Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 6, Verse 02

Oceanic Self

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

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

Verse 02

mahodadhirivaaham sa prapancho veechisaannibhah
iti jnaanam tathaitasya na thyaago na graho layah


I am like the ocean, and the world is like a wave. Therefore, for this (Self) there is neither renunciation nor possession nor destruction.


The Self as the Ultimate Support

In creation, everything depends upon something. Every created phenomenon or object is a support for one or more objects and phenomenon. The earth, the sky, fire, air, water, the body, the senses, the mind and the ego are support for many things and in turn depend upon many factors and objects for their existence and functionality. However, is there anything which does not depend upon anything, but which is the ultimate support of all? Yes, there is indeed on such reality upon which everything rests, but which does not rest upon anything. It is complete and independent. We call it the Self or the eternal Self and or the Supreme Self. They may or may not be the same, but in their essence, they are.

Meditation on the Oceanic Self

In the second verse, Ashtavakra taught Janaka how to meditate upon the infinite Self as an endless and unfathomable ocean and as the supporter of all movements and dynamism. In Hinduism, existence is frequently compared to an infinite ocean. It is one of the common metaphors, even in the Vedas. The whole creation arises from the waters of the oceanic Self. Even, Lord Vishnu, as Anantasayana, the Lord of the universe, rests upon it. Symbolically, the image of Vishnu resting upon the coiled serpent, Adishesha, in the waters of an infinite ocean denotes that even the manifested Isvara is but a fraction of the formless, unknown and unmanifested Brahman.

The Self (subjective reality) is infinite because it is Brahman only. In Advaita, the distinction between Brahman and Atman is illusory and temporary. Just as the space in you is temporarily separated from the space outside, the reality of Atman (atmatattva) is temporarily separated from the reality of Brahman (brahmatattva) in the field of Prakriti. The materiality (shakti) of Brahman manifests as the worlds and beings. It is the not-self or the objective reality.

In this verse, Ashtavakra compared it to the waves that appear upon the ocean. Elsewhere also he compared the Self to an ocean and the world to a bubble which arises from its surface. Just as the waves are dependent upon ocean, the diversity of creation depends upon the Self for its existence. All the commotion in creation does not touch the Self, so is the case with the commotion and modifications of your mind and body. They do not affect the Self. It is immutable, which means it cannot be modified or influenced by any power or entity or movement in any manner.

We are easily disturbed because we live in the surface consciousness. When we are disturbed, we habitually look for support and stability in our surface consciousness. To assuage our feelings, we may seek a friend, kind words, some distraction, physical or emotional support, a teacher, a well-wisher or God himself. Rarely, we look into ourselves and find the deepest and most stable part of our own being to regain our composure. When we live in the surface consciousness and play with the waves of thoughts and emotions, mentally and emotionally we rise and fall according to the ebb and flow of circumstances. True tranquility arises only when we learn to go deep within ourselves and experience the oceanic depths of our own being. Next time, when you are unhappy, try to find a sanctuary within yourself. Go deep and become your own support. True liberation is becoming free from all forms of dependence. When you become truly independent, you will become a source of solace and support to others.

Even in the mind, the surface mind is prone to more turmoil and restlessness than the deeper mind. It is why meditation is prescribed to deal with the problem of stress and anxiety. Symbolically speaking, if the waves constitute the surface mind, the ocean constitutes the deeper mind, and the ocean bed, the Self. The human mind is infinite in its own ways. Deep within ourselves, in the subtle realms of our minds, we are truly ocean-like, with unfathomable depths. Even with all our scientific advances, we have yet to know it fully. However, compared to the Self, the mind is still inferior. If we have difficulty knowing the mind, imagine how difficult it is to know the Self.

When you sit in meditation, your body is like the ocean. Your mind, with waves of thoughts, feelings and emotions, is like the surface of the ocean. The one who watches them both and experiences the experience of all that is happening is the stable Self. Your aim should be to become the support for others, for the world and for yourself.

If you become aware of the observer in you, the one for whom the mind and body engage in actions and create the objective reality, you have crossed the first hurdle in your spiritual progress. To become aware of the observer or the seer is the most important transformative event in your life. It is where you will realize that the waves are not the ocean and you are not what you think you are.

You are the observer. This observer is universal. He is in everyone. He experiences different worlds and realities in different beings, but is never altered or influenced or affected by them. You cannot say that the observer is a being or a nonbeing. You do not know what the observe is, whether it is a he or she, and whether it is a state or a condition or a phenomenon. All the knowing ends there. All that you can ever know is that you have become the Self, the indefinable, indescribable, unknown, witness Self.

In the depths of your own consciousness and beingness, you are the witness Self. You are the source of the world which manifests in you and around you as your perceptual and cognitive world. All that commotion and activity arise because of you, the witness Self. You are the cause and the subject of your surface reality. Just as there are no waves without the ocean, there is no experience, perception, cognition or objectivity without you, the person (purusha), the witness (sakshi) and the enjoyer. You are its source and support.

Meditate upon the idea that you are the oceanic Self. Know that you have no boundaries, no limitations and no definition. You are an all-pervading and all-enveloping infinite reality. Your identification with your mind and body and your association with the physical world, they are responsible for the alternate reality of your physical being. It is where you experience life, individuality, commotion, duality and suffering. You cannot experience peace unless you step out of this induced reality. Stillness and oneness are your original and eternal states. Their source is subjective reality of the witness Self. It is always there, whether the world exists or not.

If you are too caught in the surface activity, you will not discern the observer. You become aware of it, when you withdraw from your surface consciousness and go behind all the mental activity to be a pure witness. The realization that you are not the physical self but the observing Self, is the first step to self-realization. It happens on its own (svayambhu) when there is a tectonic shift in your thinking and perception. Your aim should be to keep purifying your mind and body until it becomes your natural state.

Meditate upon the idea that you are an oceanic Self, without boundaries and limitations. In the depths of your own consciousness, you are but a silent, witness Self, untainted, untouched and unaffected by the activity of the mind or the senses. The waves which rise and fall in your objective consciousness cannot touch you. Through meditation, renunciation, detachment and indifference, you can learn to observe the world without being influenced by it. You are the source of the modifications if your mind. You must become a true observer of yourself. When you are angry, afraid, sad, envious, frustrated or lustful, find out the true causes. If you have purified your intelligence and cultivated discernment, you will find them.

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