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To understand a jivanmukta you have to become a jivanmukta. Jivanmukta means one who is alive and liberated. There is still karma but probably not their own karma. They perform actions for the sake of others. That’s also a karma. They are liberated souls, but not totally. That means individually they are liberated but they are not liberated from serving others. They have to serve. They have to; they don’t have the freedom in that. They set an example to others by living a jivanmukta life.

Jivanmukta lakshanam,” says one of the sacred texts. That means that a jivanmukta never worries about the past; past is past to them. They have no thought about tomorrow or the future. Whatever is in the golden present they enjoy. That is the way they function.

To become liberated follow any path, any kind of Yoga. Whether it is Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, it doesn’t matter. According to one’s taste or one’s capacity select the path that suits you. But through any of these paths what is it that you have to ultimately experience? Steadiness, equanimity, tranquility.

If you follow Bhakti Yoga, then in the name of devotion you say: “God, it’s all Yours.  All that I call mine was never mine. It’s yours. You gave it to me. The body you gave me. The money You gave me. The intelligence You gave me. Before You gave me all that what was I?” And if you give everything that God gave you back to God, who are you then? You are free. That’s another way to liberation.

You can feel, “God, it belongs to You, I am simply a caretaker.” Then, though you are having everything, you know nothing belongs to you. You are simply making use of things. That means you are not bound by those things. You are liberated. That’s what you call the jivanmukta state. Renounce everything that you call yours and then serve others. When you do it for others it’s a joy: “Hey, I’m doing it for everybody!” You have been freed from that agony of “I, me, mine.” That is the real liberation.

When you are able to hold yourself in this divine truth you will enjoy the world. Acharya Shankara calls this a type of double vision: Paramatika sat and laukika sat. Laukika refers to the worldly truth and paramatika is the divine truth. Keep yourself in the divine truth and enjoy the worldly truth—enjoy the duality of worldly life, while recognizing your essence-nature as nondual. As long as we are on this earth we have to have both; we have to have this double vision.

In one of our ancient poems they describe the jivanmukta. Imagine that you walk through a graveyard and all of a sudden the graves open and a few people get up and walk. How would you feel? The jivanmukta will feel, “Hmm, wonderful. Nothing strange about it. Beautiful. That’s the way it is.” They are a pure witness; to them there is nothing good, nothing bad. They would not say, “This is good, this is bad. This is to be glorified, this is to be condemned.” No. If a dead body gets up from the grave it is nothing special for them.

Imagine, all of a sudden during the mid-summer day moonlight comes. It’s no surprise for the jivanmukta. Why? It’s all part of the cosmic dance. Nothing is strange, nothing is new. Anything can happen because it’s all part of the global drama. They won’t say, “This is good. This is bad.” But what will they do? They will be witnessing everything as is—the world as it is. They are just witnessing. They don’t pass judgment on things. They are just watching the leela, the play of the universe.

The jivanmukta accepts everyone and everything. Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance. That comes only when you have that true vision, when you get at least a little glimpse of the understanding of the whole picture. Until that time we simply make our lives miserable by judging and condemning this person and that person.

Often we think liberation comes only after death. Who said that you are liberated after death? No. Liberation comes from realization of the divine truth. And when you are realized it doesn’t matter whether you are here or there or on this plane or another plane—it doesn’t matter. While you are alive, you are liberated. And such people are called jivanmuktas or saints. A jivanmukta is immortal in the mortal life. Do you know the difference between what is mortal and what is immortal? Your true Self is immortal, unchanging. But, the Self by itself, cannot function or even exhibit itself without the help of a body. So the body and mind are more or less the Self’s vehicles to express Itself and to function.

Who is the real me? If the body is me, how can I even say that it’s “my” body? What do you say if you are wearing a watch on your wrist? You would say: “Here is my watch.” You are not the watch. You are simply owning a watch. We say: “My house, my car, my body.” That means I am not the body, which is the truth. Yet, we always seem to forget it. That’s why we need constant remembrance of this truth: “I’m not the body. I’m simply living in this. This is my R.V., my recreation vehicle.” Yes. It has everything built into it: office, kitchen, bathroom. Everything is built into the recreational vehicle.

You have to find out the truth yourself by constantly analyzing, analyzing, analyzing. Every minute ask, “Who is the real me?” You may say, “Oh, I am hungry.” But, stop it there immediately. Question yourself: “I am hungry? Who is hungry? Me or my stomach?” Constant questioning. You say, “I burned my finger. I am in agony.” You burned your finger. Why are you in agony? It’s your finger that should be in agony, right? See? By doing this type of questioning you are separating yourself, freeing yourself, from these thoughts, from wrong identification.

The body-mind being part of nature will dissolve one day. What comes together will go apart one day or another. The you who lives in the body is immortal. You don’t die. So if you know the truth about your own True Self, you realize that you are immortal and it’s only the body and the mind that die. That is what you call real freedom. Assert your true identity: “Aham Brahmasmi! Sivoham!” What does that mean? “I am Brahman, I am Siva; I am the Absolute, Divine Consciousness.” You are the immortal Self! Remember always: “I am only living in this body but I am not the body, I am the spirit. I am that Light.” In the case of Jesus and great sages and saints like him they were able to experience that. They were simply utilizing the body as a vehicle but they recognized themselves as pure spirit. This is what is called Self-realization. They realized their essence-nature. Then even while you are in the body you are free.

Many still don’t understand exactly who the jivanmuktas are and how the saints lived. They think they are just people. Whom do you call a person? That’s what I am trying to say here. The person is the life-force, not the body. The body is a house in which the person lives. That is why, to them, the physical death of the body was not something to fear. As the Bhagavad Gita says: When the shirt is torn you just take it out. A jivanmukta realizes that that they are pure spirit. The Hindus call it Hiranyagarba, the cosmic body. That’s what you see in Lord Vishnu’s mythology. In the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna asked Krishna to show him the visvarupa, the virat svarupa, the cosmic body, he became the entire universe. In the western hemisphere, in Jesus’ life, we see this resurrection and him appearing later on to many people.

In the East, we have many such appearances. Unfortunately they are not well-known in the West. For example, there was Manikavasagar, one of the four great Nayanar saints. He went to Chidambaram. He was singing the praise of Lord Nataraja and walked into the Sanctum Sanctorum and then disappeared. He never came back. He got immersed, absorbed in the Jyothi, in the Cosmic Light. Saint Ramalinga Swamigal went into the room and then that’s all. When they opened the room, there was nobody there. He just disappeared. He was a great siddha, so his body got completely changed into Light form.

These things may seem impossible, but they are not. Like in alchemy, for example, you can make a base metal into gold. In the same way, you can make a solid into liquid simply by thought forms. In a way, modern science demonstrates this principle. Take something solid and send in some sound vibrations—ultrasonic sound. You will see it simply disperses and separates the molecules and it becomes vaporized. It becomes gas, it becomes liquid; it simply melts.

That is the significance of what we do when we offer camphor light during arati. The camphor was a solid piece. As soon as it touches the flame it melts, it becomes liquid. And then the liquid also vaporizes. If it is a clean piece of camphor, the solid becomes liquid, the liquid becomes vapor, the vapor becomes light, and disappears—without even a trace. The symbolic purpose of burning camphor is to say, “God, I would like to disappear myself in Your Light. Just as the camphor disappears, touch my mind with Your Light.”

We have many, many saints who disappeared like that. But, again, it’s not really necessary that all go through the same situation. Just because somebody didn’t go and disappear they are in no way inferior than some other saint who disappeared. Many just left the body and walked out. Some did a little extra work probably. They were able to dismantle the body at their will. They took time to disintegrate the solid elements.

This is the process of evolution and involution. Behind the five elements there is one element that gives room for the five elements: prana, the vital energy. The five elements are: priti or the solid earth, apu or water, tayu or fire, vayu or wind and, akash or ether. Ether is not even a correct translation of the Sanskrit term, but it means some essence you cannot see, you cannot even feel. If vayu, is there, you can at least feel it. When the air moves, it becomes wind. The unmoving air is akash. This is the symbolic meaning behind the creation by God.

God said, “Let there be light.” God simply formed the basic Essence to appear as light and then other things happened: water, earth, plants, human beings. One and the same Essence in different levels of expression. When it develops this way you call it evolution. But, you can also return it, reverse the process. You can go back from one into another. Ultimately it all becomes akash. So, some of the great saints and sages, or siddhas, as we can call them, were able to involute the process, turn back the process. Some didn’t bother to do that. When the time comes they will just leave the body. They may feel, “Why should I spend time on involution?” When the time comes they just drop the body and then go.

Sometimes we hear people saying, “Oh, look at that! Sri Ramakrishna died like an ordinary person with a cancer, so he couldn’t be a great saint.” Then they will point to another person who, even after their death the body was there for several decades without decaying so they will conclude that person must be a great saint. Others may think because a saint made the body disappear they are much greater saint. These kind of ideas are all from the worldly level of understanding. At the level of these saints’ realization, there was no difference at all between any of them.

May you all live in a jivanmukta state and if you want to do something, do something useful to others. Live to serve. That way you can always experience supreme peace. This is the lesson to all the human beings given by the very nature. God, in the form of nature, is constantly teaching us this lesson. What is this lesson? “Do what the nature does: serve others.” We are also here to serve others. We are not here for our sake. When you realize this you are always in God. That is what real liberation, real spiritual life, is all about.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda