Translator’s Preface

Ashtavakra Gita Quote

In Vietnam when I was twenty-one a hand grenade or mortar round–the circumstances made it difficult to determine which–blew me into a clear and brilliant blackness. For the next thirty-seven years that glimpse of infinite emptiness, so intimate, so familiar, kept me looking almost obsessively in esoteric books and far corners for an explanation of myself. Then, “suddenly,” the veil, as they say, was lifted.
A few months after that occurrence, as my interest in reading began to slowly return, I found myself drawn mainly to the sayings and writings of old masters. What did Buddha have to say? What did Christ? Lao Tsu? Patanjali? I wanted to read them with new eyes.
Oddly, in those thirty-seven years of seeking, I had never read the Ashtavakra Gita, and indeed was barely aware of its existence. Then recently, as I sat at the bedside of a dying friend and teacher, another friend placed it in my hands. I opened it and was astonished. Here, in one concise volume, was all that needed to be said.
I immediately acquired other versions and poured over them. Each had its good points, but none of them spoke the way my inner ear was hearing.
The literal transcriptions from Sanskrit were valuable as reference but required patient study to understand.
English translations by Indian scholars made the meaning more clear, but tended to lack a certain rhythm, poetry and nuance of language I felt need of.
Translations by native English-speaking scholars were better in this regard, but sometimes ranged too far from the original, or just didn’t hit the notes I was hearing.
Then one day I wrote down a verse the way I heard it. I liked what I read.
It was infectious. I couldn’t stop.
There are a few conventions worth mentioning. Capitalized words like Self, Awareness, God, Absolute, Consciousness, Knowledge, Witness, That, This, Void, Light, All, One, Everything, Nothing, No-thing, Being, Me, You, It, Himself, Bliss, Supreme, Unity and Truth are used as synonyms, although sometimes in context subtle—and ultimately non-existent–differences may be intended. These words all point to What Is—the true nature of Reality.
The words universe, world, creation and illusion are synonyms referring to the apparently real (but not) manifest world of physical objects, people, personal self, ideas, thoughts, gods, knowledge, concepts, myths, religions, history, memories, emotions, time, space—everything we perceive through the mind and senses, including the mind and senses themselves. Maya.
Synonymous words and phrases used to denote a “person” who has realized Self, who knows Truth, who perceives the Real include: wise one, desireless one, liberated one, liberated soul, great soul, sage and yogi.



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