A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.35

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Ashtavakra said: 
18:41 – Where is control of mind for the deluded one who strives for it? It is indeed always natural with the wise one who delights in self.

Control of the mind—at least permanent control—isn’t possible because the mind is ever in a state of flux, often prompted by unconscious factors that can’t be known, let alone controlled.  So the wise one “who delights in the self” (knows they’re the self) doesn’t strive for control—they understand that as the self, they’re naturally at peace.      

18:42 – Some think the world exists, some think it does not.  Rare is the serene one who thinks neither. 

There’s nothing to be gained from trying to figure out the ontological* status of the world because it’s nature is indeterminate (anirvacaniya for you Vedanta nerds).  Here’s the logic:  The world can’t be said to exist because it has no being independent of the self—it’s merely an appearance of the self, not some stand-alone reality.  But the world can’t be said to be non-existent either because it’s a plain fact of your everyday experience.   The bottom line: It’s an insoluble conundrum, as evidenced by the fact that it’s puzzled philosophers for ages.  So rare is the one who can see past the dualistic concepts of both existence and non-existence to the non-dual reality that underlies them both—the self, consciousness-existence. 

Now, it may seem contradictory to say that existence and non-existence are dualistic concepts and then turn around and call the non-dual self consciousness-existence.  But the Sanskrit word used to describe the existence of the world in this verse is bhava whereas the “existence” in consciousness-existence is the Sanskrit word sat (pronounced “sut”).  To make things confusing (as Vedanta often does), bhava has several meanings, one of which is the same as sat.  But in this verse, the meaning of bhava being used to describe the world is “a state of being.” And this meaning can’t apply to the self because the self is not a state.     

*Ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of existence.  There, now you don’t have to google it 🙂

18:43 – Those of dull intellect hear that the atman (self) is pure and one without a second.  But they do not know it and are unhappy as long as they live.

You can be told about the self.  But you’ll never truly know the self unless your intellect (mind) is pure enough to inquire consistently until you see firsthand that you are the self. 

18:44 – The intellect of one who longs for liberation cannot function without depending on the object; but the intellect of the liberated one is indeed ever independent and free from desire.

The intellect of the liberated one functions in the same way as one who longs for liberation: it thinks thoughts.  There’s no getting around it.  So being liberated doesn’t mean that somehow your intellect will function without objects (thoughts). 

Therefore, when the author says the intellect of one who longs for liberation can’t function without depending on an object, he means that their intellect can only think of things in dualistic terms, seeing as a thought object necessarily implies its dualistic counterpart—the subject that knows the thought .  But the intellect of the liberated one has seen through the dualistic illusion of subject/object, thinker/thought, knower/known by realizing that they’re the non-dual self.  They no longer think in terms of duality and understand that as the self, they’re independent and free from desire. 

18:45 – Seeing those tigers the sense-objects, the frightened ones, seeking refuge, at once enter a cave for the attainment of control and concentration.

Those who believe that sense-objects are real may desire them.  Or fear them.  They may even fear the fact that they desire sense objects in the first place.  Because of that they may try to run away from sense-objects or commit to practices that reduce their desire for sense objects. Or both.  But when you know that sense objects aren’t real and that they can never add to the self or take away from the self, there’s no real reason to desire them or feel aversion to them.     

18:46 – Seeing the lion (liberated one) free of mental conditioning (vasanas), those elephants the sense-objects run away or serve like flatterers. 

Normally, mental conditioning in the form of likes and dislikes dictate a person’s behavior.  For instance, if someone has a strong inclination for a sense-object such as coffee, they’ll likely feel compelled to seek it out whether they want to or not.  But when someone has reduced their mental conditioning through the practice of yoga, sense objects either “run away” (lose their appeal) or they “serve like flatterers” (are enjoyed for what they’re worth, without compulsion). 

Yoga is good, but because it’s an action based practice, it has limited results.  You may get rid of your desire for one thing only for it to return unexpectedly at a later time.  Or you may get rid of one desire only for it to be replaced by another. 

This means to be truly free from your mental conditioning is to realize that, as the self, the mental conditioning isn’t yours at all.  It’s merely part of the illusory mind that never affects you.  

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