installments of the commentary will be compiled, revised and expanded for the book.  I’ll also be adding an introduction and possibly, a few essays. 

I’ll continue to add new material to the site while I work on the book.  As always, feel free to write in and ask any questions you may have about this text or Vedanta in general. 

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.25

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CHAPTER 17: Part One

I really like the Ashtavakra Samhita.  Next to Upadesha Sahasri, it’s one of my all-time favorite Vedanta texts.  That’s why it’s difficult for me to disagree with it.  But I can’t help but find Chapter 17’s description of the behavior of the enlightened person to be problematic.  The reason is simple:  The primary point of Vedanta is to learn to identify with the self that you actually are and to disidentify with the thoughts, feelings, characteristics and behavior of the body-mind that you aren’t. 

So once you’ve seen that you aren’t the body-mind, then doesn’t it seem counterproductive to continue to look to the body-mind for validation, especially considering that the suffering caused by thinking you’re defined by the body-mind is usually the original reason for seeking enlightenment?  Hint:  It is. That’s why real freedom is knowing that you’re always the unchanging, limitless self regardless of what the body-mind does or doesn’t do.  For that reason, I think describing the behavior or mind state of a so-called enlightened person is almost always unhelpful.  Almost.   

At least initially, before you know enlightenment has nothing to do with the body-mind, it can be useful to hear a description of the enlightened person’s behavior in order to set the bar high and give you tangible goals to strive for, especially considering that understanding you’re the non-dual self, free of any and all qualities is extremely abstract and hard to grasp.  For me, I was inspired by the concrete examples of greats such as Krishna, Shankara and the Swamis Chinmayananda, Dayananda and Paramarthananda.  Looking to them motivated me to dedicate myself to spiritual practice and to alter my lifestyle in such a way that it fully supported and nurtured my self-inquiry. 

But eventually, comparing myself to them became problematic because it lured me into thinking along the lines of, “Well, if I act like them, I’m enlightened.  And if I don’t, I’m not enlightened.”  The irony was that I was trying to measure my enlightenment by the standard of these teachers’ behavior when they were clearly saying, “Enlightenment is knowing you’re not defined by the state of the body-mind or what it does.” 

Yes, good behavior is good.  And a poised and peaceful mind is nice.  Both are possible when you know you’re the self.  But they belong strictly to the realm of the body-mind so you have to remember that if you’re not the body-mind, they ultimately say nothing about you.  Consider this:  How can what you do determine the status of your self-knowledge when many well-behaved, poised and peaceful people have absolutely no idea who they really are? 

My advice is to use the following lines for inspiration if you like, but don’t take them literally and fall into the trap of thinking that you only know you’re the self if the body-mind thinks and acts in a certain way.  If you know you’re the self, then you know you’re the self.  Period.  If knowing you’re the self improves the thinking of the mind and behavior of the body, it’s an incidental bonus, not a validation of what you already know to be true.         

Ashtavakra said:
17:1 – He has gained the fruit of knowledge as well as of the practice of yoga, who, contented and with purified senses, ever enjoys being alone.

I’ve always liked being alone.  As a kid, I spent hours on end wandering in the woods by myself.  Did that mean I had gained the fruit of knowledge?  No.  At the time I had no idea who I was.  So if you like to be alone, fine.  If you like company, that’s also fine.  Either way, it doesn’t indicate whether or not you have self-knowledge. 

Still, when you know who you are you do see that you’re alone whether you like it or not, insofar as in a non-dual reality there’s nothing other than yourself.  When I first realized that, oddly enough, I didn’t like it—it made me feel weird and isolated.  But when I looked at the situation from a different perspective, that rather than being isolated I was actually connected with everything around me, I started to enjoy being ‘alone’ in a metaphysical sense.     

17:2 – Oh, the knower of truth is never miserable in this world, for the whole universe is filled by himself alone.

The knower of truth is the mind.  That’s where the knowledge, “I’m the self” occurs.  So when the mind knows it’s the self, can it still be miserable?  Yes.  The mind is fickle and subject to subconscious forces that aren’t usually under your control.  That’s why you can never fully predict what the mind will think or feel and why you can’t make it think and feel one way all of the time.  For instance, my mind sometimes feels miserable for no reason I can put my finger on.  The feeling just pops up.  But the key at that moment is not to fall into the trap of thinking, “I’m miserable.”  It’s to remember, “Even when my mind is miserable, I, the self, am not.”  That’s self-knowledge. 

17:3 – No sense-objects ever please him who delights in the self, even as the leaves of the neem tree do not please an elephant who delights in the leaves of the frankincense tree. 

The point here is that the bitter neem leaves of transient, unreal sense objects can never be a steady source of satisfaction the way the apparently delicious frankincense leaves of the ever-present self can.  While I don’t have any experience eating neem or frankincense leaves, I agree with the sentiment.  Regardless, that doesn’t mean you won’t—or shouldn’t—find temporary enjoyment in something like a good movie, a nice meal or an interesting conversation.  Because why would anyone seek enlightenment if it robbed everyday life of meaning?  Not everyone wants to sit in a cave meditating on their transcendental nature all day, waiting for the body to die.  Why not simply enjoy life for what it’s worth, all the while armed with the understanding that no matter what happens, you’re always okay as the self?          

17:4 – Rare in this world is one on whom experience leaves no impression and who has no desire for things not yet experienced.

I won’t argue that a person like this isn’t rare.  In fact, since it’s impossible to know the inner-workings of another person’s mind, I have no idea if a person like this even exits.  But even if they do, it doesn’t mean they have some special form of self-knowledge that others don’t.  It just means that have a particular kind of mind, affected by self-knowledge in a particular way.  If your mind is affected by self-knowledge in a different way, it doesn’t mean you don’t know who you are.  Because if you really know you’re the self, you understand that the state of the mind doesn’t determine your status as the self.               

17:5 – Those desirous of worldly enjoyment and those desirous of liberation, both are found in this world. But rare indeed is the great-souled one who is not desirous of either enjoyment or liberation.

The idea here is that when you know you’re the self, the joys of the world lose their appeal.  This is true to a degree, especially considering that the self is always available for satisfaction whereas worldly joy is fleeting.  But just because you know that worldly enjoyment doesn’t last doesn’t mean that the body-mind won’t periodically want something.  That’s normal.  In my experience, I’ve never met a single enlightened person who didn’t want something.  Not even the wise and peaceful Swamis.  Because how could they not want something when they’re part of international organizations with an explicit agenda to travel around the globe sharing the teachings of Vedanta?  I’m not saying that wanting to teach Vedanta is a bad thing.  I’m doing it right now.  But I’m simply making a point that rare indeed is the one who doesn’t want anything—and that wanting something doesn’t mean you don’t know who you are. 

One thing, however, that enlightened people definitely don’t want is liberation.  Why?  Because they know that as the ever-free self, they were never bound.  Frankly, the absence of feeling like you need to continue seeking freedom is probably the biggest benefit of self-knowledge.  Spiritual practice and self-inquiry are good and necessary things but they’re difficult and they often put you at odds with the people around you that don’t understand what you’re doing.  So to realize you’ve always been free and to no longer feel like you have to do something to get free is a big relief.  You can stop endlessly studying texts and hanging out with the neurotic weirdos in the ‘spiritual world’—myself included—and go back to being a normal person, albeit a normal person who knows they’re not really a normal person.       

17:6 – Rare is the broad-minded person who has neither attraction for, nor aversion to, dharma (duty), artha (worldly prosperity), kama (desire), and moksa (liberation) as well as life and death.

This verse is based on the idea that when you seek fulfillment by doing your duty, acquiring wealth, satisfying desire or seeking liberation, you’re really just seeking the fulfillment of being the self.  So when you understand that you already are the self—and therefore that you already ‘have’ what you’re seeking—you lose your attraction to those pursuits. 

To a degree this is true.  But even while enlightened people don’t have an interest in seeking liberation, they probably still need money and have responsibilities like everyone else.  They may even have a desire or two.  That’s because enlightenment isn’t a golden ticket that suddenly changes the particulars of your world.  It only changes how you view and relate to that world insofar as knowing you’re not the body-mind, you don’t have to feel aversion (or attraction) to its responsibilities, needs or desires.     

17:7 – The man of knowledge does not feel any desire for the dissolution of the universe, or aversion to its existence. The blessed one, therefore, lives happily on whatever subsistence comes as a matter of course.

If you watch a movie, you may dislike a particular scene and want it to end.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t know who you are, that you don’t remember you’re a person unaffected by the film.  Similarly, you may feel aversion to, and desire for the dissolution of, certain experiences in the world.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t have self-knowledge, that you don’t know you’re the self, unaffected by the world.  It just means that ‘your’ mind, like all minds, has preferences—it likes what it likes and doesn’t like what it doesn’t like. 

But if self-knowledge is clearly understanding that the mind—along with its preferences—has nothing to do with you, then how can the mere presence of preferences in the mind be a determining factor in whether or not you have self-knowledge?  It can’t.  The real proof would be whether or not you recognize that likes and dislikes belong solely to the mind—and not you, the self—when they arise. That’s self-knowledge

Otherwise, you’re still trapped in the same predicament as everyone else, judging yourself by the workings of the mind (or the characteristics and actions of the body).  “If my mind thinks a certain way, I’m okay.  If it doesn’t, I’m not.  If my body looks or acts a certain way, I’m okay.  If it doesn’t, I’m not.”  That’s samsara.  Simply trading regular worldly samsara for a ‘spiritual’ form of samsara where you judge your enlightenment according to what the mind thinks is no solution to the problem.  You’re the self, free of the mind.  Just own it. 

The good news is if you do own that knowledge, it can pacify the likes and dislikes of the mind.  And a mind with less—or at least less intense—likes and dislikes is more peaceful, which is nice.  Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if your mind is more peaceful that you’re somehow more enlightened or if it isn’t peaceful that you’re less enlightened.  Self-knowledge is knowing you’re the self, period.  It’s not manipulating the mind into being a particular way. 

The second part of the verse shows the author’s predisposition to a monastic lifestyle.  In a traditional setting, a person would first be a student, then go on to a life of marriage, kids and career.  Afterwards they would give up their domestic life and become a monk so they could devote their time fully to self-inquiry.  As a monk they would beg for subsistence or just wait for some to show up.  If you choose to follow the traditional route, it’s completely fine.  That system has been around for a very long time and has some well-thought out reasoning behind it. 

My only objection is that the path to self-knowledge isn’t one-size-fits all.  Most people studying Vedanta will never become monks and never want to become monks.  They lead regular lives and have commitments to fulfill and that’s completely fine to them.  So to judge their self-knowledge by a monastic standard is inappropriate and misleading, especially considering that self-knowledge is knowing that as the self, you’re unaffected by the lifestyle of the body-mind.       

17:8 – Being fulfilled by the knowledge of the self and with his mind absorbed, and contented, the wise one lives happily, seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and eating.

This is the best verse in the chapter, the only one I think is truly accurate.  Even when you know who you are, you can still act like a regular person.  Because self-knowledge is simply knowing you’re the self, not the body-mind thinking or acting in a certain way.   

17:9 – There is no attachment or non-attachment in one for whom the ocean of the world has dried up. His look is vacant, action purposeless and the senses inoperative.

When you know you’re the self, there may still be attachment or non-attachment in your mind.  Your look may be vacant or otherwise.  Your actions may have purpose or be purposeless (although who does anything for no reason?).  Your senses may be operative or inoperative.  But all of this is irrelevant seeing that as the self, you’re free from the mind and its thoughts, free from the body and its actions.    

17:10 – The wise one neither keeps awake nor sleeps, he neither opens nor closes his eyes. Oh, the liberated soul anywhere enjoys the supreme condition.

As the self, the wise one neither sleeps nor wakes, although their body will mostly certainly go through periods of rest and activity.  And as the self, the wise one doesn’t have any eyes to open or close.  But their face definitely does.  Regardless, the wise one can appreciate that they’re the self in whatever situation or condition the body-mind happens to be in.  That’s freedom.    

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 24

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Ashtavakra said:
16:1 – My child, you may speak about various scriptures or listen to them being taught.  But you cannot be established in the self unless you forget all.

Scripture is an invaluable aid to self-inquiry because it tells you about the self.  But hearing about the self and knowing that you are the self are two different things.  So if you want to “be established in the self” (have self-knowledge) you must “forget all,” meaning at some point you have to stop taking what the scripture says at face value and investigate its claim for yourself until you see that they’re true. 

16:2 – O wise one, you may enjoy, or work, or practice mental concentration. But your mind will still yearn for your own nature which is beyond all objects and in which all desires are extinguished.

When you have self-knowledge, your body-mind can continue doing what it’s always done.  But knowing full well that that none of the body-mind’s pursuits lead to lasting satisfaction, the mind will still “yearn for your own nature” meaning it will want to dwell in the knowledge that as the self, it’s always okay no matter what happens.     

16:3 – All are unhappy because they exert themselves [in an effort to get what they want]. But no one knows this. The blessed one attains emancipation through this instruction alone.

Exerting effort to get what you want is a hassle.  And it ultimately doesn’t grant any lasting satisfaction because once you get what you want, you usually start wanting something else. Despite what the verse says, knowing this won’t get you enlightened.  But it can help you develop dispassion towards seeking fulfillment in the world, which is a key prerequisite for undertaking the inquiry that will lead to enlightenment.  Because if you’re no longer excessively preoccupied with seeking answers in the world around you, you can properly devote your attention to seeking answers within through the investigation of your true nature.       

16:4 – Happiness belongs to that master idler to whom even the closing and opening of the eyelids is an affliction, and to none else.

Personally, I don’t find opening and closing my eyes to be a problem, let alone an affliction.  Does that mean I’m not happy?  Hardly.  So this verse is simply using hyperbole to point out that no action—big or small—leads to lasting satisfaction.  When you see this to be true, you may become averse to doing so-called normal things that you previously didn’t think twice about.  Or not.  Because if you know that you’re the self, regardless of what the body-mind does or doesn’t do, you can continue doing what you’d normally do—without even batting an eye.     

16:5 – When the mind is free from such pairs of opposites as “this is to be done” and “this is not to be done,” it becomes indifferent to religious merit, worldly prosperity, sensual enjoyment, and liberation.

You become indifferent to action (“this is to be done”) or inaction (“this is not to be done”) when you understand that as the self you’re 1) Not the doer, the ego and 2) Not affected by the actions of the body-mind.  So while the body-mind may continue to pursue religious merit etc., you know they have absolutely nothing to do with the real you, the self.  That way, when the pursuits of the body-mind don’t pan out, you can rest easy in the knowledge that as the self, you’re still completely fine.         

16:6 – One who abhors the sense-objects becomes non-attached, and one who covets them becomes attached to them. But he who does not accept or reject, is neither unattached nor attached.

You can become non-attached to sense objects by avoiding or developing a distaste for them.  And you can become attached to sense objects by pursuing or desiring them.  But to what “you” does this attachment or non-attachment belong?  The body-mind.  So when you realize that “you” actually refers to the self which is unaffected by the body-mind, you see that you neither accept nor reject, that you’re naturally neither attached nor unattached.      

16:7 – As long as desire continues, which is the root of the state of indiscrimination, there will verily be the sense of attachment and aversion, which is the branch and shoot of the tree of samsara.

While it’s true that desire can be a painful thing that keeps you caught up in the web of everyday life (samsara), the root state of indiscrimination is simply not knowing you’re the self.  Realize that you’re the self and desires will still naturally arise in the mind.  While you may no longer feel obligated to pursue those desires, their presence doesn’t mean you don’t know who you are.     

16:8 – Activity begets attachment, and abstention from action begets aversion. The man of wisdom is free from the pairs of opposites, like a child, and indeed he lives on like a child.

Pursuing something (activity) increases your chances of becoming attached to that thing, for instance a relationship.  And avoiding something (abstention), say meat-eating, causes aversion to it.  Both of these mental states can cause agitation in the mind and leave you feeling distressed, which is certainly undesirable.  But if doing something can make you feel bad as well as not doing something, what’s the solution?  It’s to understand that as the self you’re neither attached nor averse, that you’re naturally free from the pairs of opposites.  

Knowing that, how will you act? Hint, it’s a trick question.  Why?  Because if the conclusion of self-inquiry is that you’re not the body-mind, then what good does it do to describe how someone with this knowledge acts?  None.  If nothing else, it only encourages continued identification with the body-mind.  When your body-mind acts in a certain way you think, “I’m enlightened!” and when it acts another way you think, “I’m not enlightened!”

But the point is to know that 1) You’re never the body-mind and 2) You’re the self regardless of what the body-mind does.  So take the descriptions of the so-called “man of wisdom” with a grain of salt.  The point is that when the mind is informed by self-knowledge it can become more peaceful.  But if the mind doesn’t get more peaceful, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t the self or that you don’t know you’re the self.     

Perhaps, being a monk, Ashtavakra didn’t have much experience with children.  Because I’ve never met a single kid who wasn’t extremely aware of the pairs of opposites e.g. what they like vs. what they don’t like.  So if wisdom is crying when my favorite balloon pops or when I don’t get the kind of ice cream I want, I don’t want to be wise.      

16:9 – One who is attached to the world wants to renounce it in order to avoid sorrow. But one without attachment is free from sorrow and does not feel miserable even in the world.

The world is full of sorrow.  When you’re attached to the world—meaning when you believe that the world is a real entity affects you—you may attempt to deal with that sorrow by running from it.  Perhaps you’ll eschew ‘worldly’ things in favor of ‘spiritual’ things, retreating into a life of contemplation and spiritual practice at the expense of your normal pursuits and obligations. 

While contemplation and spiritual practice are good things, they don’t solve the problem of sorrow because once you get up from the meditation seat, finish your yoga session or leave the temple, the world is still there waiting to give you trouble.  The real solution is to see, through self-inquiry, that the world is a harmless illusion and that as the self you’re always completely okay.  That way, you’re not obligated to feel miserable even when the world presents you with miserable circumstances.        

16:10 – He who has an egoistic feeling even towards liberation and considers even the body as his own, is neither a knower of the self nor a yogi. He only suffers misery.

If you think, “I’m liberated” then you’re not really liberated.  Why?  Because ‘liberation’ is knowing that you’re the self that was never bound in the first place.  Also, if you think, “I’m the body” you’re obviously not liberated because the body can never be free; it’s always subject to the woes of everyday life.   

16:11 – Let even Hara, Hari and the lotus-born Brahma be your instructor, but unless you forget all, you cannot be established in the self.

The meaning here is similar to that in Verse One.  You can be taught about the self.  But that information is useless, even if comes directly from Siva (Hara), Vishnu (Hari) or Brahma, until you see for yourself—through reason and analysis—that you are the self.   

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