Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 7, Verse 01
mayyanananthamahaambhodhau vishvapota itastathah
bhramati svaananthavaathena na mamaasthyasahishnuthaa
Janaka said: In the boundless ocean that exist in me, the world moves hither and thither like a boat, propelled by its own self-driven winds. I am not disturbed by that.
The Undisturbed Self
A world exists in you. It is in a constant flux. In an ordinary state, that world keeps you also in a state of flux. You are disturbed by it, as you begin to identity yourself with it, become attached to it and move with it according to your desires. However, with practice, you can control your responses and become indifferent or equal to what happens in that world. We recognize it as stable mindedness (sthita-prajna).
It is the nature of the world to change constantly. If you are attached to it, you will be affected by your attraction and aversion for it. For you, the world means objective reality, not just the physical universe (jagat). It is the sum of what happens to you, interests you, relates to you, or moves you within the field of your perceptual and cognitive experience. You are conditioned not only to accept it as an integral part of your consciousness but also identify with it as your extended self, whereby you emotionally and memorially become attached to it. Attachment to the world is the problem. Because of that, we are tossed up and down by the happenings in the world.
Ashtavakra’s statements do not make sense when you view the world with the duality of subject and object. To accept it either you have to rely upon the testimony of an enlightened yogi such as he, or you have to experience it directly (pratyaksha) by entering the unitary state of consciousness where the duality does not exist. What is conveyed in the five verses of this chapter is a purely nondualistic vision, in which one is completely absorbed in the Self and detached from everything, from every object, notion, movement, stirring, feeling, thought, concept, memory, perception and the mind itself. Only then you can experience boundless tranquility and the purest state of yourself.
You are hidden from your wakeful self, as the world or its reflection stands in between the two. They are the impurities which arise from your interaction with the world, and which you have to resolve to rediscover your oceanic self. When you succeed in it and enter the unified state of absolute oneness, you will enter an indescribably state which you cannot adequately translate when you return from it. It is because your wakeful self does not participate in that experience. It falls asleep or falls into a temporary dissolution.
You cannot experience any transcendental state otherwise. The consciousness of the Self is beyond the grasp of the mind and the senses. Hence, you will not consciously or objectively experience it. Whatever you say after that experience will be a vague memory or feeling of it, which may create more skepticism and confusion in the minds of others rather than conviction. It is why any transcendental experience, however true and personal it may be, can never truly be translated or objectified. Those who experience it have to rely upon their imagination to describe it, and those who happen to know it have to rely upon their faith to believe in it.
Perhaps the best way to understand the transcendental state of unified consciousness is to use your imagination. Imagine that you are not the mind and body, but pure consciousness, which is still and free from all mental and intellectual heaviness, identity, objectivity, names and forms. As you relax and withdraw your mind and senses from the world, you may briefly attain a mental approximation of tranquility and gain a mental idea of what boundless consciousness may be like.
Truly, the world does not have any power to disturb you. The truth is you disturb yourself by your thinking and attitude or how you interpret your experiences and perceptions. If you are determined, you can remain calm amidst the tumult of life. You will come to this realization when you reach perfection in detachment and renunciation. The world is a reality in itself. That part of you, the outer self, which is shaped by it is an extension of it. It moves with the world, and exists because of the world. You invite that world into you through association, frequent interactions, desires and attachments, and give it power over you, whereby you are disturbed by what happens there. If you make an effort to distance yourself from it and become free from its hold, you will gain control over your thoughts and responses and will not easily let anything disturb you.
Cultivating detachment and dispassion through renunciation constitute the preparatory stage in many teacher traditions. They teach you how to cultivate detachment because it is the primary shield. Indeed, we all need to have it, whether we are spiritual or not, so that we will not let the world crush our dreams and aspirations and we remain focused upon our goals and actions. It is also vital to enter the tranquil states of your mind, without which one cannot progress further into the transcendental states or the deeply sublime, formless and motionless states.
However, before you attain them, you have to pass through several stages. First, you have to become established in the idea that you are not the body, but pure consciousness, which is different from the ordinary mental awareness. Second, you have to realize from observation how your mind or mental awareness is deeply connected to the world outside and constantly shaped by it. You do it by mindfully paying attention to its movements, thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories, habits, desires, attachments, learned behavior, conditioning, etc. Third, you have to suppress all those movements and formations with counter measures by practicing rules, restraints and a strict code of conduct, using your discernment. This is what we call purification.
To the extent you succeed in it, you will enter the deeper states of self-absorption and experience the boundless state of pure consciousness. When you reach perfection in that practice, the world ceases to disturb you. You realize that neither you are a part of it nor it is a part of you, and it has no control over you unless you let it control you by your own imperfections and weaknesses. In a tranquil state of detachment, you will see the world as an external phenomenon in which beings are caught like flies in a honey-trap.
Treat the world as if it is fire. Know how much distance you should keep from it to avoid being burnt or frozen. Let the world keep you warm but not burn you or leave you in cold. Our solar system teaches us an important lesson. The planets that are far away from the sun have no life, and neither those that are very close. When you know how to space yourself from different objects which the world offers to us, you will experience its richness and diversity without being bound or hurt. The Buddha was the first to understand this principle. He prescribed the Middle Way, which avoided the extremes, as the best Path to salvation.
You can be with the world, but by remaining detached and undisturbed by its traps. This is the central theme of the Bhagavadgita. It is the nature of the world to be in a constant motion or commotion. Sometimes, it lifts you up, and sometimes it puts you down. If you have no control, you will move up and down with the ebb and flow of life. When circumstances are favorable you will be happy and uplifted and when they are not, you will be down and depresses. You do not have to escape from it or live like a recluse because it is a source of trouble. You just need a shield, the shield of detachment to guard yourself against the traps it lays.
We all go through high and low emotions, as we pass through the ups and downs of life. This is but suffering only. Even happiness is a form of suffering because in happiness lie the seeds of sorrow, and it will not take long before they become potential causes of unhappiness. One should therefore cultivate detachment, the shield, which lets you live in peace amidst disturbance. The wise one knows how to remain stable while seated in an unstable boat in the ocean of Samsara, the impermanent life.
Use discernment to keep a safe distance from everything.
Do not let the fires of desires burn the purity in you.
Minimize your expectations.
Enjoy life, but do not become deeply involved.
Enjoy what comes to you, and accept things which you cannot control.
Know that true freedom arises from detachment. It is where one must focus all the initial effort.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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- Essays On Dharma
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- Essays on The Upanishads
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