Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 12

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 12

atmaa saakhsi vibhuh puurna eko muktaschidakriyah
asangno nispruha shaantho bhramaath samsaaravaaniva


The Self is the witness, all pervading, complete, one, free, consciousness, inactive, unattached, without desires, peaceful, even when it revolves or wanders in the cycle of births and deaths.


The essential nature of your true Self

The Self is said to be without attributes and qualities. Then how can you justify statements that state that Self is this or that? If you say that the Self is the witness or complete, does not it mean that we are defining an indefinable Self and limiting its greatness? It is very true that the Self is indescribable and indefinable. The qualities mentioned above are applicable only in comparison to the body and to distinguish the Self from the being.

The teacher, Ashtavakra, described those qualities here to convey that the Self was not the person in his awakened state. The Self is different from your current awareness and state of being. Using the attributes that are mentioned here, you can develop a good idea of what it will be like. They are also useful for mediation to focus your attention upon your Self and gradually dissolve your mind in that awareness. You cannot silence the mind by any other means or prepare yourself for self-absorption.

The Self is caught in the cycle of births and deaths and moves from place to place and body to body. It is therefore a traveler in the phenomenal world, although from the absolute perspective, the Self has no movement. The Self in the body is a projection of the Supreme Self. It exists for the duration of its bondage. Upon liberation it disappears forever like the waves that subside into an ocean.

Some scholars translate the word bhrama as illusion. However, it does not seem to be the right meaning in the context of this verse. The word is also commonly used to mean wandering, revolving, or going in rounds. This meaning seems to be more appropriate since samsara means the cycle of births of deaths, and souls that are caught in it revolve in it like animals that are pegged to a wooden post. It also fits into the description of the embodied self as a wanderer in the phenomenal world.

The soul wanders in the mortal world. It revolves in the cycle of births and deaths, propelled by fate and karma. It cannot escape from samsara, unless it recovers from the delusion of duality and the modifications of Nature. The ultimate purpose of life is to recover from it, for which you have to remember your essential nature and return to the pristine state of your pure consciousness, which is your true self. You can do it in several ways, but the most effective method is by focusing upon the qualities that distinguish your true Self from your physical self and become one with it. In this regard, the qualities that are mentioned in this verse are very helpful.

There are many layers to your identity. You have a surface personality and a deeper personality. Your thinking and attitude change, depending upon where you find yourself and how you identify yourself. You have the worldly self, distinguished by your name, form, actions, and possessions, which is caught in the attractions, attachments, desires, and illusions of the world. Then, there is the deeper Self, which is not of this world and not influenced by it. It is not immediately visible unless you silence all modifications and commotion in your mind and body and become utterly quiet. In reality both selves represent the same person, but unless you become stabilized at the center of your deepest calm, you will not be able to overcome the duality and illusion of your current identity and return to your deeper identity and pure state.

Scriptures such as the Ashtavakra gita help you distinguish your current state from the state of your true Self before you can actually experience it. You can use the qualities such as the ones that are mentioned in this verse to know where you are now in your spiritual journey and where you need to be. Use them for your self-transformation and to draw increasingly your mind and senses into your deeper self. Meditate upon them constantly to remember who you are in the depths of your being. Words have the power. They can transform you, if you engage your mind in their contemplation. Do not be satisfied with their surface meaning. See what they truly mean and how they can be applied to your current state. Let those qualities come alive in you and become active and part of your consciousness.

To be at peace with yourself and return to your essential nature, you must discover the center of your calm and remain stabilized in it. You must remember it and let that become your inner reality and essential nature. You can always find this calm, the deeper silence, which is the door to your freedom and everlasting life. You can open that door by withdrawing from the commotion of the material world and meditating upon your true self.

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