A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 34

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Ashtavakra said:
18:36 – An ignorant person does not attain liberation through repeatedly practicing control of the mind. The blessed one through mere knowledge becomes free and unaffected by change.

You’re the self so no amount of controlling the mind can turn you in to the self you already are.  That’s why liberation is a matter of knowledge—meaning understanding what’s already true—not a matter of action.  

18:37 – The ignorant person does not attain brahman because they desire to attain it. The wise one certainly realizes the nature of the brahman, even without desiring to do so.

If a person desires to attain brahman, they’re thinking of brahman as something outside of and separate from themselves that they need to acquire, merge with, or become.  But this thinking is incorrect (ignorant) because brahman isn’t outside of anyone or separate from anything—this means, ironically, that the one who desires to attain brahman already is brahman

That’s why the wise one realizes the nature of brahman when they stop desiring it, meaning when they stop viewing brahman as something other than their own self.      

18:38 – Without the support of knowledge, the ignorant seek fulfillment in the world.  The wise cut the very root of this world which is the source of all misery.

“The very root of this world” is ignorance, specifically ignorance of the fact that the world—while seemingly real—is actually an illusory appearance of the self, consciousness-existence.  So instead of seeking fulfillment in the world, the wise destroy its root cause with self-knowledge, thereby negating the misery caused by trying to find satisfaction in something that isn’t real. 

18:39 – The fool desires peace through control of the mind and so does not attain it.  The wise one knows the truth and is ever of tranquil mind.

Control of the mind is an action.  Since action only produces limited, temporary results, no lasting peace is possible. The wise, therefore, seek knowledge.  When they know the truth, “I am brahman,” their minds can rest easy in the knowledge that as consciousness-existence they’re limitless, eternal, unchanging and ever-free no matter what condition the mind is in. 

18:40 – Where is self-knowledge for him whose knowledge depends on the object?  The wise do not see objects—they only see the immutable self.

The self, despite being the substratum of all objects (an object being any aspect of the body-mind or world), is never itself an object.  So any knowledge based on knowing objects can’t be self-knowledge. 

The wise are the wise because they have non-dual vision—even though they see objects like anyone else, they know that the objects are only an unreal appearance of their own self.   

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.33

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Ashtavakra said: 
18:31 – The mind of the liberated one does not exert itself to be either meditative or active—it becomes meditative and active without any motive.

As the self, liberated people don’t exert themselves to be either meditative or active because they’re not the ego—the doer—the one that does the exerting (or at least claims to).  As the actionless self, they’re ever free of the mind, whether it’s active or meditative. 

18:32 – A dull-witted person becomes bewildered on hearing the real truth, but a sharp-witted person withdraws within himself like a dull person.

Here, “dull-witted person” refers to someone who’s not mentally prepared to study Vedanta and “sharp-witted person” refers to someone who is mentally prepared to study Vedanta.  Ironically, both types of people have the same reaction to hearing the teaching: they become silent. Whereas the dull person becomes silent out of bewilderment, the sharp person is silent because they’ve drawn their attention inward to contemplate the meaning of the teaching.       

18:33 – The ignorant constantly practice concentration and control of the mind. The wise, abiding in the real self, like persons in deep sleep, do not find anything to be done.

The ignorantly constantly practice concentration and control of the mind thinking that control of the mind is enlightenment.  This is an idea that often appears in Vedanta circles owing to Vedanta’s close association with the practice of yoga.  But the wise don’t find anything to be done because they know that no amount of mind control can turn them into the self.  They can only recognize that they already are the self.       

18:34 – The ignorant person does not attain peace either by inaction or action. The wise one becomes happy merely by knowing the truth.

The results of both action and inaction, being impermanent, can never lead to a lasting peace of mind.  But self-knowledge can.  Why? Because it shows you that you’re always the self, regardless of what the body-mind does or doesn’t do.  As the self, you’re always at peace because your very nature is actionless, changeless and eternal.    

18:35 – In this world those who devote themselves to diverse practices do not know the self, pure consciousness, which is complete, beloved, free from the ills of the body and untouched by the universe.

To devote yourself to diverse practices is to seek fulfillment in the world by doing certain actions and avoiding others.  Because your attention is directed outwards to the body-mind and world, you can’t properly ‘turn inward’ to investigate your true nature and realize that it’s pure consciousness etc.

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.32

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Ashtavakra said: 
18:26 – One who acts while maintaining that they are not acting is not a fool—they are liberated in this very life.  Even though in the world, they shine, ever happy and fortunate. 

If you walk around telling people you’re the action-less self, you’re going to get some funny looks.  You may even be called a fool—or worse—even though what you’re saying is correct.  But the point here is that even though a liberated person outwardly goes about their business in the world just like everyone else, inwardly their perspective is very different:  They know they’re never acting, despite the actions of the body.  And regardless of what is happening, they ‘shine brightly,’ feeling happy (satisfied) and fortunate to be the self.   

18:27 – The wise ones, weary of diverse reasoning, have attained repose.  They do not think, know, hear or see. 

The spiritual journey can lead you down many different paths, each one with its own set of beliefs. And you may spend considerable time comparing and contrasting these conflicting beliefs, using reason to see which ones are true.  But no amount of reason can prove what’s already true—you can only see truth firsthand. 

For instance, Vedanta is a path that uses generous amounts of reason to support its claims.  But once you’ve investigated those claims and seen for yourself that they’re true, you attain repose in the knowledge, “I am the self” and no more reasoning is necessary.  At that point you no longer need to think about who you are and there’s nothing more to know (learn) about your true nature.  You don’t need to hear any more teachings to support your conclusions or see any more proof. 

Further, you know that as the self, you were never the one that thinks, knows, hears or sees i.e. the body-mind.   

18:28 – As the wise one has no distraction and does not practice meditation, they are neither an aspirant for liberation nor are they in bondage. Seeing the world but knowing that it is an illusion, they exist as brahman itself. 

The wise one—as the self (brahman)—has no distraction.  And as they body-mind, they don’t practice meditation, at least not for the sake of gaining the self-knowledge they already have.  They may, however, continue meditating simply for the sake of focusing their mind.  Or to dwell on the implications of self-knowledge in order to purify their mind of the negative thinking patterns it developed from its previous stay in self-ignorance. 

The reason I mention this is because there’s a belief in the Vedanta world that enlightened people shouldn’t meditate, as if not meditating proves that you’ve really got it.  Ironically, if you’ve ‘really got it’ then you know that whether your mind keeps meditating or not is just part of the illusory world and has no bearing on your status as the self.  As I said above, you’ll no longer be meditating in order to focus on inquiry and gain self-knowledge.  But you may use meditation as a tool to bring the mind back to the self-knowledge you already have, until that knowledge has really ‘seeped in,’ until it’s been fully assimilated. Or you may simply utilize meditation as a mechanical exercise that keeps the mind sharp and focused, seeing as a clear, alert mind is an essential ingredient for success in day-to-day affairs.  

The wise one, knowing they’re the self (brahman), doesn’t aspire for liberation because 1) they understand that they’re not the mind that aspires and 2) they see clearly that they weren’t bound in the first place because the self is ever-free.     

18:29 – One who identifies with the ego acts even when they refrain from action.  The wise one who does not identify with the ego does not act, even while acting. 

When you think you’re the ego—the doer—you act even while not acting, seeing as refraining from an action is just another action.  But when you know you’re the self, you know you’re not acting whether the body-mind is acting or refraining from action. 

18:30 – The mind of the liberated one is neither troubled nor pleased; it is actionless, motionless, desireless, and free from doubts.

“The mind of the liberated one is neither troubled nor pleased; it is action-less, motionless, desire-less, and free from doubts,” assuming it’s fully assimilated what it means to be the self.  So this verse isn’t giving the criteria for enlightenment.  Instead, it’s describing an already enlightened person who’s consistently applied the knowledge, “I am the changeless, limitless, ever-free self” to their mind until it habitually thinks from that perspective, thereby becoming less disturbed by desire and negative emotions. 

To be clear:  Self-knowledge is knowing without a doubt, “I am the self.”  That’s it!  So a mind that’s neither troubled nor pleased etc. is not self-knowledge­—it’s only a byproduct of self-knowledge, assuming self-knowledge has been fully assimilated.  But when you have self-knowledge you know that it’s no credit to you if your mind fully assimilates the knowledge and becomes peaceful and it’s no discredit to you if it doesn’t.  And that’s true freedom: to know you’re okay regardless of the state of your mind. 

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 31

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Ashtavakra said:

18:21 – Blown by the wind of samskaras, the desireless, independent, free, and liberated person moves about like a dry leaf.

Samskaras are mental conditioning (in the west, their closest approximation is the idea of the unconscious mind).  Here, Ashtavakra says that the liberated person is impelled to act owing to their mental conditioning.  But if this mental conditioning is dictating their behavior, can they truly be “desireless, independent and free”?  As a person, no, because a person can never fully control or separate themselves from their unconscious mind.  But as the self, yes.  That’s why the point of self-knowledge is to show you that you’re never affected by the mind, that you’re independent and free regardless of its conditioning.        

18:22 – There is no joy or sorrow for one who has transcended worldly existence.  Ever with a serene mind, he lives like one without a body.

A person can’t literally transcend worldly existence because what’s regarded as a person—the body-mind—is part and parcel of worldly existence.  The two can’t be separated.  So a person can only figuratively transcend worldly existence by knowing that, as the self, they’re not affected by worldly existence.  If such a person successfully assimilates this knowledge, their mind can become predominantly serene and relatively free from big emotional swings, such as those between joy and sorrow.  But having a serene mind free of emotional disturbance isn’t self-knowledge, it’s merely a nice byproduct.  Why?  Because self-knowledge is the knowledge, “I am not the mind.”    

In the same way a person existing in the world can’t literally transcend worldly existence, a person with a body can’t literally live like they don’t have a body.  But if they have self-knowledge, they can mentally appreciate that as the self they’re not affected by the body, even though the body continues to exist.              

18:23 – The wise one who delights in the self and whose mind is calm and pure, has no desire to renounce anything whatsoever, nor do they feel any loss anywhere.

“The wise one who delights in the self and whose mind is calm and pure” is the person described above who not only has self-knowledge but who’s applied the implications of that knowledge to their mind until it becomes (mostly) calm and pure. I say “mostly” because the mind is part of the illusory world and everything in the illusory world is subject to at least some amount of change.  Regardless, the mind of the aforesaid wise one is predominantly calm owing to being established in its identity with the self. 

The wise one understands that reality is non-dual—there is only the self.  If there’s only the self, then there’s nothing to renounce since no one can renounce their own self.  If anything, the act of renunciation affirms the self since you have to exist in order to renounce something; a non-existent entity can’t renounce anything at all. 

The wise one doesn’t feel loss anywhere because they know that they’re the ever-full self even when the transient objects of the world come and go.   

18:24 – Naturally of empty mind and doing what comes of itself, the wise one, unlike an ordinary person, is not affected by honor or dishonor.

The first part of this verse is incorrect because there’s absolutely no rule that says enlightened people have to sit around with an empty mind just waiting for things to happen.  Why?  Because enlightenment is knowing you’re the self whether your mind is empty or full, whether you take initiative in life or just passively let it come to you.  If you’ve truly assimilated that knowledge then honor and dishonor become irrelevant, considering they only have meaning in relation to the thoughts and actions of the body-mind.  

18:25 – One who acts knowing “this is done by the body and not by me, the pure self”—such a one, even though acting, does not act.

Anytime you come across a scripture or a teacher that says enlightenment is contingent upon acting in some particular way, come back to this verse.  It shows clearly that enlightenment is about what you know, not what you do.  Yes, having self-knowledge can improve your behavior, but there’s no guarantee that it will.  That’s not a problem though, because self-knowledge proves you’re not the body-mind and therefore, never involved in action, good or bad. 

But that doesn’t mean self-knowledge can be used to justify hurting others. EVER. Anyone who says, “I’m not hurting you, I’m the self” is clearly confused, thinking the body-mind has the same status as the self.  Or, if they’re not confused, they’re deliberately using self-knowledge to rationalize the bad behavior of their body-mind to gullible people.  In either case, such a person should be avoided like the plague.  Yes, it’s true that the self never hurts anyone.  But the body-mind of an abuser certainly does.

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