A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 29

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Ashtavakra said:
18:11 – It makes no difference to the yogi whose nature is unconditioned whether they gain or lose, live in society or retire to the forest, rule in heaven or beg for alms.  

“Unconditioned yogi” can be taken two ways.  Literally, it refers to someone that’s assimilated self-knowledge to such a degree that it neutralizes their negative emotions.  In other words, they’re so used to thinking of themselves as the ever-free, unchanging self that they no longer get upset when faced with unpleasant circumstances.  For the record, becoming a person without negative emotions isn’t the objective of Vedanta—it’s a side effect.  The real objective is to see that you’re the self, which isn’t a person in the first place. 

And that brings me to my next point: Metaphorically, “unconditioned yogi” refers to the self.  Since the self isn’t a person, it’s ever unconditioned (unaffected) by the circumstances body-mind finds itself in.     

18:12 – Where is dharma (performance of ritualistic or meritorious works), where is artha (worldly prosperity), where is kama (sense-enjoyment), and where is discrimination for the yogi who has transcended such dualistic notions as “this is to be done” and “this is not to be done”?

Another way to phrase the question is this:  What is to be gained from action when you’ve transcended dualistic notions and realized that you’re the limitless self?  Nothing, because merit, prosperity, pleasure and discrimination (self-inquiry) only apply to the illusory body-mind. Alternately, what action can you perform or avoid when you’re the action-less self, ever-free of the doer (ego)?            

18:13 – The yogi who is liberated while living, has neither attachment nor a sense of duty.  Their actions pertain to the present life only, being merely the effects of his past karma.

In relation to enlightenment, the theory of karma goes something like this:  You have a storehouse of karma accumulated in innumerable past lives.  At birth, a portion of your stored karma manifests to create a body-mind along with the appropriate conditions the body-mind needs to experience the effects of its past karma.  As you go through life identifying with the body-mind, thinking its actions belong to you, new karma is created that will come to fruition in either your present life or a future life. 

But when you realize that you’re actually the self and not the body-mind—the doer of karma—the storehouse of your karma is cleared.  Regardless, the stored karma that’s already been released to create your current life still has to play out, similar to the way that an arrow, once loosed from a bow, has to travel on its predetermined trajectory.  However, since this process is merely the exhaustion of previous karma, it doesn’t create new karma.  And without new karma, there’s no necessity for the future birth of another body-mind to reap the effects.  This is how the actions of a yogi who’s liberated while living only pertain to the present life—their actions are merely the effects of past karma that don’t create the seeds for future rebirth.     

I’m glossing over this topic because frankly, it’s silly.  And my opinion is in accordance with Vedanta texts such as Aparokshanubhuti which say that explaining how karma relates to enlightened beings is only for the benefit of those who don’t understand the nature of enlightenment.  Why?  Because the entire theory of karma hinges on the notion that you’re a body-mind that performs action and experiences it’s effects.  But enlightenment unequivocally negates that notion, showing that you never have been, and never will be, the body-mind.  That means in light of self-knowledge, the theory of karma loses its relevance.   

So you don’t have to destroy your storehouse of karma—you just have to see that it doesn’t belong to you in the first place.  Once you’ve realized that, there’s no reason to explain how and why the body-mind–which never has and never will belong to you– continues to act. 

18:14 – Where is delusion, where is the universe, where is renunciation, moreover where is liberation for the great-souled one who rests beyond the world of desires?

That which “rests beyond the world of desires” is your true nature, the self.  The self, being the sole non-dual reality, is “beyond” (meaning it’s unaffected by) the dualistic illusion of the universe and everything it contains, such as delusion etc. 

18:15 – One who sees the universe may try to deny it. What has the desireless to do? They see not, even though they see.

When you believe the world is real, you may deny it by trying to manipulate it, change it, negate it or outright avoid it.  But when you know the world isn’t real, what is there to deny?  Even though you still experience the world, you know it’s not really there—you see not, even though you see.  With that, the logic behind wanting to manipulate, change, negate or avoid the world is nullified.   And this is immensely freeing because you can approach the world from the standpoint of self-knowledge, knowing that it isn’t some objective problem that needs to be solved.  It just is what it is—a strange illusion—and you’re always okay regardless.     

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