Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 02

Mother of Pearl

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 2

aatmaaj~naanadaho preetirvishayabhramagochare 
shukteraj~naanato lobho yathaa rajatavibhrame.


Translation

Just as the delusion of silver arises from the mother of pearl due to greed and ignorance, the delusion of attachment (or attraction) arises from material objects due to the ignorance of the Self.


Meaning

The influence of ignorance and delusion.

Four important spiritual concepts are mentioned in this verse: ignorance of the self (atma ajnanam), attachment or attraction to material objects (vishaya preeti), greed (lobham) and delusion (bhrama). The example of mother of pearl is used to explain that ignorance of the Self makes people mistake the world for real and develop attachment to its objects. The mother of pearl does not contain any silver. The precious object in an oyster shell is the pearl. However, if person has never seen an oyster shell and if he does not know it, he or she may mistake the mother of pearl in it for silver and experience delusion and greed.

Ignorance of the Self

Ignorance (ajnanam) is a major problem. It is our natural condition. We cannot escape from ignorance because we are born with it. We are made to be ignorant by Nature so that we remain stuck in this world and suffer from our deluded actions. However clever and discerning we may be, we cannot avoid ignorance of certain kinds. Our senses can only see things from outside. They cannot fathom what is in them. Our knowledge is also tainted by desires and delusion.

Ignorance is of several kinds. Most of us are familiar with the ignorance of the world and worldly matters. A doctor may be ignorant of computer science, and a compute scientist may be ignorant of geography and geological science. We are ignorant of so many things because we are limited by the constraints of time and space. Yet, much of that ignorance does not interfere with our lives since we can manage our lives within those constraints. We can overcome worldly ignorance to some extent with study, and learning from observation, experience and others, and improve ourselves.

The second kind of ignorance is ignorance about your own physical self or personality such as lack of proper understanding of your true potentialities, strengths, weaknesses, knowledge, skills, etc. This ignorance can affect your thinking, perceptions, attitude, behavior, self-esteem, relationships and so on. Modern psychology affirms that there are limitations to our self-knowledge and self-awareness. You cannot know everything about yourself since you cannot remember everything that happened to you or see things as they are due to the mental filters. To overcome it, you need a lot of analysis and introspection.

The third and most important type of ignorance is the ignorance of your true Self, or your essential nature. Because of that, you identify yourself with your mind and body or your ego Self, rather than your eternal or transcendental Self, which remains hidden beneath layers of mental accumulations and impurities. This ignorance can be overcome only when a person withdraws his mind and senses from worldly objects and concentrates upon the idea of the Self until it presents itself in its pristine purity.

Delusion

Delusion means having wrong or false knowledge about things or mistaking one thing for another. Ignorance leads to delusion (bhrama), skepticism and confusion. No one in this world is free from delusion. Ignorance impairs our ability to discern things or know the right from the wrong, which in turn leads to delusion. Hence, people cannot avoid making mistakes in their opinions, judgment, choices and decisions. Thereby, they suffer from the consequences of their own thoughts, words actions. Brahma is the reality. Bhrama is the delusion. Because of Bhrama, one cannot perceive the Self (Brahma) who is hidden in all.

Deluded notions about the world and people can be a major source of problems and suffering in our lives. However, more problematic than it is the delusion of the Self or the deluded notion about the Self. Under its influence, people accept their names and forms or their mind and bodies as their very selves and ignore the pure Self that lies beneath them. This hidden Self is pure, infinite, eternal, indestructible, incorruptible, unchangeable and self-existent. However, since it remains a mute witness, one cannot perceive it except in total silence and unconditional surrender.

Attachment to things

By attachment we mean having strong positive and negative feelings or feelings of attraction and aversion towards worldly things. It manifests in people as habits, dependent relationships, preferences, prejudice, likes and dislikes, defensive attitude, criticism, anger, fear, strong opinions. Attachments arise from desires, and desire arise from the mind’s constant interaction with the world.

As the Bhagavadgita states, repeated contact by the senses with the sense-objects leads to attachment, which in turn leads to delusion, anger, etc., and ultimately to a person’s spiritual downfall. Because of ignorance and delusion people become attached to their names and forms. From that attachment arise many other delusions, habits, desires and more attachments. Greed arises due to selfishness which is in turn caused by the egoistic notion that one is distinct and separate from the rest of creation.

Greed

Greed (lobham) is insatiable desire for things. It arises due to egoism, lack of self-discipline, contentment and self-restraint. The most effective antidote to greed is contentment (santosham), which is a spiritual virtue. Greed motivates people to engage in selfish actions and hoard things. Coupled with ignorance, greed makes people ignore the reality and indulge in the delusional behavior of seeking, striving, and possessing things.

Because of greed people often fall for charlatans, impostors and scam artists or the charms of dishonest people as they appeal to their greed and fear and take advantage of their ignorance and desperation. The Casinos or the gambling houses do the same, but in a more sophisticated way. Because of fear and greed only people succumb to the lure of instant wealth and invest in volatile stocks in the stock market, often with disastrous results.

Desire for things, coupled with ignorance and greed make matters worse. When ignorance is overcome, discernment arises. With discernment, both desire and delusion disappear, and the mind becomes stable. With the help of discernment only one can perceive the truth regarding oneself and stabilize the mind in the contemplation of the Self. However, to cultivate discernment one has to overcome the impurities and the mind and body and stabilize the mind. Hence, spiritual practice is essential the journey of self-purification and transformation whereby one overcomes ignorance and delusion and learns to perceive things with clarity, discernment, stability, equanimity, sameness, one pointedness and truthfulness.

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