Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 08

Death and Immortality

Death and Immortality

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 8

ihaamutra viraktasya nityaanityavivekinah
aashcharyam mokshakaamasya mokshaad eva vibheeshika


Translation

It is surprising that one who is disinterested in this world and the next, who has the intelligence to discern the difference between what is permanent and impermanent and who is desirous of liberation, is yet afraid of death.


Meaning

Fear of Death

It is a matter of surprise if a knowledgeable person acts in ignorant ways or if an intelligent person acts foolishly or if a spiritual aspirant shows signs of delusion. We often see these inconsistencies in life. Having mere knowledge of something is not a guarantee that the person will use it or put it to practice.

However, it mostly happens because the people who engage in such actions are still imperfect and far from achieving their goals. They may possess knowledge, but that knowledge has not yet become a reality in their consciousness. They may practice spirituality, but their practice has not brought in them the required purity or awareness. It is not a problem if people possess such imperfections. It is a problem only if they hide them and pretend to be otherwise.

Fear of death is a powerful motivating factor. All types of fear are indeed variations of the fear of death only. Since no one can escape from it, no one is free from it. People seek security because they are afraid of one thing or the other. In most cases it is fear of suffering or fear of death. Our very civilization is a collective effort by humans to secure their lives against the numerous threats to which they are exposed or vulnerable. Death is one of them, and we are still trying to find solutions for it.

We do not always think of death, which is a good thing in itself. Otherwise, we will be depressed and find no meaning or purpose to continue our lives or engage in life oriented actions. We all know that in the end nothing matters. Everyone enters the dark mystery called death, without any exception. Be it a king or a pauper, everyone has to die. Yet, we live and do not concern ourselves much with the thoughts of death. Although we suppress it and distract ourselves with the preoccupations of life, that fear still lurks in the deepest corners of our minds. In vulnerable moments, it resurfaces and torments us.

Can we ever be free from the fear of death? In this Verse, Ashtavakra suggests that it should not normally torment the advanced souls who seek liberation from death and rebirth, since they are disinterested to be in this world or in the ancestral heaven, and since they can discriminate between the permanent and impermanent aspects of life. If it does, then it will be a matter of great surprise.

If you are truly detached, you will be indifferent to both pleasure and pain. You will be also not interested in this world or in the ancestral world, because both bind you to the cycle of births and deaths. For the seekers of liberation, rebirth is not an option. They know that both this world and the ancestral world are impermanent and subject to dissolution. Only the highest world of Brahman is permanent and immortal.

Therefore, they set their minds upon it, not anything below it. Having reached that awareness and discernment, how can anyone still wish to return to earth or seek rebirth? A true seeker of liberation is unafraid of death because for him death is liberation in itself. If anyone is afraid, it only means he has not attained perfection or purity in his practice, and he has not yet fully realized the supreme nature of his immortal Self.

Moksha kama is a paradoxical term. Moksha means liberation and kama means desire. To attain moksha, one must be free from all desires, including the desire to practice Dharma or attain liberation. If there is a desire for liberation, that one desire becomes an obstacle to liberation. One may have the desire for liberation in the beginning stages, since without it, one may not even think of it or feel motivated to renounce worldly life and strive for liberation. However, as one progresses, one has to forgo even that desire and set the mind fully in the contemplation of Self or God.

Moksha has many meanings. It means liberation as well as death. In this verse, it is used to convey both meanings. Death is a form of liberation only for the body, though not for the soul. Upon death, the tattvas and the elements of Nature, and the deities who reside in it, become liberated along with breath and return to their respective spheres. Only the soul survives and travels to either the ancestral world or the immortal world according to the deeds of the living being (jiva). When it travels to the immortal world, never to return again, it is called true liberation.

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