Prarabdha Karma After Self Realization: It’s Experience of Suffering and Pleasure: Part3/3


  1. Introduction
  2. Panchadasi on Prarabdha Karma
    1. A Jnani is Not Necessarily a Renunciate or a Monk
    2. A Newly Initiated Jnani Can Suffer Temporary Lapses in Self Knowledge Due to Force of Prarabdha Karma But Recovers From It
    3. Self Knowledge is Not Opposed to Fructifying Experiences of Prarabdha Karma
    4. A Jnani Has No Choice to Avert His Actions Born of Prarabdha Karma
    5. Even the Virtuous Actions Done by a Jnani Are Part of His Prarabdha Karma
    6. A Jnani too Undergoes Psychological Suffering But With A Difference Due to Prarabdha Karma
    7. A Jnani Also Enjoys and Gains Pleasure from Objects in Moderation Due to Prarabdha Karma
  3. Conclusion


In Part 1 of this series of articles Prarabdha Karma After Self Realization: It’s Philosophy – Part 1/3, I introduced the philosophy of Prarabdha Karma for a Jnani as elucidated by Shankara in his commentaries. In the article Part 2 of this series Prarabdha Karma After Self Realization: Seeming Refutations: Part 2/3, I discussed some post Shankara Advaita works along with some of Shankara’s own commentaries which seemingly refute this theory. However, by analysing these works, I showed how their refutation is based on different standpoints. Key to the differentiation of standpoints is the difference between two Advaita theories of Ajativada propounded by Gaudapada and Vivartavada propounded by Shankara which leads to the difference between a Jnani and a Jivanmukta. In the conclusion of Part 2 I said that I would be writing about the phenomenon of Jivanmukti in a later article. [It should be noted that Shankara too has talked of Ajativada and Jivanmukti, just that the bulk of his focus is on Vivartavada doctrine]

But for now, the primary purpose for me to write this article series was to show that Jnanis, unlike Jivanmuktas, who are freed from Prarabdha Karma entirely as in Ajativada, are affected by Prarabdha Karma and are seen to act in ways which are both virtuous and non-virtuous depending upon their fructifying karma. The key point to remember is that though the Jnani may seem to undergo suffering and do acts which can be deemed to be labelled under the categories of virtue and vice, a Jnani knows himself to be Self/Awareness which is not a thinker/doer/experiencer. For a Jnani, his BMI (Body/Mind/Intellect) appears as an object to Awareness/Self, so even though his/her BMI is affected by Prarabdha, the Jnani/Jivanmukta as Self, remains unaffected. There is a verse in the famous Advaita text Panchadasi which brings out this aspect of the Jnani, the best.

Verse 11.131: When the knower experiences sufferings, he is not disturbed by them as he would have been before. Just as a man half-immersed in the cool water of the Ganges feels both the heat of the sun and the coolness of the water, so he feels the misery of the world and the bliss of Brahman at the same time.

In this third and final part of this series I am going to describe the experiential aspects of Prarabdha Karma for a Jnani. For this I am going to draw my material exclusively from the above-mentioned book called Panchadasi.

Panchadasi on Prarabdha Karma

Having understood the special status of the Jnani/Jivanmukta, and his elusive status as an actor and a non-doer, even though he is seen having a body/mind/intellect that is active, we are in a better position to take a look at the experiential aspects of Prarabdha Karma mentioned in texts that accord with Shankara’s view of Prarabdha. I empathize with these because the experiences shared in these texts are corroborated by my own experiences.

Amongst all the texts, there is a work by Swami Vidyaranya written just over half a century before called Panchadsi, which has got the most detailed description of Prarabdha Karma and its experiences for a Jnani that I have come across. It has devoted over 50 verses on this topic exploring it through multiple lenses and sustained by reasoning. In the following sections I am going to quote and explore these verses giving examples from my personal life.

A Jnani is Not Necessarily a Renunciate or a Monk

Unlike Shankara and in tandem with Bhagavad Gita Panchadasi is not restricting Self Realization to monks and renuniciates as Shankara does. Like Gita, Panchadasi opens out its discussion on Prarabdha Karma with the example of King Janaka. We have:

Verse 7.130. (Doubt): How then the ancient knowers like Janaka administered kingdoms? (Reply): They were able because of their conviction about the truth. If you have that, then by all means engage yourself in logic or agriculture or do whatever you like.

It is has an encouraging tone towards work post Self Realization recommending fields as diverse as absolutely physical agriculture to completely mental activities like learning the art and science of logic. After my Self Realization I did carpentry for a couple of years and then switched to writing and teaching Advaita. Co-incidentally I too love philosophy and logic. I guess most Jnana Yogis do.

To an onlooker, all the work done by a Jnani/ may seem to be driven by some aim or purpose. For a Jnani will appear to do all work with utter seriousness and even strive for perfection. But from within he is absolutely actionless. He is nothing but the witness of the vasanas that are exhausting themselves in the form of work. While others derive and create a self identity through work, a Jnani/Jivanmukta does not. He just sees it as the play of the gunas. Thus, Panchadasi says:

Verse 7.131. Once he is convinced of the unreality of the world, a knower, with mind undisturbed, allows his fructifying Karma to wear out and engages himself in worldly affairs accordingly.

A Newly Initiated Jnani Can Suffer Temporary Lapses in Self Knowledge Due to Force of Prarabdha Karma But Recovers From It

This is something that Shankara too has discussed in his commentaries that a Jnani, especially who has newly acquired Self Knowledge can suffer occasional lapses from his knowledge due to the force of the fructifying karma. A good teacher is one who helps the student stabilize in Self Knowledge after he has attained it. Thus, we can see that all this is a long and sustained process. Panchadasi brings this about through a number of vivid examples and comforts the Jnani that such lapses are only temporary and one can come back to Self Knowledge by mere remembrance of it. In the ending verses it gives an interesting twist to the famous story of the ‘Tenth Man’, employed by Advaitins to teach students how knowledge and not any form of action can help you know who you truly are and liberate you from the sense of all limitations of birth and death. The story can be found here: The Story of the Tenth Man

Verse 7.244. After a man has realized the nature of the rope, the trembling caused by the erroneous idea of the snake disappears gradually only and the idea of the snake still sometimes haunts him when he sees a rope in darkness.

Verse 7.245. Similarly the fructifying Karma does not end abruptly but dies down slowly. In the course of the enjoyment of its fruits, the knower is occasionally visited by such thoughts as ‘I am a mortal’.

Verse 7.246. Lapses like this do not nullify the realization of truth. Jivanmukti (liberation in life) is not a vow, but the establishment of the soul in the knowledge of Brahman.

Verse 7.247. In the example already cited, the tenth man, who may have been crying and beating his head in sorrow, stops lamenting on realizing that the tenth is not dead; but the wounds caused by beating his head take a month gradually to heal.

Verse 7.248. On realizing that the tenth is alive, he rejoices and forgets the pain of his wounds. In the same way liberation in life makes one forget any misery resulting from the fructifying Karma.

Verse 7.249. As it is not a vow and a break does not matter, one should reflect on the truth again and again to remove the delusion whenever it recurs, just as a man who takes mercury to cure a certain disease eats again and again during the day to satisfy the hunger caused by the mercury.

Verse 7.250. As the tenth man cures his wounds by applying medicine, so the knower wears out the fructifying karma by enjoyment and is ultimately liberated.

Self Knowledge is Not Opposed to Fructifying Experiences of Prarabdha Karma

After illustrating how the Prarabdha Karma can cause temporary loss of knowledge for a Jnani who has newly gained Self Knowledge, the discussion shifts to how Prarabdha Karma acts even for a seasoned Jnani. Anticipating objections by people as to how a Jnani, who is the epitome of knowledge, can still be subject to the force of Prarabdha Karma in terms of experiencing pain and pleasure, the Panchadasi presents us with an array of examples and logic. Ultimately it also shows how Self Knowledge does not necessarily mean destruction of the phenomenal world as it is not opposed to its appearance. Self Knowledge only shows that the world is apparently real like a dream or a mirage. A Jnani undergoes the experiences of pain and pleasure produced by Prarabdha Karma knowing them to be only apparently real like a dream.

Verse 7.175. The function of knowledge is to show the illusory nature of the world and the function of fructifying Karma is to yield pleasure and pain to the Jiva.

Verse 7.176. Knowledge and fructifying Karma are not opposed to one another since they refer to different objects. The sight of a magical performance gives amusement to a spectator in spite of his knowledge of its unreality.

Verse 7.177. The fructification of Karma would be considered to be opposed to the knowledge of truth if it gave rise to the idea of the reality of the transitory world; but the mere enjoyment does not mean that the enjoyed thing is real.

Verse 7.178. Through the imaginary objects seen in a dream there is experience of joy and sorrow to no small extent; therefore you can infer that through the objects of the waking state also there can be the same experience (without making them real).

Verse 7.179. If the knowledge of truth would obliterate the enjoyable world, then it would be a destroyer of the fructifying Karma. But it only teaches its unreality and does not cause its disappearance.

Verse 7.180. People know a magical show to be unreal, but this knowledge does not involve the destruction of the show. So it is possible to know the unreality of external objects without causing their disappearance or the cessation of enjoyment from them.

A Jnani Has No Choice to Avert His Actions Born of Prarabdha Karma

A Jnani is neither attached to virtuous actions nor is he attached to any vice. Being a non-doer his actions are just a product of Prarabdha Karma. Nothing can stop the Prarabdha Karma from fructifying and give the designated experiences. Let’s examine the following verses from Panchadasi.

It starts the discussion in the form a dialogue with a deliberate introduction of a doubt as to how a Jnani, who is said to be a person who knows the falsity of all objects, can be subjected to the vagaries of Prarabdha Karma. It then goes into detailing into various ways in which Prarabdha Karma can be expended.

Verse 7.151. (Doubt): When discrimination is ever awake regarding the defects of the objects of enjoyment, how can the desire for enjoyment be forced upon him by his fructifying Karma?

Verse 7.152. (Reply): There is no inconsistency here, for the fructifying Karma expends itself in various ways. There are three kinds of fructifying Karma ‘producing enjoyment with desire’, ‘in the absence of desire’ and ‘through the desire of another’.

The next verses go on to show that even the knowledge of consequences of particular actions is not enough to stop the Prarabdha Karma from acting. It is not that the Jnani is not aware of consequences of his/her acts but the Prarabdha Karma has an unstoppable force. Experientially I have felt driven to do certain acts after Self Realization and the force behind these acts was extraordinary. A Jnani is a person who has done Buddhi Yoga, a highly philosophical affair, so it is extremely foolish to assume that the Jnani/Jivanmukta is unaware of the consequences of his/her actions. As the succeeding verses show, even the Lord cannot stop the inexorable law of Karma, citing examples of Yudhisthra, Rama and Nala followed by a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna culled from Bhagavad Gita.

Verse 7.153. The sick attached to harmful food, the thieves and those who have illicit relationships with the wives of a king know well the consequence likely to follow their actions, but in spite of this they are driven to do them by their fructifying Karma.

Verse 7.154. Even Ishvara cannot stop such desires. So Sri Krishna said to Arjuna in the Gita:

Verse 7.155. ‘Even wise men follow the dictates of their own nature. Beings are prompted by their own innate tendencies; what can restriction do ?’ (Reference to Bhagavad Gita Verse 3.33)

Verse 7.156. If it were possible to avert the consequences of fructifying Karma, Nala, Rama and Yudhisthira would not have suffered the miseries to which they were subjected.

Verse 7.157. Ishvara Himself ordains that the fructifying Karma should be inexorable. So the fact that He is unable to prevent such Karma from fructifying is not inconsistent with His omnipotence.

Verse 7.158. Listen to the questions and answers between Arjuna and Sri Krishna from which we know that a man has to experience his fructifying Karma though he may have no desire to experience it.

Verse 7.159. ‘O Krishna, prompted by what does a man sin against his will, as if some force compels him to do so ?’

Verse 7.160. ‘It is desire and (its brood) anger, born of the quality of Rajas. It is insatiable, the great source of all sins; know it to be your enemy.’

Verse 7.161. ‘O Arjuna, your own Karma, produced by your own nature, compels you to do things, even though you may not want to do them’.

Verse 7.168. That which is not destined to happen as a result of our past Karma will not happen; that which is to happen must happen. Such knowledge is a sure antidote to the poison of anxiety; it removes the delusion of grief.

Finally, we can round of this discussion on the inevitability of Prarabdha Karma to commit him to act irrespective of virtue and vice by the following quote of Panchadasi

Verse 7.132. Do not fear irregularity when the wise engage themselves in actions according to their Karma. Even if it happens, let it be; who can prevent the Karma ?

Even the Virtuous Actions Done by a Jnani/Jivanmukta Are Part of His Prarabdha Karma

Since the Jnani is a non-doer, he is beyond both acts of virtue and vice. Thus, he does not claim to be a doer of any virtuous acts and take their credit. He is therefore not a social worker even if he does any social work. He knows that all these acts are nothing but his Prarabdha Karma taking its course. The Jnani however is not subject to further Karma because of his acts propelled by exhausting Prarabdha Karma. He does not get attached to his virtuous acts and derive pleasure out of them. The ajnani will get attached to the pleasure born out of virtuous acts and will long to have more of this pleasure in the future. To bring out this aspect we have the following verses in Panchadasi

Verse 7.162. When a man is neither willing nor unwilling to do a thing but does it for the feelings of others and experiences pleasure and pain, it is the result of ‘fructifying Karma through the desire of others’.

Verse 7.163. (Doubt): Does it not contradict the text at the beginning of this chapter which describes the enlightened man as desireless ? (Reply): The text does not mean that desires are absent in the enlightened man, but that desires arising in him spontaneously without his will produce no pleasure or pain in him, just as the roasted grain has no potency.

Verse 7.164. Roasted grain though looking the same cannot germinate; similarly the desires of the knower, well aware of the unreality of objects of desire cannot produce merit and demerit.

Verse 7.165. Though it does not germinate, the roasted grain can be used as food. In the same way the desires of the knower yield him only a little experience, but cannot lead to varieties of enjoyment producing sorrow or abiding habits.

Verse 7.167. ‘Let not my enjoyment be cut short, let it go on increasing, let not obstacles stop it, I am blessed because of it’ – such is the nature of that delusion.

A Jnani too Undergoes Psychological Suffering But With A Difference Due to Prarabdha Karma

People have the feeling that a Self Realized being has gone beyond all fear and suffering. But this is not true. All Jnanis have to undergo physical and psychological suffering caused by fructifying prarabdha karma. The Panchadasi says this categorically,

Verse 7.133. In the experience of their fructifying Karma the enlightened and the unenlightened alike have no choice; but the knower is patient and undisturbed, whereas an ignorant man is impatient and suffers pain and grief.

As I have mentioned in the sub heading, there is no choice for the Jnani to face fructifying both pleasurable and painful prarabdha karma, just that the Jnani is better equipped to deal with it. As already hinted in the previous verse, a Jnani has different knowledge. He knows that all experiences are impermanent objects arising and falling in Awareness, while he as Awareness is their unchanged Witness. So even when the experience is taking place, he has the detachment from it which is not visible to others. He has an absolute still centre which is untouched by all the play of vasanas and gunas. He knows that this play is going to end as his vasanas exhaust. Thus, Panchadasi says in the following verses,

“Verse 7.134. Two travellers on a journey may be equally fatigued, but the one who knows that his destination is not far off goes on quicker with patience, whereas the ignorant one feels discouraged and stays on longer on the way.”

Verse 7.166. The fructifying Karma spends its force when its effects are experienced; it is only when, through ignorance, one believes its effects to be real that they cause lasting sorrow.

Verse 7.169. Both the illumined and the deluded suffer from their fructifying Karma; the deluded are subject to misery, the wise are not. As the deluded are full of desires, of impracticable unreal things, their sorrow is great.

“Verse 7.171. The wise man is convinced that worldly desires are like dream objects or magical creations. He knows further that the nature of the world is incomprehensible and that its objects are momentary. How can he then be attached to them ?”

“Verse 7.174. This world of duality is like a magical creation, with its cause incomprehensible. What matters it to the wise man who does not forget this, if the past actions produce their results in him ?”

A Jnani Also Enjoys and Gains Pleasure from Objects in Moderation Due to Prarabdha Karma

Just as a Jnani is not immune to suffering due to fructifying karma, he is neither immune to getting pleasure from objects. Giving an interesting analogy of a crow with a double vision, the Panchadasi has the following verses

Verse 11.128. The sage, looking now at the bliss of Brahman and now at such worldly objects as are not opposed to it, is like a crow that turns its eye from one side to another.

Verse 11.129. The crow has only a single vision which alternates between the right and left eye. Similarly the vision of the knower of Truth alternates between the two types of bliss (of Brahman and the world).

Verse 11.130. Enjoying both the bliss of Brahman taught in the scriptures and the worldly bliss unopposed to it, the knower of truth knows them both in the same way as one who knows two languages.

However, these verses do not mean to show that the Jnani is interested in pleasures like the common man. For it says,

Verse 11.17. The infinite Self alone is bliss; there is no bliss in the finite realm of the triad (knower, known and knowing). This Sanatkumara told the grieving Narada.

The Jnani is quite aware of the above. Thus even though he is impelled towards deriving pleasure from objects due to his fructifying karma, he is very aware that the source of all bliss is nothing but Self. This is brought out in the following verses of Panchadasi

Verse 11.122. A woman devoted to a paramour, though engaged in household duties, with all the time be dwelling in mind on the pleasures with him.

Verse 11.123. Similarly, the wise one who has found peace in the supreme Reality will be ever enjoying within the bliss of Brahman even when engaged in worldly matters.

The bliss of Brahman being spoken about is the reflection of Brahman in a sattvic mind. Depending upon the vasanas of a Jnani, it takes time for a mind to attain the state of sattva which can reflect the bliss of Brahman, after attaining Self Knowledge. Thus, the Panchadasi says,

Verse 11.124. Wisdom consists in subjugating the desires for sense-pleasure, even when the passions are strong and in engaging the mind in meditation on Brahman with the desire to enjoy the bliss.

Even as Jnani is enjoying sense pleasures, his remembrance of Self is intact. If the vasanas are very strong, he has to detach and focus exclusively on rememberance of Self. At other times, this remembrance of Self comes automatically to the mind of a Jnani, and it acts as a purger of all thoughts of objects. The set of verses (7.146 – 7.150) which I quote in the paragraph below from Panchadasi bring out this aspect of remembrance of Self in experiential and philosophical terms quite beautifully. They show the kind of reasoning that go in the mind of a Jnani which he silently Witnesses. Before we get to these verses, I would like to quote some verses which talk about the social life of a Jnani.

Verse 7.143. If by the force of his fructifying Karma a wise man is compelled to enjoy the fruits of desires, he does so with indifference and great reluctance like a man who is impressed for labour.

Verse 7.144. The wise, having spiritual faith, if forced by their fructifying Karma to live a family life, maintaining many relations, always sorrowfully think ‘Ah, the bonds of Karma are not yet torn off’.

Verse 7.145. This sorrow is not due to the afflictions of the world but a dislike for it, for the worldly afflictions are caused by erroneous conviction about its reality.

To me the above two verses, while getting the general drift of a Jnani’s mind rightly, appear a bit of a stretch. It’s true that a Jnani has a natural preference for solitude but it would be incorrect to say that a Jnani does not prefer any company or does not have sexual desires. Yajnavalkya, the great Jnani in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad had two wives. The sexual desires last as long as the Prarabdha Karma deems it that way. Whether the Jnani acts on them or not, and in what manner, is also the province of Prarabdha Karma. So there are certain ‘worldy affictions’ like sex, which, if Prarabdha Karma favours, a Jnani certainly does not dislike, even though he ‘knows’ their unreality, and he certainly does not feel like ‘impressed for labour’ when acting on them. However, what can be said of a Jnani is that he is not blinded by these desires and pursues them indiscriminately. The next verses from Panchadasi, in my view, show quite accurately the kind of moderation to sense pleasures that comes naturally to any Jnani. The opening verse sets the tone of the arguments related to moderation of sense pleasures which the later verses follow.

Verse 7.146. A man endowed with discrimination sees the defects of enjoyment and is satisfied even with little, whereas he who is subject to illusion is not satisfied even with endless enjoyments.

Verse 7.147. ‘The desires are never quelled by enjoyment but increase more like the flame of a fire fed on clarified butter’.

Verse 7.148. But when the impermanence of pleasure is known, the gratification of desires may bring the idea of ‘enough of it’. It is like a thief, who having been knowingly employed in service does not behave like a thief but like a friend.

Verse 7.149. A man who has conquered his mind is satisfied with even a little enjoyment of pleasure. He knows well that pleasures are impermanent and are followed by grief. To him even a little pleasure is more than enough.

Verse 7.150. A king who has been freed from prison is content with sovereignty over a village, whereas when he had neither been imprisoned nor conquered he did not attach much value even to a kingdom.

The previous paragraphs deal with the experiential aspects of Prarabdha Karma as discussed exclusively in Panchadasi text. However, there are other post-Shankara texts in Advaita literature like Ashtavakara Gita and Avdhuta Gita that also support and give some experiential descriptions of Prarabdha Karma. I did not include them in this article because doing so would have made this article very bulky. Moreover, Panchadasi has already stated what is found in these texts – in different words – so quoting these texts would only add to philosophical redundancy.


With this article I finish the three part series on Prarabdha Karma. In this final article which has extensive quotes from the text Panchadasi, a reader gets the most exhaustive treatment of this subject found anywhere in Advaita literature. It is also corroborated by my own experience. The purpose of these articles was to draw out the complexity of experience and actions of a Jnani which are evident only to him/her rather than to an outsider who sees nothing saintly or special in a Jnani when contrasted to Yogis with siddhis and Jivanmuktas who are freed from all negative emotions. The keynote for a Jnani is however that this world of phenomena is mithya or only apparently real, therefore he does not evince any serious commitments to this world of mithya even if he appears to. His attitude is therefore of ‘indifference’ or as Aurobindo coined the term – ‘high indifference’. However, the Jnani is an enigma to all. He is an outlier, as Shankara said, he does not belong to any of the four orders of society (student, householder, forest dweller and renunciate) with their particular set of duties and psychology. With these series of articles, I wanted to explore the enigmatic inner world of the Jnani; his/her experiential dimension that escapes onlookers: a person who is in the world yet not of it.

2 thoughts on “Prarabdha Karma After Self Realization: It’s Experience of Suffering and Pleasure: Part3/3

  1. I have been looking for this proper assesment for years
    I was always in conflict about freewill and fate but now with your explanation my concepts have been cleared.
    Can you write about astrology is it true or false or it can be an incomplete science due to change in equinox which has not been updated due to lack of research


    1. Dear King,

      Thank you for reading, and it’s good to know that my article helped you in gaining some clarity.

      I have noted your request for writing an article on Astrology. Here I shall just answer your question briefly.

      All sciences including empirical western sciences and eastern spiritual sciences are based on the law of cause and effect. The law of cause and effect assumes that there is an entity that undergoes change or transformation, either in reality or in illusion. The highest truth is that reality is inconceivable, non-substantial, non-dual and never changes. So from the standpoint of ultimate truth all sciences which presuppose cause and effect are only spoken from the level of conventional reality.

      This reality cannot be understood by mere philosophical speculation but by a gnostic insight followed by a gnostic transformation.

      Warm wishes,


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