Moksha: Liberation/Salvation

Most Hindu traditions consider moksha the ultimate goal of life.The other three goals (see Scripture and Guru) are considered temporary but necessary stepping-stones towards eternal liberation.

The main differences of opinion centre on the precise nature of moksha. Although practically all schools consider it a state of unity with God, the nature of such unity is contested. The advaita traditions say that moksha entails annihilation of the soul’s false sense of individuality and realisation of its complete non-difference from God. The dualistic traditions claim that God remains ever distinct from the individual soul. Union in this case refers to a commonality of purpose and realisation of one’s spiritual nature (brahman) through surrender and service to the Supreme Brahman (God).

Key Points

  • For most Hindus, moksha is the highest goal.
  • Moksha means release from samsara.
  • Moksha is achieved through union with God.
  • Such union is understood in different ways, primarily two:
    • Complete union of identity
    • Unity of purpose

Scriptural Passages

“O best amongst men (Arjuna), the person who is not disturbed by happi­ness and distress, and is steady in both, is certainly eligible for liberation.”

Bhagavad Gita 2.15

Useful Analogy 1

The drop of water in the ocean

The soul is compared to a drop of water and liberation to its merging into the vast ocean which represents the Supreme Soul (God).

According to the advaita schools, the soul and God are equal in every respect, and liberation entails realisation of one’s Godhood. Thus, one’s mistaken sense of individuality is dissolved, and one merges into the all-pervading Supreme.

Useful Analogy 2

The green parrot in the green tree

The individual soul is compared to a green bird that enters a green tree (God). It appears to have “merged”, but retains its separate identity.

  • The personalistic schools of thought maintain that the soul and God are eternally distinct and that any “merging” is only apparent. “Oneness” in this case refers to:
    • unity of purpose through loving service
    • realisation of one’s nature as brahman (godly) but maintenance of one’s spiritual individuality.
  • Liberation involves entering God’s abode, though many schools teach that those souls who have become free from material contamination are already liberated, even before leaving the material body

Related Practices

Many religious practices and rites of passage are aimed at liberation. Particularly relevant are those designed to remove our attachment to this world and its transient pleasures. Renunciation, especially in old age, is an important feature of Hinduism. Without conquering qualities such as lust, anger and greed, and without control of the mind and senses, there is no question of being liberated from the entanglement of the material world.

Related Values/Issues

  • Happiness – where is it to be found?
  • Salvation – by grace or personal endeavour?
  • Freedom – personal, social, political?

Personal Reflection

  • Do you ever feel like dropping everything and making a clean break? Will it work, or will you again feel entangled? Would it be responsible? On the other hand, can claims of being responsible be excuses for not moving forward? Why do we sometimes remain attached to situations that give us pain?
  • Do you ever feel that you are not really free, even when you are apparently enjoying yourself? What is the nature of freedom?

Common Misunderstandings

Hindus believe that liberation is entirely dependent on personal spiritual endeavour
Hindus have debated extensively the “grace versus works” polemic and developed many sophisticated theologies acknowledging the role of God’s grace. At the same time, they don’t, on the whole, totally exclude the role of personal endeavour.

Hindus consider liberation to be the highest good
Many do, but not all. For example, some Vaishnavas consider the desire for liberation to be selfish and advocate a “fifth goal of life”. This they describe as prema (love of God) or nitya-lila (entrance into the eternal pastimes of the Lord)

Hinduism is world denying
Although Hinduism tends to be ultimately “world renouncing”, it places much emphasis on accepting our temporal needs and meeting them in a dignified fashion, rather than denying them.

Scriptural Passages

“Though engaged in all kinds of activities, My pure devotee, under My protection, reaches the eternal and imperishable abode by My grace.”

Bhagavad-gita 18.56

“Perfection is characterised by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless spiritual happiness, realised through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being so situated, one is never shaken even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all mis­eries arising from material contact.”

Bhagavad-gita 6.20–23

see also: Bhagavad-gita 4.9, 5.19, 5.24, 8.05

Meaning and Purpose

  • What is the purpose of life?
  • What is the goal of religion?