Dear Francis, As there is no individual identity either for the jnani nor the ajnani then, upon death, aren’t they both finally liberated? So why in traditional advaita is the one ‘liberated in this life’ told that he will ‘not be born again’ if there is no individual in any case? If death is final and there’s no individual to reincarnate couldn’t one merely commit suicide? But wait! Even then, what’s to stop the new experience of another ‘me’ (not this one of course) but a brand new individual starting all over again (like this ‘one’ did) with a life of sufferng and ignorance? This seems from my limited perspective to be a most perplexing conundrum. Can you help Francis?
You asked several questions:
Are you asking a hypothetical question, or is it your experience that there is no individual entity? And if such is your experience, why bring up a question about an illusory personal entity, the ajnani? If you don’t believe in Santa Claus, why would you ask about the color of his coat? Do you believe in reincarnation? Is this really your question, or are you just trying to make sure that Advaita is a consistent theory in order to reassure yourself that you are using the right theory to seek the Truth? Advaita is not a consistent theory, for it is not a theory, but the reality of our experience and the reality of all that is experienced. The teaching of Advaita doesn’t have to be consistent, but rather to consistently point at that reality from the position occupied by the disciple. Because different seekers seek the truth from different vantage points, the pointers given by the teacher may seem to be inconsistent with one another. Once the truth is realized, it becomes evident that they were all pointing at the same reality. We have to conclude that your question doesn’t originate from the experience that there are no individual entities.
In fact there is real individual identity for the jnani only. There is only one Jnani, only one Sage, one individual. There are no ajnanis in need to be liberated. This is the answer that can be given on the absolute level, the level where there are no individual entities.
If one who believes to be a separate and limited consciousness seeks liberation from her/his burden by asking a question like yours from a teacher, the teacher will adapt his answer to the level from which the question originates. Often the student is not able to grasp directly the truth of an answer given on the absolute level. In that case, the teacher will give an answer that will provisionally grant the belief in the existence of separate entities, ajnanis and jnanis in this case. In the Hindu culture, the Vedandic guru will also very often grant in his answer the belief in reincarnation, according to which the individual mind survives the death of the physical body and reincarnates in a new body. It follows from this perspective, on this relative level, that if the mind still holds at the time of death the belief to be a separate entity, the same mind, being reincarnated in a brand new body, will hold the same belief and ignorance will be reborn in this new body. However, in the case of the Jnani, the belief in separate existence has been surrendered during the life of the body. The Jnani is no longer a mind-body entity, but universal and eternal Awareness, for which there is no death or rebirth.
For the jnanin, only consciousness is real. The rest, including past or future existences is only a dream that celebrates this Reality. From the advaitic perspective, reincarnation can only be an illusion because the limited reincarnating entity itself is an illusion. However, since our true nature is infinite potentiality, reincarnation is one of its phenomenal possibilities, a possibility it can actualize whenever it chooses to do so.
The one who is liberated knows he was never born and will never die, and therefore doesn’t need to be told that he will never be born again. However, the one who is still in ignorance, attached to the belief to be a separate mind with the burden of endless suffering throughout countless existences, is told in the East that there is a possibility to put an end to this cycle of births and deaths as an incentive to seek liberation. Similarly, in the Western culture, a materialist who believes that the mind doesn’t survive the body could be told that this short lifespan is the only opportunity he has to realize the truth as an incentive not to postpone the spiritual quest.
The physical body is not the cause of ignorance. Its disappearance doesn’t therefore imply the disappearance of ignorance. Therefore suicide is not a good tool for enlightenment. Besides, there is no personal entity to commit suicide. If suicide happens it is, like ignorance, a choice made by the Self.
That which is not never begins to be, and that which is never ceases to be. (Baghavad Gita)
Experiences, phenomena, bodies, events seem to come and go, but they don’t have real existence. A new real individual cannot begin to exist, and that which is really alive right now will never die.