What is the meaning of life? Why am I here?
Irrespective of creed or culture, we have been asking these questions for thousands of years, eternally eager to understand our purpose in life. In their search for answers, the philosophers of ancient India uncovered a seemingly simple solution: moksha.
Defined as liberation or freedom, moksha is the state in which one’s true nature is remembered, detached from the limitations of a worldly existence. The concept is straightforward enough; all we need to do to find peace and purpose in this life is to remember that we are more than just a physical body.
And yet, moksha may appear to modern minds as quite the paradox – while we live in this body, rooted in this worldly existence, how useful can it really be to dissolve into an ethereal state of being?
From Ego to Enlightenment
For the most part, we live lives driven by desire and ego, passion and power, money and greed. Our attachments to possessions and people serve only to limit us to a fettered existence.
According to Indian philosophy, living in this way traps us insamsara, an endless and mundane cycle of death and re-birth. In this most base way of being, we are tied to all the pain, suffering and limitations of temporal life, gripped by an experiential duality and consequently confused as to our purpose.
Moksha (also known as mukti) is the process of breaking free from this cycle. Derived from the Sanskrit root mukt, meaning freedom, liberation or release, attaining moksha is to attain emancipation from the limitations of human form.
Although firmly rooted in Hinduism, moksha’s influence can be found in Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism, serving as the cornerstone concept of ultimate freedom from which other notions of enlightenment bloomed.
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times
Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga can be understood as one path to moksha, but there are undoubtedly countless routes and the end is rarely in sight. (Learn more in A Journey Through the 8 Limbs of Yoga.)
Although we may dutifully follow social and moral observances and devote ourselves to our respective practices, the cold hard truth is that most of us will never fully realise moksha – not in this lifetime, anyway.
So why bother? What is the meaning of moksha in a world where our dharma might encompass working a 9 to 5 in order to feed the kids?
It’s true that much of the ancient wisdom passed down to us by the saints and sages of long ago can be tricky to apply these days. But that’s not to say it’s irrelevant – far from it. It’s arguably more relevant now than ever before.
In its truest sense, moksha is understood as a state of being rather than a mere pit-stop on a spiritual holiday. To ultimately become moksha, so to speak, one must absolutely let go; let go of all worldly attachments, possessions and experiences to become one with divine, universal consciousness.
Whilst the obligations and responsibilities of modern living rarely allow us to truly delve into this realm, moksha can still guide us to live with more meaning, more purpose.
Glimpse the Essence of Moksha
Through the practices of yoga, meditation and self-study, it is possible to glimpse the essence of moksha, to find freedom from ignorance and develop self-realization. We can momentarily dwell in peace, find freedom from suffering and enjoy the bliss that comes with the realization that all consciousness exists as one.
With one foot still firmly rooted in earthly existence though, this is of course fleeting. It comes and goes in waves, anchored only by engagement with our practices and often frustratingly far out of reach.
But don’t we spend a little too much of our lives striving to achieve the ultimate? Reaching toward moksha is a fine goal, but by getting wrapped up in the meaning of the outcome, we lose sight of the remarkable beauty to be found along the way.
Realizing that your self exists beyond the body that carries it is a powerful first step. The self-awareness that comes with meeting your own true nature can bring freedom of its own; dissolution of ego, release from anxieties and harmony with pain and suffering. (Learn more in How to See the Ego for What it Is.)
These are endlessly useful tools we can engage with in our worldly journey, and so practices that guide us toward this kind of self-knowledge are invaluable, whether or not an ultimate state of moksha is reached.
A Path or a Goal?
By subtly shifting the meaning of moksha as a path rather than a goal, its message of freedom, peace and enlightenment can relate to us in today’s world. Although most of us would give anything to eliminate pain and suffering, we must remember that these emotions allow us to appreciate and understand their positive counterparts.
Moksha provides a path of constant reflection, of meeting and re-meeting our true selves, of laying bare our weaknesses and suffering to allow space for positive attributes to blossom. (Learn more in The Path to Liberation Starts With our First Step off the Mat.)
In aiming toward moksha, regardless of whether or not it appears achievable, we can find meaning and purpose in the self-development to be found along the way. This may not be the meaning of moksha passed down to us by ancient wisdom, and unless we are willing to truly let go, we will never get a taste of more.
But isn’t that ok? There will be another chance in the next life, and with more and more practice we’ll walk a little further along the path each time.