A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.42

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Ashtavakra said:
18:77 – One whose work has ceased with the dawn of knowledge does not find any opportunity to do or say anything, even though in ordinary people’s eyes they are performing action. 

With the dawn of the knowledge, “I am the self” the belief, “I am the doer of action (the body-mind)” is negated.  A person with this knowledge knows, “Even when the body-mind acts, I, the self, do not act.” 

18:78 – For the wise one who is ever immutable and fearless, where is there darkness, where light? Where, moreover, is there any loss? There is nothing whatsoever.

The wise one no longer believes in the reality of duality, such as the duality between darkness and light.  They know—superficial appearances aside—that all is the immutable and fearless self.  For that reason, there’s nothing to lose (or gain).  “There is nothing whatsoever” insofar as the universe is just an illusion.  But that doesn’t mean there’s no self.  It just points out the fact that, unlike the world, the self is “no thing” to be experienced as an object.  

18:79 – Where is patience, where is discrimination, and where, even, is fearlessness for the yogi who is impersonal and of indescribable nature?

The “yogi who is impersonal and of indescribable nature” isn’t actually a person but the self, because no person can be impersonal and indescribable.  For the self there’s no patience, discrimination or fearlessness because those are merely states of mind that never affect the self. 

18:80 – There is no heaven, and there is no hell; there is not even liberation-in-life. In short, nothing exists in light of self-knowledge. 

Heaven, hell and the person liberated in this very life are merely figments of the illusory world of duality.  Their reality is negated in the light of self-knowledge. 

18:81 – The wise one neither longs for gain nor grieves at non-attainment. Their cool mind is verily filled with nectar.

A “cool mind verily filled with nectar” is the mind of one who’s fully assimilated the implications of being the self.  They know that in everyday life, there’s nothing that can be truly gained or lost.  Does this mean they don’t try to acquire anything or accomplish anything?  No.  An enlightened person needs food, clothes and medicine and goals just like anyone else.  But they go about taking care of their needs—and the needs of those around them—knowing it ultimately doesn’t matter one way or another.    

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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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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.40

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ASHTAVAKRA SAID:
18:67 – Glorious is one free from all desires, who is the embodiment of the bliss which is their nature, and who is spontaneously absorbed in the unconditioned self.

Such a person would indeed be glorious.  But no one who’s truly enlightened would ever claim to be such a person.  Why? Because they know that as the self, they’re never a person. 

No one can actually be absorbed in the self because everyone—whether they know it or not—already is the self, the same way that a clay pot can’t be absorbed into clay because it’s already clay.      

18:68 – In short, the great-souled one who has realized the truth is free from the desire for enjoyment and liberation and is devoid of all attachment at all times and in all places.

The great-souled one (self-realized person) is free from the desire for enjoyment—even if their mind isn’t—because the self is free from the mind, the seat of desire.  They don’t seek liberation because they know that they were never bound in the first place.  They have no attachment because the self is always unattached, even when the mind is.     

18:69 – What remains to be done by one who is pure consciousness?  They have renounced phenomenal existence which is merely name (and form). 

What remains to be done when you know you’re pure consciousness and not the doer, the body-mind?  Nothing.  Does that mean the body-mind will do nothing? No.  But the self, pure consciousness, never acts. 

18:70 – The pure one knows for certain that this universe is the product of illusion and that nothing exists. The imperceptible self is revealed to them and they naturally enjoy peace. 

The universe doesn’t actually exist because it’s an illusion, the same way that water doesn’t actually exist in a desert mirage.  You experience the universe, yes, but it’s really just consciousness-existence being mistaken for something it’s not (the world), similar to the way that light reflecting off of sand is mistaken for water.  

The self is never literally revealed to you because, as the verse points out, it’s imperceptible.  That means it can’t be an object of your experience.  It’s only ‘revealed’ to you through the understanding, “I am the self” which, ironically, is an object of your experience.     

18:71 – Rule of conduct, dispassion, renunciation and restraint of the senses—what are these to one who is of the nature of pure effulgence and who does not perceive any objective reality?

You continue to perceive objective reality (the world) when you get enlightened but you no longer believe that it’s real.  Because conduct, dispassion etc. are parts of the unreal world that have no effect on the self whatsoever, then what value can they truly have?

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.39

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Ashtavakra said: 
18:62 – The deluded one often shows aversion for his possessions. But there is neither attraction nor aversion for one whom attachment to the body has vanished.

The “one whom attachment to the body has vanished” is the wise one with self-knowledge who no longer identifies with the body (and by extension, the mind).  They only identify with the self and as such, attraction and aversion—which only pertain to the body-mind—no longer apply to them. 

Calling the unenlightened “deluded”—while true—is a bit uncharitable insofar as no one causes their own self-ignorance.  Everyone is simply born into it through no fault of their own. 

18:63 – The mind of the deluded one is always attached to thinking and not thinking.  But the one who abides in the self does not think even when thinking of the thinkable. 

“The one abides in the self” doesn’t think, even when the mind is thinking because they know they’re not the mind—they’re the self, ever-free of thought.  But the “deluded one” (one without self-knowledge) is always attached to thinking and not-thinking because they’re still identified with the mind.    

18:64 – The wise one who has no motive in all his actions, who moves like a child and is pure, has no attachment even to the work that is being done by him.

The wise one, as the self, has no motives although their mind most likely does.  Whether they move like a child or not is irrelevant because they aren’t the body-mind. As the self they have no attachment to work (action) because the self is free of both action and attachment. 

18:65 – Blessed indeed is that knower of self, who has transcended the mind, and who, even though seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, or eating, is the same under all conditions.

You “transcend” the mind by knowing that as the self, you’re never affected by the mind.  Then you understand that you’re always the changeless self regardless of what’s appearing in the mind, be it seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating or anything else. 

18:66 – Where is samsara, where is appearance (of the world)?  Where is achievement or the striving to achieve for one with steadfast knowledge who is unchanging and all-pervasive like space? 

Only the self exists.  When this known, the reality of the world and the suffering it causes (samsara) are negated.  Achievement and the striving to achieve are also negated, seeing as they’re part and parcel of the unreal world.      

“The one with steadfast knowledge” is “unchanging and all-pervasive like space” because they know directly and without a doubt, “I am the changeless, all-pervasive self.”

Space is a great metaphor for the self because it’s everywhere, indivisible and unaffected by the objects that appear in it. But really speaking, it’s more accurate to say that space is unchanging and all-pervasive like the self, and not the other way around because space is an illusion that depends on the self for its seeming existence.   

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.38

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18:57 – The sense of duty, indeed, is the world of relativity. It is transcended by the wise who knows, “I am all-pervasive, formless, immutable, and untainted.”

The sense of duty is based on the idea of doership, the belief that, “I am the body-mind and I must do such and such.”  The wise one (the one with self-knowledge) has no sense of duty—even while attending to their duties—because their identification with the body-mind has been negated by the knowledge, “I am the all-pervasive, formless, changeless and untainted self.”   

18:58 – One of dull intellect remains restless and agitated, even without doing anything; but the skillful one is not disturbed, even while doing their duties.   

This verse reinforces my previous point: the skillful one (the self-realized person) is not disturbed by action because they have no sense of doership—they know they’re not acting even when the body-mind is acting.  But one of dull intellect (a self-ignorant person who identifies with the body-mind) is restless owing to their false sense of doership—even when they’re not doing anything, they’re agitated because they’re still thinking about what needs to be done in the future or what they should or shouldn’t have done in the past.    

18:59 – With perfect equanimity, even in practical life, the wise one sits happily, sleeps happily, moves happily, speaks happily, and eats happily.

Whether the wise one sits, sleeps, moves, speak or eats happily depends on the individual person and their particular circumstances.  It’s quite possible they may be unhappy, indifferent or something in-between while doing those things but regardless, they always have perfect equanimity as the self, unchanging consciousness-existence. 

18:60 – Whoever, by virtue of the realization of his own self, does not feel distressed even in practical life like ordinary people, and remains unagitated, like a vast lake, with all his sorrows gone—he shines.

Having a mind that’s completely at peace is not enlightenment. Why?  Because enlightenment is the crystal clear understanding, “I am the self.  I am never the mind.” 

However, when you know this, it radically changes your perspective for the better because you understand that as the self, you’re always completely perfect and changeless.  When, over time, you get used to thinking of yourself in that way, it brings a greater sense of peace to the mind because you know that you’re always okay no matter what’s going in your everyday life. 

With that distinction in mind, this verse is the gold standard description of someone who not only has self-knowledge but who’s also assimilated the knowledge to such a degree that they move through life without distress. But for the record, whether this happens or not is of no consequence—the self-realized person accepts their mind as it is.            

 18:61 – With the deluded, even inaction becomes action, and with the wise, even action results in the fruit of inaction.

By “the deluded” the author is referring to those without self-knowledge.  So when he says that “even inaction becomes action” for such people, he means that even when they refrain from action, they’re still identified with the doer of action, the body-mind. 

The wise (those with self-knowledge) have no such identification so they know that they’re completely actionless even when the body-mind acts or refrains from acting.

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