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King Janaka's Challenge to Gain Self-Knowledge

Once upon a time, King Janaka sent a message to the people in his realm, saying, "If there be amongst you a great scholar, a pundit, a mahatma, a yogi, a sage, whoever he may be, let him come and teach me the knowledge of the atma." In his message he said that he expected to attain self-knowledge within a matter of a few moments of being properly instructed. Even while climbing onto his horse and before he was completely settled onto it, he should have gained self-realization. He said, "If the person offering to teach me self-knowledge cannot assure me this experience of instant illumination, then he will be banished from my domain even if he is the greatest scholar or the most learned person or the highest educated person in the land."

Well, all the pundits and sages were a little frightened by this requirement. They saw that this would be a severe test on their scholarship and learning, and so no one dared to come forth and offer himself to instruct the king and meet the conditions that had been posed.

It was at this point that the boy Astavakra entered the kingdom. While he was going on the road towards the capital city, he met a number of people coming from there, including quite a few scholars and pundits. All of them had long faces, looking worried and grief-stricken. Astavakra asked them what the cause was for their worry and grief. They explained to him all the things that had happened. But Astavakra could not understand why they should get frightened over the king's pronouncement, if they had truly mastered the teachings and realized their truth. He said, "I will gladly solve this problem for the king." So saying, he directly entered the court of Janaka.

Astavakra addressed the king, "My dear king, I am ready to teach you the knowledge of the atma. But this sacred knowledge cannot be taught so easily. This palace is full of rajas and tamas. We must leave here and enter an area that is pure satva." So they left the palace on horseback and went along the road leading out of the city towards the forest. As was the custom, whenever the king went outside the palace walls, the army followed close behind. But, when they approached the forest, King Janaka directed the soldiers to remain outside, and not follow them into the forest.

Astavakra and Janaka went deep into the forest. Astavakra told King Janaka, "I am not going to teach you the knowledge of the atma unless you accept my conditions. I may be only a young boy, but since I am to teach you, I am in the position of the preceptor. You may be an all-powerful emperor, but since you are going to learn from me, you are in the position of the disciple. Are you prepared to accept this relationship? If you agree then you will have to offer the traditional gift to the teacher, the gift that is given by the disciple to the guru. Only after you give me your offering will I start my instruction to you."

King Janaka told Astavakra, "The attainment of God is the most important thing to me, so I am prepared to give you absolutely anything you want. You can have my crown and the kingdom itself." But Astavakra replied, "I don't want any material things from you. All I want is your mind. You must give me your mind." The king answered. "All right, I offer my mind to you. Up to now I thought this was my mind, but from now on it is yours alone."