Steady Wisdom: Day 10

Steady Wisdom: 108 Days of Changing My Thinking

DAY 10

I need no support but I am the support of all; I have no desires to be fulfilled; I am the immortal, changeless self.
– Brahma Jnanavali V.15

The universe depends on me but I do not depend on it. For how can anything exist without me, existence itself? Therefore, I do not have to rely on the body, mind or world for security. Because they are ever-changing and unreal objects, they have nothing to offer me, the immortal, changeless self. So I watch the objects come and go, all the while remaining satisfied in myself. OM.

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.46

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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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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt.44

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Ashtavakra said:
18:87 – Blessed is the wise one who stands alone, who is attached to nothing, who is without any possession, who moves freely and at pleasure, who is free from the pairs of opposites, and whose doubts have been rent asunder.

Once you get enlightened, you should give away all your possession, leave your home and wander about aimlessly.    

Actually, I’m just kidding.  If your doubts have “been rent asunder (removed),” meaning you’ve realized that you’re the self that “stands alone” (exists independently) and is attached to nothing (not affected by the body-mind or external circumstances), it doesn’t matter how your body-mind lives. 

This verse highlights the monastic bias of the author.  Being a monk is suitable for some, while living like a normal person is suitable for others.  Either way is fine depending on the temperament of the person.  This verse should be understood in that context. 

18:88 – Glorious is the wise one who is devoid of the feelings of “mine,” to whom earth, a stone and gold are all the same, the knots of whose heart have been rent asunder, and who has been purged of rajas and tamas.

As in verse 67 above, such a person would indeed be glorious.  But to the one with non-dual vision to whom “earth, a stone and gold are all the same,” wouldn’t the presence of rajas*, tamas* or the feeling of “mine” in the mind be the same as their absence? Yes. This understanding is key because as I’ve pointed out, the mind will always retain some sense of “mine” because it’s essential to functioning in everyday life (despite being ultimately unreal).  And as the Bhagavad Gita (a key Vedanta text) points out in verse 14:23 , rajas and tamas will always be present in the mind to some degree.  But they are never present in you, the self.      

*See Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14 for a more detailed description of rajas and tamas.  For now, in this context, rajas is desire, agitation and activity.  And tamas is dullness, inertia and ignorance. 

18:89 – Who is there to stand in comparison with the liberated soul who has no desire whatsoever at heart, who is contented and indifferent to everything?

Possibly no one because it’s unlikely that such person exists, unless by “liberated soul” the author is referring directly to the self, which is always free from desire, malcontent and care. 

If he’s referring directly to the self, there’s nothing for it to stand in comparison to because the self is non-dual and comparison is only possible between two different things.  If the author is referring to an enlightened person, I’d argue that comparison between the enlightened and the unenlightened isn’t productive because the point of enlightenment is to see that you’re not a person.  And by extension, to be free from the pain of comparing yourself to other people and trying to be different, rather than just accepting yourself as the perfect, limitless reality that you are.   

18:90 – Who but the desireless one knows not though knowing, sees not though seeing, and speaks not though speaking?

In other words, who but the self knows not though knowing etc.?  No one, because there’s nothing but the self. 

18:91 – Whether they be a mendicant or a king, the one who is unattached and whose view of things has been freed from the sense of good and evil excels.

Your body-mind can be a beggar with nothing or a king with everything.  But this doesn’t matter when your vision (understanding) has been freed from the sense of good and evil (duality). 

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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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