[What exactly happens to the “sense of separate self” after “realization of the Self” depends on whether one seeks saguNa brahman (a favorite Godhead or Ishwara) or nirguNa (attributeless) brahman. The Vedanta sUtra-s in the Section 3 and those at the later part of Section 4 of Chapter 4 deal with the result of following the former. The aphorisms # 534 to 542 in Section 4 of the Chapter 4 tell us about the latter. We shall in this Series of three Posts consider the latter case of following nirguNa brahman.]
“What happens after Self-realization?” is a tantalizing question many of us would like to ask.
But before a sensible answer is given to that question, one should have a very clear idea of two other closely related questions: “What is liberation?” and “Who is it that gets actually liberated?”
There can be many answers to these three questions. The answers will vary depending on one’s own understanding, teaching model followed, the explanatory theories used, devices adopted for practice and so on. However, any given answer has to be within the bounds of an overarching condition that circumscribes the Advaita philosophy. That is to say that the answer has to smoothly and seamlessly segue into the two aspects that the Advaita doctrine holds supreme and uncontestable. The two aspects are:
1. “What “IS” is Being (brahman or Consciousness or Awareness or Self) Alone without a second” as 6.2.1, chAndogya tells us; and,
2. “No individual (jIva) is ever born (or created), there being no reason for creation,” as Gaudapada explicates in his kArikA-s at 3.48 and 4.71.
Following from the above two basic principles and as a corollary to them arises a third aspect.
3. The perceived world of multiplicity is:
i) Not really “Real”;
iii) Limited and finite;
vi) An aberration like a single moon appearing as multiple moons due to cataract in the eye (2.1.17, BSB; 1.4.10, BUB; 2.13.1, chAndogya bhAShya; 13.2, 18.48, BGB etc.) or the bluish dome-like appearance of the outer space (adhyAsa bhAShya; 1.2.8, BSB; 18.17, BGB; 3.2.1, BUB; etc.) is because of our ‘ignorance’; and, therefore, there is a “Disconnect between Perception and Reality.”
We shall attempt to answer the three questions raised in the beginning in the reverse order keeping in the background of our mind the three above described overarching aspects.
Who is it that gets actually liberated?
The provisional reply to this question can be: Each one of “us” whoever had observed and experienced the world and determined that there is no ever-lasting and unceasing happiness in it. But then, who or what exactly is that “us” or the individual ‘me’ that “us” (or “me”) points to? What does that comprise?
The best answer, as far as I could find, comes from Swami Krishnananda. He says that his reply is based on the ‘pancAgni vidyA’ in chAndogya Upanishad and also from brihdAraNyaka. He writes:
[The sense of a separate self or ‘me’ or] jIva or soul, for the purpose of our subject, is a concentrated point of desire. The [self] that we are discussing about here is not the Universal [Self]; it is rather the bound [self] and no one can be bound unless there is a “centralization” of desire at a spatio-temporal point.”
In other words, what we think we are is, at its center, none other than a condensed mass of “desires.” He continues:
“We must first of all know what we mean by the ‘self’ that takes birth. What is the ‘separate self’? What is it made of? We have a wrong notion of the word, generally speaking. People imagine that ‘the separate self’ is a kind of substance – a little ball, mercury-like – moving inside the body. All sorts of funny ideas everybody has about the Jiva, Atma, soul, and all that. It is nothing of this kind, really.”
Swami Krishnananda declares, without mincing words:
“It is desire that is born, not a child!
The human being is a shape taken by a mass of desires.”
What Swami Krishnananda says gels well with the Upanishad teaching that the annulment of desires is itself liberation because it is the desire that binds one down to the world of action, experiencing the results of action and carrying those consequences unendingly. It leads us to the next question, ‘What is Liberation.’
What is Liberation?
Freedom or liberation from the endless cycle of cause and effect in the world propelled by desires is “liberation” as the ‘shruti’ tells us:
यदा सर्वे प्रभिद्यन्ते हृदयस्येह ग्रन्थयः ।
अथ मर्त्योऽमृतो भवत्येतावद्ध्यनुशासनम् ॥ — 2.6.15, kaTha Upanishad.
Meaning: When all the knots of the heart are destroyed, even while a man is alive, then a mortal becomes immortal. This much alone is the instruction (of all the Upanishads). (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).
Shankara adds in his explanation at this mantra: “The concepts arising from ignorance are, ‘I am the body,’ ‘This wealth is mine,’ ‘I am happy or unhappy,’ etc. When the bondages of ignorance are destroyed by the rise of the opposite Knowledge of the identity of the Self and brahman in the form “I am brahman indeed and am not a transmigrating (separate) self,” then the desires originating from the knots become totally eradicated. Then a mortal becomes immortal. This much only is the instruction; the expression “of all the Upanishads,” should be supplied to complete the sentence. There should not be any anticipation that there is more.” (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).
The muNDaka Upanishad says:
भिद्यते हृदयग्रन्थिश्छिद्यन्ते सर्वसंशयाः ।
क्षीयन्ते चास्य कर्माणि तस्मिन्दृष्टे परावरे ॥ — 2.2.9, muNDaka Upanishad.
Meaning: When that Self, which is both high and low, is realized, the knot of the heart gets untied, all doubts solved, and all one’s actions become dissipated. (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).
Shankara writes in his explanation of the mantra 2.2.9, muNDaka: “The knot of the heart” is the host of tendencies and impressions of ignorance, in the form of desires that hang on to the intellect. He also clarifies that “Of the man whose ignorance has been removed, the actions that preceded the rise of illumination, but not yielded results in earlier lives (i.e. so far) get dissipated. However, the actions that produced the present life (body), because they have already begun to bear fruit and, like an arrow shot, would continue till their momentum ends.” (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda – with slight editing).
[Note: The word “soul” used by different authors in the citations given above is changed as “self’ or “separate self” by me as the word ‘soul’ is a loaded term.]
(To Continue … Part – 2/3)