Basic questions such as “What is good or evil? Life or death? Freedom or bondage? Illusion or the world? Creation or dissolution? The Self or the not-Self? What is the rising or the vanishing of thought? What is the visible world, or the invisible? What is the little soul, or God Himself?” have been raised in the Ashtavakra Gita.
The answers provided are that we are all one Self. The Self is pure awareness. This Self, this flawless awareness is God. There is only God. Everything else is an illusion: the little self, the world, the universe. All these things arise with the thought ' I ', that is, with the idea of separate identity. The little ' I ' invents the material world, which in our ignorance we strive hard to sustain. Forgetting our original oneness, bound tightly in our imaginary separateness, we spend our lives mastered by a specious sense of purpose and value. Endlessly constrained by our habit of individuation, the creature of preference and desire, we continually set one thing against another, until the mischief and misery of choice consume us.
But our true nature is pure and choice less awareness. We are already and always fulfilled.
It is easy, says Ashtavakra, 'You are the clear space of awareness (cidakasa), pure and still, in whom there is no birth, no striving, no ' I '. Then how do we recover our original awareness? How do we dispel the illusion of separation?
Ashtavakra tells us how to end our Self-estrangement. “Be happy. Love yourself. Don't judge others. Forgive. Always be simple. Don't make distinctions. Give up the habit of choice. Let the mind dissolve. Give up preferring and desiring. Desire only your own awareness. Give up identifying with the body and the senses. Give up your attachment to meditation and service. Give up your attachment to detachment. Give up giving up! Reject nothing, accept nothing. Be still. But above all, be happy. In the end, you will find yourself just by knowing how things are.”
It would be perverse to suppose that just because Ashtavakra, with his nondualism, considers meditation merely a distracting habit, he means us to abandon our practice. Of course, from the perspective of unconditional freedom, where nothing makes any difference, meditation seems a comically self-important waste of time.
But Ashtavakra makes it clear. The moment a fool gives up his spiritual practices, he falls prey to fancies and desires. God help the seeker who presumes that since he is already and always fulfilled, he can give up trying. It is all a matter of knowing.
We are all indeed already perfect, but until we know it, we had better deal with our ignorance, and that can't be done just by listening to words. It requires sadhana, trying, doing what we do not wish to do. It means long, hard self-effacing work. The heart of Ashtavakra's advice is not to give up our practice, but to abandon our strenuous lethargy.
Dealing with our ignorance also means, for almost all of us, finding someone like Ashtavakra to help us. We cannot easily break the spell ourselves. Here again, Ashtavakra is very practical. At least half of the book describes the nature of the master, the man who has found his way.
It is an austere and enchanting portrait. The master is a child, a fool, a man asleep, a leaf tumbling in the wind. Inside, he is utterly free. He does exactly as he pleases. Rules mean nothing to him. He doesn't care who makes fun of him, because he is always playing and having a wonderful time. He lives as if he had no body. He seems to walk on air. He is unsmudged, like the clear sky or the smooth and shining surface of a vast lake.
Because we are subject to the dualities which he has transcended, we can glimpse his nature only through our paradoxical colored glasses. He sees but he sees nothing. He sees what cannot be seen. He knows but he knows nothing. He sleeps soundly without sleeping. He dreams without dreaming. He is busy, but he does nothing. He is not alive, nor is he dead.
His secret, and the ultimate paradox, is that he stands on his own. He is completely by himself (svasthya). Only by an absolute independence (svatantrya) has he discovered his absolute oneness with all things. Who was this Ashtavakra, this uncompromising poet and saint? Since Ashtavakra's whole point is that individual identity is an illusion, it is perfect irony that the only certain thing we can say about him is that he was an anonymous master who adopted Ashtavakra's character as he found it represented in a number of tales in classical Indian literature, and used it as a suitably faceless mask through which to deliver his gospel of self-effacement.
So the Ashtavakra Gita was written by an unknown master who took his inspiration from the contest between Ashtavakra and Bandin, which Ashtavakra wins by demonstrating the absolute oneness of God (brahmadavaitam).
We not only know next to nothing about him, we cannot even be sure when he lived. It is also very hard to date the Ashtavakra Gita with any accuracy. It is possible to guess that it was written either in the eighth century by a follower of Sankara, or in the fourteenth century during resurgence of Sankara's teaching. Some scholars are also of the opinion that this work is older than Gaudapada’s Karikas which promulgate the doctrine of Ajatavada (the doctrine of no creation).on which Sankara had written his commentary
There is no place even for spiritual enquiry. Who is the seeker? Ashtavakra asks. What has he found? What are seeking and the end of seeking? These final questions dissolve even the voice which asks them. Who is the disciple, and who the master? With this last gesture of self-erasure, the nameless master is finally free to declare his real identity, which he shares unconditionally with all beings. “For I have no bounds, I am Siva, Nothing arises in me, In whom nothing is single, Nothing is double, Nothing is, Nothing is not. What more is there to say?”
1. Astavakra Samhita - Swami Nityaswarupananda
2. Discourses on Astavakra Gita - Swami Chinmayananda
3. The Heart of Awareness: Ashtavakra Gita - Dr.Thomas Byrom
4. Ashtavakra Gita - John Richards
5. Ashtavakra Gita – Osho
1. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
2. Yoga Vasishtha
3.A note on the concept of Yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras