Spiritual progress and the j~nAnI

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?

23 thoughts on “Spiritual progress and the j~nAnI

  1. I find this discussion of the stages of progress of the j~nani very interesting and “enlightening.” In particular, the distinction between a j~nani and a jivanmukti. I would like to hear more about what exactly constitutes the stage of jivanmukti.
    I imagine the reason one might be interested in progressing from j~nani to jivanmukti is because–while the atman stays the same regardless of the state of the so-called jiva, and with j~nana one knows this–the mind is not enjoying fully the fruits of j~nana despite self-knowledge; i.e. there may be self-knowledge but still habitual tendencies and complexes that cause pain.

    • Hi Hamsa,

      Of course what you say sounds perfectly reasonable from the standpoint of the seeker. But ‘mind not enjoying fruits of ~j~nAna’ is ahaMkAra again. It is a bit like desire – the j~nAnI still has desires but whether they are satisfied or not is not really of any consequence; nice if they are but no big deal if they are not.

      If you want to read more about the differences between the j~nAnI and the jIvanmukta, see questions 105, 161, 179, 205, 215, 217, 222, 253, 264. (As you can see, it is a popular topic!)


      • Hi Dennis, Actually I don’t agree with you, but rather I agree with what Hamsa wrote. The thing is jnanam itself is for the mind of the individual. If the individual’s mind is still carrying pain, due most likely to unresolved psychological issues, then that individual mind will not be experiencing the fruits of jnanam.

        The analogy which comes to my mind is this. If I am wearing a pair of glasses, and those glasses need cleaning, then I won’t be seeing out of them clearly.

        It is the same with the mind. The mind is that through which the world of experience is cognized. If the mind has problems, even if that person has jnanam, that person still will have work to do in order to enjoy what he or she has recognized to be true.

        I would not say this is ahamkara. I mean does a person consider his or her glasses to be who he or she is? Does one identify oneself as one’s glasses? No one does that. Still that person would prefer to have clean glasses IMO. That’s how it seems to me.

        • I don’t disagree with most of what you say, Dhanya. But answer me this: If it is not ahaMkAra that wants the enjoyment that comes with the fruits of knowledge, then who is it? It can’t be Atman can it? And mind is not in itself regarded as a conscious entity (as you say, ” The mind is that through which the world of experience is cognized”); it is ahaMkara that is ‘reflected’ consciousness in the person.

          • Dear Dennis, you say “If it is not ahaMkAra that wants the enjoyment that comes with the fruits of knowledge, then who is it?”
            Who says that there is anything in the jnani which wants those enjoyments? I would say that if such a want is still there, jnana is not there. If jnana is there, there will be clear knowing that there is nowhere else to go, even though there will also be the knowledge that there are still habits in the mind which prevent jivanmukti.

            • Quite. The point is that the j~nAnI knows that brahman is satyam and ahaMkAra is mithyA. So (assuming there are still pratibandhaka-s), he/she directs attention to the identity of Atman and brahman rather than worrying about whether or not I (ahaMkAra) am going to get jivanmukti or kramamukti. And then these will come naturally as side-effects.

  2. “Quite obviously, the jnani is still a person”
    But this can only be for others, since s/he knows that “the person/ahamkara is mithya”, and, as you say, “one lives one`s remaining life in the knowledge that everything is brahman”. There may still be karmic residues, but can the jnani be concerned about them, or about anything else (also mithya)? S/he knows that s/he is no-thing and, at the same time, every existing thing. Only equilibrium and Happiness remain (not the happiness of an “individual”).

    • In one sense, what does it matter to one if someone else is or isn’t a jñāni? How does it shift one’s own delusion of inadequacy centred on ‘I’? Recently, when studying a small Shankara text, Manīṣa pañcakam, with Swamini Atmaprakasanandaji, I took the following notes that might throw some light on this topic:

      Jñāna yoga is a means of knowledge designed for sannyāsa āśrama. Everyone, at some stage of life, is supposed to go through sannyāsa, if not externally, then definitely mentally. This sannyāsa, the internal renunciation, implies one’s strength of dispassion [vairāgyam]. There is no sannyāsa without vairāgyam. This vairāgyam constantly, continuously keeps the mind in touch with the fact of the impermanence of everything. Constant remembering should be like regular drill for the mind.

      ‘I’ owns nothing. If at all there is an owner/possessor there is only one: Īśvara, the Lord. All that is enjoyed here in the world has been lent to us, given to us by the Lord. The proof that this Lord is the only owner/possessor and that I own nothing can be arrived at through observing the fact that anything ‘I’ owns gets disowned in time. When I am not destined to own any things they are forcibly taken away. Not only do we see this in our own life experiences, but also in the lives of others. My possessions and dispossessions are decided by the Lord in the form of the natural universal law and order. Appreciation of this fact will result in vairāgyam, dispassion towards any assets in terms of people or possessions.

      Therefore, as a sannyāsī, one can have quality time for jñāna yoga, the pursuit of knowledge mahā vākyam śravaṇam, mananam, nididhyāsanam.

      Śravaṇam is regular, systematic, continuous, consistent study of Vedāntic scriptures for a given length of time under the guidance of a competent teacher.

      Mananam is reflecting on the knowledge thus gained, thereby removing doubts obstructing the intellect. Unless doubts in the form of intellectual obstacles are removed they will deny one the benefits of knowledge. Doubtful knowledge is as good as ignorance.

      Nididhyāsanam, which follows the stage of doubt-free self-knowledge, is nothing but constant contemplation on the clear, doubt-free knowledge of the truth. Constant, deliberate remembrance or meditation on the truth of the unity of myself is for removal of the habitual emotional obstacles that cover this knowledge: this requires a long time. Emotional weakness has been ingrained since childhood. It takes the form of jealousy in some, anger in others, or complexes such as inferiority for yet another.

      Thus mahā vākyam śravaṇam, mananam, nididhyāsanam together form jñana yoga. Hence Śankara mentions that one should go through karma yoga, upāsana yoga and jñāna yoga. The benefit of going through these sādhanas is initially jñAnam (“I am wise” without the notion “I am a free person”) and later jñāna niṣṭhā: “I am the only secondless, non-dual reality. Everything other than me, is my own manifestation. Hence, just as on waking the dream thief cannot steal the golden ornament, nor can the dream food be eaten by the waker, so too nothing can harm me, the world cannot touch me, the ‘I’. There is no second substance of the substantive ‘I’ other than consciousness, nor is there a second substance for the universe. The substance for the three substantives – jiva, jagat and Īśvara – is the one and the same consciousness, the indivisible Reality. I, as that consciousness, am untainted by anything, unharmed by anything.”

      This vision of the Self being consciousness, the self of everything, of Self being the whole, is jñāna niṣṭhā or stitha prajña. The person of such a vision is jivan muktaḥ.

    • You contradict yourself with this answer. When you say “s/he knows”, you must be talking about a person, mustn’t you? Brahman doesn’t ‘know’ anything; knowing requires a mind and use of that mind, and minds belong to persons. The knowledge that “the person/ahaMkAra is mithyA” occurs in the mind of the person. It may sound paradoxical but must also be the case.

  3. Right. I, as an individual mind, was making some statements, but was making them from a neutral (3rd person) position in order to refer to some points of metaphysical or advaitist doctrine; and, furthermore, knowing or acknowledging that all doctrine is “located” witnin the realm of mithya (subject-object split) – the persons also being mithya. Where is the contradiction?

  4. If I understood you correctly, you were saying that the j~nAnI could only be considered to be a person from the perspective of other people but not from his/her own perspective, knowing that he/she is ‘nothing’ or ‘everything’.

    My point is that *all* of this is in the dualistic realm of vyavahAra. i.e. seeking *and* realizing. It is the person who becomes enlightened and, having become enlightened, realizes that he/she remains a person in vyavahAra, even though knowing that in reality there is only brahman and ‘I am That’. I.e. Consciousness reflects in the mind of the person (from the vantage point of vyavahAra), whether that person is enlightened or not.

    So you can never step outside of vyavhAra, even as a j~nAnI. We can recognize that all this is brahman and so on but nothing really changes. Before, during and after, there is only brahman in reality but the appearance continues, courtesy of Ishvara.

  5. So many words, so many concepts. Not one of you describes anything useful except more seeking, more ideals. The whole ball of wax is never seen for what it is. You all want what can’t be had. This is the only problem that exists and yet you all complicate it with your endless philosophies, methods, practices to achieve something illusory, something which you only read about or heard about. Talking about the jnani does nothing for your own problems. Thinking is addicted to itself. It knows nothing outside of itself. Everything you know is only thought. You don’t know God or Brahman or any Absolute anything. You only know what has been put into you. Somehow you have to come to this point of seeing your own state, not the state of a jnani, or any other ideal. Otherwise, you will endlessly play with these words and concepts and think that someday, you will arrive at some kind of wonderful state where you will be all-knowing and at peace or whatever your idea of ‘enlightened’ might be.

    • Words, thought, discrimination etc are the only way of approaching the truth. Only knowledge is opposed to ignorance. You cannot see, experience or describe the ‘ball of wax’. You don’t ‘know’ God; you are God. You cannot know God in an objective sense – who could know the knower?

      We are always happy to try to answer questions from anyone. But such questions do need to be sincere. Simple criticism gets no one anywhere. So please continue (in a non-belligerent way) if you are genuinely interested but not otherwise.

      • Belligerence is not my intent. Words, thoughts, discrimination don’t approach truth. They approach the chaos of thinking and all the information that has been fed into us. It’s an attempt at clarity, at understanding what it is that I am experiencing. The ball of wax is the activity of thinking, no matter what the content. God and all other ideas are contained within this. All attempts to understand happen in this activity. Having a map or model such as Advaita or any other cosmology, religion, or philosophy, might give the impression of order and wisdom and a road to walk upon, but at some point, we must abandon all these concepts by seeing them for what they are, an intellectual construction. If you are satisfied with an intellectual construction, which many are, and call this wisdom, then you will carry on in your particular fashion and never truly understand your own illusion. To stop the erroneous pursuit of the Other, is the only wisdom one needs. I’m sorry if this challenges many of your beliefs. Beliefs are very powerful and very deluding.

        • I don’t think what you are saying actually criticizes Advaita. The metaphor of a pole vault is often used. We use the concepts and teaching of Advaita to bring us to the bar or brink, as it were, and then throw it all away as being no longer relevant. The words ‘point’ to the truth rather than ‘approaching’ it.

          Without a teaching such as this (there are others) you would be most unlikely to realize it on your own, since it is so contrary to everyday experience.

          Also, I still do not see how you are not yourself using concepts and thinking in the ideas that you are presenting. Can you avoid it? Is not the statement “Beliefs are very powerful and very deluding” itself an opinion or belief?

          • In order to communicate, we have to use words which help us to live and survive. But the introduction of conceptual thought brings with it a host of interpretations that further complicate our lives. The introduction of concepts like God, Brahman, liberation, Nirvana, etc., serve only to distract us from what we are and what we experience. You don’t think beliefs are very powerful and deluding? This is not an opinion. We see it in operation in ourselves and in others. Using a concept is not necessarily believing in a concept. But, what I suspect is going on with many here IS the belief in these concepts and the construction of a system which they think will somehow lead them to their goal.

            I offer some discussion because I also have interest in the subject and come at it from a very different angle than most of you because I am not an Advaitin, have no interest at all in it, or any other practice, path, religion, or philosophy. I have known and talked with some extraordinary people in my life. They never gave me anything to believe in. They blocked every avenue of escape until I found myself in a corner, so to speak. It was only then that it dawned on me that there was no way out of this circular movement that I call myself. When you stop trying to know, something else begins but it has no direction and wants nothing for itself. Disinterest is more to the point. Not knowing who or what you are is the natural point of view. Forsaking all knowledge is the real path which cannot be walked on. I’m sure this is not too popular with spiritual seekers. 🙂

  6. “at some point, we must abandon all these concepts by seeing them for what they are, an intellectual construction” – definitely, yes. If you are at this point why are you reading these blogs, let alone discuss them? As long as there still is vagueness about truth, it is worth going on with inquiry even if you already know who you are but not to the last extent (see https://www.advaita-vision.org/three-stages-to-the-advaita-vision/#comments ). Inquiry can take various forms, many here have found advaita vedanta’s approach to be valuable. Advaita Vedanta uses intellectual inquiry based on certain working hypothesis found in the Upanishads.
    But any approach, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, is just a concept – even your stopping “the erroneous pursuit of the Other”. If it has stopped there is no need to stop it, before that you follow a method.

  7. Yes, very good! Isn’t the question here though one concerning the difference between rational, conceptual, speculative or intellectual knowledge (philosophy is mostly this) and direct, unmediated, non-transferable knowlege or understanding (also called apperception) concerning another, *higher* reality? And what better name for this latter type of knowledge than *mystical* knowledge/experience – that of the sages or seers of the Upanishads, but also of zen Buddhism, Christianity, etc., and of all those who truly understand their words and teachings? He who denies this possibility of understanding, denying at the same time that reality – calling it perhaps ‘feeling/emotional’, etc., – denies a huge amount contained within the traditions of humanity, a veritable witness of what is best in them.

    Besides, can someone deny the possibility of an experience (or knowledge) one has never had?

  8. This is a response to Unknower’s latest comment – we seem to have exceeded WordPress’ limit for embedded responses!

    I do agree with much of what you say. One of the key teachings in Advaita explains how everything that we see is made ‘as if’ separate as a result of the words and concepts that we use to interpret perception. In reality, everything is brahman. So yes, conceptual thought certainly does complicate things!

    But what you seem to be ignoring is that everything that we see and experience confirms our initial premise that we are an observer and the world is a separate, observed entity. We start out believing this and it certainly is a powerful and deluding belief!

    So how do you get out of this situation? More observing and experiencing can only reinforce the mistake. How can ‘forsaking all knowledge’ and being ‘disinterested’ help? And what do you mean by these anyway? And why, if you have no interest at all in Advaita, are you visiting this site and starting this (admittedly very interesting) discussion? Needless to say, the intention behind the site is that it exists for those people who ARE interested in Advaita and who want to understand its teaching.

    • I am interested in how people approach the subject of Truth. Advaita is just one model of many that has ancient roots. I could have stumbled on a Buddhist or Christian website dealing with their own model/map. I have no way of knowing if Brahman, the Christ, or, Nirvana is real or a product of the inherited illusions of mankind passed down to us through our cultures. It is so easy to believe in something and most of us do just that without any kind of direct experience/knowledge of what these teachings point to. Some people will have a ‘mystical’ or ‘intuitive’ experience and call that direct experience, describing a ‘oneness’, a ‘tacit understanding’, a ‘knowingness’ that they take to be this Truth that they are told exists and should be sought for. In both cases, all that is experienced is a self-centered activity. This is the nature of experience. There is no experience without self. Observer and observed. How do we get out of this, you ask? You don’t get out of it. This is what you are, not Brahman or whatever one wants to imagine. You are the observer and the observed. This is the foundation. You cannot move away from this. Everything you do creates this movement. All knowledge is contained within this movement. You begin to understand that knowledge is not the way and a disinterest in knowledge and any attempt to do anything about your ‘state’, is activated. This deepens but not towards anything. You can say it is ’emptiness’, ‘fullness’, ‘presence’, or whatever. I only say it’s a beginning or sorts. A sort of ‘cleaning out’. I’m sure I fail at trying to communicate this.

      • I think we may be reaching an impasse now. But I would just like to emphasize one last time that Self-realization is neither an experience nor a piece of knowledge (which may or may not be true or subject to later revision). It is a certitude of the same magnitude as knowing that you exist. See the explanation of bhAga tyAga lakShaNa from my book ‘Back to the Truth’ for a metaphor for how this works – http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/bhAga.htm.

        • I have also read the same thing about Self-Realization. It seems to me that only one who is Self-Realized could make that statement. For the rest of us, we simply do not know what Self-Realization is and this is where belief begins. Belief that it exists, and belief that we should attain it. This exists as a concept and not your actual experience. If it exists as your actual experience, you can be excused for mentioning it. Otherwise, it resides with the rest of the archetypes including the perfect man, all mind-made models which prevent what I was talking about in my earlier post. There is no impasse other than your thinking. All systems are ready for take-off.

          • I could tell you that I am enlightened and can guarantee that what I say is the truth but, in addition to sounding arrogant, it would also not make the slightest difference to you. It is you who has to make the initial leap of faith in provisionally accepting the teaching, without abandoning reason, until such time as you can verify its truth for yourself. The alternative is to retain your skepticism and intellectual superiority but also to remain locked into saMsAra. It is your choice.

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