Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and yoga philosophy all share common beliefs around the concept of self-realization and enlightenment. These ideas of the possibility of freedom, liberation, and the emancipation from the bondage of suffering, attachment, and ignorance are the guiding principles for these spiritual paths. The philosophical concepts of Moksha, Maya, Karma, and Samsara are necessary for yogis to learn and understand if they wish to move along the path of enlightenment. Even if your goal is not self-realization, the spiritual practices originating from these philosophies can reduce suffering and increase your sense of inner-peace, contentment, and joy.
What is Moksha?
Moksha is a core tenet of Indian philosophy. Moksha translates from Sanskrit as “liberation, freedom, or bliss.” It is a state of non-ego, where the “me” vanishes and one stands free from all desires, actions, and consequences in a total state of oneness or absorption.
We are bound to this material world through attachment, desire, and the inability to see or experience the oneness of all life. The yogis view this bondage as the primary source of suffering. Moksha is the path of liberation from suffering and the attainment of self-realization. Through this path of liberation, one can experience transcendental planes of existence and a profound state of bliss.
The liberation of Moksha is not a place; it does not exist in the heavens, the earth, or the spirit-world. This state of freedom has no space, no time, no location; it can only exist in the now, in the present moment.
What is Maya?
Maya translates from Sanskrit as “illusion or ignorance.” It is both the psychological separation between the ego and the universe and the psychological filter that colors all of our experience. Maya is our memories, conceptions, judgments, and biases that present a distorted sense of reality. These impressions of past experiences become superimposed or projected on current experiences creating a false reality. Maya reinforces the ego, strengthens attachment, and defines our individual “story” that defines who we are and our relationship to the external world. Maya is the sum total of all of our karma and samsaras.
Atman and Brahman
Essential to the concept of Moksha and Maya is the yogi’s understanding of Atman and Brahman. Brahman is the supreme being, the entirety of all there is in this existence. Brahman is described as the universal principle, supreme existence, or absolute reality. Atman is a tiny speck of Brahman existing at the center or core of our being. Atman is described as a soul, inner self, or spirit. Brahman and Atman are the exact same thing and seeing them as separate is the core of the illusion of Maya.
Moksha is achieved when a yogi sheds the veil of Maya and solely identifies with either Atman or Brahman. This results in understanding our true reality and experiencing Atman and Brahman everywhere outside as well as deep inside of us.
Rebirth, suffering, and the cycle of death
The state of moksha can be defined in two different ways. Moksha can be understood as the complete liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, which ends the cycle of suffering of reincarnation. Moksha is more often described as the liberation from suffering during one’s life, leading to deep states of bliss and enlightenment.
Moksha vs. Nirvana
You are more likely to have encountered the word nirvana than moksha in Western culture, but both words are used interchangeably and in general terms, considered equivalent to each other. Within the many schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and yoga, moksha and nirvana do have subtle differences and describe slightly different states of consciousness.
How does one achieve Moksha?
To achieve moksha, Maya must be cast off, Anava (ego) must be dissolved, and both our attachments to pleasure and our aversions to discomfort must be severed. The five kleshas or negative mental patterns must be removed. The yogic virtues of faith (Sraddha), vigor (Virya), friendship (Maitri), compassion (Karuna), joy (Mudita), equanimity (Upekshanam), and wisdom (Prajna) must be cultivated. Committing to the yogic vows of the Yamas and Niyamas will be necessary as a foundation for all of this spiritual work.
Moksha arises spontaneously when we become completely absorbed in the sensation of an experience without thought. This “taste” of total absorption is common yet fleeting. Through the practice of yoga, we seek to create the tools to consciously and willfully “pierce the veil” of Maya and see the transcendent nature of reality. These tools include selfless work (karma yoga), self-dissolving love (bhakti yoga), absolute discernment (jnana yoga), and meditative immersion (raja yoga).
The most fundamental tool yoga gives us to achieve moksha is conscious awareness. Through the use of awareness, we can slowly begin to see our projections, desires, attachments, and judgments for what they are. Once these distorting factors become conscious, they are able to dissolve and unblock the way to a direct experience of reality. When we become liberated from the illusionary world of Maya we are able to be in yoga: the union of the inner self (Atman) with the oneness of all life (Brahman).