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This book recounts the dialogue between King Janaka and the young sage, Astavakra, who taught the king the highest wisdom, the knowledge of the self. The enlightenment of Janaka, as depicted here, took place in very ancient times, many thousands of years ago. These teachings, known as the Astavakra Gita or Astavakra Samhita, have survived all these countless millennia, because they contain the purest truth that can be expressed in words.

This book has been the favorite of hermits, mystics, yogis, sages and itinerant holy men since ancient times. They would cherish and study and restudy these upwellings on supreme truth. Together with the Upanishads, these teachings are unique in the mystical tradition for their exceptional clarity and unwavering fidelity to truth. They have been passed on from guru to disciple as a means for focusing on the absolute. The Astavakra Samhita was a great favorite of Ramakrishna, the Bengal saint of the last century, who passed it on to his disciple, Vivekananda. In this present century, Sai Baba, the avatar of this age, has spoken very highly of it to some of his devotees. A version of this ancient text, translated sixty years ago by Swami Nityaswarupananda of the Ramakrishna Mission, has been my steady companion for the past two decades and has served as one of the guides for this present work.

My goal has been to bring the terse style of the ancient prose into free-flowing, easily-understandable modern language, without need for footnotes or explanatory comments, and in a size just right to fit in one's pocket. I left intact the many repetitions of basic ideas, which Astavakra restates in various ways to emphasize their importance.

I was led to these teachings twenty years ago when I first heard Sai Baba speak of the wisdom of the Upanishads and the non-dualistic teachings of some of the great sages, such as Vashishta, Astavakra, Shankara, Ramana and Nisargadatta. Years later, while working on the publication of Sai Baba's Bhagavad Gita discourses, I was struck by the great esteem Baba had for Astavakra, whom he mentioned a number of times in his discourses. In this present book, I have opened with the account of the first meeting between Astavakra and Janaka as it was originally told by Sai Baba.

I hope that this little book, filled with the most lofty and potent ideas that have ever been phrased in the human mind, will serve you, dear reader, as it has me, in awakening the yearning to know the highest truth. As taught by all the great teachers who have realized the immortal self, self-knowledge is the ultimate goal of human life. We are told that it is the most important knowledge worth pursuing. For as long as the self remains unknown, nothing is really known. Once the self is know, everything is known.

-- Al Drucker, Crestone, Colorado, October 1994

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