A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 37

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Ashtavakra said: 
18:52 – The steadfast one shines—their state is genuinely unrestrained.  But the peace of the ignorant one with attachment in their mind is a façade.     

The point here is that someone can outwardly appear to be peaceful but still be inwardly perturbed by attachment.  So real peace comes from within.  The steadfast one is one who not only has self-knowledge but who’s also applied it to their thinking to the point that it purifies attachment from their mind.  This is the kind of inner peace—the so-called “genuinely unrestrained state”—that the verse is describing.  To be clear, the mind of a self-realized person may or may not reach this state.  But that’s of no real consequence considering that self-knowledge first and foremost shows you that you’re neither the mind nor are you restrained by any of its states.          

18:53 – The wise one with an unbound mind, free from fictitious ideas, sometimes sports in the midst of great enjoyments and sometimes retires into mountain caves.

The wise one’s mind is unbound by the fictitious beliefs caused by self-ignorance, the most common one being, “I am the body-mind.”  Since they know they’re not the body-mind, it doesn’t matter to them whether their body-mind does something ‘normal’ like having fun with others or something ‘spiritual’ like contemplating in solitude.      

18:54 – There is no inclination the heart of the wise one, whether seeing or honoring a person versed in sacred learning, a god, a holy place, a woman, a king or a loved one.

The wise one has non-dual vision: they see everything as their own self, despite any seeming differences such as god, woman, king etc.  That does not mean that their mind won’t be inclined to react differently towards different people.  Yes, the inclinations of the mind can be greatly reduced, but they can’t be fully removed.  Regardless, in the presence or absence of mental inclination, the wise one (as the self) is always free of the mind.       

18:55 – The yogi is not at all perturbed even when ridiculed and despised by his servants, sons, wives, grandchildren or other relatives. 

A yogi is not necessarily a jnani (one with self-knowledge) because yoga is an action-based spiritual discipline that aims to control the mind whereas self-knowledge is based on understanding, specifically the understanding that you, the self, are never associated with the mind or affected by its various states.  This means it’s entirely possible that a yogi who’s trained their mind to be indifferent to the opinions of others may have absolutely no idea that they’re the self. 

All the same, since this is a Vedanta text, it can be assumed that by “yogi” the author means a self-realized person.  While it’s true that a self-realized person may become totally indifferent to the opinions of others, indifference isn’t the point of self-knowledge because indifference is a state of mind.  The self-realized person isn’t chasing a particular state of mind because they know they’re not the mind or affected by it—they’re the changeless, limitless, unassociated self no matter what state the mind happens to be in.            

18:56 – Though pleased they are not pleased, though pained they do not suffer any pain.  Only those like them understand this wonderful condition. 

This verse illustrates my previous point perfectly.  It’s saying that no matter what’s happening in the self-realized person’s mind, they’re never affected.  Their mind may be affected by pleasure, pain etc.  But as the self, they’re never affected.  And only those that know they’re the self can understand what this is like.      

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.36

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Ashtavakra said:
18:47 – He who is free from doubts and has his mind identified with the self does not resort to practices of control as a means to liberation. Seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and eating, he lives happily.

The self-realized person knows there’s no practice of control that leads to liberation because no action can make them more or less the self they already are.  Therefore, they let the body-mind do what it’s going to do, all the while remaining identified—and satisfied—with the actionless self. 

18:48 – Those of pure mind attain peace by hearing of the truth alone.  They do not see anything to do or avoid or a reason to feel indifferent towards either. 

You’re ready for self-knowledge when your mind is “pure,” meaning when it’s is clear, focused and receptive.  At that point, you can gain self-knowledge simply by hearing the teaching.  When you understand you’re the self, you don’t see anything to do or not do because you know that you’re not the doer (the ego that claims the actions of the body-mind as its own).   

18:49 – The wise one does freely whatever comes to be done, whether pleasant or unpleasant, for their actions are like those of a child.

Really speaking, the wise one doesn’t do anything because the wise one is the actionless self.  Because of that, their body-mind can do whatever needs to be done, pleasant or unpleasant.  For that reason, I’m not sure why the actions of an enlightened person are described as child-like in this verse because children are acutely aware of what’s pleasant and what’s not.  And they almost always gravitate toward the pleasant while avoiding the unpleasant.  That’s part of being child, isn’t it?    

Perhaps the author is trying to say that the actions of the self-realized person are childlike in the sense that they’re spontaneous.  But the actions of children (like many of their adult counterparts) aren’t spontaneous because they’re generally motivated by desire—the desire to get what they want while avoiding what they don’t want.    

But is it possible that the actions of an enlightened person—unlike a child—are spontaneous?  No.  If you refer back to the commentary on 18:13, you’ll see that the actions of an enlightened person are supposedly the effects of their past karma (prarabdha).  If that’s the case, their actions can’t be spontaneous because they’re completely pre-determined. 

At this point you may know what I’m going to say:  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the actions of an enlightened person are done freely or not because the enlightened person knows they’re not really a person—therefore the issue of action doesn’t apply to them.  It actually doesn’t apply to the unenlightened either, they just haven’t realized it yet.         

18:50 – Through freedom one attains happiness. Through freedom one obtains the highest.  Through freedom one reaches tranquility.  Freedom is the ultimate standpoint.    

In this verse, freedom means self-knowledge.  Why is self-knowledge freedom?  Because it shows you that you’re the ever-free self. 

Does self-knowledge lead to permanent happiness?  No, because happiness is a state of mind and the mind—enlightened or not—is always subject to change.  But self-knowledge does give the mind a permanent source of happiness to rely on—the self.  Unlike objects in the world, the self is always present, so when an enlightened person’s circumstances are painful or frustrating, they can always find happiness in the knowledge, “I’m the self.  I’m not limited by the circumstances of my body-mind.  No matter what happens, I’m always just fine.”

Does one obtain the highest through self-knowledge?  Technically, no, because the self is the “highest”—seeing as it’s the ultimate reality—and you can’t obtain the self because you already are the self.  So through self-knowledge one obtains the highest in a metaphorical sense by understanding, “I am the highest.”

Self-knowledge doesn’t lead to permanent tranquility for the same reason it doesn’t grant permanent happiness: both tranquility and happiness are temporary states of mind.  But in the same way that self-knowledge gives the mind a permanent source of happiness to rely on, it also gives the mind a permanent source of tranquility (peace) to dwell in, inasmuch as the self is changeless and eternal.  When an enlightened person finds their mind agitated by a difficult situation, they can always fall back on the knowledge, “I am not my agitated mind.  I am peace itself.” 

Self-knowledge may not be a permanent mental state of happiness and peace but it is the ultimate standpoint. How so? Because it cuts through false beliefs you have about yourself and shows you the truth: that you’re the self, consciousness-existence, the highest reality.         

18:51 – All the modifications of the mind are destroyed when one realizes they are neither the doer nor the enjoyer. 

When the modifications of the mind are seen to be an insubstantial illusion, they’re metaphorically destroyed insofar as their reality is negated.  All the same, it’s more accurate to say that identifying with the modifications of the mind ceases when you realize that you’re not the ego, the doer and enjoyer that claims the modifications of the mind as its own. 

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.35

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Ashtavakra said: 
18:41 – Where is control of mind for the deluded one who strives for it? It is indeed always natural with the wise one who delights in self.

Control of the mind—at least permanent control—isn’t possible because the mind is ever in a state of flux, often prompted by unconscious factors that can’t be known, let alone controlled.  So the wise one “who delights in the self” (knows they’re the self) doesn’t strive for control—they understand that as the self, they’re naturally at peace.      

18:42 – Some think the world exists, some think it does not.  Rare is the serene one who thinks neither. 

There’s nothing to be gained from trying to figure out the ontological* status of the world because it’s nature is indeterminate (anirvacaniya for you Vedanta nerds).  Here’s the logic:  The world can’t be said to exist because it has no being independent of the self—it’s merely an appearance of the self, not some stand-alone reality.  But the world can’t be said to be non-existent either because it’s a plain fact of your everyday experience.   The bottom line: It’s an insoluble conundrum, as evidenced by the fact that it’s puzzled philosophers for ages.  So rare is the one who can see past the dualistic concepts of both existence and non-existence to the non-dual reality that underlies them both—the self, consciousness-existence. 

Now, it may seem contradictory to say that existence and non-existence are dualistic concepts and then turn around and call the non-dual self consciousness-existence.  But the Sanskrit word used to describe the existence of the world in this verse is bhava whereas the “existence” in consciousness-existence is the Sanskrit word sat (pronounced “sut”).  To make things confusing (as Vedanta often does), bhava has several meanings, one of which is the same as sat.  But in this verse, the meaning of bhava being used to describe the world is “a state of being.” And this meaning can’t apply to the self because the self is not a state.     

*Ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of existence.  There, now you don’t have to google it 🙂

18:43 – Those of dull intellect hear that the atman (self) is pure and one without a second.  But they do not know it and are unhappy as long as they live.

You can be told about the self.  But you’ll never truly know the self unless your intellect (mind) is pure enough to inquire consistently until you see firsthand that you are the self. 

18:44 – The intellect of one who longs for liberation cannot function without depending on the object; but the intellect of the liberated one is indeed ever independent and free from desire.

The intellect of the liberated one functions in the same way as one who longs for liberation: it thinks thoughts.  There’s no getting around it.  So being liberated doesn’t mean that somehow your intellect will function without objects (thoughts). 

Therefore, when the author says the intellect of one who longs for liberation can’t function without depending on an object, he means that their intellect can only think of things in dualistic terms, seeing as a thought object necessarily implies its dualistic counterpart—the subject that knows the thought .  But the intellect of the liberated one has seen through the dualistic illusion of subject/object, thinker/thought, knower/known by realizing that they’re the non-dual self.  They no longer think in terms of duality and understand that as the self, they’re independent and free from desire. 

18:45 – Seeing those tigers the sense-objects, the frightened ones, seeking refuge, at once enter a cave for the attainment of control and concentration.

Those who believe that sense-objects are real may desire them.  Or fear them.  They may even fear the fact that they desire sense objects in the first place.  Because of that they may try to run away from sense-objects or commit to practices that reduce their desire for sense objects. Or both.  But when you know that sense objects aren’t real and that they can never add to the self or take away from the self, there’s no real reason to desire them or feel aversion to them.     

18:46 – Seeing the lion (liberated one) free of mental conditioning (vasanas), those elephants the sense-objects run away or serve like flatterers. 

Normally, mental conditioning in the form of likes and dislikes dictate a person’s behavior.  For instance, if someone has a strong inclination for a sense-object such as coffee, they’ll likely feel compelled to seek it out whether they want to or not.  But when someone has reduced their mental conditioning through the practice of yoga, sense objects either “run away” (lose their appeal) or they “serve like flatterers” (are enjoyed for what they’re worth, without compulsion). 

Yoga is good, but because it’s an action based practice, it has limited results.  You may get rid of your desire for one thing only for it to return unexpectedly at a later time.  Or you may get rid of one desire only for it to be replaced by another. 

This means to be truly free from your mental conditioning is to realize that, as the self, the mental conditioning isn’t yours at all.  It’s merely part of the illusory mind that never affects you.  

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 34

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Ashtavakra said:
18:36 – An ignorant person does not attain liberation through repeatedly practicing control of the mind. The blessed one through mere knowledge becomes free and unaffected by change.

You’re the self so no amount of controlling the mind can turn you in to the self you already are.  That’s why liberation is a matter of knowledge—meaning understanding what’s already true—not a matter of action.  

18:37 – The ignorant person does not attain brahman because they desire to attain it. The wise one certainly realizes the nature of the brahman, even without desiring to do so.

If a person desires to attain brahman, they’re thinking of brahman as something outside of and separate from themselves that they need to acquire, merge with, or become.  But this thinking is incorrect (ignorant) because brahman isn’t outside of anyone or separate from anything—this means, ironically, that the one who desires to attain brahman already is brahman

That’s why the wise one realizes the nature of brahman when they stop desiring it, meaning when they stop viewing brahman as something other than their own self.      

18:38 – Without the support of knowledge, the ignorant seek fulfillment in the world.  The wise cut the very root of this world which is the source of all misery.

“The very root of this world” is ignorance, specifically ignorance of the fact that the world—while seemingly real—is actually an illusory appearance of the self, consciousness-existence.  So instead of seeking fulfillment in the world, the wise destroy its root cause with self-knowledge, thereby negating the misery caused by trying to find satisfaction in something that isn’t real. 

18:39 – The fool desires peace through control of the mind and so does not attain it.  The wise one knows the truth and is ever of tranquil mind.

Control of the mind is an action.  Since action only produces limited, temporary results, no lasting peace is possible. The wise, therefore, seek knowledge.  When they know the truth, “I am brahman,” their minds can rest easy in the knowledge that as consciousness-existence they’re limitless, eternal, unchanging and ever-free no matter what condition the mind is in. 

18:40 – Where is self-knowledge for him whose knowledge depends on the object?  The wise do not see objects—they only see the immutable self.

The self, despite being the substratum of all objects (an object being any aspect of the body-mind or world), is never itself an object.  So any knowledge based on knowing objects can’t be self-knowledge. 

The wise are the wise because they have non-dual vision—even though they see objects like anyone else, they know that the objects are only an unreal appearance of their own self.   

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.33

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Ashtavakra said: 
18:31 – The mind of the liberated one does not exert itself to be either meditative or active—it becomes meditative and active without any motive.

As the self, liberated people don’t exert themselves to be either meditative or active because they’re not the ego—the doer—the one that does the exerting (or at least claims to).  As the actionless self, they’re ever free of the mind, whether it’s active or meditative. 

18:32 – A dull-witted person becomes bewildered on hearing the real truth, but a sharp-witted person withdraws within himself like a dull person.

Here, “dull-witted person” refers to someone who’s not mentally prepared to study Vedanta and “sharp-witted person” refers to someone who is mentally prepared to study Vedanta.  Ironically, both types of people have the same reaction to hearing the teaching: they become silent. Whereas the dull person becomes silent out of bewilderment, the sharp person is silent because they’ve drawn their attention inward to contemplate the meaning of the teaching.       

18:33 – The ignorant constantly practice concentration and control of the mind. The wise, abiding in the real self, like persons in deep sleep, do not find anything to be done.

The ignorantly constantly practice concentration and control of the mind thinking that control of the mind is enlightenment.  This is an idea that often appears in Vedanta circles owing to Vedanta’s close association with the practice of yoga.  But the wise don’t find anything to be done because they know that no amount of mind control can turn them into the self.  They can only recognize that they already are the self.       

18:34 – The ignorant person does not attain peace either by inaction or action. The wise one becomes happy merely by knowing the truth.

The results of both action and inaction, being impermanent, can never lead to a lasting peace of mind.  But self-knowledge can.  Why? Because it shows you that you’re always the self, regardless of what the body-mind does or doesn’t do.  As the self, you’re always at peace because your very nature is actionless, changeless and eternal.    

18:35 – In this world those who devote themselves to diverse practices do not know the self, pure consciousness, which is complete, beloved, free from the ills of the body and untouched by the universe.

To devote yourself to diverse practices is to seek fulfillment in the world by doing certain actions and avoiding others.  Because your attention is directed outwards to the body-mind and world, you can’t properly ‘turn inward’ to investigate your true nature and realize that it’s pure consciousness etc.

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