Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 04


Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 4

shrutvaapi shuddhachaitanya atmaanaamatisundaram
upasthe.athyanthasansakto maalinyamadhigachchati


After hearing the Self to be pure consciousness and extremely beautiful in itself, how can one become deeply attracted to sexual objects and accumulate impurity?


The Essential Nature of Self

In this verse Ashtavakra emphasizes the importance of soul-centric awareness. The norm is that most people identify themselves with their physical personalities. It has its downside. If you think you are a physical being with a mind and body, you will be drawn to physical things and pleasures, and become attached to them. Because of that, you will experience attraction and aversion and engage in desire-ridden actions, which will produce sinful karma and bind you to the cycle of births and deaths.

However, for the purpose of living upon earth, this is not a serious problem. For all existential purposes, accepting your physical self as the basis of your identity is not an aberration, but the norm of mortal life. Therefore, it is nothing to be ashamed of. We are created by Nature in this manner, because Nature has its own design to keep the mortal beings bound to the earth so that the progression of life and order and regularity of the world can be maintained. To be deluded and ignorant in this world, this is the expected behavior. Everyone is not born with an awakened soul. Most people are expected to go through the rut and ignore the essential aim of liberation. If they become liberated from poverty, want and need, it is a great achievement in itself because without that it is difficult to focus upon the idea of liberation.

One should not therefore belittle or look down upon those who remain bound to their physical identities or pursue lower aims. Householders in Hinduism have the permission from the tradition to pursue the four aims of human life namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. For the householder it is a way of life and the path to liberation. Hinduism acknowledges the importance of the first three aims to achieve the fourth. We must respect that because without householders engaging in their obligatory duties and pursuing those aims, even ascetics, renunciants, mendicants, wandering monks and sages who depend upon them for food and occasional help cannot continue their Dharma.

However, the first three aims are not prescribed for the renunciants. Their sole objective is liberation. For that, they have to cultivate detachment towards physical objects, sensual pleasures and their names and forms or physical identities. They must constantly remind themselves that they are pure consciousness and not their minds and bodies. With that thought stabilized in their minds, they must pursue liberation.

Suddha chaitanyam, pure consciousness

Suddha Chaitanyam or pure consciousness is consciousness which is devoid of all mental formations and modifications, duality, desires, egoism, attachments and latent impressions. They are called impurities, which arise due to the play of the triple gunas namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, which keep the mind disturbed, inducing desires and specific behavioral patterns. They can be resolved through the austere practice of physical and mental discipline, observing the rules and restraints which are commonly prescribed in the ascetic traditions, and engaging in the contemplative practices such as meditation (dhyana), concentration (dharam) and concentrated meditation (samyama).

When the mind becomes completely pure (suddha), with the predominance of Sattva, withdrawal of the senses and the suppression of desires, attachments and modifications, it falls into total silence, as if it has completely disappeared or surrendered itself into complete submission. It stops making noise, creating forms, perpetuating the egoistic feeling of separation or inducing habitual thoughts and desires. In that silence, one does not feel any duality or separation. It is the unified state, the state of oneness, which is free from forms and formations and known as Nirbija Samadhi, in which only pure consciousness exists by itself. It is the state of the pure Self, Suddha Chaitanyam, which Ashtavakra mentioned here.

In the Advaita philosophy, Suddha Chaitanyam is the only ultimate, universal and absolute reality, and everything else is an illusion (Maya). It is also the ultimate goal of every mortal being. It is eternal, indestructible, indivisible, independent and self-existing, by attaining which one becomes eternally liberated. Pure consciousness is compared to the ocean in the previous verses, in which creation manifests as a wave. Waves come and go, but the ocean remains pure forever. That ocean exists in us also, beneath layers of mental formations and sensory accumulations which we gather through several lives. In that ocean, the mind and its modifications arise as waves. When they subside, we experience the oceanic peace and stability of the pure consciousness or the Self.

According to the Upanishads and other scriptures, pure consciousness is not an inert state or a dead end as the Buddhists think. It has sentience of its own kind, unbound awareness or omniscience, transcendence and potency. It is free from the five constraints of time (kāla), universal laws (niyati), knowledge (vidya), passion (rāga), and power, skill, talent or ability (kala) because of which it is endowed with immense powers (siddhis). It is also characterized by infinite bliss, which is its essential nature. The Upanishads say that the bliss of the Self is millions of times more intense than the bliss that arises in the physical body due to sexual or sensual pleasures. Hence, whoever experiences pure consciousness and its infinite bliss no more goes after the pleasures of the body.

We do not experience the bliss of the Self because we are still caught up in the surface consciousness of the mind and its modifications. Hence, withdrawal of the mind and senses (pratyahara) is recommended to stabilize the mind. The mind and body also need to be free from their usual constraints and the impurities such as sinful karma, egoism (anava), attachment (bandha) and delusion (moha). The last three are known as the triple impurities. They can be washed away only by austere living and by self-transformative practices such as karma sanyasa yoga, jnana yoga, buddhi yoga, atma samyama yoga, bhakti yoga, etc. Devotion and the grace of God also play an important role. Then, in the total silence of the mind and senses, the bliss of the pure consciousness manifests itself.

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