Q-A philosophy


Where can I find an authoritative work that teaches about “liberation in life” (jivanmukti)? CW


To understand the concept of ‘liberation during life’ (jivanmukti) in Indian philosophy, it is helpful to be acquainted with some basic concepts.

The major stream of Indian philosophy regards worldly life with its pleasures and pains as superimposed on the soul through ignorance of pure nature of the soul, which consists of undiluted consciousness. Pleasure and pain belong in reality to the body-mind complex. These latter are formed from unconscious, inert matter, but their association with the soul since time immemorial has resulted in a sort of mingling that seems to impart the soul’s consciousness to inert matter and the body-mind experience of pleasure and pain to the soul. Efforts to secure pleasure result inevitably in suffering, for even the loss of pleasure brings pain. Since instinctively no one wishes to experience pain, man has constantly tried to find ways to escape it, though without success. The analytical mind of the philosopher concluded that pleasure and pain are inseparable; hence, in order to be rid of pain, pleasure must also go. This hypothetical state involving the absence of both pleasure and pain was named ‘liberation’, meaning liberation from worldly life. The proof of the existence of such a state is found, maintains the philosopher, in our experience of deep sleep, which is pervaded by pure consciousness.

Pleasure and pain are not limited to the current life; they are linked into an unlimited series of lives – another hypothesis. The justification for this hypothesis is the invariable relation perceived between action and consequence, cause and effect, as evidenced by the innate inequality among life forms. The conditions of the present life presume befitting causative actions in a past life; actions in the present life point inevitably to a next life. This reasoning applies also to the immediately preceding and following lives, implying an unending series of births and deaths through which the soul journeys. Births and deaths belong to the physical body and are milestones in the journey of the soul, which travels withan intangible body that houses the forces of thought and action.The relation between action and appropriate result implies that the soul travels across life forms. A soul’s present life may be that of a human being; this does not guarantee the human character of its past and future lives.

This complicated nature of the life mechanism leads to the conclusion that the soul can leave the round of lives only by being released from its intangible body. The root of the problem is ignorance about the souls being totally different in nature from the body-mind complex, the machinery of worldly suffering. Philosophical thinking helps the soul to realise this reality. Through sustained efforts in Yogic meditation, perhaps over several lives, it succeeds in severing itself from the body-mind complex. This is called ‘liberation’. It is compared to waking up after a horrible dream, worldly life.

The soul is liberated the moment it realises (not merely ‘knows’ intellectually) that it is separate from the body-mind complex. However, since life in the current physical body is the result of past deeds, it continues even after liberation until the consequences of these actions are played out. This situation is compared to a discharged arrow which falls on the ground only when its speed drops. Actions awaiting their turn to bear consequences are compared to arrows in a quiver; they can be cancelled. Actions carried out after ‘liberation’ do not bear consequences because the soul is not involved in them.

Liberation-in-life is discussed in the Jivanmukti-viveka by Vidyaranya (14th c. AD). This Sanskrit work with English translation is published by The Adyar Library and Research Centre, The Theosophical Society, Adyar, Madras (Chennai) 600 020, India.

Professor Krishna Arjunwadkar



How do we approach the Yoga aphorism ” future suffering is avoidable” (heyam dukham anagatam) using our Yoga practice and through our daily lives? LL


The aphorism ‘Future pain is avoidable (heyamduhkham anagatam)'(Yogasutra 2.16)is the premise presented by the classic authority on Yoga, Patanjali, in a four-point plan for eradicating suffering permanently. As an explanation of this premise, the nature of suffering is identified. The second step is to trace its cause. The third is the scheme of eliminating it. Fourthly and finally come the means to secure this objective. Patanjali’s terms for these stages are the avoidable (heya), the cause of the avoidable (heyahetu), avoidance (hana) and the means of avoidance (hanopaya); the aphorism cited names the first. In his view, [a] all worldly experiences of the Soul, including pleasures, involve suffering, which is to be avoided. [b] the cause of this is the Soul’s ignorance of its own spiritual nature resulting in its erroneous identification with the material world, which includes the mind; [c] this naturally leads to the conclusion that, for release from suffering, the Soul must be severed from the material world; [d] this is possible only when the Soul discovers its own nature, that is, the knowledge of reality.

Though occurring as a background for Yoga practice, Patanjali’s plan reflects common sense wisdom. We cannot change the painful past; but we can change a possible painful future on the basis of the lessons of previous experience. Once having burned our fingers, we take care not to do so again. Sometimes we learn from others’ mistakes: we take care not to bring down their misfortunes on ourselves. It is the human intellect’s grasp of cause and effect that allows us to shape a future course on the basis of a judgement of the past.

This makes clear sense for obvious causes of pain as in the example above. It is not so obvious in regard to things which are pleasant on the face of it but ultimately lead to suffering. Addictions partake of this characteristic. Tobacco is enjoyable to a tobacco-lover; but it is harmful in the end. The pleasure obtained from it is temporary; but the harm it does is lasting. It is thus pleasure in the present, but pain in future. Wisdom lies in avoiding what is temporarily pleasant, in consideration of the lasting harm it is capable of doing in the course of time.

If this way of thinking is applied to human life experience as a whole, we are led to the conclusion Patanjali arrives at. The very transience of worldly pleasures can be a cause of worry to a discerning mind which cannot but realise that they are short-lived. This very thinking brings in an element of pain even while the mind enjoys those experiences deemed pleasures. This inevitably results in turning such experiences sour or even bitter. It all depends on how sensitive one’s mind is. The conclusion a man of philosophical leanings arrives at is that all worldly experience, including what is considered enjoyable, is painful. What pleasure would a passenger have in an air journey if he is aware that the plane is soon to crash?

Developing such an attitude towards worldly pleasures as a whole is a must for developing Yogic abilities, says Patanjali. This in fact comprises the first lesson in Patanjali’s Yoga as a philosophy. What is taught as Yoga today (asana, pranayama) often turns a blind eye to this aspect. Granted that many people turn to Yoga only as a means of enhancing health and strength, yet it cannot be denied that a sincere effort to understand Yoga philosophy gives practitioners a stability of mind that enables them to face situations which would otherwise disturb them seriously. An awareness of higher realities has the potential to keep them unmoved in situations which would make others collapse. Grief is terrible when a loved one dies: awareness of the reality that death is inevitable helps one to maintain calm of mind.

Professor Krishna Arjunwadkar