Steady Wisdom: Day 17

Steady Wisdom: 108 Days of Changing My Thinking

DAY 18

That which has form is impermanent and unreal. I am formless, permanent and real. Knowing this, I am freed from death and rebirth.
– Ashtavakra Samhita 1:18

The definition of real is: permanent and unchanging.  For how could something be real if it is here one moment and gone the next?  How could something be real if it is one thing one moment and something else the next?  By that definition, the body and mind cannot be real.  They are mere forms, continuously changing transient objects that are known to me.  Being unreal, they cannot be me.  Being known to me, they cannot be me.  Only the body and mind are subject to death and rebirth.  Knowing that I cannot be the body and mind, I recognize that I always have and always will be free from death and rebirth.  OM.  

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Steady Wisdom: Day 12

Steady Wisdom: 108 Days of Changing My Thinking

DAY 12

Virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, belong to the mind, not me, the all-pervading one. I am not the doer or enjoyer. I am ever free.
– Ashtavakra Samhita 1:6

I am all-pervasive pure being—I exist everywhere at all times. How then could I be the mind which is limited to the body and subject to disappearance in deep sleep? That being so, I am free of the mind—I am unaffected by its various states such as virtue and vice, pleasure and pain. I am also untouched by the ego, the thought of “I” in the mind which claims the actions of the body-mind as its own. Because the ego is known to me, it cannot be me. Because the ego continuously vacillates between, “I did this” and “I am enjoying the results of my actions” it cannot be real. But I am real—the ever-present, unchanging, all-pervasive self. OM.

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Steady Wisdom: Day 9

Steady Wisdom: 108 Days of Changing My Thinking


Attachment and aversion belong to the mind but the mind does not belong to me. I am unchanging consciousness, free of all thought.
– Ashtavakra Samhita 15:5

The mind, being an ever-changing flow of thoughts such as attachment and aversion, is not real. Being unreal, it cannot belong to me anymore than a dream house can belong to me upon waking. Because I am the ever-present, unchanging witness of the unchanging mind, I am free of all thought. Thoughts come and go but I, consciousness, remain unaffected. OM.

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra: Conclusion

Read Part 46 / Ask a Question / Support End of Knowledge

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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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.46

Read Part 45 / Ask a Question / Support End of Knowledge
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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