How Does A Jnani Person Deal With the Negative Impacts of the World: Part 1/3 – Titiksha/Endurance


  1. Introduction
  2. The Indestructible, Unattached, Contactless Self
  3. Two Ways a Jnani Deals (Can Deal) with Negative Impacts of Phenomena: Titiksha and Udasinta
  4. Titiksha: Endurance to the Opposites
    1. Bhagavad Gita on Titiksha as The Way to Liberation
    2. The Courage/Balya Required for Titiksha
    3. Aurobindo vs Shankara on Titiksha
    4. Titiksha and the Shifting Code of Ethics
    5. Titiksha and Amorality
    6. Conclusion
  5. Notes


A Jiva/ embodied being is subject to the attack of the dvandas/dualities of life: to the turbulence of grief and joy, to the violent touches of pleasure and pain, to the tumult of his emotions and passions, to the bondage of his personal likings and dislikings, to the strong chains of desire and attachment, to the narrowness of a personal and emotionally preferential judgment and opinion, to all the hundred touches of his egoism and its pursuing stamp on his thought, feeling and action. The heart of a Jiva is a battleground for the gusts and storms of the affections and the passions; the assailing touch of grief, wrath, hatred, fear, inequality of love, trouble of joy, pain of sorrow.

It is not that the Jnani or a Self Realized being does not have to deal with all this. Just that the Jnani knows that these are events in the phenomenal reality affecting the phenomenal Subtle Body (Mind/Intellect) and the Gross Body (Sensations) but not his core Self. For the Jnani the ultimate reality is not the phenomenal changing world but the unchanging Self/Witness which he is. As Self/Witness he is unaffected by these phenomenal changes because Self/Witness is Asanga – Unattached, and Asparsha – Contactless. However, till the bodies exist for the Jnani, the BMI has to experience the Prarabdha Karma. The total ending of suffering happens only when a Jnani becomes a Jivanmukta/liberated while alive, after complete exhaustion of all Prarabdha Karma. I have covered all this in great detail in my three parts article series – Prarabdha Karma After Self Realization. Here I am just quoting one verse from these articles that sums the flavour of experiences for a Jnani whose Prarabdha Karma is being exhausted.

“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.“

~ Verse 11.131, Panchadasi

My personal experiences have not touched any “bliss of Brahman” but I can say that the Self/Witness is a palpable experience of untouched stillness. Of course strong vasanas can override this “experience” of the Witness too, but never the knowledge of Self/Witness in an established Jnani.

There has been very little literature, to my knowledge, talking about the subjective ways in which a Jnani deals with the negative impacts of the world. In my three part article series on Prarabdha Karma After Self Realization, I have dealt with this issue through the lens of traditional Advaita scriptures. In this article however I am taking a more psychological approach by describing two stages of psychological attitudes the Self Knowledge of a Jnani fashions to front the negative impacts of the world: Titiksha (Endurance) and Udasinta (High Indifference).

The Indestructible, Unattached, Contactless Self

Before I enter into any discussion regarding the psychological attitudes held by a Jnani – the knower of Self, it is imperative for the reader to know the phenomenology of Self in Advaita Vedanta. A good way to understand it is through these verse from the Gita:

BG 2.23: Weapons cannot shred the soul, nor can fire burn it. Water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it.

BG 2.24: The soul is unbreakable and incombustible; it can neither be dampened nor dried. It is everlasting, in all places, unalterable, immutable, and primordial.

BG 2.25: The soul is spoken of as invisible, inconceivable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.

The preceding set of verses establish the indestructible and immutable nature of the Self which has neither been born, neither dies nor can be destructed by any gross phenomena. The succeeding set of verses from the Bhagavad Gita show that the Self remains unattached and untouched not only by the gross phenomena but also by the subtle phenomena like mind and intellect. They actually go a step further in speaking about the unreality of all phenomena.

“BG 9.4: All this world is pervaded by Me in My unmanifest aspect; all beings exist in Me, but I do not dwell in them.”

“BG 9.5: Nor do beings exist in Me (in reality); behold My divine Yoga, supporting all beings, but not dwelling in them, is My Self, the efficient cause of beings.”

Swami Sivananda’s commentary to these verses do a fine job in fleshing out their pregnant meanings: (The parenthesis are mine)

[Avyaktamurti is Para] Brahman or the Supreme Unmanifested Being is invisible to the senses but cognizable through intuition. All beings from Brahma – the Creator, down to the blade of grass, or, an ant dwell in the transcendental [Para] Brahman. They have no independent existence they exist through the Self which is the support for everything which underlies them all. Nothing here contains It. As Brahman is the Self of all beings, one may imagine that It dwells in them. But it is not so. How could it be? How can the Infinite be contained in a finite object? Brahman has no connection or contact with any material object just as a chair or a table has contact with the ground or a man or a book. So It does not dwell in those beings. That which has no connection or contact with objects or beings cannot be contained anywhere as if in a vessel, trunk or room or receptacle. The Self is not rooted in all these forms. It is not contained by any of these forms just as the ether is not contained in any form though all forms are derived from the ether. All beings appear to be living in Brahman but this is an illusion………..In verses 4 and 5 the Lord uses a paradox or an apparent contradiction: All beings dwell in Me and yet I do not dwell in them. For a thinker there is no real contradiction at all. Just as space contains all beings and yet is not touched by them so also [Para] Brahman contains everything and yet is not touched by them………..Brahman has no support or root. It rests in Its own pristine glory.

Clarifying the “illusion” of all beings as mere appearances superimposed on Brahman, in the commentary for verse 9.5 Swami Sivananda brings out the adhyasa/superimposition theory of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta by which it becomes clear as to how all beings exist (superimposed) on Brahman and yet Brahman does not exist in them:

“Just as the dreamer has no connection with the dream object, just as ether or air has no connection with the vessel so also Brahman has no connection with the objects or the body. The connection between the Self and the physical body is illusory. The Adhishthana or support (Brahman) for the illusory object (Kalpitam) superimposed on Brahman has no connection whatsoever with the defects of the objects that are superimposed on the Absolute. The snake is superimposed on a rope. The rope is the support (Adhishthana) for the illusory snake (Kalpitam). This is an example of superimposition or Adhyasa.”

The foregoing verses may not give a complete idea to a reader about Self as a direct experience because as Swami Sivananda notes in his commentary, the Self cannot be cognized by any of the senses, including mind (lower mind is considered a sense organ by some schools of Indian philosophy). The direct knowledge and experience of Self/Witness is only available to a Jnani who has intuited the Self through buddhi/higher mind by Jnana Yoga. Nonetheless, I presume, this gives the reader some conceptual base to stand on, and understand the rest of the discussion about the psychological attitudes of a Jnani in this article. Or, for the sake of further comprehension, if the reader has grasped this much that nothing in the phenomenal world: gross or subtle – body/mind/intellect – can affect Self, because all these phenomena are not real, just like a snake – superimposed on a rope due to error of perception or ignorance – is not real, the reader can assimilate the contents of the article that follows without any difficulty. Through this example they can understand how the Self is nityah (indestructible), asanga (unattached) and asparsha (contactless)

The Jnani is one who has seen through the unreality (actually a shorthand for a more cumbersome but technically correct word – mithya/apparent reality) of the world and the BMI (Body/Mind/Intellect) and knows himself as Self/Brahman/Witness which is the only indestructible, unattached and contactless reality.

Two Ways a Jnani Deals (Can Deal) with Negative Impacts of Phenomena: Titiksha and Udasinta

Before I proceed further, an astute and inquiring reader would definitely raise a question as to what remains after the Jnani has known himself to be Self: indestructible, unattached, contactless? Is it not the end of his woes? It is not my intent to go into this question in this article, as I have already gone into it in sufficient depth in my article series Prarabdha Karma After Self Realization. The gist of it is that Self Knowledge only annihilates suffering caused by two forms of Karma: Sanchita and Agami but not Prarabdha Karma whose effects a Jnani must compulsorily experience till it lasts. See Notes [1]

It seems to me that there are two ways, or I may say, two grades, by which a Jnani deals with the negative impacts of prarabdha karma. The first way is my way which is to simply let the BMI (Body/Mind/Intellect) do what they do: no control or restraints imposed but to bear “courageously” the impacts of all consequences, knowing that none of it actually affects the Self and all of it is just superimposed mithya. This is the way of Titiksa/endurance. The second way or grade of dealing with negative impacts by a Jnani is with sagely calm called Udasinta/High Indifference in which the Jnani as Self is seated above and unmoved by the strife of the gunas in the natural being, considering himself to be an impassive Witness to the pleasure and pain of the mind and body. In a more advanced stage the Jnani achieves complete indifference due to the falling silent of the whole of mind while he watches with the impartial calm or the impartial joy of the detached spectator the universal/cosmic action in which he no longer has an active inner participation.

In this article I shall be delving into the first of these two attitudes: Titiksha

Titiksha: Endurance to the Opposites

This way is largely my way of dealing with negative impacts of life, hence this is not just a theoretical piece of writing but one informed with my indubitable experience of living. Titiksha brings in mind the Greek ideal of the Stoic, someone who faces his lot with fortitude, an attitude of endurance. And indeed this is the beginning of the discipline of the titiksha. Titiksha is an attitude of our active parts, our parts of the life-being, of the will, and of our sensational and physical reactions. It is related to pleasure and pain of the body, the sensations and our nervous responses to life. To bear all these with endurance, a Jnani has the Self Knowledge, the Witness, also called Kutastha Chaitanya– like a blacksmith’s anvil on which various objects are hammered and shaped but the anvil remains unchanged. We have this concept in this verse of Gita

jñāna-vijñāna-tṛiptātmā kūṭa-stho vijitendriyaḥ
yukta ityuchyate yogī sama-loṣhṭāśhma-kāñchanaḥ

One whose mind is satisfied with knowledge and realization, who is unmoved, who has his organs under control, is said to be Self-absorbed. The yogī treats equally a lump of earth, a stone and gold.

Bhagavad Gita, Verse 6.8

Commentary by Swami Sivananda

Kutastha means changeless like the anvil. Various kinds of iron pieces are hammered and shaped on the anvil but the anvil remains unchanged. Even so the Yogi remains unshaken or unchanged or unaffected though he comes in contact with the sense-objects. So he is called Kutastha. Kutastha is another name of Brahman, the silent witness of the mind. 

Bhagavad Gita on Titiksha as The Way to Liberation

The Bhagavad Gita, which sets the scene of discourse at the battlefield, cannot provide a better metaphor for this stance of a Jnani, who is not a renunciate, therefore prone to the uncertain and deep consequences of his actions, to his corporeal life. With arrows whizzing past, blood oozing out all around, gasping cries of wounded in battle renting the air, and the real threat of losing one’s limbs or life, the battlefield is a test of Jnani’s knowledge of Self in full HD (High Definition). No wonder then Krishna starts his exhortations to Arjuna with these verse right in the opening of his real discourse in Chapter 2 :

BG 2.14 : Kaunteya! The contacts of the sense organs with the sensory world which gives rise to cold and heat, pleasure and pain, which have the nature of coming and going, are not constant. Endure them, Bharata!

BG 2.15: Arjuna, the prominent among men! The person whom these (sukha and dukha) do not affect, who is the same in pleasure and pain, and who is discriminative, is indeed fit for gaining liberation.

BG 2.16: For the unreal(mithya), there is never any being. For the real, there is never any non-being. The ultimate truth of both(real and unreal) is seen by the knowers of the truth.

The word titiksha actually appears in the sanskrit version of BG 2.14 :

matra-sparsas tu kaunteya
agamapayino ‘nityas
tams titiksasva bharata

The above verses beautifully and succinctly sum up the attitude of titiksha and how the Jnani employs it from his Self Knowledge. All phenomenal experiences: good and bad, right and wrong, pleasure and pain, have to be endured with the knowledge that they are all mithya and can never affect Self. Titiksha also figures as one of the elements of preparatory practices for Jnana Yoga called sadhana chatusthaya; but I don’t think Advaitins deal with it in the full-blown way in which BG is dealing with it here. For, in this case, it is not just talking about titiksha as a preparatory practice: but the way to liberation.

The Courage/Balya Required for Titiksha

While most householder Jnanis may not find themselves in the midst of a physical battlefield, real life of work and relationships, is no less dramatic. I have seen the utmost drama unfold in my own life post Self Realization: drama so intense that I was not averse to entertaining thoughts of suicide. The only thing that kept me from taking this step was Self Knowledge. But Self Knowledge is not something that works without cultivation. Shankara has talked about Balya/developing the strength though Self Knowledge to face life’s situations. See Note [2]

Frankly speaking, even after acquiring Self Knowledge one requires to “have the balls” to stand as Self. No wonder, the Mundaka Upanishad roars emphatically:

‘This Self is unattainable by the weak’ (Mu. Up. III. ii. 4).

Well, it depends a lot on the vasanas/past impressions/past memory of the individuals that actuates life’s experiences for jivas as well as jivahood. If fortunate, Self Knowledge leaves one with just a few limp vasanas, but for most, a forest of vasanas stares at the face. Thus, Vivekachudamani – a highly revered text amongst Advaitins – counsels:

“Knowing for certain that your prarabdha will nourish this body, remain undisturbed and with courage, deny entirely your superimposition (caused by vasanas).” [Vivekachudamani, Verse 279]

“I am not the Jiva, I am the supreme Brahman’ (knowing this and…) Thus by eliminating all that is the not-self, deny entirely your superimpositions which manifest through the propulsion of your past ‘urges’ (prarabdha karma).”[Vivekachudamani, Verse 280]

Though later on Vivekachudmani proposes controlling action, and practice of Samadhi as a means for ending vasanas, this comes in the later stage of Udasinta. In Titiksha stage, the force of vasanas is very strong so the way of dealing with them is ‘to do nothing with them’: because the Self/Witness is not a thinker/doer/experiencer. At this stage, the only way to deal with vasanas is to let them play out while remembering that one is not them and that none of their actions and results touch the Self. This much agrees with the above quotes of Vivekachudmani and also with Shankara to a large extent. The reason why I quoted the above verses is also to show that even the author of Vivekachudmani does not think what I have outlined as the method to deal with vasanas to be child’s play. He, too, avers that it requires enormous courage. (……..and with courage deny entirely your superimposition)

This would especially be the case if one is letting the vasanas play out in a situation where one is not a Sannyasi or a Renunciate. Though, Shankara too, being a renunciate, talked about Balya/courage to stand as Self; which shows that the deal is not easy in this case too. To things, persons, happenings, ideas, workings, whatever presents itself to the mind, there are always three kinds of reaction: desire, aversion or neutral indifference. The task of titiksha is to endure all these mind states without choosing these habitual reactions but to allow them to play in full awareness: what Krishnamurti calls ‘Choiceless Awareness of what is’.

Aurobindo vs Shankara on Titiksha

A very good description of the process of titiksha is provided by Aurobindo in his book, “The Synthesis of Yoga” in a language that bespeaks of crystalline clarity despite the complexity and detail it packs in every single sentence. Being more of a Tantra practitioner, he does not speak the clinical and technical language of Advaita tradition, like Shankara, nonetheless, his genius lies in bringing out the experiential side of this path with a flair unparalleled by any Advaita text or author. In the para quoted below, the word ‘soul’ can be substituted by the word ‘intellect’ to map it to an Advaita context.:

“The soul which seeks mastery may begin by turning upon these reactions the encountering and opposing force of a strong and equal endurance. Instead of seeking to protect itself from or to shun and escape the unpleasant impacts it may confront them and teach itself to suffer and to bear them with perseverance, with fortitude, an increasing equanimity or an austere or calm acceptance. This attitude, this discipline brings out three results, three powers of the soul in relation to things. First, it is found that what was before unbearable, becomes easy to endure; the scale of the power that meets the impact rises in degree; it needs a greater and greater force of it or of its protracted incidence to cause trouble, pain, grief, aversion or any other of the notes in the gamut of the unpleasant reactions. Secondly, it is found that the conscious nature divides itself into two parts, one of the normal mental and emotional nature in which the customary reactions continue to take place, another of the higher will and reason which observes and is not troubled or affected by the passion of this lower nature, does not accept it as its own, does not approve, sanction or participate. Then the lower nature begins to lose the force and power of its reactions, to submit to the suggestions of calm and strength from the higher reason and will, and gradually that calm and strength take possession of the mental and emotional, even of the sensational, vital and physical being. This brings the third power and result, the power by this endurance and mastery, this separation and rejection of the lower nature, to get rid of the normal reactions and even, if we will, to remould all our modes of experience by the strength of the spirit. This method is applied not only to the unpleasant, but also to the pleasant reactions; the soul refuses to give itself up to or be carried away by them; it endures with calm the impacts which bring joy and pleasure, refuses to be excited by them and replaces the joy and eager seeking of the mind after pleasant things by the calm of the spirit. It can be applied too to the thought-mind in a calm reception of knowledge and of limitations of knowledge which refuses to be carried away by the fascination of this attractive or repelled by dislike for that unaccustomed or unpalatable thought-suggestion and waits on the Truth with a detached observation which allows it to grow on the strong, disinterested, mastering will and reason. Thus the soul becomes gradually equal to all things, master of itself, adequate to meet the world with a strong front in the mind and an undisturbed serenity of the spirit.

~ Aurobindo, Synthesis of Yoga, Ch.12: The Way of Equality

Something to the same effect, but quite tersely, is mentioned by Shankara in his commentary in Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. The switch from the luxuriant, proliferating tone of Aurobindo to the one of clinically dry precision of Shankara is evident:

“Therefore, the knower of Brahman, after renouncing desires, should try to live upon that strength which comes of knowledge (Balya). Those others who are ignorant of the Self derive their strength from the means and results of actions. The knower of Brahman avoids that and resorts simply to that strength which comes of the knowledge of the Self, which is naturally different from the means and results of an action. When he does this, his organs have no more power to drag him down to the objects of desire. It is only the fool without the strength of knowledge, who is attracted by his organs to desires concerning objects, visible or invisible.

~ Shankara, Brhadaranyaka Upanishad Bhashya, Verse 3.5.1

A careful eye shall note the similarity in the end state, or fruit of the practice of titiksha, promised both by Shankara and Aurobindo: mind’s capacity to remain calm and unfazed in the presence or absence of all objects and events. However, a careful eye would have also detected a difference in the tone of practice. While Aurobindo starts his praxis of titiksha from an open and daring stance of meeting life with the words, “Instead of seeking to protect itself [himself] from or to shun and escape the unpleasant impacts it[he] may confront them and teach itself[himself] to suffer and to bear them ……..”, Shankara starts in a completely opposite and guarded way, with the words, “Therefore, the knower of Brahman, after renouncing desires, should try to live upon that strength……” and further, “The knower of Brahman avoids that……..” The difference is stemming from the two grades of witnessing I mentioned before. Shankara is referring to Udasinta/Sagely Calm. This is a higher grade of Witnessing that comes for a householder, in most cases, after passing through Titiksha and after having almost completely renounced all worldly pursuits.

Titiksha and the Shifting Code of Ethics

My practice/praxis of titiksha is akin to Aurobindo. Instead of shunning unpleasant impacts of life, instead of shunning desires, I allow them to play out if they wish to and face their consequences. It is a warrior’s attitude with an unshakeable philosophical grounding. After all the immutable, indestructible Self/Witness is actionless – not a thinker/doer/experiencer. It is the gunas/vasanas, that are nothing but mithya superimpositions, doing the work.

As Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna:

BG Verse 19: The one who thinks this (self) to be the killer and the one who thinks of itself as the killed, both do not know. This (self) does not kill; nor is it killed.

BG Verse 20: This(self) is never born; nor does it die. It is not that, having been, it ceases to exist again. It is unborn, eternal, undergoes no change whatsoever, and is ever new. When the body is destroyed, the self is not destroyed. 

BG Verse 21: Partha! The one who knows this self to be indestructible, timeless, unborn, and not subject to decline, how and whom does that person kill? Whom does he cause to kill?

This of course raises the eyebrows of people who see a dangerous collapse of ethics in such a stance. Aurobindo is not unaware of the ethical ramifications. In a glowing paragraph in “Synthesis of Yoga”, in a language which is not totally Advaitic, but conceptually very close to it, Aurobindo displays the guts to speak the plain truth: all ethics are relative, shifting, conventional standards: nothing about them is absolute. It’s a long quote, but every word of it deserves our attention:

“If we are to be free in the spirit, if we are to be subject only to the supreme Truth, we must discard the idea that our mental or moral laws are binding on the Infinite or that there can be anything sacrosanct, absolute or eternal even in the highest of our existing standards of conduct. To form higher and higher temporary standards as long as they are needed is to serve the Divine in his world march; to erect rigidly an absolute standard is to attempt the erection of a barrier against the eternal waters in their onflow. Once the nature-bound soul realises this truth, it is delivered from the duality of good and evil. For good is all that helps the individual and the world towards their divine fullness, and evil is all that retards or breaks up that increasing perfection. But since the perfection is progressive, evolutive in Time, good and evil are also shifting quantities and change from time to time their meaning and value. This thing which is evil now and in its present shape must be abandoned was once helpful and necessary to the general and individual progress. That other thing which we now regard as evil may well become in another form and arrangement an element in some future perfection. And on the spiritual level we transcend even this distinction; for we discover the purpose and divine utility of all these things that we call good and evil. Then have we to reject the falsehood in them and all that is distorted, ignorant and obscure in that which is called good no less than in that which is called evil. For we have then to accept only the true and the divine, but to make no other distinction in the eternal processes.

To those who can act only on a rigid standard, to those who can feel only the human and not the divine values, this truth may seem to be a dangerous concession which is likely to destroy the very foundation of morality, confuse all conduct and establish only chaos. Certainly, if the choice must be between an eternal and unchanging ethics and no ethics at all, it would have that result for man in his ignorance. But even on the human level, if we have light enough and flexibility enough to recognize that a standard of conduct may be temporary and yet necessary for its time and to observe it faithfully until it can be replaced by a better, then we suffer no such loss, but lose only the fanaticism of an imperfect and intolerant virtue. In its place we gain openness and a power of continual moral progression, charity, the capacity to enter into an understanding sympathy with all this world of struggling and stumbling creatures and by that charity a better right and a greater strength to help it upon its way. In the end where the human closes and the divine commences, where the mental disappears into the supramental consciousness and the finite precipitates itself into the infinite, all evil disappears into a transcendent divine Good which becomes universal on every plane of consciousness that it touches.

This, then, stands fixed for us that all standards by which we may seek to govern our conduct are only our temporary, imperfect and evolutive attempts to represent to ourselves our stumbling mental progress in the universal self-realisation towards which Nature moves. But the divine manifestation cannot be bound by our little rules and fragile sanctities; for the consciousness behind it is too vast for these things. Once we have grasped this fact, disconcerting enough to the absolutism of our reason, we shall better be able to put in their right place in regard to each other the successive standards that govern the different stages in the growth of the individual and the collective march of mankind. At the most general of them we may cast a passing glance. For we have to see how they stand in relation to that other standardless spiritual and supramental mode of working for which Yoga seeks and to which it moves by the surrender of the individual to the divine Will and, more effectively, through his ascent by this surrender to the greater consciousness in which a certain identity with the dynamic Eternal becomes possible.

This is not a view that one comes across in Advaita literature openly or glaringly but there are innumerable verses in traditional texts that hint towards such an approach while some clearly state it. I have broached this topic to some extent in my article, “The Liberated Being : Beyond all Acts – Good & Bad”. But just in case one thought that Aurobindo’s thoughts, or the thoughts in my aforementioned article, or those of Bhagavad Gita, on the question of ethics are radical, then let me quote something that leaves nothing to imagination in this regard. This is a verse from Kausitaki Upanishad:

“Know me [Indra says]. That alone, I consider is the most beneficial for a human being, which is in knowing me.” I slew the three headed son of Tvastri. I delivered the Arunmukhas, and the ascetics (yatis) to the wolves. I broke many agreements and slew the people of Prahlada in the heaven, the people of Paulomas in the mid-region, and the Kalakanjas on earth. Not even a single hair on my body of mine was harmed then. Therefore, he who knows me thus, his world is harmed by no deed of his, not by stealing, not by the destruction of a fetus in the womb, not by the killing of his mother, not by the killing of his father. If he commits a sin, blue color does not depart from his face.

~ Kausitaki Upanishad, Verse 3.1

The commentary on this verse is:

In this verse, Indra is depicted not as the lord of heaven only, but as Brahman Himself. A liberated person is no more tainted by his actions, even if they are mortal sins. Indra meant it when he said that he who knew him would not suffer from the sins of his actions. He also said that the blue or dark color would not go away from his face if he committed a sin. What it means is that since a knower of Indra is forever free from sin, his face would not turn pale with fear or guilt of committing a sin.

Titiksha and Amorality

The above might appear to be absolute mayhem and anarchy but this is not the case. The Jnani becomes a Jnani only by a process of Vairagya (detachment) and Viveka (discrimination), so he is not outright immoral and licentious in his conduct. It is more appropriate to say that he is amoral. From his outer behaviour, especially when his prarabdha is exhausting itself, he may appear just like any other conventional human being. But only he knows his inside reality. Something quite complex, transpires in his brain. Echoing once again the words of Aurobindo, we note that:

And on the spiritual level we transcend even this distinction (between good and evil); for we discover the purpose and divine utility of all these things that we call good and evil. Then have we to reject the falsehood in them and all that is distorted, ignorant and obscure in that which is called good no less than in that which is called evil.”

Perhaps, responding to the puzzled quandary of conventional people towards the status of Self knowledge of an embodied Jnani, Shankara writes in the Brahmasutra Bhashya

“The knowledge of our Self being essentially non-active destroys all works by means of refuting wrong knowledge ; but wrong knowledge—comparable to the appearance of a double moon—lasts for some time even after it has been refuted, owing to the impression it has made.—Moreover it is not a matter for dispute at all whether the body of him who knows Brahman continues to exist for some time or not. For how can one man contest the fact of another possessing the knowledge of Brahman—vouched for by his heart’s conviction—and at the same time continuing to enjoy bodily existence?”

~ Brahmasutra Bhashya 4.1.15

The Bhagavad Gita, almost unanimously considered to be a manual on ethics, does not falsify Shankara when it too says:

“BG 3.33: Even wise men follow the dictates of their own nature. Beings are prompted by their own innate tendencies; what can restriction do?”

The author of Panchadasi, another highly revered text of Vedanta, does not mince words on this issue too:

“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 ?”

~ Panchadasi

But the actions of a Jnani, puzzling though as they may seem to outsiders, is not so for another Jnani. As Ashtavakra Gita, another highly regarded piece of Advaita literature declares:

The different conditions of one who within, is devoid [1] of doubts but outwardly moves [2] about at his own pleasure like a deluded person, can [3] only be understood by those like him.

[1] Devoid etc.—He has perfect Knowledge. He possesses the whole and complete Truth. He is, therefore, free from all doubts and uncertainties.
[2] Moves etc.-—One who has attained Self Knowledge is no longer bound by man-made laws for the regulation of his conduct which sometimes appears as unbecoming and wrong.
[3] Can etc.—A man of realization alone can understand the ways of another man of realization. The average man who estimates people by their outward conduct, can never understand men of Self-knowledge, for their external ways are no clue to their inner illumination.

~ Verse 14.4, Ashtavakra Samhita, Translation and Notes by Swami Nityaswarupananda


Thus, the Jnani in the path of Advaita Vedanta is full of paradoxes for the common man. This paradoxical nature of a Jnani could be labelled a piece of personal fiction fabricated by me had not I quoted from a diverse range of traditional Advaita sources in this article. In Advaita, the phenomenal world of Maya is called anirvacaniya – inexplicable or indefinable. While the common man embodies this aspect of Maya to some extent, the Jnani as described here embodies it to a very great extent in his dealings with life. Shankara’s archetype of a Jnani – the renunciate – is perhaps more accessible to the minds of convention bound society. However, Shankara’s archetype is not like Krishna of Bhagavad Gita, whose characterization in the Mahabharata and Hindu folklore breaks many moral conventions of any time and age: yet he defies being characterized as immoral, on the contrary he is deified as one of the most popular gods of Hinduism.

Krishna is the archetype of a Kshatriya Jnani: the man of action; a warrior and a householder. For such a man titiksha/balya combined with Self Knowledge is the path to surmount life’s negative impacts. Being an archetype, such a man does not necessarily have to be a warrior in a physical battlefield, nay, it is the mental battlefield our Jnani encounters in the daily life of work and relationships that I have talked about in this article; how he cuts across these Gordian knots, not with any standard code of conduct, but with the anirvacaniya stamp of Maya in his actions, and the nitya, asanga and asparsha knowledge of Brahman.

In the second part of my article I shall talk about the second archetypical way/stage of dealing with the negative impacts of life: one which is closer to what Shankara had in mind and closer to the conception of what people hold as a sage : Udasinata or the Sagely Calm of a Jnani. This is the higher grade of Witnessing than Titiksha.


[1] Here follows Shankaracharya’s commentary, based on the Chandogya mantra 6.14.2, establishing the prarabdha karma phala bhoga for a Jnani:

The reproduction is from the Bhashyam translation of Sw.Gambhirananda:

//…Those actions which have started yielding results, and those by which the body of the man of Knowledge (Jnani) has been moulded, get exhausted ONLY THRU ENJOYMENT, just as an arrow etc. that has gathered momentum after being shot towards a target, stops only with the exhaustion of its momentum and not because it has no purpose to serve at the time it pierces the target. Similar is the case here. But other actions which have not started yielding results, and which were done here before the dawn of Knowledge or after it, or those which are being performed, or those which were done in past lives but had not started yielding results, they become BURNT by Knowledge, just as sins are burnt by expiation. …the enjoyment of the results of actions that have become active is INEVITABLE FOR THE JNANI, EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO NEED FOR HIS LIVING, etc.//

A discussion on similar tenor is found in the Acharya’s Bhashya for the Bhagavadgita 13. 23. Here the Acharya makes a very emphatic statement:

..एवं शरीरारंभकं कर्म शरीरस्थितिप्रयोजने निवृत्तेऽपि आसंस्कारवेगक्षयात् पूर्ववद्वर्तत एव ।

[ also, though the purpose of the bodily existence has been gained, the effects of actions which have produced the body continue as before till the exhaustion of their inherent energy.]

[2] Following is the commentary by Shankara on Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Verse 3.5.1

Therefore, the knower of Brahman, after renouncing desires, should try to live upon that strength which comes of knowledge (Balya). Those others who are ignorant of the Self derive their strength from the means and results of actions. The knower of Brahman avoids that and resorts simply to that strength which comes of the knowledge of the Self, which is naturally different from the means and results of an action. When he does this, his organs have no more power to drag him down to the objects of desire. It is only the fool without the strength of knowledge, who is attracted by his organs to desires concerning objects, visible or invisible. Strength is the total elimination of the vision of objects by Self-knowledge; hence the knower of Brahman should try to live upon that strength. As another Śruti puts it, ‘Through the Self one attains strength’ (Ke. II. 4); also, ‘This Self is unattainable by the weak’ (Mu. III. ii. 4).

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