Wisdom From India 2


These reworked translations have been written for western students unfamiliar with Sanskrit terms and Hindu philosophical concepts. Therefore liberties had to be taken with the wording and syntax of the original translations. I do so with some apprehension, knowing that Pundits both Hindu and Occidental would most likely be shocked, offended, or at least, highly critical. It is my conviction that this sort of treatment elucidates, not obscures, the truth of the original, and that people who otherwise would not read the original translation replete with technical terms and footnotes may be able to learn something about Advaita Vedanta in this way. Many philosophical texts such as the Vedas and Upanishads are poetic or intuitive outpourings originally written in antique Sanskrit making them open to many interpretations in the light of various world-views. The Advaitic texts written much later are usually clear and unambiguous, so much so, that they may appear dogmatic. The truths expressed are certainly emphatic. They are the result of sure knowledge based upon experience, not conjecture. They are affirmed as positively as you might declare, ‘This is my hand’. Some might appear confounding, sacrilegious, dogmatic or nihilistic, yet the challenges they provoke to our common-sense notions can be liberating.

The conclusions of Advaita Vedanta can be rather confronting because they often challenge many of our preconceived ideas, though this can be an invaluable aid for those sincerely interested to discover the truth of life, whatever the cost. To see that the world of sense and intellect is a queer sort of dream, can be an instantly freeing realization. So is the idea that all attempts to rationalize the world-appearance through logical thought, by the individual ego, always ends in infinite regressions, contradictions and dead ends, as Advaita Vedanta affirms.

These texts do not expound the philosophy by defending its principles with a rational exposition and complex rhetoric. For this reason these translations may not impress academic philosophers because they are not philosophical treatises in the estimation of academia.

There are many books dealing with the profound principles of Advaita Vedanta and translations of texts such as these, with both an analyses of the meanings of the key words and copious commentaries. This makes reading them very laborious. To avoid this, I have worked the explanations into the text where possible and reworked the rather tortuous English into a simply understood form. The many repetitions have been eliminated along with the technical terms from Advaita, Samkhya and Yoga philosophies, and some stanzas have been melded into one to help make the meaning clear. Though they may appear different from the literal transcript of the original Sanskrit it is my hope that the meaning and import have been amplified rather than lost.


Originally, the Divine Dialogue was an ancient Sanskrit text expounding a Hindu philosophy known as Advaita Vedanta. It was ascribed to the sage Astavakra and titled ‘Astavakra Samhita’, Samhita meaning compilation or collection. It takes the form of a dialogue between Astavakra and his disciple, Janaka. So in keeping with the idea that this is not an academic treatise, let us imagine that we are sitting in Astavakra’s forest retreat, or in Janaka’s palace perhaps (for he was a Maharajah) listening to the Master enlightening Janaka as to his real nature and that of truth and reality.

The way to liberation and Self-knowledge

Janaka said: How can absolute knowledge be acquired? How is it possible to be free from birth and death? How can one remain unattached to pleasure and sensory life and so be free to attain Self-knowledge? Lord, please enlighten me about these things.

Astavakra replied: If you seek liberation, regard worldly things as though they were poisonous. Regard forgiveness, sincerity, kindness, contentment and truth as nectar. You are not this body of earth and other elements. Therefore to obtain liberation from them and their sufferings you must realize the Self which is the witness of everything. Then you will know that the body and mind are a delusion. Once detached from them by realizing the Pure Consciousness as the witness, there will be joy, peace, and freedom from bondage. You then belong to no religion or state for you cannot be seen, because as the witness of all, you are unattached, formless and supremely happy.

The truth is that virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, and all dualities are of the mind, but you are the all-pervading Self. In truth, you are not the ego, doing and enjoying, but are ever free. Bondage is ignorance of this fact. It arises with attendant sufferings when you believe yourself to be the ego. Egocentricity is the poison killing the truth. Pure Consciousness is nectar. Therefore be happy, Janaka. If you burn the forest of ignorance with the fire of Pure Consciousness you will be free and joyful. You are that Consciousness upon which the whole universe is superimposed as a snake can appear to be superimposed upon a piece of rope. Therefore live free and be happy.

There is a well-known saying, – ‘as one thinks, so one becomes’ – and it is true. If you believe you are bound, bound you are. If you believe you are free then you become free. In truth, the transcendental Self is always free for freedom peace and joy are its nature. It is the supernal witness, all pervading, and perfect, unattached, desire less and tranquil. Its appearance in the worldly cycles of birth and death is only apparent due to cosmic delusion. Therefore cease to identify the Self with its physical and mental modifications and the illusion of a separate ego. Meditate on yourself as Pure Consciousness, immutable and non-dual.

Oh Janaka, for many lives you have been bound by the rope of body-consciousness. Sever it with the sword of discrimination in the form of the knowledge ‘I am Pure Consciousness!’ Be happy. For in truth you are eternally unattached, without actions, Self-effulgent and without blemish. What need is there to practice spiritual disciples if this is your firm conviction? Only those who do not believe themselves pure need to meditate. Beware! It too can be a form of bondage.

Janaka, you pervade this universe for it exists in you, not you in it. Be true to yourself and not small-minded. You are unconditioned, immutable, formless, unperturbed, and of infinite intelligence. Listen: that which has form is unreal. That which is formless is permanent. If you know this you will be free from rebirth. Consider: the image in a mirror has no real existence, but the mirror exists both in and other than the image it casts. In the same way the Self is both within and other than the body. Just as space is both inside and outside of a jar, so the eternal, all-pervasive Self exists in all things, within and without.

The joy of Self-realization

Janaka said: I am Pure Consciousness beyond nature, spotless and tranquil. Up until now I have been duped by the delusion of identification with images. Wonderful! This body and the universe exist in the light of the Self. Everything is mine and nothing is mine!

Knowing that everything is like an image in a mirror, I now realize that the Supreme Self is the secret wisdom. The Self is the real substance behind the entire universe as a pot is nothing but clay with name and form superimposed. Waves, foam, spray, and bubbles are nothing else but water. As a huge piece of cloth is really one thread, so the universe is nothing but the Self! Just as sugar-cane juice is pervaded by sweetness, so does the Self pervade the universe.

A piece of rope may appear to be a snake only as long as it is not seen to be a rope. The delusion of it being a snake disappears effortlessly when it is known to be only a rope. In the same way the world of diversity exists only as long as ignorance exists, and disappears when the Self is known.

Oh Astavakra, I am of the nature of light! I manifest the universe! To say that I am in the universe is ignorance; as silver appears to exist in mother-of-pearl, a snake in a piece of rope, or a mirage in a desert. Oh! I see that the truth is that the universe exists in me!

Also, the universe that has emanated from me will dissolve back into me, as a wave into the sea. Name and form will then vanish and only the Self will remain. Thus I can know no decay, surviving even the dissolution of the universe! Wonderful! Adoration to the Self! I am that wonderful and adorable One with many bodies though I do not come or go for I pervade the universe. Without my bodies the universe is incapable of being born though I am so amazingly wonderful that it cannot touch me!

Wonderful am I! I adore my Self. I am master of all that exists and all that does not exist. Knower, known and knowledge manifest everything but it is really a form of ignorance. But I am the Pure Consciousness whose awareness makes everything appear to appear. Oh Astavakra! I see that duality is the cause of confusion and misery. Only the realization of the Self is the cure for this malady, for it is single, pure, blissful Awareness beyond name and form.

I am that Pure Consciousness, though the clouding of ignorance once made me believe in limitations. Practicing discrimination between the real and the unreal, the eternal and the temporal, I remain Self- realized. Loosing the support of ignorance, the delusion has ceased, so I have neither bondage nor liberation. I realize that the universe is inexplicable for it is both existent and non-existent. I know the universe and this body are both part of the same mirage while the Self is single and untainted. There is no longer support for imagination.

My nature is Pure Awareness. Body, universe, heaven, hell, God, nature, bondage, freedom, fear, qualities and substance are all imaginary notions. Being Pure Awareness, what have I to do with them? I am not aware of duality. Even amongst a multitude I see only One. How can I become attached to any? My bondage was my intelligence caught in the desire to live. Now I realize I am not the body or the ego for I am Pure Consciousness. It is the wind of the mind that blows the infinite ocean of the Self into the waves of the worlds. When the winds blow no longer, upon the infinite ocean of the Self, this body and ego are no more. Only It is. How wonderful! In the vast ocean of Consciousness the little waves of individual selves, impelled by their nature rise, bounce about, play for a time and then disappear.

Astavakra tests Janaka

Astavakra said: Janaka, how is it that you are such a wealthy person, though you have declared yourself to be a knower of the Self, indestructible, detached and serene? Possessions cannot beguile those who know that the silver in mother-of-pearl is an illusion of light. If you know yourself to be the ocean of Consciousness, why do you seek wealth like a poor person?

Though I have told you that you are Pure Consciousness and surpassingly beautiful, how can you be attached to a harem and become impure by coveting bodies? It is strange that one who has realized the Self indulges in sex, for lust is an enemy of knowledge. It is strange that you say you are unattached to this world and all others and that you discriminate between the permanent and the transient and have emancipation from the sufferings inherent in the body, though you should fear the loss of your Kingdom. The serene person established in Self Knowledge is unmoved by profit or loss and feels neither gratified nor dismayed.

Such a noble soul is a detached witness to the actions of the body as if it were another’s and so cannot be affected by praise or blame. Knowing that life in the world is a product of delusion such a one has no interest in theories and is unconcerned about death and the hereafter though these are often discussed in your court.

The knower of Supreme Knowledge does not hanker for anything – even liberation. Such a steady-minded one knows that the objects of perception are void and so is free from desire and aversion, acceptance or rejection. Such a one, free from attachment and desire, is blissfully free from the pairs of opposites – pleasure and pain, happiness and misery, heat and cold, even life and death!

Janaka replies.

Janaka said: Only the knower of the Self has true understanding and can freely play with everything in life as in a game. There is no similarity to others who are ignorant of the Self and so live lives like beasts of burden. Even the Gods in higher realms hanker after that state of absolute existence, intelligence and bliss, which is the natural state of the Self-realized. They are not subject to virtue or vice, or notions of morality, just as the air is not tainted by odor or the sky by smoke. There can not be any prohibitions imposed upon a person who acts spontaneously in harmony with their own true Self. Being very wise, they are free from desire and aversion. Because their actions spring from freedom, they have no apprehensions regarding the outcome of their actions. Their actions can not be judged.

Astavakra said: You are pure, free, so there is no need to renounce anything. If you deny the reality of the body complex you remain absorbed in absolute existence, intelligence and bliss. The universe is a bubble in the ocean of the Self. Realise that oneness and so remain absorbed in absolute existence, intelligence and bliss. The universe appears as a snake does in a piece of rope. It is made by the nature of the senses, but you are pure. Realize this and so remain absorbed in pure existence, intelligence and bliss.

Your purity and perfection is untainted by misery, happiness, hope, despair, life or death and the whole play of opposites. Realize this and remain absorbed in absolute existence, intelligence and bliss.