Our love for observation is an inherent part of human nature. We observe our surroundings, objects and people, and make extensive comments about them. For instance: “Wow! What a beautiful place...I love this iPhone so I want to buy it at any cost…Look at that girl! She is so skinny! Looks like she doesn’t eat anything...” We are busy observing the outside world and judging it incessantly. Unfortunately, we do not have the same enthusiasm when it comes to observing ourselves. As a result, when somebody makes a comment about us, we completely trust the person without self verification.
When it comes to self observation, the Ashtavakra Gita (a dialogue between Janak, king of Mithila and the sage Ashtavakra) is an excellent scripture to refer to. It is comprised of 20 chapters, where Janak wants to know about the “ultimate truth” and Ashtavakra answers all his queries.
The essence of the Ashtavakra Gita is that one must always be watchful of the inner world because the outer world or sansara will not help them grow spiritually. Manuel Schoch, a commentator of the Ashtavakra Gita, indicates that we cannot learn anything by observing what other people say or how they behave. So, it is wise not to react towards their comments or actions. Instead we have to observe what happens (because of those people) inside ourselves. This is the real art of observation.
It is not to say that we should close our eyes completely to the outside world. We have to be aware of everything that is happening externally, and at the same time observe our inner thoughts and feelings that are spawned by external circumstances. For example, you may be put in a situation where you are accused of being arrogant. Instead of reacting immediately, you should take a moment to consider what you are thinking. How are you feeling? Do you think they are lying? Are they telling the truth? Are you angry or hurt? Now, think, are the people’s statement or your inner thoughts and feelings really important to you? Since they keep changing in the context of thousands thoughts rushing in a mind in a single moment. The same person who criticises you for your ‘arrogance’ one day praises you by saying, “You are so generous.” Are you happy? When you have a constant surveillance inside you, you will soon find out that this happiness will also go away.
As soon as you are aware of the fact that you are not defined by fleeting thoughts, feelings or words, you go a level deeper in search of yourself. You are beyond and above all worldly things. At the deepest core of you resides your ‘Self’ or ‘Soul’ or ‘Consciousness’, whatever you wish to call it. That ‘Consciousness’ is you that always remains calm, uncontaminated and unchanging; a neutral witness of the sansara. Nobody can help you to find your ‘Self’ but you. You can find yourself through constant self-observation; this is the message conveyed by the Ashtavakra Gita. As Manuel Schoch says, you have nothing to win and nothing to lose; you are one and the same, you cannot change or die.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, November 25, 2016)
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