Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 7, Verse 03
vishvam naama vikalpanaa
athishaanantho niraakaara etadevaahamaasthithah
In the boundless ocean within me, the creation named the universe happens. Yet, I am supremely peaceful and formless, and I abide in me alone.
The detached Self
The world is distinct from Brahman, who appears in each as the individual Self (Atman). Because we are interpreting the texts from the perspective of Advaita, I will use the words Brahman and Atman as one. This should not cause any confusion if you understand the essential feature of nondualism or Advaita, which recognizes Brahman as the only reality..
The Self is undisturbed by what happens in the world or to the world. It is not the same with us. We are constantly disturbed by what happens in our minds and bodies and in the world. We are even disturbed by what happens in some far away country, even if it is not going to affect us in any way. We are disturbed by the condition of polar bears in the Arctic or the whales in the Pacific ocean. As humans with delicate nature, we are sensitive to many things. We react and respond to things which we like as well as dislike. These modifications afflict our minds even when we are asleep and our senses are at rest. We experience them because of dreams and because some organs in our bodies keep working even when our bodies are at rest.
In contrast, the Self is indifferent. Some say it is equal to everything. Since it is totally independent, there is nothing which can disturb it or which it disturbs. If you want true solace, you will find it only in the Self. It is the true sanctuary. There the winds of fate will not blow, the fire of desires does not burn and the rivers of life do not flow. The self alone exist by itself. The worlds appear in God’s consciousness just as dreams appear in our consciousness. Our dreams do affect us because they are propelled by our desires and attachments only.
Modern psychology suggests that dreams are the means by which our subconscious thoughts and desires express themselves. They bring us messages from the subtle realms or from our subconscious minds about our past or our future. In dream states, we temporarily enter subtle realms. They can invoke in us various emotions if we become involved with the reality they produce and accept it as real.
If we know how to remain as a witness even in a dream, perhaps we will not react to any dream situation. Yogis who can enter their subtle minds at will can do so. It is said that the Buddha entered his subtle minds and witnesses all his past births. They did not disturb him. If you abide in the Self, you will not witness any dreams and you will not be disturbed by anything. In ordinary conditions, it remains as the witness when we are asleep. Hence, it remains undisturbed, while our minds and bodies experience modifications.
The Yogasutras of Patanjali identifies five types of modifications (chitta vrittis) which are responsible for our mental disturbances (chitta vikshepam) namely perception, deluded thinking, imagination, sleep and memory. You can see that vikalpa (imagination or creation) is listed as one of the five. We are disturbed not only by the realty but also by our delusions and imagination. For example, most fears are imaginary fears. We imagine their outcome and exaggerate the threat they may pose. In God’s worlds all the movements do their part, but they do not disturb the Self, which is their source. In our case, we suffer from our own creations and imagination.
Some dreams are pleasant, but some leave us disturbed. In a dream state, we temporarily experience the delusion that it is real, whereby we become involved with it and experience various emotions and feelings, which in turn disturb our minds and lead to further modifications. In dreams, instead of our physical senses our subtle senses (tanmatras) participate, whereby we experience subtle feelings or sensations which create the delusion of reality.
Dreams are a part of our objective reality. They belong to the realm of Nature only, and arise in our consciousness as modifications of our minds. Whatever we experience in them appears in us due to modifications of our minds only. When we wake up its memory may remain in our thoughts and produce further modifications. Since in dreams our minds undergo modifications, it is natural that we are affected by them and their memory.
The same does not happen in case of the Self. Creation arises from Brahman and in Brahman, within the domain of Nature, which is the true source of all modifications. Although, it arises like a dream in the field of Nature, and Braham is its essential cause or the source, he is not affected by it. It is because those modifications do not arise in the Self but in Nature or the objective reality, from which the Self is completely free. Creation arises from the modifications of Nature as a projection or a reflection or a formation or a superimposition of its tattvas (realities) and the triple gunas upon the Self. In that process, unlike our minds, the Self does not participate or become involved.
Vikalpana in a philosophical sense means creation, imagination or a dream. In a literal sense it means an aberration, suspicion, doubt, alternative, mistake, error or ignorance. Creation represents all these meanings. We may also experience them (suspicion, doubt, etc.) when we are dreaming or using our imagination. Strictly speaking, the mind and body also constitute modifications of Nature only. A jiva (living being) is but a formation around the Self. Since, we are Nature’s creations, we are all subject to all the modifications which arise from here.
Even in life, if we mind our own business, we will be free from many problems. However, we cannot strictly follow this rule. We take undue interest in many things that do not concern us at all. We may do this by interfering in other people’s lives, giving unsolicited advice, speaking about public figures and celebrities, showing undue interest in other people’s lives and so on. In most cases, such actions are not only unnecessary but they may also cause many problems which can be avoided. If you want to lead a peaceful life and pursue spiritual goals, you have to minimize your interaction with the outside world and spend more time looking within to improve yourself and cultivate detachment.
Finally, although Nature is associated with God, she is not in him, and he is not in her. This is clearly stated in the last part of this verse. The Self abides in itself. It is "aham sthitha," which means it is situated in itself, in its subjective realm, and in nothing else. Since it is infinite, it may pervade everything and may appear in all as the individual Self, but it never becomes mixed up with the body or the material world or with the things of the objective realm in which it resides. Even in its bound state as an embodied Self, it remain immutable, self-existent, untainted and free.
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