Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 19
sashariramidam vishvam na ki’nchidithi nishchitham
shuddhachinmathra athmaa cha tathkasmin kalpanaadhunaa
This body together with the universe is nothing. This is certain. The self is pure consciousness only. Therefore, now why to seek the imaginary ones?
The Real and the Unreal
When you realize that something which you held in esteem proved to be unreal or an illusion, will you still go after it or depend upon it? Imagine, you had a friend. You thought he was a genuine person, and you could rely upon him when you were in need. However, one day, when you truly needed him, you realized that he was not to be trusted at all and his friendship was just a mere pretense to impress you or deceive you. Would you still depend upon that person or his friendship? Truth is what is always, not what appears to be. Those who chase mirages know what happens in the end.
In this verse, Ashtavakra says that the body and world are mere projections of the Self, which is pure consciousness. When you realize it, will you still depend upon them for your happiness and spiritual Wellbeing? The catch here is the realization or the knowing of the truth regarding the body and the universe or the world. It is not going to happen to everyone. From the mental perspective, the body is the only support. Without it, there is no existence for the being.
Therefore, after reading about it in a book or hearing it from a guru, an ordinary person is not going to cultivate detachment towards his or her body and retire into a life of renunciation. If it were so, millions of people would have turned to spirituality by now and working for their liberation. By reading a scripture or listening to a discourse, no one will experience transcendental states such as this or develop the conviction to become a seeker of liberation.
The realization has to come from within, when one sees the world from the perspective of the Self as a projection. When you see a film on a screen, you know that it is unreal or a projection, because you know how movies are made and you see it on the screen as other than you. It will much more difficult to reach the same conclusion if you are inside that film and have no means to know that it is a film. According to Ashtavakra right now we have all been inside an epochal movie called creation which has been projected by God for a long time. We have no way to know that it is a movie because we are immersed in it, unless somehow, we manage to come out of it and see it differently.
You will realize the truth of anything only when you become completely detached from it and see it as other than yourself. For that realization to happen in spiritual life, which we call self-realization, you have to go through a lot of prior preparation, purification and transformation. You know that a dream is unreal and you cannot depend upon it because the dream ceases to exist when you wake up from it. You cannot wake up from this dream of God because it outlasts you. Yet, it is not different from a dream.
Until you wake from the illusion or made up reality (kalpana), faith is your only support and scriptures are the only proof to ascertain what is real or unreal. Since scriptures do not carry much weight in today's materialistic world, not many people turn to spirituality or develop a distaste for worldly things. They do not feel convinced that the world or the body is a mere formation or projection of the eternal Self.
However, seers like Ashtavakra realize it and reveal it for the benefit of others. They know that the body and the material universe have no basis of their own and do not exist without the Self, which is their support and source. Those who believe in them pursue the spiritual path to know the truth. Others go after their usual ways, according to their desires, essential nature and past karmas in pursuit of worldly goals. For them the world appears to be real, because their minds, which are subject to Maya and ignorance, are subject to duality. They perceive only the perceptual reality, but not the hidden one.
The dream with in the dream
Your mind, which is a shadow of the Self, is also a creator. Just as the Self, it also projects its own reality. In doing so, it also creates another layer of illusion. Hence, what you see and experience in daily life is not exactly the same as what exists in reality outside.
In other words, you do not see the reality of the Self as well as the projected reality of God as it is. You see projected reality (the maerial universe) also through a layer of mental projections, colored by your own desires, knowledge, ignorance, expectations, attachments and emotions. Thus, for most people who lack discernment the reality of the mind becomes the only reality. They cannot see beyond it.
To see the truth of existence or the reality of the Self, they have to cross two major hurdles, their own minds and the delusion or Maya. To overcome Maya, one must cultivate discernment (buddhi) and become a seer, and for the reality of the Self to manifest, the mind must cease to exist along with its projections and formations. Truth becomes self-evident when the mind is still, and one is free from delusion.
If you do not have faith or conviction, it is difficult to accept the body and the world as unreal and mold your life accordingly. By design, the world is made to worship the body not the soul, because Nature does not want to disrupt the order and regularity of the world or defeat the very purpose of creation. By keeping the beings bound to their bodies, Nature keeps the world going.
In such a world, you will not find many converts who will accept the arguments of seers like Ashtavakra and turn away from materialism and body-centric life. As the Bhagavadgita states, only a few people out of millions reach such conviction and look at the world and their physical bodies with indifference. Knowing that they are temporary formations in the eternal reality of God and with abiding faith in that conviction, they remain focused upon their Selves and attain the vision of the seers.
The Self as pure consciousness
There is a second assertion in this verse, which is about the nature of the Self. It is described as having the state of pure consciousness (suddha chinta matra). What does it mean by pure consciousness? How can it be distinguished from the consciousness of the mind with which we are familiar? Although pure consciousness seems to be an abstract concept, it is not. We experience it in deep moments of silence, but we are not aware of it.
The difference between the two is that the former is subject to numerous modifications, coloration and states, whereas the latter is completely free from them. In the former, you have the notion of you and others (subject and object) or other dualities, whereas in the latter you will not experience any duality. Further, the mind is subject to the influence of the triple Gunas, whereas the Self is not.
From an experiential point of view, if you remove from your consciousness all the movements, thoughts, emotions, feelings, activities, memory, egoism, etc., or if you completely empty your mind and its movements, you will find pure consciousness or the stillness of the Self. It is "sesha" or what is left in the end, when everything is dissolved. Vishnu is called Seshasayana because he rests upon pure consciousness (sesha) only, which is compared in Hinduism to an infinite serpent. In empirical terms, pure consciousness is that state in which the mind and the senses are completely absent.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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- Atheism and Materialism in Ancient India
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- Hinduism - Sex and Gurus
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- The Origin and Significance of the Epic Mahabharata
- The True Meaning of Prakriti in Hinduism
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- What is Your Notion of God?
- Why Hinduism is a Preferred Choice for Educated Hindus
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