A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.46

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Janaka said:
19:1 – Using the pincers of self-knowledge, I have extracted the thorn of different opinions [about my true nature] from my heart (mind).

Like a pair of tweezers removes a thorn from your hand, Vedanta removes different (false) opinions you have about your true nature.  The remaining verses of the text are Janaka’s statement of self-knowledge which show he’s divested himself of such false opinions.

19:2 – Where is dharma, where is kama, where is artha? Where, too, is discrimination, where is duality, and where, even, is non-duality for me who abide in my own glory?

Dharma, kama and artha—the three aims of life—are no longer relevant when self-knowledge negates the reality of the doer and the world in which the doer acts.  Even non-duality is negated, seeing as it’s just the conceptual opposite of duality.  Then only the self remains.  And although that last statement makes it sound very much like the self is non-dual, it’s not the case—the self is “not this, not this” and “that from which words and the mind return, unable to reach it.”  That means no words or ideas apply to the self even though the teaching uses words and ideas to help you understand this fact for yourself.

Like a stick used to stoke a fire is eventually thrown into the fire to be burned, all concepts used in the initial stages of the teaching to stoke the fire of self-knowledge are eventually burned in the selfsame fire.  This is the main theme of Chapter 19.

The takeaway is this: once Vedanta helps you understand what your true nature is, feel free to let the teaching go.  You don’t have to keep taking the medicine once you’ve been cured.  You don’t have to carry the boat on your head after it’s helped you cross the river.

One caveat: When you’ve spent your entire life believing that you’re the limited, flawed and inadequate body-mind, it can take a while to reorient the mind to the fact that you’re the limitless, perfect self.  If that’s something you want to do, then continuing to dwell on the teaching is a constructive practice called nididhyasana.  But always remember that successfully changing the mind in no way adds to you.  And not changing the mind in no way diminishes you.  Enlightenment is knowing that you’re not affected by the mind either way.

That being said, I’m going to edit the remaining verses for the purpose of nididhyasana. They can be used for recitation and contemplation, both by the enlightened and the unenlightened.  Because even if you’re not enlightened, you will be someday.  So you might as well start thinking of yourself as the self right now (especially considering that you already are the self).  You can “fake it until you make it” as one of my old teachers was fond of saying. Even if you feel like you’re faking it, it’s no problem because the statements you’re making are nonetheless true.

19:3 – Where is past, where is future, where, even, is the present? Where is space and where even, is eternity for me who abide in my own glory?

There is no past, present or future.  There is no space or eternity for me who abide in my own glory.

19:4 – Where is the self and where is the non-self, where, likewise, are good and evil? Where is anxiety or non-anxiety for me who abide in my own glory?

There is no self* or not-self, no good or bad.  There is no thought or thoughtlessness for me who abide in my own glory.

*While your true nature is often referred to as “self” in the Vedanta scriptures, this is merely out of necessity because you can’t teach something as subtle as Vedanta without words.  Understand that “self” is just a word used to point to a reality beyond all words and concepts.

19:5 – Where is dreaming, where is deep sleep, where is wakefulness, and where is the fourth (turiya)? Where, even, is fear for me who abide in my own glory?

There is no dream state, no deep sleep state and no waking state.  There is not even that which is called the “fourth.”* There is no fear for me who abide in my own glory.

*Turiya is often mistranslated as “the fourth state” in relation to the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep.  But it just means “fourth” and refers to the fact that the self is distinct from the three states.  But you can no longer refer to the self as the “fourth” when you know that the three states don’t really exist.

19:6 – Where is nearness or farness? Where is interior or exterior?  Where is grossness or subtlety for me who abide in my own glory?

There is no nearness or farness, no interior or exterior.  There are no gross objects or subtle objects for me who abide in my own glory.

19:7 – Where is life or death, where are the worlds and where is worldliness?  Where is dissolution of the world or absorption into the self for me who abide in my own glory?

There is no life or death, no world or worldliness.  There is the dissolution of the world or absorption into the self for me who abide in my own glory.

19:8 – To talk about the three ends of life is needless, to talk about yoga is purposeless, and even to talk about wisdom is irrelevant for me who repose in the self.

No editing is required here.  The meaning of this verse—and its implications—are unambiguous:  spiritual practice is only relevant until the dawn of self-knowledge, at which point the reality of doership (as well as the reality of every other aspect of the relative world) is negated.  Yes, life will continue much like it did before.  Your body-mind may continue to pursue things, practice spirituality or discuss the teaching.  But you know those things are 1) unreal and 2) that they have nothing to do with you.

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