In the everyday scheme of things, surrounded by activities and preoccupations of a mundane nature, what does the often- used word Moksha signify?
Does it resonate with any sentiment in us at all, living as we do, immersed in the material world?
According to Vedic philosophy, moksha or liberation is one of the four objectives of human life, the other three being dharma (piety), artha (pursuit of wealth) and kama (satiation of physical urges).
Ordinarily our life is committed to artha and kama — the underlying principle of which is meant to be dharma.
The actions (karma) that we perform in the pursuit of artha and kama are either based on dharma or adharma (righteous or unrighteous conduct). These actions determine our fortunes (predestined) or misfortunes (fated) in life on the basis of the law of karma.
The law of karma asserts that every action produces its necessary reaction or consequence. These consequences are carried over a series of lifetimes. The theory proposes that beings die and are reborn to work out their pending credits and debts. The process of rebirth, also known as reincarnation, is as integral part of Indian philosophy.
Our actions/reactions (karma) and the fulfillment of our desires (artha/kama) bind us to the wheel of samsara — the cycle of birth and death. As long as we are entangled in our karmas and enchanted by the transient trappings of the material world, we will continue to be enchained to this plane of existence. And moksha or liberation will be but an abstract concept for us.
However, when fame, fortune, beauty or power is unable to appease our infinite hunger, or when the transient nature of life and the process of aging and death overwhelm us, we experience dukha (pain).
This dukha is not pain that stems from deprivation of something, but one that arises out of disillusionment and disenchantment with the material world. Western philosophers describe this feeling of metaphysical emptiness with profound pessimism.
Philosophers like Soren Kierkegaard, who said that “human life is not designed for pleasure,” believes that all of us live in anxiety and despair. He calls it a universal human condition. Arthur Schopenhauer, the German thinker who propounded a philosophy of pessimism, wrote, “It would have been better not to be born and if you were born the best thing would be to die instantly.”
And according to Albert Camus, the French author, “Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation and the uselessness of suffering.”
Unlike western philosophers, Indian philosophy with its concept of moksha or liberation sees this stage of dukha as an awakening of the soul to a new dimension of life. It is here that Badarayana’s potent statement, athato brahma jigyasa, which means, “now begins the inquiry into the ultimate,” is materialized.
The way to know the Ultimate Reality or Brahaman is through awareness of our true nature. This awareness can be achieved by meditating upon the self, which is not the petty finite personality (ego), but the self that is pure awareness. It is our ignorance, which creates a sense of separateness, making us believe that we are intellect, mind, senses, passion and the five elements.
As long as we identify the self with the body, we carry the impressions of all that we have done, experienced and known. When we depart, this identification with the body and mind brings about continuity of our personality (non physical body) life after life. No amount of austerity or rites can benefit such an ignorant soul. It is a pitiable death, for the supreme goal of life, which is to realize the indivisible unity of life, is not achieved.
This goal is attained through purification of consciousness: “When all desires that surge in the heart are renounced, the mortal becomes immortal. When all the knots that strangle the heart are loosened the mortal becomes immortal.” (Katha 11.3.14-15)
According to the Upanishads there is a reality underlying life, which is the essence of every created thing. The same reality is also the innermost essence of all persons and creatures. The Upanishads call it atman, or the self. The awareness of the unity of this self or atman and the ultimate reality or Brahmaan is the central discovery of the Upanishads. Its most famous formulation, tat tvam asi, or you are that, is the realization that leads us towards moksha or liberation.
The joy that this realization brings is pure, limitless and unconditional ananda (bliss). This state, also known as our native state, is a realm where death cannot reach us. The experience of reunion with our real self in the sea of pure consciousness with its infinite and immortal has been described by Sage Yajnavalkya in the Brihadarnayaka Upanishad, “As a man in the arms of his beloved is not aware of what is without and what is within, so a person in union with the self is not aware of what is within, for in that unitary state all desires find their perfect fulfillment. There is no other desire that needs to be fulfilled and one goes beyond sorrow.”
And that is the magicof moksha or liberation. But so long as we find meaning, purpose and joy in the childish pursuits of the finite world, in the process of birth and death, there is no hurry to return to the kingdom of bliss.
It can wait!