On a mailing list a person has asked a question, “What happens to the Karma of a Jivanmukta? If a Jivanmukta has no ego, where does it go?” Here is the reply I wrote to him.
You have mentioned that a jivanmukta does not have ego. But without ego, the mind cannot work and so the body also cannot work. That is why Sri Ramakrishna talks about “unripe ego” and “ripe ego”. The jivanmukta also has to be take up an ego, however mild it be. There cannot be thoughts without ego.
Let us first be clear about the concept of realization and jivanmukta. There are two schools of thought regarding the state of jivanmukta.
As we have discussed, there are three steps to Jnaana – Sravana, Manana and Nididhyaasana. After the aspirant has acquired the Saadhana Chatustaya to a great extent by following Karma Yoga and Upaasana Yoga, he hears the teaching of the Upanisads from a qualified teacher. The teacher explains the teaching during Sravana step. After listening to the teaching, the aspirant tries to put it together, finds all the gaps in his understanding and gets all the doubts cleared. This is Manana step. After the Manana step, the aspirant has a doubtless intellectual knowledge of the Truth.
The objective of the Saadhana Chatustaya is to close the gap between knowledge and experience. Many smokers know that smoking is bad for health and want to give up smoking, but they cannot because of the lack of conviction and will power. This is called the gap between knowledge and experience. If the aspirant is highly qualified, there is no gap between his knowledge and experience. In other words, there are almost no tendencies in the mind. For such an aspirant, a doubtless knowledge and conviction of the Truth results in immediate realization of the Truth. In that case, there is no Nididhyaasana step at all.
The average aspirant, gets into Jnaana Yoga even before he becomes a master of Saadhana Chatustaya. So an intellectual doubtless understanding of the Truth does not immediately reflect fully in the mind and emotions. Tendencies continue to exist even after realization of the Truth. With the realization of the Truth starts the Nididhyaasana step. The aspirant continues study of the scriptures, teaching of the scriptures, doing social service, japa, meditation, etc. The tendencies slowly weaken and almost vanish.
Here is where the difference in the two schools come.
One school says, the moment a person realizes the Self, he is a jivanmukta. At the end of the Manana state, the person is considered as a jivanmukta. Their argument is this:
1. All knowledge, including Self-Knowledge, is intellectual. So, once there is a doubtless intellectual knowledge of the Self, the goal is reached.
2. The Truth is that the Self is different from the body and the mind. So, the state of the jivanmukta does not depend on the state of the mind and its tendencies. So, the realized person is a jivanmukta even if there are tendencies.
3. Tendencies are natural to the mind. So they can never become null. There will be at least some traces of tendencies as long as the body and mind exist.
In this school of thought the Upanisadic term “Brahmavid” is a person who has completed the Manana stage and is a jivanmukta too. This school does not accept any mystic experience as a means or necessity for Self knowledge.
The other school says, a person is a jivanmukta only after the tendencies (samskaaras) have been completely wiped out. At the end of Manana, the person merely has an intellectual knowledge. When the person has realized the Self by a “super-conscious” mystic experience, he is called a Brahmavid. Still, he is a “mukta”, but not a “jivanmukta”. If the body drops anytime after this state, there is no rebirth. Then as the aspirant continues to do saadhana, his tendencies become weaker and weaker. He passes through states of “vara”, “varya” and “varishta”. At the “varishta” state is when he is called a “jivanmukta” when the tendencies have been totally vanished. The characteristics of these states are explained in detail in some books. This school maintain that a mere intellectual knowledge of the Truth is not sufficient. They accept a “super-conscious” mystic experience as essential for a person to be declared even as a Brahmavid.
Here is my personal view on this:
All states are of the mind only. So, all the arguments of the first school can be accepted except one. Mere intellectual knowledge cannot give the flash of intuition by which a person gets to realize the Truth. Any amount of intellectual clarity cannot give the flawless knowledge of the Truth, which is very very subtle. The aspirant should pass through at least a moment of complete mental quiescence to get an unobstructed knowledge of the Truth. Without this flash, how much ever explanations are given by words, the Truth cannot be understood. The Truth cannot be realized by words. It can be realized only by the silence of the mind. The person can be considered as a jivanmukta if he has realized the Truth, even if his tendencies have not vanished completely. It is not possible for the mind to exist without tendencies.
Now that we have defined the jivanmukta, let us come to the question.
Whenever a person does some action, three things happen.
1. There is an immediate visible external result, part of which is because of the current action and a part is because of previous actions
2. There is a portion of the action that does not get manifested as the result and is accounted for the person’s future results
3. There is a tendency that builds within the person which influences the choices in future situations
When the body falls, the jivanmukta’s sanchita karma has to be written off because there is no identity to hold it. The praarabdha is the one which drives the body and mind. As long as praarabdha is there, life continues. When it is over life ends. The next question is about aagaami karma. Every action should bear fruit. In case of a jivanmukta, the part of the aagaami that fructifies in this life is manifested. The rest is written off.
When we say “kurvan api na lipyate” – “even if he acts, it does not stick to him”, we can understand it in two ways. As he identifies himself with the Atman, and as Atman is beyond all states, it does not stick to him (meaning Atman). Another way of understanding is as his mind is stable and free from likes and dislikes, he is not affected by the result of action. But as far as the body and mind are concerned, they are a part of Nature (Prakriti) and so are subject to the laws of Nature, which include the law of Karma (cause-and-effect).
There is one school of thought that does not accept that karmaphala can be written off like this. They say the good karma of a jivanmukta is transferred to people who love him and serve him. The bad karma of a jivanmukta is transferred to people who hate him and trouble him. But from the point of view of the jivanmukta, there are no individuals. “gunaa guneshu vartante” – Everything that happens is just an interplay of the qualities of Nature.