In the concept of moksha (liberation), three things are implied or presupposed: First, there is the individual self (pasu) or soul, which attains moksha. Second, this self or soul is in bondage, since only a bound person can become free. Third, there is moksha the self can attain to free itself from the bondage of ignorance, and enjoy its inherent free nature. Thus moksha presupposes bondage.
The word moksha or mukti literally means ‘release,’ ‘freeing,’ or ‘unbinding.’ The self is in bondage (i.e. bound by limitations) due to ignorance (maya or avidya) that obstructs its real nature. Moksha means release or freedom from the bondage of ignorance, i.e. freedom from limitations. Moksha is not relative freedom; it is the absolute freedom from all limitations for all time and under all conditions.
In moksha we gain our own real nature that was previously obstructed. To use an analogy, when we clean a piece of cloth we do not add cleanliness to the cloth. The cloth is clean by its very nature, but its clean nature is obstructed by dirt. When the dirt is removed, the cleanliness of the cloth comes to the fore. To use another analogy, when a lion is caged, it does not become a goat, but loses its lioness, i.e. its true nature. When released from the captivity, the lion gains its true nature and becomes what it already was.
Likewise, in moksha one becomes what one really is and has always been. In moksha nothing new is gained. The Self or Consciousness is already present, but its powers are diminished just as in the case of a lion in a cage. In moksha Consciousness is released from so to speak captivity and its powers are revealed, just as the powers of the lion come to the fore only when it comes out of the cage.
Bondage is a state of the forgetfulness of our real nature. This forgetfulness did not begin at a particular point in time; it is beginninglessly present with the existence of the individual soul, as if the soul were born blind. Since bondage is the forgetfulness of our real nature, moksha naturally is the state of remembrance of the same. Abhinavagupta says that the enlightenment (prakasha) that dawns in the state of moksha is like the remembering of a forgotten wealth, and the forgotten wealth is the state of perfect universal love and unity with all. In the same manner the joy (ananda)that we obtain in moksha is the natural joy of the Self, which we realize by easing ourselves from the devastating load of ignorance we are carrying. Abhinavagupta further says that the joy of moksha is not like the acquired pleasure of some worldly wealth; it is the joy of the freedom from the profound sense of duality, like the joy of unloading of a heavy load.
From the discussion of moksha above, two things are clear: (a) moksha is not a physical acquisition but a realization, a remembrance, or recognition of the Self; and (b) moksha is not a new acquisition; what we attain in moksha is already there; it is only a question of uncovering or discovering it.
Features of Moksha in Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir Shaivism
In Advaita Vedanta, the nature of the Reality (Brahman) is sat-cit-ananda with inactivity (niskriya). Being inactive, Brahman does not create the world. The illusion of the world is superimposed on it by ignorance (maya), just as in the rope-snake metaphor, the illusion of the snake is superimposed on the rope by dim light. Thus the world is unreal and valueless, created by ignorance, and must, therefore, be discarded and renounced in order to realize Brahman. The ideal of moksha for the bound soul can be achieved only with renunciation of the world. Therefore in Advaitism, worldly activity is logically meaningless in the context of the attainment of moksha. Consequently one who aspires for moksha tries to disassociate himself or herself from social activity, for all such activity detracts one’s effort for moksha. Indulgence in the world and worldly activities is not only useless for such a person but is also an obstruction to Self-realization.
Furthermore in Advaitism, the person who attains liberation lives just to work out his or her leftover karma. He or she can do no positive work with regard to the society; he or she must be inactive, for activity, according to the Advaitism, is due to ignorance (avidya).Society cannot be benefitted by such a person for he or she has no incentive for doing good for society. All actions cease on his or her part and the world becomes a non-entity.
In Kashmir Shaivism, the nature of the Reality (Self or Shiva) is sat-cit-ananda with activity (kriya, vimarsa, spanda, shakti, or svatantrya). Activity here is spontaneous and freely arising out of the fullness of the Self. Since freedom or activity (svatantrya)is the very nature of Shiva, the creation is a delightful dance of Shiva. Creation being a spontaneous and blissful activity of Shiva, the world is not rejected but freely accepted and moksha is not opposed to enjoyment (bhoga) of the world and its activity. Even in enjoyment of the world, what the Self-realized person enjoys is the bliss of the Self, not the joy of the object.
According to Kashmir Shaivism, the person who has attained moksha becomes the ideal of free and joyful activity. Universal love is his or her very nature. He or she feels one with all and does good to all. Abhinavagupta says that doing good to others out of grace (paraanugrah)is clearly manifest in the person who is in the state of Self-realization. The Self-realized person spontaneously works for the cultural progress and betterment of the society. He or she does not act to work out his or her leftover karma, as this has already been liquidated in the process of Self-realization. He or she acts in the world because spontaneous blissful activity after liberation is his or her very nature. Such a person responds to every call and takes an active interest in the affairs of the world. While the ordinary person (pasu)engages with the world by his or her selfish interest and limited will, the liberated person does this naturally out of universal love and in a free and relaxed way. While overflowing in external activity, he or she always remains in the Self. The liberated person, freed from personal ego, actually identifies himself or herself universally with one and all.
Kashmir Shaivism teaches that it is not the world and its enjoyment that create bondage; it is attachment (raga)that is the real bondage. One who treads the path of liberationfully enjoys the world unattached. The liberated person does this out of freedom and joy. With his or her senses under perfect control, he or she has no compulsion to indulge in the world. The bound person indulges in the world out of compulsion, from the instinctive urge; the freed person does not. Bhagavad Gita 2.64 says, “One who enjoys the objects with senses that are free from attachment (raga)and aversion (dvesa)and are under one’s full control, does the desirable thing and attains peace and happiness.”
Kashmir Shaivism further states that joyful activity naturally emanates or flows from inner joy. If we are happy, the activity will flow not only in greater volume, and also in the right direction so that the activity becomes both useful and enjoyable. In such a state of mind, artistic creativity and scientific achievement becomes a thing of joy and beauty. What the present day scientific and technological atmosphere lacks is the spiritual sense, which alone can make scientific progress good and beautiful. It is through selfless activity that the joy of the individual self reaches its fullness or perfection, says Bhagavad Gita 3.19-20. Just as a seed attains perfection through the process of the actualization of its potentialities in the form of a tree, the individual self realizes its perfection through activity, which is really a process of actualization of its potentialities.
Thus we see that in Kashmir Shaivism the world and secular activities are perfectly compatible with the attainment of Self-realization. Activity freely flows much more when the Self is realized. Energy or activity is natural to the Self. Since the ego is the only obstruction to the flow of spontaneous and blissful activity, the bound soul (pasu)is not fully and freely active. When the ego is quietened or dissolved and the Self attained, the constrained energy is released with greater flow and in the proper direction. The more one abides in the Self (that is, the more the ego is relaxed or silenced) the more the Self expresses Itself in the form of creative activity. And since Self-realization is the state of universal love, the creative activity is generally directed towards the welfare of the society.