Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 14

Ashtavakra and King Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


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Verse 14

aho aham namo mahyam yasya me naasthi kinchana
athavaa yasya me sarvam yadyvaan manasa gocharam


Oh, my Self! Salutations to my Self, who has nothing whatsoever or all which is known to the speech and the mind.


The Self as Having All or Nothing.

Your awareness of anything arises from your knowledge or ignorance or both. It may arise from experience, inference, doubt, imagination, sleep, or what you learn from books and scriptures. Hence, it is never perfect, pure, or complete.

Truth is a million things to a million people. Your world is what you see in it and understand from it. It will change as you change. It is why you should keep your mind open and continue your learning from experience, observation, study of books and others. At the same time, you must cultivate a pure and stable mind to see things with greater clarity and keep your perception, knowledge and understanding free from likes and dislikes, attachments, preferences, prejudices and preconceived notions.

In his exalted state, the sage, Ashtavakra, says that the Self has nothing as well as everything. If you are not familiar with Hindu spirituality, such statements can confuse you. Transcendental reality is not entirely subject to human rationality. Hence, in understanding it, you cannot entirely depend upon your mind or your empirical knowledge.

The Self is perceptible and imperceptible, immanent and transcendental, highest of the high and the lowest of the low, has forms and is formless, is bound and free, is perceptible to the mind and senses and beyond them, is creator and the created, the sacrificer and the sacrificed, the seer and the seen, the knower and the known, is real and unreal, and so on.

When you hear such paradoxical and contradictory descriptions of any reality (tattvas) in any discourse, or the scriptures such as the Upanishads, you may wonder how they can be true. How can the Self be bound as well as free? How can anything be the knower and the known or the sacrificer and the sacrificed? How the Self can have everything and nothing at the same time?

Such contradictions arise because we are subject to duality and division and see things in relation to one another. We cannot easily comprehend the oneness of universal existence. You see the universe as a collection of diverse objects, while you are the subject who sees them. However, from a universal perspective, there is no such duality or division.

For the universal Self everything is either itself or its projections and manifestations. It does not see the otherness. There is no second in the absolute state of Brahman. For Brahman, or the Supreme Self, all is Brahman, without division and duality. Even his projections and manifestation are part of him only since they cannot happen outside him. There is no outside to Brahman. Everything is part of his reality. Everything exists in him and is enveloped by him.

Thus, you can see that the reality of Brahman depends upon our perspective or how we know him, look at him and understand him. If you think that he is a being, you will see him as an object or a phenomenon, but if you think that he is an invisible, formless, indefinable, indescribably reality, you will see him entirely differently, and prefer to remain silent or admit your ignorance.

Brahman has no definable state except those that he manifests, but he is not limited to them or limited by them. He is one in his absolute state, but many in his manifested state. Hence, you can see him as one or many, or as all or having nothing. You can see him as the transcendental Supreme Self, individual Self, witness Self or the embodied Self. Depending upon your knowledge and perspective, or your ignorance and confusion, your understanding of Self changes.

The manifested state is an illusion, but it is still an aspect of Brahman. Since they are subject to duality and delusion, it is real for the mind, body, speech and the senses. When you close your eyes, you enter an imaginary world as projected by your mind, but when you open them, you see a different world, which is perceptible to your senses. Both worlds exist in their relative states and are real in their own ways.

It is similar to what happens, when you are asleep. In deep sleep, you see nothing and experience nothing. You enter a vast unknown and return from there, refreshed and energized. In your wakeful state, you see a whole different world. You become many persons to many people, according to knowledge, ignorance, imagination, assumptions, projections, thinking and perceptions.

They may perceive you as someone’s father or mother, friend or foe, master or servant, male or female, rich or poor, useful or useless, and agreeable or disagreeable. You are the same person, but different to different people. You may have all the qualities which they see in you, or a few or none at all. In everyone’s perception you become a different person because they do not really see you or know you, but see in you their version of you. They see you according to your possessions, values, status, relationships, or appearance. While you may have all those possessions, qualities, and attributes which define you to society, in the end you know that cannot carry any of them with you. While you may own things, the soul possesses nothing.

What you see and experience is essentially your creation, which may or may not correspond to reality, depending upon how pure your mind is and how free you are from the cognitive distortions and mental filters. For this very reason, our scriptures emphasize the importance of mental and physical purity. If your mind is disturbed or preoccupied with selfish thoughts and preconceived notions, you do not see truth, but what you want to see or expect to see. One of the benefits of practicing yoga is that it calms your mind and removes the impurities that stand between you and the object of your perception.

When your mind is stable, calm, nonjudgmental and impassionate, you see things with greater clarity, empathy and awareness. It is said that in heightened states, yogis not only see things as they are, but also as themselves. They obliterate the distinction between the knower and the known or the seer and the seen and experience oneness with the object of their concentration and meditation. Since they experience the same essence in all, they realize that Brahman is all and exists in all.

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