The word “Moksha” comes from Sanskrit and can be translated as “liberation“. It is the state of liberation or emancipation from the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth, known as Samsara. Through the attainment of Moksha, the soul (Atman) is liberated from this cycle and united with the absolute, Brahma.
But behind all this terminology, which is often confusing and difficult to understand, we can approach the understanding of Moksha in a more accessible and practical way.
Aim of Human Life
The traditional Hindu conception of human life and its purpose is intrinsically linked to the concept of the‘Purusharthas‘. This Sanskrit term, which is commonly translated as “the aims of human life“. The Purusharthas are constituted by four pillars: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Together, they represent a philosophical and moral guide to living a balanced, fulfilling and meaningful life.
Dharma (Moral duty and righteousness)
Dharma is perhaps one of the most complex terms in Hindu philosophy. Although it is often translated as “duty” or “righteousness,” its meaning is much deeper. It is a combination of ethics and duty. It is the moral and ethical code that each individual must follow in his or her life according to his or her nature, occupation and stage of life. What is Dharma for one person may not be Dharma for another, as it is adapted to individual circumstances and responsibilities. Dharma acts as a guide to act rightly and live ethically, providing a balance between the other three goals.
Artha (Prosperity and Material Success)
Artha refers to wealth, prosperity and material success. Unlike many religious traditions that often discourage the pursuit of wealth, Hinduism recognizes the importance of economic security and prosperity in human life. Artha is not just the accumulation of wealth, but the ability to obtain and manage it in a just and ethical manner. It is the means through which an individual can support his or her family, contribute to society and also support the realization of his or her other goals in life, including dharma. However, one is expected to pursue artha without excessive attachment and without compromising one’s dharma.
Kama (Desires and pleasures)
Kama are the sensual, emotional and aesthetic desires of life. This includes not only sexual pleasure, but also other forms of sensory enjoyment and gratification, such as music, art and food. As with Artha, Hinduism recognizes the validity and importance of enjoying life’s pleasures. But the pursuit of these pleasures should not be unbridled or irresponsible. They should be sought and enjoyed in a way that is in harmony with the dharma and does not disturb the overall balance of life.
Moksha (Spiritual Liberation)
Finally, the supreme goal of human life, according to Hinduism, is Moksha. After living a life guided by dharma, seeking Artha righteously and enjoying Kama responsibly, the ultimate goal is to be liberated from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth, known as samsara. Moksha is the realization of the true nature of the soul and its union with Brahman, the supreme reality.
These four goals of life are not linear stages, but rather areas of focus that coexist and intertwine throughout a person’s life.
Liberation from Ignorance
An essential component of moksha is liberation from ignorance, called “Avidya“. This ignorance is more than just a lack of knowledge; it is a form of misunderstanding or misperception that obscures our view of reality and keeps us trapped in a cycle of suffering and confusion.
Avidya does not refer to ignorance of mundane facts or information, but to a deeper form of disconnection with reality. It is the misperception that leads us to identify with our body, mind and ego, rather than with the true essence of our being (called Atman)
This misidentification has profound ramifications on our experience of life. We become attached to temporary pleasures, avoid pain at all costs, and live in a constant state of desire and aversion. This, in turn, leads us to experience Dukkha, a Sanskrit word that is often translated as suffering, but is broader in meaning, encompassing dissatisfaction, pain, sadness and emptiness.
Direct Experience of Reality
Reality, in its purest form, is beyond mental constructs and cultural interpretations. It is what it is, unadorned and undistorted. In many philosophical and spiritual traditions, it is held that our ordinary perception of reality is veiled by prejudices, desires, fears and learned concepts. These layers of distortion prevent us from seeing and experiencing reality as it is, as well as adding to our suffering and dissatisfaction
While conceptual knowledge is based on definitions, classifications and distinctions, direct experience transcends these limitations. A conceptual knowledge of reality can be compared to reading about a foreign country, while direct experience is like visiting and living in that country. No matter how much we read and learn about a place, the immediate experience of being there is incomparably richer and more revealing.
Different traditions offer various methods for clearing away distortions and accessing a direct experience of reality. These methods may include:
- Meditation: Through meditative practices, one can calm the mind and reduce the noise of distracting thoughts, allowing a clearer perception of reality to emerge.
- Contemplative practices: These practices involve deep and sustained reflection on a subject or concept, taking the person beyond mere intellectual understanding.
- Rituals and ceremonies: In some traditions, rituals act as gateways to altered states of consciousness where reality can be experienced more directly.
- Peak experiences: Described by psychologist Abraham Maslow, these are spontaneous experiences where individuals feel a deep, unified connection with the universe, transcending their ordinary sense of self.
The path to direct experience of reality is not without obstacles. These can include attachments, distractions, ingrained prejudices and the skepticism of the intellect. However, with perseverance and practice, it is possible to overcome these obstacles and gain access to a deeper and more direct understanding of reality.
This experience is not simply additional knowledge; it is transformative in nature. Those who have had these experiences often speak of a profound sense of peace, an expanded sense of self and an intuitive understanding of the interconnectedness of all things. This transformation can manifest in daily life as increased empathy, decreased anxiety and a deeper sense of purpose.
Union with Life
Moksha can also be understood as a deep union with life. This perspective sheds renewed light on the nature of liberation and what it means to be truly “free.”
Life is often seen in terms of dualities: good and evil, pleasure and pain, gain and loss. We are constantly caught in the game of judging and evaluating, which takes us away from a direct experience of life as it is. Moksha, in its dimension of union with life, means transcending these dualities and seeing existence from a non-dual perspective, where everything is accepted and valued as part of the infinite richness of reality.
To experience this union with life it is necessary to be fully present. Instead of getting caught up in the regrets of the past or the anxieties of the future, Moksha invites us to immerse ourselves completely in the here and now. It is in this state of presence where we truly begin to feel life flowing through us and where we become one with that flow.
It also means accepting the impermanent nature of life. Everything in existence is constantly changing and evolving. Rather than resisting this fact or fearing it, Moksha involves embracing impermanence, to see it not as a threat, but as the eternal dance of creation and dissolution.
Being at one with life does not mean renouncing action or becoming passive. On the contrary, it means acting with passion and purpose, but without the burden of attachment to results. This is the central teaching of the Bhagavad Gita: to perform our dharma, or sacred duty, while maintaining an inner distance from the fruits of our actions. Feeling at one with life, we begin to recognize the divine essence in everything and everyone. Every person, animal and object becomes a manifestation of the divine. This recognition leads to a deep sense of reverence and awe for creation and fosters compassion and empathy for all beings.
Often, we seek happiness in specific parts of our lives, ignoring or resisting other parts. However, by uniting with life as a whole, we find a happiness that is not dependent on specific circumstances. It is a joy that arises from simply being and recognizing the beauty inherent in each moment.
Moksha as a State of Peace and Happiness
Beyond transcendental liberation, Moksha is also a state of immutable bliss and peace. It is the culmination of the spiritual journey, where the human being experiences supreme bliss, free from suffering and bondage.
Our everyday understanding of happiness is often linked to external circumstances: achievements, relationships, material goods, among others. However, this happiness is ephemeral, subject to change and to the duality of pleasure and pain. In contrast, happiness in the state of Moksha is intrinsic and does not depend on external factors. It is the bliss that arises from connection with the true nature of the self, beyond the vicissitudes of life.
The peace that accompanies Moksha is not simply the absence of conflict or disturbance. It is a deep serenity that, as the Christian tradition mentions,“transcends all understanding“. It is a state of inner balance, where the individual is in harmony with himself and his surroundings, with no unfulfilled desires or fears to disturb his mind.
One of the key elements in the realization of Moksha is the dissolution of the ego, that entity that we consider our“I“. The ego, with its desires, fears, pride and prejudices, is the main barrier that separates us from experiencing the bliss and peace of Moksha. By transcending the ego, one merges with universal consciousness, experiencing oneness with all that exists.
In the state of Moksha, the cycle of Dukkha, that feeling of dissatisfaction and suffering inherent in human existence, comes to an end. There are no more cravings, burning desires or aversions tormenting the mind. Instead, there is a total acceptance of reality as it is, a surrender to the flow of life.
Paths to attain Moksha
Within Hinduism there are 3 main paths to attain inner freedom, although a fourth spiritual path was later added.
- Jnana Yoga (the path of knowledge): Through study, meditation and introspection, one seeks understanding of the true nature of the Atman and how it is different from the body and mind. By understanding this, one can transcend the ego and the illusions of the material world.
- Bhakti Yoga (the path of devotion): This is based on devotion and love towards a deity or divine representation. Through rituals, chanting and prayers, the devotee seeks an emotional connection with the divine, leading to a state of grace and, ultimately, liberation.
- Karma Yoga (the path of selfless action): Here, one acts without desire for reward or recognition. By performing actions in a selfless manner, one purifies the soul and approaches Moksha.
- Raja Yoga (the path of meditation): Through meditation and mental discipline, one seeks to control and eventually silence the mind, allowing a clear perception of reality and the Atman.