A forced marriage binds her to a life of mental imprisonment, while a never-ending loan hangs over his head like a noose. A dead-end job dries up her creative juices, while an expensive education yields him little to nothing in his career. She wishes her life could be perfect, while he wishes he could just evaporate into thin air.
Many of us relate to such circumstances, don’t we? Most of us want problem-free lives. When we fail to accomplish this ideal, we’d rather leave the earth for good, and disappear into the blissful white light of nothingness. Let’s face it. Life is hard. After all, it kills us all in the end. Perhaps, a morbid thought like this compelled philosophers to contemplate moksha–that much longed for liberation from our worldly lives and that enlightenment which can elevate our souls.
But do we really want liberation? Do we truly want an end to our worldly lives? I, for one, enjoy the creaturely pleasures life has to offer. I crib about my problems, yet I wouldn’t dream of leaving my loved ones, the comfort of my home, or the security of my job. We don’t want to detach ourselves completely from the world, yet we don’t want to deal with the hardships that are part of living in it. Not unless we’re looking forward to lead our lives as ascetics! But guess what. Enlightenment needn’t be about liberation from worldly life.
“Permanence is an illusion, a part of our ignorance. Everything in this material world is relative. This awareness is the first step in setting us on our path to moksha. It is this freedom from ignorance, rather than relief from mortal life, that liberates us.”
There are two common and rather broad explanations of enlightenment. One of them states moksha or enlightenment is liberation from worldly life and can be achieved only after death. Another states that moksha can be attained within one’s lifetime, through practical and principled actions. Increasingly, the latter belief is gaining popularity.
Many of us don’t think we’re capable of attaining enlightenment. We are probably resigned to believing we’ll be relieved of life’s troubles only in death. But what if we could liberate ourselves by understanding the true nature of life. Giridhara Shastry is an Advaita practitioner. According to him, moksha can only be achieved when we fully understand the fleeting nature of this existence. He explains, “Permanence is an illusion, a part of our ignorance. Everything in this material world is relative. This awareness is the first step in setting us on our path to moksha. It is this freedom from ignorance, rather than relief from mortal life, that liberates us.”
Shastry’s right, of course. We say we “own” a home or have a “stable” job. We tell ourselves these things are permanent, and with time, we start believing them to be true. It’s hard to accept we could lose our homes or jobs owing to circumstances beyond control. This fear of accepting the reality is probably how we develop such ignorance. Perhaps, if we can come to terms with life’s unpredictable nature, we might find enlightenment.
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Swami Satchidananda once said: “The cause of bandha and moksha (bondage and liberation) is our own minds. If we think we are bound, we are bound. If we think we are liberated, we are liberated. It is only when we transcend the mind that we are free from all these troubles.” After all, our thoughts only have as much strength as we choose to give them.
“If I love being a ‘writer’ more than I love writing itself, I’d probably set myself up for disappointments. Perhaps, the more I shed the ‘writer’ and elevate the ‘writing’ in me, the sooner I can find my enlightenment.”
Life coach and Krishna Consciousness practitioner Braj Mohan Das suggests that a healthy detachment can take us a step further towards moksha. He says, “The Upanishads define moksha as Muktir hitvanyatha-rupam swaroopena vyavasthitih:. It means ‘to let go of the several identities we add on, and identify our original selves’.” Das believes that if we can keep our state of happiness separate from the labels and the results of the activities we do, then, we can attain that blissful state within this very lifetime.
Das’ idea of moksha seems rather practical and grounded in reality. We’ve heard the advice before: Learn to enjoy the journey rather than the destination. If I love being a ‘writer’ more than I love writing itself, I’d probably set myself up for disappointments. Perhaps, the more I shed the ‘writer’ and elevate the ‘writing’ in me, the sooner I can find my enlightenment.
No matter what we do, we seek happiness. Kailash Advani, a practising Buddhist, believes enlightenment or Buddhahood is all about eternal happiness. He says, “Through our Buddhist practice, we elevate our life-condition on a daily basis, in an attempt to achieve the life-state of Buddha. To us, that is enlightenment or absolute happiness, where nothing can interfere with our life-condition.”
Ultimately, it’s freedom from the dark confines of the mind that we seek. Through ridding it of ignorant perceptions and false identities, we can attempt to liberate our souls and find that eternal happiness. No matter what we call it–’bliss’, ‘moksha’, ‘Buddhahood’–the path to enlightenment is, in the end, a journey to find peace while living life’s ups and downs.