A Conversation with Ashtavakra: Conclusion

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This is the final chapter of the Ashtavakra Samhita.  It’s the conclusion of Janaka’s statement of self-knowledge from Chapter 19, one last declaration of what he’s realized about his true nature.  Like Chapter 19, I’ve edited the verses of Chapter 20 for the purpose of nididhyasana, converting Janaka’s statements from question form to first person statements that can be used for recitation, contemplation and meditation. 

Some of these statements may appear confusing for someone still on the path to self-knowledge, seeing as they appear to contradict or negate the scripture and the path of inquiry itself.  It may make one wonder, “If scripture and the process of self-inquiry are eventually negated, are they even needed in the first place?”  The answer is a resounding and unequivocal “Yes.”  Only when, like Janaka, you’ve done self-inquiry and seen the truth of the scriptures for yourself do they become redundant. 

Like I said in the last post, scripture and self-inquiry are like a boat used to cross a raging river.  Once you arrive safely on the opposite bank, you no longer need the boat.  But that doesn’t mean you didn’t need the boat in the first place!  Without it you would have lost your way and drowned.  Similarly, if you disregard scripture and self-inquiry before you see for yourself that you’re the self, you’ll be lost, left to drown in the turbulent river of samsara. 

You can contemplate these statements even if you’re still doing self-inquiry.  Why?  Because they’re nonetheless true, even if you haven’t realized their truth for yourself.  Until that time, meditating on the meaning of these statements will provide positive reinforcement for your inquiry.  And further, they’ll protect you from clinging to the teaching as if it were a religion or dogma, rather than a relative—albeit indispensable—tool for understanding your true nature.   

Janaka said:
20:1 – Where are the elements, where is the body, where are the organs, and where is the mind? Where is the void? Where, too, is despair for me who am taintless by nature?

There are no elements, there is no body, there are no organs and there is no mind.  There is not even nothingness.  There is no despair for me—I am ever-pure. 

20:2 – Where are the scriptures, where is knowledge of the self?  Where is the mind not attached to sense-objects, where is contentment, and where is desirelessness for me who am ever devoid of the sense of duality?

There are no scriptures and no self-knowledge.  There is no mind unattached to sense objects, no contentment and no desirelessness—I am devoid of the sense of duality. 

20:3 – Where is knowledge and where is ignorance?  Where is “I,” where is “this,” and where is “mine”? Where is bondage and where is liberation? Where is an attribute to the nature of my self?

There is no knowledge and no ignorance.  There is no “I,” no “this” and no “mine.”  There is no bondage and no liberation.  My true nature has no form. 

20:4 – Where are prarabdha karmas, where is liberation-in-life (jivanmukta), and where is even liberation-at-death for me, the ever undifferentiated?

There is no prarabdha karma, no liberation-in-life or liberation-in-death—I am changeless. 

20:5 – Where is the doer or enjoyer, where is cessation of thought or the rising of thought, where is direct knowledge or it’s result for me who am ever impersonal?

There is no doer or enjoyer, no thought or absence of thought.  There is no direct knowledge or its result—I am not a person. 

20:6 – Where is the world and where is the aspirant for liberation?  Where is the contemplative person or the person with self-knowledge?  Where is the liberated one or the one in bondage when in my true nature, I am non-dual?

There is no world or seeker of liberation.  There is no yogi or person with self-knowledge.  There is no liberation or bondage—my true nature is non-dual.   

20:7 – Where are creation and destruction, where are the end and the means, where are seeker and success when in my true nature, I am non-dual? 

There is no creation or destruction, there is no end or means.  There is no seeker or finder—my true nature is non-dual. 

20:8 – Where is the knower, the means to knowledge, the object of knowledge or knowledge itself?  Where is anything or nothing for me who am ever pure?

There is no knower or means of knowledge, no object of knowledge or knowledge itself.  There is not anything and there is not nothing—I am ever pure. 

20:9 – Where is distraction, where is concentration?  Where is knowledge, where is delusion?  Where is joy and where is sorrow for me who am ever actionless?

There is no distraction or concentration.  There is no knowledge or delusion.  There is no joy or sorrow—I am ever free of action. 

20:10 – Where is the relative world, where is absolute reality?  Where is happiness or misery for me who am ever beyond thought?

There is no relative world or absolute reality.  There is no happiness or misery—I am beyond all thought. 

20:11 – Where is maya, where is samsara?  Where is attachment or detachment?  Where is jiva or brahman for me, who am ever pure?

There is no maya and no samsara.  There is no attachment or detachment.  There is no jiva and no brahman*—I am ever pure. 

*To say there’s no brahman is not to say that there’s no self.  This verse is merely pointing out that the idea that there’s a jiva as opposed to brahman is a false, dualistic notion.  Further, reality transcends all names and positive descriptions—it’s not a jiva, a brahman or anything else for that matter.  As the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says in verse 2:3:6, reality can only be accurately described as “neti, neti” (“not this, not this”), meaning it can only be described negatively, in terms of what it isn’t. 

20:12 – Where is activity, where is inactivity? Where is liberation or bondage for me who am ever established in my immutable and indivisible self?

There is no action or inaction.  There is no liberation or bondage—I abide in my immutable and changeless self. 

20:13 – Where is instruction and where is scripture? Where is the teacher and where is the student? Where, indeed, is the goal of life for me who am absolute good and free from limitation?

There is no teaching and no scripture.  There is no teacher or student.  There is no goal of life for me—I am the limitless reality. 

20:14 – Where is existence, where is non-existence? Where is unity, where is duality? What need is there to say more? Nothing arises from me.

There is no existence or non-existence.  There is no duality or non-duality.  There is nothing more to say, nothing more to do, nothing more to learn—there is nothing other than myself. 

Thus ends the dialogue on self-knowledge between Ashtavakra and Janaka.

It’s hard to believe that this series has been going on for over a year.  Many thanks to the readers of this site for your continued support.  May the words of Ashtavakra and Janaka inspire you on the path to self-knowledge or help you become established in self-knowledge through nididhyasana. 

For those interested in nididhyasana, stay tuned for the upcoming Steady Wisdom series.  For the first 108 days of the New Year, I’ll be posting a statement of self-knowledge from the scriptures each day and commenting on it. I challenge you to read and contemplate these statements daily, in order to get your thinking aligned with the truth of who you are.   

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