Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 05


Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 5

sarvabhuuteshu chaatmaanam sarvabhutaani chaatmani
munerjanata aashcharyam mamatvamanuvartate


When the silent seer realizes that he is in all beings and all beings are in him, it will be surprising if he still continues to engage in feelings of mine or ownership.


The Sense of Ownership

The gist of the verse is this. When you erasae the boundaries of your egoistic identity and merge into the universal consciousness, there is hardly any scope to ​still engage in the feelings of mine or in the sense of ownership. Name and form pertain to the physical self and with that arise the feelings of egoism and ownership.

The pure Self, which is pure consciousness, is without any distinguishing features, attributes or identity. Ownership implies duality, emotional attachment and the subject and object relationship or dependence. They are completely absent in the transcendental realm of the Self. The living being (jiva) is like a cloud or a celestial object floating in the vast realm of space, which is often compared to the Self.


Muni means the one who practices silence (maunam). He is different from a Rishi, who is a divine being, born with an aspect of Brahma. (Not the same as modern Rishis). His silence is not confined to speech only. He fully silences his desires, attachments, memories, thoughts, attraction and aversion, judgment and other modifications of the mind to enter the deepest silence, where the Self only remains without any support, duality, impression or movement. It is described in the Hindu scriptures as the seedless state of self-absorption. Seedless means the absence of any cause whatsoever that fructifies into a mental or physical formation or the fruit of karma. Silence is the door to salvation. Without the silence of the mind and body transcendence is not possible. Those who enter the deepest silence experience oneness with the absolute Self.

Mamatvam and its effects

It is human nature to crave for love, attention, acceptance and approval. They are part of the basic human need for survival and self-preservation. People who are deprived of them suffer from psychological problems. Modern psychology acknowledges that the need for love and belongingness are strong motivating factors in human endeavors and decision making. Mamata and anuragam (affection or emotional attachment) are two of the most common feelings which are associated with them. They are experienced by worldly people in their daily lives.

Mama means me or I am. Mamata means pride, sense of ownership, belongingness, self-interest or selfishness. Mamatvam is the state which is distinguished or characterized by that feeling. The feeling of ownership or mine is common even to animals. They too love their offspring. In humans the sense of ownership extends to many things, other than children and family, such as possessions, achievements, relationships, community, nationality, race, caste, language, culture, land, beliefs, knowledge, organizations, ideologies, religions, names and forms, and so on. Indeed, the list is endless.

Whatever we frequently interact with, we tend to develop an attachment to it and form a sense of ownership or belongingness. From that (mamatvam) arise the fellings of emotional love or affection (anuragam), which binds us to the things we love and cherish. In worldly life both mamata and anuragam (feeling of mind and emotional love) are considered virtues. Parents experience mamata and anuragam towards their children. It helps them look after them and take care of them. It also makes them desire to return repeatedly to the same family through rebirth. The same feelings are deeply embedded in the survival instinct of species and help the advanced life forms such as birds and animals nurture their offspring until they come of age. They ensure the continuity of not only their own kind but also the world and life upon earth.

Apart from inducing positive feelings of love and affection, mamatvam also induces many negative feelings of anger, fear, possessiveness, selfishness, pride, envy, delusion, egoism and self-centeredness as part of the same survival instinct. It influences not only our thoughts but also our actions, whereby, we engage in desire-ridden actions and incur karma. The Bhagavad-Gita is mainly about overcoming such feelings and engage in desireless and sacrificial actions. Arjuna was reluctant to engage in the Mahabharata war against his own kith and kin and elders, towards whom he had feelings of mine (my family and my elders) and love and affection (anuragam). Because of those feelings he did not want to cause them suffering through his actions. Lord Krishna had to remind him of the need to engage in his obligatory duties as a warrior to uphold his Kshatriya Dharma and do his part, without attachment, doership, ownership and desires.

The sense of ownership and its associated feeling of love and affection are also major obstacles to practice such virtues as charity, nonviolence, truthfulness, non-covetousness, desireless actions, selfless service, discernment or to attain liberation (mumukshatvam) through the practice of various yogas. They can be overcome only by restraining the mind and senses and practicing detachment (vairagyam) and sameness or indifference towards worldly objects to overcome desires.

Egoism, sense of ownership, or emotional attachments do not disappear easily. They persist even in the most advanced practitioners of spirituality. Hence, you will come across many spiritual teachers who betray those tendencies. You may find them being attached to something or the other, be it a cause, a religion, a nation, an organization, an identity, a particular teaching or teacher tradition, or a group of loyal followers who become part of their inner circle and act like their personal heirs. It is not necessarily a virtue, for it is natural to human beings, but it does indicate the absence of perfection or completeness or the play of past life karma.

The all-inclusive unified awareness

Such feelings disappear only when one attains oneness or unified consciousness at the end of an arduous journey of self-realization and attainment of perfection, in which one sees nothing but the Self in everything and everywhere. Things and beings appear as mere shells or shadows against the backdrop of an illusory world, enacting the play of God, driven by their own nature, with the resplendent, pure consciousness of the Self pervading and enveloping everything like an infinite ocean. When the boundaries of human consciousness are erased, one sees oneself in all and all in oneself, beyond the illusion of Maya and the distinction of the personality. One cannot experience it even if there is a little trace of individuality or ownership in the consciousness. As the boundaries of the conscious self are obliterated, one merges into the ocean of pure consciousness just as a raindrop falls into the oceans and loses itself.

Ashtavakra referred to this state in this verse. After experiencing it, it is difficult for a sage or a seer to abide in the body consciousness or ego consciousness. Until then, he may vacillate, as the ego engages in a relentless struggle for its survival, but once that state is reached, he becomes free from the last vestiges of ownership and individuality (mamatvam), separation and smallness (anavatvam) and longing for life and bitingness (jivatvam). Having become free from those disturbances, he feels oneness (ekatvam) with everything, which he perceives. That feeling remains stronger even in his wakeful state when he engages with the world and its objects. Outwardly he may even appear as an ordinary person or even as a fool (murkha, since the tradition strongly encourages yogis to pretend to be normal and conceal their transcendence and supernatural powers to avoid disrupting the regularity of the world or excite the worldly people.

Therefore, although outwardly they may appear as normal or simple, inwardly, they remain stabilized in the limitless awareness, identifying themselves with everything divine. Even if they remain actively engaged in worldly duties, inwardly they remain indifferent and undeluded by the play of Maya or the distractions of the world. For them, the whole existence is represented by a singular, limitless reality and consciousness. Ordinary people do not experience it because they remain imprisoned in their own limited consciousness and identities building walls of separation around them in search of security, comfort and protection. We all have the choice, to be on our own as individuals in frail bodies or part of the oceanic consciousness.

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