The Rise of Jnana : Destruction of Good Works and Bad Works


The Jiva, as a thinker/doer/experiencer is tossed in the dualities of samsara – pain and pleasure, good and bad, right and wrong, ignorance and enlightenment. As a Jiva, he is always trying to “become”: become good, become better, become knowledgeable, become detached, become enlightened.

However, with the rise of Jnana, his perception shifts from duality to non-duality instantaneously. Knowing his essential nature to be Self, the Jiva becomes a Jnani freed from all notions of duality. This freedom and perfection is instantaneous with the rise of direct Knowledge. Freed from the notion of being a thinker/doer/experiencer, the Jnani is freed not only from all notions of becoming but also from all works, including the notion of good works and bad works.

Thereafter, there is nothing left for the Jnani to attain or lose, in any way, no matter what acts are seen to be performed by him. While others may judge his acts in terms of duality – such as good and bad, he knows that he does nothing and that all acts are Self. The body of the Jnani carries on till his prarabdha karma exhausts and it finally drops. Then he attains videha-mukti.

This is a true account of the rise of Jnana and the status of a Jnani. But many people find themselves in disagreement with many facts stated in this account. To dispel their doubts I am writing this article, quoting passages from Chapter 4 – Results of Knowledge (Jnana Phala), Brahma Sutra Bhashya of Shankaracharya (Translation by Swami Gambhirananda), addressing all erroneous notions.

1.) No further acts or practices by a Jnani are required to stabilize in Jnana

“On the realization of that (Brahman), (there occur) non-attachment and destruction (respectively) of the succeeding and earlier sins.”

– Bs.Bh – Verse IV.i.13

The commentary from Shankara to this verse reads,

“When That, viz Brahman, becomes realized, then come the non-attachment of subsequent sins and the destruction of the earlier ones. Why? “Because it is so declared (in the scriptures). Thus it is declared in the course of dealing with the knowledge of Brahman that a future sin might be expected to arise in the usual way does not arise in the case of a man of knowledge: “As water does not stick to a lotus leaf, even so sin does not contaminate a man possessed of knowledge” (Ch IV.xiv.3). So also the past fluffy tip of a reed placed in fire burns away completely, similarly all sins are burnt away (Ch V.xxiv.3). Here occurs another declaration about the destruction of the result of work: “When the Self which is both high and low is realized, the knot of the heart gets untied, all doubts become solved, and all one’s actions become dissipated” (Mu.II.ii.8)

The commentary on this verse ends with the lines,

“It is also unreasonable that the result of knowledge (which is really immediate) should be mediate (as the opponent’s theory implies). Hence the conclusion is that sin becomes dissipated when Brahman is known”

Bs.Bh – IV.i.13

We can note the following points from this quote

1.) The destruction of all sins of the past AS WELL AS NON-ATTACHMENT OF FUTURE SINS.

2.) No future sin can arise in a man of knowledge like it may happen in the case of an ordinary man

3.) All actions become dissipated

4.) The results of knowledge is immediate

All these go to show that by the mere dint of direct Knowledge, a Jnani is freed from all actions, the result of all actions of the past and the result of all actions he shall do in the future. Not only this, all his actions, become dissipated. So after attainment of direct Knowledge, there is no practice of any kind to become more stabilized in Jnana or to attain bliss or to renounce the world. Direct Knowledge is the seal for the past, present, and future. We shall see this absolutely clear in the quote of the next paragraph

2.) The rise of Jnana is instantaneous: not a gradual process in time due to certain practices or actions

Action does not lead to Jnana. Actions are considered to be only indirect means of knowledge. How? By purifying the mind and making it ready. Ready for what? Ready for Jnana (akhandakara vritti) to arise. The arising of this Jnana is not the result of any action whatsoever. Firstly, action is not opposed to ignorance. Secondly, all actions happen in space and time, so they can only produces finite results. No action can result in infinite Brahman/Self. The Brahmasutra Bhashya shows this by two points

“The knower of Brahman has this realization: “As opposed to the entity known before to possessed of agentship and experience by its very nature, I am Brahman which is by nature devoid of agentship and experienceship in all three periods of time. Even earlier I was never an agent and experiencer, nor am I at present, nor shall I be so in future”. From such a point of view alone can liberation be justified.”

– Bs.Bh – IV.i.13

“I am Brahman which is by nature devoid of agentship and experienceship in all three periods of time. Even earlier I was never an agent and experiencer, nor am I at present, nor shall I be so in future”. This clearly shows that no action produces Jnana. The doer never becomes Jnani. Only knowledge, when it arises, frees one from the ignorance that one was ever a doer, is a doer or will ever be a doer. The Jnani is one who knows that he was not a doer in all three periods of time.”

The Bhashya further clarifies what I had written in the earlier paragraph: No action/s can result in timeless Brahman because all actions result only in finite results. It says,

“Besides, liberation, unlike the results of work, cannot be produced by a concurrence of place, time, and causation, since that would make it impermanent”

– Bs.Bh – IV.i.13

3.) The Jnani is not a “doer” of good works/bad works and neither attached to good works/bad works

As such the Jnani is not the doer of any works. We have seen this already through my earlier quotes. But for the Jivas operating in Maya, the notion of duality is nigh impossible to eliminate. They almost always conflate a Jnani with a doer of good works, thereby relating Jnana to certain acts. While the Jnanis may appear to be ‘good’ people, or appear to be doing good works, to some or great extent, it is because they could not have come to Jnana without having a sattvic mind and tremendous vairagya. However, the Jnani has absolutely no intent or attachment to do either good works or bad works.

1.) A Jnani knows himself as Self/non-doer, while the gunas do the action.

2.) A Jnani sees all acts as Self so he does not have the vision of duality. He is neither attached to good actions or to bad actions, though people may classify his acts in dual terms.

The following quote from Bhramasutra Bhashya shows that the Jnani has given up total doership of all actions. He is not choosing in any way to do good works or becoming a doer of good works.

“To the man of knowledge occur the non-attachment and destruction “of the other as well”, of virtue also, as of sin itself. Why? ……..In the Upanishadic texts like, “He conquers both of them” (Br. IV.iv.22), the destruction of virtue, just as much as of vice, is declared, since the destruction of action consequent on the realization of the Self that is not an agent occurs equally in the cases of virtuous and vicious acts, and since Upanishads speaks of destruction all works without any exception in “and all one’s actions become dissipated” (Mu.II.ii.8). Even where the single word vice is used, the word virtue is also to be understood, because it’s result is inferior to knowledge. Moreover, in the Upanishad itself occurs the word vice to convey the idea of virtue as well. Thus in the sentence, “Day and night cannot reach this barrage (which is Self)” (Ch. VIII.iv.1) , virtue is introduced along with vice; then it is said, “All sins desist from It (the Self)”, thereby using the word sin (vice) to indicate virtue as well without any distinction.

Bs.Bh – IV.i.14

4.) The Jnani does not cease to act after the dawn of Knowledge

Some people associate Jnani with physical actionlessness with arising of Jnana. This implies that a Jnani ‘becomes’ someone other than what he was. But arising of Jnana, as we have seen earlier, is not the result of any action or becoming. As already quoted above, the ONLY WAY in which liberation can be justified is, “I am Brahman which is by nature devoid of agentship and experienceship in all three periods of time. Even earlier I was never an agent and experiencer, nor am I at present, nor shall I be so in future” So Jnana is not associated with any change whatsoever in his actions except the shift in identity from being a doer to being a non-doer/Self

Some people give the logic that since Self is actionless, the Jnani being Self, cannot do, or ceases to perform, all actions; or that the Jnani, getting knowledge of Self, drops down dead. However, this is not the view shared by Brahmasutra Bhashya. In the verse, I am quoting below, it clearly says that even though the Jnani is a knower of his essential nature as Self, the actions of the body/mind/intellect continue because of prarabdha karma.

“But only those past (virtues and vices) get destroyed which have not begun to bear fruit, for death is set as the limit of waiting for liberation”

– Bs.Bh – Verse IV.i.15

Commenting on this verse in his Bhashya, Shankaracharya writes,

“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 begun this present life in which the knowledge of Brahman arises.”

Bs.Bh – IV.i.15

And finally, to seal all doubts on two issues

1.) Whether the body acts after Self Knowledge

2.) Whether the Jnani ‘performs’ only ‘good acts’ and not ‘bad acts’

I am quoting the final words of Shankaracharya in Brahmasutra Bhashya,

“As for the knowledge of Self as the non-performer of any act, that destroys the results of works by first sublating false ignorance, even when sublated, continues for a while owing to past tendencies like the continuance of vision of two moons. Furthermore, no difference of opinion is possible here as to whether the body is retained (after knowledge) for some time or not by knowers of Brahman. For when somebody feels in his heart that he has realized Brahman and yet holds the body, how can this be denied by somebody else? This very fact is elaborated in the Upanishads and the Smritis and in the course of determining the characteristics of “the man of steady wisdom” (sthitaprajna – Gita, II.54). Hence the conclusion is that only those virtues and vices are washed away by knowledge which have not begun to bear fruit.”

– Bs.Bh – IV.i.15