Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 7

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


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Verse 7

aatmaajnaanajjagad bhaathi aatmajnaanaanna bhasate
rajjvajnaanaadahirbhaathi tajjnaanad bhaasathe na hi


The world is reflected in the ignorance of the Self, but verily does not reflect in the knowledge of the Self, just as the snake is reflected in the ignorance of the rope and does not reflect in the knowledge of it.


Nothing is reflected in your mind when you are completely asleep. In deep sleep only the Self shines, and the external world disappears. However, when you are awake, the world appears in your mind, and the Self disappears. In your wakeful state you see the world because your mind grasps it and reflects it in its consciousness. The Self disappears because you mistake your mind for your real Self. The Yogis say that if your mind is pure, it will stop reflecting the world and instead will radiate the light of the Self. According to this verse, the world appears in your mind because of your ignorance and delusion.

When you are ignorant, your mind remains awake and you remain asleep. In a self-realized yogi, his mind remains asleep and his Self remains awake. It is the difference. When the mind is awake, it does reflect the world rather than the Self. That is the delusion to which ordinary people are subject. They do not have the knowledge of the Self. Hence, the images of the world become reflected in their minds.

Your mind is but an aspect of Nature. It absorbs everything and gives you the impression that it is you rather than your pure consciousness. The mental image of you which you take for real is your ego, or your individuality. You accept it as your essential identity and deal with the world and others as a separate, individual.This feeling of separation can be a great source insecurity, fear, and anxiety. It is what makes people feel lonely and depressed.

Our seers recognized the mind as the main obstacle in self-realization because it keeps you distracted and ignorant of your true identity. It is the source of not only desires and attachments but also your mental self-image, which you accept as your identity. This is the delusion which you are supposed to transcend to see the ultimate truth about yourself.

The rope and the snake analogy is the most frequently used example to explain the nature of Maya or delusion. The snake is the ego. The rope is the Self. The illusion of ego arises in your mental consciousness because of the delusion to which it is subject. The ego appears as the Self because of your ignorance and delusion. It lasts as long as you remain ignorant of your true nature and do not become one with it.

When you realize your error of perception and see the truth of yourself without distortions, you become free from Maya and the mental modifications and afflictions that arise from it. Freedom from suffering or modifications of the mind does not mean that they will disappear. It means you are not troubled by them anymore since you develop the wisdom and the resolve to remain equal to the dualities of life and to attraction and aversion.

The rope is the truth, the reality. It is the Self, or the Sutra (thread) which was mentioned before. Because of ignorance you do not see it but accept the reflection of the world, and all the knowledge you accumulate about it through your senses as your essential Self. Your mental consciousness is just a bubble of delusion which covers you and keeps you distracted. Until you realize this truth and become stabilized in it, you will not be free from it.

The illusion of snake does not last for long. However, the illusion of the world and your false Self survive for a very long time. The existence of the world does not end even after you attain self-realization because it has its own Dharma and destined functions. If you read that the world is an illusion or projection, do not be confused.

Advaita philosophy does not say that this world does not exist at all. The world does exist as a formation or manifestation. It is very much perceptible to the senses, and you do interact with it every moment in real time. You cannot say that it does not exist, just because it outlasts you. Since it lasts for the entire duration of creation, you will not perceive it as an illusion. It is the truth. As long your mind lasts, it also lasts. When you realize your true identity, you will still perceive the world, its numerous objects and their diversity whenever you bring your mind into active mode. However, they cease to trouble you or cause ripples in your consciousness.

From the perspective of the Self which is eternal, the world is an illusion because it is not reflected in its consciousness. It is reflected only in the consciousness of your mind. The Self is free from the duality of subject and object. Hence, it can only perceive itself as the all-pervading, infinite consciousness. In the embodied state, it may still have a functioning mind which remains active in the wakeful state and in which things may appear and disappear in their own time as dreams appear and disappear in our minds.

Modern science acknowledges that the universe is an appearance bound to space and time, and that space is a fabric like object, which can be rolled, folded or pierced as if it is a cloth or a membrane. We are unable to do it today because our limited knowledge and resources do not let us do it, but science does indicate that it is very much possible when right conditions are manifested and when humans learn to control vast amounts of energy without destroying themselves. It is believed that when you reach the speed of light, everything changes and the whole universe disappears into an absolute, constant something, that cannot be explained or described in relative terms.

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