Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 9, Verse 02

Ashtavakra and Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Index, Verse Index, Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3, Verse 4, Verse 5,Verse 6, Verse 7, Verse 8,

Verse 02

kasyaapi taata dhanyasya lokacheshtaavalokanaat
jeevitechchaa bubhukshaa cha bubhutsopashamah gataah


Blessed indeed is that person my child whose desire to live, passion to enjoy and eagerness to learn become extinguished after having paid close attention to the ways of the world.


Wisdom Through Observation and Direct Knowing

On the path of liberation, apart from God, the gods and a living guru, we learn from many teachers. They guide us on our paths to our chosen goals. Experience, observation, education, books, discernment, people, pets and other animals, the world itself and many others also serve as teachers only. If we are willing to learn and pay attention, they teach us valuable lessons.

Their teaching flows to us continuously, directly and indirectly, in sleep, dreams and wakeful states. You learn from them through observation, intuition, signs, omens and interaction. All the knowledge which accumulates thus in our consciousness becomes a guiding factor as our memorial knowledge and wisdom in the pursuit of our material and spiritual goals.

This knowledge is useful in worldly life and in the performance of duties, but on the path of liberation, it is not of much value and has to be renounced along with other worldly things to engage the mind in the contemplation of the self. It is still worldly knowledge with its source rotted in maya. Therefore, great discretion is required to discern the right from the wrong and avoid making mistakes and errors in judgment.

The world is foremost among deluding forces to keep the souls bound and engaged in worldly activity. It is created for that purpose as an instrument of Maya and as the field of Nature where deluding shaktis hold sway and the truth of yourself remains concealed. It surreptitiously draws you into its myriad attractions and holds you in its traps. If you are spiritually asleep, you will remain under its sway, caught in its dualities, distractions and deceptions. However, if you wake up and pay attention, the same world teaches valuable lessons about the ways of the world and the nature of life and helps you cultivate discernment to stay free from its influence.

Both mind and body also belong to the world. They constitute the not-self, being the aspects of Nature and instruments of Maya. Because of that, the souls are not only bound and deluded but also encased in multiple layers of gross, material tattvas, where at every stage they are met with strong, opposing forces which do their best to keep them ignorant, impure, unstable and bound. Hence, a great battle awaits those who want to achieve liberation and escape from it.

This verse speaks about three opposing conditions of maya which influence our thinking and actions upon earth namely the desire to live or the longing for life (jiveteccha), the desire to enjoy (bhubuhksha) and the desire to learn or know (bhubhutsa). They are just a few of the innumerable problems, forces and obstacles we face in our daily lives and in our spiritual practice to attain liberation.

The longing for life arises from our desire to enjoy life and our aversion to pain and suffering. Our desire to enjoy the world in turn is inflamed by our desire to increase knowledge and learn newer ways to extend our senses. Thus, you can see that the three factors (the desire for life, enjoyment and knowledge) are interrelated and contribute to our suffering, although from a worldly perspective they are instrumental in keeping the beings engaged in the order and regularity of the world. The gunas are responsible for all the three desires, and unless they are resolved we cannot be free from them or truly practice renunciation.

For spiritual people who are intent upon liberation, the three desires are a problem since they exert their combined influence and prevent them from knowing their true selves or escape from the impurities of life. They strengthen our attachment and identification with the not-self through desire-ridden actions and the deluded notion that the not-self is the real self.

In an ideal setting, the longing for life should culminate into longing for the true self which is immortal and indestructible. The desire for enjoyment should lead us on a spiritual quest to find contentment, peace and happiness on a permanent basis through self-transformation and a shift in our thinking and perceptions. Finally, the desire for knowledge should open our minds to the highest goal of attaining self-knowledge (atma-jnanam) or pure consciousness (vidya) through oneness. Unfortunately, it does not happen in all cases since souls are bound to their predominant gunas, karma and destiny. Some souls remain forever caught in samsara and never attain liberation.

A yogi can overcome the three desires by cultivating discretion through observation. For example, the longing for life dissipates when you realize that life is full of suffering and there is nothing in the world or about the world which is worth pursuing or everlasting. All the struggle and suffering in life are invain since nothing truly matters and nothing truly lasts. You may have lived a great life and accomplished a lot, but in the end it does not add up to anything. As you simply disappear into the past after your body is sacrificed, the world moves on, swallowing all traces of your existence. If you have learned nothing from your life and did not work for your salvation, probably you may have wasted a lifetime of opportunity in the pursuit of inconsequential things and made things worse for you in the next birth.

The passion to enjoy life and material things weakens with the realization that the joys that you seek and experience in the world are transient and troublesome. They promise unending joy and pleasure, but it does not take long before they transform into their opposites as pain and suffering. Behind every joy and pleasure lurks a dark force, awaiting to capture you and hold you in its sway. They distract you from knowing your true nature and keep you deluded. They also come at a great spiritual cost as they draw you further into the material mire of things and bind you to the world.

You overcome the desire or eagerness to learn when you realize that all the learning and knowledge you gain through the mind and senses does not lead to true knowing or self-realization. It may even distract you from your path and keep you deluded. No one achieves liberation though perceptual or scriptural knowledge, just as hunger is not satisfied by mere knowledge of cookery. The knowledge of material things leads to materiality and increased suffering. True liberation arises from self-realization or oneness with the self, which is always achieved through self-knowing or direct knowing, without external or internal aides. It arises on its own, when the conditions are ripe and when one has reached perfection in practice.

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