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Ashtavakra Gita

01 Sep

 

The day of full moon, Purnima, in the month of Ashadh is traditionally celebrated as Guru Purnima also as Vyas Purnima.Today, 29 July, 2007 ; Sunday is the Guru Purnima.Think of the Guru.

Guru (Gu- ignorance, Ru-destroyer)is one, who removes the darkness and delusion. Purnima is the effulgentfull moon. The true Guru is in our heart. Purify the heart to let the Divinity dwell in it. Guru Purnima is an occasion for cleaning the mind to make it absolutely pure.

In what better way can we do that than by talking of Guru Ashtavakra?

One of my favorite readings is Ashtavakra Gita also called Ashtavakra Samhita. It is in the form of a dialogue between King Janaka and a brilliant but physically deformed boy genius, Ashtavakra.It comprises 298 verses in 20 chapters of varied length. It glorifies the state of Self-realization. The story of Ashtavakra appears in the Vanaparva of the Mahabharata.

The story of Ashtavakra is narrated in a simple form at

http://www.indolink.com/Kidz/ashtavkr.html .

Sri Ramana Mahrishi’s rendering of the tale is at

http://benegal.org/ramana_maharshi/books/letters/letter181.html.

John Richards’s translation of Ashtavakra Gita is simple, lucid and popular.

( http://gathering-minds.net/agita/index.php ).

The translation of Bart Marshall is  brilliant.

(http://www.dhtmlnirvana.com/downloads/Ashtavakra.pdf).

Those interested may also see the notes made by Swami Shraddhananda, a sanyasin of Sri Ramakrishna order.

(http://www.vedanta.org/reading/monthly/articles/2005/10.bio.pdf).

AshtavakraGitaCh-4Of20Slideshow

Ashtavakra Gita is an Advaita text of the highest order, addressed to advanced learners. We do not know who wrote this classic. The estimate of its date varies from third or fourth century BC to post Shankara period. The author, whoever he was, employed the King Janaka- Ashtavakra episode with great imagination and wove around it a sublime philosophical work , in simple, lucid, classic Sanskrit. The text deals with bondage and liberation, the nature of the Self, means of realizing the Self( atmanu-bhuti) , state of mystic experience  in the embodied state. This is advaita in its distilled form, devoid of stories, examples, arguments.

Janaka, here, unlike Arjuna is not a confused person. He is not seeking refuge from despair or delusion.Janaka is mature and knowledgeable, an earnest seeker. The Guru did not have to go through the preliminary exercise of convincing the disciple of the futility of pursuing after objects.

Sage Ashtavakra says that the Self alone exists and all else within the mind-senses vortex is unreal. He draws his disciple’s attention to his restlessness, despite being a model king. This, Ashtavakra recognizes as Janaka’s yearning for truth.

Ashtavakra maintains that all prayers, mantras, rituals, meditation, actions, devotion, breathing practices, etc are secondary. These distract the aspirant from self-knowledge. Knowledge/awareness is all that is required. Ignorance does not exist in itself; it is just the absence of knowledge or awareness. The light of knowledge or consciousness will dispel ignorance revealing the Self. The Self is merely forgotten, not lost, not to be attained. This is not a belief system or a school of thought. This is simply ‘What Is’ and the recognition of ‘What is’.

Admittedly this stringent approach is not suitable for all. A  sharp , discriminating and inward-looking mind is required for understanding Asthavakra’s teaching. Perhaps due to its  rigor , the text has not been popular

It starts with the King Janaka asking the sage Ashtavakra how he can attain knowledge, detachment and liberation. It quickly becomes a guru-disciple dialogue; however, after Janaka realizes his true Self, they get into an Advaitic discussion of the highest caliber.

The sage instructs:

1.2

To be free,

Shun the experiences of the senses

Like poison.

Turn your attention to

Forgiveness, sincerity, kindness, simplicity, truth.

1.11

It is true what they say:

“You are what you think.”

If you think you are bound you are bound.

If you think you are free you are free.

1.15

You are now and forever

Free, luminous, transparent, still.

The practice of meditation

Keeps one in bondage.

1.16

You are pure Consciousness—

The substance of the universe.

The universe exists within you.

Don’t be small-minded.

1.17

You are unconditioned, changeless, formless.

You are solid, unfathomable, cool.

Desire nothing.

You are Consciousness.

The technique of Jnana used here is that of Vichara usually translated as self-enquiry but it signifies examination, reflection, or looking within.Sri Ramana Maharishi was the greatest exponent of this method in recent times. In other types of spiritual practices, the mind is assumed to be an independent entity and therefore efforts are made to control it, purify it and channel it towards the Godhead. Ashtavakra preaches that mind has no existence of its own. It is a bundle of thoughts, he says, take the direct path and plunge into consciousness. A conscious bliss ensues when one abides in Self. Sri Ramana Mahrshi echos these thoughts in his Upadesha Saram (verses 17-21 and 28).

Ashtavakra suggests that there is in reality only the Self and that it is all- pervasive. Just as waves, bubbles or foam have no existence without the sea, so too everything in experience is a phenomenal manifestation of the one great spiritual reality. Ashtavakra speaks of the rising of the winds of the mind and says the worlds are produced, as waves on the sea. He suggests it is the mental activity that gives rise to our experience of the world.

2.23

In the limitless ocean of Myself

The winds of the mind

Roil the myriad waves of the world

Upon hearing the Guru, Janaka is enlightened. He bursts into joy and wonder of his new-found state.Ashtavakra is pleased but notices inconsistencies in Janaka’s approach and lets out a series of confrontational verses about attachment to objects. He questions at the end:

3.13

Why should a person of steady mind,

Who sees the nothingness of objects,

Prefer one thing to another ?

Janaka defends by saying

4.1

Surely one who knows Self,

Though he plays the game of life,

Differs greatly from the world’s

Bewildered burdened beasts.

4.6

Rare is he who knows himself

As One with no other—

The Lord of the Universe.

He acts as he knows

And is never afraid.

Ashtavakra does not disagree; but in a terse four verses points to the next step—dissolution

5.1

You are immaculate,

Touched by nothing.

What is there to renounce?

The mind is complex—let it go.

Know the peace of dissolution.

5.2

The universe arises from you

Like foam from the sea.

Know yourself as One.

Enter the peace of dissolution.

5.3

Like an imagined snake in a rope

The universe appears to exist

In the immaculate Self

But does not.

Seeing this you know: “There is nothing to dissolve.”

5.4

You are perfect, changeless,

Through misery and happiness,

Hope and despair,

Life and death.

This is the state of dissolution.

Ashtavakra makes a remarkable statement; the world however turbulent it may appear is within the infinite being and that it cannot alter the fundamental nature of the Self. He says, it is in the infinite ocean of myself that the mind-creation called the world takes place. I am supremely peaceful and formless and I remain as such.

7.3

In me, the shoreless ocean,

The universe is imagined.

I am still and formless.

In this alone I abide.

Janaka says “I know that already,” matching him in style and number of verses Janaka goes on to further describes his enlightened state.Still hearing too much “I” in Janaka’s language, Ashtavakra instructs him in the subtleties of attachment and bondage.

Ashtavakra said:

Bondage is when the mind longs for something, grieves about something, rejects something, holds on to something, is pleased about something or displeased about something. 8.1

Liberation is when the mind does not long for anything, grieve about anything, reject anything, or hold on to anything, and is not pleased about anything or displeased about anything. 8.2

Bondage is when the mind is tangled in one of the senses, and liberation is when the mind is not tangled in any of the senses. 8.3

When there is no “me,” that is liberation, and when there is “me” there is bondage. Consider this carefully, and neither holds on to anything nor rejects anything. 8.4

Ashtavakra goes on to annihilate the false sense of identification of the Self with the mind, saying that “it is bondage when the mind desires or grieves at anything, rejects or accepts anything, feels happy or angry at anything..” In a movingly simple verse, he sums up a free and fearless soul as one who has renounced desire, for “the renunciation of desire alone is renunciation of the world”.

Ashtavakra continues to describe the way of true detachment and stresses the folly of desire—no matter how elevated or subtle. Ashtavakra further describes the state of desireless-ness to which he points

11.6

“I am not the body, nor is the body my possession—

I am Awareness itself.”

One who realizes this for certain

Has no memory of things done or left undone.

There is only the Absolute.

Janaka says he understands what Ashtavakra is saying and summarizes his exalted state with calm indifference. Ashtavakra is impressed but tells the disciple he is not there yet.

15.5

Attachment and aversion

Are attributes of the mind.

You are not the mind.

You are Consciousness itself–

Changeless, undivided, free.

Go in happiness

15.15

Leave behind such distinctions

As “I am He, the Self,”

And “I am not this.”

Consider everything Self.

Be desireless.

Be happy

Ashtavakra then attacks the futility of effort and knowing.

Being pure consciousness, do not disturb your mind with thoughts of for and against. Be at peace and remain happily in yourself, the essence of joy. 15.19

Give up meditation completely but don’t let the mind hold on to anything. You are free by nature, so what will you achieve by forcing the mind? 15.20

16.1

You can recite and discuss scripture

All you want,

But until you drop everything

You will never know Truth.

Ashtavakra does not pay much heed to book learning or to the importance given to mind and its control. You are already free, what will you gain by deliberating or pondering. In other words, remain unattached at all times from all things (including the mind). He advocates direct approach. Teachings of Sri Ramona are remarkably similar to that of Ashtavakra.

Ashtavakra then goes on to describe the nature of a wise person or yogi (chapters 17 and 18) .The characteristics of the true knower as outlined by Ashtavakra are very similar to that of a sthitha_prajna described in Bhagavad-Gita Gita.

17.15

The sage sees no difference

Between happiness and misery,

Man and woman,

Adversity and success.

Everything is seen to be the same.

17.16

In the sage there is neither

Violence nor mercy,

Arrogance nor humility,

Anxiety nor wonder.

His worldly life is exhausted.

He has transcended his role as a person.

17.18

The sage is not conflicted

By states of stillness and thought.

His mind is empty.

His home is the Absolute.

18.9

Knowing for certain that all is Self,

The sage has no trace of thoughts

Such as “I am this” or “I am not that.”

18.10

The yogi who finds stillness

is neither distracted nor focused.

He knows neither pleasure nor pain.

Ignorance dispelled,

He is free of knowing.

In a final flurry of questions pointing only at their own meaninglessness, Janaka bursts forth into inspired poetry and burns off the last vestiges of personhood and enters dissolution (chapters 19 and 20). He ends with: “No more can be said.” Ashtavakra smiles, nods approvingly, and says no more

Using the tweezers of the knowledge of the truth I have managed to extract the painful thorn of endless opinions from the recesses of my heart. 19.1

20.11

Where is illusion?

Where is existence?

Where is attachment or non-attachment?

Where is person?

Where is God?

I am Awareness.

Where are principles and scriptures?

Where is the disciple or teacher?

Where is the reason for life?

I am boundless, Absolute.

20.14

Where is existence or non-existence?

Where is Unity or duality?

Nothing emanates from me.

No more can be said.

 

*******

The approach and treatment of   Ashtaavakra are logical and precise like mathematical equations.Yet, the Ashtaavakra Gita may not be read at a streatch , in one straight reading. It is preferable the verses are read few at a time , on a daily basis, and reflected upon .

One rarely comes across a Guru-disciple association as that of Sri Ashtavakra and King Janaka, a mature disciple. To such Sri Guru, who is the parabrahman, I offer my salutations, on this Guru purnima !

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10 responses to “Ashtavakra Gita

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    rao
    thank you for the information and the links.
    yes , as you say we’d read it slowly and try to grasp the meaning.
    have you done the translation of these verses?
    its simple and clear.
    regards

    Narensomu

     
  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    dear sir

    king janaka was a rajarshi. he was a student of yajnavalkya. he was already an enlightened soul. but that didn’t stop him from seeking knowledge from ashtavakra. implies that education is a continuous journey and not an end. a very apt blog for guru purnima. as you said, the discourse has to be understood in several sessions. thanks for posting the blog and the links.

    regards

    Melody Queen

     
  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    shri rao

    ashtavakra is one of my favourites too…born of kagola, a dutiful but foolish disciple and son-in-law of uddalaka, he would writhe in discomfort while in his mother’s womb when he heard his father recite the vedas wrong…thus it is said that he was born with 8 defoemities (in another version, kagola unknowingly curses the boy when the latter corrects him from his mother’s womb).

    later, poor kagola is defeated in a polemic contest by the scholarly but arrogant vandi and is made to kill himself by drowning according to the conditions set. young ashtavakra takes a vow to avenge his father and goes to mithila with his maternal uncle. janaka, the great soul was passing by in a royal procession when the boy was in teh way. when the guards asked him to give way to the king, the boy replied, “i am infirm. i am a scholar. i am a guest here. therefore, it is not i but the king that has to give me way!” janaka, hearing this got wown, bowed down to the boy and, coming to know the purpose of his visit, has him taken to the court with respect. ashtavakra avenges his father’s death by defeating vandi. later he instructs janaka and this is the ashtavakra geeta.

    about janaka: he was a rajarishi and a realised soul. he ruled without attachments and was blessed with the divine seeta for his daughter. he found her in a furrow (which is the meaning of seeta).

    when sage vyasa begot shuka deva (shuka means parrot and he is supposed to have been born of a celestial parrot) by penance in order to preserve and spread the knowledge that he had, he realised that this young boy was a born brahma jnani. yet, not being the custom for the father to certify the son, he sent the boy to janaka. janaka, knowing that the boy was coming, tests him by making him wait outside the palace gates without food and water for 3 days, then takes him in and gives him a royal treatment for 3 days and then taking him to the royal curt with all the royal insignia of a flourishing and prosperous kingdom, he asks the boy to annoint the shiva linga with oil that is filled to the brim in a cup. this boy takes the cup without spilling a single drop and performs the rite. janaka, embracing him, said, “neither hardship, nor luxury nor worldly distractions have disturbed your tranquil state of mind. you are a brahma jnani. there is nothing there is for you to learn.”

    such were the traditions of the times!!!

    Riverine

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:07 pm

      dear riverine,

      thank you for the comments.

      yes, you are right, as always. in that blog, i was trying to focus on ashtavakra gita and its message, leaving aside the story. as regards the legend associated with ashtavakra, i provided a link for a simple narration as also a link to sri ramana maharshi’s rendering of the tale.

      please keep writing.

      regards

       
      • sreenivasaraos

        March 21, 2015 at 1:09 pm

        shri rao,

        yor blog is amply clear about the different versions and translations of the story although i did not visit the links you have provided. ashtavakra geeta is sublime, i wrote in the story of ashtavakra and janaka (esp. the one related to shuka deva) because it gives me a lot of happiness.

        as a side, the other (lesser known but wonderful) teachings that have always made me sit up and read again and again are vidura neeti and the teachings of thirumoolar.

        Riverine

         
  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    dear riverine,

    thank you for the comments and for the link.

    the avadhuta mentioned in the post is none other than dattatreya. the famous discourse appears in bhagavatha purana and in guru charitra also.

    dattatreya enumerates a list of his twenty-four gurusearth, air, sky or ether, water, fire, sun, moon, python, pigeons, sea, moth, bee, bull elephant, bear, deer, fish, osprey, a child, a maiden, a courtesan, a blacksmith, serpent, spider, and wasp.

    http://www.shreeswami.org/about-shri-dattatreya-datta-guru-dattavtar.htm

    http://www.hinduism.8k.com/dattatreya.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/dattatreya#his_gurus

    regards

     
  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    ashtavakra maintains that all prayers, mantras, rituals, meditation, actions, devotion, breathing practices, etc are secondary. these distract the aspirant from self-knowledge.
    knowledge/awareness is all that is required. ignorance does not exist in itself; it is just the absence of knowledge or awareness. the light of knowledge or consciousness will dispel ignorance revealing the self. the self is merely forgotten, not lost, not to be attained. this is not a belief system or a school of thought. this is simply ‘what is’ and the recognition of ‘what is’.
    ======end quote======

    sri sreenivasarao,

    great discussion topic as usual. thanks again for elevating the sulekha bolgosphere with these words of the ashtavakra geeta.

    regarding the above quote, i do agree with the second part. while i don’t strongly disagree with the first 2 sentences, may i suggest that something’s lost in translation ? (even if it is in my own mind) .

    what are mentioned as secondary practices are (imo) the keys to the first stage for a seeker, i.e. steadying the ignorant body/mind complex in order that it be free of distraction & pursue knowledge with focus.

    how do these practices distract from self-knowledge? they would to so only is one considered the practices an end to themselves, & not a means, a preparatory stage to the next stage of jnana marga…

    without embodied knowledge (which can only come out of a body/mind disciplined by rigorous practice..pranayama..meditation…etc) the entire discourse ends up being just an intellectual excercise.

    in other words, these practices are necessary enablers for the novice seekers (typical grhastyas like ourselves) thought they are far too preliminary for more realized beings like janaka & ashtavakra. (some may claim to have bypassed them, but there has to be a sadhana, implicit or explicit, to arrive at realization…)

    just wondered if this part also is a “bart marshall” translation, & subject to his interpretative methods…

    having said that, thanks again for the effort, the links, and making one think & think hard.

    thanks riverine for putting the context by mentioning the story (imo the stories are what are the key to remembering the discourses, which tend to be pretty long…but then i’m still at that stage….:)…

    Karigar

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      for karigar

      dear sir,

      thank you sir, for your comments.

      the ashtavakra gita is addressed to advanced seekers. further, it deals with a stringent form of advaita. (it is an irony that a doctrine which speaks of –one without the second- should have multiple forms).sri sadashiva brahmendra, sri ramana maharshi and sri chandrashekhara bharathi were the exponents of this form of advaita in recent times. they consider “mind” (for want of a better term) as having no existence of its own and being just a bundle of thoughts. they provided a number of illustrations to explain this view. they do not therefore advocate methods to “control” the mind. even the aim of meditation is to attain “thoughtlessness”, absence of mind. they claim theirs is a direct approach. as i mentioned in my post:

      the technique of jnana used here is that of vichara usually translated as self-enquiry but it signifies examination, reflection, or looking within.sri ramana maharishi was the greatest exponent of this method in recent times. in other types of spiritual practices, the mind is assumed to be an independent entity and therefore efforts are made to control it, purify it and channel it towards the godhead. ashtavakra preaches that mind has no existence of its own. it is a bundle of thoughts, he says, take the direct path and plunge into consciousness. a conscious bliss ensues when one abides in self. sri ramana mahrshi echoes these thoughts in his upadesha saram (verses 17-21 and 28).

      ashtavakra does not pay much heed to book learning or to the importance given to mind and its control. you are already free, what will you gain by deliberating or pondering. in other words, remain unattached at all times from all things (including the mind). he advocates direct approach. teachings of sri ramona are remarkably similar to that of ashtavakra

      may i request you kindly to look at my post sadashiva brahmendra- the avadhuta (at the risk of being accused of “blog whoring”).the text atma vidya vilas of sadashiva brahmendra also approaches the issue in a similar manner. kindly also refer to sri ramana maharshi’s upadesha saram and other works authored by the sage himself. the zen is remarkably similar. zen’s “open hand” and other expressions refer to letting go, non-attachment to everything including what we call mind.

      this view is neither new nor unusual. poets and singers too have been saying this:

      the saint is a man who disciplines his ego. the sage is a man who rids himself of his ego.

      the saint retains the illusion of a ‘me’ and lives inside his mirage. the sage walks through this mirage and finds that there was no ‘me’ in reality.

      * * *

      the practice of meditation is represented by the three monkeys,
      who cover their eyes, ears and mouths so as to avoid the phenomenal world.

      the practice of non-meditation is ceasing to be the see-er, hearer or speaker
      while eyes, ears and mouths are fulfilling their function in daily life.

      * * *

      even the wacky
      meditation hasn’t got a damn thing to do with anything, ’cause all it has to do with is nothing. nothingness. okay? it doesn’t develop the mind, it dissolves the mind. self-improvement? forget it, baby. it erases the self. throws the ego out on its big brittle ass. what good is it? good for nothing. excellent for nothing. yes, lord, but when you get down to nothing, you get down to ultimate reality. it’s then and exactly then that you’re sensing the true nature of the universe, you’re linked up with the absolute absolute, son, and unless you’re content with blowing smoke up your butt all your life, that there’s the only place to be.

      ***

      the points you made are very valid. these texts are however about total detachment and their approach is therefore different. it is about experience rather about “thinking hard”.

      i am not suggesting that i am at that stage. i was merely trying to project the view of texts, as honestly as i could.

      as regards the story part, i was trying to focus on avadhuta gita and its message. i did however provide two links about the legend of ashtavakra including the one narrated by sri ramana maharshi.

      thank you for your comments, sir.

      please keep talking.

      regards

       
  6. sreenivasaraos

    March 21, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    the self is merely forgotten, not lost, not to be attained. this is not a belief system or a school of thought. this is simply ‘what is’ and the recognition of ‘what is’.

    i think vivekananda said something similar.

    great post. true though i read till the end i lost concentration and have to read again.may be often.

    Bijaya Ghosh

     
    • sreenivasaraos

      March 21, 2015 at 1:13 pm

      dear bijaya ghosh

      thanks for the comment.

      yes. “tat sat” whatever that is there is there, no matter how hard or how long you debate. that is the theme song of this school..

      please keep talking.

      regards

       

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