The genesis for this book was Andrew Fort's interest in tracing the development of the concept of jivanmukti in Advaita Vedanta, and his concomitant desire to understand better how other thinkers and schools of thought looked at living liberation. He organized a panel on living liberation in Hindu thought for the American Academy of Religion (AAR) meetings in 1989, where Christopher Chapple, Paul Muller-Ortega, Lance Nelson, Kim Skoog, and he presented earlier versions of their essays, to which patricia Mumme responded. The chapters from Mackenzie Brown, Daniel Sheridan, and Chacko Valiaveetil resulted from discussions with Fort and Mumme at those and other AAR meetings. Both Fort and Mumme have read the evolving drafts of all the chapters and deeply appreciate all the work and reworking our authors put into their essays, even if the editing sometimes seemed like "textual harassment." Both editors have learned a great deal in this process. We would like to thank Mackenzie Brown and Lance Nelson for reading and commenting on drafts of some of these chapters. Fort would also like to thank both the Religion department at Texas Christain University and his family for supportive environments at work and at home. He like many contributors, remains in awe of Trish Mumme's editorial efforts and prowess.
We have used standard transliteration for Sanskrit and Tamil. Translations of original texts are those of each author, unless otherwise indicated.
Back of The Book
This book is about the state of embodied perfection often called enlightenment, self-realization, liberation, or jivanmukti. It examines the types, degrees, and stages of liberation that are possible, with and without a body.
"In asking 'what is the nature of jivanmukti,' with all the ramifications that this entails (how does it occur, when does it occur, where does it occur, what part does karma play, and so on,) the authors not only provide the reader with a clear conceptual handle of each school's position but also their strengths and weaknesses."_John Grimes
"This is a challenging and informative collection of essays that addresses a fundamental problem in the history of South Asian religions: granted the possibility of some kind of ultimate perfection or liberation, is it also possible to achieve this final state while embodied? If one can achieve transcendence, what then happens to the body and situation of the liberated one? In answering these questions the authors also raise numerous fascinating issues pertaining to soteriology, cosmology, ethics, theology, and philosophy."_Glen Hayes.
Andrew O. Fort is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Texas Christian University. Patricia Y. Mumme is Assistant Professor of Religion at Capital University.
Questions concerning the attainment of human perfection, or libera-
tion, have animated religious thinkers across many cultures, past and
present. All religious traditions address the urge to realize one's true na-
ture, to gain identity or communion with the highest reality, and simulta-
neously to end finitude and become free from sin and evil, ignorance and
desire. Hindu thinkers have made significant contributions to this conver-
In the Hindu tradition, liberation (moksa, mukti) from the cycle of
suffering and rebirth (samsara) is the supreme goal of human existence, ,
and much has been written about the path to and nature of release. A
question that regularly arises in this context is whether liberation is possi-
ble while living-that is, embodied. Unlike religious thinkers in many
other cultures, who generally focus on salvation after death, Hindu au-
thors and schools of thought frequently claim that embodied liberation,
often called jivanmukti, is possible, though there is no consensus about -
exactly what one is liberated from or to. Other thinkers hold that one is
inevitably still bound while embodied, and that no ultimate state is achiev-
able while living. In addition to disputes about the possibility of embodied
liberation, there are differing views on the types, degrees, or stages of
liberation, some attainable in the body and some not.
Despite the range and vigor of these disputes, no existing book ap-
proaches recording the full variety of questions asked, much less the myr-
iad answers given, about the nature of living liberation in Hindu thought.
Individual authors such as A. G. Krishna Warrier A. K. Lad, L. K. L.Srivastava, and Chacko Valiaveeti1 have produced studies describing the
views of several Hindu schools on living liberation. However, no one to
date has published a collection like this one, in which each chapter is
authored by a scholar specializing in the thinker, philosophical school, or
texts the chapter addresses.
Let us further clarify what this book does and does not cover: the
essays collected here look at living liberation according to major thinkers
living during the era of classical Indian civilization or texts written during
that period. Each chapter, based on close readings of selected texts, will
show how one or more specific schools or thinkers define liberation and,
where applicable, characterize one liberated while living. In addition, each
of the authors shows how one teaching on jivanmukti is distinguished
from the views of other schools or thinkers, and what problems appear
(and possibly remain unresolved) within that teaching. The editors have
striven to ensure that each chapter is both philosophically accurate, as
well as accessible to those who are not familiar with the broad sweep of
While the chapters include some literary, historical, and exegetical
analysis, they focus on philosophical and/or theological issues. Such issues
reflect our focus on classical texts and the schools or traditions .that follow
them, rather than on popular images of living liberation. However, it is
certainly the case (as some of our chapters suggest) that the jivanmukti
ideal has had broad appeal beyond Sanskrit texts or formal philosophical
schools. One might well expect this when the option to gain release in this
very body, not only after the cessation of life, is claimed to be possible. The
plausibility of living liberation to many Hindus can be seen in the long
tradition of sages, saints, and siddhas worshipped throughout the subcon-
tinent, from ancient times to the present. These figures and their followers
deserve study, but would require methods and expertises beyond the scope
of this book.
Readers will also note that we have not included modern Indian inter-
pretations of living liberation in this volume. Indian thinkers from the era
of British influence have been affected by a wide diversity of new ideas,
often Quite foreign to classical Indian thought. To do justice to the views of
jivanmukti seen in the writings of figures like Swami Vivekananda, Sar-
vepalli Radhakrishnan, Sri Aurobindo, or Ramana Maharshi would and
should demand a separate volume.
Our focus on classical Hindu thought allows us to begin with certain
shared assumptions. All thinkers discussed here accept the pervasiveness
of suffering and ignorance experienced by embodied beings within the cy-
cle of birth and death (samsara). All further agree that embodied beings
possess some form of self or soul apart from the body and mind. Finally,
all accept that life's goal is to end desire-filled action (karma) that leads to
bondage and rebirth. This is accomplished through liberating insight into
the true Self and/or devotion to a personal Lord. Despite these common-
alities, one finds no consensus in Hindu thought about the nature of ei-
ther living or final liberation. Given the enormous variety of religious and
philosophical traditions which make up "Hinduism," this diversity is
hardly surprising. The following chapters reveal final liberation conceived
in various ways: as the cessation of ignorance about the non-dual nature of
Self (atman) and ultimate reality (Brahman) which brings serenity and
bliss; as release from suffering brought on by compulsive mental activity
into perfect solitude (kaivalya); or as a soul's joyous communion with a
personal loving Lord. These conceptions will shape the respective school's
visions of living liberation.
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