The Ashtavakra Gita or the Song of Ashtavakra – The Song of the Eightfold Cripple


The Ashtavakra Gita or the Song of Ashtavakra, also known as The Song of the Eightfold Cripple, the Ashtavakra Gita or the Ashtavakra Samhita scripture which documents a dialogue between the Perfect Master Ashtavakra and Janaka, the King of Mithila.

There are 298 stanzas of the Gita dwelling on various aspects of liberation, have no reference to God. Ashtavakra’s discourse is divided into 20 chapters, which deal with detachment, quietude, wisdom, happiness, tranquillity, self-knowledge, peace, self-repose and liberation.

The Ashtavakra Gita teaches that one is already free once one realises one is free. It paints a picture of The Master as someone who continues to keep up their responsibilities in the world, not because they believe they have to or due to any worldy attachments, but simply that it is in their nature to do so. To avoid misinterpretation in this regard teachers traditionally recommend that Ashtavakra Gita be pursued by only those who have already advanced on the spiritual path.


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Once upon a time there was a student of the scriptures who could not support his family. He would work hard all day every day and then read aloud the holy language of sacred verses late into the night. His wife, round of belly with their coming child, would sit besides him in the dim room, listening as her weary beloved chanted the ancient words. One late night in her eighth month a voice from inside her belly said to the father: “Sir, please be attentive – you are mispronouncing that verse.” Tired and short-tempered, without thinking why he would feel so enraged at being corrected by an unborn child, the father cursed the voice- and because the father had built up merit, his curse took hold: the child was born deformed, with eight crooks in his body. That child was called Ashtavakra, a name which means `eight bends’. Everyone who saw him laughed in derision. That crippled child was an enlightened master who took birth in this family to reveal in simple words the essence of mystical experience. Janaka, king of the known world, father of the bride of God, Sita, daughter of the earth, that very King Janaka became this crippled boy’s disciple.

The book based on that event is called The Song of the Eightfold Cripple, or Ashtavakra Gita. Ashtavakra was not keen on accepting students, and so had few. When King Janaka came to hear of the wisdom of the crippled child he approached the boy as a humble student, not a commanding king. The boy accepted the king instantly as his disciple. This caused some talk in the sangha.

Ah, Ashtavakra does have favourites after all, he accepted the king without any of the trials he had all of us face !~ This grumbling became a quiet force, and Ashtavakra knew of it. One day the King was late and so the boy delayed his discourse. The moment the king arrived, Ashtavakra spoke: `This day I have had a vision, the capitol city will erupt in terrible fires and earthquakes- all there will die. Those who have loved ones or valuables there must hurry now if they wish to save anything!’ All the monks left. As the dust settled, only the boy and the king were sitting. The boy said softly, `Great king, is there nothing you would save?` Janaka replied, My lord and my friend, you are my only treasure. The cripple nodded and softly said, Well then if I am indeed your treasure, mount your horse now and go and gather my students back to me, tell them I have been mistaken, the capitol city is in no danger.

Take your horse, and go. Rising to do as bidden, the King put his foot into the stirrup, and as he swung up over the saddle, realisation dawned in his mind. He swallowed, looked about him at this new earth, heard new birds singing for the first time, and then looked at the cripple at his feet. The two looked at one another, and then the king left to find the other students. Once back, the other students grumbled at being sent about here and there on foolish errands. One or two however did soon understand why the master had chosen the king as a student in his own way. This is what was said that day, as all sat about and heard these words of nectarine wisdom.


How is knowledge to be acquired? How is liberation to be attained? And how is dispassion to be reached?

Tell me this, sir.

1.1 Ashtavakra said: If you are seeking liberation, my dearest one, shun the objects of the senses like poison. Draught the nectar of tolerance, sincerity, compassion, contentment and truthfulness.

1.2 You are neither earth, water, fire, air or even ether. For liberation know yourself as consisting of consciousness, the witness of these five.

1.3 If only you will remain resting in consciousness, seeing yourself as distinct from the body, then even now you will become happy, peaceful and free from bonds.

1.4 You do not belong to the brahmin or warrior or any other caste, you are not at any stage, nor are you anything that the eye can see. You are unattached and formless, the witness of everything – now be happy.

1.5 Righteousness and unrighteousness, pleasure and pain are purely of the mind and are no concern of yours. You are neither the doer nor the reaper of the consequences; you are always free.

1.6 You are the one witness of everything, and are always totally free. The cause of bondage is that one sees the witness as something other than this.

1.7 Since you have been bitten by that black snake of self-opinion- thinking foolishly that `I am the doer,’, now drink the nectar in the fact that “I am not the doer”, and now be happy.

1.8 Burn down the forest of ignorance with the fire of understanding. Know `I am the one pure awareness.’ With such ashes now be happy, free from distress.

1.9 That in which all this appears is but imagined like the snake in a rope; that joy, supreme knowledge and awareness is what you are; now be happy.

1.10 If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying `Thinking makes it so’ is true .

1.11 Your real nature is one perfect, free, and actionless consciousness, the all-pervading witness – unattached to anything, desireless, at peace. It is illusion that you seem to be involved in any other matter.

1.12 Meditate on yourself as motionless awareness, free from any dualism, giving up the mistaken idea that you are just a derivative consciousness; anything external or internal is false.

1.13 You have long been trapped in the snare of identification with the body. Sever it with the knife of knowledge that “I am awareness”, and be happy, my dearest.

1.14 You are really unbound and actionless, selfilluminating and spotless already. The cause of your bondage is that you are still resorting to stilling the mind.

1.15 All of this is really filled by you and strung out in you, for what you consist of is pure awareness – so don’t be small-minded.

1.16 You are unconditioned and changeless, formless and immovable, unfathomable awareness, imperturbable- such consciousness is unclinging.

1.17 Recognise that the apparent is unreal, while the unmanifest is abiding. Through this initiation into truth you will escape falling into unreality again.

1.18 Just as a mirror exists as part and apart from its reflected images, so the Supreme Lord exists as part and apart from this body.

1.19 Just as one and the same all-pervading space exists within and without a jar, so the eternal, everlasting Being exists in the totality of things.

1.20 Janaka said Truly I am spotless and at peace, the awareness beyond natural causality. All this time I have been afflicted by delusion.

2.1 As I alone give light to this body, so do I enlighten the world. As a result the whole world is mine, and, alternatively, nothing is.

2.2 So now abandoning the body and everything else, suddenly somehow my true self becomes apparent.

2.3 Just as waves, foam and bubbles are not different from water, so all this which has emanated from oneself, is no other than oneself.

2.4 Just as cloth when examined is found to be just thread, so when all this is analysed it is found to be no other than oneself.

2.5 Just as the sugar produced from the juice of the sugarcane is permeated with the same taste, so all this, produced out of me, is completely permeated with me.

2.6 From ignorance of oneself, the world appears, and by knowledge of oneself it appears no longer. From ignorance of the rope a snake appears, and by knowledge of the rope the snake appears no longer. Shining is my essential nature, and I am nothing over and beyond that. When the world shines forth, it is simply me that is shining forth.

2.8 All this appears in me, imagined, due to ignorance, just as a snake appears in the rope, just as the mirage of water in the sunlight, and just as silver in mother of pearl.

2.9 All this, which has originated out of me, is resolved back into me too, like a gourd back into soil, a wave into water, and a bracelet into gold.

2.10 How wonderful I am! Glory to me, for whom there is no destruction, remaining even beyond the destruction of the world from Brahma down to the last blade of grass.

2.11 How wonderful I am! Glory to me, solitary! Even though with a body, I am neither going or coming anywhere; I abide forever, filling all that is.

2.12 How wonderful I am! Glory to me! There is no one so clever as me! I have borne all that is, forever, without even touching it with my body!

2.13 How wonderful I am! Glory to me! I possess nothing at all, and alternatively possess everything to which speech and mind can refer.

2.14 Knowledge, what is to be known, and the knower – these three do not exist in reality. I am the spotless reality in which they appear, spotted by ignorance.

2.15 Truly dualism is the root of suffering. There is no other remedy for it than the realisation that all this that one sees is unreal, and that I am the one stainless reality, consisting of consciousness.

2.16 I am pure awareness although through ignorance I have imagined myself to have additional  9 attributes. By continually reflecting like this, my dwelling place is the Unimagined.

2.17 For me, here is neither bondage nor liberation. The illusion has lost its basis and ceased. Truly all this exists in me, though ultimately it does not even exist in me.

2.18 I have recognised that all this and my body are nothing, while my true self is nothing but pure consciousness- so what can the imagination work on now?

2.19 The body, heaven and hell, bondage and liberation, and fear too, all this is active imagination. What is there left to do for one whose very nature is consciousness?

2.20 Truly I do not see dualism even in a crowd of people. What pleasure should I have when it has turned into a wilderness?

2.21 I am not the body, nor is the body mine. I am not a living being. I am consciousness. It was my thirst for living that was my bondage.

2.22 Truly it is in the limitless ocean of myself, stimulated by the colourful waves of the worlds, that everything suddenly arises in the wind of consciousness.

2.23 It is in the limitless ocean of myself, that the wind of thought subsides; the trader-like living creatures’ world ark is now dry-docked by lack of goods.

2.24 How wonderful it is that in the limitless ocean of myself the waves of living beings arise, collide, play and disappear, according to their natures.

2.25 Ashtavakra said Knowing yourself as truly one and indestructible, how could a wise man like you – one possessing self-knowledge- feel any pleasure in acquiring wealth?

3.1 Truly, when one does not know oneself, one takes pleasure in the objects of mistaken perception, just as greed for its seeming silver arises in one who does not know mother-of-pearl for what it is.

3.2 All this wells up like waves in the sea. Recognising, I am That, why run around like someone in need?

3.3 After hearing of oneself as pure consciousness and the supremely beautiful, is one to go on lusting after sordid sensual objects?

3.4 When the sage has realised that one is oneself is in all beings, and all beings are in oneself, it is astonishing that the sense of individuality should be able to continue.

3.5 It is astonishing that a person who has reached the supreme non-dual state and is intent on the benefits of liberation should still be subject to lust and be held back by the desire to copulate.

3.6 It is astonishing that one already very debilitated, and knowing very well that sensual arousal is the enemy of knowledge should still eagerly hanker after concupiscence, even when approaching one’s last days.

3.7 It is astonishing that one who is unattached to the things of this world or the next, who discriminates between the permanent and the impermanent, and who longs for liberation, should still feel fear for liberation.

3.8 Whether feted or tormented, the wise person is always aware of the supreme self-nature and is neither expectant nor disappointed.

3.9 The great souled person sees even one’s own body in action as if it were someone else’s, so how then be disturbed by praise or blame?

3.10 Seeing this world as pure illusion, and devoid of any interest in it, how should the strong-minded person feel fear, even at the approach of death?

3.11 Who is to be compared to the great-souled person whose mind is free of desire, free of expectation and disappointment, and who has found satisfaction in self-knowledge?

3.12 How should a strong-minded person who knows that whatever is seen is by its very nature nothing, how then consider one thing to be grasped and another to be rejected?

3.13 For someone who has eliminated attachment, and who is free from dualism and from desire and from repulsion, for such a one an object that comes of itself is neither painful nor pleasurable.

3.14 Ashtavakra said Certainly the wise person of self-knowledge, playing the game of worldly life, bears no resemblance whatever to the world’s bewildered beasts of burden.

4.1 Truly the one centered in mystic union feels no excitement even at being established in that state which all the gods from Indra down yearn for disconsolately.

4.2 He who has known That is untouched within by good deeds or bad, just as the sky is not touched by smoke, however much it may appear to be.

4.3 Who can prevent the great-souled person who has known this whole world as oneself from living as one pleases?

4.4 Of all the four categories of beings, from Brahma down to the driest clump of grass, only the person of knowledge is capable of eliminating desire and aversion.

4.5 Rare is the person who knows oneself as the undivided Lord of the world; no fear occurs to one who lives the truth.


Ashavakra Gita

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