Here I would like to talk about how Hindus seek salvation, or how they call it, liberation from the cycle known as Samsara. In our examination of the beliefs in transmigration of the soul and the law of karma we noted how Samsara was not merely a description of the way things are. It is also life’s problematic.
It is crucial that we appreciate the fact that reincarnation is not seen as ultimately desirable. Many in the Western world think of reincarnation considering rebirth a good thing.
Considering death the dissolution of the self, they think reincarnation would spare them from oblivion and give meaning to their lives. A Western perfume company markets a fragrance called Samsara. They advertise it as a “timeless fulfillment”. I’m not sure if that slogan is the result of sheer ignorance or a reflection of a positive assessment of the idea of reincarnation. Hindus would nowise think of Samsara as a timeless fulfillment.
Samsara is the realm of suffering. The idea that one might continue wandering in the Samsaric world for eternity is absolutely horrifying. This view was intimated in the fact that rebirth was originally called “redeath”.
The idea of rebirth is appealing if we imagine that we return to this life with the privileged status that many of us enjoy right now. If that is the case, the law of transmigration would be a wonderful opportunity to experience and learn everything that the world has to offer. Samsara, however, implies the possibility of returning to life in forms that are not specially conducive to pleasure.
Many kinds of life, both human and animal, experience great amounts of suffering. Their lives are “nasty, brutish and short”. Even if we were to come back continually to a life of privilege and pleasure, we will probably find that ultimately tedious and distasteful. Forever is a long time.
The ultimate goal of Hinduism is thus to gain freedom from Samsara. The Hindus call this achievement Moksha, which means “release” or “liberation”. Finding Moksha is what each of us must do in this life time or in the next, or in one hundred life times from now. Eventually, we will all tire of Samsara and will muster the discipline it takes to be liberated.
We shall begin to explore the ways in which Hindus seek ultimate liberation. There is not a single prescribed path to salvation but several. In the final analysis, liberation comes in a multitude of ways.
Traditionally, Hinduism has maintained that there are three ways to live the spiritual life. These are known as margas. The word marga or marg is a common word in India and it is often used to designate streets or avenues. The three margas categorize certain emphasis within the Hindu tradition. An ordinary Hindu would often incorporate elements of each in his or her daily life.
The three paths are known as:
- The karmamarga: the way of action.
- The jnanamarga: the way of wisdom.
- The bhaktimarga: the way of devotion.
These three paths might be viewed as providing suitable spirituality for persons of different temperaments or proclivities. Those whose personalities are more orientated towards the will or volition may find the way of action more appealing. Those who are disposed towards a life of contemplation might gravitate towards the way of wisdom. Those whose lives are characterized by strong emotion and passion may be attracted to the way of devotion.
The word yoga is often used interchangeably with marga to describe these types. The term yoga, which many in the West identify with a specialized form of physical yoga, means discipline. The meaning of the term yoga is much broader than simply discipline of postures. It involves all manner of practices relating to one’s spiritual well being. It includes meditation, fasting, ascetic practices, ethical behavior and study.