By Swami Harshananda
When the literature of the Vedānta grew, it was a dilemma whether jñāna of the ātman and karma could be combined or not. The school that advocated the possibility of this combination came to be known as ‘jñānakarmasamuccayavāda’. The Viśiṣṭādvaita of Rāmānuja subscribed to this view whereas the advaitin-s, including Śaṅkara disagreed to it.
According to the dualistic schools of Vedānta, Brahman (God), the jīvas (the individual souls) and the world are different from each other. Hence, even after a jīva in bondage, realizes his ātman-nature through jñāna as the pure spirit different from the body- mind complex, he continues to perceive the world and other jīvas to be existing different from himself. Hence he has no problem in performing karma or actions prescribed by the scriptures as his duties as long as he continues to live in the body which is a product of his past (prārabdha) karmas. Hence combining karma and ordained duties with his jñāna or subjective realization of his being the ātman is not a problem.
Juxtapose by Śaṅkara
However, according to the Advaita Vedānta of Śaṅkara, Brahman, Ātman (the true nature of the jīva) and the world are a single identity. According to him the jīvas and the world are illusory perceptions, like the perception of a snake in a rope in semi-darkness and the illusion will disappear on the rise of jñāna or direct and immediate perception of the truth. Similarly a jñāni will not see anything outside himself to be different from himself. He will see only one reality, the one without a second. Hence it is impossible for him to do any karma which presupposes the perception of duality. Consequently, sarvakarma parityāga (totally giving up all actions) will come to him very naturally. So, the theory of jñānakarmasamuccaya is simply out of question.
Reasoning Supporting Jñānakarmasamuccaya
If Kṛṣṇa could teach the Bhagavadgitā to Arjuna or if Saṅkara could do so much work in his life-time like vanquishing the opponents or writing philosophical treatises or making disciples or establishing Maṭhas one will be forced to concede that jñānakarmasamuccaya is possible. Otherwise one can concede that neither of them were enlightened. Śankara perhaps meant to signify that the desire-motivated or selfish actions were not possible for a jñāni though lokasaṅgraha or unselfish service to the world was always possible.
- Rāmānuja lived in CE 1017-1137.
- Śaṅkara lived in CE 788-820.
- Jñāni is the man of knowledge, the liberated soul.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore