What is the difference between enlightenment (atmagyan) and final liberation (mukti)?

—Amit gautam, India


Dear Amit,

Paramhansa Yogananda distinguished between the two states of consciousness in this way:

1. Enlightenment (Jivan mukta)

2. Liberation (moksha or param mukta)

He explained that enlightenment is when the soul has achieved samadhi.  There are two, basic levels of samadhi: sabikalpa samadhi wherein the soul achieves the experience of cosmic consciousness (usually in a trance-like, immobile state) but otherwise returns to ego consciousness after the experience; and nirbikalpa samadhi when the soul achieves enlightenment and the state of samadhi from which the soul can never “fall” (back into ego consciousness). In the latter state, the soul returns to ordinary consciousness but retains his/her connection with inner freedom and can enter the glorious state of samadhi at will.

However, and there’s a BUT in the fine print, so to speak!  The soul now has a trainload of PAST KARMA to expiate. Having become a jivan mukta, this soul is forever free and may, or may not care greatly, about past lives and identification of the ego with past acts as the doer. Some jivan muktas may even retain some of this karma in order to remain or return and help souls with whom he or she is spiritually connected. I believe Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras says that such a soul may incarnate into multiple bodies in order to more quickly become fully liberated.

A fully liberated soul who returns to human form becomes an avatar. An avatar has the spiritual power to uplift countless souls while a saint, working his way up the spiritual ladder, may have only a few disciples (souls he is commissioned to free).

Nonetheless, a jivan mukta can, in a single meditation, revisit several past lives and disconnect the sense or memory of doership and step by step be freed from all past actions. When fully liberated, the jivan mukta, if still in a human body, becomes a param mukta: completely free.

The stages of freedom are also earned in the astral and causal worlds. In Autobiography of a Yogi, Swami Sri Yukteswar appeared after his physical death to Paramhansa Yogananda in a hotel room in Bombay and explained that he was now “stationed” on a very high astral plane called Hiranyaloka where he was assisting jivan mukta souls to work out the remaining vestiges of causal karma.

Is this explanation, then, helpful?

Blessings to you,
Nayaswami Hriman
Seattle WA USA