Muslim author Ashraf Karayath’s spiritual novel based on Ashtavakra Gita delves into Hinduism’s ultimate philosophy

In life, whenever I feel distressed, disappointed or depressed, I simply seek asylum in my study room to be alone to read either the Bhagavad Gita or the Ashtavakaragita to regain my mood. While the former, Sri Krishna’s sermon to Arjuna is popular worldwide, the latter, dialogues between King Janaka and his guru Ashtavakra are not that much common.

Listening continuously to his guru’s sermons, King Janaka, the ideal king and father of Ma Sita, becomes enlightened. About a year ago, when several print and electronic media carried review of the book ‘Janaka and Ashtavakra: A Journey Beyond by Ashraf Karayath,’ I became curious to read the book that re-tells the story of King Janaka and his guru. The Hitavada, Nagpur, wrote, “The mythological novel answers some of the questions pertaining to the absolute realities of life.”

The book gives the king’s life journey a new format, detailing the conversations between Ashtavakra, the saint with deformities at places in the body and Janaka, the guru and the disciple, making it a perfect tool for spiritual seekers. The book while answering several questions that usually haunts a seeker, in balancing one’s different roles as father, husband, son, etc., beautifully leads the reader to his/her spiritual journey. Ashraf’s book is a perfect remedy for the resent chaotic life as it acts as a motivational guide. If one could truly master some of the thoughts conveyed through this book, I am sure one would definitely be able to anchor his life in peace and happiness.

Reading the book prompted me to know more about Ashraf Karayath, native of Nadapuram, Kerala who had settled in Dubai for the past three decades. After completing MA in English literature, he migrated to Dubai where he has more than 25 years of extensive business experience in various areas such as software, Information Technology, Business Consulting, and Mergers & Acquisitions. He was also responsible for launching cloud computing solutions for reputed international brands in the Middle East. Unlike several other entrepreneurs, while in business, he developed a keen interest in the principle-centered Leadership and Spirituality. This sparked in him an exploration of the timeless knowledge of ancient Indian culture, bringing forth his passion for writing. Thus, ‘Janaka and Ashtavakra- A Journey Beyond came to light. Kudos to Ashraf Karayath for the excellent narrative style and the research he had done in writing this book.

Excerpts from an exclusive interview he had with Organiser representative Pradeep Krishnan:

What prompted you to pen the book Janaka and Ashtavakra?

About 17 years ago when I had the chance to read Ashtavakra Gita, I found it shockingly revealing in many aspects. I found the roots of many philosophies I have studied in it, such as: New Age science, theory of Law of Attraction, Existentialism and Quantum Physics. When I discovered the profound message of Ashtavakra Gita, the idea was planted in my mind to write about it.

What is the message that you are trying to convey through the book?

It is a novel that tells the story of the ancient King Janaka who becomes obsessed in his quest for spiritual liberation. Janaka is the father of Sita in Ramayana in Bala Kanda. My story is about his turbulent life, of impending war in his kingdom, and of treachery and intrigue within the secretive world of his palace. When the whole world believes a calamity is imminent, Janaka upholds his conviction and deep-rooted faith that there’s a connection between what is inside and outside a person and realizes that war is not a solution. Hence, he goes deep within himself with his guru Ashtavakra, unravelling a new world – and eventually, a new reality unfolds for the kingdom and the palace. Based on the grand Ramayana epic of our vibrant storytelling tradition, my novel renews and deepens beloved characters for modern readers. The story also says how a person can maintain equanimity during every crisis and diving deep within himself in order to find the solutions to his problems.

How did your connection or interaction with the Indian philosophy happen?

As part of my professional and business life, I had many opportunities to study management ideas, self-help theories, and principle-centred leadership which we applied in our day-to-day business. Although most of the management theories deal with quick-fix approaches, some of them were deep, where one can connect truly to his inner vision. I started exploring more literature and mythology, and I had the opportunity to read many books, attend various self-development and spiritual programs, and in that path, I found Ashtavakra Gita’s wisdom interesting and shockingly revealing.

How do you view religion and spirituality? How far spirituality is relevant in the modern age?

I believe the word spirituality is often misunderstood. When people hear about spirituality, they usually associate it with religion, a sort of dogma, ideology, or self-righteous morality. My view is coming from a different perspective–that the subject of spirituality is so simple and the idea is to make the whole process easy, so I am trying to explain those steps through a story. I believe that everybody has a spark of divinity and everybody deserves to be enlightened, and this is what Ashtavakra advises to the King in the story.

Every one of us has an energy stream incessantly flowing, but we don’t realize it due to our bondages. To me, spirituality means how one can connect to that energy stream and use it as his/her guidance system so that we can find more meaning in what we are doing in our day-to-day life. Good artists, scientists, businessmen are highly spiritual, as they have realized their potential consciously or unconsciously; hence they pursue what they do.

Can you please elaborate on your statement, “I realized that it’s not the hard work that determines a person’s success, but it’s the inspired action that comes from within, when a person identifies his innate strength and vision.”

Most of the management theories deal with quick-fix approaches, and what a corporate leader needs are lessons of wisdom where they can connect truly to their inner vision. We don’t know that wellbeing is our essential nature because we have been programmed to believe that we need to struggle to become successful. Being spiritual means to explore the world within, understand the innate strength we have and express ourselves to the fullness of who we are.

Why did you say that “Ashtavakra’s lessons were more advanced and revealing than what (Jean Paul) Sartre or other thinkers told during the beginning of the 20th century?”

The existential thinkers who lived in 19th century or during post-war period had negative philosophical conclusions. Ashtavakra Gita gives answers for many such absolute questions about life. The lessons of Ashtavakra, if one understands it correctly, will liberate you and take you to the infinite domain in a flash of second. One doesn’t need to lead a rustic life, nor do any sort of hard practices. If you have the right knowledge, you will be liberated. And I believe it is the essence of life, which is also the conviction that I have about this book.

In my book, the protagonist Janaka is searching for enlightenment outside of himself, until he realizes with the help of his guru, that peace and enlightenment is within himself. He undergoes through a lot of turbulences, and manages to keep his poise and calm in the midst of crisis.

Do you think the present world that is facing a lot of challenges has a lot to learn from the ancient Indian wisdom?

Definitely. If we read ancient scriptures, we will often find knowledge that is deep and timeless and can draw lessons to deal with our current situations. When the whole world is gripped by fear and uncertainty, people lose their expectations and faith, and they will have anxiety, stress and fear. These are all negative emotions and they will impact our mental health very badly, which in turn, will affect our immune system. This is the time where we all need to calibrate ourselves to the strength of our inner wellbeing, which is dominant and inherent.

How is it different from regular mythological fiction?

At first glance, it may seem like a mythological story, but it’s a story about the search for knowledge, liberation, enlightenment, consciousness and more. Janaka understood the follies and meaninglessness of the luxuries which surrounded him and was also a saint who always sought the right path in order to be liberated, to be enlightened.

What is Ashtavakra’s philosophy?

Ashtavakra Gita is a unique discourse on the philosophy of non-dualism, consciousness, liberation and the absolute realities of life. The wisdom from Ashtavakra Gita would help one to elevate himself from the relative to the absolute, giving a seeker the path to liberation. It teaches how a person can effortlessly jump to timelessness and eternal bliss, and help him have control on his consciousness in a matter of seconds or a flash.

What are the challenges you faced to write this book?

I had only a dream, an idea. But I nurtured that idea and started developing it. Janaka’s story was fragmented in various scriptures and puranas, and Ashtavakra Gita was not easily comprehensible. To bring the messages of Ashtavakra within the context of a story, make it dramatic and engaging to the reader without deviating from the main story was not easy.

How do you attain spiritual goals at this time of crisis?

We usually tend to open our inner world only when the noise of the external world subsides. So now, when we are isolated completely, all of the chaos of the external world is naturally shut down, and we get ample time to reflect and go back within ourselves. Our mind-made clutters will slowly wither away, and when there’s nothingness, a new world would slowly emerge. The spiritual path is a journey of self-realization. This is what Janaka, the protagonist of the story strives to achieve.

There are many books about Ashtavakra, why do you think your book is unique?

Although there are a few books in English about the philosophy of Ashtavakra, they usually find it difficult to comprehend, and if one doesn’t understand them well, it can even misguide a person. This is the first time that the philosophy of Ashtavakra is coming in the form of a novel, and the mission and purpose of my work is to simplify subjects such as consciousness, enlightenment, and how one can attain peace and balanced life as covered in Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of Ashtavakra); to give them within the context of an engaging story, so that every reader can comprehend them with ease.

Interview by Pradeep Krishnan