Release, liberation, freedom, are English words corresponding to the Sanskrit moksa. It means that the Self, which had been apparently confined in restrictions of a particular body-mind, shines in its own glory, the majesty of Brahman.
The seeming individual reaches the absolute freedom called moksa by the Path of Knowledge. As we have seen, the Knowledge when it first rises may be disturbed by memories of past associations, so vivid that they seem real. They are dissolved by jñāna-niṣṭhā, throwing away such illusions. When they have gone, the Knowledge is called by Śaṅkara ‘mature’, namely free from associations. Then Self remains, standing forth in its true nature, Brahman free from all associations.
Brahman, the Self, also manifests from time to time his creative power, projecting divine illusion. He enters the illusion as individual selves, accepting limitations by a conscious suspension of power and knowledge, and then struggles out of the restrictions. It is tentatively conjectured to be a joyful form of sport.
As part of the process, the Lord manifests himself as what is called Avatāra or Descent, where he takes on a divine body in order to teach himself in the human bodies. The teaching is in great part by example, and the divine body takes on many limitations. If it did not, the human beings could not take it as an example, and would be discouraged. Kṛṣṇa took on humiliation at the hands of Śiśupāla, Rāma allowed himself to be the victim of a plot to exile him for fourteen years, Jesus allowed himself to be arrested and killed. They displayed inner serenity and forgiveness, as an example. None of these sufferings was the result of past karma: the Lord has no past karma.
There is another form, which also might be called avatāra, but which Śaṅkara terms liberated-in-life. After a human being has first by karma-yoga broken free of domination by his past karma, and then by Knowledge-yoga freed himself from disturbances by memories of past karma, he is one with the Lord. The Lord is there: no one else. The Lord may take up the remaining body-mind complex and act directly as a teacher. Here he manifests feelings and intellect and will and actions, but without disturbance of the inner serenity of the Self. The difference from the jñāna-niṣṭhā stage of the Path of Knowledge is that in jñāna-niṣṭhā the movements of mind are spontaneous and may temporarily disturb, whereas in the Liberated-in-life, they are consciously taken up, and do not disturb. One on the Path of Knowledge can be compared to one released from prison, who knows he is free but occasionally is attacked by a feeling of being still held. It is best for him to keep away from the sight of prisons for a time. The liberated-in-life corresponds to an exprisoner who is now a prison visitor to the prison camp. He is in the prison with the others, eats the same food and so on. But he is not oppressed by it. He enjoys doing all that can be done to help the prisoners towards remission of their sentence by good conduct.
It is asked: How can teaching be undertaken at all, by one who ‘sees the Self in all, and all in the Self’? What could it possibly mean? There is no one else for him to teach.
In answer, it has to be said again that we cannot expect to describe realization of unity in terms of words, which are based on separateness. But a seer gave an answer in six words: The whole world is his body.
The analogy may satisfy the mind enough to allow practice. A pianist, like most people, regards the body as himself. He trains the fingers assiduously, recognizing the defects in movement and precision. At those times, he treats the fingers as other than himself. He imposes exercises on them, but he does not curse them for clumsiness. All pianists have to give special training to the fourth and fifth fingers, because they are only partially independent of each other. The virtuoso pianist Robert Schumann, an occasionally unstable genius, began to hate these fingers for their relative inefficiency. He tried to remedy it by forcible physical means, and destroyed himself as a performer. (He met the disaster courageously, however, by going in for composition.)
Those who have done any training in physical skills like typing, or in mental fields like logic or memory, recognize the situation. While being trained, the body, or mind, is something other. Its weaknesses have to be seen clearly, and patiently corrected. But outside the training period, it is oneself. On the deepest level, of course, it is always the Self. This is one analogy for teaching by the liberated-while-living.
What of the Hitlers and Stalins, who were worshipped by so many? Most of us, looking calmly and carefully, will recognize times when we ourselves have worshipped some Hitler or Stalin in ourselves. Only later does realization come of the harm that has been done. Not many of us do well when suddenly in a position of power.
If it is not stretching the analogy too far, perhaps the Liberated-in-life sees the actual Hitler and Stalin in the Self, and the Self in the Hitler and Stalin. They have to be opposed, but they are not outside the Self. They must have done some good in the past to be elevated to power; then they had choice, and they turned their faces downward. After long sufferings, they will again come to the opportunity to make a choice. Perhaps then, the deep latent impression of the past failure will help to turn their faces upward. One teacher used to say: ‘We have all been Nero, we have all been Judas, we have all been Hulagu who burnt Baghdad and many of its citizens alive. Now we have choice again. What will we decide to be now?’
The Liberated-in-life stands before us, saying: ‘Will you not walk with me this time?