Karma plays an important role in our spiritual life. Merger with Brahman is possible only if there is no trace of karmic account. If karma is bad, it could hamper our spiritual journey. Nobody knows, how and when karma manifests; this is called Divine Secret. Transmigration (saṁsāra) depends only upon our karmic account. Entering (birth) and exiting (death) is compared to birds building nests to live and when the existing nest is destroyed, they build another nest for their survival. Bird is the soul and nest is the gross body. Human body alone is capable of offering Liberation, as only humans have mind. Only through mind, Liberation is attained. Hence lot of importance is given to mind in spiritual journey.
Saṁsāra or transmigration is classified into types. We have heard about normal births and deaths, which are often referred as saṁsāra. This is a broader classification. Here, a spiritual seeker goes to a Guru, who explains ingeminated revelations of Upaniṣad-s. The second one is deeper and has to be personally experienced. Former is based on śravaṇa (listening to Guru’s teachings) and the latter is based on manana (intrinsic thinking). What is the difference between these two? Former is like pursuing ritualistic practices and the latter is pursuing meditation to reach the goal. It can also be said that former is just listening and listening alone, without direct experience. It has been repeatedly stressed in our discussions, that ritualistic practice is the foundation for a logical spiritual path, which culminates only through meditation. But the hard fact is that, rituals do not lead to Liberation. Unfortunately, it also accrues karmas, as we are engulfed in spiritual ignorance or avidyā. Śravaṇa has no meaning, if it does not lead to manana. The second category, manana is explained as internal transmigratory existence, where Liberation is actually experienced while living; this is the stage of jīvanmukta. Śaṃkarācārya talks only about the second one and did not attach any importance for the first one. This is primarily because, after the soul leaves our bodies, we are not aware of what is happening. Hence, the stage of jīvanmukta is given high importance, as jīvanmukta experiences Liberation and awaits death to merge with Brahman.
As discussed in the beginning, it is ultimately the karma, which decides our transmigration. Karmas are accrued due to physical and mental activities over previous births and being accrued in this birth as well. Karma encompasses everything, such as one’s association with his body, previous births’ accruals, experiencing either pleasure or pain, passion and aversion, etc. Due to innate ignorance or avidyā (nescience), we give importance to doership (kartṛtva) and in reality, we never perform an action, that is not determined by our karmic account. If we are not the doers, then who is the doer? Is it Brahman? No, because Brahman remains only as a witness and never partakes in any of the actions. It is our karmic account that unfolds as actions. But Brahman is the cause for our existence and since Brahman is present in our physical body, we are alive. Brahman is the creator of this body and just watches all the actions unfolded by mind-body combine. When the knowledge of discrimination (real vs unreal or Brahman vs non-Brahman) is attained, ego and doership gradually wanes away and one understands that everything is Brahman. This is the essence of second type of transmigration, which is manana, which is related to the mind.
During the process of Liberation, several things happen simultaneously. First, conspicuous changes happen within, transcending there normal stages of consciousness. Secondly, individual soul establishes a connection with Cosmic Brahman of Para-Brahman. Thirdly, disconnection happens between individual soul and Prakṛti (primary essence, which evolve the whole visible world). Fourthly, union of individual soul and Cosmic Brahman takes place. Finally, the individual soul that was transmigrating ceases to exist and merges with the Cosmic Brahman. This is the end of transmigration. This is explained in Brahma Sūtra (I.i.19). Brahman is omnipresent and when the individual soul gets itself identified with Brahman, naturally the individual soul, which has become part of the Self, sees through the eyes of the Self (not in literal sense). How Brahman sees the world? According to Īśa Upaniṣad (7), It sees “ātmā eva” (the Self is one) and “sarvāṇi bhūtāni” (all beings are Brahman; Brahman is implied here). Blissful state can be experienced by an individual soul. But the individual soul cannot become ānandamaya, until the individual soul becomes one with Brahman, who alone is Ānandamaya under all circumstances, as Brahman alone does not undergo modifications.
Most of us fail to pursue the right spiritual path due to various factors. First, there are no serious spiritual preceptors to guide us through the right path. In order to attain Liberation, there should be one to one contact between an aspirant and his Guru. We end up only with acquiring knowledge about Liberation through śravaṇa method. Only a Self-realized person can truly take the aspirants in the second method of Liberation known as manana. This means the aspirant has to experience Liberation or at least symptoms of Liberation by experiencing frequent samādhi-s during meditation (this is the stage beyond three stages of consciousness). Many find it difficult to leave the ritualistic path and get themselves entangled in accruing more and more karmic impressions in addition to wasting the short span of life. Spiritual path is easier to follow, as it is does not involve any bodily activities. All we need is the will and purified mind with the help of prāṇāyama. Spiritual practice is far easier than ritualistic practice and leads to direct experience of Bliss, which is the state of Brahman always.