The idea that the highest level of being is the freedom from impermanent human life is one that runs through several Eastern religions.
This article will explore the Hinduism concept of the escape from the worldly self, known as moksha.
Moksha and Samsara
To understand moksha, which means ‘liberation,’ one must first understand several other important ideas in Hinduism – particularly, samsara. Samsara is a Sanskrit word that refers to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, to the passing of the soul from one life to another. As the soul transitions between these lives, the next incarnation is informed by the deeds of the previous life.
This is the Hindu belief of the concept of karma. You may have heard people talk about karma and the idea that people’s choices will come back to affect them one way or another in the future. The Hindu concept of karma is similar to the popular use, but a person’s responsibility for her/his actions, good or bad, is dealt with in the next life, not the current one.The end of the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth (samsara) is the ultimate point of existence in Hinduism. There are four goals, collectively called purusartha, aimed at achieving samsara, with the fourth of these being the ultimate goal of obtaining moksha. As people move through the first three goals (dharma, artha, and kama), they release attachments to worldly possessions and desires, leading to the goal of achieving moksha.
Sound familiar? The Hindu concept of moksha is similar to the Buddhist concept of nirvana.A visual representation of the concept of moksha can be seen in this Hindu painting which shows the elephant Gajendra experiencing moksha. Instead of focusing on the suffering from the crocodile biting his leg, he focuses on Vishnu, who liberates him.
It is important to note here that there are several different schools of thought in Hinduism, each having its unique perspective on moksha. While some view moksha as liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth altogether, others view moksha more generally as liberation from suffering during life on earth, leading to a life of perfect bliss. Some even use an alternate name to refer to moksha such as kaivalya.
Moksha and the Supreme Being
Hinduism is a theistic religion believing in supreme beings known as gods and demi-gods. Different sects worship different gods or demi-gods; however, Brahman is widely believed to be the Supreme Being in the religion. When one achieves moksha, he or she ultimately achieves unity with the Supreme Being.There are two fundamental schools of thought in Hinduism about the nature of one’s unity with the Supreme Being. The first is known as Advaita Vedanta, or non-dualism.
This is the belief that one’s spiritual self is not separate from the Supreme Being. Giving everything over to the service of the Supreme Being is the path to moksha. One way to visualize this is to think about the human soul as a single blade of grass in a field, with the field being the soul of the Supreme Being. The blade of grass is part of the composition of the field, just as the human soul is part of the soul of the Supreme Being.
The other school of thought is Samkhya. Samkhya assumes a dualistic nature between the human soul and the Supreme Being’s soul. Each has its own identity and, thus, remains separate, even in moksha. In Samkhya, the unity with the Supreme Being in moksha is not from the joining of souls, but in the existence of two distinct souls on a plane higher than earthly existence. Think of a green frog in a field; it may look like it is part of the field, but it remains very separate.
Moksha and Self-Realization
As the soul finds unity with the Supreme Being and a person exits the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, self-realization occurs. As part of the process of achieving moksha, one loses the focus on the ego and the body and is able to focus on her or his own divine self.
Often referred to as overcoming ignorance, moksha allows one to live in the present moment in total peace. This peace affords the person to become aware and experience true compassion for others, connecting to the divine self.The Bhagavad Gita, one of the main texts of Hinduism, offers three paths toward liberation, or moksha. The first is the karma-marga, or ‘path of duty,’ where one continues to do regular rituals, but sacrifices and works in the service of the Supreme Being.
The second is the jnana-marga, or the ‘path of knowledge,’ where yoga and meditation are used to find one’s identity in relation to the Supreme Being, forgoing worldly desires in favor of spiritual knowledge. The final path is the bhakti-marga, or the ‘path of devotion,’ where one seeks solely to adore the Supreme Being.
‘O best among men Arjuna, the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress, and is steady in both, is certainly eligible for liberation.’– Bhagavad Gita 2.
15.This passage from one of the primary religious texts in Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita, highlights the idea of freedom that comes from moksha. The liberation it refers to is the liberation from worldly possessions and the focus on the external self. Once a person is free from these trappings, Hindus believe that he or she transcends the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, or samsara, to exist as a divine soul capable of experiencing peace and pure compassion.
Moksha is the highest goal of the purusartha, which are the four goals one strives to achieve in Hinduism.