Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 8

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 8

aham karthethya aham manam ahakrishnahi-damshathi
naham karthethi vishavasamrutham pithva sukhibhava


You who is bitten by the great black serpent of egoism think, "I am the doer." Drink the nectar of faith that "I am not the doer," and be happy.


Who is truly responsible for your life and destiny?

You must know the difference between ego and the Self. The ego (aham) is an aspect of Nature. It is a projection of the Self, which takes over the responsibility of becoming you in relation to the world. When you are the seer with desires, you become the ego. When you are the seer without desires, you enter the pure state of witness consciousness.

As far as the world is concerned, your ego is the subject, or so it appears, whereas in reality it is the object of the pure Seer. The pure witness in you notices the ego and its struggle to reclaim its freedom, perfection happiness by fulfilling its desires. It is a clumsy effort in which you are limited by your own desires, choices, and expectation. Therefore, understanding how your egoism claims owership and doership and prevents you from becoming the seer is an important step in your spiritual progress.

Happiness mostly comes to us from possessions, achievements, and success in reaching our goals or fulfilling our desires. This is how you as an individual (ego) try to secure peace and happiness in the world. In this regard you are not an exception. The whole world treats you with the same attitude, and expects you to be a person in your own right. Your parents feel proud of you if you are successful in your life and bring your family a good name. Your spouse and children value your words differently if they perceive that you have power, wealth and influence. You may have a lot of knowledge, but if you are not successful, society does not put much value upon you.

It is how society conditions your thinking and perception in judging the world so that you value those who are achievers and successful, and look down upon those who do not measure up to your expectations. With that conditioning arises the notion that you should take pride in your actions and achievements and live up to the standards set by society.

Another important delusion is that you are the source of all your actions, and you have a right to enjoy the fruit of your labor. You cannot also take full credit for what happens to you, or how you achieve success. Your ego cannot see how life happens, since it is influenced by desires, expectations and attachments. Only the seer in you can see it clearly with discernment and dispassion.

Many people do not pay attention to the role played in their lives by chance or acts of randomness. In retrospect they look at their past and connect the dots to create a story of their lives taking credit for the success that happened to them. The truth is that without chance and circumstances playing their dutiful roles their lives would have been different. The same is true with history and the biographies of people who are elevated by society as role models of success.

For example, what would have happened if great flood did not happen, if many of the calamities and wars would not have happened, if the ice age did not end, or if many of the inventions and discoveries did not happen by chance? Imagine what would be the situation if genetic mutations happened differently, or if evolution proceeded along different lines. A little difference or variation in the configuration of the planets at the time of the formation of the solar system would have rendered the earth inhospitable for life.

We do not think that far to acknowledge the role of chance or fate in our lives. We take credit for many things without considering all the circumstances. If you analyze your life, you will realize how help might have come to you in numerous forms, as a teacher, friend, stranger, word of advice, inspiration, an invention, a chance meeting, book, a poem, or even an adversity. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of "Fooled by Randomness," states, many people who take credit for their successes and consider themselves geniuses are in truth "lucky fools" who happened to be at the right place at the right time.

From the above, it becomes clear that you are not the only person who shapes your destiny. Many factors and powers combine to create you and your life. Ashtavakra is suggesting that if you want to be happy and free from anxiety and worry, you should remove all notions that you are the doer of your actions. For a materialistic person it is totally unacceptable and illogical, because he goes by his perceptions and believes in what he sees.

Ashtavakra says such people are bitten by the black serpent of egoism. Why did he say the serpent is black, why not red or yellow? It is because black color in Hinduism symbolizes the quality of tamas. It is a deluding quality which makes people mistake one thing for another, in this case mistaking the ego for the doer, instead of the Self that is hidden behind.

It is not that you do not perform any actions or you are not largely responsible for your life and destiny. It is about the identity that you assume. If you believe that you are just a living being or human being with a body, mind, name and form, and without the soul, that is a problem. It is what is called aham or egoism, which lead to negative consequences. However, if you believe in your deeper identity as the eternal Self and accept that it is from where all actions arise and to which all the credit should go, you will remain free from the poisonous consequences of egoism and egoistic actions.

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