A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1932 | 241,887 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the stage of the saint (jivan-mukta): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the seventh part in the series called the “the philosophy of the yogavasishtha”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 7 - The Stage of the Saint (Jīvan-mukta)

Emancipation (mukti) in this system can be attained in the lifetime of a person or after his death; in the former case it is called sa-deha-muktatā, or jīvan-muktatā. 'The jīvan-mukta state is that in which the saint has ceased to have any desires (apagatai-ṣaṇaḥ), as if he were in a state of deep sleep (suṣuptavat). He is self-contained and thinks as if nothing existed. He has always an inward eye, even though he may be perceiving all things with his external eye and using his limbs in all directions. He does not wait for the future, nor remain in the present, nor remember the past.

Though sleeping, he is awake and, though awake, he is asleep. He may be doing all kinds of actions externally, though he remains altogether unaffected by them internally. He internally renounces all actions, and does not desire anything for himself. He is full of bliss and happiness, and therefore appears to ordinary eyes to be an ordinary happy man; but in reality, though he may be doing all kinds of things, he has not the delusion of being himself an active agent (tyakta-kartṛtva-vibhramaḥ).

He has no antipathy, grief, emotions, or outbursts of pleasure. He is quite neutral to all who do him ill or well; he shows sympathetic interest in each person in his own way; he plays with a child, is serious with an old man, an enjoyable companion to a young man, sympathetic with the sorrows of a suffering man. He is wise and pleasant and loving to all with whom he comes in contact. He is not interested in his own virtuous deeds, enjoyments, sins, in bondage or emancipation.

He has a true philosophic knowledge of the essence and nature of all phenomena, and, being firm in his convictions, he remains neutral to all kinds of happenings, good, bad, or indifferent. But from the descriptions it appears that this indifference on the part of a saint does not make him an exclusive and unnatural man; for, though unaffected in every way within himself, he can take part in the enjoyment of others, he can play like a child and can sympathize with the sorrows of sufferers[1].

Jīvan-mukti, or emancipation while living, is considered by Śaṅkara also as a possible state, though he does not seem to have used the term in his works. Thus, on the basis of Chāndogya , vi. 14. 2, he says that knowledge destroys only those actions which have not already begun to yield their fruits; those actions which have already begun to yield fruits cannot be destroyed by true knowledge, and so it is not possible for anyone to escape from their effects, good or bad; and it has to be admitted that even after the dawning of true knowledge the body remains until the effects of the actions which have already begun to yield fruits are exhausted by enjoyment or suffering.

In explaining such a condition Śaṅkara gives two analogies:

  1. as a potter’s wheel goes on revolving when the vessel that it was forming is completed, so the body, which was necessary till the attainment of true knowledge, may continue to exist for some time even after the rise of knowledge;
  2. as, when a man through some eye-disease sees two moons instead of one, he continues to do so even when he is convinced that there are not two moons but one, so, even when the saint is firmly convinced of the unreality of the world-appearance, he may still continue to have the illusion of world-appearance, though internally he may remain unaffected by it[2].

Of the Upaniṣads only the later Muktika Upaniṣad , which seems to have drawn its inspiration from the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha , mentions the word jīvan-mukta , meaning those saints who live till their fruit-yielding actions (prārabdha-karma) are exhausted[3]. But, though the word is not mentioned, the idea seems to be pretty old.

The conception of sthita-prajña in the Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā reminds us of the state of a jīvan-mukta saint. A sthita-prajña (man of steady wisdom) has no desires, but is contented in himself, has no attachment, fear or anger, is not perturbed by sorrow nor longs for pleasure, and is absolutely devoid of all likes and dislikes. Like a tortoise within its shell, he draws himself away from the sense-objects[4]. This conception of the Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā is referred to in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha , which gives a summary of it in its own way[5]. But it seems as if the conception of the saint in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha has this advantage over the other, that here the saint, though absolutely unaffected by all pleasures and sufferings, by virtue and vice, is yet not absolutely cut off from us; for, though he has no interest in his own good, he can show enjoyment in the enjoyment of others and sympathy with the sufferings of others; he can be as gay as a child when with children, and as serious as any philosopher when with philosophers or old men.

The Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā , though it does not deny such qualities to a saint, yet does not mention them either, and seems to lay stress on the aspect of the passivity and neutral character of the saint; whereas the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha , as we have already said, lays equal stress on both these special features of a saint. He is absolutely unattached to anything, but is not cut off from society and can seemingly take part in everything without losing his mental balance in any way. The Gītā , of course, always recommends even the unattached saint to join in all kinds of good actions; but what one misses there is the taking of a full and proper interest in life along with all others, though the saint is internally absolutely unaffected by all that he may do.

The saint in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha not only performs his own actions in an unattached manner, but to all appearance mixes with the sorrows and joys of others.

The question whether a saint is above the tyranny of the effects of his own deeds was also raised in Buddhist quarters. Thus we find in the Kathā-vatthu that a discussion is raised as to whether a saint can be killed before his proper time of death, and it is said that no one can attain Nirvāṇa without enjoying the fruits of accumulated intentional deeds[6]. A story is told in the Dhamma-pada commentary (the date of which, according to E. W. Burlingame, is about a.d. 450), how the great saint Moggallāna was torn in pieces by thieves, and his bones were pounded until they were as small as grains of rice; such a miserable death of such a great saint naturally raised doubts among his disciples, and these were explained by Buddha, who said that this was due to the crime of parricide, which Moggallāna had committed in some previous birth; even though he had attained sainthood (arhattva) in that life, he could not escape suffering the effect of his misdeeds, which were on the point of bearing fruit[7]. This would naturally imply the view that sainthood does not necessarily mean destruction of the body, but that even after the attainment of sainthood the body may continue to exist for the suffering of the effects of such actions as are on the point of bearing fruit.

The different Indian systems are, however, not all agreed regarding the possibility of the jīvan-mukta state. Thus, according to the Nyāya, apavarga, or emancipation, occurs only when the soul is absolutely dissociated from all the nine kinds of qualities (will, antipathy, pleasure, pain, knowledge, effort, virtue, vice and rooted instincts). Unless such a dissociation actually occurs, there cannot be emancipation; and it is easy to see that this cannot happen except after death, and so emancipation during the period while the body remains is not possible[8]. The point is noticed by Vātsyāyana in a discussion on Nyāya-sūtra, iv. 2. 42-45, where he raises the question of the possibility of knowledge of external objects through the senses and denies it by declaring that in emancipation (apavarga) the soul is dissociated from the body and all the senses, and hence there is no possibility of knowledge; and that with the extinction of all knowledge there is also ultimate and absolute destruction of pain[9].

The Vaiśeṣika holds the same view on the subject. Thus Śrīharṣa says that, when through right knowledge (paramārtha-darśana) all merit ceases, then the soul, being devoid of the seeds of merit and demerit, which produce the body and the senses, etc., and the present body having been destroyed by the exhaustive enjoyment of the fruits of merit and demerit, and there being no further production of any new body by reason of the destruction of all the seeds of karma , there is absolute cessation of the production of body, like the extinction of fire by the burning up of all the fuel; and such an eternal nonproduction of body is called mokṣa (emancipation)[10].

Prabhākara seems to hold a similar view. Thus Śālikanātha, in explaining the Prabhākara view in his Prakaraṇa-pañcikā, says that emancipation means the absolute and ultimate destruction of the body, due to the total exhaustion of merit and demerit[11]. The difficulty is raised that it is not possible to exhaust by enjoyment or suffering the fruits of all the karmas accumulated since beginningless time; he who, being averse to worldly sorrows and all pleasures which are mixed with traces of sorrow, works for emancipation, desists from committing the actions prohibited by Vedic injunctions, which produce sins, exhausts by enjoyment and suffering the good and bad fruits of previous actions, attains true knowledge, and is equipped with the moral qualities of passionless tranquillity, self-restraint and absolute sex-control, exhausts in the end all the potencies of his karmas (niḥśeṣa-karmāśaya) and attains emancipation[12]. This view, however, no doubt has reference to a very advanced state in this life, when no further karma is accumulating; but it does not call this state mokṣa during life; for mokṣa, according to this view, is absolute and ultimate non-production of body.

The Sāṃkhya-kārikā, however, holds that, when true knowledge is attained (samyagjñānādhigama), and when in consequence none of the karmas of undetermined fruition (aniyata-vipāka), accumulated through beginningless time, are able to ripen for bearing fruit, the body may still continue to remain simply by the inertia, as it were, of the old avidyā; just as even after the potter has ceased to operate the potter’s wheel may continue to move as a result of the momentum which it has acquired (cakra-bhramivad dhṛta-śarīraḥ)[13].

The word jīvan-mukta is not used either in the Kārikā or in the Tattva-kaumudi or in the Tattva-vibhākara. The Sāṃkhya-sūtra, however, uses the term and justifies it on the same grounds as does Vācaspati[14]. The Sāṃkhya-sūtra, more particularly the Pravacana-bhāṣya, raises the threefold conception of manda-viveka (feeble discrimination), madhya-viveka (middle discrimination), and viveka-niṣpatti (finished discrimination)[15]. The stage of manda-viveka is that in which the enquirer has not attained the desired discrimination of the difference between prakṛti and puruṣa, but is endeavouring to attain it; the madhya-viveka stage is the state of the jīvan-mukta. But this is an asamprajñāta state, i.e. a state in which there is still subject-object knowledge and a full conscious discrimination. The last stage, viveka-niṣpatti, is an asamprajñāta state in which there is no subject-object knowledge, and therefore there cannot in this stage be any reflection of pleasure or sorrow (due to the fructifying karmaprārabdha-karma) on the puruṣa.

The Yoga also agrees with the general conclusion of the Sāṃkhya on the subject. A man who nears the state of emancipation ceases to have doubts about the nature of the self, and begins to re-live the nature of his own self and to discriminate himself as being entirely different from his psychosis (sattva)-, but, as a result of the persistence of some decayed roots of old impressions and instincts, there may, in the intervals of the flow of true discriminative knowledge, emerge other ordinary cognitive states, such as “I am,” “mine,” “I know,” “I do not know”; yet, inasmuch as the roots of the old impressions have already been burnt, these occasional ordinary cognitive states cannot produce further new impressions. The general impressions of cognition (jñāna-saṃskāra), however, remain until the final destruction of citta.

The point here is that, the roots in the world of subconscious impressions being destroyed, and the occasional appearance of ordinary cognitive states being but remnants produced by some of the old impressions, the roots of which have already been burnt, these occasional ordinary cognitive states are like passing shadows which have no basis anywhere; they cannot, therefore, produce any further impressions and thus cannot be a cause of bondage to the saint. With the advance of this state the sage ceases to have inclinations even towards his processes of concentration, and there is only discriminative knowledge; this state of samādhi is called dharma-megha. At this stage all the roots of ignorance and other afflictions become absolutely destroyed, and in such a state the sage, though living (jīvann eva), becomes emancipated (vimukta). The next stage is, of course, the state of absolute emancipation (kaivalya), when the citta returns back to prakṛti, never to find the puruṣa again[16].

Among later writers Vidyāraṇya wrote on this subject a treatise which he called Jīvan-mukti-viveka[17]. It is divided into five chapters. In the first he deals with the authorities who support jīvan-mukti ; in the second, with the nature of the destruction of instinctive root inclinations (vāsanā); in the third, with the destruction of manas (mano-nāśa); in the fourth, with the final object for which jīvan-mukti is sought; and in the fifth, with the nature and characteristics of those saints who have attained jīvan-mukti by wisdom and right knowledge (vidvat-saṃnyāsa), and have virtually renounced the world, though living. The work is more a textual compilation from various sources than an acute philosophical work examining the subject on its own merits.

The writer seems to have derived his main inspiration from the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, though he refers to relevant passages in several other works, such as

Disinclination to passions and desires (virakti) is, according to him, of two kinds, intense (tīvra) and very intense (tīvratara). Intense virakti is that in which the person does not desire anything in this life, whereas very intense virakti is that in which the person ceases to have any desires for all future lives[18]. Vidyāraṇya takes great pains to prove, by reference to various scriptural texts, that there are these two distinct classes of renunciation (. sannyāsin), though one might develop into the other[19].

As regards the nature of jīvan-mukti, Vidyāraṇya follows the view of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha , though he supports it by other scriptural quotations. On the subject of bodiless emancipation (videha-mukti) also he refers to passages from the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha. Jīvan-mukti is the direct result of the cessation of all instinctive root desires (vāsanā-kṣaya), the dawning of right knowledge (tattva-jñāna), and the destruction of manas (mano-nāśa). Vidyāraṇya, however, holds that on account of steady right knowledge even the seeming appearance of passions and attachment cannot do any harm to a jīvan-mukta, just as the bite of a snake whose fangs have been drawn cannot do him any harm. Thus he gives the example of Yājñavalkya, who killed Śākalya by cursing and yet did not suffer on that account, because he was already a jīvan-mukta, firm in his knowledge of the unreality of the w’orld. So his anger was not real anger, rooted in instinctive passions, but a mere appearance (ābhāsa) of it[20].

Footnotes and references:


V. 77.


Śaṅkara’s Sarīraka-bhāṣya or the Brahma-sūtra, iv. 1. 15, 19.


Muktika Upaniṣad, 1. 42, also 11. 33, 35, 76.


Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, II. 55-58.


Yoga-vāsiṣṭha, vi. 52-58.


Kathā-vatthu, xvii. 2.


Buddhist Legends by E. W. Burlingame, vol. ii. p. 304. The same legend is repeated in the introduction to Jātaka 522.


tad evam navānām ātma-guṇānāṃ nirmūlocchedo ’pavargaḥ
tad evedam uktaṃ bhavati tad-atyanta-viyogo 'pavargaḥ.
p. 508.


yasmāt sarva-duḥkha-bījaṃ sarva-duḥkhāyatanaṃ cāpavarge
vichidyate tasmāt sarveṇa duḥkhena vimuktiḥ
apavargo no nirbījaṃ nirāyatanaṃ ca duḥkham utpadyate.
Vātsyāyana on Nyāya-sūtra , IV. 2. 43.


yathā dagdhendhanasyānalasyopaśamaḥ punar anutpāda evaṃ punaḥ śarī-rānutpādo mokṣaḥ.
p. 283.

Praśastapāda also writes:

tadā mrodhāt nirbījasyātmanaḥ śarirādi-nivṛttiḥ punaḥ iafīrādy-anutpattau dagdhendhanānalavad upaśamo mokṣa iti.
p. 282.


ātyantikas tu dehocchedo niḥśeṣa-dharmādharma-parikṣaya-nibandhano mokṣa iti.
p. 156.


Ibid. p. 157.


Sāṃkhya-kārikā, 67,68. Ṭhe Tattva-kaumudt here essays to baseits remarks on Chāndogya, VI . 14. 2, as Śaṅkara did in his bhāsya on the Brahma-sūtra. The Tattva-vibhākara of Vamśīdhara Miśra, in commenting on Vācaspati’s Tattva-kaumudī, quotes Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad, 11. 2. 8, and also Śrīmad-bhagavad-gītā, iv. 37, for its support. Compare Yoga-vāsiṣṭha: ghanā na vāsanā yasya punar-janana-varjitā.


Sāṃkhya-sūtra, 111. 77-83.


Ibid. III. 77, 78.


Yoga-sūtra and Vyāsa-bhāṣya, iv. 29-32.


This Vidyāranya seems to be later than the Vidyāranya who wrote the Pañcadaśī, as quotations from the chapter Brahmānanda of the Pañcadaśī are found in it (chap. 11, pp. 195, 196, Chowkhamba edition). So my identification of the Vidyāranya of the Pañcadaśī with the writer of Jlvan-mukti-viveka in the first volume (p. 419) of the present work seems to be erroneous.


If the ascetic has ordinary desires he is called harnsa ; if he desires emancipation, he is called parama-haṃsa. The course of their conduct is described in the Parāśara-smṛti, Jīvan-mukti-viveka, i. 11. When a man renounces the world for the attainment of right knowledge, it is called viviḍiṣā-saṃnyāsa (renunciation for thirst of knowledge), as distinguished from vidvat-saṃnyāsa (renunciation of the wise) in the case of those who have already attained right knowledge. The latter kind of samnyāsa is with reference to those who are jīvan-mukta.


It is pointed out by Vidyāranya that the Āruṇikopaniṣad describes the conduct aṇḍ character of vividiṣā-saṃnyāsa, in which one is asked to have a staff, one loin-cloth and to repeat the Āraṇyakas and the Upanishads only, and the Parama-haṃsopaniṣat describes the conduct and character of vidvat-saṃnyāsa, in which no such repetition of the Upani§ads is held necessary, since such a person is fixed and steady in his Brahma knowledge. This makes the difference between the final stages of the two kinds of renunciation (Jīvan-mukti-viveka, i. 20-24).


Jīvan-mukti-viveka, pp. 183-186.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: