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.