Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 9

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Contents

Index, Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3, Verse 4, Verse 5, Verse 6, Verse 7, Verse 8, Verse 9, Verse 10, Verse 11, Verse 12, Verse 13, Verse 14, Verse 15, Verse 16, Verse 17, Verse 18, Verse 19, Verse 20

Verse 9

eko vishuddabodho aham iti nischaya-vahnina
prajvalaya ajnana gahanam vithashokah sukhi bhava

Translation

Burn down the forest of ignorance with the fire of this conviction, "I am one pure intelligence." Become free from sorrow and be happy.

Meaning

You are One Pure Intelligence

Seeing your life and the world as fragments is a problem because in that the mind plays many tricks upon you to create the illusion of reality. Much of your knowledge arises from association of things and putting together disjointed images and memories to classify and conceptualize the objective reality. Your mind does not remember everything. Generally, what remains in your memory is incomplete, influenced mostly by your desires and preoccupations. Modern psychology tells us that people may even rewrite their memories to falsify their past or create myths that give them comfort and self-esteem.

Then, how can you be sure that your knowledge of anything is complete or perfect? How can you rely upon it to make important decisions? Outwardly, it may not be a problem because your mind is an efficient organ, which knows how to minimize effort and maximize efficiency. However, the purpose of your mind is not to enlighten you, but to keep you alive and secure within the limitations to which you are subject. Hence, while your mind serves you well in worldly matters, it becomes a barrier in spiritual life when you try to unravel the truths that cannot be comprehended with your usual abilities.

The verse says that since you are in a forest of ignorance (ajnana gahanam) all that you see around you is the forest, and you will take that forest for real. If you want to know the truth, you must burn it down so that you can see the truth that exists beyond. Let us examine this analogy in detail.

What is the forest we are speaking here? It is the mind and the body and the objective reality with which you constactly interact and take for granted. You are the wild animal (pasu) in that forest who depend upon it for the nourishment of your senses, mind and body.

What is the ignorance to which the verse is referring? It is the ignorance that the forest is real or that your body and mind are real, rather than the soul. Believing that you are the doer and you are entitled for its fruit is also ignorance.

Why ignorance is compared to a forest? A forest, especially a primal forest, is a dangerous place, full of traps, wild animals, and unknown dangers. Your mind and body as well as the objective world are also dangerous places because they can be the source of suffering and delusion.

You cannot live in such a place for long with peace of mind, nor can you find a way out since you cannot see far through its thick canopy. In that forest, you will be lost and confused since you cannot see any clear path that leads you out of it. Besides, as you take that forest for real you remain deluded and at the mercy of Nature and its numerous creations. Life in that forest is not a picnic. Death haunts you everywhere, as in our world.

Therefore, the forest analogy is very apt. Your beingness (mind and body) is also very much like a forest, in which you are trapped. That forest is a product of your karma. You nourish it with your actions and make it grow thicker and wider. You let that forest grow around you and become trapped in the wilderness of your desires, ignorance, and delusion. It is the field (kshetra), or what we call the phenomenal existence (samsara), in which you are the traveler.

How can you escape from that forest ruled by death? You cannot find a way because there are none. If at all you want, which is not advisable, you have to create a path, using your intelligence (buddhi), which gives you the ability to sense the right from the wrong and discern things. It means you have to tread carefully, weighing each step, avoiding the numerous traps and unknown threats, which may take you down into the ground below.

Therefore, the best way to overcome it is not by finding a path but by burning it down in the fire of your faith so that you will not only clear the forest but also all the dangers that are present in it. When that forest is burned down you will realize that you are all by yourself and there is nothing else. That forest was just an illusion.

This verse clearly establishes that Astavakragīta teaches the knowledge of Advaita or nondualism, the idea that there is only truth, that alone is true, and the rest is an illusion. It clearly affirms that you are one pure intelligence, the Self of all. There is no second. Whatever duality you experience in this world is an illusion, the forest from which you should escape.

Vishuddha bodha means pure intelligence or pure consciousness. The purity is a reference to sattva. The intelligence is a reference to your soul, which is made of pure intelligence. Your ordinary intellect is a reflection of it and contains impurities. Hence, it is much inferior to the pure intelligence of the soul, which makes it omniscient.

You cannot overcome ignorance unless you have a strong conviction (nischaya) about your spiritual identity. Therefore, faith is very important to continue your spiritual journey and persist in it.

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