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  • Acharya Shunya

You Are Not Your Body: The Story of Sage Ashtavakra


Ashtavakra is the name of a revered Vedic sage who is said to have composed on of the greatest treatises of nondual Vedanta, known as the Ashtavakra Gita. The name “Ashtavakra” means one who has eight deformities. Indeed, the sage was born with a body that was twisted in eight places. Ashtavakra grew up in the home of his maternal grandfather Sage Aruni, who was a great seer and ran a traditional Vedic school, where Ashtavakra received knowledge of Self.

One day, he learned that his father had met unfair treatment before he was not even born, so he set out to meet the king. When he arrived at the king’s court to ask for clemency for his punished father, he dragged himself across the court. The king’s men and ministers looked at him and started to laugh because of his physical deformities.

Ashtavakra first looked on in silence and then broke into smiles. Everyone became shocked. When questioned about his identity and reason for his pleased expression, Ashtavakra responded that he was disappointed to find only shoemakers in the assembly instead of wise men, because shoemakers, invariably only look at the body made of matter (leather) and rarely enter into spiritual or metaphysical contemplations, to see what lies beyond the body.

Ashtavakra told the king that his counselors were only seeing his body coated with leather everywhere (that is, his skin). They did not see his true Self. They had no realization of the soul and the Supreme Soul. They were making their judgments on this superficial basis only. This was the occupation of the shoemakers, was it not, to judge appearance by the smoothness or roughness of the skin? Ashtavakra concluded that perhaps he had wasted his time coming to the assembly.

The king and everyone in the assembly became deeply affected and awakened from unconsciousness upon hearing the words of Ashtavakra. The king immediately recognized that this was no ordinary teenager; he was one awake to Brahman. The king bowed down to Ashtavakra, the realized being. He escorted Ashtavakra to his own throne and washed his distorted and twisted feet with tears falling from his eyes. Of course, Ashtavakra, the one who knew he was not his body, and was always free from what he was not, went on to become one of the wisest Vedic sages and inspired so many minds by challenging them to think differently.

From the story above, let me, summarize two universal laws from the Vedas that my Guru Baba Ayodhya Nath (who was also my grandfather) taught me, and that I meditated upon non-stop. I am confident they will also help you step away from sorrow, too.

Law 1: I am different from what I experience.

The first law states that I am different from whatever I experience, so if I am experiencing suffering, I am not suffering. If I am experiencing thoughts such as, “I am so small, I am so bad, I am so horrible,” I am not that. If we can fully comprehend this important law that I am not what I experience, it will end our need for approval and assimilation at any cost, and end the feeling of being lost in the world when rejected.

My body may be undergoing cancer or some other difficulty, but I will be fine because I am different from what I am experiencing. Then, my attitude will be amazing, exceptional, and perhaps inspiring to others. Why? Because I am not the body.

Law 2: Whatever I am not, I am free from it.

The second law states that whatever I am not, I am free from it. I can make my choices in freedom. I am free from it. At some point, every leader who has spoken up against abuse, victimization, and colonization must have said “I don’t buy that, and I am free.”

When Nelson Mandela spoke up against apartheid, when so many were feeling small and powerless, he must have felt free the entire time. Despite 22 years of “imprisonment,” he walked out free and powerful. Twenty-two minutes of sitting quietly by yourself can break you apart, yet Nelson Mandela sat quietly for 22 years in jail saying, “I am free.” It is an internal movement: “I am free.”

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Acharya Shunya is a Vedic lineage holder and teacher of nondual wisdom from the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita, along with the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda and Yoga. She is the spiritual preceptor of a global community of truth seekers. She teaches out of her wisdom school, Vedika Global, based in Emeryville, California, USA and lectures worldwide. She is the award-winning author of Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017), voted among the Top 10 Books in Alternative Medicine by Health Line (2017). To find out more and to explore studying the ancient wisdom from Vedic seers with Acharya Shunya, visit her official website maintained by her students: https://www.acharyashunya.com/.