Supported by writings as early as the Brhadaranyaka, the Hindu concept of Jivanmukti is gaining knowledge that one’s self is the non-dual, Brahman. It is knowing even further that the body is not the Ultimate Reality and the self was never actually embodied. It is in the destruction of this binding form of thought that brings about liberation; the destruction of the body does not. Freedom from the cycles of rebirth, the ultimate goal of liberation (moksa), places a distinct emphasis on the desirelessness which brings about immortality, bodilessness and the Ultimate Reality (brahman) (Fort 3-5). This release comes from the understanding and accession that humans are already liberated and the soul is free.
Advaita means “non-dual”. The school of Advaita Vedanta is named as such for it does not disassociate “us” or the universe as separate from the Ultimate Reality; they are one in the same or non-dual. The school of Advaita Vedanta relies heavily on three forms of knowledge transference being: (1) revelation, (2) reason and (3) teachings of beings who are in a state of living embodiment through the realization of Brahman (Sharma 13). This system is intrinsic to the Advaitic core teachings of living liberation, in contrast to all other schools of Hinduism which believe that for one to experience freedom from the cycle of birth and death (samsara) they must actually experience the death of the physical body in order for the enlightened soul to escape the physical bondage holding it to this place of existence. Only at the point where there is no physical bondage polluting the soul can it attain the Ultimate Reality which is Brahman (Mishra 293-297). Though this key aspect which varies in schools, there are more similarities than not regarding samsara and the attainment of Moksa or Jivanmukti. Attainment of Brahman liberation in mostly performed in the renouncer stage (sannyasa) of Hindu life. The renouncer is one who practises a solitary path conducive to self-realization. Through the ritual performance of multiple Yogic practises [For a more in depth look at various forms of Yogic rituals see Fort (1998)], especially that of Jnana Yoga, a renunciate is able to still one’s passions and attain a form of Nirvana liberation (Indich 108-112). The mind is cleared and kept clear by meditation. The Yogic actions are performed to purify both the body and the mind, freeing one from conscious and unconscious attachment. Through this continued practise one is able to completely withdraw into a meditative state required to attain and maintain a state of a Jivanmukti (Fort 79-83)
Jivanmukti is possible because after the onset of knowledge the body still persists. The persistence of the physical body after the release of the soul is for the purpose of being given the opportunity to teach those who have yet to experience Brahman. A Jivanmukti is said to be actionless in that there is no residual effect from actions, for actions are not performed due to desire-seeking, for a Jivanmukti cannot have a desire when everything that may have been wanted has already been fulfilled, thus leaving all acts performed for the purpose of example setting or maintenance of the body (Shah-Kazemi 110). Through liberation one is able to remove the cosmic principle which is the cause of world illusion (avidya), though a trace of this illusion persists through the continued existence of the physical body. Though as a body in time will be extinguished, all traces of avidya will fade as well (Chari 170). The body-soul relationship of a Jivanmukti was likened in the Brhadaranyaka Upanisads as that of a sloughed off skin and the remaining body of a snake, it is a housing which has been cast off and discarded, yet still exists in the physical universe (Fort 23). Sankara worded the continued existence a bit more eloquently in the overall loss of karmic experience in the transition to liberation. There are three forms of karma which a non-liberated individual is affected by: karma which has been accumulated throughout past existence, accumulating to one’s total cosmic debt (sancite), instant karma which is created in one’s current life time, which may be added to and worked on through daily action (kriyamana) and the portion of sancite karma being worked upon in one’s current life time (prarabdha). When looking into forms of karma, sancite and kriyamana karma respectively deal with actions performed in the past which have yet to affect the present; and actions performed in the present which have yet to affect the future (Indich 110-111). When one experiences Brahman these two karmas are burned away in the fires of knowledge (jnana). Because prarabdha is solely working away at a past life’s karma its path will not be affected by jnana and so it remains even throughout liberation (Indich 110-111) and will remain until “final peace”, being the death of the physical body in which the Jivanmuki remains alive and is then subject to the unfolding of their prarabdha karma (Shah-Kazemi 213). In the Advaitic teachings Moksa is what is considered to be the final release; Moksa allows for the state of omniscience to manifest completely when the spirit is no longer bound by karma (Chari 172-173).
REFERENCES AND FURTHER RECOMMENDED READING
Fort, Andrew O (1998) Jiivanmukti in Transformation: Embodied Liberation in Advaita and Neo-Vedanta. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Sharma, Arvind (2004) Advaita Vedanta. New Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Ltd.
Mishra, Kamalakar (1999) Kashmir Saivism: The Central Philosophy of Tantrism. New Dehli: Sri Satguru Publications.
Indich, William M (1980) Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta. Columbia: South Asia Books
Shah-Kazemi, Reza (2006) Action and Prarabdha Karma. Paths to Transcendence: According to Shankara, Ibn Arabi, and Meister Eckhart. Bloomington: World Wisdom, Inc.
Chari, Srinivasa S. M (1976) Advaita and Visistadvaita: A Study Based on Vedanta Desika’s Satadusani. New Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass.
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Article written by: Laura York (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.