The mechanism of liberation in Madhva Philosophy

Shri U R Acharya
Director (Retd) Meteorological Dept., Zambia
Sept, 1976 issue of Dharmaprakash Journal, Posted with permission from Sri K Raghupathy Rao.

It is a basic tenet of Hindu Philosophy that every sentient being consists of 2 parts: material and spiritual.

The material part, Prakrti, is perishable and the spiritual part, Purusa (or soul) is imperishable and immortal. At death, the soul, passes from one body to another carrying with it, its load of karma, the fruits of which it has to endure in subsequent lives. The ultimate goal of all good souls is to get out of this cycle of birth and death and enjoy permanently their share of happiness according to their intrinsic nature. This naijasukhAnubhUti is known as mukti or liberation. What is the mechanism of this liberation and how are we to achieve this?

The human body according to SAnkhya philosophy consists of:
5 gross elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether
5 subtle elements or tanmAtras: Smell, Taste, Sight, Sound and Touch
5 organs of perception: Nose, Tongue, Eyes, Ears and Skin
5 organs of action: Hands, Feet, Organs of speech, Evacuation, and Generation mind, intellect, citta and ego.

These are classified as matter. The AtmA or the soul is of entirely different category and is called spirit or purusa. The soul cannot be seen, conceived, or comprehended by our senses. We can neither cut it or wet it; fire does not burn it. It is made up of pure existence, consciousness and bliss - sat, cit and AnandA. Not that it is happy or good, but it is happiness and goodness itself. It is like sweetness in sugar candy. We taste and enjoy it, but we cannot but a Kg of sweetness in any shop. But, this does not mean it does not exist.

In the physical world we are aware of energy and its various manifestations, but we cannot see it except in association with matter. We are aware of electricity and we see the smallest part of it in an electron. Electron has a tiny mass and no one has been able to isolate the electric charge from this tiny piece of matter. Nobody has seen electricity by itself. In the same way, our mind cannot grasp what the soul is. It may also seem hard to conceive how a soul can keep its individual identity once it leaves the body, without being dissipated or merged with space or AkAsa. In the physical world, does not quantum energy keep its identity even though it is travelling at 186,000 miles per second?

We see an external object through our eyes. The eye has a lens that places a 2 dimensional image on the retina. The optic nerves are stimulated and an electric current is sent to a specific part of the brain. Then, we are aware of the object with all its color, shade, thickness and softness. What is it that really sees? The eye, the brain or both? Actually, it is the purusa or soul that sees! In a dark room, with our eyes closed, we can see objects. In sleep, we see objects in our dreams. A dead body has the same eyes and brain, but cannot see since the soul has left it!

What makes the soul see, hear, smell and think? What makes it remember the good and bad deeds, and carry the ledger of debit and credit to your next life?

The soul is covered by a sheath called linga sarIra. This sheath is made up of the same substance as the soul, but contains in a subtle form the 5 organs of action, 5 organs of sense, 5 prAnas (prAna, apAna, vyAna, udAna and samAna), mind and intellect - making it 17 constituents in all. It is this sheath that is responsible for the soul's activities and its entanglements inside the body in its repeated births in this world. This covering clings to the soul so long as it is not liberated. Liberation is the process of the soul getting rid of its linga sarIra, after which it will no more be caught in the cycle of births and death.

The paramAtma or the Supreme God is different from the Atma. The former is independent and the latter dependent. The former is infinite and the latter finite. Both are alike in quality, but not quantity. If one is the ocean the other is but a drop from it. paramAtma is the bimba and the soul is the pratibimba.

Souls are of 3 kinds: Good (sAtvik), Bad (tAmasik) and the Mixed (rAjasik), and each one has its own quality. This classification is inherent in the soul itself and God is not responsible for giving it. Souls are not created by anybody; not even by paramAtma. They are beginningless and co-existent with the Lord. This classification is its inherent nature and propensity. The sAtvik souls alone are eligible for liberation. They perform great sAdhana in their lives and practice the 8 limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, Asana, prAnAyAma, pratyAhAra, dhAraNa, dhyAna and samAdhi and catch of glimpse of God when in a super conscious state. They practice the discipline of discrimination (viveka), renunciation (vairAgya) and longing for liberation (mumukSutva). The possess six treasures: calmness (Sama), self control (dama), self-settledness (uparati), forbearance ((titIksA), complete concentration (samAdhAna) and faith (SraddhA).
With the flash of aparOksa j~nAna, all his sa~ncita and evil portion of karma disappear. But the soul continues to live in this world till it remaining portion of the prArabhda karma wears out and then it goes to heaven and waits there till its turn for liberation comes which will be at the beginning of the next creation (Suddha sRSTi) after the mahApraLaya.

Time is a continuos flowing entity and it is measured as follows:  There are 4 yugas: Krta, Treta, DvApara and Kali Kali yuga is 4,32, 000 years long; DvApara is twice as long; Treta is thrice and Krta is 4 times as long. The 4 yugas combined together is called MahA yugA is 4,320,000 years long. 1000 such MahAyugA's is called a kalpa and this is but one 1/2 of one day in BrahmA's life, at the end of which there is a deluge. For an equal length of time it is night for him; And the 2 together (2 kalpas) makes one full day. 360 such days makes one year for BrahmA. His life span is 100 such years and it is called para. At the end of the para there is the great deluge or MahApralaya. During this, there is nothing but water, and the Lord takes the form of a baby and floats on a banyan leaf, which is nothing but one form of Lakshmi, His consort.

The souls of all living creatures, including BrahmA get into the belly of the Lord and occupy different portions, some above the navel and some below. All other matter gets back to its basic state called avyaktA, with its 3 gunas satva, rajas and tamas perfectly balanced. During the mahApralaya all activities cease and it is but one night for the Lord.

After this long night, at the approach of dawn a slight stir disturbs the balance as a preparation for the succeeding day - a new creation. The Lord emerges in 4 forms: VAsudeva, SankarsaNa, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. After creating the universe, He reclines on the surface of the ocean of milk as PadmanAbha. From his navel shoots up a lotus, at the center of which a new BrahmA is created. The old Brahma has retired and is awaiting his liberation. At this time, all the unreleased  souls who have to go down to take bodily incarnations pass through the 4 divine forms of VAsudeva and are re-born.

The souls who are qualified for liberation, follow the old BrahmA to the river of immortality (virajA nadi) in vaikuntA and take a dip in the sacred waters. This dip unhooks the souls and the linga sarIra's peel off. They then enter vaikuntA as liberated souls led by BrahmA, to stand before the Supreme Lord for the final vision. But, there is still a curtain (pradhAna Avarana) seperating the Lord from these souls and as a final act of grace, the Lord Himself removes the curtain if He is fully pleased with the tapas, sAdhana and devotion. The moment the Lord removes the curtain, the exalted soul stands in great bliss and rushes into the bosom of the great Father, remaining there forever enjoying bliss according to his inherent capacity.

Even in the liberated state, the souls maintain their individuality and are different from each other in their capacity for enjoyment. One may wonder why the souls do not merge with each other even after they are liberated. The reason is that they have different svarUpa yogyata and therefore maintain their difference. To give an analogy from the physical world, electromagnetic waves which have different wavelengths and which are not coherent, do not interface with each other. They maintain their individuality and behave as though others do not exist.

Even in liberation, the souls are different from the Lord. Creation and destruction are the prerogative of the Lord and no one can deprive Him of it. In the liberated state, all souls enjoy bliss to their maximum capacity and hence there is no room for jealousy.

This brief description of the mechanism of liberation may appear for some to be fanciful, but, it must not be forgotten that here we are dealing with a subject matter which the finite mind can hardly comprehend. Where perception and reasoning fail, we have to fall back on what the scriptures say.

In the service of Lord Vittala

used with permission Keshav Bhat