In Chapter 33 of book Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda says that Babaji is Mahaavatar (great incarnation). Sri Mahavatar Babaji is believed to be avatar of Shiva who is still teaching Kriya Yoga to people of Kali Yuga in Himalayas. In the book Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master , Sri M mentions Sri Guru Babaji changing his form to Lord Shiva.

Yoganada explains the difference between Jivanmukta and Paramukta in his books as follows:

The Upanishads have minutely classified every stage of spiritual advancement. A siddha ("perfected being") has progressed from the state of a jivanmukta ("freed while living") to that of a paramukta ("supremely free"-full power over death); the latter has completely escaped from the mayic thralldom and its reincarnational round. The paramukta therefore seldom returns to a physical body; if he does, he is an avatar, a divinely appointed medium of supernal blessings on the world.

An avatar is unsubject to the universal economy; his pure body, visible as a light image, is free from any debtto nature. The casual gaze may see nothing extraordinary in an avatar's form but it casts no shadow nor makes any footprint on the ground. These are outward symbolic proofs of an inward lack of darkness and material bondage. Such a God-man alone knows the Truth behind the relativities of life and death.

My question is not Babaji but about difference between Jivanmukta and Paramukta. According to Advaita, in reality Atman is Brahman and due to Maya Atman doesn't know its true nature. Jivan mukta is someone who got realization while living in this Maya. He still lives in this Maya but doesn't feel it or perceive it. Yogananda says Paramukta is pure light and manifests as physical body (called as Avatar) at its will.

  • Does that mean when Jivanmukta leaves his physical body, he becomes Paramukta?

  • It is generally said, Lord Vishnu, the preserver takes Avatar but according to Advaita, World with Saguna forms of God (Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra) disappear when we realize. Who really takes avatar according to Advaita? Nirguna Brahman or Saguna Brahman?

Please answer these questions only from view of Adishankaracharya Advaita.

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    I've never heard of the term Paramukta before, and as far as I know in Adi Shankaracharya's worldview there's nothing higher than a Jivanmukta. And death certainly doesn't make a difference; Adi Shankaracharya is quite clear in his Brahma Sutra Bhashya that Videha Mukti, i.e. liberation after death, does not constitute a higher state than Jivanmukti, i.e. liberation while still alive. Jul 15, 2016 at 18:53
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    I can, however, tell you how Advaita explains the concept of Avataras. Advaitins believe that both ordinary people and avataras have Brahman as their Atma. But what distinguishes an avatara from an ordinary person is that the gross and subtle bodies of an ordinary person are formed from past karmas, whereas the gross and subtle bodies of an avatara are not due to karma, but rather are created by Brahman out of compassion for the Jivas who are trapped in Samsara. (This is all from the relative perspective; from the absolute perspective Advaitins believe Brahman is the only thing that exists.) Jul 15, 2016 at 18:58
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    It is also true that Advaitins believe that in some rare cases, a Jivanmukta can be reborn in order to fulfill some important function vital to sustaining the world. Adi Shankaracharya cites the example of Brahma's son Sanatkumara, who despite being fully realized was still reborn as Shiva's son Kartikeya; see my question here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/11298/36 Jul 15, 2016 at 19:04
  • Advaita Vedanta does not accept the concept of Avatara. Avatara means the coming to earth of a form of God (Saguna Brahman) which in its opinion is ultimately unreal.. Jul 16, 2016 at 2:08
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    Good question. From Advaita point of view, an avatar is nothing but your imagination of the abstract and attributeless Brahman in a human-like form. Life after life, we have been trying to understand the Limitless Brahman, with our limited Mind. Therefore, the Supreme (Nirguna) is perceived to descend into the human world as Avatar. The Avatar is no different from Ishwara, who is the same concept. The difference lies that Ishwara is Eternal and Absolute, while Avatars are here on specific missions in human forms. All the best!
    – Sai
    Jul 18, 2016 at 18:40

1 Answer 1


Adi Sankara taught that God incarnated. In his Introduction to his commentary on the Gita, Sankara says (Bhagavad Gita with the commentary of Sankaracarya, Swami Gambhirananda translator, pp 3-5):

When, after a long time, dharma became overpowered by adharma (vice), and adharma increased owing to the deterioration of discriminative knowledge, caused by the rise of desire in the minds of the followers (of this dharma), then, as tradition goes, Visnu, called Narayana, the Prime Mover, took birth--as part of Himself--as Krsna, the son of Devaki by Vasudeva, for the protection of Brahminhood which is Brahman manifest on earth, and for ensuring the stability of the world...

And He, the Lord, endowed with Knowledge, Sovereignty, Power, Strength, Valour and Formidability, exercises His command over His own Maya which naturally belongs to (Him as) Visnu, and which goes by the name Primal Nature...and as such, through His own Maya, He appears as if embodied, as if born, and as if favouring people--though by His nature, He is birthless, changeless, the Lord of all creatures, eternal, pure, conscious and free.

and further in the same book Krishna says in the Gita IV. 7-9:

O scion of the Bharata dynasty, whenever there is a decline of virtue and increase of vice, then do I manifest Myself.

For the protection of the pious, the destruction of the evil-doers, and establishing virtue, I manifest Myself in every age.

He who thus knows truly the divine birth and actions of Mine does not get rebirth after casting off the body. He attains Me, O Arjuna.

Adi Sankara makes no comments on these verses in his commentary. He accepted Krishna's words regarding incarnations.

Now regarding your comments on Paramukta and Jivamukta. Either you are misinterpreting Yogananda or he has taken some license in his interpretation. The Brahma Sutras define jivamukta in 4.1.13-14 (Adhikarana 9). It says and Sankara's commentary follows (Brahma Sutras according to Sri Sankara, Swami Vireswarananda translator, pp 418-420, also available here - http://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc78348.html):

  1. When that (Brahman) is realized (there result) the non-clinging and destruction of the subsequent and previous sins respectively, because it is (so) declared (by the scriptures).

[Sankara's commentary] The state of Jivanmukti is described here. The opponent holds that Liberation is attained, in spite of Knowledge, only after one has experienced the results of one’s sins committed before illumination. For the Smritis say, “Karma is not destroyed before it has given its results.” The law of Karma is inexorable. This Sutra says that when a person attains Knowledge, all his past sins are destroyed and future sins do not cling to him. For by realizing Brahman he experiences that he never was, nor is, nor will be an agent, and such a person cannot be affected by the result of sins. The scriptures also declare that. “Just as cotton growing on reeds is burnt when thrown into fire, even so are burnt the sins of one who knowing this offers Agnihotra” (Chh. 5. 24. 3); “The fetters of the heart are broken, all doubts are solved, and all works are destroyed when He who is high and low is seen” (Mu. 2. 2. 8); “As water does not wet the lotus leaf, even so no sins cling to him who knows it” (Chh. 4. 14. 3). What the Smritis say about the inexorability of the law of Karma is true only of ordinary people, and does not hold good in the case of the knowers of Brahman. And in this way alone can Liberation result—by snapping the chain of work. Otherwise Liberation can never take place.

  1. Thus there is non-clinging of the other (i.e. virtue) also; but at death (Liberation i.e. Videhamukti is certain).

[Sankara's commentary] As a knower of Brahman has no idea of agency he is not affected by good deeds also. He goes beyond vice and virtue. “He overcomes both” (Brih. 4. 4. 22). And as he is not touched by vice or virtue after illumination, and as his past sins are destroyed by Knowledge, his Liberation at death is certain.

I am not familiar with the term Paramukta. A Jivamukta attains oneness with Nirguna Brahman - Videhamukti. The term Avatar is a term usually meaning Incarnation of God - Iswara. A freed soul that attains Saguna Brahman attains all powers except creation. A freed soul is not Saguna Brahman. Again in the Brahma Sutras, very last part of the book, 4.4.4-22 discusses this very topic. I will quote only two verses, see the link for my information. Verses 4.4.17-18 says (same link given before):

  1. (The released soul attains all lordly powers) except the power of creation etc., on account of (Iswara being) the subject-matter (of all texts where creation etc. are described), and (the released souls) not being mentioned (in that connection).

[Sankara's commentary] The question is raised whether those who by worshipping the qualified Brahman attain Brahma-loka and lordly powers, have limited or unlimited powers. The opponent holds that it should be unlimited, because of the scriptural texts, “They can roam, at will in all the worlds” (Chh. 7. 25. 2, 8. 1. 6); “To him all the gods offer worship” (Taitt. 1. 5). This Sutra says that the released souls attain lordly powers without the power of creating, preserving, and destroying the universe. Barring this power they get all other powers. Why ? Because Iswara is the subject-matter of all the texts dealing with creation etc., while the liberated souls arc not mentioned at all in this connection. Moreover, this would lead to many Iswaras, which may give rise to a conflict of wills with respect to creation etc. Therefore the powers of the liberated souls are not absolute but limited, and are dependent on the will of Iswara.

  1. If it be said (that the released soul attains absolute powers) on account of direct teaching (of the scriptures), (we say) no, for the scriptures declare (that the released soul attains Him) who entrusts the sun etc. (with their offices) and resides in those spheres.

[Sankara's commentary] “He becomes the lord of himself” (Taitt. 1. 6). From the direct teaching of the Sruti the opponent holds that the released soul attains absolute powers. The Sutra says that his powers -depend on the Lord, for the text cited further on says, “He attains the Lord of the mind”, the Lord who abides in spheres like the sun etc. and entrusts the sun etc. with offices. Therefore from this latter part of the text it is clear that the released soul gets its powers from the Lord and depends on Him. Hence its powers are not unlimited.

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    I'm not clear with 2 topics : 1) If freed soul is not Saguna Brahman and if freed Atma is not Brahman, how this is called Advaita? A person in Maya should see free Atman as Saguna Brahman (through the lens of Maya). There should be no difference between Nirguna Brahman and Atman. 2) Why free Atman doesn't have powers of creation, Preservation and Destruction, when freed Atman is Brahman? It doesn't look logical that there are many Iswaras. But freed Atman is nothing but Nirguna Brahman and only appears as Saguna Brahman (Iswara) to a man in Maya.
    – The Destroyer
    Jul 17, 2016 at 7:35
  • @TheDestroyer 1) a freed soul becomes 1 with Nirguna Brahman. Saguna Brahman is same as Nirguna Brahman, Nirguna Brahman when seen from within maya is Saguna Brahman. We cannot perceive Nirguna. 2) Freed souls do not have powers of creation because scripture say so. Read the very last verses of the Brahma Sutra referenced above. The Brahma Sutras say so as well as Sankara's commentary on those verses explain it very well. Jul 17, 2016 at 10:24
  • Thank you Swamiji. Aren't we all Nirguna Brahman or our pure Atman Nirguna Brahman in reality which is seen as various dualities and species in Maya?
    – The Destroyer
    Jul 17, 2016 at 11:16
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    @TheDestroyer Yes, you are correct; but the fact that you are asking the question means that you are not truly aware of it. You may understand it intellectually but you have not realized it as your true being. Jul 19, 2016 at 5:41
  • Thanks. But you said freed soul is not Saguna Brahman but freed soul realizes himself as Nirguna Brahman and Nirguna Brahman is just viewed as Saguna Brahman by an unrealized person. So, freed soul must be viewed as Saguna Brahman by an unrealized person because there's no difference between freed soul and Nirguna Brahman in reality. Also, you said, Avatar is ISwara (Saguna Brahman). For freed soul or in reality, Nirguna Brahman = freed Soul = Avatar right?
    – The Destroyer
    Jul 19, 2016 at 6:36

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