Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 1, Verse 15

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 15

nisango nishkriya asi thvam svaprakaasho nirajnah
ayam eva hi the bhandhah samaadhim anupathishtasi


You are unattached, inactive, self-luminous, and without blemish. This only is your bondage that (to know your Self) you have to become established in Samadhi (self-absorption).


Contemplating upon the Self and becoming absorbed in it

The meaning of this verse is rather convoluted and needs some explanation. The first line speaks about the nature of the Self, and how to distinguish it from the physical Self, which does not possess any of the four qualities mentioned in it. In the second line we are told that because of the bondage we do not possess the knowledge of the Self. To know it we need to practice yoga and enter the state of self-absorption (Samadhi). This by itself is the proof that we are bound to our bodies and ignorant about our spiritual nature.

In other words, self-knowledge does not arise in you naturally. You have to strive for it. The state of ignorance and delusion of your spiritual nature is your natural state. You have to escape from it through the practice of Yoga and the experience of self-absorption (Samadhi). The implication is that as long you are attached to your body, self-knowledge will not arise; and as long as you do not have self-knowledge, you should know that you are still caught up in your attachment and infatuation for your body.

Nisanga means having no associations. The body has many associations and relationships, whereas the Self is not bound to anything, depends upon nothing and supported by nothing. The body needs them for its survival and protection, whereas the Self is self-existing and free, without a second, without attachments and relationships, and without any support. Although the Self exists in you as your very core identity, you cannot perceive it because it has no association or connection to your physical self. It is when you disengage from it and look within yourself that you will perceive the Self.

Nishkriya means without any action. The body cannot survive without actions. It has its own dharma. Even the seemingly inaction of the body produces karma. The Bhagavadgita affirms that it is impossible for a living being to escape from the law of karma since the body cannot remain inactive even for a moment. Hence, it recommends detachment and renunciation of desire for the fruit of your actions. In contrast to your body, the Self has no desires, no purpose, no need for fulfillment, and no goals and obligatory duties. Hence, no tasks are entrusted to it in creation.

Svaprakasha means self-luminous. We have learned in a previous verse that the ego is without light (abhasa). So is the body. It has no shine of its own because it a projection of the Self and unreal. It is illuminated by the Self. Hence, it remains alive as long as the Self is present in it. Its luminosity is also an illusion just as the light that shines on the surface of a pond. The Self is different. It is like the Sun, which shines by itself. It does not reflect anything because it is the source and the subject. Just as the sun is covered by dark clouds, it may remain covered in the body by the impurities of Nature, but none can take away or suppress its original shine.

Niranjana means without blemishes and impurities. The body is impure because it is a product of Nature and subject to desires and karma. The soul is eternally pure and constant. It remains free from modes and modifications of Nature even when it is in an embodied state. Therefore, in spiritual practice the body and the mind are cleansed and transformed first, so that they become stabilized in the thoughts of Self and facilitate the liberation.

The qualities that are listed in this verse are good for contemplation. Reflect upon their meaning so that your mind is drawn to the thoughts of the Self. If you want to become a spiritual person and identify yourself with the Self rather than your body, this is a very helpful practice.

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