How to be a Jivan-muktah

“The yogis, abandoning attachment, act with body, mind, intelligence and even with the senses, only for the purpose of purification.” Bhagavad-gita 5.11

During a class you’ll often hear me talk about yoga as a subtractive process; one of removing all the obstacles of the mind and impurities of the heart that prevent us from experiencing ourselves in our natural state of eternal, blissful consciousness; of being one who is liberated from illusion while still living in this world – a jivan-muktah.

Patanjali defines liberation (or samadhi) as the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind that results from the cessation of our identification with those fluctuations. So can we liberate our consciousness from the fluctuations of the mind and still be engaged with the world? As long as we have a body with which to act and a mind that’s generating thoughts that inspire those actions, we’d still have fluctuations of the mind and desires upon which we’re acting… so how can we say we’re liberated? Or, to put it another way, how is it possible to be a jivan-muktah if liberation is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind?

We might want to consider the possibility that activity and desire are natural attributes of the jiva, the individual spiritual being, and that inactivity, even on the level of mukti, the transcendental stage, can never really be truly satisfying. In Buddhism, for example, the Boddhisattva, a person who is able to attain nirvana but remains in the world for the benefit of others, implies that there is a desire for meaningful activity even at the stage of liberation from desires. So our challenge as aspiring yogis may not be so much in extinguishing our desires as in changing the quality of our desires.

Patanjali lends support to this position when he tells us that impressions on the mind can either be a help or a hindrance on the path of yoga (YSP I.5). Impressions that elevate our consciousness toward liberation are recommended, whereas impressions that degrade our consciousness and move us away from liberation are to be avoided. A yogic lifestyle that includes a regular practice, observance of ethical restraints and observances (the yamas and niyamas), and the study of the self through the lens of yoga philosophy gradually strengthens our sense of discrimination so that when our senses inevitably carry our minds in a direction away from liberation, we’re able to see what’s happening in the context of the bigger picture of yoga.

This yogic vision enables us to make constructive choices from an empowered position. As we become more inclined toward those activities that create mental impressions conducive to higher consciousness we become free (liberated) from the influence of degrading impressions. When we become habituated to a yogic lifestyle, our minds only generate positive impressions that are not subject to ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, or fear. Those constructive impressions generate thoughts (fluctuations of the mind) that lead to constructive actions; we engage with the world on the platform of enlightenment, fully absorbed in a spiritual conception of the world and ourselves, free from attachment to worldly gain, and with a profound attachment to positive spiritual values of selfless service.

That certainly puts us firmly on the path of yoga but does that make us a jivan-muktah? Almost; I think there’s a little more to it – another step to take, more than one way to take it, a sure-fire way to stay liberated, and something to aspire for beyond liberation. Next up: fun things to do when you’re a jivan-muktah


  1. Posted July 14, 2011 at 12:34 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I love the concept of a subtractive process to enable us to make constructive choices. Brilliant angle. Thanks!

  2. Posted July 15, 2011 at 6:02 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks, Pranada. Nice to hear from you – hope all’s well.

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