Raja Janaka, son of Indradyumna, asked the boy Ashtavakra about knowledge and methods to liberation. His answer is the aSTAvakra samhita also known as aSTAvakra gIta. The sanskrit text and translation by Swami Nityaswarupananda is available at advaitaashrama.org.
The detailed story of Ashtavakra is here : http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m03/m03132.htm
The sage Uddalaka had a perfect disciple named Kahoda. Uddalaka gave him his own daughter, Sujata, in marriage When Sujata was pregnant, her baby learnt the vedas and sastras even before birth and pointed out that his father was making some errors. The angry father spoke a s’Apam, by which the son was born with 8 deformities.
At sujAtA’s request, kahOda went to rAja janakA’s palace with the hope of earning a reward, but was defeated in argument by vandin, the son of varuNa and was sent to the sea as a priest engaged in a yagnya being performed by varuNa.
aSTAvakra learned of this only when he was 12 years old. This is how it happened. sujAtA’s brother swEtakEtu, who as as old as Ashtavakra was seated one day in uddalakA’s lap. A quarrel ensued in which Ashtavakra understood that Uddalaka was his grandfather and not his father.
Then both boys decided to go janaka’s palace, where aSTAvakra defeated vandin in a debate and got his father back.
Though the incidents are wonderful in themselves, this narration is studded with conversations full of interesting quotes!.
On Brahmanas :
- Ashtavakra said, ‘When no Brahmana is met with on the way, the way belongeth to the blind, the deaf, the women, carriers of burden, and the king respectively. But when a Brahmana is met with on the way, it belongeth to him alone.’
- The king said, ‘No fire ever so small is to be slighted. Even Indra himself boweth unto the Brahmanas.’
On Age :
- Ashtavakra said, ‘True growth cannot be inferred from the mere development of the body, as the growth of the knots of the Salmali tree cannot signify its age. That tree is called full-grown which although slender and short, beareth fruits. But that which doth not bear fruits, is not considered as grown.’
- Ashtavakra said, ‘One is not old because his head is gray. But the gods regard him as old who, although a child in years, is yet possessed of knowledge. The sages have not laid down that a man’s merit consists in years, or gray hair, or wealth, or friends. To us he is great who is versed in the Vedas.
On Time :
- The king said, ‘He alone is a truly learned man who understandeth the significance of the thing that hath thirty divisions, twelve parts twentyfour joints, and three hundred and sixty spokes.’ Ashtavakra said, ‘May that ever-moving wheel that hath twentyfour joints, six naves, twelve peripheries, and sixty spokes protect thee!’
On Eyes :
- The king said, ‘Who amongst the gods beareth those two which go together like two mares (yoked to a car), and sweep like a hawk, and to what also do they give birth?’ Ashtavakra said, ‘May God, O king, forfend the presence of these two in thy house; aye, even in the house of thine enemies. He who appeareth, having for his charioteer the wind, begetteth them, and they also produce him.’
Other Riddles :
- The king said, ‘What is that doth not close its eyes even while sleeping; what is it that doth not move, even when born; what is it that hath no heart; and what doth increase even in its own speed?’ Ashtavakra said, ‘It is a fish that doth not close its eye-lids, while sleeping; and it is an a egg that doth not move when produced; it is stone that hath no heart; and it is a river that increase in its own speed.’
- Ashtavakra said, ”That weak man who, in pride of strength, attempts to strike a blow at a mountain, only gets his hands and nails hurt, but no wound is left on the mountain itself. As the other mountains are inferior to the Mainaka, and as calves are inferior to the ox, so are all other kings of the earth inferior to the lord of Mithila. And as Indra is the foremost of celestials, and as the Ganga is the best of rivers, so thou alone art, O king, the greatest of monarchs.”
On Numbers : (see Ganguli’s comments at end)
- Vandin said, ‘One only fire blazeth forth in various shapes; one only sun illumineth this whole world; one only hero, Indra, the lord of celestials, destroyeth enemies; and one only Yama is the sole lord of the Pitris.”
- Ashtavakra said, ‘The two friends, Indra and Agni, ever move together; the two celestial sages are Narada and Parvata; twins are the Aswinikumaras; two is the number of the wheels of a car; and it is as a couple that husband and wife live together, as ordained by the deity.’
- Vandin said, ‘Three kinds of born beings are produced by acts; the three Vedas together perform the sacrifice, Vajapeya; at three different times, the Adhwaryus commence sacrificial rites; three is the number of words: and three also are the divine lights.’
- Ashtavakra said, ‘Four are the Asramas of the Brahmanas; the four orders perform sacrifices; four are the cardinal points; four is the number of letters; and four also, as is ever known, are the legs of a cow.’
- Vandin said, ‘Five is the number of fires; five are the feet of the metre called Punki; five are the sacrifices; five locks, it is said in the Vedas, are on the heads of the Apsaras; and five sacred rivers are known in the world.’
- Ashtavakra said. ‘Six cows, it is asserted by some, and paid as a gratuity on the occasion of establishing the sacred fire; six are the seasons belonging to the wheel of time; six is the number of the senses; six stars constitute the constellation Kirtika; and six, it is found in all the Vedas, is the number of the Sadyaska sacrifice.’
- Vandin said, ‘Seven is the number of the domesticated animals; seven are the wild animals; seven metres are used in completing a sacrifice; seven are the Rishis, seven forms of paying homage are extant (in the world); and seven, it is known, are the strings of the Vina.’
- Ashtavakra said, ‘Eight are the bags containing a hundred fold; eight is the number of the legs of the Sarabha, which preyeth upon lions; eight Vasus, as we hear, are amongst the celestials; and eight are the angles of yupa (stake), in all sacrificial rites.’
- Vandin said, ‘Nine is the number of the mantras used in kindling the fire in sacrifices to the Pitris; nine are the appointed functions in the processes of creation; nine letters compose the foot of the metre, Vrihati; and nine also is ever the number of the figures (in calculation).’
- Ashtavakra said, ‘Ten is said to be the number of cardinal points, entering into the cognition of men in this world; ten times hundred make up a thousand; ten is the number of months, during which women bear; and ten are the teachers of true knowledge, and ten, the haters thereof, and ten again are those capable of learning it.’
- Vandin said, ‘Eleven are the objects enjoyable by beings; eleven is the number of the yupas; eleven are the changes of the natural state pertaining to those having life; and eleven are the Rudras among the gods in heaven.’
- Ashtavakra said, Twelve months compose the year; twelve letters go to the composition of a foot of the metre called Jagati; twelve are the minor sacrifices; and twelve, according to the learned, is the number of the Adityas.’
- Vandin said, ‘The thirteenth lunar day is considered the most auspicious; thirteen islands exist on earth. Lomasa (rOmasa) said, ‘Having proceeded thus far, Vandin stopped. Thereupon Ashtavakra supplied the latter half of the sloka. Ashtavakra said, ‘Thirteen sacrifices are presided over by Kesi; and thirteen are devoured by Atichhandas, (the longer metres) of the Veda. And seeing Ashtavakra speaking and the Suta’s son silent, and pensive, and with head downcast, the assembly broke into a long uproar. And when the tumult thus arose in the splendid sacrifice performed by king Janaka, the Brahmanas well pleased, and with joined hands, approached Ashtavakra, and began to pay him homage.’
On judgement :
- Ashtavakra said, “As Agni, who knoweth the character of both the good and the bad, leaveth unscorched by his heat the bodies of those whose designs are honest, and is thus partial to them, so good men judge the assertions of boys, although lacking the power of speech, and are favourably disposed towards them. O Janaka, thou hearest my words as if thou hast been stupefied in consequence of having eaten the fruit of the Sleshmataki tree.”
On Sons :
- Kahoda said, ‘It is for this, O Janaka, that men pray for sons, by performing meritorious acts. That in which I had failed hath been achieved by my son. Weak persons may have sons endued with strength; dunces may have intelligent sons; and the illiterate may have sons possessed of learning.’
On samanga river :
- Then in the presence of his mother, his father addressed Ashtavakra, saying, ‘(O son), thou speedily enter into this river, Samanga.’ And accordingly, he entered (into the water). (And as he plunged beneath the water), all his (crooked) limbs were immediately made straight. And from that day that river came to be called Samanga and she became invested with the virtues of purifying (sins). He that shall bathe in her, will be freed from his sins.
Comments by Kisari Mohan Ganguli :
Vandin opens the controversy by saying that as the number of each of these is one, so one only intellect (buddhi) is the lord, leader and guide of the senses.
There is a Vedic revelation that two birds live together on a tree as friends–one of these eats the fruits and the other looks at the former. From this it is manifest that two are the lords, leaders, and guides of the senses. That there is a second faculty besides the intellect is also proved by the fact that in sleep when the intellect is inactive that faculty continues in action, for if it were not so we could not remember having slept, nor connect the state after awaking with that preceding sleep. Accordingly by citing the number two Ashtavakra assets that besides intellect there is another faculty–consciousness that these two are jointly the lords, leaders and guides of the senses and that they act together as Indra and Agni, etc.
By citing the number three Vandin means to say that as it is Acts (karma) that produce the three kinds of born beings, etc., so Acts are supreme and that everything else be it intellect alone, or intellect and consciousness together is subservient to Acts.
Ashtavakra here advances the thesis that even if Acts be supreme still when the (fourth) or Supreme Being becomes manifest to the soul, it stands in no further needs to Acts.
By bringing in the quinquennial series, Vandin wishes to assert that the five senses are competent to cognise their respective objects and that besides these senses and their objects there is neither any other sense to perceive nor any other object of perception. He also cites the authority of the Veda according to which the Apsaras (or consciousness) have five ”locks” on their hands–i.e., five objects of perception.
Besides the five senses Ashtavakra contends for an additional sense namely the Mind and accordingly cites the number six.
Vandin admits the existence of the six senses but says that the soul experiences happiness and misery through those as well as through the intellect.
Ashtavakra advances an eighth element, namely, the knowledge of the ego.
Each of the three qualities (existence, foulness and ignorance) of prakriti (the passive or material cause of the world) mixing with each of the three corresponding qualities of pradhana (the active or spiritual cause of the world) in various proportions produces the mundane order of things. Thus is proved the eternity of prakriti or nature and is also established the doctrine of duality.
Prakriti does not really create. It is the Supreme Being who through the medium of illusion in contract with the ten organs (viz., the five locomotive organs and the five organs of sense) makes manifest the system of things. Prakriti therefore has no real existence–her existence is only apparent in the real existence of the soul.
Yupas (stakes) mean here, feelings, etc, which keep men bound to the world. Rudras are those who makes others cry.
Vandin means to say that the soul is not essential free from the fetters of happiness and misery arising from the eleven objects of perception. In this world all men are subject to happiness and misery. We also hear that there are Rudras in heaven.
The supreme soul unaffected by happiness and misery really exists–but His existence is not susceptible of being proved–nor can the ignorant ever perceive Him. Men attain that condition through these twelve, viz., virtue, true, self-restraint, penances, good-will, modesty, forgiveness, exemption from envy, sacrifice, charity, concentration and control over the senses.
According to some, endeavours to attain emancipation can be successful not in this world but in the world of Brahma. Others say that to that end a special yoga is necessary. By bringing forward the objects numbering thirteen. Vandin advances the opinion that, virtue, etc., are not sufficient for purposes of emancipation but that suitable time and place are also essential.
Ashtavakra concludes by citing the same number thirteen. The soul which is essentially unaffected, becomes subject to happiness and misery through, the thirteen, viz., the ten organs of locomotion and sense, and intellect mind and egoism. But Atichhanadas, i.e., those that have surmounted ignorance, namely, the twelve, virtue, etc. destroy those thirteen and that is emancipation.
For the story of Uddalaka – Aruni and Dhaumya, as well as uddalaka svetaketu concersation in chhandogya upanishad please see :
Compiled by Satya Sarada Kandula. Translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli.