(Extract from the book)
What exactly happens when a person is enlightened or ‘gains mokSha’? A popular, although somewhat incomprehensible, belief is that the world somehow ‘disappears’; that, for the j~nAnI, there simply is no longer any duality. Quite how the j~nAnI (apparently) continues to eat, drink and converse is not adequately explained by those who hold such a view. But Gaudapada approaches it from a different and even more dramatic angle.
Prior to my enlightenment, I make the mistake of identifying myself with the body-mind, believing myself to be a separate entity. This is the result of my Self-ignorance – not realizing that I am the unlimited Atman. Gaudapada says that this ignorance is beginningless (anAdi) (K1.16). At the dawn of Self-knowledge, I recognize that I am not the waker, dreamer or deep-sleeper but the non-dual turIya.
As to whether or not the world then disappears, Gaudapada effectively asks: how can it disappear when it didn’t exist to begin with? “If the visible world actually existed, there is no doubt that it might stop (i.e. disappear) (as soon as j~nAna was gained). (But) this (apparent) duality is merely mAyA (and) the absolute truth is non-dual.” (K1.17)
The world does not disappear because it never existed in the first place! What actually goes away is the mistaken belief that there was a world. Shankara begins his commentary with a supposed objection. The previous verse states that the jIva realizes Advaita when he ‘wakes up’ from ‘sleep’, i.e. dispels self-ignorance. If one can only realize Advaita when duality has gone, then how can there be non-duality while the world still exists?
Shankara answers this by pointing out that this would only be a problem if the world actually exists to begin with. And he refers to the inevitable rope-snake metaphor: To speak of the snake disappearing when knowledge of the rope is gained is incorrect. Since the snake never existed in the first place, it cannot go away. Similarly, the world never existed, so to speak of it going away upon enlightenment is wrong. A non-existent thing neither comes nor goes away. (The world is, of course, mithyA, being neither real nor unreal but having brahman as its substratum.) So, what actually goes away upon obtaining j~nAna is not the perceived dualistic universe but the error (bhrama) that we made in thinking that there was a dualistic world.
And, of course, the j~nAnI’s supposed body-mind-intellect is equally a part of this supposed dualistic world. So the j~nAnI him- or herself does not go away either!
If it were the case that, upon gaining j~nAnam, the (now) j~nAnI no longer perceived a dualistic world, (and thus no longer used a mind and senses to communicate with it etc) then this would be a clear break with what had gone before. And so mokSha would become an event in time. But the fact of the matter is that all (apparent) jIva-s are already free and unlimited, being not other than brahman. The problem is that they do no know it and make the error of thinking themselves to be separate and limited. Upon realization, all that goes away is this mistake. The j~nAnI sees the world as brahman and never sees any appearance or disappearance. He continues to see this brahman-world and continues to interact with it whilst in the body but (and of course this but makes all the difference) he now knows that it is all an appearance only. He knows that the world is mithyA and nothing detracts from the turIya status.
Swami Chinmayananda points out (Ref. 3) that the first line of the mantra says, in effect: “The universe does not exist; if it existed it would disappear (on being enlightened). It does not disappear, therefore it does not exist”.
Paradoxically, the very same argument applies to the (apparent) duality of the knowledge that brings about enlightenment. After all, it is the result of being taught the wisdom of such scriptures as this that triggers the ‘enlightenment event’ (akhaNDAkAra vRRitti). But we cannot say that Self-knowledge eliminates the duality of guru and disciple for the same reason as above: there was no duality there before. Again, it is analogous to asking if the snake goes away once the rope is known. There is no knower-known duality to be eliminated; what goes away is the mistaken belief that there was a duality to begin with. (K1.18)
Richard King sums this up nicely (Ref. 14):
“K1.18 is an attempt to circumvent one of the greatest paradoxes of a non-dualistic soteriology` – if duality is an illusion how is it that the dream is not broken by the first enlightened being? This presents no real problem for the Gaudapada-kArikA for the following reasons:
- Duality as mAyA is not in conflict with non-duality as the ultimate reality (paramArtha) since the former is merely an appearance of the latter.
- The idea of a liberated individual is an erroneous one; no jIva is ever liberated, since no jIva has ever entered bondage.”
Outwardly, nothing changes – what was there before is still there. Both the j~nAnI and the aj~nAnI still see the world; the j~nAnI knows it to be non-dual. The sunrise metaphor applies again. Or, for a change, the earth is felt to be steady and unmoving despite the fact that we know it is rotating rather quickly, and travelling around the sun at a rate of knots. Combined with the fact that the entire galaxy is moving and the universe expanding, this means that the earth is anything but stationary!