Chapter 15: Knowing the Unknowable.


1. On hearing Dattatreya relate the wonderful story of the Hill City, Parasurama marvelled more and more.

2. He, with a clear mind, pondered over the teachings of his Master, and then returned to him and asked him again:

3. "Lord, I have considered the purport of your teachings in the shape of the magnificent stories you told me.

4. "I understand that intelligence alone is real and single, and that objects are only unreal images like a city reflected in a mirror.

5. "Her Transcendental Majesty, the Maheswari, is that consciousness manifesting as Intelligence cognisant of the whole range of phenomena beginning from the unmanifest state of sleep and ending with this world passing in quick succession within itself.

6. "All these are apparently due to the self-sufficiency of that consciousness and they come into being without any immediate cause. This much I have understood after deep consideration.

7. "But this intelligence is said to be beyond cognition because it always remains as pure knowledge itself.

8. "I do not see how it can be realised if it surpasses knowledge. The goal is not achieved without realising it.

9. "The goal is liberation. What is its nature? If one can be liberated while alive, still how is the course of his emancipated life regulated, if that is at all possible?

10. "There are sages who are active. What is the relation between the world of action and their pure conscious being?

11. "How can they engage in action while all the time they inhere in absolute consciousness? Such consciousness can be of only one kind, and liberation also can be only one in order to be effective.

12-17. "How then are these differences noticed in the lives of the jnanis? Some of them are active; some teach scriptures; some worship deities; some abstract themselves into samadhi; some lead an austere life and emaciate themselves; some give clear instructions to their disciples; some rule kingdom quite justly; some openly hold disputations with other schools of thought; some write down their teachings and experiences; others simulate ignorance; a few even reprehensible and loathsome actions; but all of them are famous as wise men in the world.

18. "How can there be such differences in their lives when there can be no difference in the state of liberation common to all? Or are there grades in knowledge and liberation?

19. "Kindly enlighten me on these points, because I am eager to learn the truth and submit to you as my sole Teacher."

20. Thus requested, Dattatreya appeared pleased with the questions and answered the worthy disciple as follows:

21. "Worthy Rama! You are indeed fit to reach that goal because you have now turned towards the right way of investigation.

22. "This is due to the Grace of God which puts you in the right way of investigation. Who can attain anything worthy, without divine Grace?

23. "The beneficent work of the self-inhering divine Grace is finished when the inward turning of one's mind increases in strength day by day.

24-25. "What you have said so far is quite true; you have rightly understood the nature of consciousness but have not realised it. A knowledge of the property of a thing without actual experience of the thing itself is as useless as no knowledge.

26. "True experience of the Self is the unawareness of even 'I am'. Can the world persist after such unawareness? Second-hand knowledge is no better than the recollection of a dream.

27. "Just as the accession of treasure in a dream is useless, so also is secondhand knowledge.

28. "I shall illustrate it with a very ancient story. There was formerly a very virtuous king ruling over Videha.

29. "He was Janaka by name, very wise and conversant with both this world and beyond. At one time he worshipped with sacrificial rites the Goddess, inhering as the Self.

30. "There came for the occasion, all the Brahmins, pandits, hermits, critics, those versed in the Vedas, those accustomed to share in sacrificial rites and sacrifices, etc.

31. "At the same time, Varuna, the God of waters, wanted to perform a similar sacrifice, but worthy men did not accept the invitation.

32-37. "For they were pleased with Janaka who respected them duly.

"Then Varuna's son, who was a great dialectician, came to them. He disguised himself as a Brahmin, in order to decoy the Brahmin guests. On entering the royal chamber he duly blessed the king and addressed him thus before all the assembly. 'O King, your assembly is not as good as it should be. It looks like a lovely lake of lotuses ravaged by crows, jackdaws and herons; it would be better without this medley of incompetents. I do not find a single individual here who will be an ornament to a great assembly like a swan to a lovely lake of lotuses. May God bless you! I shall have nothing to do with this multitude of fools.'

38-41. "Being thus insulted by Varuna's son, the whole assembly stood up to a man and said in anger:

"You charlatan of a Brahmin! How dare you insult everybody here? What learning have you which is wanting in us? Wicked man that you are, you are only a bluffer! You shall not leave this place until you have proved your superiority over us. There are great pandits assembled here from all over the world. Do you hope to subdue all of them by your learning? Tell us your special subject in which you imagine yourself more proficient than us!'

Thus challenged, Varuni replied:

42-43. "I will in a minute outdo you all in debate; but that shall be only on the condition that if I am defeated, you will throw me into the sea; and if you are defeated, I will consign you to the sea, one after another. If you agree to this condition, let us have a debate.

44-45. "They consented and the debate began in right earnest. The pandits were shortly defeated by the fallacious logic of the opponent and they were sunk in the sea by hundreds.

46. "Varuna's followers then took away the sunken pandits to his sacrifice where they were received with respect which much pleased them.

47. "There was one by name Kahoela, among those who were thus sunk. His son Ashtavakra, having heard of his father's fate, hastened to Janaka's court and challenged the debater skilled in fallacy. The masquerader was now defeated and straightaway condemned to the sea by the young avenger. Then Varuni threw off his mask in the court and restored back all the men formerly drowned in the sea. Kahoela's son was now puffed with pride and behaved offensively before the assembled court. The pandits were made to feel mortified before the youth.

51-52. "Just then, a female ascetic appeared in their midst, to whom the offended assembly looked for help. Encouraging them in their hopes, the charming maiden with matted locks and hermit's clothes was highly honoured by the king and she spoke in sweet and yet firm tones:

53. "'Oh child! Son of Kahoela! You are indeed very accomplished, for these Brahmins have been rescued by you after you defeated Varuni in debate.

54-56. "'I want to ask of you a short question, to which please give a straight answer, explicit and unreserved. What is that condition reaching which there will be all-round immortality: knowing which all doubts and uncertainties will disappear; and established in which all desires will vanish? If you have realised that unbounded state, please tell me directly.'

"Being approached by the ascetic, the son of Kahoela replied with confidence:

57-58. "'I know it. Listen to what I say. There is nothing in the world not known to me. I have studied all the sacred literature with great care. Therefore hear my answer.

59-63. "What you ask is the primal and efficient cause of the universe, being itself without beginning, middle or end, and uneffected by time and space. It is pure, unbroken, single Consciousness. The whole world is manifested in it like a city in a mirror. Such is that transcendental state. On realising it, one becomes immortal; there is no place for doubts and uncertainties, as there is no more reason for ignorance as at the sight of innumerable reflected images; and there will be no more room for desire, because transcendence is then experienced.

"It is also unknowable because there is no one to know it, besides itself.

"Ascetic! I have now told you the truth as contained in the Scriptures.'

64-71. "After Ashtavakra had finished, the hermit spoke again: 'Young sage! What you say, is rightly said and accepted by all. But I draw your attention to that part of your answer where you admitted its unknowability for want of a knower outside of consciousness; and also that its knowledge confers immortality and perfection. How are these two statements to be reconciled? Either admit that consciousness is unknowable, is not known to you, and thus conclude its non-existence; or say that it is, and that you know it - and therefore it is not unknowable.

"You evidently speak from secondhand knowledge, gathered from the scriptures. Clearly, you have not realised it and so your knowledge is not personal.

"Think now - your words amount to this - you have a personal knowledge of the images but not of the mirror. How can that be?

"Tell me now if you are not ashamed of this prevarication before King Janaka and his assembly.'

"Being thus reprimanded by the ascetic, he could not speak for some time because he felt mortified and ashamed; so he remained with bent head thinking it over.

72-73. "However, the Brahmin youth could not find any satisfactory answer to her question, so he submitted to her in great humility: 'O ascetic! Truly I cannot find the answer to your question. I submit to you as your disciple. Pray tell me how the two scriptural statements are to be reconciled. But I assure you that I have not told a deliberate lie, for I know that any merits a liar may have are counteracted by his lies so that he is condemned as unworthy.'

74. "Thus requested, the ascetic was pleased with Ashtavakra's sincerity and said to him in the hearing of the assembly.

75-84. "'Child, there are many who being ignorant of this sublime truth, live in a state of delusion. Dry polemics will not help one to Reality for it is well guarded on all sides. Of all the people now assembled here, no one has experienced Reality, except the king and myself. It is not a subject for discussion. The most brilliant logic can only approach it but never attain it. Although unaffected by logic coupled with a keen intellect, it can however be realised by service to one's Guru and the grace of God.

"O thou who art thyself the son of a Sage, listen to me carefully, for this is hard to understand even when hearing it explained. Hearing it a thousand times over will be useless unless one verifies the teachings by means of investigation into the Self with a concentrated mind. Just as a prince labours under a misapprehension that the string of pearls still clinging to his neck has been stolen away by another and is not persuaded to the contrary by mere words but only believes when he finds it around his neck by his own effort so also, O youth, however clever a man may be, he will never know his own self by the mere teaching of others unless he realises it for himself. Otherwise he can never realise the Self if his mind is turned outward.

85. "A lamp illumines all around but does not illumine itself or another light. It shines of itself without other sources of light. Things shine in sunlight without the necessity for any other kind of illumination. Because lights do not require to be illumined, do we say that they are not known or that they do not exist?

"Therefore, as it is thus with lights and things made aware by the conscious self, what doubt can you have regarding abstract consciousness, namely the Self?

"Lights and things being insentient, cannot be self-aware. Still, their existence or manifestation is under no doubt. That means they are self-luminous. Can you not similarly investigate with an inward mind in order to find out if the all-comprehending Self is conscious or not conscious?

"That Consciousness is absolute and transcends the three states (wakefulness, dream and slumber) and comprises all the universe making it manifest. Nothing can be apprehended without its light.

"Will anything be apparent to you, if there be no consciousness? Even to say that nothing is apparent to you (as in sleep) requires the light of consciousness. Is not your awareness of your unawareness (in sleep) due to consciousness?

"If you infer its eternal light, then closely investigate whether the light is of itself or not. Everybody falls in this investigation however learned and proficient he may be, because his mind is not bent inward but restlessly moves outward. As long as thoughts crop up, so long has the turning inward of the mind not been accomplished. As long as the mind is not inward, so long the Self cannot be realised. Turning inward means absence of desire. How can the mind be fixed within if desires are not given up?

"Therefore become dispassionate and inhere as the Self. Such inherence is spontaneous (no effort is needed to inhere as the Self). It is realised after thoughts are eliminated and investigation ceases. Recapitulate your state after you break off from it, and then will know all and the significance of its being knowable and unknowable at the same time. Thus realising the unknowable, one abides in immortality for ever and ever.

"I have now finished. Salutations to you! Farewell!

"But you have not yet understood my words because this is the first time you hear the truth. This king, the wisest among men, can make you understand. So ask him again and he will clear your doubts."

"When she had finished, she was honoured by the king and the whole assembly, and then she instantly dissolved in air and disappeared from human sight.

"I have now related to you, O Rama, the method of Self-Realisation."

Thus ends the Chapter XV on Ashtavakra Section in Tripura Rahasya.