Some schools accept the concept of self-realization or jivanmukta. Advaita, for example, is one such school. Not all schools accept this concept, so this question is limited in scope to only those schools that accept the concept of jivanmukta.

Now, the question is - is it possible for us to recognize whether a person is a jivanmukta or not? Do scriptures tell us any way to distinguish the true jivanmukta from the fraud? Or is it purely subjective? If it is purely subjective, then the great personalities recognised by many saints will have to be placed at the same level as people like Nityananda, Vishwananda etc. Objectively speaking, both sets of people have their own followers who believe that their masters are self-realized. So how to resolve this issue of who is truly realized and who is fraud? Are there any scriptural statements that can help us in objectively knowing who is a true jivanmukta? Now, a particular scripture may say that a jivanmukta is equally disposed to praise and abuse, but strictly speaking, this cannot be objectively verified, because no one knows what is going on in the mind of the person.

  • @Pratimaputra Feel free to edit the question without disturbing the overall meaning.
    – user16581
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 7:16

3 Answers 3


Dattatreya, among others, is an ideal example of a Jivanmukta. He was always associated with wine etc and a filthy lifestyle.

Why is that?

Because Jivanmuktas don't want the masses to come to them. As simple as that. Because their touch is enough to liberate others, but not everyone is ready for liberation yet.

Symptoms from Upanishads:

Like Svetaketu, Rbhu, Nidagha, Vrsabha, Durvasas, Samvartaka, Dattatreya, and Raivataka, he has no visible emblem; he keeps his conduct concealed; he acts as if he were a fool, a lunatic, or a goblin; and, although he is sane, he behaves like a madman.

Narada Parivrajaka Upanishad, Chapter3

In these Upanishads, they are known as Paramhamsas. They always will hide their true identities. And, they will do everything so that people feel disgusted towards them.

His emblem and aim concealed, he should present himself to the people as a madman or a simpleton even though he is a sage, and as a fool even though he is wise. "Let him not do anything, say anything, or think of anything whether it is good or bad. In this manner a sage shall roam like a fool, finding his delight in himself.

Although he is sane, he behaves like a madman. He has no visible emblem. He keeps his conduct concealed.

Paramhamsa Parivrajaka Upanishad, Chapter 5

So, we can not recognize such a person neither from his conduct, nor from what he is wearing.

Symptoms from VedAntic texts:

I'm using YogaVAshita here.

Dure munchati vandhumandhamiva yah sangAdbhujangAdiva |
TrAsam yo vidadhAti vetti sadrisham bhogam cha rogam cha yah ||
... SwAntam yasya samam sa mangalamihAmutrApi martyohashnute ||

He who forsakes all associations with friends like a blind, who is afraid of associations with the masses like a snake, who sees the pleasure (bhoga) and ailment (roga) as the same .. that wise man is known to be liberated always.

YogaVAshishtaSAra, Tattva GyAna Prakarana, Verse 18

So, another pointed highlighted here is that he will avoid all associations with masses.

The commentator (on YogavAshishtaSArah) SwAmi DhireshAnanada comments on the nature and some features of the Jivanmuktah:


Because he sees the world as not true he is like the blind (andha).


Because he knows the inert nature of all the non-self entities like bodies etc, he is Jadavat (inert).


Since he resides in a state which is inexplicable (anirvachya pAda), he is mukavat (dumb).


Since he wants to avoid association of all sorts, he behaves like a mad man and hence is Unmattavat.

RAgadveshabhayAdinAmanurupam charannapi |
Yohantar-vyom-datyacchah sa jivanmukta ucyate ||

Who, although is clear like the Akasha from the inside, shows from outside, attraction towards food etc, anger towards the wicked, and fear (towards snakes, tigers etc) is known to be a Jivanmukta.

Laghu YogavAshita 5.93

Symptoms from the Tantras:

I'm using KulArnava Tantram. In chapter 9 of this scripture, Lord Shiva describes the features of the Yogis who have attained self-realization. They are known as the Kula-Yogis in the text.

Yogino vividhairveshairnarAnAm hitakArinah |
Bhramanti prithivimetAmavigyAta-swarupinah ||

Acting in a way that is beneficial to the human beings, these Yogis move about in different forms, always concealing their true nature. 66

Sakrinnai-vAtma-vijyAnam kshapayanti kuleswari |
Unmatta-muka-jada-vannivasellokamadhyatah ||

O Goddess of the Kulas, they are never detached from the Knowledge of the Self but amongst the masses, they behave like a mad, a dumb or an inert person. (67)

AlakshyA hi yathA loke vyomni chandrArkayorgatihi |
NakshtrAnAm grahAnAncha tathaiva kulayoginAm ||

In this world, the movement of the Kula Yogis are unnoticed (that is their real movement is hidden from us) just as the movements of the sun, the moon and the stars in sky are unnoticed. (68)

Asanta iva bhAshante charantyagyA iva priye |
PAmarA iva drishyante kulayoga-vishAradAh ||

O Beloved -- The Kula Yogis speak like the bad people, roam like the idiots (ignorant) and appear as cheats (to others). (70)

Muktohapi vAlavat kriret kulesho jada-vaccharet |
Vadenn-unmatta-vavidvAna kuloyogi ||

O Great Goddess --- although the Kulayogi is liberated, he plays like a child, behaves like an inert and talks like a mad man. (72)

YathA hasati lokahayam jugupsati cha kutsati |
Vilokya durato yAti tathA yogi pravartate ||

The Yogis must behave in a manner so that people laugh at them, despise them, censure them and stay away from them. (73)

So, in short, it is NOT POSSIBLE to recognize a true Jivanmukta. Because, they will always hide their true nature for sure. Moreover, their movements are also concealed from us.

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    – The Destroyer
    Commented Apr 1, 2019 at 6:10

Its a very good question. The Mundaka-Upanishad (2/2/9) describes what happens after illumination :

Bhidyate hṛdaya-granthiś chidyante sarva-saṁśayāḥ, kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi tasmin dṛṣṭe parāvare (2.2.9):

Meaning : The knots of the heart [ ignorance, desire and action] are broken at once by the rise of the knowledge of Brahman. All doubts are dispelled in one second. All the karmas will be destroyed. All the effects of karma that cause rebirth are burnt into ashes.

The Sarva-Darshana-Sangraha gives the definition of a 'Jivanmukta' as

He who has come out of the false recognition by constant practice and has realised his true Self, and is consuming his prarabdha being unattached is Jivanmukta. Reference: Satramulak Bharatiya Shaktisadhana, Upendrakumar Das, RMIC, Vol. 1, page 308.

Sri Sri Trailaga Swami in His 'MahavAkya-RatnAvali' defines the 'Jivanmukta' as

sa tatra paryeti jakshat kridan ramamAnah strivir vA yAnair vA jnAtivir vA vasyayair vA nopajanam smarannidam sariram//(1) meaning : The Jivanmukta eats as He likes, and roams freely, sometimes playful, soketimes still, staying with wife, cart (yAna), relatives and friends but always remaing in the Self.

sa muktah sa pujya sa yogi sa oaramahansah sa avadhutah sa brahmanah (5), meaning that the Jivanmukta lives sometimes being worshipped by many, being recognised as a yogi or Paramahansa or Avadhuta or brahmin etc.[But He is always established in the true Self].

Atmakrida Atmaratih kriyavAn esha brahmavidAm varisthah (12), meaning that the greatest among the Brahmavids is always playful and blissful in His true Self

All these are only 'sva-samvedya' ie can be known only by the Illumined Soul. None can know it seeing Him or Her from outside.Its known within.

The realised souls very often roam around like Jada or an unmatta or a vala or a pisacha.

However to a deserving aspirant He discloses His True Self. Tantra mentions several qualities of a Real Guru that was in fact observed in the lives of the great saints you mentioned -- Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ramana Maharshi.

  1. ye dattvA sahajAnandam haranti indriyajam sukham/sevyAs te guravah sishyair anye tyAjyah pratArakah (Kularnava-Tantra 13/97). Meaning : The real Gurus remove all attractions to sensual pleasures of the disciples by pouring in them supreme bliss.They alone should be worshipped by the disciples and others are just cheaters.

  2. dipa-darshana-mAtrena pranashyati yathA tamah/sadguror darshanAd devi tathA jnanam prakashate // (Ibid. 13/116). Meaning : Just like a lamp removes darkness instantly, just a vision of a (real) Guru jnana appears [in the heart of the disciple].

  3. yathA bahnisamipastham navanitam viliyate/ tathA pApam viliyate sadAcharya-samipatah// (Ibid.13/13). Meaning : As butter melts instantly when taken near fire, a Real Guru destoys all the sins of a disciple.

But all these would be revealed only to a deserving disciple .Tantra also mentions that illumination of someone can not understood by anyone else:

jnAnam Atmaa eva chidrupo jneyam Atmaiva chinmayah/vijnAta svyam eva AtmA yo jAnAti sa Atmabit. (Mahanirvana-Tantra 14/139).

Sri Krishna in Gita (2/55-61) provides the 'lakshana'-s of a 'Sthita-prajna'. Some of these may be revealed to those who can mix with them intimately. Gita also gives other characteristics of an illumined soul beautifully:

12.13 He who is not hateful towards any creature, who is friendly and compassionate, who has no idea of 'mine' and the idea of egoism, who is the same under sorrow and happiness, who is forgiving.

So anyone having an iota of desire or secterianism, bigotry or hatred is miles away from illumination. An aspirant must examine his Guru very carefully before becoming a disciple according to our scriptures. Also, just as a tree is known by its fruits, a real Guru can be known by His disciples.Please go through the detailed biographies of the close devotees/disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ramana Maharshi or any other great saint and you will definitely get a clear idea about their Guru-s.

Do the liberated souls keep away from the masses always?

Sri Ramakrishna in His Kathamrita explains this. There are two types of the Paramahansas : NirAkAravAdi and sAkAravadi. He says:

The NirakaravAdis wpare 'Aptasaara' -- they are not bothered about the others. But the SAkAravapAdi Paramahansas want to give the share of the supreme bliss to others. Some eat mango and wipe his face.Some enjoy it eating and also distributing to others. Some throw away the instruments of digging well after the well is ready. Others keep the instruments for the benefit of the others.

So it is love that matters.He also mentioned that one can train the masss if He is ordered to do so by the Divine.

It is therefore ultimately the grace of God that some Jivanmuktas remain in the society to prove that God can in fact be realised. The scriptures also say that who inspite of being able to guide others do not help others is not the dearest to God.

As the Viveka-Chudamoni says

sAntA mahAnto nivasanti santo/ vasantabat lokahitam charantah // meaning that gentle-natured great saints live by doing welfare of the masses just like the cool breeze of the spring season.

The above makes clear that the real realised souls do not always stay away from the masses.


Can a Jivanmukta be ill?

Yes. The Yoga-Vasistha (Vairagya Prakara) says

yashahprabhitikA yasmai hetunaiva vinA punah/bhogA iha na rochante jivanmuktah sa ychchyate// Meaning : Who, without causes like diseases etc, has no interest in worldly pleasures and fame, is a jivanmukta.

Does a Jivanmukta always stay alone?

No. the YogavAsistha (Upashama PrakaraNa) says

yasmAd na udvijate lokah lokAn na udvijate cha yah/harsha-amarshatayon muktah sa jivanmukta uchchyate// Meaning : Who is not disturbed by anybody and does not disturb anybody is a Jivanmukta.

Reference : mukti o tahar sadhan, Vipin Vihari Ghoshal (compiled in 1881), reprinted by Udbodhan (1987), page 8 -10.


Scriptures describes both type of people.

Bhagavata describes Rsibhadeva, Shukadeva, Avadutha brahmana who were away from society and appeared like madmen.

The story of Avadhuta Brahmana comes in the section where Prahlada meets him in a forest where he was not understood by anyone.

It's Narada describing symptoms of saintly person with respect to accepting sanyasa asrama in 13th Chapter of 7th Canto.

(1) S'rî Nârada said: 'Someone capable [of what I described before], should wander around from place to place without any form of material attachment and, ultimately with nothing but his body, not stay in any village longer than a single night [see also the story of King Rishabha 5.5: 28]. (2) If the renunciate [sannyâsî] wears clothing at all, it should be nothing but some covering for his private parts. Except for in case of distress, he should not take to matters he has given up; he normally is characterized by nothing but the marks of renunciation: his rod [danda] and such. (3) With Nârâyana as his refuge he, living on alms only, satisfied within, all alone and not depending on anyone or anything, moves around in perfect peace as a well-wisher to all living beings. (4) He should see this universe of cause and effect as existing within the everlasting Self in the beyond and see the Supreme Absolute itself as pervading the world of cause and effect everywhere [compare B.G. 9: 4]. (5) The soul moves from waking to sleeping to the dreaming in between [see also 6.16: 53-54]. Because of that someone of self-awareness considers the states of being bound - of being conditioned - and being liberated as in fact being nothing but an illusion. (6) He should not rejoice in the certainty of the death of the body, nor in the uncertainty of its life, he instead should observe the supreme [command] of Time that rules the manifestation and disappearance of all living beings. (7) He [the renunciate] should not be fixed on time bound literatures, nor depend on a career. Accusations and pedantry he should give up and he should not side with group bound conjecture, opinion and speculation [politics]. (8) He should not seek followers, nor should he engage in diverse literary exercises or read such writings. He should not subsist on lecturing nor set up an enterprise [for building temples e.g.]. (9) A peaceful and equal minded renunciate does not necessarily have to adopt the symbols of his spiritual position [the danda etc. of his âs'rama *], he as a great soul may just as well abandon them. (10) Even though he externally may not directly be recognized as a renunciate, he is clear in his purpose. Such a saintly person may feel the need to present himself in society like a restless youth, or, having been a scholar, present himself as a less intelligent man.

(11) As an example of such a hidden identity one [often] recites a very old story about a conversation between Prahlâda and a saintly man who lived like a python. (12-13) Prahlâda, the favorite of the Supreme Lord, once met such a saint when he with a few royal associates was traveling around the world in an effort to understand the motives of the people. At the bank of the Kâverî river on a slope of the mountain Sahya, he witnessed the purity and profundity of the spiritual radiance of a man who was lying on the ground with his entire body covered with dirt and dust. (14) From what he did, how he looked, from what he said as also by his age, occupation and other marks of identity, the people could not decide whether or not that man was someone they knew. (15) After paying his respects and honoring him by, according to the rules, touching his lotus feet with his head, the great Asura devotee of the Lord, eager to know him, asked the following question. (16-17) 'I see you are maintaining quite a fat body, like you are someone eager for money. People who always worry about an income, are surely of sense gratification. Wealthy people, they who enjoy this world and think of nothing else, therefore [easily] become as fat as this body of yours. (18) You, lying down doing nothing, oh man of the spirit, clearly have no money for sense enjoyment. How can, without you enjoying your senses, your body be this fat, oh learned one? Excuse me for asking this, but can you please tell us that? (19) Despite your being so learned, skilled and intelligent and your talent to speak nicely and your inner balance, you lie down observing how the people are engaged in their work!'

Thus, paramahamsas who accepted ajaghara(python) style of living in life of renunciation are very difficult to be identified.

It also described Prahlada who wanted to stay and deliver the common masses of people from material life.

SB 7.9.43: Oh Supreme One, because my mind is absorbed in the singing and proclaiming of Your sweet ocean of glories, I am free from worries about the hard to cross Vaitaranî [that is this world]. I am more concerned about those fools who, missing the liberation in carrying the load of their sensual interest, are making plans in favor of illusory forms of happiness and dutifulness.

SB 7.9.44: Oh Godhead, saints ambitious for their own salvation generally in silence wander in remote places, not so much interested in a life for the sake of others. But I, unlike them, do not want to ignore my suffering fellow men. I do not desire liberation for myself alone. I cannot accept it to see other people wander around oblivious of this shelter of Yours.

Also, we get a list of 12 authorities on spiritual knowledge out of which only 4 Kumaras and Shukadeva seem to follow path of renunciation.

SB 6.3.20-21: Lord Brahmâ, Nârada, Lord S'iva, the four Kumâras, Kapila, Manu, Prahlâda, Janaka, Bhîshma, Bali, the son of Vyâsa [S'uka] and I myself [Yamarâja]; we, these twelve [mahâjanas], have knowledge of the bhâgavata-dharma [the emancipation in surrender to the Supreme Lord] my dear servants, that is most confidential, transcendental and hard to grasp. He who understands it achieves eternal life.

It seems it depends on individual and Lord's will.