A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 43

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Ashtavakra said: 
18:82 – The desireless one neither praises the peaceful nor blames the wicked.  Contented and same in happiness and misery, they find nothing to be done.

On the relative level of everyday life, peacefulness is certainly worthy of praise and wickedness is deserving of blame.  But the “desireless one” (one with self-knowledge) knows that ultimately peace and wickedness belong to the illusory body-mind alone.  As such, who is there to really praise or blame for such things?  Only the self exists and seeing as its actionless and free of all qualities, it can’t be praised or blamed for anything

18:83 – This wise one neither abhors birth and death nor wishes to perceive the self.  Free from joy and sorrow, they are neither dead nor alive.

The wise one doesn’t abhor birth and death because birth and death only apply to the body-mind, not the self.  Because the wise one is the self, not the body-mind, they’re neither dead nor alive.  They’re free from joy and sorrow because joy and sorrow pertain to the mind alone.  And they don’t wish to perceive the self for two reasons: 1) they know the self isn’t an object of experience available for perception and 2) they know they can’t perceive the self because they are the self.       

18:84 – Free from expectation and attachment to family, free from the desire for objects and free from concern for body, the wise one shines. 

Taken literally, this verse is potentially problematic.  How so?  Because it could give the impression that the standard of enlightenment is to have a mind completely free of expectation, attachment to family, desire for objects and bodily concern.  It isn’t.  Rather, it’s to know you’re the self.  And as the self, you have no expectation, attachment to family, desire for objects or concern for the body—even if the mind does. 

To put it differently, it makes no sense to say, “I’m not the body-mind, I’m the self…and the proof that I’m the self is the behavior of the body-mind.”  Because how can the condition of the body-mind validate or invalidate your status as the self if 1) You’re always the self no matter what and 2) If the illusory body-mind has no association with the self or effect on the self whatsoever? 

So figure out that you’re the self.  Then let the body-mind do what it’s going to do, whether that be taking care of a family or looking after its own health because ignoring family or health is no sign of enlightenment.  On the issue of health, I’ve often wondered if great teachers like Ramana Maharshi and Swami Chinmayananda (whose bodies succumbed to cancer and heart disease, respectively) could have continued their work longer if they’d paid more attention to the condition of their bodies. 

Of course, this shouldn’t be viewed as criticism of either teacher, especially not coming from someone who, at times, has shown great neglect for his own health.  But I think it bears mentioning in order to illustrate the point that matters of the illusory world don’t disappear at the dawn of self-knowledge.  Relative matters continue to apply on the level of the relative world even though they don’t apply to the self at all.      

18:85 – Contentment ever dwells in the heart of the wise one who lives on whatever happens to come to him, and who wanders about at pleasure, resting wherever he is when the sun sets.

This verse describes a very extreme lifestyle that isn’t necessary or suitable for everyone.  After all, numerous verses in the text clearly state that the one with self-knowledge can live however they please, seeing as they understand they aren’t the body-mind. 

All the same, this verse correctly points out that living simply and accepting what comes to you in life generally leads to contentment—relatively speaking. 

18:86 – Reposing on the foundation of their own being, and completely transcending birth and rebirth, the great-souled person does not care whether their body dies or is born.

“Reposing on the knowledge of their own being” means to dwell in the knowledge, “I am the self.”  Because the self is eternal and unchanging, it’s of no consequence whether the body dies or is reborn again. 

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