The importance of being earnest

Mumuksutva, the fourth of the fourfold means of moksha, is defined as the earnest desire for liberation.  In Vivekachudamani, Sankara says of it:

30: “It is only in the case of one who is determined in his detachment and yearns for liberation that sama [calmness of mind] etc become meaningful and fruitful”

And of vairagya and sama he further says:

21: “Vairagya (detachment) is revulsion from all things seen, heard, etc from all transient objects of enjoyment, beginning with the body and up to Brahman”

22: “Detaching the mind from manifold sense-pleasures again and again, perceiving their pernicious character, resting it permanently on one’s objective is said to be sama.”

So this earnest desire is critical.  But life without an ego can seem to be pretty bleak, if we look at it honestly.  We are told that a jnani views everything – including family and friends – with total dispassion. In Uddhava Gita, Krishna says:

2.52: “One should not cherish too much affection or attachment for anyone. If one does so, one is smitten with affliction”

3.2: “Whether food be delicious or insipid, sumptuous or scanty, the sage who lives a python’s life should take just what comes of itself, without exerting for it.”

3.3: “Whether he has an abundance of enjoyable things or he has none, the sage who has set his heart upon the Lord, neither overflows nor shrinks, like the ocean on account of the waters of the rivers.”

3.8: “The foolish man who, with his vision blinded, is tempted by such illusive creations as women, gold, ornaments, apparel and the like, considering them as objects of enjoyment, is destroyed like the moth”

3.11: “The sage should not store alms for the evening or the next day; either the hands or the stomach should be the receptacle; he should not be a hoarder like the bee”

4.14: “The sage should wander alone, be homeless, ever alert, and resorting to caves, he should not betray his real worth by his actions, and be without companions and reticent of speech”

In summary then, a jnani sees no reason to act, and if he does so act, his actions are of the nature of nishkama karma – desireless actions without any expectation of personal fruits.

However, this goes against everything we have been brought up to believe.  That we should have goals in life, we should achieve success in our careers, family life, wealth etc. And how can we – our egos – live life simply, “satisfied with what comes to him by chance” as the Bhagavad Gita (4.22) puts it?

So, the death of the ego – like death itself – is a fundamentally fearful idea.  Why would we want to pursue such an idea?  Well, Vedanta also carries beautiful, uplifting eulogies to the jnani, the man of wisdom.  From Ashtavakra Gita a selection of such noble verses:

“If you detach yourself from the body and abide in Consciousness, you will at once become happy, peaceful and free from bondage.”

“Liberation is attained when the mind does not desire or grieve, or reject or accept, or feel happy or angry.”

“You are not the body, nor is the body yours; you are not the doer nor the enjoyer. You are Consciousness itself, the eternal Witness, and free. Go about happily.”

“There is no attachment or aversion in one for whom the ocean of the world has dried up. His look is vacant [no inner motive], his action purposeless, and his senses inoperative [sense objects do not leave any impressions on his mind].”

“The liberated one is always found abiding in the Self and is pure [unattached to any world object] in heart; he lives freed from all desires, under all conditions.”

“The liberated one neither abhors the objects of the senses nor craves for them. Ever with a detached mind he experiences them as they come.”

“Praised, the wise one does not feel pleased; and blamed, he does not feel annoyed. He neither rejoices in life, nor fears death.”

And from the Bhagavad Gita:

12.15: “He by whom the world is not afflicted and who is not afflicted by the world, who is free from pleasure, anger, fear and anxiety – he is dear to Me”

Who could not but be inspired by a life lived like this?

Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi was one whose life was lived like this – in correspondence to all the verses above.  He narrates that his realisation arose from a death experience in his teens: on the death of a relative, he experienced a sudden intense fear of death.  Rather than running away from it and distract himself, he faced it and scrutinised it, to investigate what is it that dies.  He concluded that it was his body-mind that dies, but his Self, awareness was ever-unchanging.  From that moment he lived liberated. He composed Arunachala Akshara Manamalai, a love poem to his guru-mountain, which extolled the greatness of the advaita wisdom that had been bestowed on him. In verse 8 he says:

“Compelled by its inherited dispositions, my mind wanders ceaselessly amongst the things of the world. May you in grace reveal to it the exquisite beauty of your all-embracing Self so that contemplating you ceaselessly, it subsides irreversibly within you.”

Murugunar’s (a close devotee) commentary on this verse, perhaps best articulates why we should be earnest in our desire for liberation:

“If the mind, which is deluded on experiencing the attractive nature of outward appearances, and wanders endlessly amongst the phenomena of the world, gains within itself the uninterrupted experience of the beauty of Arunachala’s Self-nature, which is far greater than all the beauty the world has to offer, it will at once forget all those things entirely, subside permanently into that Self-nature and experience unalloyed peace”



Vivekacudamani with commentary of Sri Candrasekhara Bharati of Sringeri

Uddhava Gita, Swami Madhavananda

Astavakra Samhita, Swami Nityaswarupananda

Arunachala Akshara Manamalai, with commentary by Murugunar, translated by Robert Butler