Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 5, Verse 04
Sameness is a attitude which discerns but does not discriminate
samaduhkhasukhah purna aashaanairaashyayoh samah
samajeevithamrithyuh sannevameva layam vraja
Equal in pain and pleasure, completely fulfilled, equal in hope and despair, and in life and death, being thus, in this way also you can attain final dissolution.
The fourth way to liberation: Cultivating sameness and equanimity
This verse suggests the fourth approach to attain liberation or final dissolution (laya). As we have seen, the first one is to know that you are a pure self, and abide in it fully and unconditionally.
The second one is to know that you create your reality and your perceptual experience, since they arise from your mind and senses as your projections or creations.
The third one is to realize that the world is unreal or an illusion and does not exist in you. Even though you may become involved with it and develop an attachment to it, the knowledge will help you cultivate discernment and stay on the good side of life.
The fourth one is to overcome the dualities of pain and pleasure, or life and death, and become equal to everything. It means you stop fighting and resisting, judging and choosing, and let life happen and teach its own wisdom.
You can see that these four methods are interrelated. Ashtavakra presented them as independent approaches, each having the ability to lead you towards the goal of final dissolution. One may follow them independently, since each method is a full path and each seems to have its own merit. However, one may also combine them into an integrated and holistic approach for the best results.
The cause or the source
For instance, you can use the first method to overcome attachment to your mind and body or name and form, knowing that you are neither, and neither does represent your true Self. It will also help you settle in the realization that you are an eternal Self, which is beyond them and which is free from impermanence, aging, death and such modifications. It will change your perspective upon life, possessions, ownership and relationships.
To overcome your attachment to the world and fascination for things, you can follow the second method to realize that you are their source rather than their beneficiary, and if you withdraw from them, they stop bothering you or controlling you. The world controls us in many ways by offering things that seem to resolve our suffering or fulfill our wants and needs or make us feel happy and satisfied. By that, it holds its sway over you. You come to depend upon it and become conditioned to look to it for everything which you seek in life.
It means you put the world which is outside of you as having more importance than you or what is in you. It also means you are not truly in control of your life or destiny. Having become bound to it, you will live according to its dictates rather than following your own deepest thoughts. Imagine how your life will be if you remain bound to a fickle minded person who is prone to frequent mood changes.
The same happens when you bind yourself to the impermanent world and depend upon it for your happiness and fulfillment. If you want to take back your life into your hands, you must learn to be self-reliant and independent, and follow your own thinking and perceptions to make decisions or perform actions. It is best achieved when you practice renunciation and detachment to gain control over your mind and senses. When you are stable and calm and equal to all, you will think clearly with insightful awareness and make better judgments.
The third approach also has a similar purpose. You can use it to become free from the hold of the world, by knowing that it is an illusion and a projection of your own thoughts and perceptions. We entertain many illusions in our lives. Sometimes, they make us happy, and sometimes, sad. People often lose their sanity or peace of mind, when their illusions are shattered by eye opening experiences. It may change them for better or worse.
For example, what happens when you realize that your friendship or relationship with one of the most important persons in your life was an illusion, and you were a victim of a clever deception by an unscrupulous person? What happens when people, who toil for a long time to support their families or dependents, find themselves betrayed and ignored by the very people they helped? These things happen, and when they do, they hurt people, leaving them with hurtful memories.
The fourth way helps you become immune from the dualities of life. Much of our suffering arises from our likes and dislikes. Association with what we dislike can be as painful as separation from what we like. Tossed between the polarities of attraction and aversion, with attachments which we cannot easily shake off, we go through an emotional rollercoaster. We spend our lives, searching for happiness and fulfillment in seeking things that seem to make us happy and avoiding those that seem to hinder it.
We rationalize and justify our desire-ridden actions, living in denial and ignoring the suffering or the turbulence they produce. Not many people escape from this painful loop. The wake-up call happens in case of a few who realize that they are lost in their own illusions and desires, and it is time to wake up. When it happens, they become wiser through discernment and learn to keep a healthy distance from the causes that produce suffering.
The world gives us a lot of pain, and so are the relationships in your life, because they too are bound by desires, interests and expectations. We cannot escape from the world, because we live in it and cannot completely avoid it. Even if you practice renunciation, you still need to look for food to keep your body alive and your mind stable. Even if you try to avoid interaction with the world, information from it still flows into your consciousness through your mind and senses, whether you are awake or asleep.
How can you then achieve peace and equanimity? How can you escape from the stress and strain caused by the events in your life and remain calm and stable? The fourth way suggested by Ashtavakra is the most appropriate solution in this regard. By becoming indifferent or equal to the world, one can stabilize the mind in the Self and become absorbed in it. Problems arise when we lack the will or courage to observe the world and people without judgment.
What does “laya” or dissolution mean? What is dissolved and where? The word is used here as a metaphor to denote the ending of the formations or their influence. Nothing can be dissolved in the pure consciousness of the soul. You can neither add anything to it nor take away anything from it. As the Upanishads declare, the Self is always complete and perfect (purnam). Here, the dissolution refers to the dissolution of the impurities and the formations that reside in us. They belong to the domain of Nature and we usually identify them as Tattvas such as the elements, organs, the senses, the mind, the ego, intelligence.
One should also include in it all the formations, projections and modifications which may arise from them such as desires, egoism, attachments, feelings, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, attraction and aversion, and so on. They all arise in our consciousness during our interaction with the world and in our search for happiness and fulfillment through desire-ridden actions. They are largely responsible for our suffering. We must resolve all these, if we ever want to attain liberation.
Our bodies are but formations around our pure souls. The tattvas which constitute the body do not dissolve until death. In a self-realized yogi, they cease to be a hindrance. When we are alive, we cannot get rid them. However, we can cultivate indifference to them by abiding in the Self and accepting it as our true identity. When you consider yourself pure consciousness and stop identifying yourself with your mind and body, you develop a mental distance from them, which will help you to cultivate equanimity and sameness. Let the idea that you are a formless entity who is made up of pure consciousness grow in you and become a part of your natural awareness. By that, you will hasten your self-transformation of purification.
All afflictions and mental disturbances arise because we are conditioned to grow fond of our names and forms or physical identities and their related aspects such as caste, race, gender, nationality and so on. They are but extensions of your ego, which help you establish relationships and find comfort and security in your personal and social life. They facilitate your survival and success in worldly life, but become an obstacle when you turn to spirituality. A seeker of liberation should discard his physical identity and all associate aspects to remain absorbed in his essential pure self.
A self-realized yogi transcends his physical self and all related aspects. He would be indifferent to his worldly name and fame, past achievements, family, caste, linguistic identity, religion or nationality, nor does he support a particular political party, ism or ideology, however good it may be, for he is equal to all, and does not take sides. Even if he does, it is for greater good and without selfish or egoistic motive. For him, the body is a temporary formation, or as the Bhagavadgita affirms a mere cloth which the soul wears in each birth, to be discarded at the time of death. The body is still important. Even if you cultivate detachment from it, you should still treat it with love and compassion because it is your bhagavata, your loyal and dedicated servant, your Nandi, the bull.
With regard to the mind and its modifications, a yogi cultivates sameness towards all so that he is not hurt when he does not have things, nor does he feel overjoyed when he has them. It does not mean that yogis are depressed people. Perhaps they enjoy life better than us because they are not subject to the usual mental turbulence to which we are frequently prone. There is a particular word in Sanskrit, "mudita," which is often associated with God. It is the subdued joy, happiness or the contentment of a complete being who is satisfied in himself and does not look to others to fulfill himself.
You can make spiritual practice a long, sad story or an opportunity to set your mind free from its fears and conditioning. Even on the spiritual path, you are entitled to happiness and enjoyment, for it is the nature of the soul to enjoy life. Yogis who master their minds and senses through sadhana enjoy their lives, enjoying whatever life offers to them, without preference, choice, likes or dislikes. They embrace life and their perceptions and experiences in their totality, without judgment, involvement, fear or expectations, keeping their minds open to all possibilities, but not letting anything touch them or overwhelm them. It is true that in today’s world it is hard to find such yogis.
Frankly, the life of a renunciant (sanyasi) is not supposed to be dull and dreary, but one of exceptional freedom, inspiration, peace and happiness. They arise in him internally, as a part of his natural disposition, independent of the circumstances or the happenings, as a result of his intense spiritual practice and mastery over mind and senses. Here is an important lesson for all. You cannot control the world, but you can control yourself and your responses and attitude towards it. You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your interpretation or perception of it. You can be internally happy and satisfied in yourself, even when there is ample reason to be unhappy or depressed. It is a choice, which you can make, if you have the will and the inner strength.
When you control your responses and reactions to external events, however good or bad they may be, the external world ceases to influence you or leave its impressions upon your internal organ or antahkarana (the mind, ego, intelligence complex). By controlling what you can and becoming indifferent to the rest, you can empower yourself to be impervious to the dualities of life. Sameness (samatvam) therefore is important. With that, you become free from the ebb and flow of life. You become a sthitha-prajna, the stable minded, awakened soul. One can cultivate it by exercising one’s will and controlling one’s mind and body, or by refusing to be physically, mentally or emotionally swayed by whatever happens.
A seer sees things from the perspective of the soul and envisions life from a broader perspective as spanning across many lives and places. For him, life is a journey in a turbulent ocean, awaiting a stable and permanent shore. He learns to trust himself and his methods or God to reach the final destination. He becomes stoical, knowing that neither pleasure nor pain nor any of the dualities last forever, and life and death are but the revolving doors through which souls transmigrate. For him, they are not problems but opportunities to cultivate equanimity and sameness, and dissolve all that which arises in him from his own thoughts and actions.
Sameness is an attitude which discerns the dualities of life, but does not discriminate. It arises from the acceptance that all that exists here is inhabited by God (isavasyamidam sarvam). Therefore, everything is sacred and the same, and nothing can be discriminated. It is seeing God in all and all in oneself, looking beyond appearances and the diversity to discern the essence that pervades all and exists in all. Thus, sameness is not a cultivated attitude, though you may practice it to refine and transform your consciousness, but a natural consequence of the expansive awareness which arises from the realization of the Self.
In worldly life
These principles and practices are useful even if you are not aiming for liberation. If you are not intent upon becoming a full-fledged sanyasi, you can still practice them as a householder or worldly person, with one foot in spirituality. Here are a few ways to accomplish it.
- You are what you think and identify with. We all identify our names and forms with something or the other, a cause, ideology, nation, caste, race, religion, region, etc. If you think you are a good person, you will be so, and vice versa. In this, your thoughts and desires play an important role. Knowing this, you can identify with the best in you and live according to your highest ideals and best vision. Practice your religion or dharma, but avoid fanaticism and egoistic involvement with it.
- Examine your life and see how much of your thinking and behavior is shaped by the world, friends and family. See how much time you spend trying to impress others or live according to their expectations to win their approval and acceptance. Are you truly free? How can you take control of your life and learn to think freely and critically to express your independence, creativity and individuality?
- Examine your relationships, habits, likes and dislikes, beliefs and prejudices. Do you prefer to stay in your comfort zone and avoid taking risks? While making decisions do you consider the alternatives? Have you considered the advantages of keeping your mind free from rigid thinking, stereotyping and habitual thought patterns? If you keep an open mind, your thinking and perceptions improve, and you will be more realistic and practical in your approach to the problems of life.
- Judgment is an aspect of the ego. Identity is also an aspect of it. What we need is not discrimination but discernment without judgment. The ego plays many tricks upon us. If you understand how it manipulates you even in matters of religious and spiritual practice or your relationship with God or a guru, you will become less judgmental and critical in your thinking and attitude.
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
- Solving the Hindu Caste System
- How To Choose Your Spiritual Guru?
- Creation in Hinduism As a Transformative Evolutionary Process
- Wealth and Duty in Hinduism
- Do You Have Any Plans For Your Rebirth or Reincarnation?
- 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
- The Meaning and Significance of Heart in Hinduism
- The Origin and Significance of the Epic Mahabharata
- The True Meaning of Prakriti in Hinduism
- Three Myths about Hinduism
- What is Your Notion of God?
- Why Hinduism is a Preferred Choice for Educated Hindus
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