Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 12


Mahatma, the Great Soul

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 12

nihspriham maanasam yasya nairaashye.api mahaatmanah
tasyaathmajnanatriptasya tulanaa kena jaayate


Who can be compared to the great soul whose mind is free from desire even in despair or despondency, and who is contended with self-knowledge?


The Incomparable Great Soul

The great soul who is immersed in the knowledge of the Self and is satisfied with it is different from everyone. He cannot be compared to others because he is withdrawn into himself and focused upon himself, unlike those who are outwardly drawn into the world through their minds and senses and are involved with it. He is content with atma jnana, the knowledge of the Self. Others are content with vishaya jnana, the worldly knowledge. Therefore, he is incomparable to them.

The mind cannot be at two places simultaneously. The quanta, the sub atomic particles, may simultaneously exist at two places, but the mind is made to focus upon one thing at a time. You cannot focus upon the Self and the world in the same breath. You are either with the things of the world or with the silence of the Self. One may do multitasking, but at any given moment the mind will focus upon one task only.

Every time your mind and senses wander around, you become scattered and dispersed, and your energy dissipates, which in turn disturbs your peace and stability. Most people remain scattered, divided and disturbed. All that they have to do is to spend intermittently a few minutes to return to the source, gather themselves by withdrawing their minds and regain composure. It is like resting your mind and giving yourself a respite from the daily pressures of life. You are your own sanctuary. You can always return to the stable center of yourself and find your peaceful self, even amidst the din of life.

Therefore, everyone has to make a choice, where they want to focus their minds and their energies, and what they want to do with their lives. If you are a spiritual person, you have to choose between the world and the Self. It is not that thinking about the world is bad or evil. If you want to live in the world and pursue worldly interests, you cannot avoid dealing with people and possessions and the problems that arise from relationships and attachments. If your pursuit is selfish and limited to worldly enjoyment, you must be willing to accept the consequences that arise from it, which may follow you into several births.

Tripti or complete satisfaction does not arise in worldly pursuits, because you are subject to too many desires, habits and attachments. You may momentarily experience satisfaction upon satisfying a desire, but when that passes, you will look for more. Thus, with worldly enjoyment you may derive temporary happiness, but to sustain it you must keep on seeking more things and keep on satisfying your desires. You cannot have peace and enjoyment on a lasting basis through worldly pleasures since you cannot always satisfy your desires or escape from the consequences that arise from desire-ridden actions.

When you are engaged in worldly pursuits or deal with worldly people, some dissatisfaction (asamtripti) or disappointment (nirasa) will always be there, however hard you may try. The world cannot fill the void in you, which arises when you lose contact with your inner center of stability and spread out your mind and attention into the things of the world. The world is meant to draw your mind out so that you will not think of the Self or liberation.

The Self is the center of all that you do and experience. It is the point of stability and the hub of your personality, mind and body. It is not the effect, but the cause. As the Upanishads affirm, it is not the mind and the senses, but the one because of whom they work. It is neither the eyes nor the ears nor the speech, but because of him the eyes see, the ears listen, and the speech is spoken.

The Self is not what you think you are, but the one which makes those thoughts possible. Because of the Self only, you think, act, experience and enjoy. Without the Self, there is no experience, no knowledge, no awareness, no duality of this and that, and no existence. At the same time neither the mind nor the senses can travel there and grasp it. It is beyond all that your mind can reach or the senses can grasp. When you engage with world, you will deal with more noise, instability and disturbance, but when you engage with the Self you will experience more silence, peace, stability and equanimity.

The Self is also the support. All that you are or have is because of it. You cannot easily uncover it because it is covered by the knowledge of “me” and “mine,” and numerous desires, attachments, likes and dislikes, and entanglements. They prevent you from being who you are. Take them away, withdrawing and silencing your mind and senses, and what is left is but the shining Self. The Self is the observer, the enjoyer and the witness without any relationship, dependence, connection, ownership or doership.

It exists without asserting its existence and endures the pain and suffering of the body without complaining. It accepts all that happens in the microcosm of the being, without choice and preference. Since it is independent, it abides in itself and remains satisfied in itself. Being unattached, disinterested and free from desires and dualities, it remains passive and aloof from the happenings in the world. The all-knowing Self is unconcerned with speculation, or with the intellectual thoughts of who created the world, or why it exists. It remains untouched even when it exists in the body and transmigrates from one birth to another.

On the path of Advaita (nondualism), you practice self-enquiry and learn to distinguish the difference between the Self and the not-self. As the practice deepens, you become engrossed in the thoughts of the Self, knowing well the consequences of becoming involved with the unstable and impermanent not-self. The mind has the habit of going out and becoming lost in the thoughts of the objective world. It has to be constantly reined in and brought back to the thoughts of the Self. After repeated attempts, at some point, the mind becomes naturally drawn to the Self rather than to the world.

The Self is not some abstract thing or a supernatural phenomenon. It is always there, within you and as you. You are the Self. Consider that you as a person or a being is an unhewn stone. Chisel away all the unnecessary parts through purification and transformation, and what is left is the essential and pure You. The feeling of “I am” is the feeling of the Self. The feeling of “I am this” or “I have this” or “I have done this” is the feeling of ego. Those thoughts cloud the Self and cover it up with individuality. Take them away with the chisel of discernment, and what is left will be your essential identity, the mahan atma, or the great soul.

We learn to be dependent upon things of the world to create and assert our identities and fulfil our desires. That dependence also becomes a limitation and a source of suffering. The Self is the source of all experience. The soul is also an enjoyer. However, its enjoyment does not depend upon external things. It arises and subsides in itself. Therefore, those who become absorbed in the Self do not look for any external sources to seek gratification. They remain contended within themselves, knowing that they are free.

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