Beings who have understood how it all is, who have realized their identity with the ātman, are stream enterers; they have tasted the flow of the nectar of liberation. They are a breed apart from other people in the world. They know something others do not know. Every part of their life is colored by that merging. They touch us not only through what they can share, but also through what they cannot share, what they themselves have become. We can only begin to imagine or intuitively absorb those states from our limited vantage point.
These individuals have embraced higher awareness in this life and, though realized, they are still finishing off their karma accrued from past lives. Perhaps their awakening is sufficient so that no new karma is being created and their acts are free from personal attachment. Yet they must still complete the karma of the body and the personality originated in previous lives or former acts in this life. The soul, the jivatman, carries the accumulated sanskaras, or tendencies, from birth to birth until the full realization of the greater ātman. When the soul merges in the One, there is no more separation.
I have stilled my restless mind, and my heart is radiant: for in Thatness
I have seen beyond Thatness, in company I have seen the Comrade
Living in bondage, I have set myself free: I have broken away from the
clutch of all narrowness.
Kabir says: “I have attained the unattainable, and my heart is colored
with the color of love.”
A free being no longer identifies with the body or personality, with a personal past or future. The body, the packaging, still has its karma running off and the skandhas, the mental aggregates, continue, but with nobody in them. A saint’s body may be growing old, getting sick, and so forth – that’s the karma of the body. These beings may have the power to change their bodies or personalities, but the only reason they would do so would be for the benefit of other beings. There is no personal desire to stay on this earth. They’re not going to make their bodies healthy, because it’s no big deal. They might do so if it were useful to somebody else.
As the body karma runs off, so too does the karma of the personality, because no one is identified with it. Saints all have distinct personalities and qualities, their own unique karma. But the reason a being who no longer identifies with the body, personality, or thinking mind stays incarnated is not out of personal desire, but for the collective karma, the need of other beings.
There are many beings who have attained different degrees of perfection, who have entered into different states of samadhi, or absorption, whose devotion and love have brought them to merging, but not quite all the way. Beings may become enamored of many subtle planes along the way. There are states, like nirvikalpa samadhi (samadhi without form), that are so deep there is no body consciousness. But even these states pass. Finally form and formless are a continuum, interpenetrating and all-pervasive, a constant tension of being and nothingness held together by the supreme attractive force of unconditional love…
– Ram Dass