GOAL OF HINDU SPIRITUALITY



GOAL OF HINDU SPIRITUALITY

The goal of Hindu spirituality may be discussed under three main headings, namely the importance of the Goal, State of the Liberated Souls and Jivanmukti.

7.1 Importance of the Goal
The chief goal of ‘Hindu Spirituality’ is salvation or liberation of the soul from the world.  In other words, salvation from samsara.  Samsara means the cycle of births and deaths.  The common Hindu belief is that soul is eternal.  But due to ignorance of its original nature, the soul is caught up in the attractions of the world.  The soul which is subjected to samsara should therefore, be liberated.  The process adopted for salvation differs from person to person, although the ultimate goal is the same.
An ordinary belief of the Hindus is that, “every twelve years the Ganga is believed to secrete amrit – a celestial drink which confers immortality on its drinker; and one who baths or drinks the water at Hardwar is believed to be saved from further rebirth.”[1]  One more example would suffice to prove the strong urge of Hindus to seek liberation at any cost.  It is said that “… death in or near the Ganges at Benares results in Moksha, the final liberation from the endless cycles of birth and rebirth that is the ultimate spiritual goal of most Hindus.”[2]  In order to obtain this privilege people flock to Benares.  

7.2 State of the Liberated Souls
There are at least three different views about the status of liberated souls according to Hinduism.  One is that the souls go to another world.  The second is that the souls become one with God.  And the third one is that the liberated souls maintain their individuality even after death.
The concept of transmigration of the soul was not fully developed in the Vedas.  Yet, there was a dislike for ‘the return’ of the souls after death.  The Vedic seers believed that the virtuous souls go to the world of gods, from where, there is no return, whereas the wicked one enters into the world of the fathers from where they return to the world.
  Brahmanas, the treatises on rituals also do not convey a clear-cut idea of the nature of the liberated souls.  According to Monier-Williams, “they assert that a recompense awaits all beings in the next world according to their conduct in this.”[3]  At the same time it needs to be highlighted that, “the texts rarely give any detail of the way in which man is rewarded or punished after death.”[4]  Although the idea of transmigration of the soul was not yet fully developed, the dominant view in the Brahmanas was that the souls get ‘immortality in heaven, the abode of the gods’.[5]
The Upanishads explain the status of the liberated soul as union with Brahman.  In this union, there is no distinction between individual souls and Brahman.  It is only because of ‘ignorance (avidyā)’[6] that the soul thinks itself to be different from Brahman.  The very moment ignorance of the soul is removed the original unity is realized.
According to Swami Prabhavananda “Moksa is called in the Gita Brahma-Nirvana - extinction in Brahman, or union with Brahman.”[7]  It needs to be remembered here that commentators like Ramanuja have interpreted the Bhagavad Gita as to facilitate a philosophical background for the path of devotion, although the later Bhakti Movements advocated an entirely different line of thought.  For them “the soul never becomes identical with God.”[8]  According to Sri Vaisnavas,[9] the souls which are liberated from Samsara enter Vaikuntha the heaven of Visnu.  There the individual soul is united with the Lord in a loving relationship while yet maintaining its distinction.  For Sūrdas and Tulasidās it is only an emotional union with God.  To a Śaiva Siddhāntin[10] one becomes omniscient and omnipotent, like Śiva, but ontologically distinct from him.
  The varieties of interpretations stated above regarding the status of the liberated soul is a great lesson for humanity to understand the limitations of human perceptions or knowledge.  It is also a lesson for people to learn to avoid any absolute claims regarding religious concepts and ideas.

7.3 Jivanmukti
Anybody going through the different view points regarding the status of the liberated soul will be tempted to conclude that Hinduism is pessimistic in its outlook about the world.  For example Max Weber writes, “all salvation technologies of India stemming from the intellectual strata, whether orthodox or heterodox, involves a withdrawal, not only from every day life but from the world in general, including also paradise and the world of the gods.”[11] 
On the other hand, there are committed Hindus who affirm that “salvation is not escape from life.”[12]  For them, “it is to live in the world with one’s inward being profoundly modified.”[13]  And “if the saved individuals escape literally from the cosmic process, the world would be for ever unredeemed.”[14]  In Hinduism, salvation can be attained while one is still living on the earth.  This starts from the moment one realizes that the soul is eternal.  The liberated soul is called Jivanmukta.  Jivanmukta continue to live in this world until his/her death.  But he/she will not be affected by the world.  The jivanmukta will continue to help other souls to obtain salvation.  The jivanmukta engages himself/herself in the service of others.  Finally, bodily death, Videhamukti takes place.  This is the final separation of the soul from the body. 
The main concern of the discussion is to prove that Hinduism is not pessimistic in its outlook.  According to Durga Das Basu, “the goal of a Hindu is not merely salvation for himself but also the good of the world created by God (Atmanomokshartham Jegadhhitaya cha).  And this goal is symbolized in the existence of a Jivanmukta.”[15]  It needs to be highlighted that Nimbārka[16] does not believe in Jivanmukta.  He is of the opinion that salvation is possible only after death (videhamukti).[17]
Even after accepting the optimistic nature of Hinduism, many tend to say that Hinduism is individualistic in outlook.  But the Hindus would go to the extent of saying that “that highest stage of Hindu spiritualism is selfless service to others.”[18]  No doubt this ideal is present in Hinduism in the form of Jivanmukti.[19]  According to Swami Prabhavananda,[20] Moksa or Brahma nirvana can be attained here and now.  He argues that “the Gītā tries to raise the aspirant (sādhaka) to such a height of spirituality that he ultimately finds himself only to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord.”[21]  No doubt, the ideals are very well present in Hinduism.  But there are not many ways to inculcate them in the day-to-day life of Hindus.
Leading scholars of Hinduism untiringly project the world-affirming, world-caring, and world-concerning aspect of ‘Hindu Spirituality’.  According to Satis Chandra Chatterjee, “the liberated self attains the life divine and lives and acts for the good of mankind.”[22]  Another great example is the services of Ramakrishna Mission.[23]
Hinduism as a whole has all the ideals needed for a relevant and meaningful spirituality.  These ideals were not put into practice in the early phases of Hinduism.  That is why it has to face strong criticisms such as, it is individualistic, pessimistic, no concern for the world, etc.  Either because of the influence of other religions or because of the growing awareness of the realities of the world, the current representatives of Hinduism have involved themselves in addressing the burning concerns of the people around. The Indian Hindu scholars are unanimous in their commitment to represent Hinduism as world-affirming and it can be a relevant ground for people of all faiths to work together with one accord and one spirit.


[1] Rajive McMullen, “Understanding Hinduism, The Kumbh Mela” Sanskriti, Vol.6, No. 3&4, (1999), p.11.
[2] David R. Kinsley, op. cit., p. 3.
[3] Monier-Williams, Hinduism, Reprinted (Calcutta:  Susil Gupta (India), Ltd., 1951), p.25.
[4] J. L. Brockington, Sacred Thread: A Short History of Hinduism, Second Edition (Delhi:  Oxford
University Press, 1997), p. 37.
[5] Ibid., p. 37.
[6] John G Arapura, “Spirit and Spiritual Knowledge in the Upanishads,” Krishna Sivaraman, ed.,
op. cit., p. 76.
[7] Swami Prabhavananda, The Spiritual Heritage of India (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math,
Mylapore, 1981), p. 109.
[8] Satis Chandra Chatterjee, op. cit., p. 247.
[9] Flood Gavin, An Introduction to Hinduism (Great Britain:Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge, 1966), p. 136.
[10] Ibid., p. 63.
[11] Max Weber, The Religion of India, op. cit., p. 166.
[12] S. Radhakrishnan, op. cit., p. 124.
[13] Ibid., p. 124.
[14] Ibid., p. 124.
[15] Durga Das Basu, Essence of Hinduism (New Delhi: Prentice-Hall of India Private Limited, 1990), p. 120.
[16] Roma Chaudhuri, “The Nimbarka School of Vedanta,” The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol. III, 
P. 342.
[17] Ibid., p. 342.
[18] Durga Das Basu, op. cit., p.119.
[19] J. G. Arapura, Hermeneutical Essays on Vedantic Topics (Delhi:  Motilal Banarsidass, 1986),
P. 124.
[20] Swami Prabhavananda, op. cit., p. 109.
[21] Swami Suddhananda, “The Teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita,” The Cultural Heritage of India,
Vol. II, p.164.
[22] Satis Chandra Chatterjee, op. cit., p. 243.
[23] Jan Peter Schouten, “Hinduism and Development Three Case Studies,”Religion and Society,
Vol. XXVII, No. 2, (June 1981), p. 86.

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