Ashtavakra Samhita, Chapter 9, Verse 03

Ashtavakra and Janaka

Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V

Index, Verse Index, Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3, Verse 4, Verse 5, Verse 6, Verse 7, Verse 8,

Verse 03

anityam sarvamevedam taapatritayadooshitam
asaaram ninditam heyamiti nishchitya shaamyati


Having reached the firm conclusion that all this is impermanent, polluted with threefold misery, devoid of essence, culpable and renounceable, he attains peace.


Knowing the Nature of the World

Now, when one realizes the true nature of the world and how it creates misery and bondage, one develops distaste for the world and overcomes the triple desires which are mentioned in the previous verse to attain peace. What is the true nature of the world? Ashtravakra says it is impermanent, polluted with miseries, and since it is devoid of the true self, it is blameworthy and discardable. Culpable does not mean that one should detest or hate the world because such an attitude defeats the practice of sameness. A yogi has to be equal to the pairs of opposites. Therefore, what is implied here is that one should not feel any attraction to the world or become involved with it.

The world is impermanent, which makes our lives rather unstable and uncertain. We cannot live in the world without worrying what is going to happen next. The impermanence drives us to engage in desire-ridden actions, seeking security and certainty, although they are hard to attain and no one can truly enjoy security or certainty in the world. However, it is also true that our self-preservation instinct and longing for life temporarily shield us from the problem of impermanence and get on with our lives adapting to circumstances.

If you do not think deeply, the world does not seem to present any problem. Even if it does, you may either come to accept it as a natural part of your life or attribute the instability and the suffering to some other causes. Since truth hurts, most of us live in denial of the true nature of the world or the fact that our lives are full of suffering and we do not have strong reasons to continue our existence upon earth. What saves us from an obvious choice are our longing for life and the belief that our lives are meant to be spent performing obligatory duties in the service of God for the order and regularity of the world.

Our longing for life and faith in the possibility of immortality are so strong that we are not intimidated by the forces of maya although they are stacked against us and keep us bound to the cycle of births and deaths. For the same reason, we do not perceive the impermanence of the world as a problem, although we are aware of it and experience gain and loss because of it. Despite all the problems and difficulties, we keep suffering and keep moving from one life to another and one condition to another amidst ever changing phenomena.

Life is intended to be so because a majority of the beings are supposed to remain deluded and ignorant and serve Nature in its design. If waking up from the delusion of the self is one major problem, becoming established in the new reality of the Self is another. The impurities of our minds and bodies and the influence of maya do not let us transition easily from the realm of not-self to the reality of true self.

The threefold misery, which is described in this verse, and with which the world is polluted are adhyatmika, adhibhautika and adhidaivika. As their names suggest, they are produced by three causes namely oneself, the world and the divine or supernatural forces. You cannot be free from them, just as you cannot be free from the dualities, since they are a part of Nature’s (or Isvara’s) play.  All the misery and suffering, which you experience in your life primarily arise from these three sources. You cannot avoid them. However, by cultivating purity and an attitude of indifference and detachment, you can control your thoughts and responses and experience peace and equanimity.

The world is also devoid of essence, which means it is devoid of the self. As our scriptures affirm although the world is permeated by the self or Isvara, he is not in them. The material world is what we call the not-self reality, which arises from the self as a projection or a false extension. The duality of the self and not-self is probably the most fundamental of all the dualities in creation.

The not-self reality puts you in an altered state of consciousness. It isolates and separates you from the rest of creation and creates the illusion of you as a separate and distinct identity, and the world as your objective reality. In that altered state, you perceive your mind and body (rather than your true self) as the subject in relation to the things which you enjoy or grasp with your mind and senses. You will not realize that what you see and experience is an extension of your ego-consciousness, and your mind and body are a part of the world which you perceive.

The duality of you and the world arises due to the not-self which is a temporary construct and which you take for granted as your true identity. The not-self superimposes itself upon your true self and becomes your defining reality and identity. It prevents you from seeing the truth of yourself or knowing who you truly are. All that commotion, restlessness, desire-ridden thoughts impulses and intentions, which arise in it as ripples and reflections, are the play of maya. If you stand back and see them as they are, your mind begins to settle in the oceanic peace.

Further, the world or the not-self reality, which is all this, is culpable and discardable because it is permeated with many impurities, miseries and afflictions. If you fall in love with it, you will end up being miserable, deluded and bound. It is fit for rejection because it is not real, but just an illusion, projection or formation. In truth, nothing will be gained or lost by having it or not having worldly things, except egoistic satisfaction and some fulfillment.  

Thus, recognizing the distinction between the self and the not-self is an important step on the path of liberation. It helps you become established in the contemplation of pure consciousness and oneness of the self not only in wakeful states but also in the other three states namely the dream, the deep sleep and the transcendental states.

Through constant remembrance and concentration, you have to soak your mind with the awareness of the self and overcome dualities and delusion, seeing yourself in all and all in you. As you continue the practice and give up whatever attraction you may have for the world, knowing that it is the source of misery and suffering, you will develop a distaste for it and become wary of the influence it exerts upon you.

<< Previous Next>>

Suggestions for Further Reading

Translate the Page