Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 6, Verse 01

Infinite Self

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Index, Verse Index, Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3, Verse 4,


Verse 01

Janaka uvaacha
aakashavadananto.aham ghatavat prakritam jagath
iti jnaanam tathaitasya na thyaago na graho layah


Translation

Ashtavakra said: I am limitless like space. By nature, the manifested world is jar-like. This is knowledge. Therefore, for this (Self) there is neither renunciation nor possession nor destruction.


Meaning

The Eternal Self as the Container of all

In the previous chapter Ashtavakra explained four contemplative practices to attain dissolution. He suggested how one should view the world and the Self (this and that), or the subjective and objective realities, to enter the state of dissolution. The first approach is to realize that you are pure and untouched by the objective reality of the world and the mind-body complex. The second one is to realize that all the reality which manifests around you as your perceptual world is a projection of yourself. The third one is to know that the world is a mere appearance or an illusion, as in case of a person who misconstrues a rope for a snake due to temporary delusion. The fourth one is to know that behind all ther imperfections and impurities, you are perfect, complete and free from modifications. Meditating upon these truths, you can engage in self-purification.

The limited self and the unlimited Self

In this chapter, he further elaborated upon those ideas, drawing a clear distinction between the true Self and the not-Self. He also added that the Self was such that it could neither be renounced nor disowned nor dissolved. Knowing this distinction is important because you will then know where to focus your effort. Renunciation, detachment and suppression of modifications should be practiced towards the objective reality, not the Self, which is already free from it and never touched by it.

In this chapter also, Ashtavakra used four analogies to distinguish the eternal Self as an infinite container, support, source and all-inclusive reality respectively. The knowledge is helpful for the seekers of liberation to know where exactly to focus their attention and what needs to be cleansed and transformed.

Laya

Laya or dissolution means the ending, disappearance, absence or the cessation of something. It also means a pause or silence. Hence, it is used to denote a pause or a restful moment in a musical beat. The combination of shruti and laya creates the musical melody. In spiritual practice, laya refers to the state of mental absorption or the tranquil state of mind in which it is fully silent or absorbed in the Self or a deeper meditative state.

The destruction of the world at the end of the time-cycle is also known as laya. The world is subject to dissolution. We know that everything in the objective world will come to an end someday. However, Brahman or Self is eternal and indestructible. The world of Brahman is free from dissolution. Hence, it is known as alaya or devalaya. There is no destruction for those who enter the abode of God. Only those who overcome their impurities and exhaust their casual karma can manage to reach it by the path of gods (devayana) upon their departure from here.

In four ways, Ashtavakra emphasized in this chapter the distinction between the limited Self or the objective Self and the unlimited Self or the subjective Self to convey why renunciation, etc. have to be practiced in case of the former but not the latter. The transformation and dissolution are necessary for the limited Self because it is subject to modifications, imperfections and impurities. It is represented by the mind-body complex, representing the 23 tattvas (in the field of Prakriti) and their projections. It is also referred to as the ego, lower-nature, physical self, the beingness or not-self (objective reality).

The infinite Self is the support for this limited Self or the not-self, which is a formation or a projection. It accumulates as an impurity around the Self and passes on as the Self itself. In your present state, you cannot discern you real Self because it remains hidden behind the surface consciousness in which you are presently involved. If you manage to withdraw your mind and senses and enter into deeper states of consciousness, you will slowly become aware of it and know the distinction.

When you attain sufficient discernment through self-purification, you will see how all the surface activity in your consciousness is similar to what happens upon the surface of an ocean. Its dissolution or withdrawal results in the cessation of division, duality and difference. You cannot be free from your surface consciousness as long as your mind is active and consciously objectifying the world. The not-self is what needs to be given up, silenced or dissolved to become completely stabilized in your true Self. In you current state, you are the not-self, and you need to give it up and become silent to know what lies beyond.

The Self as a container

in this verse, Ashtavakra explained Janaka how to meditate upon the Self as limitless space. When you do it, you will dissolve your ego and achieve oneness with the unlimited Self in your inner space. The eternal Self and space have a lot in common. Space is considered the fifth element. In the occult science it is often compared to ether the astral matter or the essence of the Self. Just as the eternal Self, the empty, immaterial space around you (not the Einstein version of material space) is formless, invisible, ungraspable, untouchable and all pervading.

All modifications of the world and the material universe arise and subside in space, but it is free from them. You cannot contain space, because it is not only in all things, upholds all things, but also envelops them from outside. Just as the eternal Self, it does not participate in what you do or what happens to you or what happens in the world. At the same times, it allows everything to be itself or become something else according to its own nature, state or choice. Space is the silent witness. It does not come in your way or try to control you or exert any pressure upon you or cause you any stress. Just as God, it is the silent, support and witness to all that happens within its confines. By entering it in deep meditative states you can dissolve your ego and experience expansive states of awareness beyond the confines of your mind and body.

Meditation on space

If you are in the habit of practicing yoga and meditation, try meditating upon the infinite space around you as your very Self. It is helpful to become free from your restrictive and bothersome thoughts and worries and experience peace and tranquility. If you do it, you will most likely experience lightness and instant relief, as if all the burdens, pressures, stress and strain have been taken out of you. As you breathe in and breathe out and continue your practice, you will feel as if the space in you has merged with the space around you. If you persist, you will succeed in dissolving the boundaries of ego consciousness. As your body falls silent, you will even experience the exalted state of impersonal oneness with the universal space.

Consider that space (akasa) outside you is Brahman, space inside you is Atman, and the subtle nature of space is consciousness. Even though you are so close to it, contain it and exist in it and even though you are so much a part of it, you cannot communicate with it. It is the same about our relationship with God or the eternal Self. Can you say where the boundaries of space end and where those of your limited consciousness begin or vice versa?

We are so united with the space and so close to it, yet we are also so distant and separated from it. In the same manner, the eternal Self resides in all of us. Yet we cannot perceive it or communicate with it. It is as if there are two dimensions within you, and you are confined to only one. This separation arises from the corporeality and the limited consciousness of the mind and body. They are the ones which need to be renounced, disowned and dissolved to experience oneness with the all-pervading Self.

In this verse Ashtavakra described the limited self or the objective reality as a container (a jar). The body is the container of all the organs and tattvas of Nature, and of the Self also. The mind (manas) is also a container. It contains all our thoughts, memories, feelings, emotions, etc. They are responsible for diversity, name and form, delusion, bondage and all the consequential and existential problems.

The eternal Self is also a container only, though it is not limited like the jar. It is without form or materiality and subtler than subtle. However, it contains within itself everything, from the smallest of the atom to the whole universe, worlds and all living beings. The eternal Self is truly the universal container of all. Nothing can independently coexist in it, with it or outside of it. In the microcosm of the body, as in the macrocosm of the universe, the eternal Self is the infinite container.

It may reside in the body as its support. However, since its dimensions are infinite, the body cannot contain it. The general assumption is that the body supports the Self because it resides in the body, but how can a finite body hold an infinite Self? The eternal Self infinitely extends far and beyond the body in all directions. Therefore, the opposite must be true. The Self is the container of all things and living bodies, not the opposite. It exists outside and inside each living body, as itself and other than itself because the not-self also is but a projection or creation of the Self. Even though it is closely associated with the corporeality of the mind and body and coexists in the same space, it is untouched by them.

It must be obvious by now that what you own or hold as an ego-driven individual is an obstacle to your peace and happiness or your liberation, whereas what you hold as an infinite and eternal Self is does not in any contribute to your bondage or suffering. What needs to be renounced, disowned or dissolved is the limited Self, because it is the one which keeps you bound to the mortal world. The eternal Self has everything, exists in everything and contain in itself everything. Yet it is completely free, pure and perfect. As the Shanti Mantra of the Vedas affirm, even if you take away something out of the absolute reality of Brahman, it still remains complete (purnam).

By making this distinction, Ashtavakra suggested to Janaka that it was the identification and attachment to the objective-self which needed to be renounced, dispossessed and dissolved, not the eternal Self, which is eternally free from them.

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