They way of action is one of the three ways Hindus live their spiritual life (and try to get closer to the goal of liberation). In a sense, all Hindus pursue the way of action in one way or another. Although moksha is the ultimate goal of all Hindus, most people are not primarily concerned with attaining it. For the most part, moksha is seen as a distant objective. Something that would be best pursued in another life time. The concerns of this life are demanding enough.
For many Hindus, just getting the daily bread consumes the greater part of the day. Even those who do not struggle with mere subsistence have good reason to let final liberation be the concern of a future life. Properly attending to one’s obligations in this life puts one in a better position for the next. So, one needs not seek Moksha to be a pious Hindu.
The Four Goods and Moksha
The Hindu tradition speaks of four goods of life. There is the good of dharma or duty. The good of Artha, or wealth. The good of Kama, or pleasure. And Moksha. Each of these constitute valuable and worthwhile aims in life. It is good to do one’s duty, to live with material abundance and to enjoy the many pleasures life has to offer. All of these things can be pursued by generating good karma.
As long as the pursuit of pleasure and wealth occurs within one’s moral obligations and dharma, these aspects of life are karmicly positive. Moksha, however, is a different matter. It is not just one of the four goods of life. It is also the highest good. In other words, to attain liberation from Samsara one must be willing to forsake the other three. The reason for doing this is simple. Even though doing one’s duty and pursuing wealth and enjoyment are viewed positively, they also keep one bound to the will of rebirth.
Generating good karma will certainly improve one’s status in a future life, but karma, even good karma, binds one to Samsara. For those who are not yet prepared to abandon a life of duty, material acquisition and enjoyments, the religious life means doing one’s best to improve this life and the next.
Positive karma may be produced by meritorious religious activity. In particular, rituals, festivals and pilgrimages; all of which are extremely important aspects of everyday Hindu life. Participating in these activities creates the karmic merit that yields favorable future lives. To learn about these rituals please read the article Hindu rituals.
The Tradition of Pilgrimages
Pilgrimage or sacred journey is an extremely common phenomenon in the world of religions. All the major religious traditions feature pilgrimages of one sort or another. Pilgrimages, as distinguished from other kinds of travel, entails undertaking the rigours of journeying for the explicit purpose of spiritual renewal, insight or enrichment.
Usually, the pilgrimage involves a sacred destination, a location associated with a god or a goddess. Actually, visiting such a place is believed to bring one closer to the divine. Thus, the outer physical journey mirrors the deeper and more significant inner spiritual journey.
There are many and varied pilgrimages in India. On any given day millions of Hindus are participating in them. Pilgrimage is an important and widely practiced aspect of Hinduism. Not only because pilgrimage is religiously meritorious, but because India itself is holy. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of India itself for Hindus. India is the holy land sacred to Hinduism as Israel is to Judaism. Hindus refer to the land as Bharatmata, “mother India”. The very trees, rivers, mountains and villages of India are often identified with the gods and important sacred events.
The Sacred City of Benares
The river Ganges is not only a sacred body of water but also a manifestation of a goddess. The city of Benares on the Ganges is specially auspicious and a particularly popular pilgrimage site. As the holiest place in all of India, Benares is regarded as the earthly home of the great god Shiva. Pilgrims by the thousands arrive to Benares daily just to bath in the sacred river.
It’s not uncommon to meet pilgrims who have saved all their lives to make the journey to Benares, or who walked on foot across India. Leaving home and taking the arduous journey to view this and other sacred sites is an activity that brings great spiritual benefits. Pilgrims often shave their heads or wear special clothing to mark their passage into the sacred. They frequently travel in groups to the pilgrimage site.
Many people travel to Benares as they approach death, actually hoping to die there. Dying in the holy city can cover a life time of sins and ensure a better rebirth. There are even hostels in Benares that specialize in serving the dying. Such places frankly state that those who take lodging there expected to die, usually within a few weeks. Those who hoped to live seek accommodations elsewhere. Upon death, deceased pilgrims are immediately carried to the Ganges, where their bodies are cremated by the untouchables.