Jivanmukti Viveka: The “Path to Liberation”

…is a classical treatise composed by Swamy Vidyaranya Saraswati in 1386 after serving as Jagadguru to three generations of kings of the Vijayanagara Empire.

Vidyaranya is most famous for his work Sarva-Darśana-Saṅgraha, a compendium of all known Indian schools of Philosophy. The Sangraha expounds upon 16 systems of thought, listed below in ascending order, and culminating in the establishment of the non-dual Advaita popular today. Those systems are:

  1. Cārvāka
  2. Buddhism
  3. Arhata or Jainism
  4. Ramanuja System or Sri Vaishnavism
  5. Purna-Prajña Darsana or Tatva-vaada or Dvaita Vedanta
  6. Nakulisa-Paśupata
  7. Shaivism
  8. Pratyabhijña (Kashmir Shaivism) or Recognitive System
  9. Raseśvara or Mercurial System
  10. Vaisheshika or Aulukya
  11. Akshapada or Nyaya
  12. Jaimini
  13. Pāṇiniya
  14. Samkhya
  15. Yoga (Patanjala)
  16. Advaita Vedanta (Adi Shankara)

In the lesser known text, Jivanmukti Viveka, Vidyaranya gives us the blueprint for achieving liberation from the cycle of rebirth through a systematic methodology culminating in an approach to the dissolution of mind. Briefly, this approach is defined in equal parts as the development of jnana, or knowledge which transcends bias, and vasana kshaya, the destruction of habitual tendencies.

With so much time given to talk of mind and ego in the global woke communities, and the lack of a standard definition of the constructs to fall back upon, I felt it might be useful to clarify how these constructs have been traditionally defined according to classical yogic philosophies.

In short, Vidyaranya attributes the birth, or, cause of mind, to two objects: prana and vasana. Vasana are the desires. Essentially, the mind is a recursive object, born immediately of prana, and self-producing based on thought, thought itself based on desire. One needs to be somewhat familiar with the kosha construct of being, the five sheaths which unfold from atman outward. Indeed, our most commonly understood concept of mind is not found to exist at all until we enter the pranamaya kosha, or the energy being, the sheath immediately before the physical.

Which brings us to the common technique of pranayama as a means to rein in a mind born of prana itself. In the yogic methodology outlined by Patanjali, there is at the very beginning the direction to discipline – the yamas. Pranayama is then, in other words, a disciplining of the energy body, the prana, as a means of yoking it to your control. And there’s the catch! The ‘your’.

For this reason Vidyaranya treats pranayama in chapter 3 in the context of dissolution of the mind, defining methods to achieve proper control with three particular techniques viz. Rechaka (prolonged exhalation), Puraka (prolonged inhalation) and Khumbaka (retention).

Furthermore, it’s also for this reason that in the preceding chapters he encourages the development of the correct apprehension of reality first and foremost. For you to control your mind is like the blind leading the blind, isn’t it. Basic meditation, asana and breath practices may be good in a slow down and get to know yourself kind of way, but the sublimated recognitive system that is the result of thousands of years of sage attention clearly shows us that correct knowledge compounded by correct practice will be entirely more expedient towards the goal.

Patanjali recommends a series of similar pranayamas as the fourth limb of his Ashtangha, after the yamas and niyamas, or disciplines and observances have been mastered. At this point, the vasana, or habitual tendencies, now have a new master. You are finally in charge after due attention to your austerities! And so you are freed to begin moving into the body now and getting yourself ready for real meditation by learning how to sit comfortably in his recommended asana. Next will come pranayama. More importantly, restraining and retaining that breath on the way to total withdrawal of all of the senses, which will lead you to a position of being finally able to focus and concentrate on the way to the Goal.

Please read for yourself Vidyaranya’s own ideas on the system of Patanjali in Sarva-Darśana-Saṅgraha available in the Public Resources of this blog.

As for the goal of Liberation in this Lifetime, or Dissolution of the Mind, well, in Ch. 3 of the Jivanmukti Viveka, Vidyaranya talks about the ideal spiritual practice towards that goal and it consists of about four hours of daily attention to meditation, self-care, scripture and yoga. Not that much time really if you consider an hour or two before you get ready for work and an hour or two when you get home at night. Most of us spend at least that much time on internet browsing and Netflix, right?

Vidyaranya’s Jivanmukti Viveka is available in the Public Resources.