What is moksha?

Q: What is moksha and how can this state be described? 

A:  From the perspective of Advaita Vedanta, moksha is the direct realization of the fact that 1) You and the universe/God are non-separate from one another and 2) You and the universe/God are fundamentally identical as brahman, the one true reality. To use a common Vedanta metaphor, this realization is like a wave first understanding that it is non-separate from the ocean and then realizing that it is fundamentally identical with the ocean as water.  Here, the wave represents you, the ocean is the universe/God and water is brahman.   

So moksha is realizing “I am brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanisad 1.4.10). Since brahman is “defined” for instance, as “that which has no sin, no decrepitude, no death, no sorrow, no hunger, no thirst…” (Chandogya Upanisad 8.7.1) then realizing that you are—and always have been—brahman means that YOU are free from birth, death and suffering. This is moksha i.e. freedom (moksha literally means “liberation” or “freedom” in Sanskrit) and it is synonymous with enlightenment (self-knowledge) in Advaita Vedanta.

Enlightenment in this sense refers solely to the direct realization that you are the ever-free brahman.  Since you are brahman and always have been brahman, this is just the recognition of an already existent fact, not the attainment of a particular state.  By extension, this also means enlightenment is not becoming brahman or merging into brahman.  Why? Because you can’t become or merge into the brahman you already are, similar to the way that water can’t become or merge into the water it already is.  You can only recognize that you already are brahman and that you’re already free.      

All my best – Vishnudeva

Have A Question?

If the idea of the self as consciousness doesn’t help you, don’t use it

THE STATEMENT

Jenny: It is clear we are not different from the totality of existence but it is not clear that all of existence is consciousness.  I can see how my personal ‘world’ (my experience) is only consciousness but the entire universe being consciousness can only be speculation.  I’m not relating to the idea of the world being consciousness.

THE RESPONSE

Vishnudeva: That’s okay.  I could launch into a long winded justification for the idea that the universe is consciousness but truly, if you don’t relate to the idea of the universe being consciousness then set it aside and focus on the existence aspect instead.  This is just fine because Vedanta is not trying to prove that the universe is consciousness (or even existence).  Rather, it simply employs those concepts to point to the fact that the true nature of the universe is non-dual and not limited by the appearance of objects.  And further, that the true nature of the universe is identical with your true nature, that YOU are non-dual and unaffected by the appearance of objects.  Getting to that understanding is what is important, not how you get there.     

So always keep in mind that the teaching method of Vedanta is to temporarily superimpose concepts onto reality that point to the truth.  The superimposed concepts are not the truth they point to, which means they are relative and subject to later negation*Once the concept has served its purpose, you disregard it in the same way that you disregard a finger after it has pointed to a star you were searching for in the sky.  This means the concepts themselves are not what is important so you can use whichever ones make the most sense to you.  I once had a teacher who said (I’m paraphrasing) that you don’t need all of Vedanta’s many teachings to understand who you really are.  You just need the ones that address your particular doubts.  If the consciousness teaching isn’t helping you see that your nature is non-dual and ever-free then don’t worry about it right now and focus on the existence teaching.  You may never need the consciousness teaching or perhaps it will help you later.  For me, the consciousness teaching helped me at the initial stages but the existence teaching is the one that ‘sealed the deal.’  And in the end I gave up both teachings because my true nature is beyond all concepts, “that from which words and the mind turn back, unable to reach.” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2:4:1)   

All my best- Vishnudeva     

*The teaching method I’ve described is called adhyaropa apavada, superimposition and negation.  In his commentary on Bhagavad Gita 13:12, Shankara references it as the method of teaching known to those versed in the tradition.       

 

 

The Process of Inquiry

If you have questions about this satsang, contact me HERE. 

THE QUESTION

Can you please explain the process of self-inquiry?  I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. 

THE ANSWER

The process of self-inquiry was first enumerated by Yajnavalkya to his wife Maitreyi in the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad:

The self, my dear Maitreyi should be realized—should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon.  By the realization of the self, my dear, through hearing, reflection and meditation, all this is known.     BU II.iv.5 

 Later in the text, he repeats himself in a nearly identical verse:

The self, my dear Maitreyi should be realized—should be heard of, reflected on and meditated upon.  When the self, my dear, is realized by being heard of, reflected on and meditated upon, all this is known.     BU IV.v.6

 While Yajnavalkya makes it clear that steps of self-inquiry are hearing, reflecting and meditating, he doesn’t explain them.  For further details, let’s look at Shankara’s commentary on the previous verse, BU IV.v.6:

How is the self realized?  By being first heard of from the teacher and the scriptures, then reflected on, discussed through argument or reasoning—the hearing is from the scriptures (and the teachers) alone, the reflection through reasoning—and lastly meditated upon (lit. known), ascertained to be such and such and not otherwise.  What happens then?  All this (the mind, body and universe) is known to be nothing other than the self. 

Step One:  Listen to the scriptures being taught by a capable teacher.  The teacher is a must because there’s an underlying methodology to the scriptures that’s not obvious unless it’s pointed out to you.  Without understanding the methodology, the scriptures appear to be contradictory or even nonsensical.  If you don’t believe me, just pick up a copy of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and start reading. 

However, once you’ve been taught by a good teacher how to interpret the scriptures, you can then study them yourself.  The cool thing is that if your mind is properly prepared to understand what’s being taught, having the scriptures explained to you by a teacher is completely sufficient for removing ignorance regarding the true nature of your self.  If that happens, no independent study of the scriptures is required.  Granted, that’s the best case scenario, which is why the second step, reflecting on the teaching through reasoning, is often necessary.  But before moving on to the topic of reflection, let’s talk about the different ways to listen to the teaching.  It is, after all, the primary step.

The most obvious way to listen is to attend a class.  This option can be inspiring owing to the example of the teacher—assuming they live according to the teaching—and the company of other dedicated inquirers.  But to be clear, actually seeing the teacher or having fellowship with other students is by no means a mandatory prerequisite for self-knowledge, which is good because the live teaching of Vedanta isn’t widely available (at least outside of India).  Luckily, many teachers record their lectures and make them available to the public.  These lectures are easy to find online and the recordings are just as effective as being taught in person (having studied Vedanta both ways, I can attest to that).  Most of the time I actually prefer listening to a recording because I can rewind the parts I want to hear again and take notes.  Also, I’m able to more effectively control my surrounding environment, thereby reducing potential distractions.  However, if you’d still like to hear Vedanta live but you either can’t, or don’t want to physically attend the class, teachers such as Swamini Svatmavidyananda broadcast their teachings live on the internet.  As an added bonus, video recordings of the lectures are then made available afterwards for you to review.  It’s the best of both worlds (a link to Swamini Svatmavidyananda’s site is on the Links page).  

Despite the fact that the traditional way of listening to Vedanta is to literally hear a teacher giving a discourse, you can also expose yourself to the teaching through reading.  As I said, don’t simply go out and start reading the scriptures.  This won’t work.  Instead, find a book that is either an overview of Vedanta based on scripture, or find a translation of a scripture that includes a teacher’s commentary.  Good examples of Vedanta overviews based on scripture are Swami Dayananda’s Introduction to Vedanta or Ted Schmidt’s Self-Knowledge.  If you want a text that is both a scripture and a summary of Vedanta, Swami Dayananda’s Tattva Bodha is an excellent choice.  Here would be a great place to recommend my own Tattva Bodha commentary, but I’m currently in the process of revising it. 

Step Two:  Reflect on what you learned from the teacher and resolve your doubts through reasoning.  As I said above, the ideal situation is that you hear the teaching, understand it, and no further work is needed.  But usually doubts remain and reflection and reasoning are required to resolve them.  This can be done independently or if you need help, by asking the teacher or even one of your fellow inquirers.  Or doubts may simply be removed through further listening.    

Step Three:  The first two steps, listening and reflection, together form the means to gain self-knowledge—or more accurately, remove self-ignorance—and nothing else is required.  This begs the question that, if listening and reflection accomplish the primary goal of self-knowledge, what’s the purpose of the third step, meditation?

Here, it’s important to know that the word commonly translated as meditation in this text is nididhyasana in the original Sanskrit and nididhyasana is not necessarily a synonym to the meditation described in the Yoga Sutras (dhyana) or the meditation on the deities from other portions of the Vedic scriptures (upasana).  Similar to dhyana and upasana, nididhyasana is a form of concentration and contemplation.  However, unlike dhyana and upasana, whose respective aims are to stop the mind and contemplate deities, the goal of nididhyasana is to counteract emotionally disturbing thought patterns by assimilating the self-knowledge previously gained from listening to, and reflecting on, the scriptures.  This process of assimilation continues until it fully transforms the way you think about yourself, meaning until your thinking becomes completely harmonized with the implications of self-knowledge.    

Why is assimilation required to change your thinking if you already have self-knowledge?  Shouldn’t your thinking change automatically? No, because the mind is a creature of habit.  After a lifetime of thinking erroneous self-limiting thoughts, it takes a while for the mind to change its ways, even when it clearly understands that it is none other than the limitless self.  Here’s an illustration.  There is a homely adolescent girl, overweight, who wears awkward, thick glasses.  She is constantly teased and develops a negative, emotionally disturbing self-image, thinking herself to be inferior and unworthy.  However, as she grows up, she loses the weight and glasses and develops into a beautiful woman.  Despite the obvious fact that she is physically attractive and in the face of advances from potential suitors, owing to mental habits developed from childhood, she continues to view herself as undesirable and suffers needlessly. In other words, the knowledge of who she is—even though it is clear to see—and how she thinks about herself are not yet in alignment.  Only over time, through combatting negative untrue thoughts with positive true thoughts about who she really is, does she develop a healthy self-image.  (I’m not trying to say that being physically attractive is necessary for good self-esteem or that it determines someone’s worth.  This is just a metaphor). Similarly, once it is totally clear that you are the self and that by extension, you are full, complete and always okay, it takes time and continued application of self-knowledge for the mind to accept that this is true and to develop new and healthy thought patterns in alignment with this truth.  

The scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita say that a healthy and balanced mental state is the mark of a truly enlightened person.  However, is mental stability the actual goal of Vedanta?  No, self-knowledge is the goal, and self-knowledge clearly shows that you are not your mind and that the mind never affects you.  This is true liberation because the mind can never be perfectly and perpetually balanced.  Regardless of that fact, self-knowledge only applies in the realm of our everyday transactional world.  So even if you know you aren’t the mind, the mind continues to exist.  Therefore, if self-knowledge merely shows you that you are not your mind, but your mind continues to be plagued by fear, anger, sadness and attachment, self-knowledge has little value.  What good is self-knowledge if you—at least the apparent you—continue being miserable? If could be argued that it doesn’t matter because you aren’t the apparent you, but as I said, self-knowledge only applies to the apparent you so it might as well help the apparent you be happier.  Otherwise, what is the point?     

SUMMARY:  The two steps required for self-knowledge are listening (in whatever form you choose) to a teacher explain the scriptures and then reflecting on what you’ve heard until it’s absolutely clear and doubt-free.  Then, to change the way you think about yourself and to get rid of negative emotions caused by your previous self-ignorance, you meditate on the self-knowledge you’ve gained from listening and reflection until it is fully assimilated into your everyday thought-process.  Technically, since the first two steps give you self-knowledge, and self-knowledge shows you that you aren’t your mind, the third step of assimilation is optional, assuming you like how it feels when your mind is angry, fearful etc. 

That’s the process of self-inquiry.  Now hop to it!  And let me know if you need any further assistance.       

All my best – Vishnudeva

QUESTIONS? Contact me.