On Moksha and Nirvana

Is the Hindu Moksha the same as Buddha’s Nirvana? This was a question on Quora and my response is below.

Released

From a conceptual viewpoint Moksha and Nirvana are the same. Both are around breaking fetters of the senses to release individual Atman from the snare of Illusion. But there are key differences and am going to outline then briefly.

Before I state this point to be noted is that Buddhism did not evolve in isolation, it grew from the rockbed of Hinduism as a recoil from the ritualism sans insight theme that existed at that time. And after the outflowering of the Shakya Sage, there was a fresh light thrown that replenished inquiry into the human condition, leading to fruitful enrichment of Hinduism and Buddhism both.

Now to the brief outline. Nirvana in its essence moves towards the cessation of individual existence. All is annulled so that the wrinkle of suffering and pain may be removed from this fabric of life.

Silence is all?

Where Nirvana as a goal falls short in my view is this. Life is seen as a battleground, with Maya as antagonist pitting the child-soul against Her stupendous machinery. The child-soul grows in inner clarity by not falling for the snare of the senses. But that clarity that eases the mind and our higher faculties does not fully satisfy. The Silence is seen, the Unreality of the Many is perceived. Yet the heart is vacant, the powers of life wither away with that trenchant insistence on an escape to Nirvana. We live so that we may escape. And even that life is as an exile, a heart beats but the sap of existence is denied to us.

Many Roads to Self

Moksha, does not have the precise, or some would say narrow, definition that the Buddhist path of Nirvana has. Hinduism allows for many alternative modes in which the Soul may escape the fetters of Illusion. Moksha as a notion broadly clubs these  for convenience. Moksha’s approach to release from suffering accounts for the varieties of human consciousness. The lover finds his roads are peopled with the manifestations of his Divine Beloved and the eventual oneness is attained. The worker uses the tools of his trade to manifest some of his Deity’s perfection, power and beauty and eventually find release into the Deity’s Being. The thinker charges through the modes of consciousness with his bright intuitions and finds the light that illumines all existence to be the same as that which eggs him on, thus releasing himself from the mighty snare. And so with other modes of approach.

Journey makes us

Why this emphasis on approach when the question itself was around the end goal? Well, one finds the Silence to not be a mere negation of our perceived multiplicity. There is in It all diversity of seen and unseen hidden away, all the play of opposites together, all that which lures and repells, all is in It. The path through which the seeker approaches his Goal has colored His Goal. The Void and Silence are lonely no more. The lover, toiler, thinker and the occultist find their at times opposing views all resolved into a transcendent unity that reconciles Form and Formless, Time and Timeless, One and Many…all in a single view.

Much of this might be moot dependent on the state of consciousness one has attained. As the Buddha says, best is find this out for oneself through experience and until then only hold these as possibilities available to our aspiring self.

Painting by Priti Ghosh

Every finger of his quietly dangling hand expressed peace

Siddhartha, in Herman Hesse’s book of the same name, arrives at Jetavana hoping to catch a glimpse of the Budhha, the Enlightened One. Not having seen him before, Siddhartha waits, almost wondering how to identify the Awakened One from the river of ochre colored robes that seemed to flow through the Jetavana grove. And then it happens, read how Hesse describes this sequence.

Siddhartha saw him, and he instantly recognised him, as if a god had pointed him out to him. He saw him, a simple man in a yellow robe, bearing the alms-dish in his hand, walking silently.

“Look here!” Siddhartha said quietly to Govinda. “This one is the Buddha.”

Attentively, Govinda looked at the monk in the yellow robe, who seemed to be in no way different from the hundreds of other monks. And soon, Govinda also realized: This is the one. And they followed him and observed him.

The Buddha went on his way, modestly and deep in his thoughts, his calm face was neither happy nor sad, it seemed to smile quietly and inwardly. With a hidden smile, quiet, calm, somewhat resembling a healthy child, the Buddha walked, wore the robe and placed his feet just as all of his monks did, according to a precise rule. But his face and his walk, his quietly lowered glance, his quietly dangling hand and even every finger of his quietly dangling hand expressed peace, expressed perfection, did not search, did not imitate, breathed softly in an unwhithering calm, in an unwhithering light, an untouchable peace. – Siddhartha, Herman Hesse.

The sentence “..every finger of his quietly dangling hand expressed peace..” has stayed with me ever since I read it almost a decade back. A peace that fills the entire being is perhaps alien to most in practice. But that is the payoff for a soul that has consented to take the difficult journey to the Divine.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Sri Ramakrishna in Samadhi

That phrase and idea also reminds me of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s picture above. Check the posture when he entered into a state of Samadhi. Notice the inward drawn countenance and specifically those fingers, all indicating complete absorption in the immanent Divine.

This peace and union with the Divine is attainable through systematic practice of Yoga or any spiritual practise. This possibility is open to everyone regardless of their station of birth, race, caste and other human taxonomies society thinks of to classify itself. The old world notions of a specific caste or race or tribe having exclusive access to the Divine, or the condition that one has to follow a specific Messenger or Prophet, sometimes under the not so gentle nudge of sword or money, is a perversion of all that can be considered Divine.

Any universal principle or power would not stoop down to laying criteria for embracing humanity and all of life. Anything that insists on human criteria can safely be assumed to be less than Divine or a Divine impulse misused for lesser purposes by men. What matters is adherence to Dharma, inner Yoga and renunciation of all human hypocrisy.