This arose in an interview forum as a response to questions. I thought it useful to share here. Edited slightly for context.
Of course there can be Self Realization while karma is still in play. The distinction is that we’re no longer caught by it so we wind down making more. It is simply unfolding while we witness it. Also, as there is always presence, it is processed much more effectively. It can reach a point where the energy is recognized and resolved without having to live it out to some degree.
Self Realization alone does not end karma. For most people, it takes some time to wind it down. The key that drives us into another lifetime is unresolved desires. So if there is enough, there could be another life with an easy waking to clean things up. Some also are given a choice to stick around after their karma is done to help. The experience there varies widely.
The way I use the term Self Realization is the Self waking to it’s own nature. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi used the term Cosmic Consciousness for that. Non-duality is a further stage also called Unity that occurs later usually. That’s when the core identity actually ends. Identity identification is actually in three layers. The loss of the concept of a me with first awakening, the end of the energetic/emotional drivers of that with the heart awakening, and then the end of the core identity that divides our sense of inside and outside with the Unity switch. Adyashanti called the last the BBQ in a “head, heart, gut” process.
This is also described as the post-awakening descent in a kundalini process, however how that process unfolds varies by person. It depends where Shiva and Shakti meet in the first place.
It’s worth noting that the core identity is normally not conscious until shortly before the Unity switch. Thus someone in clear Self Realization will not recognize it. They will often say the ego ended with awakening. Only it turns out it doesn’t completely. What created that division in the first place is deeper and much older.
Those stages of Self awakening to it’s own nature are quite distinct from perfection. Refinement of the physiology occurs as a parallel process that intertwines with the above. We might call it the process of embodiment.
I would also note that there is the initial shift, where Self is recognized. And then there is usually a later point when that is fully established and the shadow or sludge is clear. That’s called sat chit ananda, fully established Self Realization or Cosmic Consciousness. The mental and emotional layers are clear of shadow so the anandamaya kosha is 24/7. That also brings the intellect/intuitive layer fully online which is key for Unity. That’s called the resolute intellect.
However, samskaras are not shadows the same way. Rose Rosetree calls them “frozen blocks”. Once in awhile, someone well established breaks open a big one that may even over-shadow them again. Rarely, it’s enough that you see enlightened teachers do stupid things. Still human, and still in the middle of it. Still awake but temporarily caught while they work through a now-released block.
That becomes the key thing – simply living life and processing the old baggage until that is clear too. Any one of those can be the desire driver of another life.
There is also a still deeper layer to all this. Not only is karma impersonal but it’s not even individual. This becomes apparent later in Unity when it’s recognized we are the cosmic body and are processing the karma of all beings. Nothing individual on any layer of experience.
Just remember to use ideas as a pointer to suggest direction for the attention. The subjective landscape is ever-evolving so any fixed ideas will tend to become obstacles. Concepts about what it’s “supposed” to be can be the last barrier to living it. 😉
I would actually say that once the shift has happened to Atman, it is irreversible but may not be subjectively yet. For some people it is clear and for others not. Some get recaught for a time. It’s not until it’s clear and lived that we can call it established. A major marker for established is ever-present bliss – sat chit ananda or nirvana.
But I disagree completely when you go on to suggest that all else after that is just more process and has “no real bearing on that enlightened state”. I agree that there are teachers who speak this way for various reasons, but it is not a good understanding.
The sage Vasishtha speaks in the 7th mandala of the Rig Veda of the importance of desiring more. If we think we’re done, it can be a barrier to it.
The Unity or Non-dual shift changes our sense of reality and of who we are more radically than Self Realization does. It is known as being twice reborn or thrice-born. Where before Self within was real and the world may seem an illusion, now we recognize Self in the world and I am That, etc. There is nothing but mySelf. We come to see consciousness flowing within all objects of perception. The Brahma Sutra is a treatise on the realizations of Unity as it tends to come in progressive steps.
Where Self Realization brings liberation, boundlessness, and bliss, Unity brings a profound intimacy with all things, the inner guru, and complete understanding of Atman, of all that is.
But that’s not the end of it either. There is also a third stage where we transcend Atman into Brahman. The Vedas call it the Great Awakening because it is an even more profound shift still. It often takes place in 2 distinct stages because the shift is so large. We go beyond existence, consciousness, and the entire reality up to that point. “Self as doer” is meaningless by this point.
So no, not “no bearing” And this entirely leaves out the parallel refinement process.
Ironically, some teachers who deny stages as a concept have been through them themselves. But because of their teaching that stages are a barrier to living it, they don’t speak of it. But that approach assumes you have a close relationship with a guide through the journey. If you don’t, understanding the process is precious. The Mahavakyas themselves (I am That, etc) are a form of verification. Phrases like All this is That have no relevance to Self Realization.
I guarantee you, if you have a Self Realization shift and live according to the teaching that this is full enlightenment, when the bottom falls out of that reality it’s a mighty difficult thing if you don’t know what’s going on. One simple example I’ve supported several people through – as you approach Unity, the sense of separate witness or observer begins to fade out. As this is who you have seen yourself to be, some people think they’re loosing their “permanent state”. But understanding it’s a good thing showing progress allows them to relax into it.
I would also note Grace is not Self. Grace is Brahman. Grace arises beyond Atman. it is Brahman that awakens Atman to itself.
Further, when we recognize we are cosmic even in the body (late in Unity) there is no “out of our hands” because there is no other.
People are vastly underestimating what Full Enlightenment is and what we’re capable of embodying. Even as a “regular Joe”. And I don’t say this from book learning.