What Happens After Self-realization? – 2/3

Part – 1

The brihadAraNyaka Upanishad says:

 यदा सर्वे प्रमुच्यन्ते कामा येऽस्य हृदि श्रिताः  अथ मर्त्योऽमृतो भवत्यत्र ब्रह्म समश्नुत इति   — 4.4.7, brihadAraNyaka.   

Meaning:  When all the desires that dwell in his heart (mind) are gone, then he, having been mortal, becomes immortal, and attains brahman in this very body. (Translation: Swami Madhavananada.]

Shankara clarifies at this mantra that “It is virtually implied that desires concerning things other than the Self fall under the category of ignorance, and are but forms of death. Therefore, on the cessation of death, the man of realization becomes immortal. And attains brahman, the identity with brahman, i.e. liberation, living in this very body. Hence liberation does not require such things as going to some other place.” (Translation: Swami Madhavananada.]

Further, Shankara observes at 4.4.6, brihadAraNaka that “Therefore, as we have also said, the cessation of ignorance alone is commonly called liberation, like the disappearance of the snake, for instance, from the rope when the erroneous notion about its existence has been dispelled.”

Thus, the Upanishads clearly tell us that the ending of all desires, which arise out of our ignorance of not knowing who we truly are, is liberation. Some authors call it as vAsanAkShaya (eradication of all the past impressions).

From the above description, we may develop a schematic representation for the structure of an individual (jIva) as shown in Figure 1 below:

[Explanations for the Figure 1: 

jIva is a “Peculiar” Combination of two ‘things.’ The word “Peculiar” refers to the ‘Mutual Superimposition of Qualities’ between the Self and the not-Self.

The double arrows show the equivalence of the terms. For example, jIva  =  what we normally think as ‘What ‘I’ am’  =  the sense of ‘me.’

Individual or jIva has an in-built sense of ‘Doership + Ownership.’

Speck or Reflection of Consciousness (depending on the ‘Model’ adopted – whether the ‘Theory of Delimitation’ or the Theory of Reflection to explain the genesis of an individual).

Mind is Centralization of desire at a spatio-temporal point, as explained by Swami Krishnananda.

Also please see the Comment on May 17, 2022 regarding Fig. 1 (Link) ] 

The Fig. 1 also helps us to appreciate better the Advaita concept of liberation.

The speck of Consciousness (or reflected image of It – depending on which ‘model’ is used) is the only truly ‘Sentient’ and ‘Knowing’ substance (vastu). The other component on the right is insentient and hence, incapable of ‘knowing.’ The Infinite Consciousness in Its imagination (or forgetfulness or due to some unknown transient perturbation) temporarily ‘ignores’ Its Infiniteness and ‘thinks’ It is finitized as we can understand from 1.4.10 brihadAraNyaka and Gaudapada’s kArikA at 2.12, GK.

Strictly speaking, as various Upanishads aver, the Infinite Consciousness is never a ‘doer’ nor any change happens either to It or in It. Hence, all such explanations about the ‘finitization’ of the Infinite Consciousness are merely notional concepts to appease a querying ‘mind.’

From the above, we can conclude that the ending of the ‘feeling or thought that ‘I am limited or finite’ in the speck of Consciousness is what is termed as ‘liberation.’ Therefore, liberation is also a notional or explanatory concept as far as the Infinite Consciousness is concerned. The other insentient component (mind), anyway, does not get ‘liberated’ because it is inert and not a real entity.

In other words, ‘liberation’ is notionally the breaking up of the ‘intermixed’ individual (jIva) into the two components which constitute it. The Sentient component “realizes” Its own original Infinite nature (which has never actually got finitized) after being reminded of Its True original nature from the teaching by the Guru and the scripture.

[Note: Shankara explains the role played by the scripture as follows: 

शास्त्रमिदंतया विषयभूतं ब्रह्म प्रतिपिपादयिषति  किं तर्हि ? प्रत्यगात्मत्वेनाविषयतया  प्रतिपादयत् अविद्याकल्पितं  वेद्यवेदितृवेदनादिभेदमपनयति ।  — Shankara at 1.1.4, BSB.

Meaning: The scriptures aim at the removal of the differences fancied through ignorance. Not that the scriptures seek to establish brahman as entity referable objectively by the word “this.”

Opponent: What do they do then?

Vedantin: By presenting brahman as not as object on account of Its being the inmost Self (of the knower), they remove the differences of the ‘known,’ the ‘knower,’ and the ‘knowledge’ that are fancied through ignorance. (Translation: Swami Gambhirananda).

ज्ञापकं हि शास्त्रं  कारकमिति स्थितिः ।“ — Shankara at 1.4.10, BUB.

Meaning: It is an accepted principle that the scriptures are only informative, not creative. (Translation: Swami Madhavananda).] 

The insentient component dissolves into the five fundamental elements like darkness disappearing into illumination on the turning of a light (vide  8.12.3, chAndogya and also different mantras in brihadAraNyaka Upanishad).

Armed with the above understanding, it is easy to attempt an answer to the third and main Question.

What Happens after Self-realization?

Shankara himself answers this question leaving no scope for any doubt in different parts of his bhAShya-s. For our convenience, we may subdivide the question into two parts. The first part is with respect to the body of the “now liberated individual” and the second part is with reference to the Consciousness which thus far appeared ‘as though’ confined within the body.

Before we enter into the answers provided by Shankara, we should always keep in mind an important and unforgettable caution that circumscribes all the answers so that we are not carried away by the models used for merely teaching purposes. In Shankara’s own words:

सर्वदा समैकरसम् अद्वैतम् अविक्रियम् अजम् अजरम् अमरम् अमृतम् अभयम् आत्मतत्त्वं ब्रह्मैव स्मः — इत्येष सर्ववेदान्तनिश्चितोऽर्थ इत्येवं प्रतिपद्यामहे । तस्मात् ब्रह्मात्येतीति उपचारमात्रमेतत् , विपरीतग्रहवद्देहसन्ततेः विच्छेदमात्रं विज्ञानफलमपेक्ष्य ॥ —  Shankara at the end of 4.4.6, BUB.

Meaning: We hold that it is the definite conclusion of all the Upanishads that we are nothing but the Atman, the Brahman that is always the same, homogeneous, one without a second, unchanging, birthless, not-decaying, immortal, deathless and free from fear. Therefore, the statement, ‘He is merged in Brahman’ (this text), is but a figurative one, meaning the cessation, as a result of knowledge, of the continuous chain of bodies for one who has held an opposite view. (Translation: Swami Madhavananda).

What happens to the body after Self-realization?

Shankara explains in his commentary in the brihadAraNyaka:

“The organs of a man of realization do not depart; they are merged in their cause, the Self, just where they are. As has been said (3.2.12, BU), only their names remain.”  —  4.4.7, BUB.

“But how is it that when the organs have been merged, and the body also has dissolved in its cause, the liberated sage lives in the body identified with all, but does not revert to his former embodied existence, which is subject to transmigration?”  —  4.4.7, BUB.

Shankara himself answers:  

“Here is an illustration in point. Just as in the world, the lifeless slough of a snake is cast off by it as no more being a part of itself, and lies in the anthill, or any other nest of a snake, so does this body, discarded as non-self by the liberated man, who corresponds to the snake, lie like *dead.* Then the other, the ‘liberated man identified with all-who corresponds to the snake-although he resides just there like the snake, becomes disembodied, and *is no more connected with the body.*”  —  4.4.7, BUB.

He adds further: “Because formerly he was embodied and mortal on account of his identification with the body under the influence of his desires and past work; since that has gone, he is now disembodied, and therefore, immortal.”  —  4.4.7, BUB.

Thus, it is a ‘virtual death’ for the body!

What happens to the Consciousness part after Self-realization (figurative merger)?

(To Continue … Part – 3/3)

10 thoughts on “What Happens After Self-realization? – 2/3

  1. Ramesam
    This requires several readings.
    You have separated conscious part from the inert body. One questions pops up immediately: how is this different than the human death where body lays like slough of snake. You probably may answer that in part 3 that the body does not reappear like in the case of an ignorant one.

  2. Hi Vijay,

    You say: “One questions pops up immediately: how is this different than the human death where body lays like slough of snake.”

    I am not clear what exactly you mean by “human death”?
    If you are talking about unrealized person, the unrealized man transmigrates. That is to say, the conscious speck + the subtle + causal bodies go in search of another suitable gross body and enter into it as the Garbha Upanishad explains – see my comments in the discussions on Part-1.

    The article is about the ‘realized’ man as the title of the Series itself makes it clear. The separation of speck C from the body through the breaking of the cit-jaDa granthi is itself ‘liberation.’

    One may, of course raise a question about the motive force for the body until its shelf-life is over. The karmic load (prArabdha) itself provides that (vAsanA-shakti) because Consciousness is not opposed to that shakti, as Shankara says at 1.4.10, BUB.


  3. Dear Ramesam,

    Regarding your final quotation about the snake sloughing its skin (which is from Br.U.B. 4.4.7 incidentally), here is what I say about it in ‘Confusions’:

    [After Self-realization] Nothing actually changes. It does not need to. And it cannot – Brahman is nirvikAra. The world-appearance, which is really none other than Brahman, with superimposed name and form, continues as before. The difference is that the enlightened one no longer believes that the perceived separation is real. It is only mithyA.

    So what the verse is effectively saying is that, when all the desires have gone (i.e. pratibandha-s have been eliminated), the j~nAnI becomes a jIvanmukta. The snake sloughing the skin is a metaphor for getting rid of the desires and habits etc. that are preventing us from enjoying the j~nAna phalam. It would be extending the metaphor beyond its remit to speak of the jIvanmukta no longer having a body, having left the skin behind. (In fact, if you hold strictly to the metaphor, the snake has another skin underneath the one that has been shed. Just one that is pristine and no longer affected by the abrasions and contusions of the desires that have now been dropped.)

    Best wishes,

  4. Hi Dennis,

    Contrary to your comments about the snake sloughing its skin (which I think you asserted relates to the body only and not the mind), Surevara in Naiskarmya Siddhi states in 2.17:

    Similarly if a man has rejected his gross and subtle bodies through discrimination, what will such an enlightened man care if others criticise these?
    So much, then, for the continuous and obstinate bondage which causes the notions of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ with regard to the COMPLEX OF THE HUMAN PERSONALITY FROM THE INTELLECT TO THE BODY, and which is the main cause of failure to understand the true import of the words “I am Brahman’. When a man once escapes from this, he does not feel separate from anything, but rests uniform and all-pervading in the inner Self.


  5. Hi Venkat,

    I think you are agreeing with me, aren’t you? (!)

    I was just pointing out that the B.U.B. quote about discarding the body like a snake slough could not be intepreted literally. Similarly, the ‘rejection ot gross and subtle bodies through discrimination’ is not literal obviously, since ‘discrimination’ is a mental activity.

    Best wishes,

  6. Dear Dennis,

    Thank you.
    Yes, as you pointed out, I missed mentioning the citation for the quote from 4.4.7, BUB. I edited the text suitably now.

    When you say, “The snake sloughing the skin is a metaphor for getting rid of the desires and habits etc. that are preventing us from enjoying the j~nAna phalam,” it raises several questions for me.

    Shankara himself mentions the specific and narrow point being illustrated by this metaphor at 4.4.7, Br.U. He says, “Just as in the world, the lifeless slough of a snake is *cast off by it as no more being a part of itself,* and lies in the anthill, or any other nest of a snake, so does *this body, discarded as non-self by the liberated man,* who corresponds to the snake, lie like dead.”

    Thus the example of the slough of the snake only illustrates the utter detachment with the body after liberation, IMHO. So, the question would be ‘how can a liberated individual “enjoy” the so-called ‘jnAna phalam’ when the body is discarded (i.e., there is no more a sense of ‘mine’ with body)?

    Secondly, when you say “us” who or what entity you have in mind as the antecedent subject of the pronoun “us”? Is the now-liberated man or the seeker?

    Thirdly, what exactly is the ‘jnAna phalam’ that will be enjoyed? Unlike karma and karma phalam which is different from the karma, are not jnAna and jnAna phalam one and the same?

    (For example, see what Shankara says at 13.17, BGB: “the Knowable, as described in 13.12-17, BG which, when known, forms the fruit of knowledge and is therefore said to be the Goal of knowledge, and which as a thing to be known forms the Knowable …”]

    Finally, one more question. On one hand you say that the casting off of the slough represents “getting rid of the desires and habits etc.” But you seem to believe that a “desire” to enjoy the jnAna phalam is lurking somewhere in the individual. Is there not a contradiction?


  7. Dear Ramesam,

    My apologies! I did not realize when commenting on the post that I was opening myself up to being lured into another discussion on jIvanmukti. We argued all of this during the long series of posts on pratibandha-s. I don’t wish to venture there again and I don’t think our readers will want to revisit it either. These begin at https://www.advaita-vision.org/pratibandha-s-part-1-of-6/ if you wish to embark upon this and have a few hours to spare!

    Just very briefly to respond to your last question, my use of the word ‘desires’ was because Shankara referred to this in the quoted passage. Nevertheless, I would suggest that the ‘desire’ of the seeker to attain enlightenment (mumukShutva) DOES contain at least an element of wanting to enjoy the fruits – fearlessness, absence of suffering etc. Surely you must agree?

    Best wishes,

  8. Dear Dennis,

    Thank you.
    I cannot recollect where exactly, but I remember to have read that even the desire for liberation falls down pretty soon as vairAgya (dispassion and detachment) mature in a seeker. Anyway, that has been my understanding and seems logical, because the sense of a me-ness too dissolves in the final stages.


  9. Hi All,

    Shri Vijay Pargaonkar raised a few questions in a private discussion on the Schematic diagram (Fig 1.) shown in the Post above. I gave the following clarifications to him. I felt that the same should be posted here for the information of all the readers.

    1. The figure is only a schema to help in understanding certain concepts and should not be taken as a representation of how really things happen.
    2. The figure has value till the concept is understood; once the concept is grokked, its value ceases. IOW, its value lasts till it loses its value!
    3. Actually the Infinite Consciousness never gets divvied into specks or sparks nor there is anything that can ‘reflect’ Consciousness.
    4. We give a temporary ‘beingness’ — that is to say an empirical ‘satta,’ — to the intellect (or the centralized desires) in consonance with the empirical reality where we are and assume that the intellect is present along with the spark of Consciousness.
    5. All such objects which are present within the empirical ‘satta’ function within the “Illumination field” of Consciousness. So the so-called speck or spark of Consciousness is notional and it is actually the “illumination” from Consciousness within which the intellect and other objects work.
    6. So, the Absolute Consciousness is NOT involved at all in any way in any actions of the objects which function under Its illumination. It is like all objects and creatures working in Sunlight, though Sun is never involved in what they do.
    7. The relationship between the objects and Consciousness is not really a combination. It is a superimposition (adhyAropita – technically ‘dharma adhyAsa’). The intellect is the one which actually ‘senses or knows’ other things with the aid of illumination from Consciousness and ‘attributes’ the “sensing or knowing” to Consciousness. It ‘thinks’ that the illumination of Consciousness to be its own!


  10. Ramesam
    Our discussions are very well captured – especially items 6 &7.
    One point I did not see mentioned which we discussed, which may not fit in the context, is that the “seer and the seen” arise simultaneously and are both illuminated by the Consciousness.

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