By Pranav Khullar
The search for a real preceptor is triggered in most of us in that moment of inner dissatisfaction with material acquisitions one has stacked up, in the need to find inner peace beyond the constant flux of life. Conversely, tradition has it that the guru seeks out those who genuinely desire to understand this matrix of bondage and liberation.
Only a highly evolved teacher can guide and inspire the disciple to the knowledge of the Self, beyond the dualities of the empirical world. Most people seek out a guru as an external aid to help resolve the daily issues of life, as a means of escape, without attempting to understand and resolve their own problems.
But as the Ashtavakra Gita puts it, a real guru is one who will light up the fire of knowledge in his disciple. The Ashtavakra Gita, an ancient dialogue between the young Sage Ashtavakra and the old king Janaka, is a rousing call to Atmanubhuti, Self-realisation. At the centre of this dialogue, is the young guru appearing as a physically infirm figure, to challenge and breakdown the notion that the physical frame is the be-all of life, and to inspire his old disciple to look beyond the mortal frame of the five senses.
“Non-attachment to sense-objects is liberation; love for sense-objects is bondage,” Ashtavakra describes the nature of knowledge thus, going directly into the central focus of his teaching, that the Self alone exists and all else, within the mind-senses matrix, is false and unreal. He draws his disciple’s attention to his own restlessness, which has remained within Janaka despite being a satisfied king. The king has only preoccupied himself in this world till now, to quench this restlessness. The seeker-king remains unfulfilled as a result of this material preoccupation, because one can only feel satiated in the realisation of one’s true nature.
Astavakra deconstructs the illusoriness of the world by exhorting Janaka to renounce desire in all forms, be it the desire for enjoyment and learning or even of pious deeds, for “bondage consists only of desire, and the destruction of desire is liberation.” He asks his disciple to wake up to the transitory nature of all things, to cultivate dispassion by seeing loss and suffering around. He wonders why this dispassion does not arise, even while man sees death and destruction all around him. Compassion and dispassion are the twin characteristics of a spiritually evolved state of mind, which require no highlighting or publicity, for that is but the ego at work.
Ashtavakra goes on to annihilate the false sense of identification of the self with the mind, saying “it is bondage when the mind desires or grieves for anything, rejects or accepts anything, feels happy or angry at anything.” In a simple verse, he sums up a free and fearless soul as one who has renounced desire, for “the renunciation of desire alone is the renunciation of the world.” The normal mind functions differently, drawing us into a cobweb of emotions, which bind and attach us to this notion of ‘I, me, myself’, and cuts us off from seeing everyone else as a part of ‘myself’.
Ashtavakra then attempts to describe this state of bliss of the Self, in which all notions of plurality fall away, in which, even intellectual or aesthetic or ethical pursuits seem secondary, where “there is no heaven or hell or liberation … nothing but the Self.” The fire of knowledge ignited by the guru burns away desires of the disciple.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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