Steady Wisdom: Day 38

Steady Wisdom: 108 Verses On Changing My Thinking

DAY 38

In my presence the sun does not shine, nor does the moon and stars, nor does lightning or fire.  When I shine, everything else follows.  By my light, all these are lighted.
-Katha Upanishad 2.2.15

I am pure consciousness.  Everything is illumined by my “light,” even the light of the sun, moon, stars, lightning and fire.  For how could the light of these be known without me, knowingess itself?  OM. 

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Steady Wisdom: Day 35

Steady Wisdom: 108 Verses On Changing My Thinking

DAY 35

I am the limitless ocean of consciousness.  In me the wind of the mind produces the diverse waves of the world.  I remain unaffected. 
-Ashtavakra Samhita 2:23

The world appears as thought-waves in the ocean of the mind.  But the mind appears as a wave in me, the limitless ocean of consciousness.  The mind comes, goes and changes but I, consciousness, remain unchanged.  Therefore I am unaffected by the world. 

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 11

Read Part 10

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Janaka said:
3:9. The steadfast person who ever sees the self alone, is neither pleased nor angry, whether feasted or tormented. 

You can’t literally see the self because it isn’t an object of perception. So to “see the self” means to know that you are the self.  And as the self you are never affected by the states of the mind—in this way you are “neither pleased nor angry.”  But when you know you’re the self does that mean the mind is never pleased nor angry?  No.  It is impossible to have a mind completely devoid of emotion. 

It is arguably not even practical.  Can you imagine if you told your child or significant other “I love you” and they replied, “I feel nothing.  I am the self”?  Or if you informed someone of the death of a loved one and they simply stared at you blankly and said, “I don’t care.  I am the self and I don’t have emotions”?  That would be absurd. 

However, for the mind to be overly emotional about external circumstances is definitely not desirable because this can cause it a great deal of unnecessary suffering.  That’s why self-knowledge should help the mind put its emotions in perspective.  It clearly demonstrates that there’s no need for excessive attachment because everything is transient and unreal. 

Keeping that in mind, you can appreciate your external circumstances for what they’re worth, without having your sense of well-being or self-validation depend on them.  And when those circumstances inevitably change or take a turn for the worse, you can take it in stride, knowing that as consciousness-existence you are completely fine.  For instance, if a loved one dies, it is totally normal and healthy for the mind to experience sorrow.  But with the knowledge that all is consciousness-existence, the sorrow is ameliorated by the fact that as the self, no one is ever really born and no one ever really dies.         

3:10 – Witnessing the body acting as if it were another’s, how can the wise person be disturbed by praise or blame? 

Taking credit for a good or bad deed is the result of falsely identifying with the body-mind.  But when a wise person understands that they are consciousness-existence—ever actionless and free of the body-mind—the belief that they can be either praised or blamed for the actions of the body-mind is negated.  They simply witness the actions of ‘their’ body-mind as if they were observing the actions of another person’s body-mind.   

But it’s crucial to understand that non-responsibility for the actions of the body-mind only applies to consciousness-existence.  Non-responsibility never applies to the body-mind itselfAfter enlightenment the body-mind remains part of the illusory world and therefore the rules of the illusory world continue to apply to it.  So if the body-mind breaks those rules, consequences are sure to follow—this means that self-knowledge can never be used to justify improper behavior. 

3:11 – After realizing the universe is illusory, desire for it and curiosity about it goes away.  How can one of steady mind (firm self-knowledge) be afraid when death draws near? 

When the universe is seen to be an illusion, the basis for seeking satisfaction in it is negated because no satisfaction can be found in something unreal.  And there is no reason to be curious about the purpose of the universe because an entity that has no real existence can’t have a purpose, the same way a snake falsely seen where there is really a rope can’t have a purpose.  

Does knowing this justify nihilism?  No, because you’re free to find whatever relative meaning in the illusory world that you choose.  And it’s no problem that this relative meaning, being transient, offers no lasting comfort because you know that as consciousness-existence, you are the true ‘meaning’ of the universe insofar as you are its very essence—without you no relative meaning is even possible.             

Death is an unreal state that applies to an unreal body-mind.  And as consciousness-existence, the eternally self-existent reality, it’s not possible for you to die because you were never born.  For both reasons, there is no need to fear death.        

3:12 – What comparison can be made to the wise one content with self-knowledge, whose mind is free from desire even in disappointment?

As the self you are naturally free from the mind, so it’s ultimately irrelevant whether or not the mind has desires.  But from the relative viewpoint, when the mind truly assimilates the implications of self-knowledge—that at its essence, it’s none other than consciousness-existence—it can rest in the truth that everything is completely fine, even during the inevitable disappointing moments of life.  Nothing needs to be done or can be done to make everything okay, because everything is always okay.                

3:13 – Why should one of steady mind (firm self-knowledge), who knows that objects of perception do not really exist, consider one thing acceptable and another unacceptable?

There are two ways to look at this verse. 1) There is nothing to accept or reject because there is nothing other than the non-dual self to accept or reject and the self cannot be accepted or rejected because you are the self.  2) If an object of perception does not really exist, then its being acceptable or unacceptable is also illusory.    

Does this mean that a person with firm self-knowledge, who knows that nothing is actually acceptable or unacceptable, would just as soon drink a glass of cold muddy water as a cup of hot tea?  Or cause harm rather than give help?  No. They make choices like any other person, based on personal preference and accepted rules of conduct.  The difference is that they are not unduly disturbed by the outcome of those choices, whether acceptable or unacceptable, because they know that as the self, they are unaffected by both.          

3:14 – When experience arises naturally, it causes neither pleasure nor pain for the one who has given up interest in the world, who is free from desire and the pairs of opposites (the duality of experience).  

This verse is tricky because it mixes the empirical and absolute viewpoints.  “The one who has given up interest in the world” must be the empirical body-mind because you, consciousness-existence, have no interest in the world in the first place.  But the phrases “it (experience) causes neither pleasure nor pain” and “who is free from desire and the pairs of opposites” must be the self from the absolute viewpoint because the body-mind is always subject to desire and the opposites of pleasure and pain, which continue to arise “naturally” even after self-knowledge.  Regardless, a body-mind free of self-ignorance should become increasingly objective about its desires and dispassionate about the ups and downs (opposites) of life.     

A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 10

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Chapter Three is usually characterized as Ashtavakra testing Janaka after the latter makes a statement of self-knowledge in Chapter Two.  But there doesn’t appear to be a coherent line of questioning.  And some of the verses are not questions at all, but statements.  Additionally, owing to a lack of definitive background information about Janaka to give them context, it is not even clear whether Ashtavakra’s questions and statements pertain directly to Janaka or not.  In a way, this is preferable because it allows Chapter Three to be more of a universal lesson about the effect of self-knowledge on the thinking and behavior of the body-mind rather than a critique of a specific person.      

Ashtavakra said:
3:1 – Having known yourself to be one (non-dual) and indestructible, how can you feel attached to acquiring wealth? 

If the body-mind knows itself to be non-dual unchanging consciousness-existence, there is no reason for it to be attached to the idea of possession or non-possession of wealth.  Why?  Because being wealthy or impoverished are states that only apply to an illusory body-mind.  So there is no virtue in the body-mind being poor nor any vice in the body-mind having wealth—neither one has any effect on you, consciousness-existence. 

3:2 – From self-ignorance comes attachment to illusory objects of perception, just as from ignorance of mother-of-pearl comes greed for illusory silver. 

When you don’t know that you’re the non-dual self, the sole existent reality, you think that 1) objects are real and 2) that they are different or separate from you.  These beliefs are what makes attachment possible, because why would you be attached to an unreal object?  In the same way that greed for silver dissipates when it is known to be mother-of-pearl, attachment for objects dissipates when they are known to be illusory.    

Does this mean that a person with self-knowledge has no desires?  First, if someone knows that they’re the self, they understand that they are not, never have been, and never will be a person.  Therefore, whether the person (the body-mind) has desires or not is ultimately immaterial. 

Regardless, self-knowledge can—and should—inform the way the body-mind thinks and behaves.  So when the mind knows that at its essence it’s the sole unchanging existent reality, its desire for illusory objects should naturally decrease.  The next verse illustrates this point perfectly.     

3:3 – Having known yourself to be that in which the universe appears like waves on the ocean, why do you run after objects as if you are in need? 

If you have self-knowledge, you know that the body-mind is illusory and has nothing to do with you.  But despite being unreal, it does not suddenly disappear.  And according to rules of the universe the body-mind inhabits, it still needs food, shelter, clothing etc., assuming you do not want it to wither away and die; jobs, relationships and family commitments need to be maintained, assuming you want to keep them.  The difference is that you can tend to the body-mind and its circumstances without the undue stress caused by thinking it is real and that your well-being somehow depends on it.  As consciousness-existence, you are always completely fine, regardless of the state of the body-mind—even when it is running after objects as if it is in need.        

3:4 – After hearing oneself to be pure consciousness and surpassingly beautiful, how can you continue to be attached to the impurity of sex?

Pure consciousness, the self, can be considered “surpassingly beautiful” in a few different ways.  1) It is the most attractive ‘thing’ there is insofar as all actions are done for the sake of the self. 2) Beauty is often considered to be a measure of perfection; in this regard, owing to its utter lack of defect, the self—as opposed to inherently flawed objects—is “surpassingly beautiful.” 3) Since no beauty in the empirical world is even possible without consciousness being there as its very essence, it is “surpassingly beautiful.” 

If you have discovered your own ‘inner beauty’ as the self, there is no need to be preoccupied with sensual pleasures such as sex that can never bring any lasting satisfaction.  But like the issue of wealth discussed in 3:1, there is nothing inherently wrong with sex, even for one who is free from self-ignorance.  It is a natural part of life and done consensually and respectfully, it is a healthy part of loving relationships. 

Being an ascetic, perhaps Ashtavakra would not agree with this sentiment.  But having a monastic lifestyle doesn’t make a person more pure than someone who leads a normal life in the everyday world.  As Ashtavakra points out, you are pure consciousness; since purity is your nature, you can never be impure. 

3:5 – It would be astonishing for the sense of ownership to continue in the wise one who knows that he is the self in all and that all is in the self.

If you know that everything is yourself, then you can’t say you own anything for the simple fact that you can’t own yourself—you simply are yourself.  Does this mean that on the empirical level you suddenly lose all notions of having a body, a house, a car etc.?  No.  But the idea of ‘owning’ those things is put into perspective in light of the truth of non-duality–even though notions of ownership may persist, they are known to be completely baseless. 

3:6 – It would be strange for one dwelling on the highest non-duality and intent on liberation to be impaired by the desire for enjoyment. 

When you realize that transient objects can never give lasting satisfaction, your desire for them should become subservient to your desire to seek freedom from objects through self-knowledge. 

3:7 – It is astonishing how one debilitated and approaching death could still have desire, even after ascertaining that its arising is unfriendly (contrary) to knowledge.

After a lifetime of trying and failing to find fulfillment in fleeting objects it would be unfortunate if it didn’t become obvious that attainment of desires isn’t the key to satisfaction.  Ironically, pursuing desires is the main impediment to the fulfillment that is being sought because it keeps attention riveted outward, looking for solutions in external objects, thereby inhibiting the contemplation of the non-object ‘inner’ self—‘inner’ meaning it is the essence of everything—that leads to actual satisfaction through self-knowledge.      

3:8 – It is strange that one who is unattached to the objects of this world and the next, who discriminates the eternal from the transient, and who longs for liberation (moksha), should yet fear liberation! 

Even highly qualified students who are dispassionate (“unattached to the objects of this world and the next”) and able to discriminate the eternal (the self) from the transient (the ‘not-self’ i.e. objects) may fear the very liberation they are seeking.  Why?  Because it appears to be the destruction of their own individuality.  But this fear is unfounded and it stems from a basic misunderstanding of liberation.  Liberation, instead of being the destruction of the individual (the body-mind), is the destruction of self-ignorance. 

This means that while the body-mind persists after liberation, the belief that you are the body-mind is what is destroyed.  Granted, since you have identified with the body-mind your entire life, this may still seem unsettling.  But seeing as the body-mind is the seat of all suffering, both mental and physical, negating the notion that it is who you are should be a welcome change. 

Here is another way to look at it: the word “individuality” normally means to be an entity distinct from other entities and this is how people suffering from self-ignorance normally view themselves; they think they are one unique body-mind among many body-minds.  Self-knowledge does negate individuality in this sense.  But a word that is synonymous with “individuality” is “uniqueness,” which means to be “one of a kind.”  So even when self-knowledge destroys the idea that you are an individual body-mind, you still retain your individuality in the sense that as non-dual consciousness-existence—you are one of a kind because there is nothing other than you.  

There Is No Other Freedom

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Paul, my good friend and guru-brother.  While staying with him he showed me a book of Swami Dayananda’s transcribed talks and pointed out one titled, “Freedom – Absence of Self-Judgement.” While I’ve read a fair amount of Swami Dayananda’s voluminous body of work (all of it high-quality), this piece immediately became my favorite.  Why? First, while brevity and directness are not always Vedanta’s strong-suit, this talk had both in spades.  Second, and most importantly, it dealt with the most pertinent topic of Vedanta, freedom, an issue that every student of Vedanta finds perplexing at one point or another in their study.

One of the reasons for the confusion regarding the nature of freedom is the close association—and subsequent mixing up—of yoga, meditation and Vedanta.  Despite the fact that yoga and meditation are excellent practices (practices that Vedanta advocates), their ideas of freedom are usually different from Vedanta.  While yoga and meditation often aim to fully change, control or stop the mind, Vedanta does not.  Why?  Because Vedanta recognizes a simple fact:  While the mind can (and should) be disciplined, it can never be fully changed, controlled or stopped.  This means that freedom, as commonly defined in yoga and meditation is impossible.  Since freedom is desirable, that seems to present a major problem.  However, Vedanta says not to worry.  The condition of the mind is not an insurmountable obstacle to freedom because you, the self, are always free from the condition of the mind.    

The idea that freedom depends on a certain condition of your mind is by far the most common, persistent and harmful misconceptions about freedom.  Because Swami Dayananda clearly pointed out the error of this idea in his talk, I’ve re-printed the transcript below, taking the liberty of italicizing the parts I thought were of particular interest.  May it help you make your goal crystal clear.    


P.S. – I am always hesitant to quote teachers owing to the possibility that I may misrepresent them in some way.  I have a lot of respect for Swami Dayananda so if I have misrepresented him in any way, the fault is mine. 


To judge oneself, at any time, on the basis of the obtaining condition of one’s mind is an error.  The present condition of the mind may be sorrow, depression, frustration, regret, disappointment, or just a response to failure.  As long as you judge yourself based on the condition of your mind, you are a samsari (one enmeshed in the relative world of beginnings and endings.)  When you refuse to judge yourself from the condition of your mind, you are a mumuksu (one who seeks freedom from all apparent limitation) and a jignasu (one who seeks freedom through knowledge). And when you cease to judge yourself based on the obtaining condition of the mind, you are free.  This is the only freedom there is—the freedom from the error of self-judgement that is based on the condition of the mind. 

The error is evident.  The nature of the mind is to keep changing all the time.  In the morning you judge yourself in one way, and in the evening in a different way.  When the judgement is harbored, the harbored judgement, stored in memory, creates a “personality” out of a person.  The personality is purely psychological.  It is against the vision of the self that Vedanta is unfolded in the teaching of Vedanta.  And if the knowledge of the self that Vedanta unfolds does not work for you, it does not work only because of this judgement.  When you refuse to judge yourself on the basis of your mind then you are serious in seeking clarity in the vision of the truth of the self. 

This does not mean that you have to always have a particular type of mind.  Mind does and will change, unless you anesthetize yourself psychologically, which is unnatural.  Thoughts do not “dry up” because the source of thoughts, perception and memory, is always there. 

The student says, “I seem to understand the vision, but then why am I still bothered by a jumble of thoughts?”  Because of a condition of the mind, the student doubts the vision, the very knowledge.  The doubt is an obstacle to gaining the knowledge.  Knowledge is not an obtaining condition of the mind, not a state of mind.  Knowledge is recognition of the fact that I am thought-free.  This recognition is different from a state of mind that is thought-free.  The difference between recognizing my fundamental nature as thought-free and aiming for a thought-free mind is the difference between knowledge and ignorance. 

Refuse to judge yourself on the basis of the obtaining condition of the mind.  Then you are serious in the pursuit of freedom.  Then there is freedom.  There is no other freedom

Swami Dayananda – Piercy, CA March 1983