The ideas that the person ‘ends’, mind is ‘destroyed’ etc. when one gains enlightenment all contradict one of the key teachings of Vedanta – karma. Of course, if one takes the pAramArthika viewpoint, the theory of karma has to be rescinded along with everything else (according to adhyAropa – apavAda), but it plays a key role in the teaching. The ‘person’ (body and mind) is here because of past karma. And it is taught that the person’s life continues until that part of the karma that caused this embodiment is exhausted. And this applies to the j~nAnI also. This is undeniable because the person’s life does not come to an end on gaining enlightenment.
On enlightenment, the j~nAnI realizes that he was never the body-mind; that these are mithyA, just as the dream is realized to have been completely unreal after awakening. That being the case, he also knows that the idea of prArabdha too belongs to this mithyA appearance. But that does not stop the whole thing continuing to play out from the standpoint of vyavahAra. The world does not ‘disappear’ either! (Creation and all its ramifications will be discussed in Volume 2 of the ‘Confusions’ book.) The prArabdha belongs to the mithyA body-mind, not the satyam Self, and both body-mind and world continue from the empirical standpoint. It is true that the j~nAnI no longer identifies with the body-mind but the body still eats and sleeps; the mind still responds to sensory input and so on.
There is no doubt that Shankara acknowledged that a j~nAnI would still experience prArabdha karma post enlightenment. In his bhAShya on Chandogya Upanishad 6.14.2, he says:
“Those actions which have started yielding results, and those by which the body of the man of Knowledge has been moulded, get exhausted only through enjoyment, just as an arrow etc. that has gathered momentum after being shot towards a target, stops only with the exhaustion of its momentum and not because it has no purpose to serve at the time it pierces the target. Similar is the case here. But other actions which have not started yielding results, and which were done here before the dawn of Knowledge or after it, or those which are being performed (*), or those which were done in past lives but had not started yielding results, they become burnt by Knowledge, just as sins are burnt by expiation.” (Ref. 23) [* ‘being performed now’ means that no new AgAmi karma is acquired from actions performed in this life.]
It seems to be effectively the substitution of a synonym to say that the j~nAnI will still have ‘obstacles’ after enlightenment. ‘Having to experience something in life’ (as a result of karma done earlier in this life or in a previous life, when that karma has started to mature), regardless of whether or not one ‘wants’ to experience it, or whether the experience is ‘pleasant’ or ‘unpleasant’, is surely an obstacle to the ‘unalloyed bliss’ that some teachers insist is associated with the gain of Self-knowledge.
Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.3 and 4 are also concerned with the bow and arrow metaphor:
“Having taken the bow, great weapon of the Upanishads, one should fix an arrow indeed sharpened by spiritual practice. Having drawn it with mind absorbed in That alone, know (penetrate), O handsome one, that imperishable goal (target).
“OM is the bow, the self indeed the arrow and Brahman Reality is said to be that target. One with steadied mind, knowing That, should become one with It, like the arrow.” (Ref. 186)
The metaphor is advocating taking up investigation into the meaning of OM (as carried out by Mandukya Upanishad for example), which understanding will give immediate realization of oneness with Brahman.
Shankara, in his bhAShya on these verses, concludes:
“Similarly, just as the success of the arrow consists in becoming one with the target (sharasya lakShya-ekAtmatvam phalam bhavati), so also one should bring about the result (phalam ApAdayet), of becoming one with (ekAtmatvaM) Brahman (akSharam), by eliminating the vAsanA-s of the body etc. (dehAdi Atma pratyaya tiraskAre~na).” (Ref. 10)
And here is what Shankara says in his bhAShya on Brahmasutra 4.1.15 (Swami Gambhirananda translation):
“After the acquisition of knowledge, those virtues and vices that have not begun to yield their fruits and that were accumulated in earlier lives or even in this life before the dawn of knowledge are alone destroyed, but not so are those destroyed whose results have already been partially enjoyed and by which has been begun this present life in which the knowledge of Brahman arises.” (Ref. 5)
He goes on to use the metaphor of the potter’s wheel continuing to spin after the potter ceases to operate it and the metaphor of continuing to see two moons after the removal of an eye-defect. He concludes:
“Furthermore, no difference of opinion is possible here as to whether the body is retained (after knowledge) for some time or not by the knowers of Brahman. For when somebody feels in his heart that he has realized Brahman and yet holds his body, how can this be denied by someone else? Hence the conclusion is that only those virtues and vices are washed away by knowledge which have not begun to bear fruit.”
Vidyaranya also supports this view of the relationship between gaining Self-knowledge and the continuance of prArabdha karma. In the pa~nchadashI (7.176 – 179), he says:
“The knowledge of the spiritual truth and the fructification of prArabdha karma refer to different objects and are not opposed to one another. The sight of a magical performance gives amusement to a spectator in spite of his knowledge of its unreality.
“The fructification of karma would be considered to be opposed to the knowledge of truth if it gave rise to the idea of the reality of the external world; but mere enjoyment of an experience does not imply the reality of what is experienced.
“The imaginary objects seen in a dream become sources of joy and sorrow to no small extent; we therefore infer that the objects of the waking state can do the same (without being real).
“If knowledge of the real destroyed the world it would be incompatible with the continued presence of the fructifying karma. But it does not do so. It ‘destroys’ the world only in the sense of producing the conviction that it is a mere illusory display (a mAyA).” (Ref. 99)
Regarding how we understand the key practices of shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana, confusion may arise according to whether one interprets Advaita according to the bhAmatI tradition or the vivaraNa. According to P. S. Roodurmun, the bhAmatI “holds the view that all of them (i.e. shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana) are of a cognitive nature.” But according to the vivaraNa:
“manana sweeps off from the mind the defect of asambhAvanA [doubts] as regards the identity between Brahman and jIva by setting aside all contrary proofs and reasonings about the same. nididhyAsana purges the mind of all viparIta-bhAvanA-s [errors] still standing in the way of the realization of reality. Despite the conviction of Absolute Oneness, firmly established by manana, there may be now and then a reassertion of old habits of thoughts, deep-rooted instincts and false notions of empirical glories and pragmatic values.” (Ref. 32)
This interpretation is also acknowledged by N. Veezhinathan: “nididhyAsana removes the unconscious reassertion of old habits of thought such as ‘I’ and ‘mine’ with reference to the physical body and its characteristics, which are counter-productive (viparIta-bhAvanA).” (Ref. 187) [viparIta-bhAvanA – error; the opposite stream of thought; It is said to be removed by contemplation. (Ref. 103)]
Just as the arrow in the bow and arrow metaphor, although it has hit the target, may fall out again if the point was insufficiently sharp, so the jIva if insufficient prepared by sAdhana may not completely acquire j~nAna phalam or the Self-realization may not be firm. The vAsanA-s that have to be eliminated are threefold:
- the notions that ‘I am the body’ and ‘I am the mind’ (deha vAsanA);
- the desire for worldly things (viShaya vAsanA) [viShaya means ‘object’, as opposed to ‘subject’ ; or can refer to the topic of discussion or argument]; and
- the attachment to scriptures, forgetting that once the message of scriptures has been received and understood, they are of no further use (shAstra vAsanA).
It is because of these potential problems that the idea of becoming a renunciant (saMnyAsin) post-enlightenment arises. If one is effectively ‘removed’ from the world with its associated distractions, one is less likely to succumb to them – or at least so the argument goes! (Note that the discussion on saMnyAsa follows later as a separate topic.)
It certainly seems obvious that some residual ‘problems’ are likely to remain. Why would gaining Self-knowledge eliminate them? E.g. we know that Nisargadatta continually smoked his ‘beedis’, although we all assume he was enlightened. Why would he do this, presumably realizing that he was injuring the body thereby? The simple answer is out of habit – vAsanA-s. The mind continued to generate the addict’s desire and Nisargadatta gave into this. You can say that, knowing that he was not the body-mind, he had no reason to give in or not give in but this is to ignore the point that such pratibandha-s often remain, post-enlightenment.