Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 12

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

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Verse 12

aho aham namo mahyam eko’aham dehavaanapi
kvachinna ganthaa naaganthaa vyaapya vishvamavasthithah

Translation

Oh, my Self! Salutations to my Self. I am One even with the body, neither going nor coming anywhere, but established pervading the whole universe.

Meaning

Transcending the physical identity

The body has distinct boundaries. If you have to go somewhere, you have to walk all the way. If you want to reach out to someone through speech, you have to speak in such a way that your words will reach that person. If that person is far away or deaf, your words will not reach him. You always need an effort to reach out to others with your organs.

With the help of your senses you may reach out to the stars and galaxies that are trillions of miles of away. Yet, when you watch the night sky, you cannot overcome the feeling of duality that you are watching something that exists outside you. When you depend upon your body or your senses, the duality never leaves you.

In the body, you are always you are, distinct from what you perceive and experience. You may read in a scripture that you are a universal being, and you are one with the rest of creation. However, as long as your perspective is derived from your perceptive knowledge, you cannot fully accept the notion that there are no distinctions between you and what you experience through your senses.

Centering in the consciousness

Universal, nondualistic awareness does not arise from body-centric individuality. You cannot feel oneness with the universe unless you silence your body and center yourself in your consciousness. This is the first step in liberation and a precondition to any spiritual practice. Even in Tantra, although you may begin with the body, you will eventually end up acknowledging your consciousness as your true identity.

However, it is also important to remember that your consciousness is mixed up with perceptual consciousness and the influence of gunas. Hence, although you may identify yourself with it, you cannot totally rely upon it, until you purify and transform it. When you are centered in your consciousness, even when it is not completely pure or free from perceptions, you do not feel the same way as you feel when you are centered in your body. In your mental consciousness, which is still subject to the modifications of Nature and the activity of senses, you can still feel extended and elevated.

In spiritual life, therefore, it is important to begin your journey with a paradigm shift in your outlook. You must remain centered in your consciousness rather than your body and keep practicing yoga to purify and transform your mind and body. Without the transformation, you cannot truly overcome the duality or become firmly centered in your consciousness.

Reaching the deepest state of stability

As you practice yoga and meditation, you will realize that your consciousness is not uniform, and in particular mental states it is difficult to remain centered in it. Your consciousness has many aspects and layers, just as your body. The major divisions are listed below.

1. Jagrutha or Vaishvanara: In normal wakeful state, you have an unstable, superficial consciousness which is influenced mostly by the activity of senses and lower instincts. This is the outer wakeful state where the modifications of the mind are most intense.

2. Taijasa: As you withdraw your mind and senses and go deeper, you will realize that deep inside your consciousness is more stable but still subject to modifications with thoughts, memories, and imagination which perpetuate duality and egoism. This is the second state, which is known as Taijasa and generally described as a dream state or the state of reverie.

3. Prajna: Still deeper, you will reach the third state of Prajna, which is more stable, where the mind is almost inactive but not entirely free from traces of duality and objectification. In this state, which is considered deep sleep state, where your senses are fully withdrawn, you may vacillate between awareness and non awareness and between duality and nonduality without any remembrance.

4. Turiya: If you still persist, you will reach the indistinguishable realm of Turiya, where all notions of duality, distinction and activity disappear and you will enter the state of pure, universal consciousness. You will experience oneness with the whole existence and do not experience any distinction between you and the world. This is the transcendental state in which all formations and latent impressions cease to manifest. In this verse, the seer experienced this state and expressed it in exalted terms.

Transcendental experiences do not last forever. They are fleeting because the world is still there and your mind and body are still subject to natural laws. At some point, you have to wake up, and let your mind and body carry out their natural functions. However, with each experience of Samadhi, your conviction grows and your faith in your transcendental existence strengthens. Having tasted oneness with the Supreme Universal Consciousness, having reached that perfection and purity, you cannot easily shake it off. The experience lingers in your mind and molds your behavior and thinking. That experience alone takes you further on the journey of liberation.

It was not that the seer was in Samadhi, when he was describing it to Janaka. He was speaking from his experience to give an idea of how it would be to see the existence from that perspective. It would be practically impossible for anyone to speak about Samadhi when he was absorbed in it. Ashtavakra was explaining its essential state to educate his disciple and convey the joy of self-realization.

True seers do not worship images

In this verse and the previous one, the seer saluted himself saying, “Oh my Self, salutations to my Self.” Why did he do that? He did not say salutations to God or the Supreme Self. He said that he would offer salutations to himself rather than to anyone. There is a profound truth hidden in this. You should worship none but your Self. Such an awareness arises from the pure state of nonduality.

In spiritual life you have to acknowledge that you are a divine being. You have the Self (Isvara) firmly established in you. It is the eternal, supreme, transcendental Self, who is worthy of worship and veneration. The wise ones are aware of it. They renounce the world and try to overcome the duality between themselves and the object of their worship. Eventually, they overcome the distinction between the knower and the known and between the worshipper and the worshipped. As the Bhagavadgita declares, they will realize that in the sacrifice of life they are sacrificers, the sacrificed, and the object of sacrifice.

Ignorant people worship gods and demigods as if they are separate beings. The self-realized ones worship God as their very Selves. From a physical perspective you may not see the unity of all creation, but when you realize your essential nature as the eternal Self, you will see yourself everywhere, and realize that you cannot worship anyone except your Self because there is no one else.

People worship God as a separate being because they relate to him through their senses and see him as an object, image, or entity. If you rely upon your senses, you envision the world as entities or objects. The true image worshippers are those who rely exclusively upon their names and forms and remain centered in their bodies. Some may delude themselves as worshippers of an invisible, formless God, but how can they be when they cannot escape from the conjuring and objectifying nature of their minds?

For them, formlessness is an objectified, mental notion only. They understand formlessness in relation to a form, as the opposite of form or the absence of it, rather than in an absolute sense as the limitless state of one and only in all dimensions. Therefore, although they may consider themselves worshippers of a formless God, in truth they worship but an objectified deity.

Only a true seer, who has realized the universal nature of his consciousness and experienced oneness of the whole existence deep within himself is qualified to consider himself a true worshipper of the formless, eternal Self without duality and objectification. Only he can say that he does not worship images, but his own eternal Self.

Your body is but a temple of Isvara. This thought alone can awaken you if you accept it unconditionally and contemplate upon it. A seer is a living temple. Wherever he lives, it becomes sacred. Whatever he touches becomes divine. People go to him and offer him respects because he embodies God consciousness and remains centered in it. Ashtavakra was one such seer. He transcended his physical identity and became established in his pure consciousness.

He further said that even with the body there was neither going nor coming for him. It is because, for a seer all movements are illusory. His body may move, but he is fixed in his universal identity. He knows that Brahman is One, without a second, and there is nothing outside him or separate from him. Since he is omnipresent and inhabits all this, there is no going or coming for him, or knowing or not knowing. All movements and manifestations happen within himself, just as the modifications of your mind happen entirely within your consciousness.

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