[‘jIvanmukti,’ as per Advaita Vedanta shAstra, has been recently explained by Shri Prasanth Neti Ji in a profound and refreshing way (not usually available) at a Social Networking site. I have taken the liberty to post a slightly edited version, as the topic may be of interest to many Readers here.]
What Vedanta (or Acharya) refers to as adhyAsa or avidyA is only a label used for the sake of instruction while imparting the Non-dual (Advaita) message. Shankaracharya never actually meant that an entity called avidyA/adhyAsa ever really exists.
And this labelling is made taking into account the already *observable and existing* human behavior. That is why we do not explain avidyA/adhyAsa as anything other than (or beyond) the very natural human behavior based on the fundamental notions — ‘I am this’ and ‘this is mine.’ This is a very very important point to be always kept in mind, in my opinion.
The most natural human behavior (both in laukika and vaidika vyAvahAra) is what we call adhyAsa/avidyA. That much only.
That means the idea ‘I am this,’ or a slightly refined idea that a pUrvamimamsaka holds i.e. ‘I am in this,’ is what is already established/observed.
The idea of being a sharIri (notion of being embodied) is something we take for granted. Vedas do not teach us this idea that “you are embodied and you are bound.” However, it is a trait available naturally in all human beings. Hence, it is नैसर्गिकोयं लोकव्यवहारः, as bhagavatpAda says in his adhyAsa bhAShya. It is my own behavior and, to some extent, a behavior provisionally supported by certain portions of Veda also, that ‘I take myself to be a sharIri’ and think that ‘I am embodied and bound because of the limited upAdhi (the body-mind).’
In order to remove this notion (because this notion is the hetu (cause) for all anartha-s (difficulties/miseries/sorrows) and also because everyone with the idea that “I am bound” wishes for and seeks “to be free,” it is but appropriate to present/accept mokSha (Freedom or Liberation) as a puruShArtha (a goal worthy enough to be pursued by the human beings).
The paramaguru (Shri Gaudapada Acharya) points out:
विकल्पो विनिवर्तेत कल्पितो यदि केनचित् ।
उपदेशादयं वादो ज्ञाते द्वैतं न विद्यते ॥ — 1.18, Gaudapada kArikA-s on mANDUkya U.
Meaning: If anyone has ever imagined the manifold ideas (such, for instance, as the teacher, the taught, and the scripture), they might disappear. This explanation is for the purpose of teaching. Duality (implied in the explanation) ceases to exist when the Highest Truth is known. (Trans: Swami Nikhilananda).
I club the idea of mokSha too into this category of ‘imagined concepts’ for the purpose of teaching. In other words, there is no real bandhana (bondage) to which a real mokshopayam (a ‘way to get liberated’) is being taught here.
The (mis)conception that we are “bandha,” (embodied/bound), arises in us because we do not “know” the Truth. The shAstra-s reveal to us the Truth that we were never in bandhana. Bondage or being embodied is not our real nature, they teach us. We only assume we are in bondage without verification.
Here again, in the statement above, the teaching gives a cause for bandhana when it says “because we do not ‘know’ the Truth.” It does not, however, automatically imply that because of not “knowing” the Truth, there comes into play a “real bandhana.”
As I said, ‘bandhana or the idea of embodiment’ is what a man *finds himself to be in* by default (most naturally). We are simply pointing to that notion already taken for granted by a man by repeating the same label, i.e. bandhana, just to facilitate instruction.
The fact is that everyone assumes ‘to be bound/limited’ by default without examining the nature of the bondage (bandhana). The scripture and the Acharya goad us to examine our assumption. That’s what Vedānta is all about. Nothing more and nothing less.
These fundamental facts have to be very attentively appreciated and understood. To repeat,
- We, by default, falsely assume that we are embodied and bound and hence, limited;
- In order to offset that false assumption, the teaching begins by assigning a ’cause’ for the de facto assumption on our part. The ‘cause’ is said to be “not knowing the Truth.” This is done just for the purpose of teaching and one should not think that “not knowing the Truth” produces a real bondage!
- The aim of both the scripture and the teacher is to nudge us to examine our unverified assumptions and discover for ourselves our True intrinsic nature.
Now, with these clarifications in place, we can see what is mukti or mokSha about.
‘mukti’ (liberation) is simply giving up the wrong notion that ‘I am in bandhana / I am embodied,’ based on the shruti pramANa which vouchsafes the true nature of AtmA (the essence or substrate of “I”). That giving up is based on shruti pramANa, which results immediately upon ascertainment of the meaning of the Upanishad sentences, as Shankara says,
वाक्यार्थज्ञानसमकाल एव तु पर्यवसितो भवति, केवलशब्दप्रकाशितार्थज्ञानमात्रनिष्ठाव्यतिरिक्ताभावात् । — Shankara at 1.1.6, muNDaka.
Meaning: [The Knowledge of the brahman] is accomplished simultaneously with the realization of the import of the text; for, there is nothing here except being centered in the Knowledge revealed by mere words. … (Trans: Sitarama Sastri).
And that giving up, when we closely look at, is giving up the wrong idea that ‘I am bound.’ But it is not about a real mukti from a real bandhana. The nature of the Self (Atman) is that It is never in bondage.
And most importantly that nature of the Self as eternally free is same in all – Self is, after all, One, not many!
Summing up, my conclusions are:
1. In suddha shAankara prakriyA, if we have to teach about mukti, jIvanmukti alone is mukti. Though we use the word videhamukti here and there, it is not primary — all instruction “completes” with jIvanmukti.
2. The jIvanmukti we speak about is the intuition into the real nature of AtmA which is based on the ascertainment of the meaning of the Upanishad sentence that ‘AtmA is ever aja (unborn), advaya (Non-dual).’ Therefore, irrespective of my so-called status of liberation, AtmA stands in Its real nature ever liberated and my wrong notion of taking AtmA to be bound never makes it really bound! Recall adhyAsa bhAShya vAkya,
तत्रैवं सति, यत्र यदध्यासः, तत्कृतेन दोषेण गुणेन वा अणुमात्रेणापि स न सम्बध्यते | — adhyAsa bhAShya
Meaning: This being so, whenever there is superimposition of one thing on another, the locus is not affected in any way either by the merits or demerits of the thing superimposed. (Trans: Swami Gambhirananda).
3. There is no special status for jIvanmukta in this grand prakriyA, in the sense that AtmA is not many and it is never in bondage to start with.
(To Continue … Part – 2)