Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 3

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


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Verse 3

sa shareeram aho vishvam parithyajya mayaadhunaa
kuthaschitha kaushalaadeva paramaathmaa vilokyathe


Oh, having renounced the body together with the universe, I now perceive the Supreme Self with the discernment of my stable intelligence..


Renunciation and Self-realization

This verse tells you that to perceive the Self you should renounce the universe and the body. Both have to be renounced at the same time. It is what “sa” (together with) means. Why should they have to be renounced? As we have seen before, both of them are projections of the Self and unreal. Attachment to them is the cause of delusion and bondage. Secondly, the body and the universe are objects of enjoyment for the mind , while  the universe is the source of distraction, attraction, and enjoyment for the body. Your mind and senses constantly interact with the material universe and consider it their food. Since, they are impurities, and since interaction with them makes your consciousness impure, you have to renounce both.

Renunciation truly means renunciation of desires, and desire for the fruit of actions. Desire ridden actions produce karma. They bind you. Hence, the scriptures recommend that one should perform actions with detachment and as an offering to the Self. You must live and work not for the enjoyment of your body but for the liberation of the Self. It is the best sacrifice. Renunciation has a great significance as a liberating force. It sets you free from the shackles of material life by shielding you from fear, anxiety, anger, envy, pride, and greed.

However, renunciation by itself does not lead to self-realization as implied in this verse. You must use discretion (kausalatha) in making your choices, in choosing your path, and methods of practice. You cannot exercise discretion if you are disturbed or attached to things. Therefore, cultivating a stable mind (kutaschitta) is an important requirement. When you practice detachment, indifference and renunciation for long, your mind becomes stable and calm, which in turn gives you discernment or the ability to know the right from the wrong.

Why discernment is important? It is because discernment helps you distinguish reality from unreality, and the right from wrong, which in turns helps you overcome your delusion (moha). When your mind is stable, concentration becomes easier. Your senses will be under your control. As you control your desires and stabilize your mind, you will experience sameness towards the pairs of opposites.

The Self manifests when your attention shifts from your mind and body to your Self. In spiritual practice, it may begin as a thought or an idea, but as you think about it and constantly draw your mind into it, you become stabilized in that thought and give it enough conviction to make it true. Thinking and believing are important. First, you must believe in the existence of your Self. Then you must believe in the methods you choose to realize it.

For many people, renunciation means you leave the world behind and go on a journey of self-discovery. Renunciation evokes in us images of monks, Sadhus and Sanyasis. It is one aspect of renunciation, the outer aspect. Wearing robes or practicing spirituality does not make a person a renunciant unless he brings that idea into every aspect of his life and exemplifies it. Living like you are already dead, that is true renunciation. Having no ego, no feeling and emotion, it is true renunciation. It may sound a little shocking to those who do not like to think about death, but to live as if one does not exist while one is still alive is what true renunciation is. It is giving up all hope, fear, desires, likes and dislikes, relationships, ownership, intention, opinion, control, identity, affiliation, and expectation. Nothing matters to a true renunciant, even his own life.

It may sound awful to those who are accustomed to worldly life, but there is a lot of freedom in that approach. It is as if you throw away all the baggage that you have been carrying so far in your journey of life and move forward not knowing where it may lead and what may happen. It needs a lot of courage and guts to live a carefree life. Not everyone can do it. Even the most ardent spiritual practitioners, yogis, and babas betray their attachment and worldliness, when they are troubled or disturbed by the events in the world or the behavior of others.

One can dabble in spirituality from the comfort of home, security, status, privilege, and in expectation of some self-reward, but it is extremely difficult to take a plunge into pure asceticism through renunciation. However, those who take that plunge acknowledge that they feel unburdened by the troubles of life. You may not like to take that extreme step, but give it a thought. Let that thought grow. Let it become a major transformative power in your life and bring you closer to the sea of pure consciousness.

Think for a while how it will be to live in a world as if you have no care, no plans, no concerns and expectations, as if you do not exist at all. It is not that it is never going to happen. Someday it will happen, but then you may not have any opportunity to be a witness and see for yourself how the world will accept your death and moves on burying your memory deep inside its graveyard of history.

For a self-realized yogi, renunciation is a natural state. It is not contrived. He sees the world differently as a projection of himself and as a witness. He gives up his physical identity and becomes stabilized in the contemplation of Self. He does not struggle to practice renunciation. It is when he has to deal with worldly people and their problems and concerns he may exert himself to stay free from their worldliness.

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