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Ashtavakra Gita, The Gospel Of Self-Effacement
By T.N.Sethumadhavan, May 2010 [[email protected]]

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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.


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.

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.

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