Ashtavakara Gita – Singing Reality to "I"


Translator’s Introduction

The Ashtavakra Gita, or the Ashtavakra Samhita as it is sometimes called, is a very ancient Sanskrit text. Nothing seems to be known about the author, though tradition ascribes it to the sage Ashtavakra; hence the name.

There is little doubt though that it is very old, probably dating back to the days of the classic Vedanta period. The Sanskrit style and the doctrine expressed would seem to warrant this assessment.

The work was known, appreciated, and quoted by Ramakrishna and his disciple Vivekananda,as well as by Ramana Maharshi, while Radhakrishnan always refers to it with great respect. Apart from that the work speaks for itself.

It presents the traditional teachings of Advaita Vedanta with a clarity and power very rarely matched.

The translation here is by John Richards, and is presented to the public domain with his affection. The work has been a constant inspiration in his life for many years. May it be so for many others.

John Richards
Stackpole Elidor, UK


Translated by John Richards

Janaka said:

How is one to acquire knowledge? How is one to attain liberation? And how is one to reach dispassion? Tell me this, sir. 1.1

Ashtavakra said:

If you are seeking liberation, my son, avoid the objects of the senses like poison and cultivate tolerance, sincerity, compassion, contentment, and truthfulness as the antidote. 1.2

You do not consist of any of the elements — earth, water, fire, air, or even ether. To be liberated, know yourself as consisting of consciousness, the witness of these. 1.3

If only you will remain resting in consciousness, seeing yourself as distinct from the body, then even now you will become happy, peaceful and free from bonds. 1.4

You do not belong to the brahmin or any other caste, you are not at any stage, nor are you anything that the eye can see. You are unattached and formless, the witness of everything — so be happy. 1.5

Righteousness and unrighteousness, pleasure and pain are purely of the mind and are no concern of yours. You are neither the doer nor the reaper of the consequences, so you are always free. 1.6

You are the one witness of everything and are always completely free. The cause of your bondage is that you see the witness as something other than this. 1.7

Since you have been bitten by the black snake, the opinion about yourself that “I am the doer,” drink the antidote of faith in the fact that “I am not the doer,” and be happy. 1.8

Burn down the forest of ignorance with the fire of the understanding that “I am the one pure awareness,” and be happy and free from distress. 1.9

That in which all this appears is imagined like the snake in a rope; that joy, supreme joy, and awareness is what you are, so be happy. 1.10

If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, “Thinking makes it so.” 1.11

Your real nature is as the one perfect, free, and actionless consciousness, the all-pervading witness — unattached to anything, desireless and at peace. It is from illusion that you seem to be involved in samsara. 1.12

Meditate on yourself as motionless awareness, free from any dualism, giving up the mistaken idea that you are just a derivative consciousness or anything external or internal. 1.13

You have long been trapped in the snare of identification with the body. Sever it with the knife of knowledge that “I am awareness,” and be happy, my son. 1.14

You are really unbound and actionless, self-illuminating and spotless already. The cause of your bondage is that you are still resorting to stilling the mind. 1.15

All of this is really filled by you and strung out in you, for what you consist of is pure awareness — so don’t be small-minded. 1.16

You are unconditioned and changeless, formless and immovable, unfathomable awareness, unperturbable: so hold to nothing but consciousness. 1.17

Recognise that the apparent is unreal, while the unmanifest is abiding. Through this initiation into truth you will escape falling into unreality again. 1.18

Just as a mirror exists everywhere both within and apart from its reflected images, so the Supreme Lord exists everywhere within and apart from this body. 1.19

Just as one and the same all-pervading space exists within and without a jar, so the eternal, everlasting God exists in the totality of things. 1.20

Janaka said:

Truly I am spotless and at peace, the awareness beyond natural causality. All this time I have been afflicted by delusion. 2.1

As I alone give light to this body, so I do to the world. As a result the whole world is mine, or alternatively nothing is. 2.2

So now that I have abandoned the body and everything else, by good fortune my true self becomes apparent. 2.3

Waves, foam, and bubbles do not differ from water. In the same way, all this which has emanated from oneself is no other than oneself. 2.4

When you analyse it, cloth is found to be just thread. In the same way, when all this is analysed it is found to be no other than oneself. 2.5

The sugar produced from the juice of the sugarcane is permeated throughout with the same taste. In the same way, all this, produced out of me, is completely permeated with myself. 2.6

From ignorance of oneself, the world appears, and by knowledge of oneself it appears no longer. From ignorance of the rope it appears to be a snake, and by knowledge of it it does so no longer. 2.7

Shining is my essential nature, and I am nothing other than that. When the world shines forth, it is only me that is shining forth. 2.8

All this appears in me imagined due to ignorance, just as a snake appears in the rope, the mirage of water in the sunlight, and silver in mother of pearl. 2.9

All this, which has originated out of me, is resolved back into me too, like a jug back into clay, a wave into water, and a bracelet into gold. 2.10

How wonderful I am! Glory to me, for whom there is no destruction, remaining even beyond the destruction of the world from Brahma down to the last clump of grass. 2.11

How wonderful I am! Glory to me, solitary even though with a body, neither going or coming anywhere, I who abide forever, filling all that is. 2.12

How wonderful I am! Glory to me! There is no one so clever as me! I who have borne all that is forever, without even touching it with my body! 2.13

How wonderful I am! Glory to me! I who possess nothing at all, or alternatively possess everything that speech and mind can refer to. 2.14

Knowledge, what is to be known, and the knower — these three do not exist in reality. I am the spotless reality in which they appear because of ignorance. 2.15

Truly dualism is the root of suffering. There is no other remedy for it than the realisation that all this that we see is unreal, and that I am the one stainless reality, consisting of consciousness. 2.16

I am pure awareness though through ignorance I have imagined myself to have additional attributes. By continually reflecting like this, my dwelling place is in the Unimagined. 2.17

For me here is neither bondage nor liberation. The illusion has lost its basis and ceased. Truly all this exists in me, though ultimately it does not even exist in me. 2.18

Recognising that all this and my body too are nothing, while my true self is nothing but pure consciousness, what is there left for the imagination to work on now? 2.19

The body, heaven and hell, bondage and liberation, and fear too, all this is pure imagination. What is there left to do for me whose very nature is consciousness? 2.20

I do not even see dualism in a crowd of people, so what do I gain if it is replaced by a desert? 2.21

I am not the body, nor is the body mine. I am not a living being. I am consciousness. It was my thirst for living that was my bondage. 2.22

Truly it is in the infinite ocean of myself, that, stimulated by the colourful waves of the world, everything suddenly arises in the wind of consciousness. 2.23

In the infinite ocean of myself, the wind of thought subsides, and the world boat of the living-being traders is wrecked by lack of goods. 2.24

How wonderful it is that in the infinite ocean of myself the waves of living beings arise, collide, play, and disappear, in accordance with their nature. 2.25

Ashtavakra said:

Knowing yourself as truly one and indestructible, how could a wise man possessing self-knowledge like you feel any pleasure in acquiring wealth? 3.1

Truly, when one does not know oneself, one takes pleasure in the objects of mistaken perception, just as greed arises for the mistaken silver in one who does not know mother of pearl for what it is. 3.2

All this wells up like waves in the sea. Recognising, “I am That,” why run around like someone in need? 3.3

After hearing of oneself as pure consciousness and the supremely beautiful, is one to go on lusting after sordid sexual objects? 3.4

When the sage has realised that he himself is in all beings, and all beings are in him, it is astonishing that the sense of individuality should be able to continue. 3.5

It is astonishing that a man who has reached the supreme nondual state and is intent on the benefits of liberation should still be subject to lust and in bondage to sexual activity. 3.6

It is astonishing that one already very debilitated, and knowing very well that its arousal is the enemy of knowledge, should still hanker after sensuality, even when approaching his last days. 3.7

It is astonishing that one who is unattached to the things of this world or the next, who discriminates between the permanent and the impermanent, and who longs for liberation, should still be afraid of liberation. 3.8

Whether feted or tormented, the wise man is always aware of his supreme self-nature and is neither pleased nor disappointed. 3.9

The great-souled person sees even his own body in action as if it were someone else’s, so how should he be disturbed by praise or blame? 3.10

Seeing this world as pure illusion, and devoid of any interest in it, how should the strong-minded person, feel fear, even at the approach of death? 3.11

Who can be compared to the great-souled person whose mind is free from desire even in disappointment, and who has found satisfaction in self-knowledge? 3.12

How should a strong-minded person who knows that what he sees is by its very nature nothing, consider one thing to be grasped and another to be rejected? 3.13

An object of enjoyment that comes of itself is neither painful nor pleasurable for someone who has eliminated attachment, and who is free from dualism and from desire. 3.14

Ashtavakra said:

The wise person of self-knowledge, playing the game of worldly enjoyment, bears no resemblance whatever to samsara’s bewildered beasts of burden. 4.1

Truly the yogi feels no excitement even at being established in that state which all the Devas from Indra down yearn for disconsolately. 4.2

He who has known That is untouched within by good deeds or bad, just as space is not touched by smoke, however much it may appear to be. 4.3

Who can prevent the great-souled person who has known this whole world as himself from living as he pleases? 4.4

Of all four categories of beings, from Brahma down to the last clump of grass, only the man of knowledge is capable of eliminating desire and aversion. 4.5

Rare is the man who knows himself as the nondual Lord of the world, and he who knows this is not afraid of anything. 4.6

Ashtavakra said:

You are not bound by anything. What does a pure person like you need to renounce? Putting the complex organism to rest, you can find peace. 5.1

All this arises out of you, like a bubble out of the sea. Knowing yourself like this to be but one, you can find peace. 5.2

In spite of being in front of your eyes, all this, being insubstantial, does not exist in you, spotless as you are. It is an appearance like the snake in a rope, so you can find peace. 5.3

Equal in pain and in pleasure, equal in hope and in disappointment, equal in life and in death, and complete as you are, you can find peace. 5.4

Ashtavakra said:

I am infinite like space, and the natural world is like a jar. To know this is knowledge, and then there is neither renunciation, acceptance, or cessation of it. 6.1

I am like the ocean, and the multiplicity of objects is comparable to a wave. To know this is knowledge, and then there is neither renunciation, acceptance or cessation of it. 6.2

I am like the mother of pearl, and the imagined world is like the silver. To know this is knowledge, and then there is neither renunciation, acceptance, or cessation of it. 6.3

Alternatively, I am in all beings, and all beings are in me. To know this is knowledge, and then there is neither renunciation, acceptance, or cessation of it. 6.4

Janaka said:

In the infinite ocean of myself the world boat drifts here and there, moved by its own inner wind. I am not put out by that. 7.1

Whether the world wave of its own nature rises or disappears in the infinite ocean of myself, I neither gain nor lose anything by that. 7.2

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

My true nature is not contained in objects, nor does any object exist in it, for it is infinite and spotless. So it is unattached, desireless and at peace, and I remain as such. 7.4

I am pure consciousness, and the world is like a magician’s show. How could I imagine there is anything there to take up or reject? 7.5

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 hold on to anything nor reject anything. 8.4

Ashtavakra said:

Knowing when the dualism of things done and undone has been put to rest, or the person for whom they occur has, then you can here and now go beyond renunciation and obligations by indifference to such things. 9.1

Rare indeed, my son, is the lucky man whose observation of the world’s behaviour has led to the extinction of his thirst for living, thirst for pleasure, and thirst for knowledge. 9.2

All this is transient and spoiled by the three sorts of pain. Knowing it to be insubstantial, ignoble, and fit only for rejection, one attains peace. 9.3

When was that age or time of life when the dualism of extremes did not exist for men? Abandoning them, a person who is happy to take whatever comes attains perfection. 9.4

Who does not end up with indifference to such things and attain peace when he has seen the differences of opinions among the great sages, saints, and yogis? 9.5

Is he not a guru who, endowed with dispassion and equanimity, achieves full knowledge of the nature of consciousness, and leads others out of samsara? 9.6

If you would just see the transformations of the elements as nothing more than the elements, then you would immediately be freed from all bonds and established in your own nature. 9.7

One’s desires are samsara. Knowing this, abandon them. The renunciation of them is the renunciation of it. Now you can remain as you are. 9.8

Ashtavakra said:

Abandon desire, the enemy, along with gain, itself so full of loss, and the good deeds which are the cause of the other two — practice indifference to everything. 10.1

Look on such things as friends, land, money, property, wife, and bequests as nothing but a dream or a magician’s show lasting three or five days. 10.2

Wherever a desire occurs, see samsara in it. Establishing yourself in firm dispassion, be free of passion and happy. 10.3

The essential nature of bondage is nothing other than desire, and its elimination is known as liberation. It is simply by not being attached to changing things that the everlasting joy of attainment is reached. 10.4

You are one, conscious and pure, while all this is inert non-being. Ignorance itself is nothing, so what is the point of wanting to understand? 10.5

Kingdoms, children, wives, bodies, pleasures — these have all been lost to you life after life, attached to them though you were. 10.6

Enough of wealth, sensuality, and good deeds. In the forest of samsara the mind has never found satisfaction in these. 10.7

How many births have you not done hard and painful labour with body, mind, and speech. Now at last, stop! 10.8

Ashtavakra said:

Unmoved and undistressed, realising that being, non-being and change are of the very nature of things, one easily finds peace. 11.1

At peace, having shed all desires within, and realising that nothing exists here but the Lord, the Creator of all things, one is no longer attached to anything. 11.2

Realising that misfortune and fortune come in their own time from fortune, one is contented, one’s senses under control, and does not like or dislike. 11.3

Realising that pleasure and pain, birth and death are from destiny, and that one’s desires cannot be achieved, one remains inactive, and even when acting does not get attached. 11.4

Realising that suffering arises from nothing other than thought, dropping all desires one rids oneself of it, and is happy and at peace everywhere. 11.5

Realising, “I am not the body, nor is the body mine. I am awareness,” one attains the supreme state and no longer remembers things done or undone. 11.6

Realising, “I alone exist, from Brahma down to the last clump of grass,” one becomes free from uncertainty, pure, at peace, and unconcerned about what has been attained or not. 11.7

Realising that all this varied and wonderful world is nothing, one becomes pure receptivity, free from inclinations, and as if nothing existed, one finds peace. 11.8


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