Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 4, Verse 05
Dheera, the Stable Minded Seer
vijnasyaiva hi saamarthyamichchaanichchaavivarjane
Of the four types of beings, from Brahma down to the last clump of grass, only the one with discerning knowledge is skillful in giving up attraction and aversion.
Cultivating Discerning Intelligence
Words can be misleading. People may use right words in a right context to communicate with us. However, due to the impurities of our minds if we do not pay attention, we may miss their true meaning and may even draw wrong conclusions. Conflicts and misunderstandings may arise when we misconstrue other people’s words or read too much into them. Therefore, we have to be careful when we communicate with others or analyze their words.
In this verse, Janaka did not say that the Jnani who is endowed with discernment is superior to Brahma or all the four classes of beings. He stated that of all the beings, from the highest to the lowest, only the one who possessed discerning wisdom (vijnanam) was qualified or skillful in overcoming attraction and aversion.
He did not mean that Brahma, the creator god, did not have that skill. Brahma is indeed the most skillful and knowledgeable of all Vedic gods. His vehicle is the Swan, which symbolizes purity and discernment. According to the legends, it has the ability to separate milk from water. Hence, Brahma chose it as his vehicle. Brahma is not only the creator but the original teacher of gods, humans and humans.
According to the Upanishads, he was the teacher of Indra, the leader of gods, and Vairochana, the leader of demons. He brought forth the entire creation and revealed the four Vedas and the knowledge of liberation itself to the mortal beings. The Manus, the seven seers and his mind born sons received their instruction from him only. His consort is Saraswathi, who personifies knowledge, civility, artistry, cultural and intellectual refinement. Both have discernment, and both are above attraction and aversion.
If Brahma sought to marry Saraswathi, his own creation, it was a spontaneous act. As stated in the previous verse, it is justified in case of a yogi who has transcended desire and lived by chance or according to divine will. Brahma complied with the will of Narayana, his creator, to accept Saraswathi as his consort, since she was instrumental in manifesting the world and beings.
The four classes of beings who are mentioned here refer to the classification of living beings according to their source or origin. They are, those who are born from womb, from eggs, from moisture or sweat, and from sprouting of seeds. The scriptures also mention another method of classification, based upon the number of senses possessed by the beings.
Thus, we have beings with no senses, with one sense, two senses, three senses, four senses and so on. Probably there may be another classification which is based upon the number of sheaths or kosas the beings possess, namely those with gross physical body only, those with physical and breath bodies, those with physical, breath and mental bodies and so on. Until all the sheaths are fully developed and purified, a being will not be able to achieve liberation.
Of all the beings, humans are considered the highest and the most evolved since they possess the mind, intelligence, fifteen senses (five organs of perception, five organs of action and five subtle senses), and five well-developed gross and subtle bodies. Hence, they are fully qualified to achieve liberation. It is why our scriptures declare human birth to be very precious, which is attained only after a being goes through innumerable births and deaths.
Even among the humans, only a few develop the aspiration and inclination to attain liberation or realize their true nature. Only the best of the humans develop curiosity about the nature and reality of their existence and their true purpose. Among them, only a few possess the purity and the resolve to take up the life of renunciation and pursue liberation. Of them, only a few succeed in their effort.
To achieve liberation, one needs knowledge (jnana) and discernment (vijnana). Knowledge in the spiritual sense means the knowledge of the world, Nature, the mind and body and the hidden Self which arises from the study and recitation of scriptures (svadhyaya) and from the activity of the senses.
Discernment arises from the refinement of intelligence (buddhi), which in turn arises from the purification of the mind and body through the transformative practices of yoga. Intelligence helps us make sense of the world and understand the secret or the hidden knowledge of the scriptures. It helps us solve problems and overcome obstacles. With discernment yogis know the right from the wrong or the true from the untrue and pursue the right methods, right knowledge and right goals to succeed on the path of liberation.
With pointed intelligence, purity and detachment, yogis overcome their desires and delusion and stabilize their minds in the contemplation of the Self. In deep meditative states, when their minds and senses are withdrawn and asleep, they discern the existence of the witness Self and become absorbed in it. The Bhagavadgita calls the practice Buddhi Yoga.
However, intelligence is vulnerable to desires, attachments and attraction and aversion, just as all the organs in the body, except breath, are. When intelligence is impure, people become deluded. Due to lack of discretion, they accept the material world and their mind and bodies as real, whereby they engage in desire-ridden actions in the pursuit of worldly goals and become bound to the cycle of births and deaths.
The wise one realizes this early in the practice. He focuses upon overcoming delusion by learning to see things clearly without the impurities of desires and egoism. Through the practice of detachment, renunciation and various yogic practices, he overcomes attraction and aversion and develops a keen and discerning mind. Cutting all the bonds with sharp intelligence, he becomes truly qualified to attain liberation.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Om, Aum, Pranava or Nada in Mantra and Yoga Traditions
- Brahmacharya or Celibacy in Hinduism
- Atheism and Materialism in Ancient India
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- Creation in Hinduism As a Transformative Evolutionary Process
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- Understanding Death and Impermanence
- Lessons from the Dance of Kali, the Mother Nature
- Letting your God live in You - The True Essence of the Hindu Way of Life
- prajnanam brahma - Brahman is Intelligence
- Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs From The Perspective Of Hinduism
- The Definition and Concept of Maya in Hinduism
- The Meaning of Nirvana
- Self-knowledge, Difficulties in Knowing Yourself
- Hinduism - Sex and Gurus
- The Construction of Hinduism
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- The Origin and Significance of the Epic Mahabharata
- The True Meaning of Prakriti in Hinduism
- Three Myths about Hinduism
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- Why Hinduism is a Preferred Choice for Educated Hindus
- Essays On Dharma
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- Hindu Rites and Rituals
- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
- Symbolism in Hinduism
- Essays on The Upanishads
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- Mental Health
- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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