Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 2

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


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Verse 2

yathaa prakaashayaamyeko dehamenam thathaa jagat
ato mama jagatsarvam athavaa na cha kinchana


Just as I alone illuminate this body so do I the whole universe. Therefore, the whole universe is mine, or nothing is.


Creation as an Illumination of the Self

Three ideas are present in this verse. The first one is that the Self is the cause of life as well as creation. The second one is that universe belongs to the Self. He is its true owner. The third one is that the Self has manifested and unmanifested states. In the former he has materiality and in the latter he has nothing. Let us examine them in some detail.

The body is the microcosm, and the universe is the macrocosm. They are made up of the same elements and realities and run on the same natural principles and functions. According to the legends, when Alexander invaded India, the seers whom he met in the forests told him that conquering the world was not a significant achievement, but conquering one’s own mind and body. By saying that they cautioned him not to take pride in his conquests or his kingly possessions.

In spiritual life, worldly success has significance mainly as a teacher. Life teaches us many lessons, and success teaches its own. Through success and failure, we realize the impermanence of life and the importance of detachment and renunciation. By conquering your mind and body through self-discipline and inner purification, you conquer the universe. The Self is the true emperor of the universe. When you are one with it, you become the true lord, Isvara.

Creation or existence is described in this verse as an illumination. From that we can deduce that the Self is compared to the effulgent Sun. The Sun illuminates everything and pours life into living beings. Life upon earth is not possible without the Sun. The energy of the Sun is hidden in all of us. The food that we eat contains it, and through the food his light and energy enter our bodies.

The food is therefore an aspect of light. For the same reason, food has a sacred significance in Hinduism. When we offer food to gods, who are light beings, we are passing on the light of the Sun to them and keeping them well nourished so that they can shine brightly. When they shine brightly in your body and in the universe, darkness stays away. It is said that what is present in the stars is present in our bodies also and we are all made of the same star stuff. While it may be true, the Sun is the main replenishing source of energy and illumination for our minds and bodies.

The symbolism of the Self as the illuminating Sun is found in many scriptures of Hinduism. The way to the immortal world of Brahman is said to be the Sun, which is either the location of the immortal world or the doorway to it. The souls who achieve liberation go by the path of light to the Sun. It is possible that the Sun, which the Upanishads extol as Brahman or as the eye of the universe (guardian witness), may not be the physical Sun that we see. However, he serves well as a metaphor for the Supreme Self.

The Self illuminates our bodies. His illumination is directly reflected in our consciousness and intelligence. To the extent we are pure, the illumination of the Self will be bright. If you are covered in the impurities of tamas, the illumination of your Self may not be visible much, as it will remain subdued by its darkness. Hence, there is so much emphasis in Hindu spirituality on the importance of self-purification and cultivation of sattva.

In the existence of Supreme Self, his day is equal to creation and activity, and his night to dissolution and rest. During the day, God projects himself into his creation and illuminates it, just like the Sun that illuminates the world during the day. When the Sun appears in the sky, we see clearly the world around us, but when he disappears, everything becomes invisible. Hence, the alternating states of "is" and "is not" are mere illusions. The Self is always the same.

The verse makes another important declaration that the Self is the true owner of the universe. We hear the same in the Isa Upanishad. Brahman is the true inhabitant of all that exists here. Since he pervades all, he is the true owner of all that is here. The implication of it is that you should not claim ownership of anything because you neither create it nor own it. Since it belongs to God, you should not claim what does not belong to you.

In Hindu ethical practice, asteya is considered one of the highest virtues. Asteya means non-possession of or not taking what does not belong to you. True asteya is not claiming ownership of anything, because nothing belongs to you. Renunciation of desires and renunciation of the fruit of your actions are prescribed because they are the best means to escape from the sinful consequences of breaching this cardinal principle.

The world has two states, the visible and the invisible states. What creates the difference is the presence or absence of illumination. The same is true with the whole existence. It has two states, "is" and "is not." The first one arises when God projects into it, and the second one arises when he withdraws from it. If the Sun is the Self, a lake or a pond is comparable to the field of Nature.

The reflection of the Sun in the water is like creation. It exists during the day and disappears during the night. Its reflection does not in any way diminish the Self or makes it impure. The Sun is not touched by the water. The truth is that neither the reflection nor the pond is true or permanent. When they disappear, nothing remains except the effulgent Sun.

The duality of is and is not is a delusion caused by the presence or absence of a combination of factors. The Self has no states, no modifications and appearances. It is always the same. The two states of existence apply to you also. When you are present in your body, you think that the body is yours, but when you depart from it is as if you have nothing. That relationship of "mine" arises only when you have the duality of you and your body, or when you extend yourself into your body and believe that it is you. When you withdraw from it either mentally or physically, that relationship disappears.

These verses are not for study but for contemplation. Contemplate upon the meaning of this verse, how you illuminate your body, how you support it as its occupant, and how you are responsible for its various functions and survival. When you contemplate thus, remember that although your body is your immediate home or vehicle, your identity exists far beyond your physical self into the universe, and you are also the universal Self. It helps you to overcome your attachment to your body and enter the egoless states. When you are egoless, your mind stops objectifying things, which in turn leads to peace and stability.

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