Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 10

Mental Stability

Seeing Oneself as Another

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 10

cheshtamaanam shareeram svam pashyatyanyashareeravat
samstave chaapi nindaayaam katham kshubhyet mahaashayah


The great one sees the actions of his own body as if another’s. Then, how can he feel disturbed by praise or blame?


Seeing the body as another's

Here is one of the greatest secrets of India’s ancient spiritual practices. The yogis, renunciants and ascetics of ancient India used a simple but effective technique to gain control over their desires and emotions and cultivate dispassion and detachment. They looked at themselves as if they were looking at someone else. By that, they were able to center themselves in the witness consciousness and become absorbed in it.

Since the Self is considered to be the inner witness (atma sakshi), it made perfect sense engage in this practice to cultivate detachment from the mind and body and experience samadhi (self-absorption). In samadhi your physical personality becomes completely silent. All the mental formations and physical sensations disappear into the void, leaving the Self to shine alone in its pristine glory.

The soul is the alien who descends from the plane of Brahman to exist in an earthly body to experience life upon earth and go through births and deaths. Our scriptures affirm that the soul does not participate in the activities of the world or of the mind and body. Instead, it looks upon them as if it is watching a play. The soul is said to be the enjoyer. It enjoys everything that happens, the good as well as the bad, the joys as well as the sorrows, without being affected by them and without partaking any of their nature. If you want to enter that consciousness, you have to be like the witness Self, and you must become the witness Self, letting everything in without choice or preference.

Therefore, the ancient seers emulated the Self to become the Self by detaching themselves from their minds and bodies. They strove to overcome all forms of attachment to their names and forms, looking upon themselves as if they were watching strangers. It helped them understand their own motivation, feelings and emotions, and how desires and attachments influenced their thinking and actions and created suffering. That awareness gave them the reason to practice renunciation, detachment, indifference and sameness towards the dualities of life and the cravings of the mind and body. It helped them mentally grow apart from their physical identities  and move closer to their spiritual selves, by withdrawing their senses and minds from the external objects. Most importantly, it helped them understand their egos, and how it controlled their lives, actions and destinies.

The problem of ego

The ego is a major obstacle on the path of liberation. It does not let you have freedom. It even makes use of the religion and spirituality to further its goals. Everything is a means for the ego to further itself. It relies upon both good and evil according to its convenience. It makes use of both friendship and enmity. You will realize this when you understand why some people fall into the trap of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism and lose their balance. Instead of growing the light in them to exemplify the highest values which their religions preach, they use their religious identities to gain name and fame, power, prestige, influence, wealth or some other advantage.

The ego is boosted by praise and deflated by blame. It is subject to attraction and aversion or likes and dislikes according to its desires and attachments. If you feel proud of your religion, but do not really practice it in the real sense, know that your ego is actively involved in deluding you and distracting you from your real purpose, which is to grow the light of wisdom through study and practice and become liberated. It is easy to delude yourself in the name of religion by diverting your energy and attention to frivolous causes and ignore your own spiritual wellbeing and transformation.

Because of ego you experience gain and loss, friendship and enmity or association and disassociation, and become attached to things, including your religion or the spiritual path or the guru whom you follow. Because of it, you become possessive of the things you own and the relationships you build, including your relation with God and your idea of God. History shows that when the egos take charge of their religious beliefs and attitude, people become easily incited to engage in religious conflicts and aggressive behavior towards those who disagree with them or who seem to oppose them.

Your name and form create your identity in the world. That identity is the foundation of your ego. It is always interested in preserving the name and form, because with that it can relate to the world and pursue its desire for self-promotion and self-preservation. That identity encompasses not only you but also your family, caste, race, culture, religion, teacher tradition, sect, community, nation and nationality. Indeed, it encompasses everything and every aspect of you and the world in which you take pride, as if it is a part of your identity.

It is why in Hindu spiritual practices, the yogis are encouraged to overcome their attachment to name and form and worldly possessions. Attachment to name is resolved as the renunciants are given a new name during their initiation so that they can disconnect from their past and make a new beginning. As renunciants (sanyasis), they have to forgo not only their first and last names but also their family, caste and religious identities.

In truth, they have to forego every identity and association which they formed in their past as worldly people and begin a new life and a new journey, without any guarantees or certainties. As far as the attachment to form is concerned, they have overcome it by renouncing their formal attires and wearing clothes simply to cover the nakedness. In some traditions, even that is not allowed. They have to remain naked and wander around. For centuries, the yogis and monks lived this way, wearing bear minimum clothing in  harsh and cold climates and most inaccessible places upon earth such as the Himalayas.

The practices which we have mentioned so far to overcome attachment to name and form are external and ritualistic. By just forgoing the name or the family name and wearing the robes of a monk, one does not become a true renunciant. The change has to happen at all levels. The transformation must be complete. The idea must take a firm root in the mind, so that detachment from one’s past identity and worldly self is complete and one becomes accustomed to a nameless, humble, insignificant and self-effacing life of sacrifice and hardship.

As a part of that process, the initiates are advised to contemplate upon their true Selves, identify themselves with God or their pure, stable, witnessing consciousness, and view their own minds and bodies with detachment, as if they are witnessing someone else. The mental separation which happens by that practice enables them to see themselves with greater objectivity and become gradually detached from the commotion and instability of their own minds.

Until you go through this rigorous process of self-abdication, it is not easy to become completely detached from your physical identity and view yourself as if you are watching another person. However, with practice you can do it, although that effect may not last for long. Even if you occasionally do it, with mindfulness, you will gain insight into your own thoughts and actions. You will also experience peace and emotional stability, which in turn help you see things from a different perspective and know more about yourself, your problems and the world around you.

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