Bondage – Bandha in Hinduism

Bondage

by Jayaram V

Summary: The essay explains the meaning and concept of bondage or bandha to the cycle of births and deaths in Hinduism and how one may achieve liberation from it.

In Hinduism, you will frequently hear the world bondage (bandha). Bondage is that which arises from the bonds or attachments (bandha or pasa) which the beings (jivas) form with the world. It is responsible for human suffering, delusion, ignorance, and continuation of the individual souls in the mortal world. The soul is eternally free, unattached, immutable and indestructible, but a living being is bound by his own actions, desires, and attachments which further bind him to the mortal world.

Bondage has numerous forms. There is the bondage of the embodied soul to the body (deha-baddha), of the mortal world to death (mrityu-baddha), of the individual souls to Nature (Prakriti-baddha), and the mortal beings to the cycle of births and deaths (samsara baddha). You cannot easily escape from it, until you suppress the triple gunas (sattva, rajas, and tamas), overcome desires and attachments, arrest the progression of karma, silence your ego, practice renunciation and become equal to the dualities of life. Bound souls (baddhas) are subject to modifications, egoism, and delusion.

The Vedas affirm that neither through good actions nor through sacrificial ceremonies one can become free from bondage. Bondage arises because desire-ridden actions have consequences, which leave strong impressions in the mind. Repeated activity of the senses in the world of objects results in the formation of latent impressions (purva-samskaras). They create the casual body (karana sarira) which become attached to the soul. As long as the souls are enveloped in the impurities of their past karma and bound to their latent impressions, they cannot be free.

Liberation (moksha), which is the highest aim of human life (purusharthas), is achieved only by restraining the mind and senses, withdrawing from the sensory world, stabilizing the mind in the contemplation of the Self, and knowing the Self as oneself without doubt, delusion, imagination, division or duality. Repeated practice of yoga, self-purification, and such other methods help human beings to burn their latent impressions and get rid of predominant desires to experience peace and equanimity. There is no bondage or rebirth for those who become firmly established in the Self and experience oneness.

The bound souls go repeatedly through the cycle of transmigration (punarjanma). Upon leaving their moral bodies, they go to the ancestral world (pitrloka), travelling for a complete year, where they stay until they exhaust their karmas and return to earth to take another birth. However, for the self-realized yogis, there is no rebirth. They travel by the path of gods (devayana) and reach the immortal world of Brahman.

It is also important that which divinity you worship and for what purpose. If you worship gods or demigods you will go to their world, but may not achieve liberation. However, those who worship Brahman, the Supreme Self, with single-minded devotion and become absorbed in his thoughts, go to his world only and never return.

Liberation from bondage

The Bhagavadgita and the Upanishads suggest several paths and approaches to achieve liberation. The following are a few important solutions to restrain the mind and the body and achieve self-realization. They may not be effective when practiced alone, but when practiced together they lead to self-transformation, mental stability, and liberation.

1. Karma yoga: It consists of performing obligatory duties as a householder in service to God for the sake of order and regularity. The duties are meant to discharge one’s karmic debts to parents, ancestors, seers, the world in general, other living beings, etc. A householder cannot ignore them since they are vital to the practice of dharma.

2. Jnana yoga: It is the pursuit of the knowledge of the Self, which will lead to right awareness and discernment. Self-study is the prescribed, traditional method to acquire it. The scriptures hold the knowledge of rituals as lower knowledge (avidya), and the knowledge of the Self or Brahman as the higher knowledge (vidya).

3. Sanyasa yoga: It is the renunciation of worldly life, desires and attachments, and living like a recluse or hermit to discipline and purify the mind and body through yoga, meditation, austerities, celibacy, etc. A renunciant should live on alms, practice celibacy, not cook his own food, nor keep any possessions other than what are necessary, and with his mind fixed in the contemplation of God. It is difficult to practice.

4. Karma Sanyasa Yoga: In this approach the best of karma and sanyasa yoga are brought together for people who want neither to renounce their worldly duties nor live like ascetics. They have to perform their worldly duties with detachment, renouncing the fruit of their actions as an offering them to God. Its practice will arrest the continuation of karma and hasten liberation.

5. Buddhi yoga: In this method, the mind and intelligence are purified and stabilized through self-purification practices, detachment, equanimity, sameness, and desireless actions. When a person becomes established in sharp and stable intelligence (sthitha-prajna), he overcomes delusion and ignorance, discerns right from wrong, and knows truths about himself and the world.

6. Atma Samyama yoga: This consists of restraining the mind and the senses, withdrawing the senses into the mind and the mind into the contemplation of Self, and practicing concentration and meditation. Its practice leads to atma-samyama, or the state of concentrated meditation in which one transcends all dualities and become completely absorbed in the Self, without any mental activity, duality, movement or awareness.

7. Bhakti yoga: This is the culmination of all other yogas, in which an aspirant experiences an unconditional devotion to the Self or the Supreme Self, without desires and expectations. He surrenders to him and becomes absorbed in his contemplation, with his mind immersed in his thoughts, and with no other thought or concern. According to the Bhagavadgita, it is the highest of yoga, which endears the practitioners to God and leads to their liberation. Since they devote themselves entirely to God, he takes care of their lives and responsibilities.

8. Kriya yoga: This is mentioned in the Yoga Sutras (2.1) as the path of action (kriya) consisting of austerity (tapah), self-study (svadhyaya), and devotional contemplation of the Self (Isvara-paridhana). Its purpose is to experience Samadhi (self-absorption) and weaken the afflictions (klesas), which keep the mind disturbed, by overcoming their causes such as egoism, ignorance, attachments, aversion, and longing for life.

9. Tantra yoga: This is a whole branch of study in itself consisting of numerous practices and techniques to control the mind and body and experience self-absorption. As the name suggests, Tantra aims to reach the Self by taming the body with unconventional methods some of which are extremely painful, secretive, physically dangerous, and offensive to the orthodox mind.

Thus, you can see that Hinduism offers numerous solutions to people to overcome their bondage and ignorance and achieve liberation. However, not everyone will think of liberation. The bonds of life are so strong that most people remain preoccupied with their worldly concerns and selfish desires, and do not consider liberation an important priority. Desire for liberation and freedom from bondage arise only after a person has gone through numerous births and rebirths and accumulates wisdom and exceptional merit through righteous actions.

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