A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 27

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CHAPTER 18: Part One

While a final book version of this commentary is still in the works, I changed my mind and decided to publish the last three chapters online for free.  I’m not saying I’ll never write a book with the intention of selling it (many teachers do), but it always feels a little awkward to set out to create a “product” to be sold rather than giving away the knowledge to those who need it.  Still, studying these texts and commenting on them takes up a great deal of time, so if you find these posts beneficial and you feel inclined to donate to support the ongoing work, I am grateful.  Without further ado…      

Ashtavakra said:
18:1 – Salutations to that peaceful effulgence whose nature is bliss, knowing which all delusion becomes like a dream. 

The self—meaning your true nature—is peaceful insofar as it’s unchanging and free from the activities of the body-mind.  And it’s effulgent—shining—as the light of consciousness that illuminates the body-mind.  When you know you’re the actionless, shining self, any former ideas of thinking you’re the body-mind—or that the world it inhabits is real—become like a dream.  Yes, the body-mind and world remain as they are, but you’ve seen through their illusion. 

18:2 – One can get plenty of enjoyment by acquiring worldly objects. But surely one cannot be happy without renouncing all.

Gaining things in the world gives enjoyment.  But since everything in the world is temporary, the enjoyment never lasts.  So in order to be truly happy—meaning satisfied—you need something to rely on that’s always available and never changes.  The only ‘thing’ that fits the bill is your own self, which luckily, you can never be apart from.  When you clear away the false notions you have about yourself—the main one being, “I am the body-mind”—you see that ironically you’ve been the self the whole time you’ve been futilely searching for satisfaction in the body-mind or the circumstances it inhabits. At that point, you can “renounce all” by turning your attention away from external objects in favor of dwelling on your true nature.  In other words, when life gives you lemons—which it frequently does—you can drink the sweet lemonade of self-knowledge and be content knowing that no matter what, you’re always just fine. 

18:3 – How can there be tranquility for one who has been burnt by the painful sun of doership without the continuous shower of the nectar of happiness? 

When you believe you’re the body-mind, you think, “I have to do such-and-such or avoid such-and-such to be at peace.”  Because of that, you’re continuously scorched by the sun of feeling like you have to do—or not do—something to be satisfied.  What’s the solution?  It’s the nectar of happiness, the ‘lemonade’ of self-knowledge I mentioned in the previous verse.  Because doing or not doing something can never be the solution to the burden of doership—it can only perpetuate the problem.  To be free from doership, you need self-knowledge to see that you’re never the doer in the first place.    

18:4 – This universe is merely imagined.  From the standpoint of the highest reality, it is nothing.  But there is no non-existence for those that discriminate their true nature from both the existent and non-existent. 

A wave is normally thought to exist as a standalone, independent thing.  But when you know the wave is really just an appearance of water, the wave is seen to be “nothing,” as in nothing but water—it has no existence apart from water.  In the same way, the universe usually is believed to be an objective reality.  But when you know the universe is just an appearance of the self, you understand that it’s “nothing,” meaning nothing but your own the self. 

In everyday language, objects in the world fall into the categories of “existent” or “non-existent.”  For example, the sun is existent, while the son of a woman who can’t have children is non-existent.  Or in another context, when the body-mind is born, it’s existent.  And when it dies, it’s non-existent.  Now, if you’re the body-mind, that’s a problem.  But when you discriminate your true nature from both existence and non-existence—which are both just concepts that apply to unreal objects—you understand there can be no non-existence for you, the self.  It’s not as if you find out that you’re a permanently existing object.  Rather, you see that you’re existence itself, the very essence of all conceptually existent or non-existent objects, the same way that water is the essence of all conceptually existent or non-existent waves.             

18:5 – The self which is absolute, effortless, immutable, and spotless, is neither far away nor limited. It is verily ever attained.

The self is never far away because it’s your true nature.  And there’s nothing you can do to become (attain) what you already are.  At best, you can only divest yourself of the notion that you’re the body-mind and appreciate the fact that you’ve been the self all along. 

Note:  The Ashtavakra Samhita is an advanced text that offers little to no supporting logic for its claims—it generally assumes you already know what it’s talking about.  That being the case, it can be a difficult text for beginning to intermediate students.  If you’re such a student, please feel free to contact me for further clarification on verses you don’t understand.  I’m always willing to help sincere inquirers.  

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A Conversation with Ashtavakra Pt. 15

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In Vedanta, the definition of bondage is self-ignorance i.e. believing that you’re the body-mind when you’re actually consciousness-existence.  Liberation, therefore, is 1) The clear understanding that you’re consciousness-existence and 2) The subsequent dis-identification with the body-mind and its various states.  This means from the absolute viewpoint that liberation has absolutely nothing to do with the state of your mind.  Whether it’s angry, desirous, attached and full of egoism or happy, unattached and free of desire and egoism is inconsequential because as consciousness-existence you’re always untouched by the mind.

But on a relative level, a mind burdened with excessive desire, attachment, egoism and negative emotions can be conditionally defined as ‘bondage’ insofar as it’s uncomfortable and generally detrimental to conducting your day-to-day affairs.  In that regard, it’s sensible to be aware of those states of mind in order to manage them for maximum efficiency and mental peace. 

Of course, it could be argued that the mind doesn’t need to be managed because it doesn’t affect you, consciousness-existence.  And that would be completely true.  But if you extend that logic, it could also be argued that if you fall down the stairs and break your leg there’s no need to seek treatment because the body doesn’t affect you either.  Or that there’s no need to go to work or tend to the welfare of your family and friends because it doesn’t matter to you, consciousness-existence.  And that would also be completely true. 

But in the same way that you’d prefer to have a healthy body, keep your job and maintain good relationships with your family and friends, it’s preferable to take care of your mind to ensure that it too remains healthy and happy.  You just do it because it makes sense to do it.  And you do it knowing that you’re always okay, whether or not your efforts bear fruit. 

If, however, you’re satisfied with your mind being miserable, then so be it—it’s your choice.  It doesn’t affect the fact that you’re unchanging consciousness-existence one single bit. 

In this chapter, Ashtavakra discusses what bondage and liberation are from the relative level.  Those interested in mental well-being take note.  For all of you hardcore enlightened beings out there who don’t care, feel free to skip to the next chapter 🙂        

Ashtavakra said:
8:1 – Bondage is when the mind desires anything or grieves at anything, rejects or accepts anything, feels happy or angry at anything.
8:2 – Liberation is when the mind does not desire or grieve or reject or feel happy or angry.
8:3 – It is bondage when the mind is attached to any sense experience. It is liberation when the mind is unattached to all sense experiences.
8:4 – When there is “I,” there is bondage.  But when there is no “I,” there is liberation.  Knowing this, easily refrain from accepting or rejecting anything.

The gist of what he’s saying is that it pays to be objective and dispassionate about your everyday life.  Desire never solved anyone’s problems because it always leads to more desire.  Grief over loss, at least excessive grief, isn’t warranted because it’s the nature of things to be impermanent—losing them is inevitable.  Acceptance and happiness or anger and rejection aren’t necessary because the value assigned to objects to determine whether they should be accepted, rejected etc. is completely relative.  What one person deems worthy of rejection might just as soon be accepted by someone else.  Furthermore, all objects are unreal, and nothing unreal deserves to be the source of real desire, grief, acceptance, rejection, happiness or anger.     

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