Having established the identity of Brahman and Atman in the third chapter, Sankaracharya discusses in the fourth chapter the topic of Jivan Mukti or Jivan Mukta.
The scriptures say that by the strength of his knowledge of the Self a wise person is no longer bound by the results of accumulated past actions (sanchita karma) and is also not subject to results of future actions (agami karma). Self-knowledge, however, does not destroy the outstanding results of actions which have given rise to the current birth (prarabdha karma).
Nature of Right Knowledge
Though the operation of prarabdha karma does not in any way affect the liberated Jnani, as he has dissociated himself from the notion of doership (ahankara or karta) and has learnt to dismiss it as part of the unreal non-Self (mithya anatma), the treatment of prarabdha by our scriptures is somewhat peculiar and needs some explanation. The author, therefore, devotes this small chapter with only five verses entitled Tattva Jnana Svabhava Prakaranam (Nature of Right Knowledge) for a technical enquiry into this topic.
2. At the outset, it needs to be seen that in the event prarabdha karma is also extinguished at the time of the advent of Self-knowledge, the Jnani himself will cease to exist and the lifestyle of a Jivan Mukta, well recognised and dealt with in our scriptures, will become irrelevant.
The other consequence will be that there will be a break in the very teaching lineage (guru parampara) with the result that this sacred teaching will not be available for future generations and there will be no role models to follow for posterity.
3. In the first verse, the author makes a general assertion that the fire of Self-knowledge burns all karmas, without making any distinction, such as sanchita, agami or prarabdha. The point is made in this verse that ahankara (identification with the body-mind complex giving rise to the ‘I” notion) is the locus or origin of not only all the actions (karmas) but also the results (karma phalam).
Not Affected by Doership
As the wise person has given up ahankara because of his knowledge of his real nature as the akarta/abhokta atma, he is not affected by his actions which arise from the sense of doership (kartruttvam). With his ability to discriminate his sakshi status from that of a karta, he knows that what belongs to karma and the karta do not belong to him, the sakshi.
The author, after these preliminary statements in the first verse, will, in the forthcoming verses, establish the operation of prarabdha even after the advent of knowledge in order to validate Jivan Mukti.
4. The author deals in the second verse with an opposing point of view. The objection raised is that the Jnani will be subject to Agami Karma (results of actions performed after the rise of knowledge). The results referred to here relate to those which are likely to fructify in the future (adrishta phalam) and the logic given is that the wise man’s actions do produce immediate results as well (drishta phalam).
Sankaracharya refutes this objection by saying that unlike the ajnani, the wise man’s actions are not propelled by any scriptural injunctions (Sastra vidhi), which are relevant only in the varna asrama context and, as the Jnani does not identify with that infrastructure, it is pointed out by the author that the wise man’s actions are because of prarabdha or his vasanas or svabhava developed in the current janma.
The actions are not will-based (technically known as free from purushartha). He may follow good values based on his vasana arising from his sadhanas prior to Jnanam but such acts will not yield any punyam for him. As a Jnani is incapable of any sin, he will not have papa also. This reply brings another objection as to how prarabdha can operate for the wise man, who has dropped his ahankara. This objection is responded to by the author in the next verse.
How Does It Operate?
5. In our scriptural texts, there are several explanations as to why prarabdha continues to operate even after knowledge is gained. The familiar example given is that of an arrow which has been released from the bow and which, therefore, has to travel the distance and cannot be stopped in between (mukta isuvat).
The rotation of a potter’s wheel going on for some more time even after the potter has stopped his operations is another example (kulala chakravat). Similarly, prarabdha karma caused by ahankara abhimana (attachment) will continue even after the abhimana is given up on gaining Self-knowledge.
6. In Verse 3, Sankaracharya gives a different answer to this question. He says that as prarabdha has already commenced because of which the current janma has started, knowledge cannot overpower it. The body-mind complex will continue to conduct transactions (vyavahara) until the exhaustion of prarabdha.
However, it is not correct to infer that just because the gross/subtle/causal body-mind complex continues after knowledge, the Jnani will be affected by Avidya (ignorance) which is nothing but the causal body.
The correct position is that, after Jnanam is gained, the covering part of avidya (avarana sakti) will be destroyed and only the projection part (vikshepa sakti) will be operative, in order to support the maintenance of the gross and subtle bodies until the exhaustion of prarabdha and attainment of Videha Mukti. This small dose of avidya is known by the expression avidya lesa. That part of avidya which is responsible for the origin of another birth (janma) will not be there for the Jnani.
7. Thus, it is to be noted that Self-knowledge destroys sanchita and agami karmas totally and the avarana sakti of the current causal body. Prarabdha will keep the vikshepa sakti active until Videha Mukti. The knowledge with the surviving Vikshepa Sakti is known as Sapratibandaka Jnanam (obstructed by prarabdha) and will become free (Aprabtibandaka Jnanam) once prarabdha ends and will destroy the vikshepa sakti leading to Videha Mukti.
Jnani Has No Worry
It needs to be carefully understood that this discussion on the above lines is relevant only for the onlookers or seekers of liberation (mumukshu) for their understanding. Insofar as the Jnani is concerned he is well aware that all the vyavahara dictated by Vikshepa Sakti and prarabdha are unreal (mithya) and in no way connected to his liberated status. He has, thus, no worry or anxiety related to his post-jnana vyavahara.
8. In the fourth verse, the author explains why prarabdha and its vikshepa sakti cannot be removed by Self-knowledge. The answer is that prarabhda and vikshepa sakti are not opposed to Self-knowledge.
The reasoning given is that prarabdha and vikshepa sakti are responsible for the origin of the body-mind complex, conditions conducive for Vedanta vichara and guru prapti, which eventually make Self-knowledge possible. Thus, knowledge and prarabdha can co-exist and this holds good for knowledge and Vikshepa Sakti. As prarabdha indirectly contributes to Jnanam there is no conflict between the two, whereas sanchita karma and agami karma are opposed to Self-knowledge.
9. Jivan Mukti and Videha Mukti are presented uniformly in all our Upanishads as the benefit of Self-knowledge (Jnana Phalam). While the scriptures themselves do not provide any logic in this regard, it can be deduced from the discussion in this chapter that to establish Jivan mukti we have to accept prarabhdha after Self-knowledge and that to establish Videha Mukti we have to accept the total elimination of sanchita karma and agami karma.
While Self-knowledge destroys sanchita and agami karmas, it helps to falsify prarabdha, which continues to operate even for a Jnani, though it is ineffective like a defanged cobra. Thus, the employment of the expression, karmani, which according to Sanskrit grammar is used to indicate plurality (involving at least three in number), is appropriate in the context of the Lord’s statement in the Gita that the fire of knowledge destroys all karmas.
10. The author concludes the discussion in the final verse (Verse 5) by affirming that Self- knowledge, being a fact for the wise person, sets him free without any will on his part. The Jnani’s conviction that he is the Pure Consciousness is as firm as that of an ignorant person’s identification with the body-mind complex. The author also asserts that the compatibility of knowledge and prarabdha has been established on the reasoning set out in the earlier verses.
Go to Part 5
Compiled by R. B. Athreya from the lectures of Swami Paramarthananda in Chennai.