A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.41

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Ashtavakra said: 
18:72 – Where is the bondage or liberation, joy or sorrow for one who shines as the infinite and does not perceive relative existence?

There’s no bondage because the self is free, always has been free and always will be free.  For the same reason, there’s no liberation.  And there’s no joy and sorrow because they’re emotions that belong to the mind alone, never the infinite self. 

One who knows that they’re the self continues to perceive (experience) relative existence (the world) but they no longer believe in its reality.  They know that the world is merely an insubstantial illusion.   

18:73 – Only the illusion of the world prevails. The reality of the world vanishes with the knowledge of the self. The wise one lives without the feeling of “I-ness”, and “mine-ness”, and attachment.

Here, my previous point is reinforced: while the “illusion of the world prevails”—meaning it continues to be experienced—the “reality of the world vanishes with the knowledge of the self.” 

The mind of the wise one will continue to have notions of “I” and “mine”—otherwise how would they function in the world?—but since this sense of “I-ness” and “mine-ness” is merely part of the illusory world, it’s inconsequential. 

18:74 – To the wise one who perceives the self as imperishable and free from grief, where is knowledge, where is the universe? Where is the feeling “I am the body” or “the body is mine”?

The wise one recognizes that nothing but the self exists.  That means the universe—and by extension any knowledge that pertains to it—is illusory.  This includes feelings of “I am the body” and “the body is mine.” 

Even though the universe is illusory, knowledge pertaining to it (such as physics, biology etc.) still has relative value.  So continue to study and apply whatever interests you in the world, just understand it won’t give you any answers regarding your absolute nature.      

18:75 – No sooner does the one of dull intellect give up such practices as mind control, than he becomes a prey to desires and fancies.

This is a critique of the idea that enlightenment is achieved by eradicating desires through control of the mind.  It highlights the fatal flaw of this practice:  As soon as there is a momentary lapse in control, the mind once again falls prey to desires and fantasies.  The one who can’t see this is the “one of dull intellect.”    

Yes, deliberately working to reduce desire in the mind is a helpful practice that leads to increased peace of mind.  But since unceasing, constant control of the mind is impossible, the practice of mind control is unsuitable for giving permanent freedom from desire.  Permanent freedom from desire, therefore, is only possible by understanding that desire belongs to the mind alone and not you, the desireless self.    

18:76 – Even hearing the truth, those of dull intellect do not give up their delusion. Through suppression they appear devoid of mental activity—but a craving for sense-objects still lurks within them. 

This verse is essentially saying the same thing as the one above except this time, instead of referring to internal control of the mind, it’s talking about external control of the body.  It’s saying that you can restrain your body from acting on certain desires but restraint doesn’t get rid of the desire itself. 

For instance, you can restrain your hand from reaching for that extra helping of navratan korma at the buffet but that doesn’t mean the desire for it in your mind goes away.  Yes, in that moment you’ve achieved a modicum of self-control, but since the root of the problem (the desire itself) hasn’t gone away, your victory will only last until the next desire springs up. 

Does this mean you should live like a pig, doing whatever you want saying, “Permanent control is useless so why bother?” No!  Control of the mind is essential to the process of self-inquiry, seeing as it’s needed to purify (focus) the mind and ready it for contemplation.  But it must be understood that control of the mind isn’t the direct cause of enlightenment.   

Here’s a traditional example to illustrate the point:  a pot, while necessary to the process of cooking, isn’t the direct cause of cooking—only fire (heat) is.  In the same way, mind control, while necessary for the process of self-inquiry isn’t the direct cause of enlightenment—only knowledge is.  In other words, you control (purify) your mind enough to be able to grasp the knowledge, “I am the self.” 

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