THE JOURNEY TO LIBERATION
Though moksha may seem remote, there is wisdom in keeping this ultimate goal in mind as we live our day-to-day life
BY SATGURU BODHINATHA VEYLANSWAMI
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“THE RISHIS ASKED THE GODS: ‘WHAT must a person do if he wishes to reach the blissful state of union with God? Is there a state that not only confers upon us supreme, unbroken bliss, but also puts an end to pain, sorrow and suffering? Does this process of reincarnation go on forever?’ The Gods explained: ‘No. Each time the soul takes on a new body, it gets closer and closer to becoming perfect. To gain a better birth each time, one must live according to the natural laws that Hinduism proclaims and live out the karma in this life positively and fully while at the same time refraining from creating painful new karmas. After a number of such excellent incarnations, and after God Realization has been attained, the soul body becomes mature enough that it no longer needs to take a physical incarnation. Instead, it continues its evolution on inner planes of consciousness. This release from samsara is called moksha. The soul is said to be freed from the bondage of birth and death.’” With this dramatic passage, my Gurudeva, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, explained liberation from rebirth.
To attain life’s ultimate purpose, three qualifications must be met: Earthly karma must be resolved; dharma must have been well performed and God must be realized. The Upanishads assure us, “If here one is able to realize Him before the death of the body, he will be liberated from the bondage of the world” (Katha Upanishad 2.3.4).
Why Even Think About It?
I have found a sure-fire way to put an audience to sleep within five minutes. It’s to talk at length about moksha. Why is this? The challenges of day-to-day living are a sufficient focus; there is no mental real estate to also think about moksha. After all, there are three other more immediate goals: dharma, wealth and love. Few seem to incorporate moksha into their philosophical framework. Most have only the vaguest concept of what existence after liberation would be like. Besides, why think about something that seems so far off, something to be concerned about in a future life? Knowing that release comes only when the soul is ripe for realization, having matured through many lives, the average devotee concludes that moksha is as remote as Jupiter, strictly the concern of yogis and sadhus.
The challenge is to make life’s ultimate spiritual attainment relevant to day-to-day family life. In public presentations I refer to moksha as the X-marks-the-spot destination and then describe the journey that leads to it. While the destination may be distant, the journey toward it is already happening, whether we recognize it or not. I ask listeners to visualize a mountain with a winding path leading to the summit, which is blissful experience of God Realization and moksha. In each life we are born near the same point on the path we reached at the end of our last life. Ideally, in each lifetime we move farther up the path toward the mountaintop; we don’t stand still or go backwards. Standing still results from living a materialistic, self-centered life. Going backwards is the price we pay for adharmic deeds, such as serious violence and dishonesty.
This singular, long-term goal defines the direction of dharma in the well-lived life and provides a north star for all navigating the rough seas of Earthly existence. Most souls have much to do and achieve before striving for it directly, though all hope to attain it ultimately. It is achieved only after a certain level of perfection has been attained, maturity of the soul sufficient to harness the forces of instinct, intellect and emotion. Happily, Hinduism affirms that every person on Earth will eventually reach the unitive state of moksha and be free from rebirth.
To describe how we can move toward moksha, I use the analogy of dance. I ask listeners, “What is most needed for a youth to become good at Hindu classical dance?” Invariably, most respond with the answer I have in mind: “Practice!” Reading books about dance won’t make you a good dancer. Nor will attending classes without practicing what you have learned. Regular practice is needed to keep the body limber and to master the art. Making strides on the spiritual journey to liberation is the same. To grow and evolve into our divine potential requires regular practice, ideally daily practice. The spiritual advancement we make is directly related to the time and effort we devote to religious practices. Sage Patanjali stresses this is in his Yoga Sutras (verse 1.21; 22): “For those who have strong dedication, samadhi is near. Whether one’s practice is mild, medium or intense also makes a difference.”
Being “on the Path”
My Gurudeva taught, “When the soul has had enough experience, it naturally seeks to be liberated, to unravel the bonds. That begins the most wonderful process in the world as the seeker steps for the first time onto the spiritual path. Of course, the whole time, through all those births and lives and deaths, the soul was undergoing a spiritual evolution, but unconsciously. Now it seeks to know God consciously. That is the difference. It’s a big difference.” He stressed that seekers who are devout, who are sufficiently awakened to practice yoga, to seek the inner meaning of life have arrived at this crucial stage. While liberation may be lifetimes away, this is indeed the time to cognize the goal and begin molding yourself for it by living in a way that brings advancement and unfoldment of your soul.
But who has the time in a normal day for a generous period of spiritual practice? Many tell me they have no time at all. Employment, transportation, eating, entertainment, exercise, home duties and spending time with family and friends take up the whole day, every day. As a solution, I recommend shortening the period of sadhana but doing it regularly. For youth I suggest a ten-minute “spiritual workout” of worship, introspection, affirmation and study. (See my full description of the subject here [https://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=5454].) If you are following dharma and performing regular daily sadhana, you can be assured you are moving forward in a significant way in this life on your journey to liberation.
Gurudeva reminded us: “We have taken birth in a physical body to grow and evolve into our divine potential. We are inwardly already one with God. Our religion contains the knowledge of how to realize this oneness and not create unwanted experiences along the way. The peerless path is following the way of our spiritual forefathers, discovering the mystical meaning of the scriptures. The peerless path is commitment, study, discipline, practice and the maturing of yoga into wisdom. In the beginning stages, we suffer until we learn. Learning leads us to service; and selfless service is the beginning of spiritual striving. Service leads us to understanding. Understanding leads us to meditate deeply and without distractions. Finally, meditation leads us to surrender in God. This is the straight and certain path, the San Marga, leading to Self Realization—the inmost purpose of life—and subsequently to moksha, freedom from rebirth.”
What’s Your Definition?
The point in evolution at which a soul earns release and the understanding of what happens afterwards is described in many ways. We can get a sense of the range of perspectives from the ancient Brahma Sutra, which cites a number of then current views: that upon liberation the soul (jiva) attains nondifference from Brahman (IV.4.4); that it gains the attributes of Brahman (IV.4.5); that it exists only as pure consciousness (IV.4.6); that even though it is pure consciousness from the relative standpoint, it can still gain the attributes of Brahman (IV.4.7); that through pure will alone it can gain whatever it wishes (IV.4.8); that it transcends any body or mind (IV.4.10); that it possesses a divine body and mind (IV.4.11); and that it attains all powers except creatorship, which belongs to Ishvara alone (IV.4.17).
While these views vary, they all describe a state of being and evolution that far transcends normal mortal consciousness. Isn’t that something worth thinking about, something worth striving for? It is the state of great souls such as our paramaguru Siva Yogaswami, who lives vibrantly in the Sivaloka, showering blessings to devotees on Earth. It is the highest of human achievements, the pinnacle and very purpose of all other experiences in life—the revolutionary transcendence of limited identity in favor of unitive consciousness and all-pervasive love. All the worlds rejoice when an old soul is freed from samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
Above and Beyond: Having fulfilled karma and dharma, the yogi realizes God within and reaches the state of perfect freedom.