Ashtavakra Gita, the Gospel of self-effacement

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All creatures see the whole of existence from their own perspective and gain different impressions on the same event or happening. What is good for one becomes bad for the other and vice versa, which gives rise to agony and suffering. But when this feeling of duality ceases to exist, one sees the same Self that is present and acting in all living beings, which makes the perceiver realize the truth; it confers on him the ability to penetrate the veil of relativity; it then makes him content and peaceful.- R.K.Gupta, ‘The Speaking Tree’, Times of India dated 15-05-2010.
Introduction

The Ashtavakra Gita conveys with beauty and simplicity the essential teachings of Advaita Vedanta. Composed by an anonymous master of the Advaita School, it is a book of practical advice for seekers of wisdom as well as an ecstatic expression of the experience of enlightenment coupled with the clarity and lyricism of the Sanskrit language.

The Ashtavakra Gita or the Song of Ashtavakra, also known as Ashtavakra Samhita is a scripture which documents a dialogue between the teacher, Ashtavakra and the student, Janaka, the King of Mithila. This work was often quoted by Sri Ramakrishna, his disciple Swami Vivekananda and Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi. It was held in very high esteem by Dr Radhakrishnan and by modern thinkers like Osho and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The story of Ashtavakra occurs in the Vana Parva of Mahabharata. Ashtavakra means one who is deformed in eight places. His body got deformed in eight places due to a curse uttered by his father when Ashtavakra was still in the womb of his mother. When in his mother's womb, Ashtavakra overheard his father Kahora reciting the Vedas. Though still an unborn he already knew the scriptures, and hearing his father's mistakes, he called out to correct him. Kahora felt insulted and cursed the yet to be born child. In due course the male child was born with deformed limbs. Some years later, at the court of Janaka, Kahora engaged in a debate with the great scholar Bandin, son of King Varuna. Kahora was defeated, and Bandin had him drowned.

When Ashtavakra was twelve he discovered what had happened. He went at once to Janaka's court where he won over Bandin in a debate. Bandin then explained that his father had not been drowned, but had been banished to the bottom of the sea to serve King Varuna. He released Kahora, who wished at once to lift the curse from his son. He told Ashtavakra to bathe in the river Samanga. When he came out of the water, his body was straight.

Significance

Ashtavakra Gita, similar to the other two works of the Triad viz.the Yoga Vasishtha and the Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali presents the traditional teachings of Advaita Vedanta by making the human mind as the focal point of attention and reform, for self realization. Thoughts of Ashtavakra are more faithful to the major Upanishads and their nondualistic idealism.

Ashtavakra states that there is no such thing as existence or non existence, right or wrong, or moral or immoral. He completely rejects the world of objects, emotions and thoughts perceived through the delusory body, mind and intellect and consequently reject the principle of Maya also. To him, there is no individual ego (jiva) nor a creator (Isvara) nor a universe (jagat) nor any delusion (maya) other than the one infinite Consciousness.

In the eyes of Ashtavakra, one’s true identity can be discovered simply by recognizing oneself as Pure Existence and that as individuals we are the Awareness of all things. To Ashtavakra there is only one goal to be aimed at and reached which is Self Knowledge through direct mystical intuition which he calls it as Vijnana.

The culmination is reached with the unity of the Self when all duality such as the knower, knowledge and the knowing is dissolved. This state visualized by Ashtavakra can only be experienced and cannot be explained in words. With such a quality of mind alone King Janaka says in Mahabharata “Infinite is my wealth, of which nothing is mine. If Mithila is burnt, nothing that is mine is burnt.” In Ashtavakra Gita he says “In fact, one way, nothing belongs to me; or in another way, everything is mine only.”

The Ashtavakra Gita teaches that one is already free and one has to merely realize that one is free. It advocates non-action, trouncing of desire and severing of worldly attachments. To free one from the cycle of life and death one should withdraw from all earthly desires, worries and cares.

To continue indulging in earthly things even after one has realized their true nature is said to be foolish and a sheer waste of time. Instead it paints a picture of The Master as someone who continues to keep up their responsibilities in the world, not because they believe they have to or due to any worldly attachments, but simply that it is in their nature to do so.

To avoid any wrong understanding and mis-construal by the unprepared minds, it is traditionally recommend that Ashtavakra Gita be pursued by only those who have already advanced on the spiritual path to whom this text-book can show light and can serve as a true guide.

We hear very loudly and extensively the echoes of the various concepts propounded in the Ashtavakra Gita in the Yoga Vasishtha, in the Bhagavd Gita and in many Upanishads.