Ashtavakra Gita — Introduction


Vedic Sage Ashtavakra
Vedic Sage Ashtavakra
(19th-century painting)

Ashtavakra Gita is a short treatise ascribed to the great sage Ashtavakra.

Very little is definitely known about Ashtavakra. His name literally means "eight bends", indicating the eight physical handicaps he was born with.

The Ashtavakra Gita was composed before the common era, most likely between 500-400BC.

It is written as a dialogue between King Janaka, the father of Sita, and his guru, Ashtavakra. But this is just a literary device, unsupported by any internal drama, and this translation has done away with it.

The text is an instruction for achieving the self-realization and Oneness.

It elucidates the meaning of the Supreme Reality, Brahman, the self and Atman (Self, soul) and Maya ("an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem").

The Ashtavakra Gita is an ancient spiritual document of great purity and power.

The goal of every word in the Ashtavakra Gita is to trigger Self-realization.

What is Self-realization?

"Self-realization is
the knowing – in body, mind, and soul – that we are one with the omnipresence of God; that we do not have to pray that it come to us, that we are not merely near it at all times, but that God's omnipresence is our omnipresence; that we are just as much a part of Him now as we ever will be.
All we have to do is improve our knowing."
Paramahansa Yogananda


Self-realization is yoga or "oneness" with truth—the direct perception or experience of truth
by the all-knowing intuitive faculty of the soul.
Paramahansa Yogananda]



Swami Sarvapriyananda commentary on Ashtavakra Gita:

This text talks to us directly, to our hearts. One thing it tells you:

You are the Pure Existence (Tat Tvam Asi).

You’re God.

It’s as good as meditation, read it.

You see a face of God in this text. It speaks to reality inside you. It’s not for thinking about because it’s beyond mind.

Witness / Atman: We always try to improve ourselves by adding or subtracting something from ourselves. I need to be more spiritual through prayer, meditation, good deeds, being selfless, and kind. Or I get rid of things that I think are bad for me: restlessness...

Ashtavakra tells you that you are already pure and perfect. You don’t need to add anything to that. And you don’t need to give up anything. Don’t misunderstand that... you still need to improve your life through meditation etc.

The universe is you. The universe arises from you. Detachment but the entire universe is arising in you, you’re not apart of that. You can’t experience anything outside your own consciousness. What you experience (see) is you yourself.

How do I abide in Pure Consciousness?

You already abide in Pure Consciousness – the problem is that you get mix up with the mind that thinks I have to abide as Pure Consciousness.

Abiding in Pure Consciousness is noting that in every experience of life bad or good, it is the same Pure Consciousness that shines through all of them. All experiences are experienced in that One light.

We think we need time because masters meditated years to achieve Samadhi.

How long it takes a wave to become water?

It happens instantly!


Vedanta philosophy admits threefold criterion of Truth, viz., authority (Shruti), logic (Yukti) and self-realization (Atmanubhuti).

The aim is realization of the Truth and not a rational defence of the same. The Self alone is real and all not-Self is appearance. The false identification of the Self with the not-Self is the cause of bondage. Bondage is thus due to ignorance of the real nature of the Self and freedom is attained as soon as the ignorance disappears on the dawn of self-realization. The disappearance of ignorance automatically entails the disappearance of the not-self, which is its product. The existence of an other is the cause of all our worry and unhappiness.

When the Self is realized as the only reality, difference and distinction vanish like the mist before the sun and freedom is attained. In point of fact freedom is the very essence of the Self and loss of freedom is only a case of forgetting.

To the question of Janaka as to how can freedom be achieved, the answer given by Ashtavakra is simple.

If you wish to be free,
Know you are the Self,
The witness of all these,
The heart of awareness. (1.3)

Alternative translation:

“Know the Self as Pure consciousness, the unaffected witness of the phenomenal world, and you will be free” (1.3).

In reality the Self is always free and freedom is not attained, but simply realized and discovered. The impediment to self-realization and freedom is our pre-occupation with the objective world, which inevitably leads to conflict of interests and consequently to feud, jealousy, revenge and moral depravity. ...

The inward diversion of the mind will enable the aspirant to realize his independence and detachment from the network of relations, which constitute the phenomenal world. So long as the mind sees another self, there is bondage. Freedom consists in seeing nothing but the Self in everything. The Self is the Brahman, the undivided and undifferentiated Consciousness-Existence-Bliss and is not to be confounded with the ego. The ego is consciousness limited and distorted by the mind as light is distorted by the prism. As soon as a person effects his liberation from the snares of the ego, he becomes Supreme Bliss, to which there is no limit. ...

Freedom and bondage are purely the creations of ideation.

If you think you are free,
You are free.
If you think you are bound,
You are bound.
For the saying is true:
You are what you think. (1.11)

Here a simple formula is prescribed as the means of escape—think yourself to be free, the eternal unlimited consciousness-bliss and you will be free and happy.

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[Above quotes are from various sources.]


* Translated by Thomas Byrom