The disciple raises a very challenging question to his Advaita Vedanta teacher:
Lord, if as you say he [the jnani, or fully realized being] is all jivas when he is liberated, how can others remain bound? If the jivas are said to be diverse, he [the jnani] cannot be all. All-knowing Master! please answer me this question in detail.Kaivalya Navaneeta: The Cream of Emancipation, p. 31
His teacher replies skillfully:
The Self, which shines forth as ‘I-I’ in all, is perfect and impartite. But jivas are as diverse as the limitations of the ego (make them). Look how the moon, who delights the world, is only one, whereas her reflected images are as many as there are ponds, pools, tanks, streams, cisterns and pitchers of water. Where one of them is destroyed, the image is no longer reflected [right there], but is reabsorbed in its original, namely the moon. It cannot be so with the other reflected images [inasmuch as each surface still appears to exist]. In the same manner, the jiva whose limitations are destroyed is withdrawn into its source, the Self; others not.Ibid, p. 31.
If the jnani is the Self, then how come ‘his’ liberation doesn’t entail the liberation of all jivas? Mustn’t it then follow that the jnani is not the Self and therefore not all-encompassing?
The moon analogy his Master provides is especially apt. The moon is one; there exists only one moon (circling around the earth). But the moon is reflected on many surfaces. Were a single mirror to be shattered, there could be no more reflection of the moon ‘right there.’ It could be said that the mind is returned to, or reabsorbed into, its source, which is the Self.
That is, since there is no longer any ego-based limitation because the illusion of the existence of the ego has been seen through, there only remains the Self. Hence, the jnani is the Self and since the Self is all, the jnani is all.
But what about our jivas? Why aren’t they also immediately liberated? Because other beings have not yet ceased to engage in the illusion that they are separate selves. They still believe and feel that they are like individual reflections of the moon.
It’s only an apparent paradox to say, then, that the jnani is all (insofar as the jnani is unlimited) without having immediately liberated all beings (since the path of liberation requires each being to wake up to what she truly is).