Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 7, Verse 05
aho chinmaatramevaaham indrajaalopamam
ithi mama katham kuthra heyopaadeyakalpanaa
Oh, I am consciousness only. The world is verily a magical illusion. Therefore, how and where can the thought of accepting or rejecting it arises in me?
The Self as pure consciousness
Having explained the four important truths about the Self, which are helpful to distinguish it from the body or the physical self, Ashtavakra makes the final affirmation that the Self is pure consciousness. What are the other four truths?
- The Self is undisturbed by external events (verse 1)
- The Self is unchanged by the changes in the world (verse 2)
- The Self remains forever by abiding in itself (verse 3)
- The Self is completely distinct from the objective reality (verse 4)
The five verses in the seventh chapter are very useful to practice contemplation upon the Self and develop insightful awareness. They throw considerable light upon the essential nature of the Self. By contemplating upon them, you may gradually develop the soul vision and attain detachment, tranquility and higher states of self-absorption. They are also useful to understand the philosophical aspects of Advaita or nondualism. To know the Self by intellectual effort or through study is the first step. To abide in "That" through concentrated meditation (samyama) and become dissolved in it is the final step. For that, you have to shift your identity and preoccupation from your mind and body to your spiritual Self.
God or Self is pure consciousness. “Chit” (चित्) means pure consciousness or supreme intelligence, and “matra” means “made up of” or “of the form.” Chinmatra means that which is of the form or the nature of pure consciousness. Pure consciousness means consciousness which is free from all impurities, which are natural to our consciousness such as the triple gunas, ignorance, egoism, attachments, evil intentions, desires, delusion, ignorance, errors, imperfections, dependence upon senses, association with the body, etc.
Pure consciousness is also free from all willful movements and exertions. Although human consciousness is an accumulation (which is an alternate meaning of chit), pure consciousness is not. It is untouched and unchanged by the accumulations and disturbances in the consciousness of the mind. The Self is effortless. It exists as if it does not exist. It does not assert itself to draw attention or draw itself into material things to express itself. Just as the Sun, it dutifully radiates its effulgence as its very nature, without desire or expectation, to illuminate the mind and body and sustain them with life.
Yet, nothing can breathe or live without its presence. It is present in all beings as the ultimate witness, who is actively inactive and inactively active, and who is awake when everything is asleep, but silent and withdrawn when everyone is awake and active. It is free from the divisions of time and the duality of subject and object. Although it acts as the witness, it does not become involved with the world and become drawn into it, but abides in itself only as the untainted Self.
Intellectually, the nature of the Self does not make sense. We cannot comprehend its subjective reality, which is beyond our mind and senses and free from the duality of subject and object. You can know the Self by becoming the Self only. There is no other way. The moment you return to your wakeful Self you will not retain any memory of it. For the mind, the Self does not exist except as an object, concept or theory.
Although the Self is the passive witness, independent, immutable and self-existing, it does not mean it is inactive or incapable of doing anything. We know that it is responsible for creation, preservation, destruction, etc. If it is completely passive, it cannot perform such functions. The truth is that the Self can precipitate reality or engage in its essential dharma (duties) without any conscious and intentional effort or exertion.
Its actions are subtle and indiscernible. Its will is endowed with unlimited force and instantly transforms into intended reality without any gap between intention and manifestation. It moves without moving. It is active, without being active. Hence, although the Self abides in itself, still it is able to manifest the objective reality. Its actions are so imperceptible that it is hard to discern its presence in the world. It is as if the world is devoid of God or an eternal Self. However, it is always present in everything, as the silent partner, active without organs of action, aware without the mind and senses, and all knowing without any external means.
The verse describes the world as a magical illusion. “Upama” means like or similar to or comparable to something. “Indrajalam” means the web of Indra. The world is comparable to a magical creation because just as a magical creation it appears out of nowhere, deludes everyone into believing that it is real and disappears without a trace. One becomes involved with it, when one lacks discretion. However, the wise one who knows that it is an illusion is not drawn to it through attraction and aversion and remains detached from it.
The world exists because we can perceive it, live in it and know that it is there. However, can we ever realize the illusory nature of the world? Is there any possibility that we can verify it with any means? We cannot say that the world is an illusion because we do not have the means to verify it, nor can we outlast it to know its whole truth. We cannot see it as a perceptual reality (pratyaksha).
However, we can infer it by observing the nature of the world and the way it revolves. For example, many things appear and disappear in our lives just as the worlds appear and disappear in the consciousness of the Self. From their impermanence, we may infer the impermanence and illusory nature of the world. We may also come to know about it through the study of the scriptures and accept it as a fact of existence through faith.
If we persist in it and through yogic practice if we cultivate an expansive and inclusive inner vision, one day it may open our minds and show us the transcendental nature of the Self, whereby the truth of it becomes self-evident. No one can control that process. It does not happen in the same manner in everyone’s case. It arises by itself, which none can predict. However, you may learn from others who attained it, how the truth of it dawned upon them in unsuspecting moments and in heightened states of awareness.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Om, Aum, Pranava or Nada in Mantra and Yoga Traditions
- How To Choose Your Spiritual Guru?
- 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
- 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?
- Essays On Dharma
- Esoteric Mystic Hinduism
- Introduction to Hinduism
- Hindu Way of Life
- Essays On Karma
- Hindu Rites and Rituals
- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
- Symbolism in Hinduism
- Essays on The Upanishads
- Concepts of Hinduism
- Essays on Atman
- Hindu Festivals
- Spiritual Practice
- Right Living
- Yoga of Sorrow
- Mental Health
- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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