The story of Ashtavakra and King Janaka

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Enlightened emperor Janak would make regular visits to the guru's ashram to seek blessings and be in his company - something that his guru also seem to enjoy much. Seeing this closeness between the two, guru's other disciples staying with him became resentful. How did Ashtavakra teach them a lesson?


Duration: 12 min


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The story of Ashtavakra and King Janaka

The following is an unedited transcript of Sadhguru's video. For better readability, breaks and highlights have been added by the editors.

There is a beautiful incident that occurred around Ashtavakra.

When Janaka Maharaja, the emperor, became enlightened – a rare thing, an emperor becoming enlightened. It’s not only a rare thing, it is a fantastic thing because an enlightened ruler means many things to the people. There is no better blessing. So when it happened, Ashtavakra, his guru – as gurus are known to be always difficult. When you just think you found your way, they tell you that’s not it.

When Janaka thought he’s enlightened and, “This is it”, Ashtavakra said “That’s not it. You have to go back and rule the kingdom. Because you may not want it, that’s not the point. The point is people deserve an enlightened king.” So, Janaka, whenever he found time, he made his trips to Ashtavakra’s hermitage, little deep into the jungle. So, Janaka making regular trips to the hermitage.

Obviously because gurus are lonely people, you know, because where to find enlightened company – very difficult. So obviously, both of them enjoying a certain rapport, both of them enjoying each other’s company. All the other disciples saw this, that Ashtavakra, the great being, seems to have a certain weakness for the emperor. Whenever he comes, they’re chatting away, laughing together, this, this, this. These people, who have left everything or they think they have left everything and come and they are here as sanyasis, not paying enough attention to them. But if you leave them ten minutes with him, they won’t know what to do next.

So there, little bit of resentment building up. Ashtavakra is conscious of it, he let it build up, because every buildup is a possibility. Something should build up, then only you can do something. If nothing builds up, that means there are dead people around, not live people. Live people are there, something must build up. Joy must build up, love must build up, ecstasy must build up or at least resentment or hatred or jealousy – something must build up. Something is building up means, we can do something with them. Nothing – what to do with them? So he let it build up and then this incident occurred.

Janaka also came and he was sitting in the sathsang at the back. And as Ashtavakra was speaking something, suddenly a soldier burst into the sathsang and without even looking at the guru, he ran to the emperor – with a loud voice, he said, “The palace is on fire, you need to come right now.” Janaka said, “Get out of here. How dare you run into the sathsang! Without bowing down to my guru, you run here and shout some nonsense, just get out of here.” And Ashtavakra continued with whatever had to happen. So Janaka just sat there, palace burning, nobody is concerned here. There of course they’re screaming but here nobody is concerned.

Then this continued, it’s a Lap of the Master event, three days, you know. Till you feel your legs have had enough, it continues. Then it was going on and one of the boys, who is helping around in the ashram, ran into the sathsang and said “a bunch of monkeys are playing havoc with these brahmacharis’ clothes. The moment this boy said this, many of them got up and ran to save the clothing. What is their clothing? Not designer stuff. It is designer of course but just a piece of loincloth, a piece of cloth. They ran to save those cloths and then they chased away the monkeys and recovered whatever they could and they came back.

So, Ashtavakra continued and then he said, “Here’s an emperor, his palace full of wealth and people, not only physical wealth, there are people, there are lives, people who are dear to him. Palace is burning but he is concerned about breaking the rhythm of the sathsang. You, who claim that you’ve given up everything in your life – for a piece of cloth, without even thinking you run out, without even looking at me, to save a piece of cloth!” “No, but we have only two – one we are wearing, one is there. The monkeys take it away, what do we do? So we are in a more needy situation than the emperor. Maybe emperor can build another palace but we…” Well, you could learn something from Adam. There’re lots of Adam’s underwears in the trees.

So Ashtavakra said, “The question is not about what you possess, it’s about how you possess. Even if you have a kingdom in your hands, you can hold it in a certain way. Kingdom is not necessarily outside in terms of wealth and people and money. For most people, their kingdom is their own body and their mind. How you hold it – if you hold it one way, it will make you bleed with pain. If you hold it it another way, you will be spot on with life because it doesn’t take effort to be life. I’m just reminding you, you are life. Hello? Yes, you are.

Just see, the rock which is standing next to you, how simple and easy it is. Yes or no? If you were not life, how simple and easy it is. This is why people want to drown themselves in alcohol and drug and excessive food and something else and something else or the toilet cleaning! Because in some way you have discovered not being life is so simple and easy. If you’re not very alive, it’s so simple and easy. Just sit somewhere like a rock.

But when the moment of death comes, you know you are life pretending to be something else, otherwise you couldn’t die. That will become a point of infliction. So, we want you to be conscious. This is the reason why I’m constantly reminding you, “You will die one day, you will die one day.” I’m not wishing death for you. It’s just that without my help it’ll happen, I’m confident about that. I don’t have to wish you death, you anyway will die.

So constant reminder of death is just this, to make you know, you’re life. You can’t go about like this rock. You can’t go about like a mechanical creature, who can walk and talk and do everything that you can do but cannot be alive. That’s the important thing. Is it an important thing? “No, no, no, if I can do what somebody can do, that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter whether alive or not, isn’t it? If I can do things as good as somebody else, if I can be as successful as somebody else, if I can possess what somebody else has or nobody else has, that’s good enough.” For most human beings, that’s good enough.

So in many ways, unconsciously they have understood, the solution for life is, not to be life. But that’s not a solution, that’s a deception because no matter what you do, even if you die, that proves you were life. When you are alive if you don’t prove that you are life, when you die at least you prove that you were life. Yes or no? So you cannot escape this. Neither with tricks of life nor with death, you cannot escape this. So is it a trap? It is not a trap. It is a tremendous possibility.

The soil that you walk upon is aspiring to become life. If there was no aspiration, it wouldn’t stand up as a tree. That which is not life is aspiring to become life, otherwise nothing would happen in the universe. Everything is aspiring to become life and become the peak of life. You can call this evolutionary process, you can call this whatever you want, but essentially everything that is not life, is aspiring to become life.

Everything that is life is aspiring to become a higher life. This is not a teaching, this is not a scripture, this is not somebody’s ideology, this is the way life is – always this aspiration is there. The only way you can quieten it is by pretending to be not life or by getting enlightened. Both these things will do the same, same result but worlds apart.


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