By Nithin Sridhar
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 12
God is central to all religious traditions. The conception of this God which is referred by the term ‘Brahman’ in Hinduism is very different from the conception of God in Semitic religions.
In the last two installments, the two questions: “Where is God?” and “How to define God?” were taken up. In this installment, let us look into another important question: “How to reach/realize God?”
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It was pointed out before, that Brahman is both transcendent and immanent and He exists both beyond the universe as well as within the hearts of every creature. And attaining unity with this Brahman is termed as ‘Moksha’ or liberation.
Conventionally, Moksha is described as “liberation of an Individual from the cycle of birth and death.” So, transcending death and never returning back to this Karmic cycle is the hallmark of Moksha. It must be pointed out that death need not refer to only the discarding of the physical body. Death is the best metaphor to denote change. Through death, an individual moves from one body to another, from one life to another, and from one realm to another.
Therefore, transcending death truly means transcending these changes and attaining a state of eternal changeless existence. This eternal changeless existence is nothing but Brahman itself, which is described as changeless existence (Satyam), objectless awareness (Jnanam), and part-less Infinity (Anantham) by the Taittiriya Upanishad (2.1.1).
So, how does an individual who is endowed with a body and mind, which by its very nature is very limited in its existence and awareness, attain the supreme state? Svetashwatara Upanishad (3.8) says:
vedAhametaM puruShaM mahAntamAdityavarNaM tamasaH parastAt |
tamEva viditva atimrutyumeti nAnyaH panthA vidhyate ayanAya ||
Translation: I have realized this Great Being (mahAt puruShaM) who shines like the sun, and who is beyond darkness of ignorance (tamasaH). Only by realizing Him one can transcend death and there is no other path than this.
This mantra is very significant. It says that there is no other way to transcend death and attain Moksha other than ‘realization of Brahman.’ Therefore, one can attain Brahman, only by the realization of Brahman. In other words, Moksha does not involve going to any realms of existence, be it realm of Gods, or forefathers, or that of Hiranyagarbha.
It is stressed that, though Moksha is portrayed as the ultimate goal of life, it is not a goal in the sense of travelling to some place, or attaining some powers, or some high meditation state. Instead, it is saying, that Moksha is nothing but the realization of the true nature of Brahman (which is called as Brahma–Jnana or Atma Jnana).
In the previous installments, we saw that Brahman stays in the Hrdaya (hearts) of all beings as their innermost Atman/Self. Hence, realization of Brahman is nothing but realization of Brahman in one’s own Atman. The Vedanta teachers call this “Brahma–Atma–Aikyam” i.e. perceiving the unity and non-difference of Brahman and Atman, God and Innermost Self.
Therefore, we can refine our understandings of Moksha further and define it as “being established in one’s own Innermost Atman, which (being non-different from Brahman) is by very nature existence, awareness, infinite, and blissful (anandam).” And the only way to attain this Atman and become established in it is through Atma-Jnana, the realization of the innermost Self.
Adi Shankaracharya also stresses this point in his Vivekachoodamani. He says (verse 413): “Meditate on that Atman which is your Self, which is devoid of all limitations, which is verily existence, knowledge, and bliss Absolute and is non-dual. (By this) you will no longer be under the influence of birth and death.” Hence, Shankaracharya also asserts that it is only by realization of the Self through meditation on the Self, that one becomes free from the cycle of birth and death.
There is one issue that needs to be dealt with here. A question may arise, why do the scriptures say Moksha is possible only through the Knowledge/Realization of Self? How is knowledge connected to liberation from birth and death?
Hindu scriptures point out that, the very creation of the world has been accomplished by Brahman through his mysterious power of Maya. Using this Maya, Brahman who is Birthless, Changeless, and Limitless appears as taking birth, undergoing changes, and subjected to limitations. Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (4.6) states that: “Though I am Birthless, Undecaying by nature, and the Lord of beings, (still) by subjugating My Prakriti, I take birth by means of My own Maya.” (Swami Gambirananda’s translation). The same has been expressed in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (2.5.19) that says: “Lord on account of Maya, appears as manifold.”
Therefore, the manifestation of the Universe and all its objects is not a real and permanent creation or transformation. Instead, it is only an apparent manifestation. Just as a mirage makes water appear where there is no water. Similarly, through Maya, one Infinite Brahman appears as multiple objects, each of them subjected to various limitations. It is for this reason, the Universe is described as product of Ignorance or Avidya. Here, the ignorance, refers to the ignorance of the true nature of Atman. An Individual identifies his self with his body, his possessions, and his mind. These false identifications arise because of the ignorance that his true Self, the Atman is beyond the limitations of the body and the mind.
As the ignorance is the root-cause of this world and the cycle of birth and death, the only way it is possible to transcend this karmic cycle is by realization of the true Atman, by which the ignorance is destroyed. It is for this reason the scriptures stress that only through the realization of Atman, that one can attain Moksha.
More in this segment:
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 8
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 9