Vedānta series 35
A person who got liberated by realising the Brahman during his present life is known as jīvanmukta. Tattvabodha beautifully explains this:
evaṁ ca vedāntavākyaiḥ sadgurūpadeśena ca sarveṣvapi bhūtesu yeṣāṁ brahmabuddhirutpannā te jīvanmuktāḥ ityarthaḥ
एवं च वेदान्तवाक्यैः सद्गुरूपदेशेन च सर्वेष्वपि भूतेसु येषां ब्रह्मबुद्धिरुत्पन्ना ते जीवन्मुक्ताः इत्यर्थः
What is important to observe here is the usage of the phrase sadgurūpadeśena, stressing the importance of teachings of a guru. It is only in rarest of the rare cases, where men attain emancipation without personal guidance from spiritual preceptors. Generally, without the guidance of a guru, liberation is not possible. If spiritual ambition is very strong, he or she may also be guided by someone remotely. Particularly, intricacies of great sayings or mahāvākya-s can be explained only by a true guru in person. Learned gurus avoid imparting of spiritual knowledge in groups, as the status of all the disciples may not be the same. Hence, in the final stages of their teaching, they interact with each of their disciples directly. The role of a guru is like a gold smith. Melting of gold is a general task; whereas, making of each ornament is an arduous and skilled task. This task depends upon the nature of an ornament. The same yardstick cannot be used to make different ornaments such as bangles, necklace or studs. In the same way, a true guru may not use the same yardstick to impart ultimate spiritual knowledge to everyone.
The above verse says that both Vedānta and guru alone can make spiritual realisation complete. A man is said to have been liberated, only if his spiritual journey culminates in realising the Self within. He alone is called a jīvanmukta. He continues to live even after realising that he is the Brahman. He casts off his identity with the types and sheaths of body. He understands that the Self within is the cause for his very existence. Instead of associating himself with the effect (body), he identifies himself with the cause (Brahman). He is jīvanmukta.
Tattvabodha asks jīvanmuktaḥ kaḥ or who is jīvanmukta? It answers this question by saying “na puruṣaḥ (I am not a man), asaṁgaḥ (unattached), saccidānanda-svarūpaḥ (in the nature of existence-consciousness and bliss), prakāśarūpaḥ (illuminating), sarvāntaryāmī (the inner spirit of all that exist in the universe), cidākāśarūpaḥ (formless form) aparokṣa jñāna (the one who experiences and observes the true nature of I.” These are the attributes of jīvanmukta. A jīvanmukta is the one who attains liberation during the existence of his body, but not bound by his bodily form. He always remains unattached to the materialistic world. Brahman has been explained as Saccidānanda, and a jīvanmukta knows that he is not different from the Brahman. Brahman alone is Self-illuminating and a jīvanmukta truly affirms that he is the Brahman and he realises the illumination of the Self within. He also knows that the Self within his body is omnipresent in nature and is present in all the beings of the universe, as a result of which, he is able to see the Brahman everywhere and the universal brotherhood automatically dawns on him. He is aware that his gross body is perishable and hence does not attach any significance to his body and is least interested in other shapes and forms. He does not see through his biological eyes and uses his spiritual eye (the third eye or ājñā cakra). His awareness is on the seat of the Lord (cidākāśa refers to vastness of the Self. It can be literally translated as the sky (infinity) of consciousness. It is also said to be the seat of the Light from where OM emanates. According to Śaiva philosophy, it is the conjoining point of Śiva, Śaktī and nara).
If we observe a jīvanmukta, it can be noticed that he has gained complete knowledge about the Absolute. It is not the knowledge gained through the senses, but the knowledge gained through his personal experience. Pañcadaśī explains this by saying, “Thus a man distinguishes the Self from the five sheaths, concentrates the mind on the Self, according to the scriptural dictums, becomes free from the bonds of repeated births and deaths and immediately attains the supreme bliss.”
Kṛṣṇa describes the qualities of sthitaprajña in Bhagavad Gītā (II. 55-65). “When a man relinquishes all the desires of his mind and contented in the Ātman, he is considered as sthitaprajña. He, whose mind is neither shaken at the time of misery, nor attached to happiness, totally free from desires, fear and anger, whose mind is unattached to anything, neither excited nor disturbed while beholding good or bad, whose knowledge is permanent is known as sthitaprajña. When a person withdraws all his body parts inwardly like a tortoise, his wisdom attains steadfastness (as he gets disconnected from the external world). For the one who restrains from the sensual pleasures, still the yearning for such pleasures does not get exterminated. But, for sthitaprajña, after realising the Supreme Self, even such yearnings cease to exist. One who represses all his senses and fixes his consciousness on me and surrender unto me, his senses are under his control and his intellect becomes steadfast. Dwelling on sense objects causes attachment, which leads to craving, craving leads to anger, anger leads to delusion, delusion leads to loss of memory, loss of memory leads to loss of intelligence and loss of intelligence leads to disintegration. But, a man with self control, without desires and aversions, with subjugated senses and still associated with material world attains internal calmness. If internal clarity is attained, all his grief will be annihilated. His knowledge soon becomes well established in the Supreme Self.”
There is no difference between sthitaprajña and jīvanmukta, though it could be argued that jīvanmukta is the highest.