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Moksha or Liberation in Hinduism




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by Jayaram V

Verily in the beginning this was Brahman, that Brahman knew (its) Self only, saying, 'I am Brahman.' From it all this sprang. Thus, whatever Deva was awakened (so as to know Brahman), he indeed became that (Brahman); and the same with Rishis and men. The Rishivamadeva saw and understood it, singing,' I was Manu (moon), I was the sun.' Therefore now also he who thus knows that he is Brahman, becomes all this, and even the Devas cannot prevent it, for he himself is their Self. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)

According to Hinduism, liberation does not mean dying and going to heaven. Heavenly life is as desirable or undesirable as earthly life because in the ultimate sense, heavenly life is also limited and transient, though compared to the earthly life it may be longer and more intense. True liberation means liberation of the individual soul from samsara or the cycle of births and deaths, from the sense of duality and separation, and union with Brahman, the Supreme Soul. Liberation is known variously in Hinduism as mukti, kaivalya, moksha or nirvana. The concept of liberation is difficult to explain in Hinduism, unless one is very familiar with other concepts such as bondage or attachment, karma or binding actions, maya or delusion, anava or ahmakara or egoism and prakriti or nature. Liberation means when a soul is released from its involvement with Prakriti or nature, which uses its instruments of delusion, attachment and egoism to subject the souls to their physical existence and the cycle of births and deaths. When the individual souls become aware of their true nature and transcend their limitations, they gain freedom and become one with the divine. This is referred as the state of liberation. This however does not happen overnight. It takes several births and intense effort on the part of the souls to regain their freedom.

Hinduism does not prescribe a particular way to achieve liberation. It is goal specific, but not path specific. This way it differs radically and fundamentally from all the other major religions of the world. It specifies the primary and the most important objective of human life as self realization, but leaves the specifics of the manner and the method in which it is to be attained to the wisdom of the scholars and philosophers and the individuals themselves. Since God is omniscient and innumerable are His forms, innumerable are also the paths and the methods by which one can find Him. To limit the paths by which one can reach God or to declare a path as the one and the only super highway to the kingdom of God, is to attempt to measure the infinite or define the indefinable. The responsibility of showing the path is that of the Divine and He shows different paths to his different children according to their merits and demerits. 

While this is the basic approach, Hindu scriptures mention three broad categories of paths or approaches to the goal of self realization. They are the path of knowledge (jnana marg), the path of renunciation of action (karma-sanyasa-marg) and the path of devotion (bhakti marg). These three approaches are equally effective, depending upon who is practicing them and how they are practiced, and no one can say with certainty that one path is better than the other. One can attain liberation by practicing any one of them individually or by combining the best of their features. The Bhagavadgita presents them as complimentary paths, acknowledging the path of devotion as easier and superior. 

Of these the first path is, jnanamarg or the path of knowledge. It said to be ideal for those who are intellectually curious and want to pursue God in an intellectual, intuitive and scholarly way, through the study of scriptures, practice of yoga and meditation and discipline of the mind and the body. The people who follow this path are called Jnanayogis or jnanamargis. This is considered to be a difficult path and hence the assistance of a guru is highly recommended. The path of knowledge has little to do with mental knowledge. Mental knowledge is actually considered as an obstacle, rather than a facilitator in our liberation, because the more we know the less we are inclined to change. Our minds tries to conceptualize spiritual experience, which in the early stages of our progress may help us understand what we are aiming for, but in the later stages starts interfering with our inner transformation. So the jnanamargis aim to silence the mind through various practices and cultivate other ways of knowing and experiencing higher states of consciousness. The basic premise is that the self is all knowing and does not require either the senses or the mind to know. It can know intuitively without the interference of the mind and its subservient sense organs.

The second path is the path of renunciation of action, which is said to be ideal for those who would like to turn to God without ignoring their duties towards their families, and without escaping from the burdens of life.  They are expected to accomplish this difficult and almost paradoxical situation, by performing desireless works, with a sense of detachment and sacrifice, surrendering themselves completely to God and offering the fruit of their actions to God, with the firm belief that God is the doer of all and men are but his instruments. Practitioners on this path are freed from the ill effects of karma, because they believe that God is the real doer, who is performing all their actions through them, using them as His instruments. Those who follow this path are called karmayogis. Success on this path is possible only when there is purity of intention and complete surrender. One must genuinely and sincerely offer all the actions to God as the doer and stay away from any notion of expectation or desire for the fruit of ones actions. This demands a high degree of commitment and inner detachment. One can become a true karmayogi only when one is totally permeated with divine thoughts and leading a whole hearted divine centric life in which there is no notion of egoistic effort or no desire to be successful.

The third path is the path of devotion, which is said to be ideal for those who have neither the inclination to pursue the path of knowledge through the observation of austerities and practice of spiritual disciplines, nor the path of actions through detachment, surrender and sense of sacrifice. It is best suited for those who want to unburden themselves from the cares of the world and live in the care of God, loving Him with intense and single-minded devotion and experiencing His love in return. Those who pursue this path are expected to surrender to God and live with complete trust in Him, remembering and chanting His name all the time, without concerning themselves excessively or obsessively with the intricacies of theology or with the dreariness of a mechanical life characterized by selfless action. It is ideal for those who prefer to live like true children of God, having no egos, surrendering themselves to Him completely and giving full expression to their feelings of love and devotion in a state of surrender and humility. This is the bhaktimarg, the path of devotion. In the Bhagavad gita Sri Vasudeva Krishna declares that of all the paths, the path of devotion is the best and the easiest for practice.

The Bhagavad gita combines the best elements of these paths in a masterly manner and presents to us a very unique and holistic way of achieving self realization through thought, through action and through love. 

Suggested Further Reading

 

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