CHAPTER 18: Part One
While a final book version of this commentary is still in the works, I changed my mind and decided to publish the last three chapters online for free. I’m not saying I’ll never write a book with the intention of selling it (many teachers do), but it always feels a little awkward to set out to create a “product” to be sold rather than giving away the knowledge to those who need it. Still, studying these texts and commenting on them takes up a great deal of time, so if you find these posts beneficial and you feel inclined to donate to support the ongoing work, I am grateful. Without further ado…
18:1 – Salutations to that peaceful effulgence whose nature is bliss, knowing which all delusion becomes like a dream.
The self—meaning your true nature—is peaceful insofar as it’s unchanging and free from the activities of the body-mind. And it’s effulgent—shining—as the light of consciousness that illuminates the body-mind. When you know you’re the actionless, shining self, any former ideas of thinking you’re the body-mind—or that the world it inhabits is real—become like a dream. Yes, the body-mind and world remain as they are, but you’ve seen through their illusion.
18:2 – One can get plenty of enjoyment by acquiring worldly objects. But surely one cannot be happy without renouncing all.
Gaining things in the world gives enjoyment. But since everything in the world is temporary, the enjoyment never lasts. So in order to be truly happy—meaning satisfied—you need something to rely on that’s always available and never changes. The only ‘thing’ that fits the bill is your own self, which luckily, you can never be apart from. When you clear away the false notions you have about yourself—the main one being, “I am the body-mind”—you see that ironically you’ve been the self the whole time you’ve been futilely searching for satisfaction in the body-mind or the circumstances it inhabits. At that point, you can “renounce all” by turning your attention away from external objects in favor of dwelling on your true nature. In other words, when life gives you lemons—which it frequently does—you can drink the sweet lemonade of self-knowledge and be content knowing that no matter what, you’re always just fine.
18:3 – How can there be tranquility for one who has been burnt by the painful sun of doership without the continuous shower of the nectar of happiness?
When you believe you’re the body-mind, you think, “I have to do such-and-such or avoid such-and-such to be at peace.” Because of that, you’re continuously scorched by the sun of feeling like you have to do—or not do—something to be satisfied. What’s the solution? It’s the nectar of happiness, the ‘lemonade’ of self-knowledge I mentioned in the previous verse. Because doing or not doing something can never be the solution to the burden of doership—it can only perpetuate the problem. To be free from doership, you need self-knowledge to see that you’re never the doer in the first place.
18:4 – This universe is merely imagined. From the standpoint of the highest reality, it is nothing. But there is no non-existence for those that discriminate their true nature from both the existent and non-existent.
A wave is normally thought to exist as a standalone, independent thing. But when you know the wave is really just an appearance of water, the wave is seen to be “nothing,” as in nothing but water—it has no existence apart from water. In the same way, the universe usually is believed to be an objective reality. But when you know the universe is just an appearance of the self, you understand that it’s “nothing,” meaning nothing but your own the self.
In everyday language, objects in the world fall into the categories of “existent” or “non-existent.” For example, the sun is existent, while the son of a woman who can’t have children is non-existent. Or in another context, when the body-mind is born, it’s existent. And when it dies, it’s non-existent. Now, if you’re the body-mind, that’s a problem. But when you discriminate your true nature from both existence and non-existence—which are both just concepts that apply to unreal objects—you understand there can be no non-existence for you, the self. It’s not as if you find out that you’re a permanently existing object. Rather, you see that you’re existence itself, the very essence of all conceptually existent or non-existent objects, the same way that water is the essence of all conceptually existent or non-existent waves.
18:5 – The self which is absolute, effortless, immutable, and spotless, is neither far away nor limited. It is verily ever attained.
The self is never far away because it’s your true nature. And there’s nothing you can do to become (attain) what you already are. At best, you can only divest yourself of the notion that you’re the body-mind and appreciate the fact that you’ve been the self all along.
Note: The Ashtavakra Samhita is an advanced text that offers little to no supporting logic for its claims—it generally assumes you already know what it’s talking about. That being the case, it can be a difficult text for beginning to intermediate students. If you’re such a student, please feel free to contact me for further clarification on verses you don’t understand. I’m always willing to help sincere inquirers.