Reading jīvanmukti-viveka of Vidyaranya for the first time a few days ago has been a refreshing experience. It is a classic in the advaita philosophy which, I should say, is a sort of how-to-do-it guide in the path of self-purification. The language of Vidyaranya is direct, simple and hitting. There seems to be considerable influence of another advaita classic ‘yoga vāsiṣṭa’ (the author quotes from the Laghu yoga vāsiṣṭa), the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, and of ‘sūta saṃhitā’. All these three are unique texts for their practical approach.
Two important concepts which are elaborated in the book are – mano-nāśa, the nullification of mind and vāsanā-kṣaya, the gradual withering away of all conditioning factors in the mind. These are important steps in cleansing the mind. There are two lengthy chapters on these two subjects. These two are to be conjointly practiced along with tattvajñānam i.e. which can otherwise be called śravaṇam. A close reading of these two chapters shows that these two exercises are what are expected of us in the nididhyāsanam, which is the process of internalization and living the doctrine.
The doctrine, succinctly put, is ‘brahma-satyam jaganmithyā, i.e. the Brahman is real and the world is unreal. This information, (which cannot be called knowledge of Brahman) can be got by studious pursuit of Vedanta, by understanding the text (śravaṇam) and by logical process (mananam). However, this information, unaccompanied by self-discipline is not knowledge that can lead to jīvanmukti, because all the aberrations of the upādhi (like attachment, hate, pride, anger etc,) are continuing. The objective of the knower of Brahman becoming Brahman is remote for such a person. This can give rise to an amoral existentialist monster visualized by the existentialist philosophers.
Vidyaranya quotes extensively from Laghu yoga vāsiṣṭa (LYV) to show that the three factors – tattvajñānam (TJ), vāsanā-kṣaya (VK) and mano-nāśa (MN) - have to be practiced jointly. The above three are grouped into three pairs, TJ and VK as one pair, VK and MN as another pair and TJ and MN as the last pair. In each of these pairs, each one in the duo acts as a cause for the other. Vidyaranya analyses each pair and shows how they are mutually dependent or supportive.
Vāsanā is a residual impression as a resultant of any contact. Two objects coming into contact leave traces on each other. It is a simple rule of forensic science. When we read a book or see a film or interact with a person, an impression is left behind on the mind. This is usually about whether something is right or wrong. This usually determines our future behavior. Hence Vidyaranya defines it as ‘‘the cause behind a person’s spontaneous and unpremeditated response to a situation’’. The word vāsanā is from the root ‘vasa’ – ‘to dwell’, like the name Vāsudeva, who ‘dwells in all’.
Vāsanā-s of previous births are carried by the subtle body into the present body. In this tenure again there are fresh vāsanā-s, generating fresh patterns of behavior. These vāsanā-s should not be mistaken for karma-phalam, which is the result of our previous actions. Vāsanā-s are our own making, whereas the fruit of action is the award by the Maker for our good or bad deeds. Karma-phalam can be neutralized by good actions in this life (पुण्येन पापम् अपनुदति) and vāsanā-s can be consciously modified or neutralized by vedantic reasoning i.e. śravaṇam and mananam.
These vāsanā-s cannot be wiped out in one go by an ordinary person. A lot of practice has to go into that. The teacher, who is like the Chinese Olympics coach, monitors the growth of the student. The vāsanā-s can only be reduced gradually.
Vidyaranya analyses the first pair i.e. TJ and VK and quotes yoga vāsiṣṭa to show that debilitation of vāsanā-s is required for the right thinking to take place. Unless vāsanā-s like anger, greed etc, are controlled tattvajñānam is difficult to attain, as the mind is dragged away by the aberrations of anger etc. Similarly, tattvajñānam forms the basis for generating counter vāsanā-s (pratikUla- vāsanā-s), which helps in the withering away of vāsanā-s. It gives the supporting logic.
This interdependence is same with the next pair, VK and MN. Mind incessantly modifies itself into a stream of thoughts called vṛtti-s. This stream has to be stopped by practicing the methods suggested by Patanjali. A complete cessation of mental turbulence is MN, which is supportive of VK. Similarly without VK, it is difficult to attain MN. Vāsanā-s continue to give rise to vṛtti-s and so VK is to be simultaneously practiced.
The third pair is TJ and MN. TJ only can prepare the mind for vairāgya, i.e. dispassion. TJ tells the mind that the objects of desire are but mithyā or unreal. This is like taking away the fuel from the fire and so the mind is not inclined to move in that direction. This is absence of vṛtti, which is MN. Similarly, MN is conducive for TJ. Without MN the objects continue to impinge on the mind and the seeker will be unable to understand the import of lines like ‘there is no duality whatsoever here’. Such statements would contradict his direct perception.
VK is deletion of old impressions while MN is not allowing fresh impressions. TJ is required to support both. Without TJ the above duo cannot lead to liberation even if accompanied by the worship of a saguṇa Brahman (न तस्य कैवल्यमस्ति, लिङ्गदेहस्य अनपायात्), says Vidyaranya, as the subtle body is not destroyed.
As the minister who established and guided the Vijayanagara empire, Vidyaranya shows his analytical ability in defining the subtle processes of the mind and shows that conscious habits influence the ‘unconscious mind’ as we call it today.
Mukti literally means release or liberation or freedom. ‘jīvan’ is the present continuous form for the verb jīva, ‘to live’. So the word jīvanmukti refers to a state where, while being alive one becomes free from the baggage of the mind, past and present. This is possible when all the three factors noted above are simultaneously fostered.