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Realization of Brahman and the Individual Self

Question: In Siddhānta-ratnam (1.33) Śrī Baladeva says:

The conclusion here is this—jñāna (knowledge) is a synonym of the words vidyā and vedana, and it is twofold. One kind is in the form of realization of the meaning of the words tat and tvam in the sentence tat tvam asi (“you are that”), and it is like an unblinking glance. The other kind is in a variegated form of devotion, and it is like a side-glance. By meditating on the pure meaning of the word tvam, although a jīva attains the spiritual world, being devoid of the fortune of having the Supreme Lord’s favor, its liberation is characterized by isolation, just like a wife given up by her husband. As stated by the Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad (4.4.12): ātmānaṁ ced vijānīyād ayam asmīti pūruṣaḥ kim icchan kasya kāmāya śarīram anusañjvaret, “If the living entity knows its own self in this way—”I am this,” then desiring which object and to fulfil which desire would one mortify the body?”

Do nirvikalpa-samādhi, kaivalyam (brahmānubhavam), and jīvātmānubhavam refer to the same thing? If they differ, please explain how they differ

Answer: First of all, we can understand the difference from the word meaning itself. Brahmānubhavam means realization of Brahman, while jīvātmānubhavam means realization of the jivātmā or the individual self. From the Advaitavāda point of view (compared to an “unblinking glance” in Siddhānta-ratnam, 1.33), there is no difference between these two types of realizations because according to Advaitavāda, there is no distinction between the jīva and Brahman. However, from the Vaiṣṇava point of view, the experiences are different. Brahman is unlimited and the jīva is aṇu. Thus, the two experiences are vastly different.

The next difference lies in the process of experience. The experience of Brahman can be had only by identification with It. Brahman is unlimited; thus there is no possibility of the experiencer being separate from the experienced. But such is not the case in realization of the jīvātma. There is another distinction in the experience of Brahman by a devotee. A devotee does not identify with Brahman, so his experience of Brahman is with a distinction, but it is only momentary because one cannot sustain it without identification.

Question: Is self-realization (jīvātmānubhavam) a transient state and thus a prerequisite, leading to Brahman realization (kaivalyam)?

Answer: Again, the reply is twofold depending upon whether it is from the Advaitavāda or Vaiṣṇava point of view. In the case of a devotee, realization of the jīvātma, as well as realization of Brahman, are transitory.

Question: What is the experience of the individual self like in jīvātmānubhavam? Is it void because vṛttis are absent in the jīva-svarūpa or is a vague portion of the svarūpa-śakti manifested in the mind? Does one experience this minute svarūpa-śakti and then later experience Brahman in Brahmānubhavam by identifying with Brahman, thus experiencing a greater bliss (svarūpa-śakti) than in jīvātmānubhavam?

Answer: While deliberating on such questions, it is crucial to consider the path followed by the sādhaka. Experience very much depends on the concept and process followed by the sādhaka. This is in line with Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s statement, ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmyaham (Gītā 4.11). Jīvātmānubhavam is similar to the experience of deep sleep—devoid of all vṛttis except a sense of “I”. Brahmānubhavam is the experience of Brahman with a brahmakāravṛtti.

None of these experiences are possible without the grace of the internal potency, bhakti. Even an Advaitavādī has to resort to bhakti (Gītā 14.26)

Question: Are nirvikalpa-samādhi, kaivalyam, and jīvātmānubhavam not positive states of bliss and thus there is no perception of anything other than existence?

Answer: It is a positive state, but very minute bliss compared to bhaktyānanada. The jīva is atomic in size, so realization of the jīvātma gives atomic pleasure. It is almost nil in comparison to the bliss of bhakti, even though existence is a positive state.