Humble salutations to the Supreme Intelligence, the Advaita Guru ParamparA (lineage teaching non-duality / advaita vedAntA) and my own AchAryA (Preceptor) for the content that I put forth in this blog !
Before we get started on the topic it is necessary for us to be on the same page as far as the definition of liberation goes. Liberation may very loosely be understood as a state of uninterrupted happiness, peace, security and freedom from all pains, hardships and insecurities. What makes liberation different from other spurts of happiness / joy is only that liberation is seen to be an unending state, that is, once attained, it remains permanently with us. Different groups tend to tweak the same idea of liberation to their understanding. Let’s enquire….
The Religious Viewpoint
Most monotheistic paths, including many within Hinduism itself, like Shaivism, Vaishnavism, etc. look at liberation as the act of going to heaven (after death) to be in close proximity of their Godhead. Being in proximity of God is seen as the ultimate and uninterrupted state of happiness, calm, peace, contentment and satisfaction a person can attain. Such definition thus makes liberation a posthumous benefit and encourages one to live a pious, religious life of values in the present.
Food for thought:
To such definition, vedAntA asks, “If Heaven is the result of finite actions done in this present life, how can the result of all finite actions be an infinite result of unending happiness, i.e. liberation permanently?”
The Layman Viewpoint
I as a lay person, before my introduction into vedAntA, imagined liberation to be some mystical, magical, mysterious event that was about to come at a later point of time in my life, by my doing “something”!
Food for thought:
To this definition vedAntA says, “Anything gained in time whether as an event or experience or object or person certainly will be lost in time too. Then how can liberation be permanent, unending and ultimate if it is an event gained in time?”
The average person looks for liberation to come at a later time because today we feel incomplete, unsatisfied, limited, unhappy and insecure. We are creatures of time, fate and circumstance. As long as the going is good in life, i.e all our desires are being fulfilled and we are able to live the way we aspire, all is well. The minute anything in the setup (includes people, situations and objects) acts in contradiction to our wants, there begins our problems!
Life itself is a series of struggles where we constantly try to tweak and make changes to the setup so that we feel happy, secure and comfortable. The yesterday was spent in constant strife to make today comfortable. Today is spent in equal strife to make tomorrow comfortable. Then, when exactly are we living the fruits of all the strife? The individual’s happiness is completely vested in external situations. Change the s-e-t-u-p and the individual is u-p-s-e-t! That is exactly why we are all constantly involved in a pursuit of constant change whether of home, job, behaviour of others, government, and if nothing, at least spouse. Making a change certainly seems to give temporary peace and respite and even seems to put us in a position of power, at least temporarily. If external situations are controlling our state of happiness, can a true, permanent state of liberation ever be achieved by us, at any time?
It is at such juncture that Vedanta gives us the ready seekers the facts about liberation. Vedanta says :
As long as we live in the world which is constantly changing there is no question of being liberated permanently for the person, situation or object that changed initially to liberate us will certainly change again. This is probably why in Vedic system, marriage was not based on compatability of just the two individuals involved but the entire families in question. We see today how the most loving, compatible couple ends up in the most bitter of divorces. It’s all about a state of flux or constant change! Nothing stays the same for ever, that’s the nature of matter whether gross or subtle (like the mind, emotions, habit, character, etc.)
“Dependence is sorrow, independence is freedom“, says a text in Vedanta. The Preceptor pokes us to analyze by reminding, “Think of a time when you were sorrowful. Analyze it and see for yourself that the sorrow arose because there was an expectation that had been broken, whether out of a person, relationship, object or situation.” Very true indeed! Had there been no expectation or demand in the first place, there would have been no sorrow – straight fact! But again, as humans, is it even possible to function without expectations? VedAntA to this answers by saying that we humans set binding expectations, i.e. there is no room for options or the possibilities of other outcomes or failure with regards to expectations we set. We get into a transaction having already fixed a preset result in mind and when the result contradicts our set expectations even by a wee bit, we are crushed, disappointed, unhappy and unable to accept it.
As long as we psychologically lean on the world like as though using crutches, we ourselves are granting the world the permission to enslave us and then we cry foul. Swami Chinmayananda explains this beautifully by comparing it with a kid who has gotten entangled in the wool of his mother’s half knitted sweater. The child gets into the situation himself and then screams his top off! We really are no better, say the wise.
To explain this, my preceptor gives the following beautiful explanation:
Let us assume there is a path full of thorns and glass shards. Lets say we have no choice but to walk that path to go where we have to go. We can employ one of the following two options:
1.Cover the entire thorny path with some kind of padding all the way to the destination.
2. Wear appropriate footwear to minimize injury while walking on that path.
At the very first glance, we chuckle at option 1 understanding its silliness and impracticality. But says the preceptor, this is how most of us are living as we travel the journey of life. Instead of strengthening our mind, which is comparable to the act of wearing footwear, we are constantly trying to tweak and adjust the world to meet our satisfaction and happiness. This is as impractical as trying to cover the entire thorny path with padding. Tweak your own mind instead says VedAntA! This is like learning to swim before actually jumping into the pool!
The point is not to give up the world, but to transact with the same world from the vantage point of happiness, strength, understanding and maturity, for VedaAntA asserts, “You are the very happiness and freedom you seek!” There is no happy or sad situation in itself. There is only situation and what we impress upon it makes it happy or sad. For eg. There are 2 partners in a business. On analysis, one figures that the profit will be 3% and the other 8%. At the end of the year, the business realized a profit of 5%. Will both partners be equally happy?
We need to come to terms with the fact that not every person, situation or object we encounter will necessarily be a source of joy. But that’s ok. They are meant to be on our path for some reason. Most learning and growing happens from pain unfortunately! If we can operate with a non-expecting or non-demanding mind, like Swami Dayananda so beautifully says, with everything in the creation, nothing can hurt or harm us. But getting that maturity is the challenge!
Now, let’s not immediately conclude that vedAntA is telling us to choicelessly accept everything. VedAntA is the biggest advocate of freewill and says that one must certainly strive to do what must be done when the choice is available. But it also wants us to reevaluate out actions to see if making changes all the time for our happiness has become a habit. Such actions unnecessarily keep perpetuating more and more actions and keep us shackled at an empirical level with no time to spare for higher pursuits like spirituality. On this topic, Swami Dayananda teaches a prayer for the sincere seeker. It goes:
” O Lord, give me the serenity to accept the situation that is choice-less. Give me the strength to change a situation that can be changed. Give me the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”
This prayer is well known for being used by Alcoholics Anonymous members as a Serenity Prayer. But Swamiji says that it is really a prayer for everybody to adopt in their everyday lives; not only alcoholics or addicts.
VedAntA says that the word mOkshA should ideally be understood as “giving up”. As long as it is understood as how it normally is, as “freedom from”, we expect it to happen as an event or experience which will come at a future time and invariably only through external help. This is how we allow conmen to rob us of our precious time, energy and money by promising to liberate us with their magical touch to our forehead or a strong hug. There’s no denying that when such high energy individuals physically connect with us, we might feel an exhilaration or upsurge of energy for a while that leaves us feeling good. But that’s not liberation, for, the feeling goes away as quickly as it came leaving us as miserable as we were before!
When defined as giving up, liberation may be understood as giving up a sense of dependence, inadequacy, insecurity or limitation. This can be achieved only by ourselves, throughout Self effort, through a total shift in perspective of life, people and situations. Given such definition, liberation is no longer a posthumous benefit but is a state of mind achievable even right now, right here! All we have to do is give up our psychological leaning, dependence and expectations from the world, and look at the world from a brand new standpoint of understanding backed by wisdom and maturity. A non-demanding mind only sees prosperity everywhere, asserts vedanta.
Such shift in perspective is achievable by shifting the way the mind thinks. But attaining such state of mind is no walk in the park for, only a fully convinced intellect will order a change of mind. Intellect understands only knowledge and reasoning so, convincing the intellect is feeding it with required knowledge. And that is exactly what VedAntA does, gives the intellect material to understand, question, digest and assimilate so that the necessary change of mind is brought about. Such an educated, now liberated mind is happy not because of situations but inspite of situations.
Situations don’t end but the constant strife to end situations ends.
This is liberation in the true sense!
The key to living a free life full of love, security, happiness and non expectations is very much is in our hands. The question only is whether we want it or not and whether we are ready to change for it or not!
If you are among those that seek such liberation in terms of knowing the truth here and now, stay tuned for my next blog which will list a series of disciplines and exercises which will effect the required change and take us all steps closer to freedom which is truly our nature!