The Path to Freedom: Mastering the Art of Total Perception
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 15: Clarifying the Idea of Moksha

We have been brought up in the tradition of thinking that everything should be somewhere, that all things should occupy some space. If something does not occupy some space, we cannot understand how it can be. Also, that which occupies space should exist sometime and somewhere. Only then do we say that a thing exists and attribute it with existence of a character of living. This is a very inveterate habit of the mind, and we cannot overcome this method of directing thought to objects. Whatever be our learning and capacity to understand things, we would boil down all our thoughts finally to the notion of something existing sometime and somewhere.

If we divest anything from its spatial location or temporal succession, then we would be nonplussed in our attempt at understanding what it can be. A thing cannot be, if it is not in space and time. It must be somewhere: here, there, up, down, right, left, etc. This is the natural way of the mind’s thinking process, and these mental conditions should be regarded as almost the natural condition of all humanity.

If we speak of moksha or liberation, there should be no surprise if man is confronted with a dilemma. There are simple people in the world who imagine liberation as a kind of travel of the soul to another locality in creation. Even today we believe liberation to be such a transport of our soul from Earth to heaven. It may be to the blissful region of God Himself, but we cannot gainsay that this is our notion behind our liberation of the spirit—moksha. This is also the reason why arguments come forward that liberation is a personal affair. It is either my liberation or your liberation because it is me, you or someone else who goes to the heavens or to God Himself. It is someone going somewhere, something going to some place. This is the way in which we try to understand and evaluate the condition of the freedom of the soul, the Spirit. Today it has gone to the extent of even being equated with a kind of personal achievement, to the exclusion of the good or the value entertained by the minds of other people in the world. We think in terms of business, commerce, exactly as shopkeepers think, in plus and minus; or sometimes we think like geographers, astronomers, economists, politicians and family men, etc. We cannot think in any other way.

But all these are children’s ways of thinking. When we try to probe deeper into the mysteries of the longings of our own soul, many a mistake is committed at the very outset. One error is that something exists somewhere and everything has to be somewhere. The other error is that the soul is a substance, a unit of space, a unit of being, an object hanging in space. It may be luminary, an effulgent body; it may be like a flame, it may be like the sun, it may be like anything conceivable, but it is subject to the law of location. The soul is located in the body. God is located in the heavens, and freedom is a condition which the soul experiences in a locality of creation. This is our concept of freedom, as we think of freedom in the world.

Now, on account of this prejudiced way of thinking, a habit into which we have been born, we find it hard to understand what it means when we say, “The soul reaches God,” or, “The spirit achieves freedom,” or, “One attains liberation.” All these proclamations of saints and sages regarding the freedom of the soul—moksha or salvation—look like declarations pertaining to the various conditions through which the soul has to pass: a being, such as the soul is, subjecting itself to a kind of experience by means of an action or an activity. To achieve moksha as a kind of activity of the soul would be our notion of the achievement of freedom. To reach God would be our general way of speech: the soul has attained God, reached the state of salvation.

By ‘reaching’, we generally mean a movement of something to some other spot. The soul has moved to the heavens. It has ascended to the realm of God. It has left the mortal coil. It has given up its connections with the Earth. These expressions convey the false notion that in freedom, in moksha or salvation, the soul, which is an object in space and now resides inside the body, leaves the Earth, gives up attachments to things outside it, and rises to an empyrean which is above. These expressions convey the idea of the soul being in space, its having to move in time, and its being subjected to the activity of self-transformation. This is the particular trend of thought of every person in the world.

Hence, the quality of mumukshutva, which is regarded as one of the prerequisites of salvation called sadhana-chatustaya, is least understood. It is the opinion among many teachers that mumukshutva is preeminent among all these qualities mentioned. It is the crown of viveka and vairagya. It is the fruit which is yielded by the tree of understanding and dispassion. It is the purpose towards which the mind is directed by the practice of satsampat, so all these equipments of viveka, vairagya and satsampat have to culminate in mumukshutva, the yearning for the salvation of the soul.

This yearning is difficult to understand and, therefore, it does not generally engender itself in the hearts of people. Whenever our notion of salvation is defective, there cannot be an ardour in our aspiration for moksha. Just to place ourselves in the proper context, we can individually analyse our own ideas of freedom. To us, freedom is always freedom from something. There must be something outside the factor of freedom, only then there can be freedom. And there should be a condition beyond freedom, so the condition of bondage is different from the condition of freedom. Another factor is that the freedom is of someone. There has to be someone who attains freedom, which is a condition of that someone—freedom from something which is outside the achievement of freedom. So many associations that are spatial and temporal are connected with the notion of freedom.

Because of this cherished idea in our mind of having to go to some place in a particular condition, even enthusiasts in the spiritual field linger on the path and their progress is retarded on account of the pull of that from which they have tried to extricate themselves.

A very great law of life is that we cannot free ourselves from what is real. There is no such thing as freedom from Reality. And if factors causing bondage are to be regarded as parts of Reality, there cannot be freedom from bondage. Either we are totally confused in our minds in trying to achieve freedom, or our idea of freedom itself needs a reorientation. “I have to free myself from the bondage of samsara,” is the first exclamation of a suffering soul, and this freedom from the clutches of samsara is regarded as moksha. “I will go to Vaikunta, Kailasa, Satyaloka, to the seven heavens. I shall reach another plane of existence where I shall enjoy life to my heart’s content, rid of all the botheration, turmoil and trivialities of this Earth.” Well, this aspiration of a soul to free itself from the clutches of Earthly suffering would be a wild-goose chase if the Earthly pull is a pull of what is real. Before trying to entertain an aspiration for moksha, we are asked to be vivekins first.

Viveka is that capacity to discriminate between what is real and what is unreal. Moksha is supposed to be the achievement of that realisation of what is real. Moksha is not different from experience of Reality. So moksha is identity of experience with Reality. Then bondage cannot be real; otherwise, Reality, including within itself bondage also, would make freedom from bondage an impossibility.

So from what are we going to be freed in our achievement of freedom? From what do we want freedom? From real things or unreal things?

We cannot be free from real things because the real can never perish. Nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ (Gita 2.16): There is no non-existence of what is really existent. We cannot abolish existence. We cannot abolish the existence of pain and suffering if it is true.

But what if it is untrue? Are we going to achieve freedom from that? Do we want freedom from what is not there? Or are we going to achieve freedom from what is there? Either way we will find that we are in a dilemma. We cannot achieve freedom from what is not there, because it has no meaning. We cannot achieve freedom from what is there, because it will catch us.

Then what is freedom? What is moksha? To subject this thought of moksha to a critical analysis and come to a definite conclusion regarding it is called viveka. At least, it is a part of viveka. When we are not clear about what moksha is, we cannot honestly ask for it or aspire for it.

How can we ask for a thing when we do not understand? When we do not know what we are asking for, how can we seek it? Therefore, mumukshutva is not the first thing to seek. Viveka is the first thing we have to seek, and it comes first in the list of the sadhana-chatustaya; mumukshutva comes last. Viveka is the seed, as it were, and mumukshutva is the fruit.

It is because of this difficulty in understanding the nature of salvation that many a spiritual seeker has been handicapped in his meditative processes. What obstructs our meditations is the Earthly pull, the pull of desire for that which exists, and not that which does not exist. The mind somehow has a subtle subconscious feeling that in its seeking for moksha, it has abandoned certain other things which were regarded as causes of suffering. But together with this secret feeling there is another, similar feeling which insists that what has been abandoned is a part of the Real. We have abandoned the desired objects of the world which have promised us satisfaction on account of the world presenting us with a certain amount of pain also. We have weighed the pains and the pleasures of the world on a balance and have realised that, in our particular case at least, the pain has outweighed pleasure. This is why we say, “I will go for moksha. I do not want to live in this world.” But if pleasure had outweighed pain, it would be a different matter altogether. It is doubtful that we would seek moksha.

Suppose it is all pleasure and no pain; would anyone ask for freedom from this world? The pinch of pain becomes the cause of raising our heads above the Earth. But this disproportion between pleasure and pain, wherein we have discovered that in most cases the pain is more intense and larger in proportion than the little pleasures of the world, which has now propelled us to the seeking of moksha, carries with it the subtle truth that something real is abandoned. The existence aspect of things presses itself forward. Even in the ugliness and pain of the Earth, there is this existence aspect.

While it is true that we do not want pain and suffering, we cannot say that we do not want existence, because it is a part of the indivisible nature of Reality. We are in a state of conflict when we seek liberation. There is a conflict of two forces, which on one side pulls us to the world of sense, and on the other side raises us up to the heaven which is supposed to be the ideal of our aspiration. The conflict is not going to cease as long as we make a distinction between samsara and moksha. If God is to be away from us, and to reach Him implies travelling a long distance from the Earth, our friends of the Earth are not going to leave us. They have a demand upon us; and the Earth which we have left for the sake of God, Whom we have visualised in a transcendent heaven, shall also pull us down. Like Trishanku, we will be hanging in the middle between the two pulls of the higher and the lower gravitations, and neither shall there be the pleasures of the Earth nor the bliss of God.

This predicament supervenes in the case of most seekers, sadhakas on the path. The outcome of all this finally happens to be coming down to the plane of the Earth, on account of the impossibility of the mind to rise to the transcendent heavens. The reason is that a proper balance sheet has not been struck with this world in which we are living, and we have left the world with a debit balance against us. This will not do. We owe a debt to the world in which we live, and unless there is a clear accounting of our relationship with the world, there cannot be a freedom from this world. We have to discharge all our debts in regard to this world. Only then can there be possibility of even a thought of freeing ourselves from it. We cannot free ourselves from a creditor. We can free ourselves from people only when they cease to be creditors, when we are not debtors. How can a debtor be free?

Wherever we run with these debts weighing heavily on our thoughts, we will find that we have no peace of mind, and these debts pull us. This debt to the world is of various kinds, the most subtle being the psychological relationships of our minds which connect us with the things of the world, which we are now trying to snap at one stroke on account of the larger proportion of pain that we have seen in the world.

These relationships that we have internally established with the objects of the world are our bonds that connect us with the world. We cannot snap them so easily because there is no weapon that can cut this thread. It is a thread which is made with a part of our own being. This is the reason why we cannot cut it. It is not made of a substance that is outside us. That thread that connects us with the objects of the world, with friends of the Earth, is made up of our own sum and substance, our own flesh and blood, our own very being. We are connected with the world of objects through the substance of our own being. This is the reason why we cannot disconnect ourselves from the world. To snap such relationships would be a failure. Then we come to the question again, “What is freedom?” How are we to free ourselves from the sources of pain, namely samsara?

The way would be to disconnect our being from its relationships with the world of objects. This is not an easy affair. To give an idea of what this blood relation with the objects of the world is, we can think of the relation between a mother and child, to give a gross instance. What is the thread which connects a mother with her child? It is not a rope that ties her to the child, but that tie is stronger than a rope, stronger than even an iron chain. A part of the mother is in the child. The mother sees herself in the child and the child in herself. The soul of the mother is enveloping the body of the child. No doubt there is a physical difference in location of substance between the mother and the child, but there is a psychological unity. This is what we call the bond of relation. So while the objects of sense may remain physically isolated from us, they are internally united to us. We carry the objects with us even if we go to moksha, and there would be no freedom then. If the mother has to go even a thousand miles, she carries her child in her mind. The relationship with the child has not gone. The child is always there. When the physical child is not the bondage, the bondage is the psychological child—the mental relationship which she has established with the physical body of the child.

So it is with all things in the world. The rule applies to each and every thing of this world. And what are we seeking freedom from? To come to the example again, what would be the freedom of the mother from the child? If the mother is to free herself from the child, what ought she to do? She need not go anywhere, because moving to any place is not separating her from her child. Her bond is internal, and she is there by the child even if she is a thousand miles away.

It is difficult to understand what psychological freedom can be. Even the best psychologists cannot define psychological freedom. Who is to define this? The mind alone has to give us the definition. The mind cannot define its own freedom because of its entanglements which are a part of its own nature. The nature of samsara and moksha is difficult to understand, and inasmuch as the internal bonds of samsara seem to pursue us even in our travels to regions of apparent moksha, it would look that we cannot have freedom at all; we would become runaways to moksha. But this is not moksha. To negative something is to posit it in another way altogether. To deny a thing is to affirm it in another manner. Negation becomes a determination, many a time. When we negate the world, we assert its existence. If it is not there, we do not deny it. To deny bondage would be to affirm bondage. To ask for freedom from the clutches of what exists would be to assert the reality of the causes of bondage, which would be the denial of the very possibility of freedom from bondage.

These are the enigmas in which we get entangled when we try to understand what freedom is, what moksha is, and what it means when we say that we have to attain God. These confusions are not jokes that we can simply laugh off. They will persist until our doom, and we will carry these confusions in our minds even to our next birth. Until the mind is clarified of its objective, it cannot achieve it and attempt to realise it.

Of all the items of the sadhana-chatustaya, mumukshutva is the most difficult to understand. While we may have some sort of notion of what discrimination between the Real and the unreal is, and consequently what detachment is, what the moral prerequisites are, we will fail when we try to know what moksha or liberation is. This is the last stroke that the aspiring mind deals in its march to perfection. Even when we discriminate between the Real and the unreal through viveka, we make a distinction between two aspects of Reality, like the purusha and prakriti of the Samkhya, for instance. To us, discrimination means differentiation—isolation of one thing from another. When we are asked to distinguish between the Real and the unreal, we imagine this distinction to be something like the distinction we make between one person and another person. This is our way of thinking. What is discrimination between the Real and the unreal? It is something like the discrimination between one thing and another thing. This is not discrimination in its true sense, because if we say, “He discriminates,” it means he becomes partial. It is not partiality that we show between the Real and the unreal. We determine the worth of the Real in its associations with what appears to be external to it. What do we mean by the Real? The ascertainment of the character of Reality is discrimination. The moment this is ascertained, the notion of moksha gets clarified. It is not from something that we ask freedom. It is not that some existent thing is catching us. If that is so, freedom would not be possible.

We are caught by certain misconceptions. We are under a delusion that things are placed in certain relations, while the true relation that obtains among them is altogether different. The viveka that we would have to cultivate is to understand in its proper position that which we ultimately regard as real. And if bondage is to be real, the real element in it has to be distinguished from it.

That the Real cannot bind is very important to remember. That which is Real can never be the source of bondage. And if bondage is real, try to isolate that Reality element from what you call bondage. That would be a kind of viveka exercise in regard to bondage, samsara.

What is samsara, bondage? It is something restricting our freedom, something exerting an influence negatively upon us—or to put it precisely, something doing something adversely in respect of us. Something is doing something; that seems to be our bondage. Now we have to discriminate the real element in this something doing something against us, and keep apart what element there is apart from Reality. This is a Herculean task. It is brain-racking, and we cannot understand what it means even with the furthest stretch of our imagination.

How can the real element in the factor of bondage be distinguished from the essence of bondage? It is the reality of bondage that torments us. If the bondage had been unreal, we would not have been bothered about it. We understand what it means. The bondage happens to be real: I am really caught. If I am unreally caught, I will not cry. If I am merely imagining that I am in bondage, well, I have no complaint. If I happen to be in a real bondage, this is why I say I want freedom. But the other aspect of it is that what is real cannot bind us. Then what is it that binds us? The real element in the factor causing bondage is something different from what really binds. It is not the existence of the Reality aspect that is the cause of bondage. There is something else which is mysteriously involved in what we call our state of bondage. It is a mystery. Our bondage seems to be a mystery ultimately. We do not know what is causing our bondage or suffering.

Some people try to explain the nature of moksha. There is an analogy which can bring us very near the truth of the reality of moksha: Suppose a king dreams that he is a poor man, a beggar. In dream he suffers from penury, starvation, and comes almost to the point of dying. What is to be done to appease the hunger of that poor man? He is thirsty, he is hungry, he is sick. Are we to bring medicine to free him from his illness? Are we to bring food for him to appease his hunger? Are we to bring drinks to quench his thirst? What is to be done when the king is dreaming that he is hungry, thirsty and sick? The answer cannot be that we have to fetch him food, water and medicine. That would be futile under the circumstances. We have only to shake him to wake him up, and we will find that he has no hunger, no thirst, and that he is free from all diseases. All his difficulties have gone by the mere act of waking him.

He may have had many problems apart from these three that I have mentioned. There can be umpteen problems in our dream condition. The Yoga Vasishtha has very beautiful stories of this nature—kings actually undergoing the suffering of beggars, and they needed absolutely no remedy. They needed only the panacea of the adjustment of their minds to facts.

We can use the illustration of dreams to understand the idea of moksha. In dream, all travel over distance may look like real travel. For example, may have a plane, for example, in dream. We were rich in dream, and travelled some ten thousand miles. That travel is a possibility and a reality in the state of dream, but though it appears to be a movement from one point of space to another point of space, there was no such activity at all. The person might have been sleeping on his bed; he has not got up from there, and yet he is flying many miles away in a plane. He has the pleasure of many such things without moving an inch from the bed.

We can undergo all the vicissitudes of life positively or negatively, as an emperor or as a beggar, on the bed in which we are sleeping, in a small room of our house. These vicissitudes of dream life, in their relation to our waking existence, can throw some light on the relation that perhaps obtains between our present state of existence and the moksha that we are seeking.

In this illustration of dream, just as to free ourselves of the dream poverties, etc., we need not fetch the valuables or the treasures of the dream world, we have only to be shaken up and awaken to a new state of consciousness, to be free from the bondage of samsara would not be to acquire something of samsara itself. To be a rich person would not be to gain gold and silver. It would be to awaken to a new order of existence, a new state of consciousness, a new state of reality – which we have to remember is not spatially distant from that which we have left earlier.

To again come to the illustration of dream, our waking condition is not spatially away from dream. We have not moved to a distant place when we have awakened from dream. We are in the same place. We have not moved an inch when we have come from dream to waking. So spatial conditions are not involved in waking from the dream world to the waking world. No movement of that kind was involved. This illustration throws light on the fact that freedom from samsara is not movement through space. The Vaikunta that we are speaking of, the Kailasa, the Satyaloka and so on, are as far from this hall where we are sitting now as our waking condition is from our dreaming world. How far is it? How much time is needed to reach it, and how far is Vaikunta from this world? As much time is needed to reach it as is needed to wake up from dream, and so distant is Vaikunta from this place as our waking world is from our dream world.

This is why great teachers have proclaimed the identity of samsara and moksha. In one sense, waking and dreaming are identical. They are in the same mind, same place, same person. The identity of all conditions and the interpenetratedness of all psychological situations is a difficult thing for the mind to understand. We are told that this is a world of relativity, which means to say that there is interpenetration of values, frequencies and vibrations. One thing pierces through another, like the wavelengths of a radio, for example. Radio stations broadcast news and music through different frequencies of energy. They are all interpenetrating, one touching the other, one colliding with the other, and yet one is not knowing the existence of the other.

So are the worlds interpenetrating, says the Yoga Vasishtha. Svarga is cutting though us here, in this very hall itself. Vaikunta and Kailasa are penetrating through the air of this room where we are seated and yet we cannot see them, just as one frequency of a broadcasting station cannot see another frequency of vibration. They are there, and yet we cannot see them. The receiving apparatus alone can distinguish them. This receiving apparatus is our mind. It can attune itself to Vaikunta or to Kailasa or to hell, as the case may be. Hell and heaven, samsara and moksha, all the realms of existence cross each other at one point and we can experience any condition at any place, at any time, provided the mind is attuned to it properly.

So what would be moksha? What is mumukshutva, the point that we are discussing? It is clear that moksha is not moving from one place to another place. It is not freeing oneself from something that is really there. If at all it is freedom from something, it is like freedom from the hunger and the penury of dream. When a person wakes up into the consciousness of being an emperor, he may be said to be free from what caused him bondage in dream. But from what was he freeing himself? We know it was not something that was really there that caused him bondage. There was nothing except a medley of thoughts, a mess of mind, a confusion of understanding which caused the dream.

It is difficult to explain all these things except by analogies. Nobody can explain logically or scientifically what God or moksha is. The best way of teaching, they say, is image, comparison, illustration, analogy; and this is the reason why the Yoga Vasishtha was written, knowing well that there was no other way of teaching these profound truths.

Sometimes stories, illustrations and comparisons convey the truth better than scientific demonstrations and logical propositions, because the mind cannot grasp these profundities. By the comparison we have made between waking and dream, we seem to have come to the point of understanding what God and moksha can be. Just as freedom from the sufferings of samsara of dream means not a spatial isolation of consciousness or a temporal movement from one place to another place but a readjustment of consciousness, so also waking is immanent in the dream consciousness though it is not palpable or tangible in the dream condition.

Likewise, God is supposed to be immanent in this world. He is Antarayamin. He is not in the seventh heaven, or far from us. Just as the waking state can be said to be hiddenly present in the dream condition—hidden in the sense that without it, dream would not be possible—the world cannot be, if God is not. In this sense of the immanence of the waking consciousness in the dream distractions, God may be said to be immanent in the world. He is present here, just under our very nose. But in the same sense as waking may be said to be transcendent to dream, we cannot see waking in dream. For all practical purposes, it is removed from the dream condition. Likewise, God is transcendent to this world.

We cannot even imagine that there is a waking condition while we are drowned in the sorrow of dream; likewise, when we are in this world of samsara, we can never imagine that there can be a God. He is transcendent; yet He is here, He is immanent, just as the waking stuff is hidden, secretly pervading the very fibres of dream experiences.

These analogies throw a flood of light on the complexity of the relation between samsara and moksha. What it is that we are seeking when we ask for moksha? What is salvation? It is entry into the world of truths. When we speak of God-realisation, we do not speak of moving away from this world, running away from this Earth, escaping, as people think, but entering into a flood of those real values that constitute any meaning in this world. What value can there be in any object of dream but that which is in waking life? When we transcend dream into waking, we deny not anything that is substantial or real. We do not run away from anything. We enter into the true order of things. We attain the freedom of consciousness which is liberation, moksha. Therefore, it is something like waking from the sufferings of dream, which does not involve spatial movement or temporal succession, which does not involve avoiding something that is good or pleasant. So nobody need be worried that going to God means abandoning all the pleasures of the world.

Many people do not want to practise sadhana or think of reaching God for fear that the pleasures of the world would be left out here. What about all the good mangoes and the kheer that we have in the world? Leaving everything here, we go there? A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Here we have a bird in hand and there we do not know what we may get. There we are supposed to be given nothing. They say in the state of God, we want nothing and will get nothing; we will simply be sitting, mummy-like. Well, when compared to the gorgeous beauties and the tempting attractions and tastes of this world, that state where we would want nothing cannot attract us. But that is a very poor definition of moksha.

Coming again to the illustration of dream and waking, to give you an idea of what God is, would you like to be an emperor in dream, for many years? Or would you like to be a simpleton in waking life rather than a rich man in the dream world? What is the good of ruling a dream world for years and years? Let me be a simpleton in waking life rather than a wonderful man in dream.

So are the riches, the temptations and the values that we see in this world. They would be worth nothing when compared to the higher reality of God, who is not far from us, again to remind you of this fact. It is not reaching something far in space; it is something hidden, immanent, here itself. So to attain moksha would be to enter into the world of Reality. We call it God-realisation, here and now—not tomorrow and at some other place. It is not reaching something, but being everything. This is the distinction between the true meaning of moksha and the common notion of it.

There is a world of difference between reaching something and becoming everything. In becoming everything, we do not abandon anything. We become the Self of all, as God Himself is. So the Atmatva of the universe is the state of moksha. We become the Self of things, the very being of all that is created. We become the Atman of all humanity, for the matter of that. And there is no question of abandoning or gaining. Neither raga nor dvesha can be there. It is, as the Mundaka Upanishad very beautifully says, te sarvagaṁ sarvataḥ prāpya dhīrā yuktātmānas sarvam evāviśanti (Mundaka 3.2.5): They attain everything, everywhere, at all places, in every manner. This is moksha, and the thought concerning moksha should be clarified before we approach a Guru for being initiated into the secrets of yoga.