Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 2, Verse 17


Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V


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Verse 17

bodhamaathro’ aham ajnaanaad upaadhih kalpitho mayaa
evam vimrushatho nithyam nirvikalpe sthitirmama


I am pure intelligence. Because of ignorance I have created attributes for myself. By constantly reflecting upon this I establish myself in the formless state of self-absorption.



The Truth and Illusion About You

“I am pure intelligence,” means I am, this person, the one who experiences life as the subject, who perceives the world as an object, or who relates to others as an individual, That person is pure intelligence. In other words, the person who is reading this as an individual is pure intelligence or consciousness. So is the person, who has written this. So are all the people and other living beings. Beneath the apparent diversity of things, there is a hidden reality, which is universally the same. It is pure consciousness. However, in ordinary life you will not notice it, nor will you define yourself in this manner. You will introduce yourself as someone with your name, status, background, etc.

In this world, you are always someone or something. You are a human, a male or female, young or old, mother or father, brother or sister, husband or wife, stranger, friend, well-wisher, enemy, professional, employed or unemployed, rich or poor, good or bad, vegetarian, materialist or spiritualist, progressive or conservative, and so on. You have numerous identities, which you use to define yourself or relate yourself, or which others use for the same purpose.

If someone asks who you are, or if you have to give your credentials, you will habitually respond with one or more of those identities and express your willingness to be part of the world or experience the sense of belongingness. You will never say, “I am pure consciousness.” If you do it, you are going to surprise a lot of people or invite a wide range of responses from incredulity to derision. I never heard anyone tell me, even spiritual people, “I am pure consciousness,” nor do I ever tell the same to others.

You cannot label pure consciousness, because it is indistinguishable. It is the same in you and me and in everyone else. The mind, therefore, cannot individualize it, define it or distinguish it. You can label the attributes, which define and limit that consciousness, as this and that. All those identities, which I have mentioned before, they are the attributes or the labels, which the world uses to put you in a category and classify you, so that they can draw some conclusions about you and know how to deal with you. When you remain in the background as a pure witness or a mere observer, with stillness in your mind, you become pure consciousness. If you draw your mind out and become involved with the things of the world, you become lost in the world of identities and labels (matras).

For the world, you are an individual, an object, a matra, which is useful or useless, known or unknown, and relatable or unrelatable. If you keep identifying yourself as this and that, you will always remain an object, an individual with destructible labels or names and forms. This is the ordinary state of most people. According to Ashtavakra, it is the state of ignorance (ajnana) in which the apparent reality takes precedence over the hidden reality and in which the whole becomes the parts to move the wheel of life.

Because of that, people become lost in their own identities, which not only limit them and put them in the order of things according to their relative value and importance but also keep them bound. The attributes such as your name and form or your numerous identities make you a cog in the wheel of life, a stereotype, as determined by the norms of society and the perceptions of others. Once you are labeled, defined and stereotyped, the world deals with you accordingly, without having to pay particular attention to you or your individuality.

On the spiritual path, you have to give up all those identities or reject them and settle with your deepest core, which is pure consciousness. If you become stabilized in the idea that you are pure consciousness, without any distinctions or divisions, the feelings of detachment and renunciation will automatically manifest in you. Behind all the materiality of your mind and body and behind the modifications and afflictions which infect your mind and keep you disturbed, you are pure consciousness, indefinable, indestructible and indivisible. You can reach that pure state of you through Pratyahara (withdrawal), Samyama (concentrated meditation) and silence.

When you perfect your practice of the first two, silence automatically manifest in you. It is the silence of all silences, which is characterized by the absence egoism, desires, cravings, self-preservation and selfishness. If you persist in that thought that you are pure intelligence and if you settle in that identity, without egoistic labels, Ashtavakra declares that you will become established in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the formless state of self-absorption. In this context, Nirvikalpa Samadhi means the state of pure consciousness without formations and attributes. Detachment means detachment from all labels or attributes, renunciation means renunciation of all labels and attributes, and sameness means sameness to all labels and attributes not only of yours but also those of others.

The word upadhi is a complex word with multiple meanings. It means fraud, deception, limitation, attribute, title, distinguishing feature, condition, support, effect, etc. In Vedanta, it refers to the deception or illusion that arises in the field of Nature around the self as a projection, modification, or alternate reality. Thus, for example, the body and mind are the upadhis for the Self. The body has again several other attributes such as name, family name, title, gender name, caste name, nationality, professional name, and names arising from relationships such as father, mother, brother, and so on.

All these are the upadhis of the Self only. They create the appearance of a being or its beingness. They define the Self, but the Self remains untouched by them. The updadhis are unreal, since they are formations and have no existence of their own. They arise because of the entanglement of the Self in Nature. Identifying yourself with your upadhis is called delusion (maya). It is the cause of your bondage. A yogi constantly reflects upon the thought that he is neither his mind nor his body, nor any of the attributes that arise from them. Reflecting upon them, he develops a distaste for them and for worldly pleasures, and gradually become absorbed in the Self.

The effort to reach the state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi should be continuous, because the mind can easily become distracted in worldly matters and revert to its old habits. A yogi has to be on guard and constantly (nityam) remind himself that he is “not this, not this,” as he thinks about his name and form or his attributes. Only then, he has the slightest chance of becoming self-absorbed in pure consciousness and attain the state of indivisible oneness.

Nirvikalpa Samadhi is the stateless self-absorption, in which there is no duality between the object and the subject and between the knower and the known. Hence, there will no self-awareness also because awareness of the Self arises in duality. In the unified state of pure consciousness, knowledge becomes self-evident, but it cannot be easily translated into human experience or brought into the mental field. Outwardly, it is similar to the deep sleep state. Nirvikalpa Samadhi burns away all the latent impressions (Samskaras), predominant desires (vasanas), and formations of karmic fruit, and thereby signals the end of rebirth.

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