Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 06

Ashtavakra

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 6

aasthitah paramadvaitam moksharthe.api vyavasthitah
aashcharyam kaamavashago vikalah kelishikshayaa


Translation

It will be surprising if anyone who is established in supreme nonduality and fully engaged in the pursuit of liberation is still enslaved by lust or weakened by the learning in amorous pastime.


Meaning

The Supreme state of nonduality

The verse states that it would be incredible if a self-realized yogi who was established in the state of nonduality and engaged in the practice of liberation succumbed to the temptations of sexual pleasures which me might have learned or experienced in his past lives or current life before becoming a renunciant (Sanyasi). Once a yogi is fully established in unified consciousness and intent upon achieving liberation, it is difficult for him to revert to old habits and tendencies.

The pitfalls of spiritual practice

If at all a spiritual person who has progressed far on the path of liberation reverts to worldly ways as in some cases, it is because either his transformation or purification is incomplete or he may not have fully resolved his desires, attachments and worldly ways. However, as the Bhagavad-Gita states there is no loss on the path of liberation. If a person fails or stumbles for any reason, he can still hope to achieve liberation by continuing his practice from where he left either in this life or in the next.

At times, spiritual experiences can be self-induced or imagined due to desires and impurities or due to self-fulfilling prophecies. Our minds can play tricks upon our hopes and aspirations, since they are difficult to be restrained or stabilized in equanimity or detachment. On the path of liberation, knowledge is helpful, but certain types of knowledge may interfere with one’s progress, attitude or purity. Especially intellectual knowledge can be a hindrance since it can induce rigidity, resistance and pride. Imagination is another important hindrance, which can produce illusory spiritual experiences and delude the mind. Therefore, on the path of liberation one should remain on guard and keep a constant vigil upon one’s thinking and actions.

Liberation demands sacrifice and commitment. One must be willing to forego everything and face all hardships. Spiritual life has to be lived without the usual planning, expectation or safeguards, which characterize worldly life. Hence, without dedicated and disciplined effort, one cannot progress far on the spiritual path. A seeker may learn about the state of nonduality by reading books or listening to others. It may motivate him to pursue the goal, but by itself will not bring any permanent change in his internal organ, nor will it induce any altered states. To experience the state of nonduality as his natural and abiding state he has to engage in rigorous transformative practices so that he can see all in himself and himself in all. Once that unified vision becomes his natural state, there will be no going back and no reversal of the progress.

Resolving past karma, knowledge and learned behavior

For a spiritual person such as Janaka, who had been a king and who had led an active worldly life, past is always a problem. It is even a greater problem for worldly people. Past memories thinking, behavior and attitude keep invading their minds and influencing their current behavior. Past also serves as a control or a standard to know the extent of progress or transformation one has made on the path. It also helps one to identify the problems and potential vulnerabilities and work on them.

Ashtavakra left many hints in this chapter for spiritual seekers to review their vulnerabilities and ascertain their progress. Since he was instructing King Janaka, he used him as a reference to test himself. In this verse he wanted Janaka to introspect and see whether he was fully established in nonduality and free from lust and sexual desires or some past habits were still lurking in his mind.

As a prince, King Janaka must have received instruction in the subject of amorous play (Keli Shiksha). Once any knowledge is acquired, it becomes a part of one’s consciousness and remains in memory as a potential source of desires and attachments or desire-ridden actions. That memory or knowledge cannot be fully erased or forgotten. Since as a king and a householder Janaka led an active sexual life, Ashtavakra wanted him to check whether he was still vulnerable to those desires. If he was free, it would mean he had reached perfection in his practice or stabilized his mind in nonduality.

Parama Advaita

Advaita means absence of duality (a + dvaita) or nonduality. It is described here as supreme (parama) because according to the followers of Advaita, it is the ultimate State and Goal. What do we mean by nonduality? It is accepting only one reality, the reality of God or Brahman and considering everything else to be a projection of God or an illusory phenomenon. In practical terms, Advaita means seeing only God everywhere and in everything, including in oneself, and treating oneself also as God only, not as an aspect of God, form of God or creation of God but as God himself in a mortal body.

The normal state of our mind is the state of duality. It is characterized by subject and object relationship. For us all that we experience through our senses is the objective reality, which we experience as the subject. In the state of nonduality, only the subject remains without any predicative relationship. The objective world either appears as an illusion or becomes a part of the subjective experience. Hence, it is also known as the state of aloneness (Kaivalyam).

We usually relate to God as a devotee, servant, dependent or seeker, but not so in Advaita. For the follower of Advaita, liberation means finding oneself and returning to one’s true identity, which is God or Brahman. He worships God without any duality as himself, seeing himself in God and God in himself, just as he sees himself in all and all in himself. For him the supreme reality is indivisible, indistinguishable, inseparable, eternal, indestructible and permanent, which is also his essential, subjective state beyond all the formations, disturbances, relationships and modifications.

According to the Advaita, the world is a temporary appearance or a formation. The same is true with regard to the bodies, beings, tattvas and the myriad objects and worlds, which constitute the diversity of Nature. To the deluded mind, they appear to be real just as a person in darkness may temporarily mistake a rope for a snake, whereas to the person who is fully established in the supreme Advaita, they appear to be a mere phenomenon or appearances. Just as a film appears on the screen or the reflection of the sun on the surface of water, they appear on the Supreme Reality of Brahman. They are meant to distract the beings and keep them bound. Therefore, according to the school one should cultivate detachment towards all transient and illusory phenomena and practice liberation.

Kama and Moksha

Of the four chief aims of human life (Purusharthas) liberation (Moksha) is considered the highest. Hence, it is also known as paramartham (supreme aim). In the general order of things, a householder is supposed to engage in his worldly duties and pursue Dharma (morality), Artha (wealth) and Kama (sexual pleasure), keeping liberation as his ultimate aim. According to the Vedic tradition, liberation becomes the sole aim only in the last phases of his life, starting with Vanaprastha (forest life) and culminating in Sanyasa (renunciation).

If a person led an active life and engaged in worldly pursuits and sexual pleasures before taking up Sanyasa, he would find the path rather difficult and arduous as he would not easily overcome his past behavior or thinking or his attachment to his family, comforts and possessions. He will find it difficult to overcome his past learning, habitual behavior, accumulated knowledge and deeply etched past life impressions and habitual thoughts (samskaras). Especially those who indulged in the pursuit of wealth or pleasure have to cope with a lot of resistance within themselves. Hence, rather than aiming for liberation through renunciation most householders settle for the second alternative, which is rebirth. They engage in good karma such as charity and devotional, service to secure a place in the ancestral heaven and a good life in the next birth. They may also opt for alternative paths of liberation, which are easier to practice and do not involve much hardship or sacrifice.

This verse alludes to that difficulty and the problems people face from their own learned behavior, past pursuits, ingrained habits and secular education. The mind is a world in itself. It is a product of the world and an imposition or accumulation of the world and its impurities upon the soul. One may escape from the external world by going to the Himalayas or a deep forest, but one cannot easily escape from the world within. It becomes possible only when one cultivates detachment, renouncing all desires. When the mind is stabilized in the contemplation of the Self, the mind falls into silence, and the seeker will progress on the path with fewer distractions and obstructions. He becomes firmly established in the pure consciousness of the Self and the state of nonduality.

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