Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 4, Verse 01
Dheera, the Stable Minded Seer
hantaatmajnaanasya dheerasya khelato bhogaleelayaa
na hi sansaaravaaheekairmudhaih saha samaanataa
Janaka said, "Oh, the stable minded knower of the Self who is engaged in the game of enjoyment bears no resemblance whatsoever to the deluded beings who are caught in the cycle of births and deaths."
The Enjoyment of the knower of the Self
Teaching in ancient India was not one-sided. It mostly happened as a conversation or dialogue. The dialogue facilitates a two-way communication and exchange of information. It helps the teacher know what knowledge his disciples possess, so that he can tune his teachings accordingly. By observing the purpose, intent, knowledge and the depth of the questions, he can also gauge their seriousness and sincerity.
This chapter is King Janaka's response to the observations made by Ashtavakra in the previous chapters. Some consider it a retort by the former to the questions raised by the sage about his involvement with the opulent, materialistic life, which he led as a king. However, it does not seem to be.
Janaka was a philosopher king, who was endowed with knowledge, character and virtue. He used to invite many scholars to his court to hold debates and discussions. His guest list included many prominent scholars of his time, including Yajnavalkya. From his statements here as well as in the Upanishads, the depth of his knowledge and familiarity with the subject of liberation become self-evident.
It is difficult to presume that a seer such as Ashtavakra would not have fathomed the true character and spiritual development of king Janaka. The observations made by the sage in the previous chapter seem to be not about the king. He was probably drawing a contrast between worldly people and spiritual people, or pointing out the nature of the ego, which remains active even in those who are well advanced on the path. They possess the knowledge of scriptures, but not the required purity or equanimity, without which one cannot achieve self-realization.
The ego does not fall silent by the strength of knowledge only. It remains active until the end and tries to assert itself in weak moments to cloud one’s thinking and behavior. Therefore, a spiritual person is advised to remain on guard at all times, however advanced he may be on the path, since the ego brings out all it can to thwart his progress or its own dissolution. It is even more important in case of those who hold positions of authority or belong to the royalty who possess the predominance of Rajas or Tamas.
Another possibility is that even if Janaka was perfect in many respects, he might have still possessed some imperfections, which needed to be brought to his notice. We may presume that in the previous chapter Ashtavakra drew his attention to them. By directly addressing the ego in Janaka and reminding him of the difficulties of transcending worldly attachments and the fear of death, Ashtavakra might have noted the importance of cultivating necessary qualities to stabilize his mind in the contemplation of the Self and cultivating sameness.
One may also argue that the conversation between Ashtavakra and Janaka might have never happened. It may just be an imaginary conversation. Whoever composed the scripture might have chosen them to explain the finer aspects of Advaita. Most Hindu scriptures are composed in this manner. The characters may be kings, scholars, seers and sages or even gods and goddesses. The Bhagavadgita was composed in a similar fashion. So are many Tantras and Puranas.
A teacher imparts spiritual instruction to his disciples according to their knowledge and spiritual development. He would adjust his teaching, depending upon whether they are lay disciples or advanced practitioners. The same seemed to have happened here. King Janaka approached the seer to receive instruction on the subject of liberation or self-realization. He raised a few questions in the very beginning to show his curiosity, attract his attention and engage him in a conversation or a dialogue.
Having received a positive response and some initial knowledge from Ashtavakra and having heard the skepticism. which the seer expressed about worldly people, he probably took it upon himself to share the knowledge that he already acquired to convince him that he possessed the right knowledge and true character to receive further instruction. His response would also enable the seer to attune his teachings accordingly and elevate the conversation to a still higher level.
He used the opportunity to explain the fundamental difference between the enjoyment of an atma-jnani (knower of the Self) and a deluded person (mudha). As we discussed in the previous chapter, the knower of the Self does not resist life or shun the enjoyment that comes to him by chance. He has a stable mind due to self-restraint. Therefore, he is not easily disturbed by the uncertainties and hardships of life. in adversity, he endures hardships. In favorable circumstances, he enjoys life without desires and attachments, knowing that the Self, not the body or the mind, is the ultimate enjoyer.
Since he sees things as empty in themselves and is free from attraction and aversion, he remains equal to both pain and pleasure and such other dualities. As he is contended and satisfied within himself, he does not engage in desire-ridden actions, nor does he actively strive to seek anything. He lets life happen as the will of God.
Deluded people try to take control of their lives rather than letting things happen. They engage in actions with desires and expectations. Hence, the enjoyment of deluded people is tainted with selfishness and egoism, and in the end becomes the cause of suffering rather than joy. As they actively seek worldly pleasures and try to possess things that seem to give them temporary happiness due to attraction and aversion, they incur sinful karma and remain bound to the cycle of births and deaths
In contrast, the enlightened person enjoys life without desires and offers the fruit of his actions to the Self, considering him to be the real enjoyer and true Lord (Isvara). Therefore, he is not bound by any action. Further a deluded person lacks discretion, whereby he accepts his name and form as the real Self. The enlightened one, on the other hand, considers it to be a temporary garment. Thereby, he overcomes the fear of death.
What can we learn from this? Spiritual life does not mean one has to lead a depressed life and shun all enjoyment. Spiritual people can also lead a life of peace and happiness. It is just that the way they do it is different. They know how to enjoy life without being tainted by it or burdened by it. Through self-mastery they learn to enjoy the freedom that life offers to them. How they do it is explained in the subsequent verses.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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