Jivan mukta

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JIVAN-MUKTA in Sikhism the ideal and aim or objective of man’s spiritual life. The term is derived from jivan-mukti (jivan=life; mukti=release, liberation, emancipation freedom from bondage), and means one who has attained liberation from human bondage or one who has attained to the highest spiritual state of being in tune with the Ultimate while still living. The idea of mukti is encountered, with some conceptual variations, in practically all religious faiths, e.g. moksa in Hinduism, nirvana in Buddhism, Nijat in Islam and salvation in Christianity. The belief underlying the concept of mukti is, that the soul, a particle of the Supreme Soul, is, while embedded in the physical frame, in a state of viyog or separation and longs for sanyog or reunion with its source, which for it is the supreme bliss.

If the body is the cause of the soul's bondage, it is clear that its release essentially involves its separation from the earthly cage, meaning death; and that is how it is generally understood. In the Indian context mukti means deliverance of the human soul from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth to which it is destined in consequence of its past and present karma (actions, deeds). Various ways, such as spiritual knowledge (jnana marg) disinterested service, ritualism (karma marg), austerities (hath yoga) and devotion to God (bhakti marg) are suggested to break the incarnation cycle. Whatever the soteriological means, the end is usually sought in the cessation of incarnate existence. Besides this idea of videh (incorporeal) mukti, however, references to the concept of jivan-mukti are also found in the ancient scriptural literature of India. But it is in the bani (utterances) of the Sikh Gurus that jivan-mukti and jivan-mukta receive a greater emphasis and fuller treatment.

The saint-poets of the Bhakti movement had freely employed the vocabulary of mukti. Guru Nanak and his spiritual successors accepted the terminology made current in the preceding generations by sages and men of piety. But, as in the case of numerous other concepts, the expression mukti is invested with a new meaning in their bani. It is no longer the annihilation of human existence but the spiritual quality of one's life that serves as the central principle in the Sikh conception of mukti. The body constitutes no barrier between the soul and the Supreme Soul. On the contrary, "the body is the fort limitless wherein resides He, the Cherisher Himself" (GG, 514). "Within the body resides the Ineffable One; the manmukh (the self-willed) fool does not know this and roams abroad in search of Him" (GG, 754). Guru Arjan goes to the extent of rejecting mukti in the traditional sense of a post-death state and substitutes it with constant love of the Divine as the ideal state of being (GG, 534).

The root cause of the alienation of the human soul from its Supreme source is avidya (ignorance), according to the Vedantic way. In Buddhism, where nirvana means soul's freedom from suffering, the cause of suffering is trsna (craving). The Gurus, however, hold haumai (the individuating sense of ego or I-ness) as the cause of ignorance, craving and bondage, as also of suffering. If liberation is sought, it is not from life or body but from the shackles of ego. Guru Nanak's definition of jivan-mukta, therefore, is in terms of the negation of egoism:

He alone is liberated while still living Who is cleansed of the ego inside (GG, 1010). The state of egolessness is the state of perfect detachment, not of renunciation, nor of self-mortification.

The jivan-mukta of Sikh conception is the realized soul, identified as gurmukh (one whose face is turned towards God). He leads the life of a common householder enriched by the experience of spiritual harmony within. "He surrenders himself completely to the Will of God; joy and sorrow are the same to him; he experiences bliss always and viyog (separation) never" (GG, 275). Instead of the differentiating ego, the all-encompassing Divine Spirit resides in him. Existentially he belongs to the world, essentially he transcends the world.

A variant of the term jivan-mukti in gurbani is dying-in-life (jivat marna). The paradoxical expression of dying while alive is employed by the Gurus in order to stress the importance of abandoning one type of life and the adoption of another. It is dying to the life of haumai, of ‘five evils', and entering into a life of contemplation, altruism and love of God. The person attaining to the state of jivat-marna, in this sense, is the one qualified for the designation of jivan-mukta. He or she is the one who has realized the essence of human life, the essential life, concealed under the sheaths of egoism, of ignorance, passion, avarice, pride and infatuation.

The ideal state of jivan-mukta is, notionally, within the reach of every human being, since anyone following an ethical and spiritual course faithfully, may receive the nadar (God's grace or blessing). Yet, as the Gurus point out, rare are the individuals who actually arrive at the summit. The blessed few, fulfilled by the experience of Supreme realization, set out to serve their companions. They strive for the total well-being of fellow men, in all spheres of existence. However, the success of a jivan-mukta in heralding an order of enlightened individuals or the Kingdom of God on earth, is not to be measured in terms of the number of "converts" to his way of life, but in terms of the model of humane, and enlightened living he presents for emulation.


  • 1. Wazir Singh, Humanism of Guru Nanak. Delhi, 1977
  • 2. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
  • 3. Dharam Singh, Sikh Theology of Liberation, Delhi, 1991
  • 4. Shivkumar, Muni, The Doctrine of Liberation in Indian Religions. Panchkula, 1981
  • 5. Lad, A.K., A Comparative Study of the Concept of Liberation in Indian Philosophy. Burhanpur,


  • 6. Journal of Dharma (Bangalore), October-December 1987

Above adapted from article By Wazir Singh