Letting go – The Ashtāvakra way

When I was 3-4 years into my Tai chi journey, my first teacher’s recommendation of “letting go” became very real for me. I realized that I had to “let go”, in order to become empty (which is a big deal for tai chi/dao people) :)

The baffling thing for me was, “How do I let go?”

I’d ask my teacher and he would say “just let go”, but I didn’t understand what he meant exactly then. My present teacher too says, “letting go is easy, but is also kind of hard at the same time”. I think the following section does a good job of explaining to me how to let go.

The Sage Ashtāvakra, whose compendium (samhita), also known as Ashtāvakra Gita, is known for his simple and direct teachings of Nonduality.

Now, Ashtāvakra is considered to be for those who have already spent significant time following the tripartite course of listening (to advaita teachings), contemplating (upon those teachings and understanding them intellectually) and meditation (making the teachings a living reality).

The great Swami Chinmayānanda (founder of the Chinmaya Mission), wrote a beautiful commentary on the Ashtāvakra Gita, which is the reference material for this post.

Ashtāvakra outlines 5 principles or guidelines by which one can let go of all phenomenal attachments. Ashtāvakra says, if your senses and mind are attached to any object, those objects are essentially poison (they bind you). So, they have to be let go. Here are his five principles (my own understanding of them) —

  1. kshamā or forgiveness — when something wrong happens through you, and you are aware of it, it is the hardest thing to forgive yourself for it. Forgive yourself. Not being able to forgive yourself, you bind yourself to the past.
  2. Arjava or sincerity — Perform every action with full awareness. That itself is sincerity. Since you already know your true nature as being the ever-free awareness, when you operate from that point of presence, all action becomes totally sincere and pure (and nothing bad will come from it).
  3. Dayā or Compassion — Don’t be hard on yourself or others. Be compassionate towards all, including yourself. This rises from the understanding that there IS no one or nothing apart from you.  So how can we be anything but compassionate?
  4. Thosha or Contentment — Maintain the sense of fulfillment and contentment in your life, whatever the circumstances. If life’s ups and downs frustrate you, then how can you remain compassionate? The example given is, consider that you are going to die in 10 days. What would your priorities be? Would you worry about property and money or what you eat etc? Be happy and live each day as it is, with full acceptance and joy.
  5. Truth — What is truth? Whatever is, right now, in the present moment. Everything else is ephemeral. Change is inevitable. Death is inevitable. The body changes? The people change. Everything changes. Only what is now is real. Hold on to that.

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4 Replies to “Letting go – The Ashtāvakra way”

  1. The characteristics of Patience, kindness, contentment, being truthful are always in us. But they get poisoned by our interactions with external world that happens through our senses. The very nature of sense interactions is to invoke hate, love, affinity, ideologies, bondage etc in us and ‘poison’ our basic nature.

    It is because of the sense objects and interactions, we lose ‘nectar characteristics’ like Patience (Ksama), Frankness/Candidness/Sincerity (arjava), Kindness (dayA), Contentment (toSa) and Truthfulness (Satyam).

    Being patient and Candid/sincere are necessity for gaining more and more knowledge (jnAna).
    Being kind and contended are needed to be free from desires (mukti).
    Being Truthful is needed to be indifferent from pulls and pressures (vairagya).

    Ability to gain more knowledge, being free from desires, being indifferent to the pulls and pressures make us mortally immortal, as we enjoy every moment we live. Thus the characteristics of Ksama, arjva, dayA, toSa and Satyam have to be accepted like ‘nectar’.

    This is how I see the following two stanzas.

    Janaka says

    kathaṁ jñānamavāpnoti kathaṁ muktir bhaviṣyati
    vairāgyaṁ ca kathaṁ prāptaṁ etad brūhi mama prabho

    How do we obtain jnAna..? How will we become muktir..?
    And how we arrive at vairagyam..? My lord please tell me all these

    Ashtavakra says

    muktiṁ icchasi cettāta viṣayān viṣavat tyaja
    kṣamārjava dayā toṣa satyaṁ pīyūṣavad bhaja

    If seeking mukti, dear son (tAta), give up the senses (of interaction/enjoyment) like poison.
    accept ksama, arjava, daya, toSa, Satyam as nectar.


        1. Forgiving is the invocation of patience /tolerance towards something.

          Patience/Tolerance is the ‘root-cause’ ‘nature or attribute’ of a ‘self’. Forgiveness is effect. When we ask for forgiveness/pardon, we are actually invoking the patience/tolerance nature/attribute in that ‘self’ (of others).

          In Tamil for eg. they say ‘Poruthu arulga’. – Be patient and bless. That is forgiving.

          ‘Ksama rupa tapasvinah’ – A tapasvi is one who is involved fully in tapas. A tapasvi has nothing to forgive. What tapasvi needs is Patience/tolerance to carry on the tapas.

          But I totally understand ‘Ksama’ is translated as ‘forgiveness’. In my understanding tolerance/patience is more appropriate.

          Ksama is patience/tolerance. Hence it is also the ‘Earth’ or ‘ground’.


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