Unity in Diversity
the view from the Upanishads – part 5
Moksha, Liberation from Form
The question that fills the hearts of those who have begun to awaken from the sleep of ages is: "Why am I here? What is this for? Where is the power to be free, this power that is said to be integral to the very nature of the Self? Why did we lose our freedom at all, if the power is really so great? What is the point of this painful existence?"
The Upanishads are united in their presentation of the Self as the one great underlying component of the world. Matter is perceived as the reflection of the Self, its manifestation in the conditioned state of name and form. The personal self, the Jivatma, is perceived as being imprisoned in the material condition, held tight in the grasp of Maya, the veil of the senses (the mind is held to be one of the senses). Maya is also seen as the power of Ishvara, by which he is enabled to actualise his creative drives. As Shakti, she is the polar complement of Shiva, the enlivening seed. As Prakriti, the field of action, she is again portrayed as the polar complement of Purusha, the essence of enjoyment. As Purusha is the knower, so Prakriti is the known. Without the divergence of the knower from the known, there could be no knowing. The desire to know is the first expression of the urge to create, the urge to differentiate: that urge which causes Ishvara to act.
Without action there could be no conditioned life, for action contains and generates consequences—the seductive promise of fulfilment through form. Consequences, however, are binding insofar as they are experienced within the Prakriti: the mother of form—the interactive, eternally mutatory world of the gunas. Prakriti herself is nevertheless an expression of Purusha, for she is part of the triadic urge to manifestation that arises within Ishvara at the beginning of time. Within Prakriti lies the urge to unite with Purusha, as within Maya lies the urge to unite with Ishvara—and so on and on. The urge to create, the urge to unite and the urge to gain knowledge are aspects of the innate need to experience perfect understanding of Self. Ishvara acts in order to know himself—to gain a broader, deeper and fully conceptualised experience of THAT to which he has utter, but unformulated access.
Interconnectedness of All Being
The Jivatma is drawn by this basic need into a descending spiral of action leading to deeper and deeper involvement with the external, conditioned existence of the material world. At the same time, the material world is similarly drawn towards a more and more purified state. The need to be free of desire, of karma, of conditioned life is not simply the urge of the monad to be free from the strictures of materiality, as a shallow reading of the sankhya and even the vedanta might lead one to believe. The interconnectedness of all being at the deepest conceivable level means that the freedom of the monad (spiritual essence) is not perfect or complete until the liberation of all monads is achieved!
This all sounds terribly serious, and so it is, within the limitation of the understanding that conditioned existence is suffering, as indeed the sages do portray it. There is, notwithstanding, the assurance that knowledge of the Self, the Gnosis, gives understanding of the conditioned world—of the world of suffering. Part of this understanding lies in direct experience of the blissful state of union with God; part of it lies in the knowledge that suffering is the identification of the ego with the material world and its objects—of the Knower with the Known. To be free from suffering is to be free from false identification of ego with external non-essentials. The process of Moksha, or liberation from form, is the process of clearing out obstructions to the expression of the divine will in the individual.
The Jivatma, the monadic expression of divine will, becomes more and more contaminated as time goes by with karmic obstructions, arising from its ill-advised entanglement with klesas, mistaken identifications with material nature. Klesas create karma, or the binding results of acts. Karma thus arises from a mistaken identification of the Self with the world.
Paradoxically, the deeper the monad flows into matter, the less it is able to exercise its freedom—but at the same time, the more matter intermingles with and flows into spirit, the less material matter becomes. Thus the spiralling involvement with matter is a bi-directional, dyadic transfer of energy and information, as well as a triadic urge to manifestation. The structure of the universe adopts the principle of the dynamic double helix; the point of nexus is the explosion of consciousness, the third factor which transforms the dyad into the triad.
Suffering is unfulfilled desire. The bondage of karma, as Krsna reveals to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, arises from a mistaken identification with the results of actions. Actions, which themselves are modifications of material existence, inherently contain their consequences, but the Self need not be bound by the limitations of the world—unless it so permits! Suffering arises in response to the focusing of the mind on wants, requisites for bodily pleasure, as opposed to needs. The world is like an organism; it is a community of interactive sub-systems, like the cells and organs in our bodies. One individual acting inappropriately is like a cancer cell in a healthy body; a society of individuals acting inappropriately is like a severely diseased organ, growing crazily out of control, threatening the life of the entire organism. Hence the injunction to concentrate one's whole attention upon the Self, which is innately free from desire: it is the enjoyer of all experiences.
For, finally, the experience of material involvement is a sport, a game: a lila. The need for Gnosis (jnana-sakti) is a dynamic inherent in nature. Like any game, life can be taken seriously or lightly—and, like any game, it has both penalties and rewards. The penalties of a poorly-played game involve sorrow and suffering: such penalties arise from a misunderstanding, or an ignorance of the rules, or even—and especially—from a knowing flouting of them. The rewards, the achievement of goals and the celebration of victory, are the perfect bliss of gnosis and the divine beatitude, the utter enjoyment of the supreme symphony of the Self. The Self is experienced in the world as knowledge and wisdom; suffering is felt as its lack. Suffering is no more nor less than blindness and deafness to the source that empowers our human lives and that of the whole eco-sphere of planetary being. This dullness of perception is called ignorance: avidya. The supreme service is vidya, the knowledge of the Self, the Lord of Love, in all its forms—for true service consists in riding the spontaneous wave of appropriate action, that compassionate wave which sources deep within the fathomless heart of Being.
Service of others, the fulfilment of need, whether in ourselves, or in other beings, is service of the Self. Freedom largely consists in having the perspicacity to act appropriately without hesitation within the governing conditions of any given set of circumstances. Appropriate action is action to fulfil need, for action which is unnecessary destroys consciousness, creating a trail of disease, social disruption and misery (entrapment) in its wake. Love lies at the basis of knowledge, that compassionate love that acts without thought of self, holding no fear for the future.
[This concludes Unity in Diversity, the view from the Upanishads. Click here to return to the start of this article.]
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