Points to Ponder from this episode:
Aham Nirvikalpo Nirakaara Roopah
Vibhur Vyapya Sarvatra Sarvendriyanaam
Sada Me Samatvam Na Mukthir Na Bandhah
Chidananda Rupah Shivoham Shivoham
The episode begins and ends with the above lines (6th verse from Nirvanashtakam) which means – I am formless and devoid of all dualities I exist everywhere and pervade all senses. Always I am the same, I am neither free nor bonded I am pure knowledge and supreme bliss, I am Shiva, I am all auspiciousness, I am Shiva.
The above lines explain the Highest philosophical Truths of Vedanta which cannot be apprehended at mere reading of it. Yet, it was mentioned at the beginning and at the end of the episode, probably so that we would think over those lines.
The episode shows the story of Ashtavakra, a very young sage, who goes to the court of King Janaka to re-educate the scholars of his court and eradicate a wrong tradition that was prevailing at that time, of killing scholars who would get defeated in debates. There, knowledge was not used for Universal Welfare.
The explanation of dialogues exchanged between Ashtavakra and Acharya Bandi during their debate can run into pages, for they convey the very subtle Truths of Indian Philosophy. In this note, we will try to discuss a few points among them.
What is ‘Vidya’?
Vidya literally means ‘Knowledge’. In Vedanta, Vidya is classified into two – Paravidya and Aparavidya. Paravidya is that Knowledge of the Self and Aparavidya is the Knowledge of anything else. In this context, the knowledge that is quoted refers to Paravidya. Ashtavakra says, Vidya is that which removes Duality. One may ask, what is this Duality? The world we see comprises of different objects and beings. You and I are not one and the same, we are different. No two things seem to be the same. Even twins are different; they look different and even think different. Then how can Indian philosophy make such a statement that sounds so absurd?
When an ordinary man sees a gold bangle and a gold chain, he may look at it as two different ornaments. But a goldsmith will see it as gold. A goldsmith, having more knowledge in the subject, looks at the essence – the substance – Gold.
If we ask a scientist, what is this world; he might say that it is nothing but Energy in different forms. He sees the essence as Energy. In the same way, spiritual seers realized that the world is nothing but different form of the same Essence; different manifestations of the same Energy, the same Power. It is this power that we commonly refer to as God. So, when everything we see around is an expression of the same Power, how can we say that you and I are different? How can we say that there is Duality?
The Knowledge that makes us Realise this Truth is called Vidya (Paravidya).
Which are the two ways of Realising Brahman (Brahman means God and not Brahmin or Lord Brahma)?
One way is – neti neti – Negating everything else. Let’s look at an anecdote to understand this method. A devotee comes to a Realized Master to ask some doubts and the Master puts this question to him.
Guru: Who are you?
Devotee: I’m Shri ____ (so and so)
Guru: Did I ask your name? My question is – Who are you?
Devotee: I’m the son of Shri _____
Guru: Did I ask your father’s name? My question is – Who are you?
The devotee tries to answer by using Nationality, gender, relations, etc but still couldn’t give the correct answer.
Guru: You are trying to explain yourself using different references. But those references are not you. Then who are you?
Devotee: I’m the mind.
Guru: When you are disturbed, what is happening inside you? You are getting disturbing thoughts in your mind. So, that means you have a mind and you have thoughts but you are not the mind or thoughts. When I say I’ve a buffalo, can I be the buffalo? When I say, I have a mind or intellect; can I be the mind or intellect? So, you are not your name, not the body, not the mind, not the intellect. (This is the method of negating). So who are you?
Devotee: I’m the Soul that resides in the body.
Guru: Where is God?
Devotee: God is everywhere.
Guru: In that case, is God there inside your body?
Guru: Is God in your blood vessels, bones, internal organs, brain, heart?
Guru: So, God is there inside your skin?
Guru: So, God should be there in every cell of yours.
Guru: Is God there in the gap between every cell?
Guru: You mean to say that God is there in every cell of yours, God is there in the gaps between cells; so tell me where are you in this body?
Guru: Tell me, where are you in this body?
Devotee: (still wondering)
Guru: In our discussion we have analysed that there is God everywhere in your body. If God is everywhere in your body, then there is no space for you to exist. Hence, you, meaning – what you think is ‘you’, don’t exist. Therefore, you and God are one and the same; or in other words; only God exists.
The first method of enquiry was negating all those things that are not you and then realizing Brahman. The enquirer adopting the first method will go on negating everything saying, “I’m not the name, I’m not the body, I’m not the mind, I’m not the intellect,…etc and whatever is finally left, is me.” And that which is finally left will be the essence of the whole creation. Hence, what I perceive of myself as a weak individual is nothing but the insurmountable power that is responsible for this creation”. Then why didn’t I realize it earlier? Because of my ignorance (Avidya).
The second method of realizing Brahman is also the path of Enquiry but instead of negating, one starts enquiring about the nature of the Self. He starts enquiring – If God is the essence of the whole world, what is the nature of God? What are the properties by which we can identify or see God? God cannot be a changing entity; it has to be the Unchanging factor. What is the Unchanging factor in me, in you and in the world we see?
Such goes the enquiry and the seeker can realize Brahman. However, this method might be more suitable for highly evolved persons in spiritual path. For normal people like you and I, the first method can prove easier.
Knowledge is Power. And one needs to be wise enough to use it. There are many people who are knowledgeable, yet all of them need not be good. Ashtavakra wanted to make Acharya Bandi and the other scholars realize this fact so that he could put an end to a false practice where Knowledge was not used for general welfare. Ashtavakra says, “Shaastra maanav ka vikas karta hai and Shastra maanav ka vinash. Shaastra ko shastra na banaiye.” Meaning: Shaashtra (Scriptures) helps man to progress / evolve. Shashtra (Weapons) lead to man’s destruction. Please don’t use Scriptures (Knowledge) as your weapon. He adds, “By violence, no one has ever won over anyone.” (Using Power one can conquer lands, but not hearts)
• The reason for fights and wars is the notion of Duality. Paravidya removes the veil of ignorance and helps a person realize the Non-Dual nature of the Self.
• Knowledge is Power and power if misused will only lead to destruction. Misuse of power is due to incomplete knowledge (lack of Paravidya).
• How can one realize Brahman? There are two ways – negating everything and realizing Brahman; or enquiring more on the nature of Brahman and realizing the Self.
• The sloka of Nirvanashtakam answers the question ‘Who am I?’. We should keep enquiring about this question until we gain that knowledge. It is for that purpose we have got this human birth. Without realizing our true nature, human birth is a waste.