Q: What is meant by mokSha as a puruShArtha? (The answer should incorporate a definition of mokSha.)
Responses from Ted, Venkat, Ramesam, Martin, Shuka and Dennis
A (Ted): Moksha literally means, “liberation.” It indicates freedom from dependence on objects (i.e., anything perceivable, conceivable, or in any way experienceable) for happiness, contentment, or a sense of wholeness and completeness. And since it is our vain pursuit of permanent fulfillment through impermanent objects that is the cause of suffering, moksha also implies freedom from all suffering.
Moksha is the essential purushartha (i.e. goal or end) that we are seeking, though in most cases not consciously, through our pursuit of artha (security), kama (pleasure), and dharma (virtue). If we analyze the objects we chase in any of these categories, we invariably find that it is not actually the object itself that we want, but rather the sense of peace and/or happiness that it seemingly provides us. Admittedly, the objects we seek to obtain in these areas are either necessary for our survival or enhance our enjoyment of life, but all are limited. And no limited object can provide limitless fulfillment. Thus, if we depend on these objects for our happiness, we doom ourselves to inevitable disappointment and certain suffering.
Once we fully assimilate the fact that boundless happiness and freedom is what we are seeking through our each and every action in each and every moment of our entire life and, furthermore, that our mind will not rest until we have obtained it, then we realize that moksha is a choiceless choice. In other words, there is no alternative to the pursuit of moksha. And since the limitless fullness and permanent happiness we seek is not available through objects, there is only one other avenue of exploration—our own self.
Scripture tells us that we are the source of that which we seek, that our very nature is sat-chit-ananda atma (i.e., limitless conscious existence, which by definition is moksha), and that our only problem is that we do not know our true identity as the boundless awareness in which all objects, including the apparent individual person we seem to be, appear. Once we are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that moksha, the limitless fullness that is our own essential nature, is the true goal of all our endeavors and, moreover, we are ready to make it the primary focus of our life, then we have what is called purushartha nishchaya, clarity concerning our ultimate end. Only then can the pursuit of moksha through self-inquiry begin.
A (Venkat): Moksha means liberation. Liberation from the concept that “I” am separate from the world. And understanding that I am not all that is perceived (world / body / mind / thoughts / feelings), but am the perceiving of all these.
A purusharta is a goal of human life, traditionally defined as fourfold – artha (wealth), kama (pleasure), dharma (righteousness) and moksha. Paradoxically then, moksha means that the goal is to no longer be erroneously identified with a human life; and if that is the fact, then there can no longer be any goal, since there never was anyone to achieve anything.
So moksha is the negation of all concepts, all purusharthas. Stunningly beautiful in its simplicity, isn’t it?
Here is what J Krishnamurti had to say about the purpose of life:
“There are many people who will give you the purpose of life; they will tell you what the sacred books say. Clever people will go on inventing what the purpose of life is. . . When I am confused, I ask you this question, “What is the purpose of life?” because I hope that through this confusion, I shall find an answer. How can I find a true answer when I am confused? If I am confused, I can only receive an answer that is also confused. If my mind is confused, if my mind is disturbed, if my mind is not beautiful, quiet, whatever answer I receive will be through this screen of confusion, anxiety, and fear; therefore, the answer will be perverted. So, what is important is not to ask, “What is the purpose of life, of existence?” but to clear the confusion that is within you. . . then you will find what the purpose of life is; you will not have to ask, you will not have to look for it; all that you have to do is to be free from those causes which bring about confusion.”
A (Ramesam): As separate individuals with our own body-minds, we take birth, live and die in a world that is ever in flux. In fact, ‘change’ is the most easily observable characteristic of the world. A change can happen only when space, time and causation are present. Hence space, time and causation are the prerequisites for change. The only way we maintain our relationship with the other in this spatially and temporally variable world, where the only thing that is constant is change, is through transaction. And all transactions obviously involve actions. [Even if I just stand gazing at a tree, it is an action of ‘seeing’ the other (the tree) by me (the separate individual).]
All actions in turn have consequences. The consequences may be favourable or unfavourable to ‘me.’ If the consequences turn out to be favourable, I am happy. If they don’t, I am miserable.
How am I to make sure that the results of actions will always be good and advantageous to me?
The pUrvamImAnskAra-s (the promoters of sacrificial and other types of Vedic rituals (yajna-s), the first parts of Vedas) came up with a list of righteous actions so that one can enjoy good consequences and avoid the bad ones. The righteous actions yield good results either in the current birth or the next. They postulated a Heaven (or Hell) where the unseen (adRRiShta) consequences will be enjoyed (experienced) on a long term basis.
The righteous actions are thus a means to an end. What should be the end goal that gives happiness to a man? They fixed three puruShArtha-s (goals) for a man to be pursued in the course of his/her life for deriving happiness. Those three involve a separate ‘me’ interacting with the ‘other(s).’ The three identified puruShArtha-s are dharma, artha, and kAma (righteous practice, wealth, and desire).
But the Vedantins said that earning puNya (merit) and going to Heaven will not guarantee incessant happiness. For, any merit earned will get exhausted one day or other and you are forced to get back to work again. And, mind you, you are also not allowed to add puNya to your credit by doing meritorious work in the Heaven while at the same time enjoying the comforts within it. You have, therefore, to come back to the earth, face all the music, develop discretion and then take righteous actions. Obviously not a very satisfactory solution.
So the upanishadkAr-s (the promoters of Upanishads, the later part of Vedas) said that the true pursuit for a human being should be ‘mokSha.’ The word mokSha is derived from the Sanskrit root muc to be free. Free from what? Free from samsAra — the entire rigmarole of being born, growing up, living and finally dying within the time-space causational world of actions. mokSha got added as the fourth pursuit for the humans. What do you have to do for that? Nothing!
For, they discovered that the birth-death cycle, happiness-misery, actions etc. etc. are all nothing but a figment of imagination (bhrAnti), not a real thing. So they said “mana eva manushhyANAM kAraNaM bandhamokShayoH (mind is the reason for bondage or freedom for the human beings).” It is only an imagination in your mind that you are a separate individual. Because of that false idea that you are a separate individual, you go through the suffering of birth-death cycles (samsAra). Just drop that imagination. Then you are not bound to samsAra. You are free. Actually, the real ‘I’ in you (not the imagined separate ‘me’) is ever free, beyond happiness-unhappiness, birth-death and even prior to space, time and causation.
Thus mokSha is the true puruShArtha to be pursued – it is not an action to be done through transaction or interaction. It is just to be what you truly are (before you began the bhrAnti of separation).
For further clarity on mokSha please read here: https://www.advaita-vision.org/what-is-moksha-and-what-does-science-say/
For scriptural references, read this excellent post by Shri Sunder Hattangadi: http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/definitions/mokSha.htm
A (Martin): Moksha is jnana. ‘One who knows Brahman becomes Brahman’ (Mundaka Upanishad 3.2.9).
The following is excerpted from ‘The Celibacy project’ – 2010 http://www.nondualitymagazine.org/nonduality_magazine.celibacyproject.page.htm
NDM: Are you saying that post moksha, there is no more free will, or a sense of free volition, to overcome these inclinations?
Alberto Martin: I said [“there are things which we are not able to avoid doing, or, let’s say, are being inclined to do”] ‘being inclined to do’, not ‘determined to do’. There is bindingness, there is inclination (samskara or vasana), and there is freedom. In a way, everything is bound to happen – there is no free will; individual destinies (life stories) are what they are and were destined to be; this is the play of life, of samsara, where each person (‘persona’=mask) has a role to play, and one can either resist it or accept it willingly, knowing that it is a role. That is because samsara is also nirvana. If I know that I am not the role, but the witness behind the mask, then I, who am witness-consciousness, am free. Witness-consciousness is not different from pure consciousness; in fact they are the same, as taught by Advaita Vedanta. The tendencies (vasanas) are there, but under the light of consciousness they become inert. This understanding is called paramarthika in Advaita; the first one, which gives some reality to the vasanas, is called vyavaharika, which is empirical or conventional.
‘Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains’, said, or wrote, Jean-Jacques Rousseau – “out of control”, as you say. How can it be so except that (unlike with Rousseau’s meaning and intention) ‘he’ sees himself as occupying a restricted space, the tiny space of the ego? Ignorantly, but willingly – and this is the tragedy – he has not seen his true dimension or stature, and as a result his perspective has become extremely narrow. The controlling factor (‘controlling’ in a positive, not a negative sense) is not other than the light of consciousness which, inexplicably, has been obscured since birth by a kind of veil. This veil is (congenital) ignorance. The gods have played a bad trick on men (was it because Prometheus’ act – stealing the ‘fire’ from them?). Fallen man’s will power, unless it is illumined by reason=intelligence=light of consciousness, amounts to nothing.
A (Shuka): Mokṣa is “seeing oneself as secure and pleased in oneself, just as one is”.
This is what really one seeks in every pursuit, be it artha (security), kāma (pleasures) or dharma (pleasure arising from harmony, social service etc.). So, effectively, everyone seeks mokṣa alone. But, one comes up short due to innate deficiencies of artha, kāma and dharma puruṣārthas, for they all suffer from three innate defects of temporary satisfaction, of the nature of creating bondage (in that what was a luxury becomes a necessity), and having to undergo pain in attaining the goals.
In the process of seeing mokṣa puruṣārtha, as defined above, one comes across śāstra, which reveals that one’s Self is ekam sat, the only reality that there is (thus secure, since there is no second), and ānanda-svarūpa, by its very nature pleased. Thus, one ātma-jñānam, self-knowledge, one gains mokṣa.
Other definitions of mokṣa such as freedom from limitations, suffering, bondage etc cannot be experientially confirmed, which defect the above definition does not suffer from.
A (Dennis): Someone who has come to the realization that he/she is never going to find happiness through worldly pursuits of any kind – be it objects, other people, status or whatever – may eventually realize that what is really wanted is freedom from the presumed bondage to all of those things. ‘Gaining’ mokSha is acquiring the certain knowledge that one is already free of those things, since they are all mithyA and who-one-really-is is the unlimited, perfect, ever-complete, non-dual reality.