Like the world, Jivahood (individuality) is an ultimate fact of our experience. Shri Shankara in his descriptions of the genesis of the world gives no hint as to the birth of the Jiva. He says that the Jiva is beginningless; it is not something that has come into existence but is an eternal existence which cannot be explained in terms of origin. He adds that we can truly describe the nature of Jiva, not in an individual sense, but in the sense of Ishvara (the cosmic Over-Lord). According to Vedanta, the Jiva is ultimately to be known as Truth; it is Selfhood (Atman Tattva). To realise the true nature of the Jiva directly is the highest good of life. The seemingly individual Jiva, to those who have only an indirect knowledge of its nature, is not different from the all-pervasive Atman; it is a phase of the infinite Self and this fact is realised in deep spiritual experience.
Shri Shankara insists on the identity of Jiva and Brahman because both are sentient. The conception of two consciousnesses is a philosophical absurdity. Ultimately there can be only one sentience which is infinite and all-pervasive.
The limitations of our physical existence are not related in an intimate way with the infinitude of our spiritual Self. The nature of Self is independence, and independence means infinitude. In consciousness there is an element which is beyond all the objects of consciousness. In the awareness of individuality and limitations abides an infinite all-pervasive spiritual element which is beyond all limits.
When Shri Shankara speaks of the nature of release (Moksha) he speaks of this fact. He does not call release an “achievement” but “the realization of Brahmanhood in the Self”. This realization is the knowledge of non-duality as the nature of the Self and from a certain point of view it is a mode (Vritti) of the mind. Release is not a special state and it is realisable in this very life and in the life of Jagat (the world). The whole discipline of Vedanta points to the fact that release is available to the individual- The assumption that nobody up to now has realised Moksha is without foundation.
In Vedanta Shastra, the characteristic of the Guru is that he abides in Brahman. It means that the individuality has realised Brahman. It is an experience which includes the empirical and mental – It is not totally distinct from the empirical life; this is implicit in the doctrine of Loka Sangraha (selfless performance of duty for the good of others) which Shri Shankara enjoins in the case of the Jivan-Muktas who, in some instances, have assumed another human form in order to help mankind.
It is borne out by the comments of Shri Shankara on Brahma Sutras 3.3.32. The very expression: “I am Brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10.) shows that the realization of Self is the essence and substance of the individual life and is not opposed to it. The Self is the support of individuality.
Release (Moksha) is not the absorption of our individuality into non-individuality but it is an expansion of it into the infinitude of the Spirit. The essence of our Jivahood is not partnership with the universal Atman but the merging of the individualised form in the all-pervasive, infinite spiritual Principle, because it is the ultimate Truth, the final existential aspect of our spiritual life.
Index for this series of essays