Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 11
maayaamatramidam vishvam pashyaan
api sannihite mr^ityau katham trasyati dheeradheeh
Having seen that this world is just an illusion and become disinterested in it, how can a stable minded adept fear the approach of death?
Becoming fearless and stable minded
Our relationship with anything in the world depends upon trust. When that trust is gone, the relationship also fails. Can you depend upon unreliable friends? Would you continue to invest your time and energy in false relationships once you come to know about them? Sometimes, due to circumstances you may continue some relationships even if you know that they are untrustworthy. However, you will keep your eyes open in dealing with them or having expectations from them. The same happens when a seer realizes the true nature of existence. He is no more deceived by the appearance of things.
Our relationship with the world depends upon the same principles. When we realize that the world is not what it appears to be, our equation with it will change and we will carefully deal with it to avoid problems. However, mere knowledge that the world is an illusion or the body is unreal may not bring that transformation. The awareness must arise from deep within, and we must give up our attachments for that transformation to be real and effective.
Therefore, the mere knowledge which we learn from the study of the scriptures or from others is not sufficient. For example, people watch movies, knowing well that they are unreal and mere illusions that are created for our entertainment. Yet, for the duration of the movies, many become absorbed in them and feel as if they are watching real life events. That delusion does not end there. People develop attachment to movies and movie actors and keep watching them.
The fear of death arises from our egoistic identities and our attachment to them. Since we know that we are perishable and our bodies are subject to aging, sickness and death, we cannot escape from the fear of death or the uncertainties of life. The very thought of leaving this world and everything behind to disappear into some mysterious nonexistence can be depressing enough for people to live in fear. Those feelings become intense to the extent we become attached to our minds and bodies and to the things that we enjoy or possess.
Insecurity is a powerful motivating factor, which is largely responsible for greed and excessive materialism, which we witness today in the world. It afflicts not only people but also groups and nations. When selfishness takes over and people engage in materialistic pursuits, evil predominates and chaos spread. The world is in the grip of evil because fear and insecurity dominate our minds and drive us into selfish behavior. Thus, the knowledge that something is false or deceptive is important, but even more important is becoming disinterested in it through detachment.
All living beings try to secure their lives through various strategies. The desire for security is stronger in humans, and they try to fulfill it through ownership and possession of things that seem to give them the illusion of security or satisfaction. Hence, most people seek wealth and pleasure rather than Dharma and Moksha. People seek wealth and happiness not only for themselves but also for their progeny and their descendants, as they are impelled by the forces of Nature or Maya.
Nature promotes filial love through the ego and its desire for self-preservation. The trait is not limited to human beings only. Filial love may be stronger and enduring in humans, but it is present in some form in almost all living beings. Recent studies on ecosystems show that when conditions are stressful, the trees and plants in a forest seem to communicate with each other below the surface and help each other by exchanging water and nutrients. Some may also help the seeds that are lying on the ground to germinate and supply the seedlings with water and nutrients.
Such is the force of Maya. It is inbuilt in all of us. We cannot overcome our attachment to the worldly things, even when we know that we live here for a short time, and the world is an illusion. It can happen through real transformation only, for which one has to renounce the world and the attachment to the mind and body and engage in the practice of yoga.
Seers and yogis come to this realization at the end of an arduous spiritual effort. Restraining their minds and senses and renouncing desires and attachments, they realize that the world is a projection or an illusion. They realize it not as an idea or concept but as a reality, which becomes self-evident when one stabilizes the mind and develops the all-knowing and all-seeing vision of the Self. It brings a permanent change in their thinking and attitude towards the world and its numerous attractions and distractions.
A person who reaches that state of awareness is called dheera, which means a stable minded person or a fearless person, who is not easily disturbed or tempted by the illusions of the world. Ashtavakra used the word dheeradhi rather than dheera. Dheeradhi means the one who is the foremost or supreme (adhi) among the stable minded or the fearless (dheeras). A dheeradhi possesses complete mastery over his mind and senses and restrains them at will. He attains that stage through renunciation by giving up all desires and attachments and becoming indifferent to all. In that state he overcomes the fear of death by becoming equal to both life and death.
Ordinary people are bheeras, those who are afraid of death. The journey from being a bheera to a dheera is a long and arduous one. Ashtavakra alluded to the four stages through which it happens. In the first stage, one comes to the realization that the world is unreal or an illusion. In the second stage the initiate develops a distaste for worldly things as he knows that they are empty in themselves. In the next stage he becomes detached and indifferent to worldly things through renunciation and detachment. In the fourth stage, he becomes stable minded and fearless (dheera), and thereby overcomes all fears including the fear of death.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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- The Definition and Concept of Maya in Hinduism
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