Erroneous Goals

J:  I was thinking about the goal of Vedanta and how the desire for moksha appears erroneous since the fervent desire for freedom can become binding. The goal of knowledge appears to be the way since once we have assimilated knowledge we know we are free, because we have never been not free. This desire for knowledge seem better than some desire to be free.

V:  Hi J.  Here’s the short answer: 

I understand what you’re saying and in essence you’re correct insofar as there’s no need to desire freedom when you already are, and always have been, free.  So if it’s helpful for you to think of the goal of Vedanta as knowledge rather than freedom, go for it.  I don’t see any harm in that.  If that’s a sufficient answer for you, then read no further. 

But just in case…here’s my picky, possibly pedantic answer:         

Really, you can’t separate moksha and knowledge—specifically, self-knowledge—because in Vedanta the two words are synonymous.  While moksha does technically mean “freedom,” that freedom isn’t something different from self-knowledge because self-knowledge is the clear understanding, “I am free.”  Like you said, it’s true that it doesn’t make sense to have freedom be your goal when you’re already free, but that only applies after you get the knowledge that you’re already free.  Before that, freedom is a perfectly sensible goal, assuming it’s sensible to you.  If not, call the goal knowledge.  It doesn’t really matter. 

To be a real stickler—as crotchety Vedantins are prone to do—following your logic regarding freedom as a goal, I could argue that the goal of knowledge is also erroneous because at the dawn of self-knowledge you see that you weren’t ignorant in the first place.  Nor have you attained knowledge because knowing and knowledge are seen to be properties of the mind alone.  And as the non-dual, ever-free brahman you are not the knowing mind.  To illustrate, here is a verse from the Astavakra Samhita, one that I’ve been looking for an excuse to quote.  So thank you for that.    

2-15:  Knowledge, knower and the knowable—these three do not actually exist.  They merely appear in me, the stainless self, through ignorance.  

Also, I could say that the desire for freedom can be just as binding as the desire for knowledge.  But to repeat, whether you want to make moksha your goal or knowledge your goal, either way is fine.  You’ll end up at the same destination regardless.  I only added the second answer in case my first answer happened to cause another doubt.  And if I didn’t this would’ve been a really short satsang 🙂  Thanks for bearing with me.      

J: Loved the explanation you gave directly above (the crotchety Vedantic one).  

This whole process reminds me of an expedition into the wilderness.  First there is the journey by air to your first destination, then the over land journey in a convoy of 4×4’s.  Then transfer to river boats, before the final leg on foot.  On reaching the destination there is just the Self.

V:  I think that’s a good metaphor.  The different modes of transportation (plane, automobile, boat) are a necessary means to get to where you’re going, but once you’re there, they become irrelevant.  Similarly, the teaching method of Vedanta is a means to understand what you really are.  Once that’s known, the teaching itself, and whatever terminology or concepts it uses (like freedom, knowledge, etc.) become irrelevant.  They’re just tools–or more specifically, pointers–and once the job is ‘done’ there is no need for them anymore.  But as I said, we can only argue that they are unnecessary after they actually become unnecessary. Before that, they do have relative value, same as a car has relative value before you get to where you’re going. 

All my best – Vishnudeva