JIVANMUKTA – Gradations
Tradition talks about seven major steps or stages in the path leading to enlightenment. Broadly the path could be either Yoga-based or Knowledge-based. Sage Vasishta described the Seven Stages in the Knowledge-based Path in the third chapter Creation in “Yogavaasishta” as given here under:
i. Intense yearning for Enlightenment (Subheccha): Liberation is the ultimate happiness. An intense desire to achieve it comprises Intense yearning. It is the first step towards renunciation after relinquishing worldly pursuits and desires spurred by a passionate longing for liberation. Such a desire gets augmented by scriptural knowledge and association with noble people.
ii. Inquiry into Truth (Vicharana): Intense yearning should not remain a mere objective. It should be implemented. One should practice ardently Listening (to scriptures) and Reflecting (on what is heard) and Uninterrupted meditation (on Brahman). Unless this is done, there is no use of mere yearning.
It may be noted that one may continue Self-inquiry without having renounced the world and even in the absence of the company of noble people. But such an inquiry may lead only to scholarliness and expertise. Scholarliness cannot be a stage in the Path of Yoga.
iii. Tenuous mind (Tanumanasa): In this stage desire for worldly things will be reduced considerably. Renunciation will get strengthened with constant inquiry supported by association with noble people. (Under some special situations like a tragedy, one may grow detachment with worldly affairs. This does not qualify as a state of tenuous mind). Tenuous mind can be obtained only by strict implementation of the preceding two stages.
iv. Realization (Satvaapatti): 'Sat' stands for the Supreme Self. 'Aapatti' means gaining. With the successful execution of the preceding three stages, mind gets detached from worldly objects. Knowledge about the oneness of the individual and the Supreme Brahman obtained through inquiry will get strengthened. Then it will be easy to achieve Nirvikalpa Samadhi (Meditation where the aspirant’s consciousness stays dissolved in the Supreme Self). The state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi can only be attained after appropriate effort. The aspirant is called ‘Knower of Brahman’ in this stage.
v. Non-attachment (Asamsakti): When once Nirvikalpa Samadhi gets strengthened, mind will stay focused on Brahman not only at the time of meditation but even outside meditation hours. Interest on worldly affairs will dwindle considerably. Thoughts about Brahman will be constantly occurring. This is the stage of Non-attachment. The aspirant at this stage is called ‘Better Knower of Brahman’.
vi. Non-perception of objects (Padaardhaabhaavana): This is the state where there are no thoughts on the objects of the world. The seeker will be constantly absorbed in the Supreme Self. He may, however, come out of the meditative state due to extraneous disturbances. The aspirant in this state is described as ‘Master Knower of Brahman’.
vii. Ineffability (Turyaga): This is the last of the stages. The seeker will continue to stay absorbed in Self constantly without break. This is the true state of a Jivanmukta. The seeker is known in this stage as the ‘Excellent Knower of Brahman’.
Thus we can see that there are gradations in the states of a Jivanmukta from the fourth stage to the seventh stages. One attains Self-Knowledge at the fourth stage (Satvaapatti) and progressively gets firmed up in Brahman.
Bhagavad-Gita, Gaudapada’s Karika, Sankara’s Vivekachudamani and many scriptures underline the importance of practice in achieving liberation. Practice involves time, and therefore, time-dependent changes can be expected in the brain.
We may note here that Drs. R. Davidson, A. Lutz, A. Newberg and many neuroscientists detected changes in the brain of meditators with increasing durations of meditation. Dr. S. Lazar demonstrated even structural changes in brain in meditators similar to the changes seen in the brains of musicians. Dr. M. Beauregard investigated moments of epiphany in Carmelite nuns using fMRI. Psychiatrist Dr. J. Schwartz showed that brain circuits do alter with practices akin to ‘mindfulness’ meditation in patients suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Work with Dr. M. Ricard, a Buddhist Monk of several years standing and himself a Ph.D in Biochemistry clearly indicated the effect of “Compassion Meditation” on his brain and his state of happiness. The recent work of Dr. B. Johnstone showed reduced activity in the right parietal lobe of the brain with lowered sense of 'self'. We also have the well-documented case of Dr. J. Taylor on her 'Nirvana' experience when she had a hemorrhage in her left brain.
Many of these studies provide us some baseline data in building a model to understand the neuronal correlates in the brain of a Jivanmukta.
[Note: Liberation involving time is called “Gradual Liberation” (kramamukti). Direct path Advaitins, Neo-Advaitins (a recently coined term), J. Krishnamurti and others contend that liberation is not a result of a process. They teach that it cannot be an outcome of a method of practice and it should dawn by itself just like that. Hence 'time' in a psychological sense is not involved. This is called “Instant Liberation” (sadyomukti). We shall discuss this at a later time.]