By Swami Harshananda
Human beings are essentially divine. The divinity within is called as ‘ātman’. It has to be rediscovered, fully manifested and experienced. If once it is achieved the cycle of transmigration ceases for ever. This is the goal of life variously termed as mukti mokṣa, kaivalya and nirvāṇa.
Vedāntic scriptures and their commentaries depict two paths of sādhanās or spiritual disciplines to the mokṣa. They are:
- Jñāna - knowledge
- Bhakti - devotion
Cittaśuddhi and aṣṭāṅgayoga are the spiritual disciplines accepted as the aids to practice jñāna and bhakti.
- Abandonment of selfish and desire-motivated actions and sincere performance of ordained duties leads to cittaśuddhi or purification of mind.
- Practice of the aṣṭāṅgayoga helps in developing concentration of mind.
Types of Mukti
The basic texts of Vedānta, the prasthānatraya have described two types of mukti:
- Sadyomukti - It is called as instant liberation. Sadyomukti comes from jñāna resulting from jñanayoga. Though the word ‘jñāna’ is derived from the verbal root jñā which denotes knowledge, it has a higher philosophical connotation in Vedāntic works. It is not only intellectual knowledge but also intuitive experience. It starts with the former and ends with the latter. But it has to be accomplished gradually.
- Kramamukti - It is called as gradual liberation. Kramamukti is achieved by the performance of one’s ordained duties coupled with contemplation on the Vedic deities of the jīva (the individual soul). It takes to the Arcīrādimārga and goes to Brahmaloka. Final liberation results from the dissolution of the Brahmaloka at the end of the cycle of the creation.
Other equivalent muktis are:
- Jivanmukti - It is the liberation even while living in this body. Meditating in this method ultimately results in the aparokṣānubhava or the direct experience of one’s true nature as the ātman. Once this experience is gained, he becomes mukta or liberated. He continues to live in the body till the effect of prārabdhakarma of the present birth. In this state he is known as a jīvanmukta. Non-attachment and universal love are his chief characteristics. At the end of this life, when prārabdhakarma gets exhausted, he becomes a videhamukta, totally liberated from all future bodies too.
- Videhamukti - It is the liberation after the fall of the body.
Basic Steps Towards Mukti
Path of mukti or liberation can be summarized into three basic steps. They are:
- Cittaśuddhi - A person has to attain cittaśuddhi or a fair degree of purity of mind by discharging his duties and responsibilities as prescribed by the holy books.
- Sādhanacatuṣṭaya - He has to cultivate sādhana-catuṣṭaya or the fourfold Vedāntic discipline.
- Gurupasadana - He has to approach a competent guru, learn the truths of Vedānta from him and contemplate on them which will ultimately result in the direct experience of the ātman.
Cittaśuddhi or purity of mind is attained by:
- Avoiding all actions and types of behavior opposed to the principles of dharma or righteousness
- Giving up all actions motivated selfish desires
- Performing the ordained duties to the best of one’s ability as service to mankind and to please God
The sādhanacatuṣṭaya comprises the following disciplines:
- Viveka or discrimination between the real and the unreal
- Vairāgya or the spirit of renunciation resulting in giving up the evanescent things of the world, for the sake of realizing the ātman
- Mumukṣutva or intense desire for mokṣa or liberation
- Śamādiṣaṭka or cultivation of the six qualities like:
- Śama - peace of mind
- Dama - control of senses
- Uparati - withdrawal of senses and not allowing them to go towards the sense-objects once again
- Titikṣā - forbearance
- Śraddhā - faith in the scriptures, in the teachers and in oneself
- Samādhāna - concentration of mind
Once the desire for mokṣa is kindled in a person, he approaches a guru or a competent spiritual teacher. It is called ‘gurupasadana’ which means in search of jñāna or knowledge that can give him mokṣa. The guru should be not only well-versed in the scriptural lore, knowing their true essence, but also be a person of spiritual attainment.
Once he is convinced about the fitness of the aspiring disciple, he will teach him the Vedāntic truths as described in the prasthānatraya and his experience. The disciple should do śravaṇa or hear it attentively. After clearing his doubts through questioning and manana or reflection, he should do nididhyāsana or meditation on the truth as comprehended by him. He realizes that the nature of his own ātman or the Self is pure consciousness, completely separate and different from the body-mind complex.
- Aṣṭāṅgayoga means the yoga prescribed by Patañjali, consisting of eight graded steps.
- Prasthānatraya are the Upaniṣads, the Brahmasutras and the Bhagavadgitā.
- Arcīrādimārga means path of light.
- Brahmaloka means the world of Brahmā, the creator.
- Jivanmukta means one who is liberated even while living.
- Real means the ātman, the soul
- Unreal means the evanescent world.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore