Category: Books sutras and myths
The Ashtavakra Gita (Sanskrit in Devanagari: अष्टावक्रगीता;) or the Song of Ashtavakra is a classical Advaita Vedanta scripture. It is written as a dialogue between the sage Ashtavakra and Janak, king of Mithila.
The Ashtavakra Gita is an ancient spiritual document of great purity and power. Pure, because it is relentlessly one-pointed. Every word is aimed at triggering Self-realization--no suggestions for self-improvement, no rules for moral behavior, no practical wisdom for daily life. Powerful, because the mere reading—or repeated reading--of it can be enough to send a ripe mind reeling into Truth.
There are numerous texts calling themselves Gitas, taking their cue from the Bhagavad gita and many of these are incorporated in the Puranas, but the Ashtavakra Gita is not one of them and remains an independent text.
There is no agreement as to when it was written.
As Janaka is depicted as a king who has attained perfection in the Bhagavad Gita (III,20,25), some ‘scholars’ date it to after the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita (c. 500–400 BC). But of course this does not logically follow. Both could be describing events thousands of years before they were written.
And although the text is about Ashtavakra, it was not written by him.
All that is known is that it was written by an anonymous poet and sage who had an extremely good grasp of his subject and used Ashtavakra’s character as he found it represented in a number of other myths in classical Indian literature, to deliver his wisdom.
The master is a child, a fool, a man asleep, a leaf tumbling in the wind, inside he is free. He cares not who makes fun of him, lives as if he had nobody, seems to walk on air and is without ‘sin’. He has discovered his oneness with all things, and is independent of the rules that divide and segregate
In effect, the author uses the characters of Ashtavakra and King Janaka to set up a classic dialogue between guru and disciple. It quickly becomes a guru-guru dialogue, however, because after the first few sentences of wisdom from Ashtavakra, Janaka realizes his true Self, and from then on the dialogue is between equals.
The book comprises 20 chapters:
I Saksi - Vision of the Self as the All-pervading Witness
II Ascaryam - Marvel of the Infinite Self Beyond Nature
III Atmadvaita - Self in All and All in the Self
IV Sarvamatma - Knower and the Non-knower of the Self
V Laya - Stages of Dissolution of Consciousness
VI Prakrteh Parah - Irrelevance of Dissolution of Consciousness
VII Santa - Tranquil and Boundless Ocean of the Self
VIII Moksa - Bondage and Freedom
IX Nirveda - Indifference
X Vairagya - Dispassion
XI Cidrupa - Self as Pure and Radiant Intelligence
XII Svabhava - Ascent of Contemplation
XIII Yathasukham - Transcendent Bliss
XIV Isvara - Natural Dissolution of the Mind
XV Tattvam - Unborn Self or Brahman
XVI Svasthya - Self-Abidance through Obliteration of the World
XVII Kaivalya - Absolute Aloneness of the Self
XVIII Jivanmukti - Way and Goal of Natural Samadhi
XIX Svamahima - Majesty of the Self
XX Akincanabhava - Transcendence of the Self
The text touches on what one must do to attain and preserve this form of enlightenment, what it feels like, the spiritual path, along with explanations on the nature of the Higher spirit [atman]. Activities, concepts, common steps, are thus all explained.
The essence of the teachings
We have provided help with the text within each chapter and observation and thus we provide no detailed discussion of its content here. However, it is important to mention that the text is consistent with other observations and texts on the site.
In essence, it teaches that we do not know Reality, simply because our 5 senses along with our perception system act as a funnelling and interpretation system well before our conscious ‘self’ ever gets to act on it. Furthermore, my experience of red may not be your experience of red. The sensory input may be such that we can more or less agree that we would call it ‘red’, but I as an individual have no idea what is feels like to you – this colour. The experience of red is yours only.
By living in a body with an apparently separate mind, we are deceived into thinking we are indeed a separate being and we act accordingly. The Ashtavakra Gita, on the other hand, insists on the complete unreality of the ‘external world’ and the absolute oneness of existence.
It is as if we were experiencing through virtual reality glasses, a software realm – which only has one existence and only exists because the software is executing. Stop the software and the screen would go blank.
Supposed physical things - form - are as unreal as mental things – function. Forms are constructed for us as we execute the functions. As the universe executes, it creates the physical as a set of sensations that help us experience this environment.
Billions - nay trillions upon trillions - of individual ‘I’ s run this system of the universe, and thereby give the Creator of this system feedback on what that experience is like. Or is you prefer, the Creator gets to experience the Creation through the myriad of copies of parts of it.
As an analogy, we might imagine a software package developer [Creator] implementing their package many times on many machines [Creation], and getting feedback from each machine so that the software can be improved.
The analogy breaks down of course once we say the software is implemented on the machine, because this software also creates the machine as it goes along
‘The ignorant man's vision is shrouded by names and forms, but a wise man sees only himself:’
The moral is……………. That even the ugliest forms are filled with God’s radiance [the Higher spirit/atman]. The body is nothing, the Higher Self is everything. There may be, as well, some notion of the sacrificial value of deformity, of the kind we find in Saint Augustine when he remarks of the breaking of Christ’s body on the cross ‘his deformity forms you’
Translations and versions
India of course has a number of manuscripts and versions of the text in the original Sanskrit, but the first translation into a European language – Italian - was undertaken by an Italian Carlo Giussani and published in 1868. Giussani used three manuscripts from Tubingen and Petersburg.
Richard Hauschild based his German translation on Giussani’s and three manuscripts in Leipzig. There are as many as nine English translations in the Bodleian library, Oxford, including two which by their dates appear to be older than those used by Hauschild or Giussani.
However, comparisons of the texts gratifyingly indicates that there has been little variation in transmission of the text, even though the titles given to the sections may differ.
Although intended to be didactic – used for teaching - many have seen and brought out the essential poetic nature of the text.
Many of the more inspiring translations were made by people who have had their own spiritual experiences. Thomas Byrom for example had this
Furthermore there are free copies on the Internet. A translation by John Richards, for example, which has the advantage that it has the original Sanskrit text which he used and an English Transliteration & Translation. We have used the free e-book, translated by Bart Marshall , which can be downloaded from www.holybooks.com; http://www.holybooks.com/ashtavakra-gita
Translator’s Preface - Bart Marshall
In Vietnam when I was twenty-one a hand grenade or mortar round--the circumstances made it difficult to determine which--blew me into a clear and brilliant blackness. For the next thirty-seven years that glimpse of infinite emptiness, so intimate, so familiar, kept me looking almost obsessively in esoteric books and far corners for an explanation of myself.
Then, “suddenly,” the veil, as they say, was lifted. ….. Oddly, in those thirty-seven years of seeking, I had never read the Ashtavakra Gita, and indeed was barely aware of its existence. Then recently, as I sat at the bedside of a dying friend and teacher, another friend placed it in my hands. I opened it and was astonished.
Here, in one concise volume, was all that needed to be said. I immediately acquired other versions and poured over them. Each had its good points, but none of them spoke the way my inner ear was hearing. The literal transcriptions from Sanskrit were valuable as reference but required patient study to understand. English translations by Indian scholars made the meaning more clear, but tended to lack a certain rhythm, poetry and nuance of language I felt need of. Translations by native English-speaking scholars were better in this regard, but sometimes ranged too far from the original, or just didn’t hit the notes I was hearing.
Then one day I wrote down a verse the way I heard it.
I liked what I read.
It was infectious.
I couldn’t stop.
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Ashtavakra Gita - 01 Instruction on Self-Realization
- Ashtavakra Gita - 02 Joy of Self-Realization
- Ashtavakra Gita - 03 Test of Self-Realization
- Ashtavakra Gita - 04 Glorification of Self-Realization
- Ashtavakra Gita - 05 Four Ways to Dissolution
- Ashtavakra Gita - 06 The Higher Knowledge
- Ashtavakra Gita - 07 Nature of Self-Realization
- Ashtavakra Gita - 08 Bondage and Liberation
- Ashtavakra Gita - 09 Detachment
- Ashtavakra Gita - 10 Quietude
- Ashtavakra Gita - 11 Wisdom
- Ashtavakra Gita - 12 Abiding in the Self
- Ashtavakra Gita - 13 Happiness
- Ashtavakra Gita - 14 Tranquility
- Ashtavakra Gita - 15 Knowledge of the Self
- Ashtavakra Gita - 16 Special Instruction
- Ashtavakra Gita - 17 The True Knower
- Ashtavakra Gita - 18 Peace
- Ashtavakra Gita - 19 Repose in the Self
- Ashtavakra Gita - 20 Liberation-in-Life