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Moksha: What the Vedas Say About Liberation

Article of the Month - February 2013
Viewed 25238 times since 15th Feb, 2013

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.


References & Further Reading:

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  • Thanks for the nice article .. Very interesting verse regarding 'Mukti (Moksha) and Bhakti' from 'Brahma Vaivarta Purana', Prakriti Khanda. Chapter 26. text 7 - 11 .. Sanskrit scholors can enjoy the beautiful composition by Srila Bhagavan Veda Vyasa .. vedena vihitam karma tanmanye mangalam param .. avaidikam tu yat karma tad eva azubham evaca .. ahaitukI viSNu sevA sankalpa rahitA satAm .. karma nirmUlan AtmA vai sA caiva hari bhakti dA .. hari bhakto naro yazca sa ca muktaH zrutau zrutam .. janma mRtyu jarA vyAdhi zoka bhIti vivarjitaH .. muktiz ca dvidhA svAdhvi zrutyuktA sarva sam matA .. nirvANa pada dAtrI ca hari bhakti pradA nRNAm .. hari bhakti svarUpAm ca mukti vAnchati vaiSNavAH .. anye nirvANa rUpA ca muktim icchanti sAdhavaH ..
    by dr. jaya on 21st Feb 2013
  • I append below Sri Aurobindo's excellent description of the concept of Moksha.

    Essays Divine and Human

    Writings from Manuscripts. 1910 – 1950


    The pessimists have made moksha synonymous with annihilation or dissolution, but its true meaning is freedom. He who is free from bondage, is free, is mukta. But the last bondage is the passion for liberation itself which must be renounced before the soul can be perfectly free, and the last knowledge is the realisation that there is none bound, none desirous of freedom, but the soul is for ever and perfectly free, that bondage is an illusion and the liberation from bondage is an illusion. Not only are we bound but in play, the mimic knots are of such a nature that we ourselves can at our pleasure undo them.

    Nevertheless the bonds are many and intricate. The most difficult of all their knots is egoism, the delusion that we have an individual existence sufficient in itself, separate from the universal and only being, ekamevadwitiyam, who is one not only beyond Time, Space and Causality. Not only are we all Brahman in our nature and being, waves of one sea, but we are each of us Brahman in His entirety, for that which differentiates and limits us, nama and rupa, exists1 only in play and for the sake of the world-drama.

    Whence then comes this delusion of egoism, if there is no separate existence and only Brahman is? We answer that there is separate existence but only in manifestation not in reality. It is as if one actor could play different parts not in succession but at one and the same moment; each part is He Himself, one and indivisible, but each part is different from the other. Brahman extends Himself in Time, Space and Causality which do not condition Him but exist in Him and can at any time be changed or abolished, and in Time, Space and Causality He attaches Himself to many namarupas which are merely existences in His universal being. They2 are real in manifestation, unreal outside manifestation.

    Circa 1911
    by Madan L. Goel on 21st Feb 2013
  • Sorry, but you are trying to pass for true vedic knowledge an illogical and incomplete presentation of the term moksha, bewildering the reader with some inconsistent references. You have to differentiate and only so doing the argumentation could be precise and complete. It is true that there are different path and different philosophy. Bhaktivinodha Thakura explains in his Tattva-viveka, that those differences are due to different levels of spiritual discretion and emancipation. Different levels of understanding means different darshana, or different types of interpretation of the vedic literature. Sruti are the seed of this enormous tree, smriti expand it but nyaya, logic, is necessary to make a real analysis. It is not a meter of speculation. Just speculation, neti neti, can bring us to Brahman, or impersonal liberation that you present as the ultimate voice in the field of God realization. Jnana yoga brings to that conclusion. So I would to demostrate that this kind of moksha is not at all the ultimate level of consciousness. I will use mainly Bhagavad-gita and Srimad Bhagavatam because you cited them, so I consider you refer them as authoritative.

    In Bhagavad gita we find (Bg 4.9)

    janma karma ca me divyam
    evam yo vetti tattvatah
    tvaktva deham punar janma
    naiti mam eti so'rjuna

    “One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving
    the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.”

    First there is a differentiation between the Lord and the jivatma (individual soul) no way of identity. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu teaches us that we are part and parcel of the Supreme Being so there is equality in quality (we are divine in that sense, aham brahmasmi) but different in quantity. He is infinite we are infinitesimal. Aham bija-pradah pita, Krsna says in Gita that He is the seed-giving father (BG 14.4). We find in Bhagavad gita chapter 15 verse 7: mamaivamsho jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah: The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts.
    Krsna said to be the compiler of the Vedanta and the knower of the Veda; and vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo: By the all Vedas, I am to be know(BG 15.15). In your presentation you want to eject Krsna from the Vedas, but references said opposite things.

    Who knows Krsna knows what in the Vedas has to be known ad BG says in 15.15. So returning in verse 4.9 we could understand that knowing Krsna we completely know the Vedas, and knowing the Vedas we will get the benefit. And what is that benefit? No more conditional life, that is liberation. And He continues: “[he] attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna”. So this verse is an evidence that impersonal realization is far inferior than residing in Vaikuntha-loka. Krsna is the Supreme personality of Godhead (isvara parama krsna – Brahma-samhita 5.1) and He said that Arjuna is His best friend, so why Krsna would give Arjuna something with little value? No Krsna want give Arjuna the best: bhakti, pure love of God. That is the supreme liberation.

    Aham sarvasya prabhavo
    mattah sarvam pravartate
    iti matva bhajante mam
    budha bhava-samanvitah

    Krsna says: “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who
    perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (BG 10.8)

    The second thing is that the Absolute True is realized by the sages in different aspects

    vadanti tat tattva-vidas
    tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
    brahmeti paramatmeti
    bhagavan iti sabdyate

    “Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan.”

    We find that reference in Srimad Bhagavatam 1.2.11. In the Bhaktivedanta purport we find an exhaustive explanation of that point:

    “The Absolute Truth is both subject and object, and there is no qualitative difference there. Therefore, Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan are qualitatively one and the same. The same substance is realized as impersonal Brahman by the students of the Upanishads, as localized Paramatma by the Hiranyagarbhas or the yogis, and as Bhagavan by the devotees. In other words, Bhagavan, or the Personality of Godhead, is the last word of the Absolute Truth. Paramatma is the partial representation of the Personality of Godhead, and impersonal Brahman is the glowing effulgence of the Personality of Godhead, as the sun rays are to the sun-god. Less intelligent students of either of the above schools sometimes argue in favor of their own respective realization, but those who are perfect seers of the Absolute Truth know well that the above three features of the one Absolute Truth are different perspective views seen from different angles of vision.

    As it is explained in the first sloka of the First Chapter of the Bhagavatam, the Supreme Truth is self-sufficient, cognizant and free from the illusion of relativity. In the relative world the knower is different from the known, but in the Absolute Truth both the knower and the known are one and the same thing. In the relative world the knower is the living spirit or superior energy, whereas the known is inert matter or inferior energy. Therefore, there is a duality of inferior and superior energy, whereas in the absolute realm both the knower and the known are of the same superior energy. There are three kinds of energies of the supreme energetic. There is no difference between the energy and energetic, but there is a difference of quality of energies. The absolute realm and the living entities are of the same superior energy, but the material world is inferior energy. The living being in contact with the inferior energy is illusioned, thinking he belongs to the inferior energy. Therefore there is the sense of relativity in the material world. In the Absolute there is no such sense of difference between the knower and the known, and therefore everything there is absolute.”

    In the vedic scripture we find so many examples of persons that from liberation or Brahman realization became pure devotees (progress to Bhagavan realization). On the other hand, we do not find example of pure devotees – situated in Bhagavan realization - that became ultimately impersonal realized people. That is considered a fall down, a deviation, not a natural progression. This is explained in the famous atmarama-verse (SB 1.7), in the first Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam - the natural commentary of the Vedanta-sutra, that condensed the ultimate realizations regarding the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His energy.

    atmaramas ca munayo
    nirgrantha apy urukrame
    kurvanty ahaitukim bhaktim
    ittham-bhuta-guno harih

    “All different varieties of atmaramas [those who take pleasure in atma, or spirit self], especially those established on the path of self-realization, though freed from all kinds of material bondage, desire to render unalloyed devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead. This means that the Lord possesses transcendental qualities and therefore can attract everyone, including liberated souls.” (SB 1.7.10)

    The shastra says that there are five kind of liberations:

    sayujya, merging with the body of the Lord (means merging into the Brahman effulgence of the Lord.) – SB-1.9.42.
    salokya, residing on the same spiritual planet as the Lord (means that after material liberation one is promoted to the planet where the Supreme Personality of Godhead resides) -SB -2.7.49
    sarupya, attaining a four-handed form exactly like that of the Lord, SB 2.7.49
    sarsti, attaining opulences like those of the Supreme Lord, SB 2.7.49
    samipya, remaining an associate of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, SB 2.7.49

    Krsna want give to Arjuna the topmost liberation. Devotees refuse to accept sayujya mukti because thy cannot perform loving devotional service to the Lord. They can accept the other four, but they do not strive for them, because the blissful of serving the Lord – in whatever position one have in this or that world – is the top most pure ananda.

    In the tantra-shastra Lord Siva says, “My dear wife, a person who has surrendered himself at the lotus feet of Govinda and who has thus developed pure Krsna consciousness can be very easily awarded all the perfections desired by the impersonalists; and beyond this, he can enjoy the happiness achieved by the pure devotees.” (NOD, p. 10)

    The case you cited as a valid argument it is not at all precise. Jaya and Vijaya are eternal personal companion of Vaikunthesvara, and when the Lord descend on earth He carry with Him His personal associates. In that pastime they were 'cursed' to incarnate three tyme in daitya families to fight with the Lors as demons, and render in chivalrous mood devotional service. After that lilas they attain the same position on Vaikuntha, their original and ontological abode.
    In the same lila, we find the four Kumaras, Brahma's sons, the coursers of the two Vaikuntha's doorkeeper, that were self-realized sages – in jnana-yoga - and they became pure devotees simply smelling the transcendental fragrance of the Tulasi's leaves on the transcendental lotus feet of the Lord. Also Sukadeva goswami, the main narrator of Srimad Bhagavatam, from birth was an atmarama situated in Brahman-realization, but hearing the transcendental pastime of the Lord he became a pure devotee. So many instances. Also in Caitanya lila we find Prakashanada Sarasvati and Sarvabauma Battacarya stunt mayavadi philosophers. They became devotees by the mercy of Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu. So devotional service is superior to impersonal liberation because those possessing liberation are yet in need of bhakti.

    Your servant

    Premakumara dasa
    by Premakumara dasa on 20th Feb 2013
  • I Express you huge gratitude for this article.

    THANKS again!;-)
    by Александр Меньшиков on 20th Feb 2013
  • Confounding God with the Soul and Blocking the Spirit-Will

    The Hindu Advaita Vedanta perspective, which the other revealed religions tend to reflect, misidentifies real Godhood, and this is the cause of many problems. Ascetics first stop all material desires to experience the wonder of the Soul within, the Father Within, defining it as God. To see and experience this blissful feeling they must block or dissipate the central drives and desires of life, and also block the Spirit-Will, so that their minds and bodies can center on the stillness of the unencumbered Soul. But this experience does not define the Spirit-Will or God.

    The Spirit-Will is the activator of material and supermaterial life, the force that activates life toward real Godhood, and life is then shaped by outside evolution. The Spirit-Will can only reach its goal of Godhood by activating and riding material evolution to Godhood. This helps explain the purpose of life in the cosmos. A place can be reserved in the Twofold Path for experiencing the bliss of the Soul, found in the Involutionary Inward Path, but this must not be the single goal of religion, this is not God, it is only a hint, a mirror, of the real wisdom and power attained with the evolution of life to Godhood, by way of the Evolutionary Outward Path.

    With this theological materialism, no duality of spiritual/material purposes is needed, what is needed is wisdom and knowledge in how to evolve to Godhood---and here religion and science can work together.
    by K.L.Anderson on 18th Feb 2013
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"Her epithet in the Devi-Mahatmya is Mahalakshmi. She is the wrathful four-armed goddess of battlefield represented holding in them various weapons…. A form of Lakshmi seated over a lotus laid over a golden seat and a pair of white elephants…. Except in some classical forms in Lakshmi-Narayana imagery Lakshmi is ordinarily two-armed…. Incarnation theory is the crux of Vaishnavism. Vishnu incarnates alone but Lakshmi also incarnates in simultaneity…. Though very rare some enthused artists have conceived on Ardhanarishvara line also Vishnu’s Ardhanarishvara images."
Iconography of Vaishnava Deities: Goddess Lakshmi
"Contrarily metaphysicians and theologians perceived his form as it manifested in the Upanishads and Puranas….The ‘Advaita’ philosophy also contends that the entire Creation is just the extension of One…. Dance illustrates one of the ever-first cosmic acts with which Shiva seems to have tamed violent motion and separated from it rhythm, moves that communicated emotions and states of mind – human mind and the cosmic, and disciplined and defined pace…. Unlike Vishnu who resorted to dance for accomplishing a contemplated objective, Shiva has been conceived more or less as a regular dancer performing for accomplishing an objective as also for pure aesthetic delight…. Unfurling locks of hair and his snakes floating into space portray the dynamics of the act."
Shiva, the Nataraja
"Actually, the one who worships Bhagwan Vishnu should get rich and the one who worships Shiva should become an avadhuta like Him…. Then he works hard again to acquire wealth. I render all his efforts futile…. However, Bhagawan Vishnu is not like that, it takes longer to please Him…. As a consequence, they later harassed the great God Himself…. On the seventh day, he bathed in the holy waters of Kedarnath and began to cut his head with an axe to offer into the fire…. The boy bowed respectfully before the demon and asked…. No one who commits sin against a great person can be safe and happy in this world."
Shiva and Vishnu: A Unique Aspect of Their Worship
"There is Rama, the son of Ayodhya's king Dasharatha in his human birth, and there is Rama's divinity, his divine aura that overwhelms the Tulasi's entire Ramacharit-manas, one manifest - with attributes, and the other, unmanifest - without attributes. With main emphasis on his majesty in South Indian tradition this crown is taller than usual. His 'khadgasana' images are usually in three modes; one with his right foot moved forward represents him in a commander's disposition ready to rush for protecting a devotee in crisis or redeem him from some calamity. Harihara, a form in which he shares with Shiva half of the body. Basically a bird Garuda is seen for ages as Vishnu's ardent devotee, a learned human being and an auspicious presence, and in iconographic tradition often conceived with a man's face, anatomy, ornaments and ensemble. The Puranas are replete with tales of Garuda's divine exploits."
Iconography of Vaishnava Images: Vishnu
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