A Treatise on the Vedanta Philosophy and Its Methodology
by Swami Krishnananda
There are in the Upanishads intimations of krama-mukti or the progressive process of the liberation of the soul. The soul reaches the Karya-Brahman or Parameshwara who transcends even the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. This Great Lord of the universe is also called Parama-Purusha, Uttama-Purusha or Purushottama. He is the Absolute Individual, the Supreme Brahman manifested as the Cause of the origin, the sustenance and the dissolution of the universe. The Upanishads are emphatic in their statements that one who reaches through unselfish meditation and knowledge this Supreme Cause does not return to the mortal coil, but proceeds further to the Absolute Reality. The Mundaka Upanishad says that the sages in the world of Brahma are liberated beyond death in the end of time. Those who attain the world of the Karya-Brahman remain there until the end of the universe, enjoying the effects of their satyakamas and satyasankalpas, the fruits of their desires and willings based on Truth. Whatever they wish arises then and there instantaneously, for they are in harmony with the Universal Being. They enjoy the highest approximation to the bliss of the Lord of the universe. Their desires are not like those of the mortals of the samsara, for, the latter’s desires are flames of morbid passions based on untruth and arising out of intense selfishness and egoism mostly set in opposition to the other individuals of the universe, whereas the former’s desires are absolute truth-willings which are attuned to the law of the God of the universe, in spite of the individualities maintained by them there. Practically the desire of the liberated soul is no desire at all in the general sense, for it is not the effect of avidya (mixture of deluded passion and darkness) but of maya (light of truth and knowledge). The desire of one liberated soul cannot be against that of another, for they all are co-existent with the one God; but the desires of one man are mostly against those of others, for they all are dissipated and cut off one from another by the separative egos rooted in the darkness of avidya. The liberated souls think and work through the higher thought of the spiritual nature, not through the mind and sense-organs of the lower nature. They breathe the universal life and exist as partakers of the joy of the Master of the universe. They have the unceasing immediacy of the consciousness of everything, an awareness of the inmost objective essences of the complete universe. Their experiences are, no doubt, objective, they being not identical with the Absolute, but they can have an entire knowledge of the universe through self-identification with anything, at any time, though this is different from the simultaneous Cosmic Consciousness of God or Ishvara. But they are not opposed to the being of God, they work as God works, live as God lives, will as God wills, though all this happens spontaneously there. They are the sportive forms of the Absolute in itself. They want nothing; they are satisfied with themselves. They do not crave for an entity second to themselves, they desire only themselves, and even when they enjoy the objects of the universe, they do so with an all-engulfing unity-consciousness. They are like several circles with a common centre and radii of the same length, but comprehended within the Great Circle of the Infinite. The differences among these souls are not detrimental to the Infinite, since they are attuned to it. However, even truth-willings and enjoyments with consciousness of identity of things cannot be taken as the highest Liberation, which is brahmanubhava.
It is said that these souls enjoy all powers except those of universal creation, preservation and destruction, which belong to God alone, and that conflict of actions may arise if all are endowed with the same power. This statement can be intelligible only when the relation between God and the liberated souls is not one of identity but of difference. If Liberation means the highest Knowledge of God, then, to live in the same world as God’s, to live near to God, and to have a form similar to God’s, and yet to be different from God, can only be lesser than Liberation, because God is not one of many individuals, not a samsari, but the only existing Absolute Individual, and to have any relation with Him is to know Him, and to know Him is to be one with Him, and to be one with Him is not to perceive duality. The knowledge of God or Ishvara, which these souls in Brahmaloka on the path of krama-mukti have, is only an approximation to Ishvara-Consciousness, but is not the same as that. Hence these souls are neither omnipotent nor omniscient, though they have full freedom as far as their enjoyments within their circles are concerned. There does not arise the question of the conflict that may crop up among the liberated souls endowed with the power of creation, preservation and destruction, if all souls are one with Ishvara. To be endowed with the same power and knowledge as God is to be non-different beings forming a One-Whole which is God. And, since no two individuals can have identical knowledge without themselves destroying their different forms and becoming one being, we are led to suppose a difference in experience among these souls. Further, when it is said that the liberated souls attain Absolute-Experience only at the end of the universe, it is implied that they cannot experience Absoluteness as long as Ishvara exists as a Self-conscious being, which means that they have still an objective experience and are not identical with Ishvara. Otherwise, there is no reason why they should retain their individualities until the end of the universe. The correct view, however, seems to be that all those who meditate on the Absolute Individual (God) through positive qualitative conceptions, rest in Him, who, in the end of time, winding up the space-time-universe which is His own body, dissolves Himself in the Conscious Power of the Absolute, which is itself non-different from the Absolute. These relatively liberated ones have their individualities not destroyed here but exist in the world of Ishvara, i.e., Ishvara is experienced by them not directly but as an objective conscious universe, of which they are integral aspects. This Self-Dissolution of God is, in some respects, similar to the deep sleep of the worldly individual, who also, at the end of the day, ending his body-consciousness, dissolves himself in the unconscious power based on the Atman, which is superimposed on the Atman. But the difference between the two dissolutions is that in the case of God, there is no further forced coming back to universe-consciousness, no subsequent dreaming and waking state, and there is Absolute-Experience; whereas, in the case of the worldly individual, there is forced coming back to body-consciousness, there is subsequent dreaming and waking state, and there is no Self-Experience. There are kama and karma in the individual because of avidya in him, but in God there is vidya, Universal Consciousness or Absolute Self-Consciousness alone, and hence, there are no concomitant kama and karma which are the causes of objective multiplicity-consciousness and the activity therefor. Desire and action in the individual are the outcome of the darkness of ignorance, but they do not exist in vidya which is the light of knowledge. The souls who are in the World of Ishvara, or the Absolute-Individual, experience it as an Intelligence-World of shuddha-sattva corresponding to their own personalities made of the same substance. The soul is said to reach God through the passage of the sun (Mund. Up., I. 2. 11), and, thus, pass on to the Absolute. Anywise, the imaginary problem of the possibility of the multiple lordship of the liberated souls does not arise, any more than the possibility of the existence of many Absolutes and Eternities. When there is individuality there is no omniscience or omnipotence, and when there are these there is no individuality. If we are to be alive to the sentences which declare that the liberated soul “goes around laughing, sporting, enjoying with women and chariots and friends, not remembering the appendage of the body” (Chh. Up., VIII. 12. 3), we can be so only by convincing ourselves that this state cannot be that of the Consciousness of the Absolute, or that this may be the condition of the jivanmukta who does mysterious and ununderstandable actions, and who, though he has no consciousness of his body, is yet made to animate his body through a slight trace of the existent pure egoism unconnected with spiritual consciousness. This is the remainder of that part of his prarabdha-karma which is unobstructive to Knowledge. The state of jivanmukti has no connection with the physical body; it is a state of consciousness; so it can be experienced even when the physical body is dropped, i.e., even in Brahmaloka. The jivanmukta of this physical world, with his physical body, too, is really in Brahmaloka in his consciousness, though the body is in this world. Those who have not attained jivanmukti here and are not ready for sadyo-mukti immediately after the prana stops functioning in the present physical body, attain this through krama-mukti after the death of the physical body. This shows that a videhamukta is not one who exists in Brahmaloka but who has merged in the Absolute. Or, we have to make a theoretical distinction between two definitions of a videhamukta—he who has an individuality either in a lower superhuman experience, or in Brahmaloka, and is on the verge of Absolute-Experience on the exhaustion of his prarabdha which is the cause of his superhuman experience and his experience in Brahmaloka (the arising from which is called the waking up of Brahma or Hiranyagarbha), and he who has actually merged in Brahman. In Brahmaloka the soul is like a perfect jivanmukta of this world, and all its actions are spontaneous promptings of the pure satsankalpas, and not conscious willings born of a deliberately egoistic personality. If we are to be consistent with the demands of jivanmukti, we have to hold that even the satyakamas and satyasankalpas or desires and willings based on Truth in the liberated soul of the Brahmaloka are really not conscious actions but spontaneous outpourings of the remaining momentum of actions done prior to the rise of Self-Knowledge, which were non-obstructive to the rise of Knowledge. If we are to think that the acts of the soul in Brahmaloka are deliberately directed conscious ones, it would follow that they are not as evolved as jivanmuktas who have no consciousness of individuality. The prarabdha in the jivanmukta is not experienced by his consciousness; it is not a content of the Absolute-Consciousness; it is existent only to the other ignorant jivas who perceive the existence or the movements of his body.
There is also a passage (Chh. Up., VIII. 14) which speaks about the soul’s entering into Prajapati’s abode and assembly hall. The joy which the soul experiences in the consciousness of God is expressed in glowing terms. The Taittiriya Upanishad (II. 1) says that the knower of Brahman simultaneously enjoys with Brahman-Consciousness all that he desires for. The difficulty that often hampers our understanding of the exact nature of the different stages in the process of progressive salvation is increased by the fact that the Upanishads are rarely explicit about them, and find joy in giving intimations of immortality even in regard to a state which we must very much hesitate to take as the highest, if we are to use any reason in our understandings and judgments. Many a time, one is at a loss to know whether the Upanishads are giving a metaphorical exclamation of the Experience of the Absolute, or a real description of the state of one in Brahmaloka on the way to krama-mukti. The instantaneous enjoyment of everything with the Absolute-Consciousness has to be construed as an intimation of Ishvara Himself, for the one in Brahmaloka cannot have a simultaneous experience of the entire existence; or it has to be taken to indicate a joyous outburst of brahmanubhava.
However, one thing is certain, that the criterion of salvation lies in that
“By knowing God, there is a falling off of all fetters, distresses are destroyed, there is cessation of birth and death, there is breaking up of individuality (or bodily nature), there accrues universal lordship, one becomes absolute, and all desires are satisfied.” —Svet. Up., I. 11.
We cannot, with our intellects, understand how there can be wish and enjoyment when all desires are satisfied. It is said that “it is simple Lila” or sport of the Divine, which is not an explanation of the mystery, but an admission that man cannot know God’s ways. For us, even the least wish or action, howevermuch universal it may be, means a state below the Supreme Being. It is clear that all the various statements regarding the different experiences which the liberated soul is said to have must refer to an objective experience introduced in one or the other of the three stages of Virat, Hiranyagarbha and Ishvara, or to the realisation of Brahman itself. The Upanishads, however, use the word “Brahman” to mean any of the four, and it is this that does not allow us to have an adequate knowledge of what they actually hold to be the definite stages of Truth-realisation. To us it somehow appears that the main stages must be only four: Attainment of (1) universal objective multiplicity-consciousness, (2) universal subjective multiplicity-consciousness, (3) universal Self-consciousness, (4) Transcendental Experience. The Mandukya Upanishad testifies to the existence of these four states. But the first three experiences are relative and seem to be existent only so long as one remains an experiencer with a touch of the spatial concept in the Universal. There cannot be any logical proof for the existence of these three objective states beyond an individualistic demand. As a later Vedantin has said, “Those dull-witted persons who are unable to realise the unconditioned Supreme Brahman are shown compassion by a description of the Qualified Brahman. When their mind is controlled through meditation on the Qualified Brahman, the One Being, free from all limitations reveals itself.”