Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 18
na me bandho’asthi moksho va bhraanthih shantho niraashrayaa
aho mayi sthitham vishvam vasthutho na mayi sthitham
I have neither bondage nor liberation. Without the support, my illusion has subsided. Oh, the universe is established in me, but truly it does not exist in me.
Jivanmukta, the Liberated Being
The “I” has to be interpreted here from the perspective of Self. These were the words of a seer who had merged his own identity into that of the Self and overcame all distinction, separation and duality within himself. Here, his ego was not speaking, but the seer who had become one with the Self. He was speaking from the heights of pure consciousness, as the Supreme Self.
The first assertion in his statement is that the pure Self has neither bondage nor liberation. The embodied Self (jivatma) who is caught in the cycle of births and deaths (samsara) is subject to these states. However, even in that state the Self remains pure and untouched. The freed soul (mukta) is forever free, and never returns to bondage and mortality. Hence, the question of bondage or liberation does not arise for him.
The second assertion is that Self does not require any support or refuge. The support is required for all created things. You depend upon your body, and your body depends upon you. You both depend upon the world, the earth, gods and God himself for your continuation. Even gods are not independent. They depend upon us for nourishment and upon the Trimurthis for their protection and continuation in the heaven. Even Nature (Prakriti) is said to be a dependent reality.
In contrast, the pure Self is eternally free, independent and self-existing. In contrast to the created things, he is not illuminated by any external source, since he is light himself and shines with his own brilliance. Proponents of the Dvaita (dualism) believe that the individual Selves and God are separate and require the support of God, but the followers of Advaita (nondualism) like Ashtavakra think that the individual Self is an illusion, and it is but Supreme Self only.
Ashtavakra also stated in this verse that the universe was established in the Self but the Self did not exist in him. To those who are unfamiliar with the philosophical schools of Hinduism this may be difficult to understand. Ashtavakra was reaffirming here an important teaching of the Advaita, which regards the universe or creation as a projection of God and an illusion rather than a transformation, just like a film which manifests when it is projected on a screen or an image that appears in the mirror.
Neither the projector nor the screen exists in the movie, but they act as its source and support. Since God is without a second, there cannot be anything other than himself to project his creation. He is both the projector (the Self) and the screen (Nature), and the entire creation is projected within himself in the field (kshetra) of Nature. Hence, although he is the source of creation and it does exist in him, he does not exist in it.
An awakened seer such as Ashtavakra experiences transcendental reality at two levels, the relative and the absolute, or the individual and the universal. The relative reality appears in the body or the field of Nature, whereas the absolute reality exists within the Self only. The former is our natural state, and the latter our transcendental state. The latter does not manifest until one is completely pure.
The liberated being who is still alive (jivanmukta) experiences both the realities in different states of being. In his natural state he experiences the projected reality and in the deeply absorbed state the absolute reality of the Self. Thus, until he departs from here, he vacillates between these two like a pendulum, and has to cope with both.
Therefore, keeping the balance between the relative and absolute states, or the mental and spiritual, is a huge challenge for the awakened being. Alternating between the two, sometimes he sees and at other times sees not, and sometimes he is and at other times he is not. Since the two states are widely dissimilar, it can lead to unusual behavior, creating the impression in the minds of onlookers as if he has lost his mind. Because of his dependence upon his mind and body, he can neither escape from this duality nor shut down their natural functions, whereby people may find his behavior rather unpredictable and erratic.
Alternating between the two, he has to keep his sanity and remain undisturbed, which is a challenge, at least in the early stages, even for the most advanced souls. Hence, those who entertain romantic ideas about enlightened people may feel completely disappointed if they meet them in person and live in close proximity to them to receive their blessings or teachings. Many spiritual people who reach this stage, and having found it too unsettling, force themselves to return to their normal selves to continue their sane existence as they cannot cope with the alternating states.
From the absolute perspective, there is nothing other than the Self. It is all, and the only reality, without a second. From the relative perspective, the Self is a passive witness, while the materiality he experiences in the embodied state arises from his perceptions and interactions as a formation in his mind. We do not experience that oneness because of the senses, which create the distinction between the object and subject and perpetuate it through attraction and aversion and attachment.
An awakened being cannot remain in the transcendental reality forever. He has to keep returning to the ground reality of the mortal world because he is still in the field of Nature and subject to her Tattvas (finite realities). Too much interaction with the outside world can also dissipate his energy and make it difficult for him to calm his mind and attain Samadhi.
He is like the flower that has fully bloomed but is still attached to the tree and subject to its natural functions. Deep within himself he has the wisdom of God, but outwardly he is still in a mortal body, vulnerable to life and death and subject to his natural, physical limitations. Since he is not yet free from his dependence upon his mind and body and upon the world for his nourishment, he is a human being, who has envisioned God and radiates his light. Hence, he is the seer.
However, having tasted the blissful state of the pure Self, he is no more deluded by what he sees or experiences. Although he depends upon his mind and body and the external world, which constitute his physical support (upadhi or Ashraya), he knows their true nature and thereby remains inwardly detached from them. Discerning the unreality of the perceptual reality and the play of the Gunas, with his mind absorbed in the contemplation of the Self, and having realized his true nature, he remains indifferent to the dualities and pairs of opposites as the stable minded (sthitha prajna).
Suggestions for Further Reading
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- Why Hinduism is a Preferred Choice for Educated Hindus