Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 3, Verse 13

Mahatma

Mahatma, the Great Soul

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 13

svabhaavad eva jaanaano dr^ishyametanna ki.nchana
idam grahyamidam tyaajyam sa kim pashyati dheeradheeh


Translation

Knowing that the perceived object by its very nature is nothing in itself, how can the stable minded one perceive one thing as acceptable and another as unacceptable?


Meaning

Value Based Perceptions and Cultivating sameness

In materialistic life, things and people are treated and cherished according to their intrinsic value. We look at things according to our desires, expectations and attachments and engage in actions either to possess them or get rid of them.

When we are drawn to things, we desire them, become attached to them or hold them in great esteem, as if our happiness and Wellbeing depend upon them. At the same time, we ignore those that we deem worthless or useless.

We extend the same attitude towards people also, treating them according to their power, position, status or usefulness in society. We may feel the same towards ourselves also, experiencing self-acceptance or self-rejection according to how we perceive ourselves. This attitude is conditioned by our social values and personal beliefs.

We are conditioned by the social norm that to gain acceptance or wield influence in society a person must have some intrinsic worth. People do not pay you any attention if you have nothing to offer, or if you are not useful to them. If you are physically attractive, wealthy or influential or possess some rare quality, you have a better chance to achieve success in life and find friends and well-wishers. Studies show that good looks play an important role in job interviews, and wealthy people wield considerable influence in business and politics.

You must have also seen how people worship celebrities, film stars and media personalities. A celebrity gains instant following on social networks, while an ordinary person remains largely unknown and does not find many followers outside his or her known circle. This is life. We place value on everything, even on relationships and relate to things according to their value, merit or worth.

Early in life we learn that to be respected, loved and accepted by others, one must strive to stand out or possess wealth, power, talent or some distinction. No one cares much when a poor person dies. However, when influential leaders or politicians die, their followers and admirers build monuments for them and even declare national holidays or memorial days. There is a price or value for everything in the world.

The value system with which we measure people, things and relationships permeates our whole society. We are conditioned to accept it as an approved social behavior. What drives it is the duality of attraction and aversion, to which we are all vulnerable. We are attracted to things, which seem to make us feel happy or proud, or which seem to enhance our power and prestige or self-image in the eyes of others.

It is why people are attracted to status symbols. They try possess things that denote their social position or serve as a measure of their economic or social status, besides improving their self-esteem or making them feel good about themselves. They also fill the vacuum or emptiness, which is experienced by many, compensating for their feelings of inadequacy or inferiority.

It is also why many people do not really care for things when they get them for free. A teacher does not enjoy much respect in today's world even though he or she teaches valuable knowledge because most people do not immediately perceive its economic, social or spiritual value or how it is going to help them.

Thus, we live in a value-based society, driven by desires and attachments, putting value based judgments upon everything we perceive or interact with. Because of the feelings of attraction or aversion, we see thing differently as desirable or undesirable or acceptable or unacceptable. We value those which we find desirable and discard the rest. As our scriptures suggest, it results in desire-ridden actions, which in turn lead to suffering and sinful karma.

The stable minded one, dheera, does not see any value in worldly things. Having renounced worldly life, desires and attachments, he perceives them to be empty or nothing in themselves. For him, a gold trinket or a piece of clay are the same. He finds them to be mere projections, illusions or impermanent objects, that appear and disappear like waves in the ocean of consciousness. Therefore, he remains unattached, equal and indifferent towards everything, with his mind absorbed in the Self.

If you want to be free from the turbulence of material life, you must cease to form relationships with things or treat them differently according to their value. You become free from feelings of attraction and aversion when you see them as things that are empty in themselves and hold no value, other than being useful in some context.

They may serve some purpose in your life or prove useful, but it should not be the basis for your thinking or attitude towards them. Use them without ownership, judgment, desires or attachments, feeling neither happy when you have them or unhappy when you do not have them. It is the stoical attitude of sameness and equanimity, which Ashtavakra asked King Janaka to cultivate, since it led to liberation.

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