Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 5, Verse 01

Dheera, the Stable Minded Seer

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Chapter-Index | Verse Index

Verse 01

na te kenaapi kim shuddhasthyaktumichchasi
sa.nghaathavilayam kurvannevameva layam vraja


Ashtavakra said, “What do you want to renounce when you are not associated with anything at all? Ending your worldly attachments, in this way you can attain the final dissolution.”


The First Way to Liberation: Dissolution Through Detachment

According to Ashtavakra, renunciation (sannyasa) is not an outward practice. It should be the spontaneous expression of inner detachment, without any motive or desire. If you practice renunciation with an intention or desire, it cannot truly be considered renunciation since renunciation itself means giving up all desires. Renunciation must be a natural act. It must be an expression of the soul rather than the mind or the ego. You practice it, not because your guru initiated you or your tradition demands it. It must be spontaneous, natural and free from motives, and must arise from soul-centric awareness.

If you want to achieve liberation, you have to cultivate soul-centric awareness and see things from the perspective of the Self, identifying yourself with your eternal Self rather than your mind and body, and reminding yourself constantly that you are free, unattached and independent. You have to remember that nothing here belongs to you, since you are the transcendental Self who is self-existent, and free from all associations. If this awareness or these convictions grow and become stronger in you, the attitude of renunciation arises by itself and becomes natural to you.

This chapter describes four ways in which one can achieve dissolution (laya). The first method is described here. The Sanskrit world laya has multiple meanings. It can mean union or fusion, dissolution, destruction or extinction, or deep concentration, mental absorption or unconditional devotion. All these are synonymous with the state of liberation or the methods to achieve liberation. In a simple sense, dissolution means, dissolving or ending all impurities and formations such as egoism, attachments and delusion. Dissolution is not the end. It is the means to achieve liberation. When dissolution is complete in all respects, one achieves oneness with the Self. The state of liberation is the state of complete dissolution.

You are not associated with anything because deep within your consciousness, you represent an alternate reality, which is the sum of all ideals and perfections we know, and which is not of this world. You may identify yourself with your mind and body or your name and form or with your accumulated possessions and memories. They are attachments or mental associations, which settle in your consciousness and prevent you from knowing and seeing who you truly are.

Your individuality or persona is a construct, built around your desires and attachments with the things, or the materiality which you accumulate through desires and desire-ridden actions. Your individuality is so fragile that if you disperse them, or change any of that configuration, you will not be the same. Even the loss of a few memories or associations can bring a major transformation in you. While this is a cause for concern, it is also where you have the hope and possibility for change and improvement.

You are a creation of Nature, hewn through several births and repeated lessons into the person that you are today. To establish your identity and individuality and to enjoy your life, you gather things that define you and distinguish you. Deep within, your consciousness is free from all formations, accumulations and associations. It is an ocean of peace, where nothing happens and nothing moves. It is where your surface personality falls into deep silence, and where you will find your center of peace and stability. In that pure consciousness, beyond the mind and the senses, you enter the realm of oneness. You cannot go there with your baggage. You can be there only when you are mentally free from all associations, attachments and dependence.

Ashtavakra stated here that an association with anything is an illusion. It is true, because the idea of you as person is an illusion in itself, and to perpetuate that illusion and make yourself known to the world, you accumulate things and form an attachment to them. This is Nature’s preferred way to establish the identity and individuality of each being and facilitate its self-preservation. It is not the perfect way, because in doing so we fulfill the aims of Nature, which is to keep us in bondage. By developing an attachment to things, we bind ourselves to them and lose our freedom.

You are free only when you are free from everything, including the notion of who you are or what you want to be. It means you have to sacrifice things that you dearly love, and stand free in the world, without dependence, preference, pretense, expectation, inclination, attitude, judgment, opinion, relationship, attraction or aversion. You have to accept the world unconditionally, without the urge to control it, or the need to submit to it as a tradeoff for the comforts you may obtain.

Liberation is the state in which your mind becomes empty of all things that define and control you, and where your thoughts and actions do not produce any consequences for you. It is as if you jump into an ocean of tranquility, without creating any ripples or noise. It is possible only when you become immaterial, almost nonexistent, and carry no weight in the literal as well as figurative sense. When you dissolve your ego, mind, desires, memories, attachments, karma and latent impressions, you will get rid of the darkness that gathers around you and attain final freedom (mukti or moksha). What is liberation? It is finding freedom within yourself or becoming true to yourself, without any external influence, dependence or obligation.

How do you achieve it? It is by knowing and breaking free from what binds you or holds you in control and bondage. We all seek freedom, but do we all seek the same freedom? Freedom as a concept can be so confusing. Freedom for a child may be to go out and play. A wife may seek freedom from her husband through divorce. For some, it may mean political or economic freedom. Thus, the freedom which we seek is in reality is conditioned by our beliefs, desires, values and the norms of the world.

In seeking that freedom, we often bind ourselves with people and things. It is not true freedom, but the freedom which the world allows us to enjoy. In many ways, it is similar to the freedom which is enjoyed by prisoners inside a prison or in a concentration camp. You cannot call it liberation, since it is subject to authority, terms, conditions, traditions, beliefs, customs, symbols and practices. To enjoy it, you must accept and adhere to all the conditions it imposes upon you, as if you have signed an unequal agreement against yourself.

True freedom (moksha) lies beyond them, which no ideology, constitution or institutional authority can give you. You have to earn that by your own effort, breaking free from authority and all influences and associations which seem to regulate your life and hold you in chains. You have to do it by spiritual means, dissolving all mental and emotional bonds through peaceful, nonviolent and righteous inner transformation. Yoga is the traditionally recommended method.

Freedom is an illusion as long as you are bound by your own fears, expectations, desires, likes and dislikes. It is not earned by having wealth or power or influence, but by discarding all such illusions and realizing the truth within you, by knowing that you have always been free and you were never bound. The feeling that you are bound, limited or held by some awesome power exists only in the surface consciousness or the wakeful state where you experience the world as an object and yourself as the subject.

The duality of subject and object and the relationship or association are created in your mind by your senses. If you withdraw them and enter deep sleep or deepest consciousness, they disappear. In the deepest part of your consciousness, you are alone, without a second. There, you do not experience objectivity or otherness. Unlike your surface mind which is subject to modifications and disturbance, it is pure, stable, and completely free from names and forms, objectivity and associations. It is a purely subjective state, which cannot be distinguished by any mode, quality, comparison, association, norm or measure. Each association requires the duality of subject and object. They exist in your mind, but not in your deep consciousness, which is independent, indivisible and indistinguishable.

Any attachment which you develop is a mental notion. It may also have a physical correlation as in case of filial relationships or attachments of sexual nature. They would not last forever. They also have a beginning and an end. You develop them over time, and you will also discard many as time goes by. Each association is formed by preference, need, judgment, habit, belief, emotion, feeling or expectation. You can get over it by changing your thinking. It is also true that you develop attachment towards not only those you like but also those you dislike. They are negative attachments which also limit your freedom like their counterparts.

Any objectivity which invokes feelings of attraction or aversion in you is an association or attachment. Both bind you and limit your thinking, perception and freedom. They are in turn caused by desires. Therefore, the root cause is desire, which gives rise to the feelings of attraction and aversion, while repeated engagement of your senses with the things you like and dislike lead to positive and negative attachments. You cannot get rid of them easily, unless you overcome desires and like and dislikes. If you cannot do it, which is the case with most people, death will do it for you. Death will resolve most of our attachments and associations, while we may carry the strongest of them to our next births.

Let us be clear. Things in themselves are not the problem. We cannot exist here without being associated with something. Your body itself is an association of many organs. You are bound to the earth, and the earth is bound to the sun. Everything here exists for a reason. Otherwise, they would not have been created. Our scriptures say that all objects are worthy of worship because they are pervaded by the Self. We may use them to perform our duties, enjoy life or ensure the order and regularity of the world. However, in doing so we are expected to remain detached and mentally free.

Our scriptures suggest that physical separation is not the right solution to resolve our attachments. The correct solution is mental separation or inner freedom, which is otherwise known as detachment, and which has to be practiced with the spirit of renunciation. As the Bhagavadgita declares, true renunciation means, you should be detached from the things of the world and renounce the desire for the fruit of your actions, along with ownership and mental dependence.

Attachments are persistent problems which require persistent actions to overcome. The battle has to be won mainly in the mind rather than in the world. The reason is you cannot completely be separate from the world, just as you cannot always close your eyes and pray. Whether you want it or not, the world imposes itself upon you, and in unguarded moments it invades your mind also and settles there, while you may still remain engaged with the world and abide by its laws, norms and tradition.

Therefore, aim for mental freedom rather than trying to escape from the world or becoming a recluse. Practicing mental freedom is easier than practicing institutional Sannyasa. It will also help you in your inner transformation and overcoming the obstacles. Become free by overcoming your mental dependence upon people and things. Be like a free-spirited wanderer, the ancient sramana or the medieval dervish, without having to circumnavigate the world and without corrupting your mind or body.

When your mind is free, you are free. You will make your choices without judgment, fear, guilt, anger or aggression. You will be the same, whether you are in a palace, in a prison, in the company of people or in a deep cave. It is this attitude of freedom which Ashtavakra suggested Janaka to cultivate. When attachments are dissolved, one becomes stable-minded (dheera), radiating qualities such as fearlessness, indifference, detachment, sameness, equanimity, self-control, inner purity, deepened awareness, universal vision, expansive mind and egolessness.

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