Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 5

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


Index, Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3, Verse 4, Verse 5, Verse 6, Verse 7, Verse 8, Verse 9, Verse 10, Verse 11, Verse 12, Verse 13, Verse 14, Verse 15, Verse 16, Verse 17, Verse 18, Verse 19, Verse 20

Verse 5

na tvam vipradiko varno na asrami na aksha gocharah
asangonasi nirakaro visvasakshi sukhi bhava


You are not of Brahmana or any other caste, nor of any ashrama, nor you are visible to the eyes. Unattached, without form, and as the universal witness, you are blissful.


Your true identity

The world knows you by many identities. They grow upon you as you interact with the world and establish yourself in society as an individual. You also become attached to those aspects that enhance you while you may develop negative attachment or aversion towards those that give you pain or suffering.

Caste, name, fame, formalities, social norms, religious conventions, appearance, are a few factors that define you and introduce you to the world. They are also serious barriers to your spirituality as they keep you involved with the world. This verse says that none of them represents you, and you must know that your true identity is the eternal Self, whose essential state is always blissful.

Ashtavakra says you do not belong to any caste. How many Hindus believe in it? Caste belongs to this body or to your family lineage. It is restricted to one lifetime. No one can accurately predict what will be your caste in your next life. You souls has no caste. It has no identity. Caste is a powerful social factor in the lives of Hindus. They are born with a certain caste identity and it remains with them until the end, influencing their thinking, decisions, and way of life.

It determines how they should live, what they should do, whom they should marry, who should be their friends or relations, and even which gods they should worship or which education they should pursue. If you belong to a higher and respectable caste, you develop an attachment to it, but if it is a lower one, you may develop an aversion to it. Thus, caste can be a facilitator in some cases or an obstructer in other. In case of lower castes, it does destroy the happiness of people and make them feel alienated and frustrated.

Unfortunately, most Hindus do not see the soul in a person but the caste. They do so because they do not acknowledge their own spirituality or identify themselves with their spiritual selves. Your caste identity does not extend beyond this life. At some stage in your current life also it becomes irrelevant. For example, when you retire from the life of a householder and enter the stage of forest dweller, your caste becomes less and less relevant as you gradually withdraw from the worldly life and become introspective. Your caste also loses its importance if you live in a foreign country, where no castes exist. You soul has no caste. Therefore, one of the best ways to overcome your attachment or aversion to caste is to become centered in your identity as the Self.

In this verse Ashtavakra is precisely asking Janaka to do it. He has suggested to him to renounce his past life, caste and ashrama related duties and meditate upon his inner Self. It is in the Self that all diversity, distinction, attachment and aversion come to an end. If you keep remembering your inner Self, your mind automatically becomes meditative and remains in that state. It is also the best way to pull your mind from body-centric thinking to soul-centric.

The change comes gradually as you shift your focus from the outward things to the inner world, from the body to the Self, from relationships and family concerns to your liberation, from caste identity to your divinity, and from the duties of your ashrama to the self-discipline that is required for your self-purification. Your soul has neither caste nor asrama nor any recognizable form. It is invisible, unattached, formless and blissful. By meditating upon it, you can experience its blissful nature. This is the message that you will find in this verse.

To those who are not familiar with Hinduism, ashrama means a stage in the life of a householder. The Vedas identify four stages in the life of a human being. They are:

  • The first stage as a student practising celibacy (brahmacarya).
  • The second stage as a householder (grihasta) performing worldly duties.
  • The third stage as a forest dweller (vanaprastha) contemplating upon the deeper aspect of life and spirituality.
  • The fourth stage as a renunciant (sanyasa) practising renunciation, self-restraint, sameness, and effortlessness.

For householders these stages are important until they enters the last one, during which they have to follow the same advice that is given here. Caste, name, form, status, profession, family, prestige, honor, such symbols of authority and recognition are relevent only in worldly life.

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