You Say You Want “Moksha”—But I Really Doubt It.

Via on Apr 12, 2011

I remember several years ago, when I was on retreat at one of my favorite yoga ashram’s, the swami asked the group…

“What is your biggest obstacle to Moksha (liberation)?”

A woman answered very honestly.

She was not interested in liberation, as she understood it. To her silencing the mind, sitting in stillness and solitude seemed like a state that is lifeless, devoid of expression or joy. She said that to her liberation, meditation, and the exalted principles of yoga sounded like “falling into a black hole”. She was mainly doing yoga because it made her feel good. It helped her live her life and to her that was “spiritual enough”. She admitted that in meditation, her mind would still jump around a lot, and she didn’t care. At least it was calmer than before. She was happier and happier all the time through yoga, and that was good enough.

I really appreciated the honesty of that answer, and I never forgot it. I think the sentiment she spoke is true for most people, whether they know it or not. Most people turn to spirituality because they want it to make them feel better, not because they want liberation – or even truth. No, they want happiness. But spirituality, Moksha and happiness are often at odds with each other. The concepts are blurry in our minds and we often think they are similar.

Moksha is often translated as “liberation”, but this is deceptive. Here’s why, “liberation” sounds, well,  liberating! The truth is, the way we usually experience Moksha is through loss. Something gets taken away from us. Then eventually we learn that loss is actually freedom. There is an old saying “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die”. That really sums up the whole “moksha”  issue for me. Astrologically the death house, the house of prison, deceit, shocking accidents, are all related to Moksha – and so is meditation and stillness, comfort and rest.

The Type of Moksha We Really Want

In general, we all want moksha (to be liberated) from our suffering. But we want to keep the good stuff. We want liberation from our pain, and that’s natural, but this choosing pleasure and rejecting pain – choosing the good rejecting the bad – is also what keeps us suffering on the wheel of duality. Something in us knows this, and we try to see beyond our attractions and aversions. Yet because we don’t know ourselves beyond them, we fear a state of balance will be akin to “falling into a black hole”, rather than relaxing into a deep peace.

I’ve noticed that for most people, spirituality is expected to be something which makes them feel good. What most people consider to be the spiritual part in them, is a place of their highest emotional happiness. That may sound like a strange observation, because of course spirituality is a way for people to feel good and be happy. But actually, feeling good is just a “by-product” of spirituality – of spiritual practices like yoga. If feeling good/happiness is the goal of one’s spiritual path, it will certainly lead to disappointment at some point, just like every other external thing we are seeking in hopes of feeling good.

This “emotional spirituality” also makes us susceptible to false teachers and gurus, and projecting all kinds of things onto them. We may look for the teachers and teachings that make us happy, that inflates the ego, rather than looking for authentic practices. I don’t mean this to be judgmental, as if it’s wrong. We all want to feel good and be happy, but if one starts to do authentic spiritual practices and/or work with a real teacher, there will be balance of “good and bad”. In fact, much of it may be very unpleasant – especially at first – because we will likely have a lot of illusions, that real teaching will shatter.

Authentic spiritual paths are not meant to help us feel good, they are meant to awaken us and usually true spirituality will be equally disturbing. Great teachers and spiritual masters disturb our sleep as much as comfort us. Eventually a teachers presence becomes reassuring in the midst of the storm of difficulty we are in and sometimes even grows into a profound love.

A Question of Balance

If you are actually trying to awaken spiritually, balancing the rhythm of opposites is a big, big part of it. Accepting what is, regardless of how you feel about it, how you judge it, is a big part of the path. When you are unperturbed and unshaken by praise or censure, happiness and sadness, then you’re very close to your true Self.

The deeper Self is really not of this world. It is the untouched freedom in you. Eventually it is a place where silence does not feel like “falling into a black hole”. Rather, it is a place of wholeness in your heart. Connected, and not dependent on anything external and stimulating.

That is the freedom of moksha, the liberation from duality and the willingness to lose it all.

May we all abide in the knowledge that nothing authentic can ever be lost and if it can be lost, it was not real to begin with. It was just a projection.

About Sam Geppi

Sam Geppi is a Vedic astrologer, and teacher. He is the author of "The Ascendant-108 Planets of Vedic Astrology." You can learn more about the universe and why astrology makes sense by checking out his Free Astrology Class CD, his Facebook and his Membership Website.

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28 Responses to “You Say You Want “Moksha”—But I Really Doubt It.”

  1. Hi, Sam. I offer for our readers' this alternative view of the role of emotion in Yoga, perhaps not inconsistent with yours, but certainly with some significant different nuances:

    Gita in a Nutshell #7: Is the Gita Asking Us to Repress Our Emotions?

    And I guess I disagree that "The deeper Self is really not of this world." I think the deeper Self can be found in all things, not just things "not of this world." Again, with some help from the Gita:

    Gita in a Nutshell #2: Experience Infinite Wonder in All Things

    I realize these are just two different points of view that have been debated by Yoga sages down through the centuries. But I thought it might be useful to highlight them for our readers here.

    Thanks for your thought provoking article.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  2. Mina says:

    wow Sam… that was incredible.

  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  4. samgeppi says:

    Thanks Bob, but i have to disagree that there is a disagreement!! LOL

    Not really two different points of view. No big centuries long debate here.

    I have a long history with the Gita also.

    I think Krishna highlights the issues I discuss in Ch.14 — Gunas.. (Qualities of the world)
    Sattwa – happiness
    Rajas – passino/emotion
    Tamas – form/delusion/fear

    Ch.14 Verse 5
    "Sattva or goodness, Rajas or activity, and Tamas or inertia;
    These three Gunas of mind bind
    The imperishable soul to the body, O Arjuna."

    Ch.14 Verses 19 and 20
    When visionaries perceive no doer
    Other than the Gunas, and know That
    Which is above and beyond the Gunas;
    Then they attain nirvana.

    When one transcends the three Gunas
    That originate in the mind;
    One is freed from birth, old age,
    Disease, and death; and attains nirvana.

    Ch. 14 Verses 23-27

    The one who remains like a witness;
    Who is not moved by the Gunas, Thinking that the Gunas only are operating;
    Who stands firm and does not waver; and

    The one who depends on the Lord
    And is indifferent to pain and pleasure;
    To whom a clod, a stone, and gold are alike;
    To whom the dear and the unfriendly are alike;
    Who is of firm mind; who is calm
    In censure and in praise; and

    The one who is indifferent to honor and disgrace;
    who is the same To friend and foe; who has renounced
    The sense of doership; is said
    To have transcended the Gunas.

    The one who offers service to Me
    With love and unswerving devotion transcends Gunas,
    And becomes fit for realizing Brahman.

    Because, I am the abode
    Of the immortal and eternal Brahman,
    Of everlasting Dharma,
    And of the absolute bliss.

  5. Tulsidas says:

    Dear Sam: There is the self/atma and the SELF/PARAMATMA. Again and again Krishna instructs Arjna to surrender to HIM. He does not instruct Arjuna to surrender to his own self, but to HIM who is Godhead. Yes atma and Godhead are of the same substance qualitatively, but not quantitatively. The soul is fractal in nature and one with Godhead as in the spark is one with the blazing fire or the drop of water with the ocean. However, Krishna is Krishna and the individual soul even though eternal and divine in nature is covered by Maya and the 3 gunas and only Krishn can remove that veil. He appears again and again as Satguru to protect, instruct and purify our mind thru surrender to HIM . 12th Chapter/Gita

    • Suparna says:

      I agree with you totally

    • Sam Geppi says:

      Thank you Tulsidas. I agree with you. It is a balancing act to try to integrate so many principles and I cannot delineate every concept of Atma/Paramatma .. in every article or response.

      Atma is subtle enough and it feels like the Self with in us.. that is how we experience it.. once we start saying HIM, it starts feeling more like external God religion / worship which to me is further from the mark.

      I did my best

  6. Carol Horton says:

    "there will be balance of “good and bad”. In fact, much of it may be very unpleasant . . . because we will likely have a lot of illusions, that real teaching will shatter."

    Sounds like life to me. (Although I edited out the "especially a first," because I think that this is a process that keeps going.

    If the woman "just" seeking happiness is honest with herself and keeps growing, I think that the same lessons that you seem to be pointing to will be learned. There is at least in most cases probably much more an ego trap in starting out insisting that you are dedicated to "higher" spiritual attainments than in acknowledging that you're just trying to live your life as best you can. How does that saying go – "before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water; after enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water."

    • Sam Geppi says:

      I agree Carol. That is why I am trying not to sound judgmental. There is nothing wrong with trying to be happy and I think it is the main reason everyone starts a spiritual path.. because we first try to be happy through the body – in the world – then that fails and we start looking deeper..

      I wrote the article to explain the differences in these things and the illusions around Moksha (how it really feels) and our motivations most of the time and how to be more congruent with ourselves and ask ourselves these questions.

  7. Michael Texeira says:

    Really well stated, Sam. The only comment that I have is regarding your conception of authentic teachers, and authentic spiritual teachers. My experience is that life itself is the spiritual practice, and the teacher. Now, depending on what you want, how quickly you want it, you draw to yourself experiences of greater or lesser clarity. Regardless, by the end of any incarnation, you have learned something. Those who seek to go quickly seek those who have taken the quicker route before them. In this case, the quicker route is the route of focused attention. Those who don't seek to go quickly often let themselves wander in the experiences which come to them out of karmic necessity, and learn from those. I know you understand this, and you state that it is not wrong. I'm merely stating that it is an authentic spiritual path. That life lived in that way is an authentic spiritual practice and teacher. Just because it is not focused does not make it unauthentic. In fact, all things which exist are authentic.

  8. Michael Texeira says:

    second sentence should read …and authentic spiritual practices.

  9. Rayna says:

    Thank you Sam. I have no sentence structure feedback, quotes from books or semantic quibbles to offer.
    I am struggling on my path and your words reached me today. Thank you.

  10. Jiiva says:

    Feeling good, feeling bad matters little. When we do yoga and meditation properly samskaras seem to pop up faster and we may not feel great at times. No matter what, if you see all as divine, perhaps we can allow ourselves to be who we are and embrace it all, Every state of mind is embedded into the totality of the supreme Consciousness. Who said that we ought to be different or positive. What matters is that we do not cause harm to others just because we feel down and take responsibility. Being authentic is the true notion of being positive and that includes honesty (satya) about even our negativity.

  11. All of this talk about imperviousness to change and the cultivation of detachment can often be an important reference point when initially engaging in spiritual type practices. I get concerned when this is the definition of enlightenment.

    "Emotional spirituality" can lead us to inauthenticity and false teachers… but spiritual practice that cultivates excessive detachment can lead to similar pitfalls. Loss seems to play a big role in most of these comments and in the article above… it is quite common to detach from life/emotions and anything that might make us feel the pain of losing again after experiencing a big loss. But divorcing ourselves from how we feel is an unhealthy response to trauma. It is dangerous to confuse authentic spirituality with dissociative states, and yet many teachers cultivate dissociative mental and emotional habits within their students.

    Spirituality can often be a way of depersonalizing life experience, which is a form of distancing ourselves from what we feel and is often an extreme form of denial.

    The author of this article seems to be conflating the American cult of Happiness with "emotional spirituality". Both are dangerous and both not only set up unrealistic expectations but also a self-centered mentality. Over valuing ecstatic states of consciousness, and the excesses of emotional spiritual practices (such as over-zealous forms of bhakti, evangelical ecstatics, & c.) can often cultivate manic-depressive tendencies within practitioners. But this does not mean that we should swing all the way over to the other side of the spectrum to complete detachment. I'm not saying that the author is promoting pure detachment, but the language of the article and the subsequent quotations from the Gita suggest an over reliance upon disconnecting from human feeling.

    It's true that we should not make the focal point of our lives the attainment of personal happiness, which can lead towards some very unhealthy and often solipsistic habits of mind, but making the dramatic turn away from human experience and the emotions that come with it is just as unhealthy.

    Nonetheless, I applaud the author of this piece, because it is so rare to hear a voice that is asking us to engage with a higher calling greater than simply "following our bliss." But in the end pure detachment is just as much of a pitfall along the path as bliss/happiness centered spirituality.

    Psychological maturity demands that we engage wholeheartedly with experience while practicing discernment. The delicate balance of the two is the very definition of authentic spiritual practice.

  12. Sam Geppi says:

    Hi Wethotyogishyam,

    " Over valuing ecstatic states of consciousness, and the excesses of emotional spiritual practices (such as over-zealous forms of bhakti, evangelical ecstatics, & c.) can often cultivate manic-depressive tendencies within practitioners. "

    Yes it can and many are drawn to that, and then become disappointed when i tis not .. and so yes I agree with you..

    "But this does not mean that we should swing all the way over to the other side of the spectrum to complete detachment."

    well we can certainly try for detachment, but it is really the hardest thing for our mind is to stay established .. I don't think we need to "rah, rah, rah" ourselves on the "Yoga of the emotions",.. we are already "joined" them enough..

    " I'm not saying that the author is promoting pure detachment, but the language of the article and the subsequent quotations from the Gita suggest an over reliance upon disconnecting from human feeling. "

    I am not advocating that .. sorry if it seemed like it.. and thank you for the comments.

  13. Sam Geppi says:

    Hi Wethotyogishyam,
    One more thing.. "human feeling" and "the emotions" are not the same thing.

    Our feeling nature is the source of our strength. It is the silent intuition that is peaceful and happy for no reason. There is really only one feeling,. love – but there are many emotions that arise from trying to find it externally.

    The emotions are the waves (vrittis) created in the mind when we seek that love in something of the outer world – the world of change.

    Happy/sad is really one emotion I think. Just like the wave has a height and a trough ..

    I am not saying emotions are bad, I am not judging it,, but just listen to Patanjali! – Is it the reason we suffer or not?!?

    I think a big problem is when we speak of feeling and the emotions as the same thing.. Everything has feelings.. all creatures, not just people. Our feeling Self is whole, emotions are fragmented,, etc…

    Thanks again for the comment
    .

  14. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  15. raikva says:

    No: it IS like falling into a black hole. Except it is blissful, and there is no falling because no sensation of body, and it is not black but self-illuminated.

    But that doesn’t invalidate the point that not many people want it – most would ‘rather see God than be God’.

  16. Kashif says:

    My partner and I have taken to refering to this as "sexy spirituality" … owning the clothes, DVDs, studying with the teachers, but not really commiting yourself to seeking true liberation. I suppose it to is a stop along the journey.

  17. [...] You Say You Want “Moksha”—But I Really Doubt It. [...]

  18. craigholliday says:

    Freedom requires that we give everything, every part of ourselves, even our tightly held beliefs….beautiful article

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