We come across the term ‘mukti’ frequently in the scriptures. The term evokes a final, everlasting destination after death, and is generally translated as ‘liberation’. But what is the precise meaning of this term?
A definition of mukti
The term mukti is defined in the Bhāgavata purāṇa in the second Canto as follows:
muktir hitvānyathā rūpaṁ sva-rūpeṇa vyavasthitiḥ
Mukti (liberation) is the establishment of the living being in its true essential nature (svarūpa), after abandoning identification with all that it is not. ( SB 2.10.6 )
The value of this definition in keeping concepts straight and recognizing apasiddhāntas cannot be understated. Below, I examine Śrī Jīva’s commentary on this verse, which he writes in two different Sandarbhas. In the Tattva Sandarbha, he explains exactly what is abandoned at the stage of mukti:
tatraiva nirodhe’nyathārūpam avidyādhyastam ajñatvādikaṁ hitvā svarūpeṇa vyavasthitir muktir iti |
Mukti (liberation) is the establishment of the living being in its true essential nature, occurring at the time of dissolution (nirodha), after first abandoning all identification with its false acquired nature ( anyathā-rūpa) — in other words, the superimposition of inauthentic identity (adhyasta), absence of real knowing (ajñatva), and so on, that arise out of ignorance (avidyā ).
The meaning of the word svarūpa
The above definition is curious, in the sense that one is always situated in one’s own svarūpa! One can only be situated in oneself – where else can one be? Further, one’s identification with the body is not real, as we have examined elsewhere. So what is the need for this definition at all? Śrī Jīva replies, in the Prīti Sandarbha that svarūpa-vyavasthiti is to be understood as the direct experience of one’s own self, or svarūpa (svarūpa-sākṣātkāra). This specification is necessary to understand the definition fully.
tad-avasthāna-mātrasya saṁsāra-daśāyām api sthitatvāt | anyathā-rūpatvasya ca tad-ajñāna-mātrārthatvena tad-dhānau taj-jñāna-paryavasānāt |
This specification that svarūpa-vyavasthiti means svarūpa-sākṣātkāra (direct experience of one’s self) is because bare establishment in one’s svarūpa [bereft of its realization] is the status of existence even in the state of material bondage. Additionally, because identification with “all that the self is not” (anyathā-rūpa) is nothing other than ignorance of its own svarūpa, the abandonment of that ignorance is synonymous with the realization of its svarūpa.
Śrī Jīva further adds that the word ‘svarūpa’ in the verse primarily denotes Paramātmā, because He alone is the supreme whole (parama-aṁśi-svarūpa) of which the jīva are but parts, like the sun in relation to photons of light. As such, the ānanda of the svarūpa of the jīva experienced upon experience of the self (i.e. upon self-realization), is insignificant compared to the ānanda of Paramātmā. Thus, in mukti, the mukta-jīva experiences the ānanda of Paramātmā. This is supported by the famous statement of the Taittirya Upaniṣad:
raso vai saḥ raso hy evāyaṁ labdhvā ānandī bhavati
“He [Parabrahman] is indeed rasa [the existential ground of bliss (ānandamaya-svarūpa)], and only on attaining this rasa does the jīva become blissful” (TU 2.7.1).”
Mukti is broadly of two types
Some claim that bhakti is inherent in the jīva, and that upon mukti, this bhakti becomes manifest along with the siddha deha. This notion is thoroughly opposed by our ācāryas. As just one example of this, I produce Śrī Viśvanātha’s commentary below. First, he explains what the term anyathā-rūpaṁ means:
anyathā-rūpaṁ = māyikaṁ sthūla-sūkṣma-rūpa-dvayaṁ = the two subtle and physical bodies, which are made of māyā.
Then, he explains the meaning of the word svarūpa as follows:
svarūpeṇa = śuddha-jīva-svarūpeṇa, keṣāñcid bhagavat-pārṣada-rūpeṇa ca vyavasthitiḥ
svarūpeṇa vyavasthitiḥ means establishment in the essential nature of the śuddha-jīva, or, in the case of some, with the form of an associate of Bhagavān.
Thus, the definition is
mukti is establishment in one’s essential nature as śuddha-jīva, i.e. pure ātmā, or in the case of some, with the form of an associate of Bhagavān.
The mukti involving establishment in one’s essential nature as a śuddha-jīva , i.e. pure ātmā, occurs in Brahma-sāyujya-mukti. As Śrī Viśvanātha considers this mukti to be distinct from the mukti in which one has a pārṣada-form, and it involves being situated in the ātmā’s pure state, it follows that there is no pārṣada-form in the pure ātmā. This negates all notions of the ‘siddha-deha’ and ‘bhakti’ being inherent to the jīva. Indeed, Brahma-sāyujya-mukti is impossible if bhakti is in the svarūpa of the jīva, because being in its pure state, the ātmā cannot help but perform bhakti. As Śrī Viśvanātha has explained above, only for some, does mukti entail getting the form of a devotee of Bhagavān, which is awarded by Bhagavān to it.
Mukti means the removal of identification with the body, mind etc. which are products of avidyā, and the direct experience of one’s own self, as a part of Paramātmā, and the experience of the bliss of Paramātmā. Mukti is of two types- one in which one gets a form as a devotee of Bhagavān, and another in which one is situated as pure ātmā, that identifies with Brahman.