According to the “Glossary of Terms World Civilizations: Ancient India” by Richard Hooker, Moksha is defined simply as the “release from the changing world and the cycle of birth and rebirth” a cycle called “samsara.” This definition immediately reminded me of the Buddhist concept of “nirvana” which has always intrigued me. From my understanding, both concepts bear striking similarities.
Traditional Buddhist beliefs (in accordance with the four noble truths) teach that we humans share a universal “suffering” here on Earth, which is ultimately caused by desire. Once one realizes that all humans are caught in the midst of a repetitive cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth, one is one step closer to freeing oneself from this vicious cycle and attaining a peaceful immortal existence, dubbed “nirvana” in Buddhism.
Though both religions outline this concept of release and a break from the cycle (nirvana and moksha, respectively) the path one must follow to attain release varies distinctly between the two. In Hinduism, one’s ultimate goal is to reach “moksha,” so that one’s soul and essence of being may end its suffering and exist in peace for eternity. However, it’s quite difficult to do so, for according to Hinduism, one’s current position in life has ALREADY been predetermined by one’s past lives! The actions one commits on a daily basis, along with the actions one will commit in the future- these “actions” are known as “karma” (Hooker). Hence in this vein of thought, everything in one’s mortal existence is connected- past, present, and future. An individual is born into a social position not by chance, but as a direct result of one’s actions from past lives (karma) and it is one’s duty (dharma) to bow one’s head and content oneself with his or her social position for life, for that is the nature of dharma, which “sustains the cosmic order (Rita) of the universe” (Hooker). If one carries out one’s dharma diligently, without complaint or attempt to “move-up” the social ladder, then one will (in theory) be rewarded in their next life, and one step closer to achieving the coveted state of “moksha.” If one spites one’s given “dharma” then one is spiting the intricate workings of the universe itself (how dare thee!) and will remain trapped in the cycle of samsara until one realizes this grave mistake.
So what exactly is moksha? I’d argue that moksha is a mental and physical state of supreme enlightenment, elevating one’s soul unto that of the divine, the Gods or “devas” themselves. It is liberation, salvation, eternal peace- the ability to co-exist on the same eternal plane as the Gods, to share consciousness and a heightened state of awareness with the Gods. To exist in one “ultimate” reality in which everything is nothing, and vice versa, and one’s physical essence and soul have merged and one is able to exist anywhere and nowhere at the same time. Because what limits us mortals from transcending time and space- the fact that we’re mere mortals and neither our physical vessels or unenlightened minds have the capacity to exist in an all-knowing, omnipotent state of being. Attaining a state of “moksha” is conquering the “Atmansiddhi” system (Hooker) or in other words, achieving a supreme state of “perfection” through repeated “self-perfecting.” This state of “self-perfection” is unique to human beings alone, the Gods cannot even achieve this state, hence one who has achieved “moksha” is essentially more powerful and divine than the Gods themselves, and able to exert one’s will upon them.
Now considering the social stratification scheme of a country like India, where Hinduism is the predominant religion, the concept of “moksha” coupled with “karma” and “dharma” leads me to believe that the creators and enforcers of the religion probably had an ulterior motive when developing their theology. If “karma” controls the makeup of a static social caste system, known in Hinduism as the “cuatorvarnas” (Hooker) and there can be hope for any upward mobility in accordance with the concept of karma coupled with dharma, then rebellion on behalf of a strict, even perhaps “unfair” system is essentially eliminated for the devout majority of followers. How can the caste minority, the “brahmins” exercise their will and power over the lower ranks? By preaching the concept of karma and dharma- “although your life sucks right now, if you perform your duties in accordance with MY will, then there’s hope for you in the next life (your karma from this life will follow you and reward your loyalty) and ultimately someday, you’ll be a brahmin yourself and on your way to achieving “moksha.” How can the elite, the “Brahmins” justify their lavish ways of life and power to the masses- by claiming that they are elevated souls, who have been reborn and reborn again, so that finally now, karma is awarding them with a top position. The Brahmins can even manipulate these ideals to empathize with the “others” as well- I used to be you once, but I’m an evolved soul, and I deserve my wealth and my power over all of you because I started from the bottom and ended at the top, so follow my example and someday, YOU CAN DO THE SAME! This is a brilliant system- manipulative, terrible, yet genius. Hinduism perfected the art of keeping the masses down and in their place, and they did it through religious theology! If you take most major government and religious systems into account throughout history- feudal systems of Europe, Christianity, ancient tribes like the Mayans and the Aztecs- they all succeeded (for a time) by justifying their power to the masses through religious manipulation. “You all need to listen to me, because I was chosen by God (or the Gods) for a reason, I’m special and you are not, I talk to God (the Gods) and you don’t, I exercise the will of God (the Gods), and if you don’t do what I tell you to do, you will feel the wrath of God (the Gods) and your soul will burn in the afterlife for eternity, for by defying my power, you are forsaking God (the Gods).”