Swami Lakshmanjoo explains what is moksha (liberation) in Kashmir Shaivism and comparing it to other philosophical traditions like Vedānta and Buddhism.
This is an excerpt from the fourteenth chapter of the essential Kashmir Shaivism book, Kashmir Shaivism – The Secret Supreme, revealed by Swami Lakshmanjoo.
The view that ignorance is the cause of bondage and perfect knowledge is the cause of freedom (mokṣa) is commonly accepted by all Indian philosophers. Yet, in reality, these philosophers have not completely understood knowledge and ignorance.
The Vaiṣṇavites, for example, believe that liberation (mokṣa) from repeated births and deaths occurs when you are united with parāprakṛiti.1 And this union with parāprakṛiti will take place only when you observe in your understanding that the apparent differentiation of this universe is unreal. Then all attachments, pleasures, and pains will come to an end and you will be established in your own real nature. It is this establishment which, from their point of view, is called mokṣa.
The Advaita Vedāntins, on the other hand, have concluded that, in the real sense, mokṣa is only bliss (ānanda) and nothing else. They say that when you are residing in the field of ignorance (saṁsāra), you become the victim of the fivefold veils: avidyā (ignorance), asmitā (ego), rāga (attachment), dveṣa (hatred) and abhiniveṣa (attachment to your own conception). These coverings, which are the cause of your remaining in saṁsāra, should be removed by the practice of tattvajñāna. In this practice, you must mentally negate all that is not your own real nature by thinking, neti, neti, “I am not this, I am not this.” So here you practice thinking, “I am not the physical body, I am not the subtle body, I am not the mind, I am not the life essence (prāṇa).” You must negate all outside elements. And when you reside completely in your own nature, which is that which remains after you negate all outside elements, that knowledge, from their point of view, is called mokṣa.
The tradition of Buddhist philosophers, who are known as the Vijñānavādins, accept, that you are liberated only when your mind is completely detached from all attachments to objectivity, pleasure, pain, and sorrow. They argue that the mind must remain only as mind, pure and perfect mind, because for them the mind is actually pure, filled with light, and detached from all worldly things. It is when the mind becomes attached to worldly things, such as thoughts, pleasures, and pains, that you are carried to saṁsāra. And when these attachments are cancelled and the mind becomes pure, then you are liberated.
The philosophers from the Vaibhāṣika tradition hold that liberation is attained by eliminating the chain of thoughts, just as the flame of a lamp is extinguished. When a lamp is burning, we experience the existence of the flame. When, however, the flame is extinguished, it does not go anywhere. It does not go into the earth or into the ether. When the flame is extinguished, it simply disappears. And the extinguishing of the flame takes place when the oil of the lamp is exhausted. In the same way, when a yogī has crossed over all the pleasures and pains of the world, those pleasures and pains do not go anywhere, they simply disappear. This yogī, who has extinguished the flame of the chain of thoughts by exhausting the wax of the five kleśas,2 enters into the supreme and perfect peace which is, from their point of view, liberation.
From the Śaivite point of view, these philosophical traditions remain either in apavedya pralayākala or in savedya pralayākala. They do not go beyond these states. Apavedya pralayākala is that state of pralayākala where there is no objectivity. Savedya pralayākala is that state of pralayākala where there is some impression of objectivity. As an example, take the state of deep sleep. When you wake up from deep sleep and then think, “I was sleeping and I didn’t know anything,” that is the state of apavedya pralayākala. And when you wake up from the state of deep sleep and think, “I was sleeping peacefully without dreaming,” that is the state of savedya pralayākala because you experienced that it was a sweet sleep and so “sweetness” is the object for you in this state. Śaiva philosophy does not recognize the theories of these philosophies concerning mokṣa because, in fact, the yogins of these traditions do not move above the pralayākala state and are not, therefore, situated in real mokṣa.
Our Śaivism explains that jñāna (knowledge) is knowing one’s own nature, which is all Being (sat), all consciousness (cit), and all bliss (ānanda). Ajñāna (ignorance) is ignoring this nature and this is the cause of the saṁsāra which carries one in the cycle of repeated births and deaths.
Kashmir Śaivism explains that ignorance (ajñāna) is of two kinds: pauruṣa ajñāna and bauddha ajñāna.
Pauruṣa ajñāna is that kind of ignorance wherein one is unaware of realizing one’s own nature in samādhi. This kind of ignorance is removed by the grace of masters and by meditating upon one’s own Self. And when this ignorance is removed, you find yourself in the real knowledge of Śaivism, which is all being, all consciousness, all bliss. This kind of knowledge is called pauruṣa jñāna. When you possess pauruṣa jñāna, you realize your nature of Self perfectly.
Bauddha ajñāna (intellectual ignorance) occurs only when you are completely ignorant of the philosophical truth of the monistic idea of Śaivism. And bauddha ajñāna is removed by studying those monistic Śaiva texts which explain the reality of the Self. Therefore, these texts are the cause of your being carried from bauddha ajñāna to bauddha jñāna. Bauddha jñāna is thought-based and is developed through the intellect. Pauruṣa jñāna, on the other hand, is practical and is developed through practice. Pauruṣa jñāna is predominant over bauddha jñāna because when you possess only pauruṣa jñāna, even then you are liberated in the real sense. In this case, however, liberation is attained only after leaving your body. When, however, at the same time, you attach bauddha jñāna to pauruṣa jñāna, which means that, on the one hand, you practice on your own Being and, on the other hand, you go into the philosophical thought of the monistic Śaiva texts and elevate your intellectual being, then you become a jīvanmukta, one who is liberated while living. If, however, you possess only bauddha jñāna and not pauruṣa jñāna, then you will not attain liberation either while living in the body or at the time of death. Bauddha jñāna without pauruṣa jñāna is useless and will not take you anywhere. The study of texts shines perfectly only when there is practical knowledge at the same time. Without practical knowledge, philosophical study is useless. Bauddha jñāna will bear fruit only when pauruṣa jñāna is present and not otherwise.
If an aspirant is attached only to practical knowledge and not to theoretical knowledge, believing that the only real knowledge is practical knowledge, which is the realizing of ones own nature, then from a Śaiva point of view he is mistaken. If only pauruṣa jñāna is cultivated and bauddha jñāna is totally ignored, then there is every possibility that pauruṣa jñāna may decrease day by day, slowly fading away so that in the end, it does not remain at all. It is the greatness of bauddha jñāna that, with its power, it firmly establishes pauruṣa jñāna. In this respect, therefore, bauddha jñāna is more important than pauruṣa jñāna.
In our Śaivism, it is said that when you go in search of a master so that you can be initiated, you should first seek that master who is full of both bauddha jñāna and full of pauruṣa jñāna. Finding him, you should consider him a real master. If in this world such a complete master is not to be found, then you should seek one who is only filled with bauddha jñāna. He is to be preferred over that master who is filled only with pauruṣa jñāna because intellectually he will carry you by and by to the end point. That master who resides only in pauruṣa jñāna would not ultimately be successful in carrying you to that which you seek.
bhūmirāpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ khaṁ mano buddhireva ca /
ahaṁkāra itīyaṁ me bhinnā prakṛitiraṣṭadhā // BG 7.4 //
Aparā prakṛti consist of the are five elements (mahābhūtas), along with mind, buddhi-(intellect), and ahaṁkāra-(ago).
Parā prakṛti is supreme – that is svatantya śakti – by and in which this whole universe is existing.
2. Kleśas, which means, literally, “pains, misfortune,” are afflictions which delude you and lead you astray. In Yoga philosophy these afflictions are fivefold: avidyā (ignorance), asmitā (ego), rāga (attachment), dveṣa (hatred), and abhiniveṣa (attachment to your own conception).