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1.  Introduction to the dialogue

  Intensely yearning to know the highest truth, King Janaka sought all over his vast realm, among some of the most renowned scholars and pundits of the world, for a fully-realized being who had the spiritual power to instruct him in the highest wisdom. He could find none. But King Janaka's pure heart and anguished plea alerted the universal teacher to reveal himself and seek out the king.

One day, a young boy with a severely misshapen body appeared in the royal hall. It was during the time of a convocation called by the king to discuss the highest spiritual wisdom. The boy was obviously very poor and had on only a simple loin cloth. No one knew anything about his qualifications or why he was there, except that he had waited patiently for many days outside the palace walls requesting to be admitted to take part in the spiritual discussions. A kindly old scholar had seen him waiting by the door day after day and had mentioned him to the king. The king sent for the boy. His name was Astavakra, meaning the one with eight bends in his body.

When the assembly of great scholars saw Astavakra enter the hall they all laughed at his crooked appearance. But King Janaka did not laugh. He saw the deep inner peace surrounding Astavakra, and he saw the great dignity and self-confidence with which this young boy deported himself in such an august gathering. Most of all, the king was profoundly moved by the insightful answers Astavakra gave to all the spiritual questions that were posed to him. King Janaka realized that standing before him was a fully-awakened mahatma, a great soul luminous in wisdom and self-knowledge. Here in this unexpected form, was the true teacher he had been so fervently yearning for, the one who could impart to him the mystical knowledge of how to become free from the bondage of ignorance and illusion and end the cycle of birth and death.

With great humility, the king implored Astavakra to show him the way to enlightenment. Astavakra told the king that a king's palace was not the right setting for such sacred instruction. He asked the king to divest himself of all his royal paraphernalia, don some simple hermit's cloth and follow him to the forest. They left the royal city far behind and reached the serene surroundings of the forest. There, in a glade, Janaka prostrated to Astavakra and in a reverential tone said to him:

My Lord, please tell me, how does self-realization happen? How is liberation attained? How is the supreme knowledge of the absolute acquired?

 
     
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