Q.461 A jIvanmukta’s prArabdha

Q: I have the following doubt. I look forward to your comments.

     Having completed the study of Tattva Bodha, this mumukshu has a doubt with regard to karma – sanchita, prarabdha and agami.

     The doubt exists in a narrow compass and concerns karma and the Jivan Mukta. Tattva Bodha states that on realization, sanchita and agami karmas of a gyani come to an end. But the same logic is not extended to prarabdha which it states continues even after realization and that on its exhaustion the Jivan Mukta drops the body.

     Advaita Vedanta is recognized as a logical and rational system of thought and it is therefore difficult to accept this assumption regarding prarabdha for the following reasons:

  1. It does not appear that any of the major Upanishads specifically states that prarabdha karma of a Jivan Mukta continues after realization.
  2. All the three karmas comprise of components such as sukham/dukham, papam/punyam etc. If sanchita and agami come to an end on realization, why not prarabdha?
  3. If the cycle of birth and death, karana sharira, and sanchita and agami karma end on realization, why do we speculate that prarabdha survives?kAraNa sharIra does not come to an end. The body, complete with all its functionality continues until death.
  4. Karma is associated with the individual, the ego. Since individual identity ceases on realization of one’s swarupa, how can any form of karma survive?Individual identity does not come to an end. The jIva knows that he/she is the Atman, so does not identify with the body-mind but will still continue as that name and form until death.
  5. Tattva Bodha itself clearly states that freedom from bondage means freedom from all karma. How can it be said in the same breath that prarabdha survives? 

    Do you have the reference?

  6. The mahavakyam Tat twam asi states that our real identity is Atma/Brahman. Realisation is the personal knowledge that one’s true nature is Brahman. To say that the Jivan Mukta, who experiences herself as Brahman, has prarabdha, is tantamount to saying that Brahman also has prarabdha. 

    No. It is the body-mind that has the prArabdha, not Atman.

  7. Vedanta teaches us that realization is a passage from the limited to the unlimited. How can there be the limitation of prarabdha for the unlimited Jivan Mukta? 

    Vedanta teaches (ultimately) that there has never been any creation. There is no ‘passage’. The jIva has always been brahman; the problem was that this truth was obscured by avidyA. It is revealed by Self-knowledge.

  8. If prarabdha exists for the agyani and gyani alike, there would be no difference between them. 

    The difference is that the aj~nAnI does not know that he/she is brahman.

     Ramana Maharshi is one of our most respected sages. He had the highest regard for Adi Shankaracharya and the scriptures. He rarely, if ever, took a position in opposition to either what Shankaracharya or the scriptures have stated. But on the question of prarabdha he was very clear that even this aspect of karma came to an end on realization. 

     In Spiritual Instruction of Bhagavan Sri Raman Maharshi, S Natananda, pg.21, as quoted by David Godman in Be As You Are, pg. 211, the Maharishi was asked:

     “Is it possible to overcome, even while the body exists, the prarabdha karma which is said to last till the end of the body?

A: Yes.  If the agent upon whom the karma depends, namely the ego, which has come into existence between the body and the Self, merges in its source and loses its form, how can the karma which depends upon it survive? When there is no ‘I’ there is no karma.”

     In Day by Day with Bhagavan, D Mudaliar, pg 295-6, again as quoted by David Godman in Be As You Are, pg. 214, the Maharishi stated with regard to prarabdha karma as follows:

     “That is why it is sometimes said in reply to such questions, ‘The body of the jnani will continue till the force of prarabdha works itself out, and after the prarabdha is exhausted it will drop off.’ An illustration made use of in this connection is that of an arrow already discharged which will continue to advance and strike its target. But the truth is the jnani has transcended all karmas, including the prarabdha karma, and he is not bound by the body or its karmas.”

     In Guru Vachaka Kovai, Muruganar, pg 697, again as quoted by David Godman in Be As You Are, pg. 214, the Maharshi stated:

     “Not even an iota of prarabdha exists for those who uninterruptedly attend of the space of consciousness, which always shines as ‘I am”, which is not confined in the vast physical space, and which pervades everywhere without limitations. Such alone is the meaning of the ancient saying ‘There is no fate for those who reach or experience the heavens.’” 

     In view of the above, can it be said that prarabdha survives realization?”

I don’t actually understand some of the above comments but what I would say is this. You cannot set too much store by what is said by someone who is commenting on something translated by someone else, who may or may not have fully comprehended what was originally said. There is too much danger of the commentator’s or translator’s (or both) understanding encroaching on or even corrupting the original message.

If you want to be sure of the message, you must go to the original source or find out what has been said by a fully qualified sampradAya teacher.

If the quotations you give truly reflect what was said by Ramana, then it appears that he was contradicting what was said by Shankara in his commentary on shruti and nyAya prasthAna.

But, overall, a very well researched and formulated question!

The scriptural reference is Chandogya Up. 6.14.2. Shankara also comments on Bhagavad Gita 4.37. But the detailed addressing of this is Brahmasutra Chapter 4 Topic 11 (4.1.15) – ‘But only those former (works) whose effects have not yet begun (are destroyed by knowledge; because the scripture states) that (i.e., the death of the body) to be the term.’

Here is Shivananda’s translation of Shankara:

In the last two Adhikaranas (topics) it has been stated that all the past works of a knower of Brahman are destroyed. Past works are of two kinds, viz., Sanchita (accumulated works) those which have not yet begun to yield results and Prarabdha, i.e., those works whose effects have already begun to operate and have produced the body through which the aspirant has attained Brahma Jnana or knowledge of Brahman.

 The Purvapakshin maintains that both these are destroyed, because the Mundaka Upanishad says that all his works are destroyed. “He thereby overcomes both”. This refers to all works without any distinction, all works whatever must be regarded to undergo destruction.

 Further the sage who has attained Self-realisation is a non-doer. He has no idea or feeling of agency. His idea of non-doership is the same with reference to Sanchita or Prarabdha. Hence both these works are destroyed when one attains knowledge of Brahman or the Supreme Self.

 This Sutra refutes this view and declares that only Sanchita Karmas or accumulated works whose fruits have not yet begun to operate are destroyed by knowledge but not the Prarabdha. Prarabdha Karmas are destroyed only by being worked out. Those works whose effects have begun and whose results have been half enjoyed, i.e., those very works to which there is due the present state of existence in which the knowledge of Brahman arises and not destroyed by that knowledge. This view is founded on the scriptural passage “For him there is delay only as long as he is not delivered from this body, and then he is one with Brahman” (Chh. Up. VI.14.2), which fixes the death of the body as the term of the statement of the attainment of final release.

 If it were not so, then there would be no teachers of knowledge.

Therefore, the Prarabdha Karmas are not destroyed by knowledge.

If it is said that fire must destroy all seeds, the reply is that what has begun to operate, like a potter’s wheel, must have its operation. Mithya Jnana (the erroneous knowledge of multiplicity) though negated by Jnana, will persist for a while (Badhitanuvritti).

 Each man’s inner realisation cannot be denied or disputed by another. This truth is declared by the description of the Sthitaprajna in the Bhagavad Gita.The Knowledge of Brahman in a knower or a sage cannot check the Prarabdha Karma, just as an archer has no control over the arrows already discharged, which comes to rest only when its momentum is exhausted. The liberated sage must keep up this body as long as the momentum of Prarabdha Karmas lasts. When the Prarabdha Karmas are worked out or exhausted the body falls off and he attains Videha-Mukti or disembodied salvation.

 The final discussion, therefore, is that knowledge effects the destruction of those works only whether good or evil, whose effects have not yet begun to operate.

10 thoughts on “Q.461 A jIvanmukta’s prArabdha

  1. I am in agreement with the questioner and the points he makes. The whole teaching about karma (the way of action) constitutes lower knowledge or mithya. I found this among my papers:

    ‘I would say that you are correct in your assumption that karma only applies to the person. Once I realize that I am not a person (i.e. gain Self-knowledge) then there is no more AgAmin saMskAra generated (because there is no longer anyone acting). And that saMskAra stored up from past lives but not yet maturing is also destroyed. Only the prArabdha saMskAra continues, because this is the ‘arrow already released from the bow’.

    My own view is that the entire theory of karma and reincarnation is, as I think Eliot Deutsch described it, ‘a useful fiction’. It serves the same purpose as theories of creation, namely to provide an interim explanation of the empirical reality until such time as we come to realize that it is all mithyA. The book to read, if you are really interested in all this, is ‘Karma and Reincarnation’ by Swami Muni Narayana Prasad, D. K. Printworld (P) Ltd., 1994, ISBN 81-246-0022-8. (Buy at Amazon US or UK)’….. (this last sentence I believe must have come from Dennis)

  2. Hi Martin,

    The entire two paragraphs are part of my answer to Q.320 – https://www.advaita-vision.org/samskara-s-svadharma-and-karma-q-320/.

    And, yes, you (I!) are quite correct. The whole of Advaita is a ‘useful fiction’ (perhaps this is a good definition of ‘mithyA’?) in the final analysis. We take the bits that resonate with us at the particular point in our path. The questioner was particularly interested in clarifying the ‘authorised’ teaching relating to this aspect, so that was what I was trying to address.

  3. I would stick with Maharishi’s explanation of Prarabdha. On realisation, there is no ego – no identification with a separate body mind. Therefore whatever happens to the body-mind is not identified with by the jivanmukta, and there is no consequential suffering or happiness. Therefore for the jivanmukta there can never be Prarabdha. Prarabdha is just the explanation given to others to explain why the jivanmukta’s body-mind seems to continue to go through hardship, etc.

  4. [A small Typo in the title. In place of “jivanmukti’s,” it may be changed as “jivanmukta’s.” ]

    As already commented by both Martin and Venkat, I too feel that the Questioner is correct in his understanding — prArabdha will not exist once the “ignorance” which had been veiling the True Knowledge gets totally dropped.

    Apart from the Commentaries on prasthAnatrayI, aparokShAnubhUti and upadesha sahashrI are considered to be the authentic works of Shankara and these two monographs are highly revered in the tradition.

    In aparokShAnubhUti, Shankara states very clearly:

    “The theory one hears from the scripture that the current sufferage (prArabhdha) does not loosen its hold upon one even after the origination of Self-knowledge, is being refuted now. — 90, aparokShAnubhUti.

    After the origination of the Self-Knowledge, prArabdha verily ceases to exist, in as much as the body etc. become non-existent. Just as a dream does not exist on waking up. — 91, aparokShAnubhUti.

    The body also being within the phenomenal world, (and hence unreal) how could prArabdha exist? It is, therefore, for the sake of the ignorant alone that the shruti speaks of prArabdha. — 97, aparokShAnubhUti.

    All the actions of a man perish when he realizes that Self which is both the higher and the lower. Here the clear use of the plural (consequences of actions) by the shruti is to negate prArabdha as well. — 98, aparokShAnubhUti.”

    “Shankara quotes in the first line of the verse 98 the mantra (II-ii-9) from muNDaka upaniShad to say that all types of karmic effects end for the liberated individual. Shankara says that when the shruti clearly says “all” karmas, it would include the accumulated sancita, the ongoing (prArabdha) as well as yet to-come-into-operation (AgAmika) varieties of effects. The reason for using the plural by the Upanishad is to indicate “all” effects – not merely two. Therefore, prArabdha cannot be there for a liberated man.

    (In the grammar of the Sanskrit language, in addition to singular and plural numbers, there is a dual number also in-between. The dual number is used to indicate two. If the Upanishad intended to say that only two of the three types of karmas would dissolve on liberation, it would have used the dual number. But it used the plural. Hence, we have to take that the Upanishad is speaking about the dissolution of the effects of all types of karmas).

    For more details, please see: http://advaitavedanta.in/aparokshanubhuti_english_29.aspx

    A question then comes.
    Does the “body” which housed formerly the “unrealized” seeker evaporate into thin air?

    IMHO, it doesn’t. It continues to exist until it perishes in its own time like all other objects in the world – the stone on the street, the tree on the roadside, the bird and the bee on the tree, the brook next to them.

    The difference is that the body had a claimant who staked a claim of ownership to it thus far and the body does not have any such claimant anymore like the stone or the bird or bee had no owner at any time.

    To support the above contention, we have from brihadAranYaka a mantra that describes the relationship that will exist between the “body” which formerly housed the seeker and the “now” enlightened Individual”

    “… Just as the lifeless slough of a snake is cast off and lies on the ant-hill, so does this body lie. …” — bRRihadAraNyaka upaniShad, IV-4-vii.


    • Ramesam – IMHO, it doesn’t. It continues to exist until it perishes in its own time.
      IMHO – Just the way for Jnani mountains, bee, tree etc. never existed; the body also was not there. For a self realized one, body will disappear in thin Brahma …!! There is no course of time since time has also vanished.

  5. I have taken the liberty of slightly changing Martin’s words from above to express my own (!) view:

    “…the entire theory of karma and reincarnation is, as I think Eliot Deutsch described it, ‘a useful fiction’. It serves the same purpose as theories of creation, namely to provide interim consolation to the wretched of the earth for the nature of empirical reality until such time as they depart this vale of tears.”

    As Ramesam has put it beautifully:

    “A question then comes.

    Does the “body” which housed formerly the “unrealized” seeker evaporate into thin air?

    IMHO, it doesn’t. It continues to exist until it perishes in its own time like all other objects in the world – the stone on the street, the tree on the roadside, the bird and the bee on the tree, the brook next to them.

    The difference is that the body had a claimant who staked a claim of ownership to it thus far and the body does not have any such claimant anymore like the stone or the bird or bee had no owner at any time.”

  6. I don’t really disagree with anything said here. As I have made clear in all my writings, I have never found the notions of karma and reincarnation to be particularly useful and have pointed out that they are interim teaching only for those who do find them helpful.

    Thanks for the quotations from aparokShanubhUti, Ramesam – very convincing! However, I am not so sure about the Mundaka reference. I am aware of the distinction between single, dual and plural but is this actually used unambiguously in Mundaka? According to the translation I have, Shankara says that:

    “all the karmas acquired in previous janmas, as well as those acquired in the present janma, either before the rise or before the clarity of knowledge, or along with the rise of knowledge, WHICH HAVE NOT YET STARTED TO FRUCTIFY (apravRRitti phalAni), all of them will perish (kShIyante); however not the prArabdha karma (na tu etat janma ArabhakANi) which has already started to fructify (with the birth of the present body).”

    Of course the ATTITUDE of the j~nAnI changes from what it was before and he/she now knows that he is not the body-mind and does not act etc. But you have to define the ego in a very limited way if you want to say that there is no longer an ego. If a j~nAnI is walking away, with his back to you, and you call his name, will he not turn round and answer? (Also, if the attitude has changed, there is still an attitude and that means there is still a mind!)

    Thanks, also, to Ramesam for pointing out the jIvanmukti-jIvanmukta change. This wasn’t a typo – I have a mental block regarding the spelling. Why is it different from yogi-yoga?

  7. Vijay: “IMHO – Just the way for Jnani mountains, bee, tree etc. never existed; the body also was not there.”

    You are right.
    But, I suggest that what you are speaking is from the stance of the jIvanmukta – the liberated individual.
    What I wrote is from the perspective of the rest of us, the lot who are still in the “seeking phase.”

    I may also add here that the scriptures, Gaudapada, and Shankara tell us that there is more practice (and time) involved between the “Realization” of Oneness and being able to abide without a break, ceaselessly as that Oneness. A ‘trace’ of a mind, or mere ‘form’ of a mind or a mind like a ‘burnt out rope’, may continue with the seeker during this phase of post-Realization. The actual situation has to be lived and known and cannot be described.

  8. Thanks Dennis for your kind observations and comments.

    Regarding the muNDaka mantra II-ii-9:

    The mantra itself is very unambiguous.
    It uses clearly the Plural number (bahuvacana). No conditions of restriction were imposed on the statement it made.

    In the usual cryptic style of the mantras, it says:

    “क्षीयन्ते चास्य कर्माणि तस्मिन्दृष्टे परावरे ॥”
    kShIyante ca asya karmANi (plural – more than two), tasmin dRiSTe parAvare |


    dRiSTe = having seen
    tasmin = (in) that
    parAvare = the high and the low,
    asya = his
    karmANi = results of the actions
    kShIyante = are destroyed
    ca = also

    [please note that there is no reference to ‘prArabdha’ in the mantra.]

    Swami Vidyaranya, the 14th Pontiff of Sringeri in his gloss “dIpikA” on aparokShAnubhuUti writes:

    “The very use of the plural “karmANi” clearly indicates that the shruti is negating the ‘prArabdha’ also; it would have used the dual number “karmaNi,” if it intended that only the sancita and agAmi were to be meant here.” The mantra by itself did not talk of just two of the three fruits of karma.

    And we can be sure that Swami Vidyaranya would NOT say anything that would be contrary to or that which would violate Shankara’s teaching.
    The earlier shlokas in aparokShAnubhUti make it abundantly clear that the concept of prArabdha was brought in the shruti commentaries only for the sake of the ignorant.

    We have to bear in mind that the model of “Superimposition – Sublation” was adopted in imparting the Advaitic message in the major Upanishads. So the shruti was explicated by Shankara in the context of “superimposing” creation. The concept of “creation” inevitably brings in its wake the downstream concepts of birth, rebirth, the three kArmic effects, prArabdha etc.

    So Shankara talked of the prArabdha in his very brief comment on muNDaka mantra II-ii-9, as was pointed out by you.

    Hence we should appreciate that Shankara mentioned prArabdha just to conform with the superimposition-sublation model followed by him in his bhAShya-s. In aparokShAnubhuUti, he is free from this constraint and he expressed clearly the position as confirmed by Swami Vidyaranya also.

  9. I too understood that prArabdha ceases upon realisation (based on verses 90-99 from aparOkShAnubhUti and verses 453-463 in vivekachUDAmaNi).
    Sri Sankara bhagavatpAdA’s upanishad commentaries are from superimposition stage and sublation was handled in aparOkShAnubhUti and vivekachUDAmaNi.

Comments are closed.