Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part XXIX

Moksha — The Liberation

Continued from Part XXVIII

In one of the earlier parts, Purushartha comprising of four objects or goals viz Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha was briefly explained as an essential concept of the Hindu way of life since Vedic age. These objects literally define the "purpose of human being" or the "holistic human pursuit" broadly encompassing all important aspects of life including ethics, personal virtues and universal values impacting the individual human beings as also their duties and responsibilities towards the family and society. The Purushartha on one hand enables the human beings an enriching and rewarding personal experience, on the other it also shows the path of liberation (Moksha) through renunciation and devotion to God.

Of the four stated objects, Dharma broadly represents righteousness or moral values as first and foremost purpose as discussed in the previous part. Two other important and worldlier objects are Artha and Kama; the former represents the prosperity or economic values while the latter pleasure, love and other mundane values of the human beings. The Hindu way of life permits pursuit of Artha and Kama to every householder regulated by Dharma during the life but also insists renunciation of both i.e. wealth and pleasure to attain the spiritual liberation (Moksha). While all the four objects of human life are considered significant but where there is conflict of goals, Dharma gets precedence over Artha and Kama without Moksha getting affected in any way. In this part, the author proposes to explore Moksha at a greater length and perspective.

What is Moksha?

The initial and categorical references of Moksha are found in the Upanishads which are basically an extension of the Vedas. In several texts, the Moksha is referred to as the end of suffering and the ultimate goal of the human life. There is no exact replacement of Moksha in English but 'liberation' is taken as the nearest substitute term for it. Other closely related terms to Moksha are emancipation, salvation, or release. Among the other Indian religions, Buddhism talks about Nirvana (salvation) which, in essence, is like the Moksha of Hinduism. The literal meaning of Moksha is the absence of Moha (attachment) or delusion. The Moha could be overcome by augmenting the virtue of sattva in person which helps to overcome the desires through self-control, detachment, surrendering self to God by suppressing the qualities of rajas and tamas.

The concept of Moksha varies in different schools of philosophies in Hinduism but it is intimately associated with the soul, God, Dharma and meditation closely linked with the concept of reincarnation or samsara. According to different schools of thought, Moksha is possible while still living or after the death. In essence, it leads to release from all kinds of worldly sufferings and bondage of soul.. The pursuit of moksha can be undertaken any time during the life depending upon the inclination and attitude towards the worldly objects and chorus. However, the ordinary person follows the pursuit of Moksha after having lived and enjoyed the life of a Grihastha.

Moksha in Upanishads

Upanishads are among the foundational texts which were mostly written when the Vedic people gradually started shifting from the ritual based external religious practices to more internally focused spiritual pursuits in the ancient age. In these times focus was more on meditation and quest for knowledge than the sacrificial practices of the Vedic age. Hence the Upanishads provide a clearer insight and wisdom on the concepts like Atman, Brahman, Samsara, Karma, Dharma and Moksha. The Upanishads cite Moksha as the attainment of knowledge (Jnan) and end of suffering. This end of suffering occurs consequent to the person's getting rid of the Samsara i.e. the cycle of death and rebirth. Attaining the knowledge is freedom from the ignorance, which ties the person to his material existence.

Atman and Brahman have been explained at length in previous parts, and so also the relevance and impact of Karma (actions) and Dharma (righteousness). The teachings of the Upanishads relate to Moksha as the experience of oneness with Brahman, the Supreme Self. The Upanishads teach that the true nature of our being is Atman, which is an intangible, undefinable and eternal Self. Then Brahman is what makes and represents the universe being a creator and sustainer of life and all phenomenons. The core principle is that both the Brahman and Atman are comprised of the same cosmic substance as narrated in the Katha Upanishads as under:

As the same fire assumes different shapes
When it consumes objects differing in shape,
So does the one Self take the shape
Of every creature in whom he is present.

(Katha Upanishad II.2.9)

Therefore, Moksha is achieved when Atman returns to Brahman, the source from which it emanated; it is reabsorbed in what is the Supreme Reality and, in effect, this is liberation from the illusion - the Samsara or Maya as we call it. According to the teachings of Upanishads, the Dharma and meditation are key factors in the path of achieving Moksha; in essence, the two represent the right living and eradication of ego. When one achieves Moksha one is embraced and subsumed again into Brahman, the wide-reaching arms of Absolute Existence. The Upanishads emphasize on Self-Knowledge as the condition for Self-realization. The other important wisdom that these texts carry is that Moksha is not the result of Knowledge or a new acquisition. Actually, it is the realization of That which always existed from eternity but was hitherto been unknown or hidden.

Almost all principal Upanishads talk about self-realization through Jnan with ultimate goal as liberation. The Kena Upanishad insists on acquiring true knowledge (Jnan) that eventually shows the path of liberation. The Katha Upanishad contains a lengthy philosophical discourse between Nachiketa and Yama on the death and immortality inter alia including the concept of the soul using the body as chariot, sorrow of samsara, Karma, Reincarnation and liberation. In Prasna Upanishad, Moksha is explained by sage Pippalada to his pupils. The Mundaka Upanishad establishes how the knowledge of Brahman leads to the freedom, fearlessness, liberation and ultimate bliss of the soul. The Taittriya Upanishad asserts that knowing Atman-Brahman is the highest, empowering and liberating knowledge. Two other principal Upanishads namely Chandogya and Brihadaranyaka too discuss Moksha and related metaphysical concepts with unambiguous clarity and at length.

Moksha and Bhagavad Gita

Many sages, scholars and philosophers have opined that Srimad Bhagavad Gita embodies the essence and abstraction of all ancient scriptures mainly Vedas and Upanishads unraveling the supreme spiritual mystery and gems of Hindu philosophy. Those who have gone through the Bhagavad Gita, hold undoubtedly that it is an epitome and compendium of all Hindu scriptures. Therefore, if a person has read and understood the marvels of Gita, one is not required to go through all the Vedas and Upanishads in pursuit of exploration of the Truth of universe. The mythological position is while the Vedas and Upanishads were created and compiled by the ancient rishis and sages but the discourse of the Gita came directly from the mouth of Lord Krishna, and compiled by the divine sage Vedavyasa. In the text, Moksha is depicted in several verses.

The concepts of soul, God (Brahman), reincarnation and liberation (Moksha) have been dealt with at length in several verses of the Bhagavad Gita. The Chapter 2, Verse 17 to 24 delineates the nature, qualities and action of the imperishable soul. Lord Krishna narrates to Prince Arjuna how a dying person's soul seeks a new body that determines its next life:

Na jayate mriyate va kadachin nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah,
Ajo nityah shashvato ayam purano na hanyate hanyamane sharire.

{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 20}

(The soul is neither born, nor does it ever die; nor having once existed, does it ever cease to be. The soul is unborn, eternal, immortal and primeval. It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.)

Vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya Navani grhnati naro 'parani,
Tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany Anyani samyati navani dehi.

{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 22}

(As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the embodied soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.)

Nainam chhindanti shastrani nainam dahati pavakah,
Na chainam kledayantyapo na shoshayati marutah.

{BG: Chapter 2, Verse 23}

(Weapons cannot cut the soul, nor can fire burn it. Water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it.)

Two distinct paths that a soul could travel after the death of the physical body are the bright path of Sun and dark path of Moon depending upon the accumulated Karma. The bright path is also stated as the path of divine because if the soul finds, it will not return to mrityulok (perishable world) and attain Moksha. The soul taking the other one i.e. the dark ancestors' path, returns to the same cycle again. There are various ways of attaining Moksha through Karma-yoga and Jnana-yoga but Lord Krishna cites Bhaki-yoga as the simplest and convenient way of attaining Moksha. The essence of attaining the path of Sun is given in Bhagavad Gita, which Lord Krishna narrated as under:

Antakale ca mameva smaranmuktva kalevaram,
Yah prayati sa madbhavam yati nastyatra samsayah.

{BG: Chapter 8, Verse 5}

(He who departs from the body, thinking of Me alone at the time of death, attains My state; there is no doubt about it.)

Sarva-dvarani sanyamya mano hridi nirudhya cha,
Murdhnyadhayatmanah pranam asthito yoga-dharanam.
Om ityekaksharam brahma vyaharan mmm anusmaran,
Yah prayati tyajan deham sa yati paramam gatim.

{BG: Chapter 8, Verses 12, 13}

(Restraining all the gates of the body and fixing the mind in the heart region, and then drawing the life-breath to the head, one should get established in steadfast yogic concentration. One who departs from the body while remembering me, the Supreme Personality, and chanting the syllable Om, will attain the supreme goal i.e. Moksha.)

Those who have Karma of the highest order with virtues in the material life are able to attain Moksha and ones who have Karma of the low order with sins shall enter into the cycle to take rebirth (reincarnation).

Moksha in Vedanta

In the quest of the absolute truth, the Hinduism has always endorsed and encouraged reasoning, questioning, exploration, tolerance and debate. This has led to different metaphysical concepts and philosophies in Hinduism since ancient age. Among six main Hindu philosophies, the Vedanta Philosophy, and more particularly Advaita, is the most accepted and followed philosophy among the followers of Hinduism. Vedanta literally means the "end of the Vedas", and it is largely based on the analysis and interpretations of the core concepts and philosophies contained in the ten Principal Upanishads which are basically extended texts of Vedas discussing meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge and so on (Jnana Kanda). It is a synthesis and abstract of multiple sub-traditions mainly based on dualism and non-dualism inspired from the Upanishads, Brahmasutra and Sri Bhagavad Gita.

Broadly, different Vedanta philosophies are based on the concepts of duality and non-duality. According to the Advaita, the Atman (Individual Self) is synonymous to the Brahman inside the being and outside the being but this cosmic truth remains obscured under the influence of Maya or illusion. The realization of this truth leads to the sense of oneness, self-realization and Moksha even during lifetime (Jivan-Mukta). On the other hand, the Dvaita holds that Moksha can be attained only after death. According to this doctrine, there are four levels of Moksha based on good Karma in the ascending order of 1) Salokya, 2) Samipya, 3) Sarupya and 4) Sayujya. Though there are differences in various sub-traditions of Vedanta philosophy on account of dualism and non-dualism, all of them have certain unique and common elements as under:

  • The Vedanta is ultimate path of knowledge and the Upanishads are the most reliable and authentic source of knowledge.
  • Brahman is the ultimate reality, all-pervading and un-changed, and the instrumental cause of the creativity in universe.
  • The Individual soul is prone to corruption under the influence of the empirical world and it experiences and bears the nemesis of Karma and its consequences.
  • Moksha is the ultimate goal to get riddance from the arduous cycle of the birth-death-rebirth.

The obvious question arises as to what happens on attainment of Moksha, and why it is vital to attain it in Hindu way of life. The different Vedanta schools of thought in Hinduism offer different doctrines on Moksha or liberation.


The Advaita philosophy is based on non-dualism (monism) that the individual soul is not different from Brahman (God) and Moksha can be achieved through noble deeds, vidya or Jnan (knowledge). The Advaita philosophy endorses the four Purushartha components with Moksha as the ultimate goal of existence. While acknowledging the relevance of the first three i.e. Dharma, Artha and Kama, the highest importance has been accorded to Moksha to seek oneness with Brahman. According to this philosophy, soteriological goal of the human life is Moksha by obtaining the correct knowledge and understanding of the truth of the Atman and Brahman that alone could lead to dissolution of the dualistic tendencies so vital for liberation. Moksha is attained by realizing one's true identity as Atman and the complete knowledge and understanding of the real nature of the Atman and Brahman in this life.

According to this doctrine, Moksha can be achieved during the life time which is known as Jivan-mukti as well as after death called Krama-mukti or Videha-mukti. The knowledge of the true Self and its relationship to Brahman is central to this liberation which leads to the state of full awareness, freedom and feeling of the divine within oneself and all beings by getting rid of the dualities of all kinds. A Jivan-mukta who achieves divine state is characterized with the following attributes.

  • He treats others with love and regard simultaneously enduring and disregarding disrespect or cruel conduct of others;
  • He never deviates from the right path and truth even in adverse circumstances;
  • He scrupulously adheres to Ahimsa (non-violence) and welfare to all beings;
  • He becomes free from the cravings for the praise or blessings in return from anyone;
  • He is comfortable being alone and contended with the minimum he needs for living;
  • He is free from any cravings for the worldly comfort and pleasures and only true knowledge (Jnan) matters to him;
  • He is humble, straight, high spirited, clear and steady in mind, compassionate, patient, indifferent, courageous, firm yet with sweet by words and demeanor.


Dvaita is another important school of philosophy in the Vedanta tradition which considers the Atman and Brahman as two independent and distinct realities; the latter is personified by Vishnu as the Supreme Soul (God). According to the Dvaita philosophy, Moksha can be attained only after death. According to this doctrine, there are four levels of Moksha based on good Karma in the ascending order of 1) Salokya, 2) Samipya, 3) Sarupya and 4) Sayujya. In the first order (Salokya), the eligible departed soul goes to the abode of Vishnu and stays blissfully there. In the second order (Samipya), the soul enjoys the bliss of the extreme proximity of Vishnu. In the third order (Sarupya), the departed soul acquires the form of Vishnu to experience intense bliss while in the highest fourth order (Sayujya) the soul is absorbed in Vishnu blissfully.

Other Vedanta Sub-schools:

The other important Vedanta philosophies are Vishistadvaita and Bhedabheda. According to the Vishistadvaita, Moksha is possible after the physical death of the mortal body whereby the self-realized soul would live blissfully in Vaikuntha (the abode of Vishnu) in spiritual bodies. Such soul may acquire divine powers such as omniscience yet remains subservient to God (Vishnu) and, unlike Him it cannot create, sustain or dissolve the world. On the other hand, the Bhedabheda recognizes relation between Brahman and the individual souls to be a relation between a whole and its parts. The Advaita and Bhedabheda have many commonalities but the latter insists that the phenomenal world too is true and not empirical. In this conceptual assertion, they are closer to the sub-traditions like Vishistadvaita and Dvaita.

Moksha and Reincarnation

Accordingly to the common belief in Hinduism, after the death of the physical body, some abstract element (Soul) of each being remains which is independent of the person's sthula sharira (physical/mortal body); and after death this element seeks another physical body for the living experience. The following verse from the Bhagavad Gita is relevant:

Shariram yad avapnoti yach chapy utkramatishvarah,
Grihitvaitani sanyati vayur gandhan ivashayat.

{BG: Chapter 15, Verse 8}

(As the air carries fragrance from place to place, so does the embodied soul carry the mind and senses with it, when it leaves an old body and enters a new one.)

This element as discussed in earlier part is neither born nor ever dies. It is unborn, eternal, immortal and primeval and in Hinduism it is identified as individual Self. This Self is the real entity without any name, gender, or such other attributes, which passes through the karmic cycle in repeated births and deaths (reincarnation) till it attains Moksha.

The Reincarnation is a major concept in Hinduism that differentiates it with the Abrahamic religions of the world that profess the concept of resurrection. According to Hindu belief the Karma of the soul determines its fate; soul that attains Moksha accomplishes permanent bliss in oneness with the Supreme Soul (God), others may have a temporary abode in the heaven or hell after the death of the physical body only to return to mrityulok (world) through reincarnation. It is in constant interplay of Karma which may lead to another birth or Moksha depending upon the good and bad accumulated from the previous life. This cycle of the birth and death shall be repeated till the attainment of Moksha or liberation of the soul and the length of the cycle will depend on the actions and deeds that enable the person to attain Moksha.

The concept of soul is recognized among the most religions in the world in some or the other form. The reincarnation and Moksha in a literal sense is not found in two prominent Abrahamic religions namely Christianity and Islam. According to Christian belief, there will be a final judgment day on which all the dead shall be resurrected. In the presence of God, the right ones will be entitled to eternal bliss while the wicked shall be condemned to eternal death. Similarly, Islamic doctrine too has a faith in resurrection, final judgment, reward and punishment, heaven and hell, and so on.


Theology and metaphysics offer a lot of mysticism and concepts world over that largely remain unverified, unseen and unexplored. In such case, the adherents mostly rely on their faith, belief and guidance provided by the ancestors and spiritual teachers through scriptural teachings and traditions. Almost all religions of the world have a belief that apart from the physical body, there is some abstract element (Soul) of each living being. Christianity calls it ‘Spirit’, Islam talks about ‘Ruh’ and Hinduism recognizes it as Atman or Individual Self. The three religions together with Buddhism represent over 76% of the world population. While Christianity and Islam do not have a concept of Moksha but they indeed talk about resurrection, final judgment and eternal bliss (akin to Moksha or liberation) for the good and faithful in the God’s domain.

This abstract element has been recognized as Atman or Jivatman in Hinduism and its attributes have been explained at length in Hindu scriptures and philosophy. It makes sense when based on the wisdom of the Vedas and Upanishads, the Vedanta (Advaita) philosophy put forth that the Atman and Brahman (God) are comprised of the same abstract substance but give a dualistic appearance because the former (Atman) is obscured under the influence of illusion variously defined as Maya or Samsara. Rightfully then the Vedanta emphasizes on attainment of knowledge (Jnan) to get riddance of the obscurity and illusion enabling Atman to achieve oneness with Brahman or in other words achieving eternal bliss i.e. Moksha. The Bhagavad Gita seems to provide concordance of different paths of Karma-yoga, Jnana-yoga and Bhakti-yoga to achieve the same goal. To that extent, the Moksha conceptualized in Hindu way of life appears logical and rational too.

Continued to Part XXX 


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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