April 13, 2011

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

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.

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