Here is the sequence of events that I believe represents the traditional understanding:
- A would-be seeker practices sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti for a length of time in order to gain the qualities of mind (and the overriding desire to attain mokSha) needed to qualify for ‘approaching a qualified teacher’.
- The seeker gains Self-knowledge from listening to a qualified guru, i.e an enlightened shrotriya [someone with deep knowledge of the shruti, including Sanskrit], who belongs to a qualified sampradAya [teaching lineage]), as he explains the scriptures. This is the stage of shravaNa.
- When there are no further doubts, the ‘final hearing’ triggers akhaNDAkAra vRRitti (same as brahmakAra vRRitti, but used more frequently) and the seeker thereby immediately becomes a j~nAnI.
- Whilst there are still doubts, the seeker asks questions of the teacher to clarify and explain. This is the stage of manana. shravaNa and manana are then repeated for as long as needed.
- The gaining of Self-knowledge simultaneously means that the seeker now knows that he or she is already free. (You can say that they are ‘simultaneously liberated’ if you really want, but this conveys the erroneous notion that they were not free before.) Note that the phalam of ‘j~nAna phalam’ cannot simply refer to mokSha (mukti) because you cannot gain as fruit something that you already have!
- If the seeker had done sufficient sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti (SCS) previously, he or she also simultaneously gains the phalam (= become a jIvanmukta). (See Section 3o for a discussion on the topic of jIvanmukti.)
- If their SCS was insufficient, they do not immediately gain the phalam. I.e. they have pratibandha-s and they need to do more nididhyAsana in order to remove them. Thus, they may get the phalam later in life. If they do not, they get videha mukti at death of the body-mind (when the prArabdha karma is used up). (see section 3p)
The phalam relates to the mind, not to Atman. It is ‘I’ the person who gains the phalam, not ‘I’, now known to be Brahman. Note that j~nAna itself is Self-knowledge which, being removal of the belief that one is ‘bound’, equates to realization that one is ‘free’. It does not entail any phalam or fruit; it is simply the knowledge itself. Accordingly, when it comes to statements such as that in the Taittiriya Upanishad bhAShya 2.1.1 – “The man of knowledge, having become Brahman, enjoys as Brahman all the desirable things simultaneously; and he does not enjoy in sequence the desirable things that are dependent on such causes as merit etc.” (Ref. 70) – this does not refer to enjoyment in the sense of jIva’s phalam as a result of destroying pratibandha-s. It is talking about the newly gained knowledge that one IS Brahman resulting in the recognition that one is anantam and therefore cognitively satisfying all desires. Shankara comments:
“He (saH) who has recognized in this manner Brahman as himself, as the very sAkShi manifest in one’s own mind (sa evam brahma vij~nAnan) what happens to him (kim)? The RRig mantra says that (iti Aha – the knower of Brahman) attains or enjoys (asnUte) everything, without exception (sarvAn), all the objects of desire (kAmAn).” (Ref. 10)
There is no need to seek out enjoyments of the world when one knows one is pUrNam [‘full’, complete; also ‘accomplished’, ‘ended’].
This is why the phalam may come later than the Self-knowledge that (as if) converts the jIva into a j~nAnI. The arguments attempting to refute this assume a) that the one who is ‘now Brahman’ cannot have to wait for phalam and b) that the phalam is the liberation that has ‘just been gained’. But both these arguments are mistaken because they are making wrong assumptions.
For example, Shankara is quoted as saying: “On the dawn of j~nAna, aj~nAna is got rid of completely and mukti accrues instantaneously, and there is no scope or possibility for anyone to imagine in the manner ‘in due course of time j~nAna will yield a particular fruit’.” (Ref. 190) In this quotation, Shankara is referring to mokSha being the instantaneous result of gaining Self-knowledge; one does not have to wait. He is not referring to the j~nAna phalam of jIvanmukti. The ‘fruit’ of feeling always serene, without worries of any kind etc. comes not from the j~nAna alone but from the assimilated knowledge combined with a purified mind. And this ‘feeling’ belongs to the mind, not to the Atman, which is already perfect and complete, even before the jIva gains Self-knowledge.
When Shankara speaks of how the j~nAnI acts in the Bhagavad Gita bhAShya 2.21, he emphasises “sa vidvAn puruShaH adhikRRito” – that qualified wise person (is not a doer or an instigator of actions, kartA or kArayitA). Only one who has ‘qualified’ by completing sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti can expect to reap the full benefits.
The quotation by Shankara from his bhAShya on Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.7 was given earlier to show that ‘liberation’ and the gaining of Self-knowledge are simultaneous: “the shruti uses the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘attainment’ as synonymous. The non-attainment of the Self is but the ignorance of It.” (Ref. 8)
If sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti has been ‘completed’ prior to the gaining of Self-knowledge (i.e. complete control of the mind and senses, total dispassion and acute discrimination etc, then when the Self-knowledge occurs, the ‘bliss’ of the jIvanmukta will also be obtained simultaneously. Likewise, if Self-knowledge is gained first and then the pratibandha-s are eliminated later.
This is effectively what is said in Bhagavad Gita 6.27; the order of attaining is not specified: “Supreme bliss comes to the yogi alone whose mind has become perfectly tranquil, whose (quality of) rajas has been eliminated, who has become identified with Brahman, and is taintless.” (Ref. 6) Since it is rajas that generates the pratibandha-s, this supports the notion that the phalam of j~nAna is loss of pratibandha-s, and it is this that gives jIvanmukti.
Shankara’s reference to the notion of the ‘fruit of gaining enlightenment’ supports this interpretation. In the Bhagavad Gita 6.27, he says that he is referring to one ‘whose mind has been thoroughly stilled’ and ‘whose delusions and other afflictions have dwindled away’. I.e. he is referring to someone who no longer has any pratibandha-s, having eliminated them by completing sAdhana chatuShTaya sampatti prior to following shravaNa-manana. Hence, on enlightenment, he/she also gains the phalam simultaneously and therefore becomes a jIvanmukta.
The same idea is expressed in Bhagavad Gita 4.39. This verse itself refers to ‘one who has subdued the senses’ and Shankara reiterates this in his bhAShya. Furthermore, in his introduction to Chapter 3, Shankara says: “Also, because emancipation is not an effect, its seeker stands to gain nothing from works”. [By ‘works’, Shankara means ‘actions’, following rituals etc. The Sanskrit word he uses is simply ‘karma’.]
In his brahmasUtra bhAShya 3.4.52, Shankara says that: “liberation cannot be a product of anything, it being realized through knowledge as a fact eternally present in its own right.” (Ref. 5) This shows that Shankara agrees that the liberation associated with gaining Self-knowledge is simply the removal of the Self-ignorance that obscured the already existing fact. D. B. Gangolli puts it: “In truth, this mukti is not even the resultant effect of j~nAna; rather, being ever existent and eternal, It gets manifested by j~nAna.” (Ref. 190) Rather like switching on a light in a dark room and inescapably seeing what is already there.
Accordingly, the word ‘phalam’ cannot refer to ‘liberation’. This strongly implies that Shankara would agree that any phalam relates to the clearance of pratibandha-s in the event that Self-knowledge occurs before their complete destruction.
The notion that, upon gaining Self-knowledge, one ‘reaches’ or ‘attains’ Brahman is dealt with exhaustively in 3g and ‘Merging with Brahman’ in 3f. We are already Brahman so we cannot ‘reach’ Brahman or ‘merge with’ Brahman or even, as Swami Gambhirananda put it, ‘gain an identity with Brahman’, as though we are presently somewhere else. These expressions are gauNa only (figurative). What happens upon enlightenment is that the previous ignorance about our true nature is destroyed (and ‘gods cannot prevent this’).
Sureshvara’s refutation of suggestions that ‘something more’ needs to be done after gaining knowledge before we can be liberated (naiShkarmya siddhi 1.66 – 67) will be dealt with later in Section 6, where the topic of ‘Action versus Knowledge’ will be discussed at length. Briefly here, 1.67 says that: “The understanding of the scriptures at once (without repetition) destroys the ignorance that bears the forms of action and the factors involved in action. There is no combination of these two.” (Ref. 27)
So j~nAna = knowledge that one is already free. The ‘liberation’ is not = j~nAna phalam, which may come at the same time, at a later time, or not at all. Regardless of whether it comes or not, there is no rebirth. If the phalam comes in life, the j~nAnI becomes a jIvanmukta; otherwise it is a case of videha mukti at death of the body.