Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 22

Ashtavakra

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Contents

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 22

naaham deho na me deho jivo naaham aham hi chit
ayam eva hi me bandha aseedya jeevithe spruha

Translation

I am not the body, nor do I possess the body. I am also not a jiva, the living being. I am verily consciousness only. Longing for life, surely this one alone was the cause of my bondage.

Meaning

Your essential nature

This verse contains five important lessons or truths about us, our existence and our essential nature. They are very useful for contemplation and to overcome habitual thoughts and feelings, which we hold about us and our existence. What we think we are is important, because it determines how we live and what we want to achieve in our lives. For example, if you think you are a mere mortal, you will not think much of the possibilities that may exist beyond this life. You will solely focus upon enjoying here and now, ignoring the consequences that may follow. The five eternal truths spoken by Ashtavakra in this verse are listed below.

  1. I am not the body.
  2. I do not own the body.
  3. I am not a living being, subject to modifications, birth and death.
  4. I am pure consciousness.
  5. My longing for life is why I am bound here.

These five assertions are extremely useful to think about yourself and see yourself from a spiritual perspective as an eternal, indestructible and infinite Self, which many people ignore and do not consider necessary since they are accustomed to the worldly perspective. By thinking about each of them, you will develop a deeper perspective about you, your life and the possibilities and opportunities that are available to you on the spiritual path to achieve the highest freedom, which is the natural, intrinsic, unaffected freedom to be free from every limitation, restriction, hindrance, control, threat, dependence and vulnerability.  It is not that they cease to exist, or life does not happen to you. It is just that you become equal or indifferent to them.

I am not the body.

Liberation on the path of renunciation begins with the effort to know who you are, and what is responsible for your existence here on earth. Through the teaching of their gurus, the study of scriptures or through contemplation and self-inquiry, the initiates arrive at the first transformative realization that they are neither their names nor their forms nor their minds nor the bodies, but pure and eternal selves. When you truly realize that you are a pure soul and not your physical body, a lot of stress automatically disappears. You may also not obsess much about your looks or your public image.  

The body belongs to the domain of Nature. It is subject to modifications such as aging, sickness, and death. Identification with it due to attachment, delusion and ignorance leads to suffering. The Bhagavadgita clearly states that the body is like a clothe to the soul, which it wears in each birth and discards at the end of it. Hence, one should not develop attachment to it and feel insecure about the vulnerabilities of the body. Attachment to the body strengthens the triple impurities namely, egoism, attachments and delusion.

Your name is also a part of this identification. Your name is not simply a name or a mere verbal representation of you. Multiple identities are associated with it. It represents your name, your family name, and your entire lineage. Apart from them, you have many other identities which arise from your name and form, or your body such as the identities associated with your species, ethnicity, race, nationality, caste, gender, region, language, culture, color, appearance, profession, groups, community, associations, achievements, status, and so on. They all define you and establish your identity and individuality. You are an aggregate of these identities and images that are associated with them. Your image in the eyes of others keep changing according to their perception and knowledge of you. Therefore, you are a different person to different people.

It is important for spiritual people to contemplate on this aspect of their personalities and see how their names and different identities not only limit them and confine them to certain behaviors, thoughts, impressions and attitudes but also create barriers which prevent them from being themselves and see life from a wider and inclusive perspective.

Without that vision of all-inclusiveness, it is difficult to transcend your limited Self and become established in the universal consciousness of the pure Self. Your identity is your mental fort, just as your body is on the physical. They protect you from the world, but also limit you. Therefore, this thought, “naaham deha,” or “I am not the body,” is very important. By contemplating upon it one can cultivate detachment to both name and form.

I do not own the body.

The second problem one has to deal with is the feeling of ownership, or the feeling that you own the body. If you think carefully, you will realize that the body does not truly belong to you. Firstly, you did not give birth to it. It was created by the forces of Nature. You did not choose its complexion, height, gender or basic appearance. You also do not have complete control over its life-span or its fitness. You are also not its basic provider. It is sustained by the materials provided by Nature.

Further, you do not have complete control over what happens to it, or many of its functions, organs and processes. However, in your own interest and in the interest of creation, you are  responsible to protect it and preserve it and let it do its part in sacrifice of life. You are undoubtedly responsible for the health and wellbeing of your body. Indeed, it is your obligatory duty to protect it and preserve it, because it not only houses you but also several deities who are part of your inner cosmos and who play an important role in the sacrifice of the body.

However, you must do so by renouncing the ownership since it is responsible for the same triple impurities we have discussed before. Thus, the two ideas, “I am not the body” and “I do not own the body” are very important first steps on the path to liberation to stabilize the mind in the contemplation of the eternal Self, which is hidden deep within the body, beyond the mind and the senses.

I am not a mere living being

The third realization is that you are not a jiva, a living being. On the surface, we are all jivas, including all the animals, birds, creatures, insects and even microorganisms. We live and breathe. We react and respond. Within the limitations set by Nature, we have the ability even to change the world and its course. We can also defy gods and be ourselves. However, as jivas we are poor versions of ourselves, just as the reflection of the sun in water. Jivas possess jivam, life breath or life (ji or chi) itself. Life is a combination of movement, matter and consciousness. They are characterized by chaitanyam, liveliness or activity. Each jiva possesses a body and a soul. The body remains alive as long as the soul is present in it.

According to our beliefs, each jiva is a combination of Prakriti (body) and Purusha (soul), also known as Kshetra (field) and Kshetrajna. Kshetra is an aggregate of Tattvas (finite realities) of Nature, while Kshetrajna is pure consciousness, which is devoid of the modifications and impurities of Nature. If you can separate your consciousness from Nature’s impurities, you will have the pure consciousness of the Self. Since the soul is embodied by Nature, a jiva is also known as the embodied soul. The embodied soul is not the soul. It is mixed up with Nature and bound by it.

Jiva is a temporary aberration in the existence of a soul. Although we are outwardly living beings with minds and bodies, we should not lose sight of our essential nature as eternal souls. As the Upanishads affirm, we do not truly belong here. The world and everything here belongs to God. We are here as part of God's creation to do his work and honor our obligation. The highest purpose of our lives is to become free from beingness or dissolve it so that we can return to our pure nature. Living in this world, we forget this important truth and become deeply involved with it. By remembering it and realizing its true meaning, we can cultivate detachment towards worldly possessions and become free from attraction and aversion.

Longing for life binds me

Living here and dealing with our problems and the objects of the world, we tend to forget that we are pure souls and our true purpose is to engage in the task of upholding God's Dharma. We come to accept our limited existence as Jivas and become engrossed in our mundane lives. In the process, we also develop longing for life and the desire to make the most out of it. The desire to live and enjoy life in turn sets in motion many other desires, temptations and expectations, which take us deeper into worldly enjoyment. This was the fifth realization which Ashtavakra mentioned in the verse.

The longing for life is why beings remain stuck in this world. It does not mean that one should not have any desire to live. One should know that from the perspective of the pure soul, life and living are the means of bondage, rather than freedom. The soul does not require a body or life for its existence. It is self-existent, independent and free from all modifications. One should try for that existence rather than for the limited existence of a jiva.

I am pure consciousness

The fourth realization is the most important. One should never lose sight of it. Truly speaking, the other four are meant to lead you to this idea and stabilize your mind in it. What is the use of all knowledge, unless it introduces you to the real you, which is not self-evident until you peel off all layers of delusion and ignorance that surround it.

You are neither the body nor a living being who is subject to birth, death and rebirth, but pure consciousness, which is the nature of the Self. What do we mean by consciousness? It is the consciousness without the movements of the mind and its modifications. In other words, if you can separate thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions, images, mental constructs, memories, desires, attachments, egoism, etc., from your consciousness, whatever remains is pure consciousness.

Some call it pure intelligence, which is not subject to fluctuations. Hence, the Upanishadic saying, "Prajnanam Brahma," meaning, Brahman is pure intelligence. It is the pure consciousness which we experience when the mind is silent or in tranquil state. By contemplating upon the nature of pure consciousness, one can cultivate detachment to name and form. The Yogasutras says that in the state of self-absorption (samadhi) the mind become pure whereby the Self (pure consciousness) shines in its own light. The mind is like the ocean, whereas the Self is like the sky.

The essential purpose of spiritual knowledge

For a student of spirituality, verses such as this are useful to practice contemplation and self-enquiry. They help you stabilize your mind in the thoughts of the Self. The very idea that you are not the mind and body but pure consciousness takes you to an altogether different dimension and inspire you to redefine yourself from a purely spiritual perspective.  

If you want to overcome desires, duality, delusion and egoism, you must stabilize your mind in the contemplation of the Self and constantly remind yourself that you are neither the body nor the mind, neither the name nor the form, but an eternal Self. You should not think that you are a living being (jiva), subject to want and need, but pure consciousness.

When you are engaged in worldly activities, you should remember how they may bind you to future lives through attachments, attraction and aversion. If you constantly focus upon these thoughts, they grow upon you and become an integral part of you thinking and awareness. You cannot achieve liberation from your self-imposed limitations, or experience self-absorption until you resolve all that which envelops you and blinds you to the reality, and until you settle with the one thought that you are the eternal, indestructible Self, whose essential nature is pure consciousness.

The verses in this chapter can help you transform your thinking and attitude towards yourself and envision yourself as an eternal soul who has been pushed somehow into the limited version of a human being. You do not have to accept that identity and settle with it. You have the option to wake up from this deluded state and awaken into a new awareness.

When people read a book or a scripture, most of them may think about it for some time and forget it, as new interests and preoccupations catch their interest and occupy their minds. Spiritual knowledge should not be treated with such casual attitude, unless you pursue it with secular or intellectual attitude. Through practice and sustained interest and aspiration, you can bring that knowledge to life, and awaken each thought in your mind by pouring into it the power of your conviction and the strength of your sincerity and devotion. Surrender to the thought or the idea that you are an eternal Self. Let it grow in you and remove the darkness and impurities of your consciousness. Let it become your guiding light and source of inspiration. Let it be your teacher and gently guide towards truth, light, wisdom and immortality.

In the last part of the verse, Ashtavakra used the past tense when he said, “Longing for life, surely this one alone was the cause of my bondage.” It is because he was referring to his past when he had that longing for life and when he was till bound to his ignorance and delusion. It is an indication that he was not merely repeating the words of the scriptures or his teachers, but speaking from his own experience. He had already attained the state of pure consciousness and overcome his physical and mental identities.

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