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Moksha: What the Vedas Say About Liberation

Article of the Month - Feb 2013

This article by Nitin Kumar

Stripped down to its basics, Moksha is universally defined as that unchanging state in which there is no trace of grief. However, there are different opinions regarding its nature:

1). Those who do not believe in the Vedas (Nastikas) say that death itself is Moksha because there is no rebirth.

2). For the layperson living happily here itself is Moksha.

3). Some believers in the Vedas (Astikas) consider living in Vaikuntha (divine abode) as Moksha. However, even the two gatekeepers of Vaikuntha, namely Jai and Vijay had to leave it due to a curse (Shrimad Bhagavatam 3.16). This shows that the Sukha there is also not unchanging.

4). Even the happiness gained in heaven (Swarga) is transient, as the examples of king Yayati and Nahusha in the Mahabharata show. Therefore, attainment of heavens too is not Moksha.

5). The mere association with God too cannot be Moksha, because Arjuna who had it could not avoid grief in the battlefield.

None of the above visions of Moksha conforms totally with the scriptures, which tell us that Moksha is a state of eternal and unsurpassed Ananda, and that it is our basic nature, our true self. Our error lies in thinking our mind-body complex as our ‘true self’. He who has understood his true nature realizes that he has no connection with the body. Such a person is called by the scriptures as A-Shariri, ‘one without a body.’ ‘Shariri’ in Sanskrit means one with a body, and the ‘A’ preceding it negates it. The chief characteristic of such a person is that he remains untouched by both pleasant and unpleasant things.

Doubt: A self-realized person appears no different from any other normal, worldly person. So what exactly is meant by ‘without a body’?

Answer: Ashariri here explicitly means the realization that one has no connection with one’s body. Any connection supposed is due to Avidya, our ignorance. What this means if that if money is stolen from the person who feels a connection to his body (Sa-Shariri), he feels grief. The A-Shariri in such a situation will not feel any grief. A person with a body will feel pride in wearing beautiful earrings, the bodiless one will not. This is the meaning of the liberated person being called ‘bodiless’ in the Vedas. Therefore, even though the liberated one appears like a ‘samsari’or worldly person from the outside, he is not really a Samsari (Shri Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Brahma Sutras 1.1.4).

Wholeness is Immortality; Multiplicity is Death

Another name for Moksha is ‘Bhuma,’ meaning a wholeness which encompasses all. Grief or fear is possible only in duality. When there is nothing other than me why should I be afraid? (Br.U 1.4.2). Where one sees another, hears another, knows another, that is smallness; where nothing other is seen, nothing other is heard, nothing other is known, that is Bhuma. Bhuma is ‘Amrita’, while smallness is death (Chandogya Upanishad 7.24.1). There is nothing here with multiplicity; he who sees multiplicity, wanders from death to death (Br.U 4.4.19). Many such mantras from the scriptures clearly assert that non-duality means immortality and freedom from fear. One who understands the Ananda of Brahman is not scared of anything (Taittriya Upanishad 2.9.1).

Moksha is Jnana

One who knows Brahman becomes Brahman (Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.9). Moksha is actually nothing but realizing what is actually one’s own true self. Therefore, there is nothing more to be done for Moksha other than knowing that one’s essential nature (Swaroopa) is Brahman. When we say that “He is singing standing”, there is no interval between his standing and singing. Similarly, there is no interval between Knowledge of one’s self (Jnana) and liberation (Moksha) as exemplified in the statement: “He became liberated knowing his Swaroopa” (Shri Shankaracharya’s commentary on the Brahma Sutras 1.1.4).

Listening, Logic and Experience: The Way to Moksha

Such knowledge (Brahma Jnana), results only from listening to (Shravana), thinking over (Manana) and then ruminating over (Nidhidhyasana) the Vedic statements.

Shravana means listening to the teachings of the Guru with Shraddha (faith). In a rare case of one having a very strong Samskara, merely hearing the teacher could itself lead to realization. However, normally, thinking over what has been heard is necessary. This goes on till one is satisfied with what one has heard. Thinking implies the use of logic; but this logic should be in accordance with the scriptures (Shruti). Of course, inference is not forbidden. However, we should never be tempted to use pervert logic. When such an aspirant has a doubt regarding the scriptures, he should not find fault in the latter, but instead should conclude that his own previous wrong knowledge is impeding the correct understanding and so he has to correct himself. The Shraddha of the aspirant should be total in the Shruti.

At the end of this process of thinking, when doubts no longer arise, it means that the lesson has been intellectually understood. The identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul understood in this way till now is only an intellectual understanding. To bring this intellectual understanding into experience we need to do Nidhidhyasana, i.e. ruminate over the conclusion with firm conviction. In other words, applying oneself to what one has heard one should go on retaining the knowledge that ‘Brahman is oneself’. In due course the identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul (Brahman) will come to one’s experience. When this happens it can be said that one has Atma-Jnana, i.e. realized oneself as Brahman. Summing up, it implies that birth of Jnana needs listening, logic and experience.

Is Jnana a Result of Karma?

There is a great difference between Karma and Jnana. The knowledge of Brahman-atman identity cannot be got directly from Karma. Moksha is not like heaven obtained as a result of Karma. The difference between Karma and Jnana can be understood as follows:

Karma can produce fruit in any of the following four ways:

1). Produce (Utpadya), like producing a pot.

2). Through Modification (Vikarya), like milk to curd.

3). Obtaining the fruit by going somewhere (Aapya).

4). Through Rectification (Samkaraya): by adding a quality or removing a fault.

There is no other way to generate the fruit of a Karma, other than these four. Moksha however is not like any of these because:

1). Moksha is not produced because it is eternal.

2). Moksha is not got by modifying something because it is unchanging.

3). It is not reachable because it is omnipresent.

4). Moksha is not rectifiable because nothing needs to be added to it since it is complete and nothing needs to be removed from it because it is faultless (Sutra 1.1.4; Br. Up 3.3.1).

The Jnana-Karma Collective

Some say that Moksha is possible only by clubbing Karma with Jnana. Their contention is that Moksha is not possible only with Jnana. This clubbing of the two is called the Jnana-Karma Samuchhaya , or the knowledge-action collective. However, this is not correct because Jnana and Karma can never be together. Karma is based on the multiplicity of the doer-the action-and the fruit of this action. This implies the acceptance of multiplicity, which is the state of Avidya (the ignorant state which perceives multiplicity in this world). On the other hand, Jnana is the state of Vidya where all multiplicity is refuted. Therefore, Moksha cannot be the result of clubbing together of Jnana and Karma.


This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own.


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