On ‘jIvanmukti’ – Shri P. Neti – 1/3

[‘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 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 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)

3 thoughts on “On ‘jIvanmukti’ – Shri P. Neti – 1/3

  1. Great post, Ramesam. I haven’t heard of Sri P. Neti but he sounds ‘refreshing’ as you say.

    Most of this can be summed up by realizing that ‘adhyAropa-apavAda’ goes ALL the way! Absolutely ALL of the teaching has to be dropped in the end, like Wittgenstein’s ladder.

    There are a couple of points I would clarify:

    1. The kArikA 1.18 translation is liable to sway some readers towards the fanciful notion of the world ‘disappearing’ on enlightenment. Without wishing to reopen this bag of worms, what 1.17-18, both Gaudapada and Shankara, actually say is that the world cannot disappear, since it never existed in the first place. What ‘goes away’ is our mistaken belief that so-called creation is something other than Brahman.

    2. The statements that we just have to ‘give up’ our notions of bondage in order to gain mokSha are potentially misleading. It is certainly effectively true but it is rather the case that we need to be told the truth by shruti and guru before this can happen. It is shravaNa-manana that effects the mokSha. Without this, it is most unlikely that anyone would simply drop the wrong ideas.

    3. I think we probably still disagree on what is meant by jIvanmukti, as opposed to ‘mere’ mukti. My views (and yours) I think were probably adequately aired in the discussions on pratibandha-s! (In particular, part 4, I think – https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-4-of-6/.)

  2. Dear Dennis,

    Thank you very much for your kind observations and Comments.

    The point you make at # 2 needs hardly any emphasis and I may not be wrong to say that Shri Prasanth Neti Ji would also heartily agree with what you expressed. Obviously, this is a teaching not aimed at a new entrant to Advaita, but toward one who has been exposed to Advaita for a reasonable period.

    The subsequent Parts of this Series will certainly touch upon at least some of the other points you make; even otherwise we may be able to cover them through our discussions.

    I have drawn this post to the attention of Dr. Greg Goode and Shri Michael Chandra Cohen also in addition to a few other friends.


  3. A refreshing post!
    I can’t tell where it is going since it is a 3 part essay.
    My take aways from this post are:
    Self is never in bondage
    “Not knowing the truth does not make one in bandhana”
    Mukti is giving up the wrong notion
    There are no gradations in mukti- JM, VM..
    The giving up of wrong notion is based on shruti pramana
    I am looking forward to read about the ways of giving up wrong notion. The most popular one is sravana, manana, nidhidhyasan from BU
    I wish you elaborate on one from Kena 2.4 which is seldom talked about
    Kena2.4 SB “pratibodhviditam”
    ” being the witness of all cognition, the Self is indicated by the cognition themselves…THERE IS NO OTHER DOOR TO ITS AWARENESS”

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