Much of the Brahma Sutra can be extremely tedious. In particular the fourth section of the third chapter is really only of interest to the pUrva mImAMsaka, since it discusses the finer points of various rituals prescribed in the Upanishads. I have to confess that, when listening to this in the talks of Swami Paramarthananda, I eventually had to give up and move onto chapter 4! Only to discover that the first few adhikaraNa-s of chapter 4 really ought to have been included in the previous section!
But I persevered and am very pleased that I did so. It does so often happen that, in the midst of some particularly sleep-inducing material, something really interesting crops up! And verse 4.1.2 is no exception. This topic is discussing the practice of shravaNa, manana, and nididhyAsana (i.e. j~nAna yoga, Atma vichAra etc) and, in particular, whether this needs to be done once only or repeatedly. But the interesting aspect dealt with by Swami Paramarthananda relates to the spiritual path in general.
He summarizes this path as: 1) saMsArI, 2) adhikArI, 3) j~nAnI, 4) jIvanmukta, 5) videha mukta. (For those less sure of the Sanskrit terms, saMsArI refers to the man in the street, condemned to continual rebirth into suffering lives; adhikArI is the one who has committed to spiritual seeking; j~nAnI is the person who has realized that he or she is none other than brahman; jIvanmukta is literally the one ‘liberated in life’ – i.e. having reaped the fruits of knowledge and who is no longer disturbed by anything; videha mukti refers to the release from future rebirth on the death of this body. (incidentally, for completeness, it is worth mentioning that krama mukti is the process by which someone – perhaps after a life of following the practice of meditation on OM – goes to heaven after death and is taught Vedanta by Brahma, achieving liberation at pralaya.)
In respect of this stepwise progression, if we ask who it is who is the sufferer, it is clearly the person. The Atman is unlimited, perfect and complete; suffering could obviously have no meaning here. Equally, it is precisely this suffering individual who decides to become the spiritual seeker. Then, at some point in time (in this life, or a subsequent one, so the scriptures tell us!), this seeker attains self-knowledge and becomes a j~nAnI. And, say some, at this point the seeker somehow ceases to be a person, ceases to have a mind, ‘becomes’ one with brahman, the world and so on. And attempts to argue that this cannot be so usually fail. (E.g. how can someone ‘become’ brahman, when there is ONLY brahman to begin with?)
But now ask yourself: is it the person who is a jIvanmukta or is it Atman? The clue is in the definition ‘liberated in life’. Clearly, Atman never dies and is therefore never born; it has no life. Moreover, Atman is ever free; liberation could have no meaning here. The conclusion has to be that the term jIvanmukta still applies only to the person (or ahaMkAra). And the same applies to videha mukti. Since the Atman is never subject to saMsAra, there can be no liberation from it.
In fact, the j~nAnI knows that only Atman-brahman is satyam and that the person/ahaMkAra is mithyA. Accordingly, he or she can have no real interest in pursuing jIvanmukti and videha mukti. One lives ones remaining life in the knowledge that everything is brahman (until one’s prArabdha karma is expended), and jIvanmukti/videha mukti occur naturally as side-effects of this.
The really interesting thing about all of this however is how clearly the status of being a j~nAnI fits into this progression. Quite obviously, the j~nAnI is still a person. It makes no sense to speak of Atman becoming self-realized, attaining self-knowledge or any of the other actions or events which take place in the mithyA world and occur to mithyA individuals. The entire spiritual path, from suffering individual through to freedom from rebirth relates to the person or ahaMkAra only.
So the bottom line of this comes down to: why should I worry about whether or not this particular ahaMkAra attains jIvanmukti when I, who am the unlimited Ishavara, contain ALL ahamkAra-s?