Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 8

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


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Verse 8

prakaasho me nijam rupam naathirikto'asmyaham tatah
yadaa prakaashathe vishvam thadaaham bhaasa eva hi


Light is my true nature. I am not different from it or other than it. When this universe shines, then it is I who only shines.


The seer said, "Light is my true form. I am not different from it or anything other than it." Note, there is a double emphasis here. The description is about the form (rupam), or what a seer sees in his inner vision. Many yogis confirm that the Self is of the form of light. The Upanishads also affirm it. What they see is not an imagination, but a direct experience (pratyaksha). Hence, the double emphasis that he is not only light but also nothing else.. Lest there be any other doubt, the seer further states that the same light that shines in him also shines in the whole universe and its source is the seer himself.

Prakasha means bright light. Pra means power or brilliance and akasa means space or the sky. Prakasha means light in the sky, which is usually a reference to the sun light. The same light is hidden in all shining objects. Light brings life into existence and sets in motion the order and regularity of the world. It dispels darkness, gloom, and fear, and brings hope and cheer.

Your mental brilliance of intelligence (buddhi) has the same power. It can dispel the darkness, gloom, fear and ignorance of your mind and open you to higher wisdom. In spiritual terms, darkness is not the opposite of light, but an aspect of light only. The Self is eternal. So is the light of God. It is never absent. Mental or spiritual darkness arises when the light of the Self remains hidden or veiled.  

God is light. Creation is the day of God. Things manifest in the light of God and disappear when it is withdrawn or remains hidden. The Self shines in our intelligence. Hence it has some of the brilliance of the Self. Because of it only we can think, discern and reason. Intelligence is not as pure as the Self, but it has some of its intensity and brilliance. Hence, among the realities of Nature, it is considered the highest manifestation. The Vedas compare Brahman to the effulgent Sun.

The Moon also shines, but it does not have the same effulgence as the Sun. Hence, it does not enjoy the same exalted place. The moon is secondary. It is the home of ancestors, whereas the sun is considered home to the immortals and Brahman. At the time of dissolution of the worlds, the Moon disappears along with other worlds, but the world of Brahman remains constant. Everything that shines in creation has the same divine effulgence It source is Brahman. In gods it shines with greatest intensity, while in lower life forms it remains obscured. Hence, gods are called devas, the shining ones.

There is light inside each of us which shines brightly in the sky of our minds. However, it does not shine equally in all due to the presence of impurities. They cover the light of Self, just as the clouds cover the sky and obstruct the sun. When the mind is cleansed and the clouds are dissolved in the purity of sattva, it shines brightly.

From the standpoint of Advaita, being do not possess their own light. It is the light of Brahman which pervades of all and keeps them shining. Hence, being cease to exist when it is withdrawn. Death is compared to darkness because at the time of death the light in the body departs along with all the deities. Life is light, and light is existence. Light, thus, has a deep symbolism in our religion. Darkness is not the opposite of light, but the absence of it. Therefore, darkness is an illusion within an illusion, and has no basis in the reality of things.

Creation has no existence of its own. It appears or becomes visible when the light of Brahman illuminates it, just as the world appears during the day when the sun shines upon it and illuminates it. The light of the sun is the same as the light of the world. When it is withdrawn it is Night for the existence. If creation is like a movie that we see on a film screen, the Self is the projector and the screen is the field of Nature.

The same holds true for your dreams. Your dreams are illuminated by the light of your intelligence, which is illuminated in turn by your inner Self. It is the same light which reflects the objects in your consciousness. If you are pure with the predominance of sattva, things appear exactly as they are, but if you have the predominance of rajas and tamas, you may experience perceptual errors or distortions in your thinking and reflection.

How is this knowledge helpful to you? What does it matter if God is light or not? The descriptions of Self and the imagery found in these verses can be used in meditation and visualization. They illuminate your mind with the knowledge of the Self and make you aware that the world around you is a mere appearance or projection with which you should not become deeply involved. You will also become aware of the importance of cultivating detachment and discernment to deal with impermanence, desires, likes and dislikes.

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