ॐ Hindu Of Universe ॐ

“God’s light is within you, It never leaves you.”

Hinduism Basic Beliefs

The fundamental teaching of Hinduism, or Vedanta, is that a human being’s basic nature is not confined to the body or the mind. Beyond both of these is the spirit or the spark of God within the soul.

How did Hinduism begin?

Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma (“eternal spiritual path”) began about 4000 years ago in India. It was the religion of an ancient people known as the Aryans (“noble people”) whose philosophy, religion, and customs are recorded in their sacred texts known as the Vedas. These texts were initially handed down by word of mouth from teacher to student. It was not until much later that they were actually written down. Archeological evidence from the Indus Valley civilization of northwestern India helps to establish Hinduism as the world’s oldest living religion. Today, worldwide, there are almost one billion people professing some aspect of Hinduism. The fundamental teachings of Hinduism, which form the foundation of all its different sects, are contained in the concluding portion of the Vedas, and are therefore known as the Vedanta (the “end or concluding portion of the Vedas”). This part of the Vedas is also known as the Upanishads.

What do Hindus believe and practice?

The fundamental teaching of Hinduism, or Vedanta, is that a human being’s basic nature is not confined to the body or the mind. Beyond both of these is the spirit or the spark of God within the soul. This spirit is within us and also within everything we see. All beings and all things are really, in their deepest essence, this pure or divine spirit, full of peace, full of joy and wisdom, ever united with God. This is not just theory, but it can actually be experienced. Anyone who takes the trouble to undergo the necessary training to purify and refine the mind and senses can begin to feel the truth of this. This training can take various forms and is known as yoga (“union”- union of the individual self with this inner spirit).

There are four main types of yoga, meant for the four main types of human temperaments: 

Karma Yoga or the discipline of right actions is for those of active temperament, striving to eliminate selfishness, and to cultivate universal sympathy by seeing the divine reality in all.

Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion to God whose presence can be felt in all things. God can be worshipped as present in an image in a Temple. God can be worshipped also as present in suffering humanity by service. 

Jnana Yoga, preferred by those of analytical bent of mind, is the discipline of trying to see the divine reality within all things directly, by mentally brushing aside all the obstructing physical and mental coverings that hide it.

Raja Yoga is the process of mental control, purity, and meditation to make the mind very calm and quiet. In that profound quiet, the inner divine light reveals itself.

What are the manifestation(s) God in Hinduism?

What are the different sects of Hinduism?  The general name for God in Hinduism is Brahman. The name of the divine essence within us is Atman. They are one and the same, infinite and eternal. However, God is also present in all creation. God’s manifestation in creation goes by many names. It is the one infinite, eternal, Divine Being that is manifesting in countless ways. It is like a person at the same time being called “father” by his son, “friend” by his friend, “son” by his own father, “husband” by his wife, etc. A special relationship goes with each name. So the same Divine Lord has been addressed as Shiva, Vishnu, etc and as Divine Mother, Kali, Durga, etc. God can also manifest as an extraordinary being in human form, who is then known as an incarnation of God, such as Krishna, Rama, etc. Since it is the one infinite God alone that is being looked at in different ways, all these manifestations can be prayed to for help and protection. This is the underlying principle behind all the different sects of Hinduism. Those who prefer a particular manifestation of the divinity will form a sect devoted to the contemplation and worship of that manifestation. All the sects, however, will accept the ancient teachings of the Vedas and the Vedanta as the foundation of their practice.

What is reincarnation?

In this world every cause must have its effect. We are responsible for the results of our actions. Long ages ago, human beings first asked themselves, why are some people born in happy circumstances, whereas others are born to suffer all their lives? The events of this present life are not enough to account for such suffering. To reasonably explain an excess of suffering or of enjoyment in this life, it was assumed that we all have had previous existences, and that we are now reaping the results of those previous actions. It must also be true then that we can take charge of our destiny right now. We can create a better tomorrow by resolving do better actions today. However, as long as desires remain in the mind, the tendency toward rebirth will exist.

What is Maya?

In this life we do not see things very clearly. We are constantly faced with contradictions. Though we know what is right, we have trouble doing it. Our thoughts soar high, but our actions cannot rise to the level of our thoughts. The world is full of misery and injustice; as quickly as we remove some, more seems to rush in to take its place. We are told by the saints, and we also feel, that a loving God is at work in this creation, but we cannot reconcile this with what we see around us. This complex situation in which we find ourselves is called Maya. 

The way out of this, according to Hinduism or Vedanta, is that we are not really seeing the world properly. If we saw it properly, we would see that it is God alone before us. Instead, we superimpose all this complex world on that divine reality.

The illustration given is that of a rope, mistaken in semi-darkness for a snake. The snake of this world frightens us. What is the solution? Bring a light and you will see its real nature. It is only a rope. Likewise, the real nature or essence of this world is divinity alone. Bring the light of spiritual wisdom through yoga, and you will see God alone everywhere. This is what constitutes spiritual freedom or liberation, Moksha. When this knowledge dawns, there is complete satisfaction; no desire remains in the mind, and no further impulse for rebirth remains.

What code of behavior do Hindus follow?

The code of behavior is one’s dharma. This is determined by the place in society and the duties associated with it. There are four main social positions or varna; Brahmins (priests and teachers) Kshatriyas (rulers and soldiers), Vaishyas (merchants) and Shudras (workers). 

There are four ideal stages of life described in Hindu scriptures: the student, the family man, the recluse, and the wandering holy man. For most Hindu people these represent a metaphorical path, not an actual path. 

What are the Hindu sacred texts?

Hindu ancient, sacred texts were written in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. The Vedas are the oldest – about 3000 years old. They are a collection of hymns, prayers, and magic spells. The Upanishads are stories and parables told by gurus (teachers) to their students The Mahabharata is a story of a war between two royal families. The Bhagavad Gita is a very popular part of this text. The Ramayana is a story of the god Rama and the rescue of his wife Sita from Ravana, the evil demon king.

Three Hindu gods

Vishnu is one of the most popular gods of the Hindu pantheon. His portrayal here is standard: a royal figure standing tall, crowned and bejeweled, in keeping with his role as king and preserver of order within the universe. He carries a gada (mace) and chakra (disc) in his hands. The other two hands, which would have held a lotus and conch, are broken. On his forehead he wears a vertical mark or tilak, commonly worn by followers of Vishnu. In keeping with his iconography as the divine king, he is heavily bejeweled, wears a sacred thread that runs over his left shoulder and a long garland that comes down to his knees.

He stands flanked by two attendants, who may be his consorts Bhu and Shri, on a double lotus. The stele has a triangular top unlike earlier examples which were usually in the shape of a gently lobed arch. On either side of his crown are celestial garland bearers and musicians, the Vidyadharas and Kinnaras. A kirtimukha, or auspicious face of glory, is carved on the top centre of the arch.

The sculpture is typical of workmanship of the Pala dynasty of twelfth-century Bengal. The heart-shaped face with stylized arched eyebrows, long eyes that are slightly upturned at the ends, the broad nose, and the pursed smile are all characteristic.

The Hindu creator god

It is often said that there is a trinity of Hindu gods: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. But while Vishnu and Shiva have followers and temples all over India, Brahma is not worshiped as a major deity. Brahma is the personified form of an indefinable and unknowable divine principle called by Hindus brahman. In the myth of Shiva as Lingodbhava, when Brahma searches for the top of the linga of fire, Brahma falsely claimed that he had found flowers on its summit, when in fact the Shiva linga was without end. For this lie he was punished by having no devotees. There are very few temples dedicated to Brahma alone in India. The only one of renown is at Pushkar, in Rajasthan.

Brahma can be recognized by his four heads, only three of which are visible in this sculpture. In two of his four hands he holds a water pot and a rosary. Brahma originally had five heads but Shiva, in a fit of rage, cut one off. Shiva as Bhairava is depicted as a wandering ascetic with Brahma’s fifth head stuck to his hand as a reminder of his crime. Brahma is commonly placed in a niche on the north side of Shaiva temples in Tamil Nadu together with sculptures of Dakshinamurti and Lingodbhava.


Nine Beliefs of Hinduism

Our beliefs determine our thoughts and attitudes about life, which in turn direct our actions. By our actions, we create our destiny. Beliefs about sacred matters–God, soul and cosmos–are essential to one’s approach to life. Hindus believe many diverse things, but there are a few bedrock concepts on which most Hindus concur. The following nine beliefs, though not exhaustive, offer a simple summary of Hindu spirituality.

  1. Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
  2. Hindus believe in the divinity of the four Vedas, the world’s most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God’s word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion.
  3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
  4. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
  5. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be deprived of this destiny.
  6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments and personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.
  7. Hindus believe that an enlightened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry, meditation and surrender in God.
  8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, noninjury, in thought, word and deed.
  9. Hindus believe that no religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine paths are facets of God’s Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.

Hindu deities

The multiple gods and goddesses of Hinduism are a distinctive feature of the religion. However, Professor Julius Lipner explains that Hinduism cannot be considered polytheistic and discusses the way in which Hindu culture and sacred texts conceptualise the deities, as well as their role in devotional faith.

One of the most striking features of Hinduism is the seemingly endless array of images of gods and goddesses, most with animal associates, that inhabit the colourful temples, and wayside shrines and homes of its adherents. Because of this, Hinduism has been called an idolatrous and polytheistic religion. How are we to understand the concept of deity in Hinduism and its worship of images? In this essay, we shall take up this theme and also consider various forms of pilgrimage and prayer.

Hinduism can be likened to an enormous banyan tree extending itself through many centres of belief and practice which can be seen to link up with each other in various ways, like a great network that is one, yet many. The concepts of deity, worship and pilgrimage in Hinduism are a prime example of this ‘polycentric’ phenomenon.

What does the Veda say about deities?

Deities are a key feature of Hindu sacred texts. The Vedic texts describe many so-called gods and goddesses (devas and devīs) who personify various cosmic powers through fire, wind, sun, dawn, darkness, earth and so on. There is no firm evidence that these Vedic deities were worshipped by images; rather, they were summoned through the sacrificial ritual (yajña), with the deity Agni (fire) generally acting as intermediary, to bestow various boons to their supplicants on earth in exchange for homage and the ritual offering. Some Vedic texts speak of a One that seemed to undergird the plurality of these devas and devīs as their support and origin. In time, in the Upaniṣads, this One (Brahman) was envisaged as either the transcendent, supra-personal source of all change and differentiation in our world which would eventually dissolve back into the One, or as the supreme, personal Lord (īśvara) who was the mainstay and goal of all finite being. In both conceptions, we have the basis for subsequent notions of a transcendent reality that is accessible to humans by meditation and/or prayer and worship.

When did personal gods develop in Hinduism?

It is in the Bhagavad Gītā, composed at about the beginning of the Common Era, that we first find sustained textual evidence of developed thinking about devotional faith in a personal God, named Krishna (also spelt Kṛṣṇa). In this text, Krishna teaches his friend and disciple, Arjuna, about his divine nature and relationship with the world, and how the devoted soul can find liberation (mokṣa) from the sorrows and limitations of life through loving communion with him. Here, also for the first time in Hinduism, we encounter the doctrine of the avatāra (anglicised as avatar), which teaches that the Supreme Being descends periodically into the world in embodied form for, according to the Gītā, ‘re-establishing dharma, protecting the virtuous and destroying the wicked.’ The doctrine of multiple avatars with their specific objectives was to develop subsequently over the centuries in various sacred texts, such as the Purāṇas.

At about the same time as the Gītā was composed, the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad endorses devotion to Shiva (also spelt Śiva), also called Rudra, as the Supreme Being who transforms his devotees from the halter (pāśa) of existence into a state of profound union with him. Both the Gītā and the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad proclaim a form of disciplined devotion (bhakti) as the means to salvation, and it was not till about the 5th century that a theology of saving devotion to the Great Goddess (Mahādevī) appeared in the Devī Māhātmya. In a manner that accounts for the devotional faith of most Hindus, each of these three deities, Vishnu (also spelt Viṣṇu), Shiva, and the Goddess, under one alternative name or other, can be seen to head a distinctive strand of theistic Hinduism which inter-relates in complex ways with the other two. In terms of this interlocking grid, most Hindus would have a firm sense of religious belonging through faith in a Supreme Deity who can be approached, understood and worshipped by way of a system of disciplined belief and practice.

Is Hinduism a polytheistic religion?

It is important to grasp the distinctive way Hindus tend to approach their desired deity (iṣṭadevatā), usually a traditional feature of household or community worship, as the focus of their religious life. This deity, be it a form of Shiva, Vishnu or the Goddess, can normally manifest through multiple forms (rūpa). When speaking of worship of the great Goddess, the Kālikā Purāṇa (14th century) conveniently gives the model for the relationship between the chosen deity and its various forms: ‘Just as rays of the sun continually come forth from the sun’s disc so [the various forms of the Goddess] come forth from the body of the Goddess.’ This idea seems to be a conceptual development of the Vedic notion of the underlying One manifesting in and through the many: there is, ultimately, only one Supreme Source which can manifest, like rays of the sun, in alternative forms, each of which may indeed have its own tradition of narrative, belief and worship, but only as inter-linking with other centres of the whole. We can hardly call this ‘polytheism’ in the common sense of the term; it is, rather, a distinctive kind of ‘polymorphic’ monotheism, i.e. a monotheism underlying many manifestations of the same Deity – the whole relational web being a prime example of Hindu polycentrism at work.

When did the worship of deities begin?

The first archaeological evidence we have of standing temple construction and its implication of image-worship of the deity occurs in about the 3rd century BCE – of a Vishnu temple (in eastern Rajasthan) and of a Shiva temple not too far away. Presumably, since these were constructions of mud, timber, brick, stone etc., the process of temple-building had begun appreciably earlier, though we cannot say exactly where or when. We can also assume from textual and archaeological evidence that image-worship in Hinduism was present by about the 6th to the 5th century BCE.

It is generally believed (though there is mounting evidence against some external ‘Aryan invasion’) that people known as ancient Aryans had originally displaced an advanced civilisation in the north-western regions of the subcontinent called the Indus civilisation. Thre is evidence of brick structures, dating from this civilisation, that indicate a religious purpose and of small figures made of, and in, firm material such as terracotta and soapstone. However, since there is no agreement about how to interpret the script of the Indus civilisation, we cannot say for sure that these were truly figures of religious import, and thus had an influence on the fashioning later Hindu images.

How are deities worshiped?

By the first centuries of the Common Era, cults of the worship of images of various deities, such as Vishnu and the Goddess, were established. Such worship (pūjā) would have taken place both at home and in the temple. In time, temple design became ornate and varied, and temple-worship involved making the image according to strict iconographic rules and served by a dedicated class of priests, an elaborate ritual of consecration of the image, flower and food offerings, anointing and bathing the image, oil lamps, incense, bells and processions with the image, a daily programme for the deities involved patterned on practices of the royal court, and so on.

Most deities have an animal associate (vāhana) which helps identify the deity and express the latter’s specific powers; this was achieved too by an artistic device that attributed multiple body-parts, such as hands and heads, adorned by weapons and other objects, to the image. There are many stories, especially in the Purāṇas, which describe the origin and role of the vāhana and the weapons and other attributes associated with the image.

The temple itself was viewed as the body of the deity, with the darkened chamber at its heart in which (the image of) the deity was placed, known as the garbha-gṛha or ‘womb-house.’ This was the place in which the worshipper, who approached as humble supplicant, was reborn to a new lease of life by the grace of the deity.

Hindus tend to perceive the material of the consecrated image (arcā) as having undergone substantial change in the multiple earthly bodies of the deity itself, whose true, transcendent nature is really one and spiritual, consisting of pure consciousness, power and bliss. Here too we see that a complex relationship obtains between the One and the many. This cannot be dubbed ‘idolatry’ in any usually understood, derogatory sense. The point of the transcendent deity’s manifesting as the arcā, of appearing limited and powerless in many forms and places, is to express compassionate love and accessibility (saulabhya) on the deity’s part for the sake of the worshipper. Otherwise, as the Viṣṇudharmottara Purāṇa (ca. 6th–7th century) says, ‘what [else] can the image accomplish for the One who is always fulfilled?’ ‘Understand’, continues the Purāṇa, ‘that the purpose of His image-worship is the love of the worshipper’, that is, the divine love for the worshipper and the worshipper’s love for God.

Other than by forms of temple worship, which include both personal prayer and various rituals conducted by priests, the deity may be worshipped at home too, either through personal images, or family images handed down, or by way of meditation (dhyāna). Dhyāna can include highly specialised kinds of visualisation of the deity invoked, in which the deity is often envisaged as communicating with the worshipper.

Another form of worshipping the deity in Hinduism is through pilgrimage (yātrā). Pilgrimage is a way of creating a sacred landscape, of indicating that the whole world, including the pilgrim, belongs to the deity and is under its rulership. Through every pilgrimage, Hindus encounter a tīrtha, a sacred ford or crossing-point between heaven and earth, by which they may come to terms with this world of sorrows and arrive at the threshold of liberation. Over time, a great many tīrthas have developed across the Hindu sacred landscape.

Nine Beliefs of Hinduism

Our beliefs determine our thoughts and attitudes about life, which in turn direct our actions. By our actions, we create our destiny. Beliefs about sacred matters–God, soul and cosmos–are essential to one’s approach to life. Hindus believe many diverse things, but there are a few bedrock concepts on which most Hindus concur. The following nine beliefs, though not exhaustive, offer a simple summary of Hindu spirituality.

  1. Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.
  2. Hindus believe in the divinity of the four Vedas, the world’s most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God’s word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion.
  3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution.
  4. Hindus believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.
  5. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be deprived of this destiny.
  6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals, sacraments and personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.
  7. Hindus believe that an enlightened master, or satguru, is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry, meditation and surrender in God.
  8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, noninjury, in thought, word and deed.
  9. Hindus believe that no religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine paths are facets of God’s Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.

Hinduism, the world’s oldest religion, has no beginning–it precedes recorded history. It has no human founder. It is a mystical religion, leading the devotee to personally experience the Truth within, finally reaching the pinnacle of consciousness where man and God are one. Hinduism has four main denominations–Saivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism.

9 More Things You Should Know About Hinduism

1. Hindus believe in an impersonal god.

Mainstream Hinduism understands god as one, yet it asserts this god can manifest itself in multiple names and forms. A supreme god, popularly known as Brahman, is believed to be the infinite abstract principle, not a person—the absolute reality, the source of consciousness, and the pure existence and knowledge. Brahman doesn’t exist per se but is existence itself. This god is an assembly of superlative attributes rather than a being. It’s an impersonal essence and force. This essence or force isn’t all knowing. Instead, it’s knowledge itself that is Brahman.

2. Hinduism lacks a unified source of authority.

Hinduism is claimed to be the most ancient religion in the world. However, it has no founder, no single sacred scripture, and no unified creed or confession. Hindus revere many authoritative scriptures, such as Vedas, Vedanta, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Bhagavata Purana, and Ramayana. These scriptures’ claims are confusing and self-contradictory in many places. They have an elaborate creation narrative of mankind and the cosmos, as well as narratives of how gods and goddesses came into being. These scriptures are read primarily by Hindu scholars and priests, not by laypeople or everyday adherents.

3. Hindus believe in karma and reincarnation.

Hinduism is seen by some to be a fatalistic religion. Its sacred scriptures claim the doctrines of karma and reincarnation are inseparably interwoven. Karma is the law of cause and effect that determines a person’s unalterable fate, and that fate is perpetuated in reincarnation. Hindu scholars argue that either Brahman operates this process or natural laws of causation are accountable for its effects. Hinduism teaches that karma isn’t only the fate of humans. Deities and devils also experience this fatalistic process as predetermined by Brahman.

4. Hindus believe gods can be created.

Hindus believe in a hierarchy of gods. Superior deities have the power and privilege to form a vassal god and to grant a “right of worship” to them as well. Ganesh, an elephant god, is a popular example. He’s said to have been created by his mother, Parvati, from dirt rubbed off while bathing. His father, Shiva, chopped off Ganesh’s head because he provoked Shiva to wage war against him. Shiva did this without realizing Ganesh was his recently created son. Eventually, Shiva provided Ganesh an elephant head and simultaneously granted him the gift of divinity.

5. Hindu gods took various avatars to kill sinners.

The Hindu scriptures have many polished narratives of gods taking various human and animal forms in order to restore cosmic order. These forms are called avatars. The most popular one is likely Vishnu’s avatar of Krishna (who murdered his own evil uncle). Krishna declared this in Bhagavad Gita, chapter 4:7–8:

Whenever there is decay in righteousness, O Bharata,
And there is exaltation of unrighteousness, then I Myself come forth;
For the protection of the good, for the destruction of evil-doers,
For the sake of firmly establishing righteousness, I am born from age to age.

Altogether, Vishnu is said to have taken 10 incarnations. Through those avatars he claims to have restored the cosmic order of righteousness by destroying the unrighteous. Interestingly, some Hindus have deified Buddha by recognizing him as Vishnu’s final avatar.

6. Hindus believe sin involves killing a god.

Hindu scriptures claim that all living being possess an atman (spirit), and killing them, knowingly or unknowingly, is a sin. This includes not just humans but birds, beasts, reptiles, mosquitos, lice, worms, and flies. In addition, the monistic school of Hinduism argues that every spirit—from tiny living and non-living things to enormous living and non-living things in the universe—incorporates into Brahman (Monism). Since atman and Brahman are identified with one another, killing anything implies the killing of Brahman itself.

7. Hinduism is pluralistic and inclusive.

Mainstream Hindus claim that all religions of the world lead to the supreme, impersonal god. This concept is often depicted in a dazzling circle surrounded by the symbols of all religions, and in its epicenter dwells the glorious spirit out of which emanates light to all the world religions. Additionally, some Hindus claim that god sends mahatma (“a great spirit”) in every age to lead the world into the righteous path that ultimately leads to Brahman. Jesus Christ is viewed as one of the greatest lights along with Buddha, Moses, Muhammad, Guru Nanak, and Confucius.

8. Hindus practice pilgrimage.

For Hindus, tirtha (pilgrimage) is a holy ritual that pleases the gods. Hindus make pilgrimage to sacred temples, such as Banaras Kashi, Badrinath, and Kedarnath, which mostly venerate Vishnu and Shiva. As in many other religions, Hindus also make pilgrimage to sacred burial shrines where they worship and pray to their dead gods and gurus (religious teachers). These acts produce good karma and are regarded as a dharma (religious act) that might merit reward in the next reincarnation.

9. Salvation by grace is foreign to Hindus.

It’s written in Hindu scriptures that the soul is immortal. However, the soul takes a new body in every reincarnation because of the cycle of birth and death (samsara). According to Hindu belief, it takes 84,000 incarnations for a person to cycle through all living beings (i.e., insects, animals, fish, birds, etc.) and eventually obtain another reincarnation. Salvation (moksya) is the completion of and removal from this cursed process. The person is then assimilated into the infinite ocean of Brahman’s divinity, uniting with it eternally. At this point, only the spirit is liberated, because it leaves the body forever, a concept similar to Gnosticism. Earthly life is believed to be an illusion or shadow (maya), and its reality is a spiritual life in heaven, a concept similar to Platonism.

Strict spiritual practices are the only way to attain this blissful deliverance, because god is only satisfied by the perfect karma, obedient life, and worship (sadhana). Solely based on this perfection, Brahman grants salvation. Salvation by faith alone in God through grace apart from karma is unimaginable in Hinduism.

9 Myths About Hinduism, Debunked

Myth No. 1: There are 330 million Hindu gods

Reality: There is one supreme God that cannot be fully known or understood.

Hindus are encouraged to relate to God in the way that suits them best, like worshipping many deities who are believed to be manifestations of God. The trimurti or three main deities are Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the preserver; and Shiva, the destroyer. That’s why Hinduism is often thought of as polytheistic. It is not.

But there’s debate on the proper terminology for Hinduism. Some call it a monistic religion, derived from the belief that everything in the universe is part of one substance or nature. Some, including Shukla, say Hindusim is henotheistic, which is the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods. Others, say it is monotheistic.

Myth No. 2: Hindus are idol worshippers.

Reality: Hindus worship a reminder of God.

No Hindu will say he or she is worshipping an idol. Instead, Hindus believe a physical representation of God – in the form of an idol – helps them focus on an aspect of prayer or meditation.

For instance, a person who has just opened up a new business may worship Ganesh, the elephant god who represents success.

Myth No. 3: Hindus worship cows

Reality: Hindus do not pray to cows but they do regard all creation and all life as sacred.

Hindus believe every living thing has a soul. It is true, however, that cows hold a special place in Hindu society. That’s why Hindus refrain from eating beef. Cows are seen as gentle, maternal figures that are providers of milk and other forms of sustenance. They are honored for their value.

Myth No. 4: All Hindus are vegetarians

Reality: A majority of Hindus eat meat.

But about 30 percent do not. That stems from a fundamental belief in ahimsa, the principle of non-violence. Since all living things are manifestations of God, violence against them is considered contrary to the natural balance of the universe.

Myth No. 5: Hinduism supports a discriminatory caste system

Reality: Caste discrimination is rooted not in religion but culture.

Caste was an ancient system of occupational class delineated in Hindu texts that over the years developed into a rigid social hierarchy. The lowest castes, or untouchables, were marginalized and faced persecution. But many modern Hindus have argued that caste-based discrimination is not intrinsic to Hinduism and should not be thought of as religiously sanctioned.

Myth No. 6: Women are subservient in Hinduism

Reality: Not because of religion.

In fact, one attribute that differentiates Hinduism from say, Christianity or Islam, is that it recognizes forms of God as feminine. Hindus revere Shakti, or the personification of God’s energy through a female figure.

Some of the most commonly worshipped goddesses are Parvati, a primary form of Shakti; Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom; and Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity.

Women in India may not be equal with men but again, that is not because of religion but culture and people using religion to keep women down. This is akin, perhaps, to Islamic societies forcing women to cover up from head to toe.

“I don’t think there is a basis to disregard women in our religion,” Shukla says. “The Vedas (scripture) don’t give those instructions.”

Myth No. 7: Hindu women wearing ‘red dots’ on their foreheads are married

Reality: Sometimes.

A red dot was once a symbol of marriage for Hindu women. Today, the dot, or bindi, is largely decorative. Girls and women – married and single – wear bindis of all colors as fashion statements. A tilak, also a mark on the forehead, has religious significance. It’s generally made with sandalwood paste, ashes or red turmeric and can be in the form of lines or a dot.

Myth No. 8: The Bhagavad Gita is like the Bible

Reality: There is not one central, authoritative book in Hinduism.

But Hinduism is rich in scripture with a vast collection of ancient religious writings. Hindus believe God revealed truths to wise men who passed them on for thousands of years through a rich oral tradition. The scriptures include the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and the Bhagavad Gita, or Song of God.

Part of the epic tale, Mahabharata, the 700-verse Gita is the world’s longest poem and takes the form of a dialog on a battlefield between a prince, Arjuna, and Krishna. It captures the core beliefs of Hinduism but not all Hindus read the Gita.

Myth No. 9: Karma is fatalistic

Reality: Everyone has the ability to choose life’s actions.

This is the theory behind karma: for every action a person sets in motion, there is a corresponding reaction. Hindus believe they have to face the consequences of past actions. Each person creates his or her destiny with deeds. The ultimate goal is to have karma that will free a soul and gain moksha, or liberation from the cycle of rebirth.

Karma is the law of moral causation. The theory of Karma is a fundamental doctrine in Buddhism. This belief was prevalent in India before the advent of the Buddha. Nevertheless, it was the Buddha who explained and formulated this doctrine in the complete form in which we have it today.

What is the cause of the inequality that exists among mankind?
Why should one person be brought up in the lap of luxury, endowed with fine mental, moral and physical qualities, and another in absolute poverty, steeped in misery?
Why should one person be a mental prodigy, and another an idiot?
Why should one person be born with saintly characteristics and another with criminal tendencies?
Why should some be linguistic, artistic, mathematically inclined, or musical from the very cradle?
Why should others be congenitally blind, deaf, or deformed?|
Why should some be blessed, and others cursed from their births?

Either this inequality of mankind has a cause, or it is purely accidental. No sensible person would think of attributing this unevenness, this inequality, and this diversity to blind chance or pure accident.

In this world nothing happens to a person that he does not for some reason or other deserve. Usually, men of ordinary intellect cannot comprehend the actual reason or reasons. The definite invisible cause or causes of the visible effect is not necessarily confined to the present life, they may be traced to a proximate or remote past birth.

According to Buddhism, this inequality is due not only to heredity, environment, “nature and nurture”, but also to Karma. In other words, it is the result of our own past actions and our own present doings. We ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery. We create our own Heaven. We create our own Hell. We are the architects of our own fate.

Perplexed by the seemingly inexplicable, apparent disparity that existed among humanity, a young truth-seeker approached the Buddha and questioned him regarding this intricate problem of inequality:

“What is the cause, what is the reason, O Lord,” questioned he, “that we find amongst mankind the short-lived and long-lived, the healthy and the diseased, the ugly and beautiful, those lacking influence and the powerful, the poor and the rich, the low-born and the high-born, and the ignorant and the wise?”

The Buddha’s reply was:

“All living beings have actions (Karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is Karma that differentiates beings into low and high states.”

He then explained the cause of such differences in accordance with the law of cause and effect.

Certainly we are born with hereditary characteristics. At the same time we possess certain innate abilities that science cannot adequately account for. To our parents we are indebted for the gross sperm and ovum that form the nucleus of this so-called being. They remain dormant within each parent until this potential germinal compound is vitalised by the karmic energy needed for the production of the foetus. Karma is therefore the indispensable conceptive cause of this being.

The accumulated karmic tendencies, inherited in the course of previous lives, at times play a far greater role than the hereditary parental cells and genes in the formation of both physical and mental characteristics.

The Buddha, for instance, inherited, like every other person, the reproductive cells and genes from his parents. But physically, morally and intellectually there was none comparable to him in his long line of Royal ancestors. In the Buddha’s own words, he belonged not to the Royal lineage, but to that of the Aryan Buddhas. He was certainly a superman, an extraordinary creation of his own Karma.

According to the Lakkhana Sutta of Digha Nikaya, the Buddha inherited exceptional features, such as the 32 major marks, as the result of his past meritorious deeds. The ethical reason for acquiring each physical feature is clearly explained in the Sutta.

It is obvious from this unique case that karmic tendencies could not only influence our physical organism, but also nullify the potentiality of the parental cells and genes – hence the significance of the Buddha’s enigmatic statement, – “We are the heirs of our own actions.”

Dealing with this problem of variation, the Atthasalini, being a commentary on the Abhidharma, states:

“Depending on this difference in Karma appears the differences in the birth of beings, high and low, base and exalted, happy and miserable. Depending on the difference in Karma appears the difference in the individual features of beings as beautiful and ugly, high-born or low born, well-built or deformed. Depending on the difference in Karma appears the difference in worldly conditions of beings, such as gain and loss, and disgrace, blame and praise, happiness and misery.”

Thus, from a Buddhist point of view, our present mental, moral intellectual and temperamental differences are, for the most part, due to our own actions and tendencies, both past and present.

Although Buddhism attributes this variation to Karma, as being the chief cause among a variety, it does not, however, assert that everything is due to Karma. The law of Karma, important as it is, is only one of the twenty-four conditions described in Buddhist Philosophy.

Refuting the erroneous view that “whatsoever fortune or misfortune experienced is all due to some previous action”, the Buddha said:

“So, then, according to this view, owing to previous action men will become murderers, thieves, unchaste, liars, slanderers, covetous, malicious and perverts. Thus, for those who fall back on the former deeds as the essential reason, there is neither the desire to do, nor effort to do, nor necessity to do this deed, or abstain from this deed.”

It was this important text, which states the belief that all physical circumstances and mental attitudes spring solely from past Karma that Buddha contradicted. If the present life is totally conditioned or wholly controlled by our past actions, then certainly Karma is tantamount to fatalism or determinism or predestination. If this were true, free will would be an absurdity. Life would be purely mechanistic, not much different from a machine. Being created by an Almighty God who controls our destinies and predetermines our future, or being produced by an irresistible Karma that completely determines our fate and controls our life’s course, independent of any free action on our part, is essentially the same. The only difference lies in the two words God and Karma. One could easily be substituted for the other, because the ultimate operation of both forces would be identical.

Such a fatalistic doctrine is not the Buddhist law of Karma.

According to Buddhism, there are five orders or processes (niyama) which operate in the physical and mental realms.

They are:

Utu Niyama – physical inorganic order, e.g. seasonal phenomena of winds and rains. The unerring order of seasons, characteristic seasonal changes and events, causes of winds and rains, nature of heat, etc., all belong to this group.

Bija Niyama – order of germs and seeds (physical organic order), e.g. rice produced from rice-seed, sugary taste from sugar-cane or honey, peculiar characteristics of certain fruits, etc. The scientific theory of cells and genes and the physical similarity of twins may be ascribed to this order.

Karma Niyama – order of act and result, e.g., desirable and undesirable acts produce corresponding good and bad results. As surely as water seeks its own level so does Karma, given opportunity, produce its inevitable result, not in the form of a reward or punishment but as an innate sequence. This sequence of deed and effect is as natural and necessary as the way of the sun and the moon.

Dhamma Niyama – order of the norm, e.g., the natural phenomena occurring at the advent of a Bodhisattva in his last birth. Gravitation and other similar laws of nature. The natural reason for being good and so forth, may be included in this group.

Citta Niyama – order or mind or psychic law, e.g., processes of consciousness, arising and perishing of consciousness, constituents of consciousness, power of mind, etc., including telepathy, telaesthesia, retro-cognition, premonition, clairvoyance, clairaudience, thought-reading and such other psychic phenomena which are inexplicable to modern science.

Every mental or physical phenomenon could be explained by these all-embracing five orders or processes which are laws in themselves. Karma as such is only one of these five orders. Like all other natural laws they demand no lawgiver.

Of these five, the physical inorganic order and the order of the norm are more or less mechanistic, though they can be controlled to some extent by human ingenuity and the power of mind. For example, fire normally burns, and extreme cold freezes, but man has walked scatheless over fire and meditated naked on Himalayan snows; horticulturists have worked marvels with flowers and fruits; Yogis have performed levitation. Psychic law is equally mechanistic, but Buddhist training aims at control of mind, which is possible by right understanding and skilful volition. Karma law operates quite automatically and, when the Karma is powerful, man cannot interfere with its inexorable result though he may desire to do so; but here also right understanding and skilful volition can accomplish much and mould the future. Good Karma, persisted in, can thwart the reaping of bad Karma, or as some Western scholars prefer to say ‘action influence’, is certainly an intricate law whose working is fully comprehended only by a Buddha. The Buddhist aims at the final destruction of all Karma.

What is Karma?

The Pali term Karma literally means action or doing. Any kind of intentional action whether mental, verbal, or physical, is regarded as Karma. It covers all that is included in the phrase “thought, word and deed”. Generally speaking, all good and bad action constitutes Karma. In its ultimate sense Karma means all moral and immoral volition. Involuntary, unintentional or unconscious actions, though technically deeds, do not constitute Karma, because volition, the most important factor in determining Karma, is absent.

The Buddha says:

“I declare, O Bhikkhus, that volition is Karma. Having willed one acts by body, speech, and thought.” (Anguttara Nikaya)

Every volitional action of individuals, save those of Buddhas and Arahants, is called Karma. The exception made in their case is because they are delivered from both good and evil; they have eradicated ignorance and craving, the roots of Karma.

“Destroyed are their germinal seeds (Khina bija); selfish desires no longer grow,” states the Ratana Sutta of Sutta nipata.

This does not mean that the Buddha and Arahantas are passive. They are tirelessly active in working for the real well being and happiness of all. Their deeds ordinarily accepted as good or moral, lack creative power as regards themselves. Understanding things as they truly are, they have finally shattered their cosmic fetters – the chain of cause and effect.

Karma does not necessarily mean past actions. It embraces both past and present deeds. Hence in one sense, we are the result of what we were; we will be the result of what we are. In another sense, it should be added, we are not totally the result of what we were; we will not absolutely be the result of what we are. The present is no doubt the offspring of the past and is the present of the future, but the present is not always a true index of either the past or the future; so complex is the working of Karma.

It is this doctrine of Karma that the mother teaches her child when she says “Be good and you will be happy and we will love you; but if you are bad, you will be unhappy and we will not love you.” In short, Karma is the law of cause and effect in the ethical realm.

Karma and Vipaka

Karma is action, and Vipaka, fruit or result, is its reaction.

Just as every object is accompanied by a shadow, even so every volitional activity is inevitably accompanied by its due effect. Karma is like potential seed: Vipaka could be likened to the fruit arising from the tree – the effect or result. Anisamsa and Adinaya are the leaves, flowers and so forth that correspond to external differences such as health, sickness and poverty – these are inevitable consequences, which happen at the same time. Strictly speaking, both Karma and Vipaka pertain to the mind.

As Karma may be good or bad, so may Vipaka, – the fruit – is good or bad. As Karma is mental so Vipaka is mental (of the mind). It is experienced as happiness, bliss, unhappiness or misery, according to the nature of the Karma seed. Anisamsa are the concomitant advantages – material things such as prosperity, health and longevity. When Vipaka’s concomitant material things are disadvantageous, they are known as Adinaya, full of wretchedness, and appear as poverty, ugliness, disease, short life-span and so forth.

As we sow, we reap somewhere and sometime, in his life or in a future birth. What we reap today is what we have sown either in the present or in the past.

The Samyutta Nikaya states:

“According to the seed that’s sown,
So is the fruit you reap there from,
Doer of good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,
Down is the seed and thou shalt taste
The fruit thereof.”

Karma is a law in itself, which operates in its own field without the intervention of any external, independent ruling agency.

Happiness and misery, which are the common lot of humanity, are the inevitable effects of causes. From a Buddhist point of view, they are not rewards and punishments, assigned by a supernatural, omniscient ruling power to a soul that has done good or evil. Theists, who attempt to explain everything in this and temporal life and in the eternal future life, ignoring a past, believe in a ‘postmortem’ justice, and may regard present happiness and misery as blessings and curses conferred on His creation by an omniscient and omnipotent Divine Ruler who sits in heaven above controlling the destinies of the human race. Buddhism, which emphatically denies such an Almighty, All merciful God-Creator and an arbitrarily created immortal soul, believes in natural law and justice which cannot be suspended by either an Almighty God or an All-compassionate Buddha. According to this natural law, acts bear their own rewards and punishments to the individual doer whether human justice finds out or not.

There are some who criticise thus: “So, you Buddhists, too, administer capitalistic opium to the people, saying: “You are born poor in this life on account of your past evil karma. He is born rich on account of his good Karma. So, be satisfied with your humble lot; but do good to be rich in your next life. You are being oppressed now because of your past evil Karma. There is your destiny. Be humble and bear your sufferings patiently. Do good now. You can be certain of a better and happier life after death.”

The Buddhist doctrine of Karma does not expound such ridiculous fatalistic views. Nor does it vindicate a postmortem justice. The All-Merciful Buddha, who had no ulterior selfish motives, did not teach this law of Karma to protect the rich and comfort the poor by promising illusory happiness in an after-life.

While we are born to a state created by ourselves, yet by our own self-directed efforts there is every possibility for us to create new, favourable environments even here and now. Not only individually, but also, collectively, we are at liberty to create fresh Karma that leads either towards our progress or downfall in this very life.

According to the Buddhist doctrine of Karma, one is not always compelled by an ‘iron necessity’, for Karma is neither fate, nor predestination imposed upon us by some mysterious unknown power to which we must helplessly submit ourselves. It is one’s own doing reacting on oneself, and so one has the possibility to divert the course of one’s Karma to some extent. How far one diverts it depends on oneself.

Is one bound to reap all that one has sown in just proportion?

The Buddha provides an answer:

“If anyone says that a man or woman must reap in this life according to his present deeds, in that case there is no religious life, nor is an opportunity afforded for the entire extinction of sorrow. But if anyone says that what a man or woman reaps in this and future lives accords with his or her deeds present and past, in that case there is a religious life, and an opportunity is afforded for the entire extinction of a sorrow.” (Anguttara Nikaya)

Although it is stated in the Dhammapada that “not in the sky, nor in mid-ocean, or entering a mountain cave is found that place on earth where one may escape from (the consequences of) an evil deed”, yet one is not bound to pay all the past arrears of one’s Karma. If such were the case emancipation would be impossibility. Eternal recurrence would be the unfortunate result.

What is the cause of Karma?

Ignorance (avijja), or not knowing things as they truly are, is the chief cause of Karma. Dependent on ignorance arise activities (avijja paccaya samkhara) states the Buddha in the Paticca Samuppada (Dependent Origination).

Associated with ignorance is the ally craving (tanha), the other root of Karma. Evil actions are conditioned by these two causes. All good deeds of a worldling (putthujana), though associated with the three wholesome roots of generosity (alobha), goodwill (adosa) and knowledge (amoha), are nevertheless regarded as Karma because the two roots of ignorance and craving are dormant in him. The moral types of Supramundane Path Consciousness (magga citta) are not regarded as Karma because they tend to eradicate the two root causes.

Who is the doer of Karma?
Who reaps the fruit of Karma?
Does Karma mould a soul?

In answering these subtle questions, the Venerable Buddhaghosa writes in the Visuddhi Magga:

“No doer is there who does the deed;
Nor is there one who feels the fruit;
Constituent parts alone roll on;
This indeed! Is right discernment.”

For instance, the table we see is apparent reality. In an ultimate sense the so-called table consists of forces and qualities.

For ordinary purposes a scientist would use the term water, but in the laboratory he would say H 2 0.

In this same way, for conventional purposes, such terms as man, woman, being, self, and so forth are used. The so-called fleeting forms consist of psychophysical phenomena, which are constantly changing not remaining the same for two consecutive moments.

Buddhists, therefore, do not believe in an unchanging entity, in an actor apart from action, in a perceiver apart from perception, in a conscious subject behind consciousness.

Who then, is the doer of Karma? Who experiences the effect?

Volition, or Will (tetana), is itself the doer, Feeling (vedana) is itself the reaper of the fruits of actions. Apart from these pure mental states (suddhadhamma) there is no-one to sow and no-one to reap.

Classification of Karma

(A) With respect to different functions, Karma is classified into four kinds:


Every birth is conditioned by a past good or bad karma, which predominated at the moment of death. Karma that conditions the future birth is called Reproductive Karma. The death of a person is merely ‘a temporary end of a temporary phenomenon’. Though the present form perishes, another form which is neither the same nor absolutely different takes its place, according to the potential thought-vibration generated at the death moment, because the Karmic force which propels the life-flux still survives. It is this last thought, which is technically called Reproductive (janaka) Karma, that determines the state of a person in his subsequent birth. This may be either a good or bad Karma.

According to the Commentary, Reproductive Karma is that which produces mental aggregates and material aggregates at the moment of conception. The initial consciousness, which is termed the patisandhi rebirth consciousness, is conditioned by this Reproductive (janaka) Karma. Simultaneous with the arising of the rebirth-consciousness, there arise the ‘body-decad’, ‘sex-decad’ and ‘base-decad’ (kaya-bhavavatthu dasakas). (decad = 10 factors).

(a) The body-decad is composed of:

The element of extension (pathavi).
The element of cohesion (apo).
The element of heat (tajo).
The element of motion (vayo).
(b) The four derivatives (upadana rupa):

Colour (vanna).
Odour (gandha).
Taste (rasa).
Nutritive Essence (oja)
These eight (mahabhuta 4 + upadana 4 = 8) are collectively called Avinibhoga Rupa (indivisable form or indivisable matter).

(c) Vitality (jivitindriya) and Body (kaya)

These (avinibhoga 8 + jivitindriya 1 + Kaya 1 = 10) ten are collectively called “Body-decad” = (Kaya dasaka).

Sex-decad and Base-decad also consist of the first nine, sex (bhava) and seat of consciousness (vathu) respectively (i.e. eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body).

From this, it is evident that the sex of a person is determined at the very conception of a being. It is conditioned by Karma and is not a fortuitous combination of sperm and ovum cells. The Pain and Happiness one experiences in the course of one’s lifetime are the inevitable consequence of Reproductive Kamma.


That which comes near the Reproductive (janaka) Kamma and supports it. It is neither good nor bad and it assists or maintains the action of the Reproductive (janaka) Karma in the course of one’s lifetime. Immediately after conception till the death moment this Karma steps forward to support the Reproductive Karma. A moral supportive (kusala upathambhaka) Karma assists in giving health, wealth, happiness etc. to the being born with a moral Reproductive Karma. An immoral supportive Karma, on the other hand, assists in giving pain, sorrow, etc. to the being born with an immoral reproductive (akusala janaka) Karma, as for instance to a beast of burden.


Which, unlike the former, tends to weaken, interrupt and retard the fruition of the Reproductive Karma. For instance, a person born with a good Reproductive Karma may be subject to various ailments etc., thus preventing him from enjoying the blissful results of his good actions. An animal, on the other hand, who is born with a bad Reproductive Karma may lead a comfortable life by getting good food, lodging, etc., as a result of his good counteractive or obstructive (upabidaka) Karma preventing the fruition of the evil Reproductive Karma.


According to the law of Karma the potential energy of the Reproductive Karma could be nullified by a mere powerful opposing Karma of the past, which, seeking an opportunity, may quite unexpectedly operate, just as a powerful counteractive force can obstruct the path of a flying arrow and bring it down to the ground. Such an action is called Destructive (upaghataka) Karma, which is more effective than the previous two in that it is not only obstructive but also destroys the whole force. This Destructive Karma also may be either good or bad.

As an instance of operation of all the four, the case of Devadatta, who attempted to kill the Buddha and who caused a schism in the Sangha (disciples of the Buddha) may be cited. His good Reproductive Karma brought him birth in a royal family. His continued comfort and prosperity were due to the action of the Supportive Karma. The Counteractive or Obstructive Karma came into operation when he was subject to much humiliation as a result of his being excommunicated from the Sangha. Finally the Destructive Karma brought his life to a miserable end.

(B) There is another classification of Karma, according to the priority of effect:

This is either weighty or serious – may be either good or bad. It produces its results in this life or in the next for certain. If good, it is purely mental as in the case of Jhana (ecstasy or absorption). Otherwise it is verbal or bodily. On the Immoral side, there are five immediate effective heinous crimes (pancanantariya karma): Matricide, Patricide, and the murder of an Arahant, the wounding of a Buddha and the creation of a schism in the Sangha. Permanent Scepticism (Niyata Micchaditthi) is also termed one of the Weighty (garuka) Karmas.

If, for instance, any person were to develop the jhana (ecstasy or absorption) and later were to commit one of these heinous crimes, his good Karma would be obliterated by the powerful evil Karma. His subsequent birth would be conditioned by the evil Karma in spite of his having gained the jhana earlier. Devadatta lost his psychic power and was born in an evil state, because he wounded the Buddha and caused a schism in the Sangha.

King Ajatasattu would have attained the first stage of Sainthood (Sotapanna) if he had not committed patricide. In this case the powerful evil Karma acted as an obstacle to his gaining Sainthood.

This is that which one does or remembers immediately before the moment of dying. Owing to the great part it plays in determining the future birth, much importance is attained to this deathbed (asanna) Karma in almost all Buddhist countries. The customs of reminding the dying man of good deeds and making him do good acts on his deathbed still prevails in Buddhist countries.

Sometimes a bad person may die happily and receive a good birth if he remembers or does a good act at the last moment. A story runs that a certain executioner who casually happened to give some alms to the Venerable Sariputta remembered this good act at the dying moment and was born in a state of bliss. This does not mean that although he enjoys a good birth he will be exempt from the effects of the evil deeds which he accumulated during his lifetime. They will have there due effect as occasions arise.

At times a good person may die unhappy by suddenly remembering an evil act of his or by harbouring some unpleasant thought, perchance compelled by unfavourable circumstances. In the scriptures, Queen Mallika, the consort of King Kosala, remembering a lie she had uttered, suffered for about seven days in a state of misery when she lied to her husband to cover some misbehaviour.

These are exceptional cases. Such reverse changes of birth account for the birth of virtuous children to vicious parents and of vicious children to virtuous parents. As a result of the last thought moment being conditioned by the general conduct of the person.


It is that which on habitually performs and recollects and for which one has a great liking. Habits whether good or bad becomes ones second nature, tending to form the character of a person. At unguarded moments one often lapses into one’s habitual mental mindset. In the same way, at the death-moment, unless influenced by other circumstances, one usually recalls to mind one’s habitual deeds.

Cunda, a butcher, who was living in the vicinity of the Buddha’s monastery, died yelling like an animal because he was earning his living by slaughtering pigs.

King Dutthagamini of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) was in the habit of giving alms to the Bhikkhus (monks) before he took his own meals. It was his habitual Karma that gladdened him at the dying moment and gave him birth in the Tusita heaven.

This literally means ‘because done’. All actions that are not included in the aforementioned and those actions soon forgotten belong to this category. This is, as it were the reserve fund of a particular being.
(C) There is another classification of Karma according to the time in which effects are worked out:

Immediately Effective (ditthadhammavedaniya) Karma.
Subsequently Effective (uppapajjavedaniya) Karma.
Indefinitely Effective (aparapariyavedaniya) Karma.
Defunct or Ineffective (ahosi) Karma.
Immediately Effective Karma is that which is experienced in this present life. According to the Abhidhamma one does both good and evil during the javana process (thought-impulsion), which usually lasts for seven thought-moments. The effect of the first thought-moment, being the weakest, one may reap in this life itself. This is called the Immediately Effective Karma.

If it does not operate in this life, it is called ‘Defunct or Ineffective’ Karma.

The next weakest is the seventh thought-moment. Its effect one may reap in the subsequence birth. This is called ‘Subsequently Effective’ Karma.

This, too, is called Defunct or Ineffective Karma if it does not operate in the second birth. The effect of the intermediate thought-moments may take place at any time until one attains Nibbana. This type of Karma is known as ‘Indefinitely Effective’ Karma.

No one, not even the Buddhas and Arahantas, is exempt from this class of Karma which one may experience in the course of one’s wandering in Samsara. There is no special class of Karma known as Defunct or Ineffective, but when such actions that should produce their effects in this life or in a subsequent life do not operate, they are termed Defunct or Ineffective Karma.

(D) The last classification of Karma is according to the plane in which the effect takes place, namely:

Evil Actions (akusala kamma) which may ripen in the sentient planes (kammaloka). (Six celestial planes plus one human plane plus four woeful planes = eleven kamaloka planes.) Here are only four woeful kamalokas.
Good Actions (kusala kamma) which may ripen in the sentient planes except for the four woeful planes.
Good Actions (kusala kamma) which may ripen in the Realm of Form (rupa brahamalokas). There are four Arupa Brahma Lokas.
Questions on the Theory of Karma

Question: Do the Karmas of parents determine or affect the Karmas of their children?

Answer: Physically, the Karma of children is generally determined by the Karma of their parents. Thus, healthy parents usually have healthy offspring, and unhealthy parents have unhealthy children. On the effect or how the Karma of their children is determined: the child’s Karma is a thing apart of itself – it forms the child’s individuality, the sum-total of its merits and demerits accumulated in innumerable past existences. For example, the Karma of the Buddha-to-be, Prince Siddhartha was certainly not influenced by the joint Karma of his parents, King Suddhodana and Queen Maya. The glorious and powerful Karma of our Buddha-to-be transcended the Karma of his parents which jointly were more potent than his own.

Question: If the Karma of parents do not influence those of their children, how would the fact be explained that parents who suffer from certain virulent diseases are apt to transmit these evils to their offsprings?

Answer: Where a child inherit such a disease it is due to the force of the parents’ characteristics because of the force of the latter’s Utu (conditions favourable to germination). Take, for example, two seeds from a sapling; plant one in inferior, dry soil; and the other in rich, moist soil. The result is that the first seed will sprout into a sickly sapling and soon show symptoms of disease and decay; while the other seed will thrive and flourish and grow up to be a tall and healthy tree.

It will be observed that the pair of seeds taken from the same stock grows up differently according to the soil into which they are put. A child’s past Karma may be compared to the seed: the physical disposition of the mother to the soil; and that of the father to the moisture, which fertilised the soil. Roughly speaking, to illustrate our subject, we will say that, representing the sapling’s germination, growth, and existence as a unit, the seed is responsible for one-tenth of them, the soil for six-tenths, and the moisture for the remainder, three-tenths. Thus, although the power of germination exists potentially in the seed (the child), its growth is powerfully determined and quickened by the soil (the mother) and the moisture (the father).

Therefore, even as the conditions of the soil and moisture must be taken as largely responsible factors in the growth and condition of the tree. So must the influences of the parents (or progenitors, as in the case of the animal world) be taken into account in respect to the conception and growth of their offspring.

The parents’ share in the Karma determining the physical factors of their issue is as follows: If they are human beings, then their offspring will be a human being. If they are cattle then their issue must be of their species. If the human being is Chinese, then their offspring must be of their race. Thus, the offspring are invariably of the same genera and species, etc., as those of the progenitors. It will be seen from the above that, although a child’s Karma is very powerful in itself, if cannot remain wholly uninfluenced by those of it parents. It is apt to inherit the physical characteristic of its parents. Yet, it may occur that the child’s Karma, being superlatively powerful, the influence of the parent’s joint Karma cannot overshadow it. Of course, it need hardly be pointed out that the evil influences of parents can also be counteracted by the application of medical science.

All beings born of sexual cohabitation are the resultant effects of three forces:

The old Karma of past existence;
The seminal fluid of the mother, and
The seminal fluid of the father.
The physical dispositions of the parents may, or may not, be equal in force. One may counteract the other to a lesser or greater extent. The child’s Karma and physical characteristics, such as race, colour, etc., will be the produce of the three forces.

Question: On the death of a sentient being, is there a ‘soul’ that wanders about at will?

Answer: When a sentient being leaves one existence, it is reborn either as a human being, a celestial being, (Deva or Brahama), and inferior animal, or a denizen of one of the regions of hell. The sceptics and the ignorant people held that there are intermediate stages – antrabhava – between these; and that there are being who are neither of the human, the celestial, the Deva or the Brahma worlds nor of any one of the stages of exist recognised in the scriptures – but are in an intermediate stage. Some assert that these transitional stages are possessed of the Five Khandhas (Five Aggregates: they are Matter (rupa); Feeling (vedana); Perception (sanna); 4. Mental-activities (sankhara); and Consciousness (vinnana).

Some assert that these beings are detached ‘souls’ or spirits with no material encasement, and some again, that they are possessed of the faculty of seeing like Devas, and further, that they have power of changing at will, at short intervals, from one to any of the existence mentioned above. Others again hold the fantastic and erroneous theory that these beings can, and so, fancy themselves to be in other than the existence they are actually in. Thus, to take for example one such of these suppositious beings. He is a poor person – and yet he fancies himself to be rich. He may be in hell – and yet he fancies himself to be in the land of the Devas, and so on. This belief in intermediate stages between existences is false, and is condemned in the Buddhist teachings. A human being in this life who, by his Karma is destined to be a human being in the next, will be reborn as such; one who by his Karma is destined to be a Deva in the next will be appear in the land of the Devas; and one whose future life is to be in Hell, will be found in one of the regions of hell in the next existence.

The idea of an entity or soul or spirit ‘going’, ‘coming’, ‘changing’ or ‘transmigrating’ from one existence to another is an idea entertained by the ignorance and materialistic, and is certainly not justified by the Dhammas that there is no such thing as ‘going’, ‘coming’, ‘changing’, etc., as between existences. The conception, which is in accordance with the Dhamma, may perhaps be illustrated by the picture thrown out by a cinema projector, or the sound of emitted by the gramophone, and their relation to the film or the sound-box and records respectively. For example, a human being dies and is reborn in the land of Devas. Though these two existences are different, yet the link or continuity between the two at death is unbroken in point of time. The same is true in the case of a man whose further existence is to be in hell. The distance between Hell and the abode of man appears to be great. Yet, in point of time, the continuity of ‘passage’ from the one existence to the other is unbroken, and no intervening matter or space can interrupt the trend of a man’s Karma from the world of human beings to the regions of Hell. The ‘passage’ from one existence to another is instantaneous, and the transition is infinitely quicker than the blink of an eyelid or a lightening-flash.

Karma determines the realm of rebirth and the state of existence in that realm of all transient being (in the cycle of existences, which have to be traversed till the attainment, at last, of Nibbana).

The results of Karma are manifold, and may be effected in many ways. Religious offerings (dana) may obtain for a man the privilege of rebirth as a human being, or as a deva, in one of the six deva worlds according to the degree of the merit of the deeds performed, and so with the observance of religious duties (sila). The jhanas or states of absorption, are found in the Brahma world or Brahmalokas up to the summit, the twentieth Brahma world: And so with bad deeds, the perpetrators of which are to be found , grade by grade, down to the lowest depths of Hell. Thus are Karma, past, present and future were, are, and will ever be the sum total of our deeds, good, indifferent or bad. As was seen from the foregoing, our Karma determines the changes of our existences.

“Evil spirits” are, therefore, not beings in an intermediate or transitional stages of existence, but are really very inferior beings, and they belong to one of the following five realms of existence:

  1. World of Men: 2. The Lowest plane of deva-world; 3. The region of hell; 4. Animals below men, and 5. Petas (ghosts).

Number 2 and 5 are very near the world of human beings. As their condition is unhappy, and they are popularly considered evil spirits. It is not true that all who die in this world are reborn as evil spirits; nor is it true that beings who die sudden or violent deaths are apt to be reborn in the lowest plane of the world of devas.

Question: Is there such a thing as a human being who is reborn and who is able to speak accurately of his or her past existence?

Answer: Certainly, this is not an uncommon occurrence, and is in accordance with the tenets of Buddhism in respect to Karma.

The following (who form, an overwhelming majority of human beings) are generally unable to remember there past existences when reborn as human beings: Children who die young. Those who die old and senile. Those who are addicted to the drug or drink habit. Those whose mothers, during their conception, have been sickly or have had to toil laboriously, or have been reckless or imprudent during pregnancy. The children in the womb, being stunned and started, lose all knowledge of their past existence.

The following are possessed of a knowledge of their past existences, viz: Those who are not reborn (in the human world) but proceed to the world of the devas, of Brahmas, or to the regions of Hell, remember their past existences.

Those who die suddenly deaths from accidents, while in sound health, may also be possessed of this faculty in the next existence, provided that their mothers, in whose womb they are conceived, are healthy. Again, those who live steady, meritorious lives and who in their past existences have striven to attain, often attain it.

Lastly the Buddha, the Arahantas and Ariyas attain this gift which is known as pubbenivasa abhnna (Supernatural Power remembering previous existences).

Question: Which are the five Abhinna? Are they attainable only by the Buddha?

Answer: The five Abhinna (Supernatural Powers): Pali – abhi, excellent, nana, wisdom) are:

Iddhividha = Creative power;
Dibbasola = Divine Ear;
Cetopariya nana = Knowledge of others’ thoughts;
Pubbenivasanussati = Knowledge of one’s past existence;
Dibbacakkhu = The Divine eye.

The Abhinna are attainable not only by the Buddha, but also by Arantas and Ariyas, by ordinary mortals who practise according to the Scriptures (as was the case with hermits etc, who flourished before the time of the Buddha and who were able to fly through the air and traverse different worlds).

In the Buddhist Scriptures, we find, clearly shown, the means of attaining the five Abhinna. And even nowadays, if these means are carefully and perseveringly pursued, it would be possible to attain these. That we do not see any person endowed with the five Abhinna today is due to the lack of strenuous physical and mental exertion towards their attainment.

Nature of Karma

In the working of Karma there are maleficent and beneficent forces and conditions to counteract and support this self-operating law. Birth (gati) time or condition (kala) substratum of rebirth or showing attachment to rebirth (upadhi) and effort (payoga) act as such powerful aids and hindrances to the fruition of Karma.

Though we are neither the absolutely the servants nor the masters of our Karma, it is evident from these counteractive and supportive factors that the fruition of Karma is influenced to some extent by external circumstances, surroundings, personality, individual striving, and so forth.

It is this doctrine of Karma that gives consolation, hope, reliance and moral courage to a Buddhist. When the unexpected happens, and he meets with difficulties, failures, and misfortune, the Buddhist realises that he is reaping what he has sown, and he is wiping off a past debt. Instead of resigning himself, leaving everything to Karma, he makes a strenuous effort to pull the weeds and sow useful seeds in their place, for the future is in his own hands.

He who believes in Karma does not condemn even the most corrupt, for they, too, have their chance to reform themselves at any moment. Though bound to suffer in woeful states, they have hope of attaining eternal Peace. By their own doings they have created their own Hells, and by their own doings they can create their own Heavens, too.

A Buddhist who is fully convinced of the law of Karma does not pray to another to be saved but confidently relies on him for his own emancipation. Instead of making any self-surrender, or calling on any supernatural agency, he relies on his own will power, and works incessantly for the well-being and happiness of all. This belief in Karma validates his effort and kindles his enthusiasm, because it teaches individual responsibility.

To the ordinary Buddhist, Karma serves as a deterrent, while to an intellectual, it serves as in incentive to do good. He or she becomes kind, tolerant, and considerate. This law of Karma explains the problem of suffering, the mastery of so-called fate and predestination of other religions and about all the inequality of mankind.

What is Karma & How Does it Impact Your Life?

One of the most popular thoughts associated with the word karma is ‘what goes around, comes back around’. What people often overlook is that the implication of karma extends to far more than just a few rough patches or bad luck. So, what is this “karma” that our seniors constantly remind us of? In this blog, we will talk about the meaning of karma, how it affects us, the different types of karma, and how you can change your karma, all based on ancient Indian knowledge. Let’s begin!

What is Karma? 

The word ‘karma’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Karman’, which translates to ‘act’. Per the principles of Indian philosophy, it is said to be defined as the fundamental law of causation through which good or bad actions or their intent determine the future implications of a person’s life.

India’s religious texts and traditions use Karma to denote the moral aspect of the process of samsara (rebirth) method. In essence, karma is said to apply to all the actions of an individual, as well as the consequences that lead to the ascension of the soul and enlightenment.

How Does Karma Work? 

The most common misconception people have is that karma and fate are the same things. However, that is simply not true. Karma is not just a way to bring balance by rewarding or punishing an individual, it is not fate decided by an other-worldly being. Just because we have done something bad does not mean something bad will happen to us to maintain a balance.

Karma can instead be defined as the driving force that governs the spiritual realm. Karma affects our lives by making us accountable for any action or reaction, in addition to our intention while taking that action. It is said to be guiding energy which is the end product of deliberate action and intention. Our lives will be affected by the energy we give off right now and in the future. Karma scarcely has anything to do with punishing or rewarding people, and we can not have complete control over it.

What is Good or Bad Karma? 

It is believed by many that the karmic structure is only either good or bad, however, like most things in life, there is a lot of grey area in between. There might be instances where we may think we have generated bad karma, even though the action was carried out with the purest of intentions. The type of karma we manifest is determined by the purpose of the action we carry out. Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at the binary types of karma:

Good Karma 

Good karma can be summarized as the energy we manifest as a result of positive past intentions and actions. The purpose of our actions determines the outcome of our intentions. That being said, good deeds do not go unrewarded, they are rewarded at some point in an individual’s various existences and play a huge role in determining the individual’s karmic cycle.

Bad Karma 

Bad karma can be defined as the exact opposite of good karma, as it is manifested through negative actions, intentions, emotions, etc. This is so because bad intentions often lead to negative behaviour, which in turn leads to negative outcomes. Just like good karma, bad karma can present itself in our current lifetime even due to negative actions in the previous.

How do Good and Bad Karma Work? 

Karma can manifest itself in a positive or negative form at any given moment in our life. Let’s take a look at an example to understand the concept of bad karma: assume that a person cheats on their spouse without experiencing any guilt or remorse, resulting in their separation. Much later in life, the person who cheated struggles with mental health issues like loneliness and depression, and faces a host of other problems ranging from commitment issues to estranged children etc. It can be considered bad karma because the person suffered the consequences of their negative actions.

However, there are also situations where you must make a negative decision backed with good intentions. For instance, lack of access to proper healthcare may force someone to steal insulin for their highly diabetic grandfather. Although stealing falls under the umbrella of negative karma, the outcome of stealing was positive, this leads to a sort of karmic integration.

How Can I Change my Karma? 

Even though the Karmic Cycle can not be entirely manipulated by an individual in the large scheme of life, there are some ways to increase the manifestation of good karma, regardless of the actions and intentions of a previous lifetime:

Accept and Forgive 

One of the best ways to do this is by being present. Forgiveness and acceptance of past occurrences are how one can be present at any given moment. This is so because past traumas have an uncanny way of projecting onto present life. Acknowledging and letting go of incidents in the past will help us get over emotional trauma and resolve previous grievances that have been affecting our current life.

Call to Action 

One of the simplest and underestimated ways to manifest good karma for ourselves is to conform to the principles of karma at all times. This can be done by positive actions, even when they are not expected of us. A thumb rule for doing so is to treat people just as well as we would have them treat us.

Be More Mindful 

Being more mindful of every being surrounding us and their limitations or plight can go a long way in impacting our own karma. The main purpose of being mindful is to live in the present moment with awareness and curb impulsive actions, thoughts and feelings. If we each work towards mindful, thoughtful actions in contrast to spontaneous and self-centered acts, we should be able to generate some good karma. Instead of being a slave to our impulses, we should focus on reiterating that they too are thoughts of our own making, and so can be controlled in pursuit of a positive outcome. One of the best ways to be more mindful is to focus on breathing, which results in experiencing a higher sense of existence in the present moment.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Can I change my karma?

Even though we cannot get rid of the karmic cycle in our lives, it most certainly can be influenced. To do so, you should be clear about what kind of karma you want to manifest in the future and be open to the idea of enlightenment on a spiritual level.

How long can a karmic cycle last? 

Karma is nothing more than the energy that a person’s action produces. This may manifest multiple times in a year or even lifetimes later. It is widely believed to flow in a cycle throughout our lifetimes and generally lasts for about 12 years. It can be largely divided into sections on based on age.

What is the English word for “karma”? 

The word karma can be roughly translated in English as a deed or action.

Hinduism and Karma

Did you know that Hinduism is the third most-practiced religion in the world? It is the largest of the non-Abrahamic religions and has followers all over the world.

The Law of Karma

For people in the Western world, karma is often seen as the principle of ”what goes around, comes around.” While that’s not exactly incorrect, a more appropriate axiom may come from the realm of physics. According to the third law of Sir Isaac Newton, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That’s karma.

Unwholesome Karma

Here’s where the karma comes in. If you commit an unwholesome action, you have generated unwholesome karma. This means that you are likely to experience negative consequences for your actions. In some cases, this could simply mean that your life will become less wholesome and you’ll be less happy.

Wholesome Karma

At this point, you’re probably trying to tally up your negative karma, but don’t panic: there’s wholesome karma, too. When you resist the temptation to take an unwholesome action, when you act in kindness and honesty, and when you preach Dharma (the moral law of the cosmos), you increase your wholesome karma. Again, in general, this is expected to create a reaction within your own lifetime.

Lesson Summary

In the largest non-Abrahamic faith, the Indian religion of Hinduism, there are few concepts as important as karma. Karma itself is the cause-and-effect relationship between actions and consequences, specifically as they refer to the cosmic moral standard and your personal life and soul.

What is Samsara?

Samsara in Hinduism is the name for the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The essence of a person, the atman, is born into a human body. Atman is itself a part of Brahman, that divine reality. Throughout their life, its actions in bodily form build its karma, on which it will be judged at death. Between death and the next life, the atman is judged by Yama, the god of death. Depending on the person’s behavior during life, their atman may spend time in an afterlife, such as a hell known as Naraka, or be reborn into another body to begin the cycle again. The goal of an individual atman is to escape this cycle and attain a state known as nirvana. The escape from samsara is called moksha.

Samsara and Rebirth

In the Hindu concept of samsara, the physical body may die, but the atman or soul is eternal. Depending on the person’s behavior during life, the atman will be reborn into a form that is better, worse, or equivalent to the form it took in the prior life. Once the atman has reached a state of enlightenment, it will not be reborn again.

Samsara in Hinduism is often called reincarnation in the West, but the concept involves more than just continual death and rebirth. In reincarnation in Hinduism, the cycle of samsara can be thought of as a series of opportunities for the atman to attain enlightenment; when that is achieved through life experience, the atman escapes samsara.


Karma is the name for works done during a person’s life. When the atman has accumulated enough good karma, it is released from samsara and attains a state of nirvana.

Lesson Summary

In Hinduismsamsara is the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth sometimes called reincarnation. Samsara involves the atman, the vital essence or soul of a being. The atman follows moral rules called dharma in an effort to build good karma. Karma is earned by works and actions performed during a being’s life. When the atman has learned, through accumulating good karma, the state of non-attachment, it escapes the cycle of samsara. This release is known as moksha. The atman is then in a state of nirvana, a freedom from desire and attachment.

Buddhism uses the same concepts of samsara, karma, and dharma but recognizes no deity as part of this practice. While Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, Buddhism is a nontheistic practice. Hinduism is accepting of all other religions and considers them all to hold valid truths.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is samsara a Hindu or Buddhist concept?

Samsara is both a Hindu and a Buddhist concept. Both recognize the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Buddhism arose from Hinduism as a nontheistic religion or practice.

What is the Hindu doctrine of samsara?

Samsara is the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth sometimes known as reincarnation. Through the process of samsara, a being will ultimately attain the state of nirvana.

What is an example of samsara?

In samsara, a being is born into a specific body. If, for example, the being’s soul or atman accumulates negative karma, the atman may be reincarnated as a person of a lower caste, an animal, or a plant.

Samsara is one of the most important beliefs in India. And because of the influence and spread of Indian spiritual beliefs around the world — it has become one of the most important beliefs globally. Many have heard this word, but how many of us have grasped its full meaning? And how can we use this idea to live more meaningful, fulfilling lives? To answer this, we must answer the simple question: what is Samsara? To understand this important concept, we will look at its definition. But we will also look at how it plays into two of the most beautiful religions on earth: Hinduism and Buddhism. Then, we will try to take what we’ve learned and bring it home with us, so that the idea can take flight in our own lives.

What Is Samsara

Samsara can be defined as the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. It is the path that leads to reincarnation. It comes from Sanskrit, and it literally means “world.” This gives us a hint to a broader meaning of Samsara. It refers to the cyclical nature that makes up the universe. Day and night. The four seasons. The death and birth of stars in the sky. Everything goes through cycles. The cycle is the way that time and eternity coexist. We are passing through this day, and like all things, this day will end. But a new day will dawn after the night. So in a way, there is an eternal day. This allows things to be both limited and never ending. For many Indian spiritual traditions, Samsara — particularly as it refers to death and rebirth — is something we seek to escape. This experience of escape, sometimes called Nirvana or Moksha, allows us to stop returning to earth. Instead, we are able to experience our true nature as divinity. This idea, then, is at the heart of the grandest wisdom traditions ever known to humanity. It is a way of seeing not only the course our own souls travel, but the course of all things — by the very nature of their being.

Samsara Meaning in Hinduism: Mortal and Eternal

For many Hindus, Samsara is important for understanding how we are to act in the world. Karma is a critical component of Samsara for Hinduism. One way to think about this is through cause and effect. When we act in the world, we cause certain things to happen. This creates effects that must be dealt with or at least experienced. Just as with mundane things, karma builds up like effects that we’ve caused in the world. As we create more karma, our souls (or Atman) become caught in the cycle of Samsara. They must continually return to this plane to burn off that karmic load.

To do this, we have to live virtuously. And that means that while we are incarnated in this body, we must follow our dharma. In other words, we must act according to our roles, be they social, familial, societal, or spiritual. Over enough lifetimes, as we strive ever more to follow our dharma and stop generating karma, we attain a state at death where there is nothing more to work through. At long last, the work is done. Then, upon death, we experience liberation (or Moksha). There is no more karma to be dealt with or experienced. There is only the bliss of return to the eternal one. For many Hindus, then, Samsara describes the ways that our limited, mortal bodies are born only once, live only once, die only once. At the same time, it describes how that immortal and unchanging element of us, our Atman, continues to return to a flesh and blood body. And if we take the rest of the teachings seriously, then we also discover a route of escape.

Samsara Meaning in Buddhism: Samsara and Nirvana

As Buddha taught us, life is suffering. For the Buddhist, Samsara also describes the cycle of death and rebirth, but with an emphasis on the continuation of suffering.

If we continue to desire, we will continue to suffer. And it is that suffering that causes Samsara. Once we end desire, we are able to step off the wheel of reincarnation. Our souls no longer keep reaching for another life.

This can be both literally true and also act as a metaphor for everyday life. Continuing to reach out for things, to grasp at the objects of our desires (which are always shifting and morphing, always popping back up once we think we’ve obtained them), we continue to experience a form of Samsara in our lives. We go through the little birth of a new fixation, the little death of disappointment.

So then, our souls are not so unlike our bodies in their mortal state. There is similarity, even harmony, between the two.

The wheel of Samsara, in this view, gives us insight into how suffering itself continues. And it illustrates how desire creates this suffering. That reminds us what a liar desire is, for it always seems to promise that final respite from suffering. Instead, it wreaks havoc by bringing us more suffering.

Samsara in Our Lives

Understanding Samsara brings with it many insights. It tells us how to live in the here and now. By fulfilling our role and not chasing after desire, we can stop generating undo pain in the world and end suffering in ourselves.

Whatever your religious beliefs, this path through life will no doubt bring more peace. 

And when we take the idea of Samsara seriously and try to understand all the implications, we begin to understand so much about the spiritual ideas of Hinduism and Buddhism — as well as other noble traditions like Jainism.

It is the key to a better life and to so much wisdom once hidden from us.

Key Takeaways:
1. Samsara is the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth in Hinduism.
2. Karma and the three gunas determine the course of one’s life and future births.
3. The five elements make up the physical body and the world around us.
4. Dharma guides one’s actions and decisions, while Moksha is the ultimate goal.
5. Understanding Samsara can help individuals find meaning and purpose in life.

Samsāra refers to the state of perpetual reincarnation or rebirth, in which all beings are ensnared, according to the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Etymologically, samsāra is derived from Sanskrit and Pāli, meaning “continuous movement,” “continuous flowing” or “wandering.” The term is also generally applied to conditioned, transient existence within the material world, which is in juxtaposed with notions of liberated states such as moksha and nirvana.
Although understandings of samsāra vary between the Indian philosophical traditions as well as within their sects, certain points are consistently acknowledged. Indic religions typically assert that rebirth is an ongoing and beginningless cycle as well as an observable principle of nature. This cycle is inextricably linked with the doctrine of karma, which states that human action has consequences not only in this life, but in future lives as well. Karma is said to determine the nature of one’s rebirth in the samsaric world. Most of these traditions regard samsāra negatively, as a fallen condition marked by suffering, sorrow and impermanence. Actions motivated by desire, selfish individualism or ignorance of the true nature of the self and reality lead to rebirths. According to the merit of their karma, an individual may be reincarnated as another human, animal, or even as an insect or plant. One may also be reborn in a particular locale, such as heaven or hell. The ultimate goal of all three religions is to escape from samsāra. However, in all three religions, some lay practitioners engage in so-called “samsaric” forms of religiosity, which refers to the performance of good works in order to improve karma and thereby gain a more favorable birth in the next life.

The precise origin of the Indic belief in samsāra is uncertain. The idea of cyclical time was a widespread presupposition of many ancient cultures who celebrated the cycles of nature, the various seasons, and human-earthly fertility rhythms. The concept of rebirth may also have been prominent in India’s ancient Harrapean culture that pre-dated Aryan and Vedic beliefs, subsequently reappearing in Upanishadic times. The rise of the samsāra doctrine, however, seems to have been contemporaneous with a shift towards more metaphorical interpretations of sacrifice found in the Aryanaka and Upanishadic texts, as well as with the appearance of Buddhism and Jainism.
The early Vedic emphasis on precisely executed ritualistic sacrifices that were thought to bring about specific results in this world, or in heaven, eventually lead to the idea that any action (karma) could have specific results in the future. Vedic religion upheld the idea of punar mrtyu, or “redeath” which took place in heaven, and preceded punar avrtti, or return to life on earth. Alternate theories have suggested the rebirth doctrine emerged among ancient non-Aryan tribal people of India, or else groups located around the Ganges who opposed the Vedas. Regardless of origin, the doctrine of rebirth was gradually accepted in India by the sixth century B.C.E. when the Upanishads were composed, and the new religions of Buddhism and Jainism were being developed.

Samsāra in Hinduism
All Hindu traditions view samsāra negatively, although they disagree on its causes. Why beings are ensnared in samsāra is a point of contention among various Hindu schools of thought. Some suggest that it is beginningless karma that binds us to samsāra. They say that the perpetual transmigration of the individual self (or jiva) to another body, as determined by their karma, after it departs the body at death. The eternal self, or atman, which resembles the western concept of the soul, remains unaffected by karma. In other forms of Hinduism, it is avidya (ignorance) of one’s true self that leads to ego-consciousness of the body and therefore the perception of the phenomenal world. This material world breeds desire within the individual and grounds them in the perpetual chain of karma and reincarnation.

Since the doctrine of karma and reincarnation are inextricably tied together in Hinduism, there are several possible outcomes for a being trapped in samsāra. Karma of the worst variety may result in rebirth in hell, or else on earth as an insignificant being such as an insect, plant, or small animal. A step up from this is the so-called “way of the ancestors,” which is the fate of those who are householders and performers of sacrifices. Here the soul, upon death, is converted to rain and brought back down to the earth where it nourishes plants. These plants are then consumed by animals, who expel the soul in the form of semen which provides it with a new body after conception. At this level of rebirth, one can potentially gain what is supposedly higher incarnation through birth into a more advantageous caste. However, it can also be a step downward to the life of an animal or an outcast, which are believed to be less advantageous positions for karmic advancement. The Chandogya Upanishads describe the weight which rests upon karma in determining the nature of rebirth:

Accordingly, those who are of pleasant conduct here (…) they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a Brahman, or the womb of a Ksatriya, of the womb of a Vaishya. But those who are of stinking conduct here — the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a stinking womb, either the womb of a dog, or the womb of a swine, or the womb of an outcaste. (Chandogya Upanishad V:10:7)
The third and most desirable result of reincarnation is the “way of the gods,” and is only attainable by those who have led austere lives dedicated to isolation and contemplation. Such discipline allows for the transcendence of notions of space and time, which leads to the cessation of rebirth, and therefore liberation. Hinduism has many terms for the state of liberation, such as moksha, nirvana, and mahasamadhi, among others.

Hindus believe that once the karma of this eternal self is purified, one can escape the bonds of existence in samsāra. Hinduism provides four different means by which to attain liberation:
Bhakti Yoga, or love and devotion to a personalized form of God
Raja Yoga, or psycho-physical meditation
Jnana Yoga, or discrimination of what is real from the unreal through intense study and contemplation
Karma Yoga, the path of selfless action and subversion of the ego
Generally, all of these paths provide an equal opportunity for liberation, though certain paths may be favored by particular schools.

The school of Advaita Vedanta believes the atman to be one and the same as Brahman, the supreme divinity. Any perception of a difference between the two is merely human egoism, caused by maya, or illusion. The phenomenal world itself and samsāric participation in it is fundamentally a consequence of maya. Illusion is the bondage, then, but bondage is also an illusion; therefore, once the illusion is understood, it can be overcome. For Advaitans, liberation from samsāra is gained when one transcends the illusion of samsāra and comes to realization of the equivalence of their soul with Brahman.
The tradition of Visistadvaita Vedanta, in contrast, believes that the individual soul is only a part and not wholly equivalent with Brahman. Therefore, mere realization of the nature of atman is not sufficient for purposes of escaping samsāra, and one must practice bhakti in order to obtain liberation through Ishvara’s grace. For Visistadvaitans and other followers of bhakti, samsāra is problematic in that it commonly involves failure to acknowledge the existence of a personal deity. Release, then, for a bhakti devotee, is characterized by emancipation from the temptations of everyday life so that one may become fully absorbed in their chosen god or goddess. Thus, samsāra does not necessarily need to be “transcended” in these traditions.

Samsāra in Jainism
Like Hinduism, Jainism also centers its belief in samsāra upon the notion of a pure and perfect soul, which they refer to as jiva, fettered by karma and the material world. For the Jains, however, karma is conceptualized as a kind of substance rather than a metaphysical force. The jiva becomes trapped in the cycle of rebirth due to the accumulation of karma upon it. This karma forms the physical body or bodies which becomes attached to the soul and determines various characteristics of each rebirth.
Jains identify four types of karma which are responsible for these characteristics. The various aspects of the body, such as class, species, and sex are determined by Namakarma (“naming karma”). Spiritual qualities of any given incarnation are determined by Gotrakarma (“status-determining karma”). The extent to which each incarnation is punitive or pleasant is determined by Vedaniyakarma (“feeling producing karma”), and Ayuhkarma (“age-determining karma”) determines the length of this punishment or pleasure. The fate of the soul is dictated by these four types of karma until liberation. Jains refer to liberation from samsāra as mukti, in which souls are said to float to the top of the universe to an abode of liberated beings (siddha loka). However, much like in Advaita Vedanta, so long as the ego (anuva) remains unconquered, the veil of maya persists, and liberation is impossible.

Samsāra in Buddhism
While the Buddhist concept of samsāra parallels Hinduism’s in so far as it posits a cycle of birth, decay, and death that can only be escaped through the attainment of enlightenment, it is summed up as unenlightened life characterized by suffering. For this reason, samsāra is typically described by Buddhists as a “Wheel of Suffering” or “Wheel of life.” Entrapment within samsāra is conditioned by akushala, or, the three roots of suffering: dvesha (hatred), trishna (desire or craving) and avidya (delusion).

Whereas in Hinduism it is the soul (jiva) that is trapped in samsāra, Buddhism teaches that such a self does not exist (a doctrine known as anatman.) How exactly reincarnation can occur without an eternal self has been a topic for Buddhist philosophers since the time of Siddhartha himself. Buddhists originally accounted for the process of rebirth by appeal to phenomenological or psychological constituents.

Theravadins, for instance, identify consciousness as the link between death and rebirth. Although there is no existence of self, perpetual ignorance from moment to moment causes every changing psychological states (or the skandhas) to be perceived to be indicators of selfhood. As long as mental representations of self persist, so too does the cycle of rebirth. Theravada, therefore, places the realm of samsāra in direct opposition to nirvana, though the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools actually equate the two realms, considering them both to be devoid (or “empty”) of essence. If everything is a mental representation, then so too are both samsāra and nirvana, which are nothing more than labels without substance. In these schools, realizing this simple fact allows for the realization that samsāra itself is the sole attainment, and existence is nothing other than the moment as it is.

Others schools of Buddhism dealt with the difficult coexistence of the samsāra and anatman doctrines in different ways. For instance, the Pudgalavāda school resurrected the concept of a “person” (pudgla) which transmigrates after death. Although this concept of a “person” is not necessarily equated with conceptions such as atman, such a teaching very nearly contradicts the notion of anatman. Another concept used by this school as well the Sarvastivadins to explain rebirth was that of antarabhava. This doctrine suggested the existence of an “intermediate being” present between life and rebirth. This being scouts out the location where rebirth is to occur as is dictated by karma from the previous life, and proceeds to attach itself to the sexual organs of the prospective parents of new child in which the soul will dwell.
One of the most florid representations of samsāra in the Buddhist tradition comes from Tibeta Buddhism, where the cycle of existence is commonly referred to as bhavacakra. Here the samsaric cycle is depicted as being contained, fittingly, within a circle (or mandala). The bhavacakra most often drawn or described as having six sections, each of which represents a realms of existence, spanning the world of hell, demigods, hungry ghosts, humans, animals, and to the world of the gods. The bhavacakra is held in the jaws, hands, and feet of a malevolent being, usually Mara (the demon representing sensual pleasures) or Yama (the God of death), who continually turns the wheel. The goal of life, naturally, is to proceed from the innermost rings of this circle to the outside, where liberation is attained.


Samsara is a Sanskrit word meaning “to wander” or “to flow through,” and is recognized within the Hindu religion as the continuous cycle of death and rebirth. Samsara is the result of one’s karmic actions and thoughts throughout their present and pre-existing lifetimes. Samsara can also be seen as the ignorance of atman (true-self) and absolute reality (Brahman). When realizing atman one can then attain moksa (liberation). Moksa is seen as the highest achievement that any being can accomplish, and inevitably leads to ending samsara (Rodrigues 93-97). Samsara can also be tied to or known as worldly existence. It is the constant altering state on a continuous wheel which never ends nor begins, this is contradictory to the realization of atmanmoksa or absolute reality which are eternal and infallible (Eliade 56-57).

The exact origins of samsara are unknown. There are several theories amongst scholars about the beginnings of the theory of rebirth amongst Asian traditions and ancient Indian civilizations. The concept does not appear in the Rg Veda but it does appear in the Upanisads (see Herman 70). There is a Vedic notion of re-death (punarmrtyu) in heaven which is viewed as a precursor to the notion of rebirth in the earthly realm. But these are simply theories; there is no historical evidence as to how and where the conception of samsara began (Eliade 56). However what is known is that by the time of early Buddhism and Jainism the concept of samsara was universal, and with each tradition particularly within Jainism and Buddhism samsara spread to consist of different views and beliefs from the Hindu religion. This article will focus on the Hindu Traditions view of Samsara. It should be noted that although samsara and other related religio-philosophical forms of worship are widely accepted within the Hindu tradition, scholars do not interpret these beliefs as fact.

The jiva or jivatman (soul) is that which travels continuously through birth, death, and rebirth carrying with it its karmic residue (Rodrigues 94). The jiva is reborn (punar janman) into various different realms and beings; three realms are widely accepted. One can be reborn into a heaven, hell, or earthly existence. Depending on the karmic nature of a jiva it can be reborn as an insect, animal, plant, human, or god in any of the three realms. The human form is one of the rarest that one can be reborn into and although it is one of the more desirable forms, it is moksa which is the ultimate attainment which stops the process of being reborn.

There are possibly three separate paths for the individual self to take once it has left its physical body at death. The “path of the gods” (deva yana) leads to the heavens where the jiva then becomes one with Brahman; this is reserved for those who have, through proper meditation and realization of atman, attained moksa. This is the end to samsara. The second is the “path of the ancestors” (pitr yana) which leads the soul to the moon, where they are led to the world of the ancestors and are fed upon by the gods; from there they are then moved into space and then finally move to the earthly realm to be reborn as a human or other creature. The third path involves travelling through the hellish realm and being reborn as a smaller life form such as an insect or rock (Mittal & Thursby 314).

There are two concepts commonly associated with samsara; the first is Karma and the second is Moksa. Karma is the cause to samsara’s effect; karma can generally be viewed as the law of action. However when studying the relationship between karma and samsara, dharma and kama must also be explored. According to Hindu tradition cause and effect are determined not by a supernatural force such as a deity or God. Instead it is determined by individual actions or thoughts. It is also believed that actions should be undertaken which uphold the cosmic order (dharma) as a part of cleansing ones karma. Karma and dharma are similarly tied to samsara: both directly influence the outcome of ones result after death depending on the jiva’s actions and behaviour in congruence with the cosmic order (Rodrigues 100). Kama deals with sensory pleasure; the pleasures of this world can sometimes corrupt ones jiva into ignoring their dharma or neglect the laws of karma. As such samsara would then have the offending jiva be reborn in hell, or as a lowly creature such as a plant.

The idea of karma suggests that a transcendent substance is generated and follows the soul based on one’s thoughts and actions. The Upanisads describe karma as being accumulated and even transferred from one life to the next; this cosmic “trail” influences one’s subsequent lifetime and form. Negative acts and thoughts are sometimes called bija (seeds) which can lay dormant for short or long periods of time, until the bija begin to bear fruit (phala)(Keys and Daniel 29).

The fruits of that karma can manifest in present or future lives. Depending on one’s actions and thoughts the bija can be good or bad. When the subtle body of the jiva dies, samsara then in accordance to the fruits of one’s karmic actions decides where that jiva will go. Hindus tend to see events, particularly hardships or tragedy, as karmic remnants manifested in present lifetimes; if a child should fall seriously ill and die, and the family is unable to find any bad karma in this life then it is likely they would blame fault on a former life, or that of an ancestor (Keys and Daniel 29). Wealth, long life, and prosperity are also viewed as karmic residue of former lives. Karma’s influence on samsara also includes dharma which appears in the RgVeda as dharman, signifying divine or natural law, dharman in particular characterizes personal action which maintains cosmic order. It is also in connection to rta which affirms orderly creation. Samsara is an eternal, never ending, never beginning cyclical event which can be argued as part of cosmic order (Eliade Vol.4 329).

One’s dharma is also interwoven with karma and subsequently entwined with samsara. A king’s dharmic action is in direct relation to the well-being of himself and his kingdom. If he performs the necessary rituals, samskaras (rites of passage) and sacrifices, then his kingdom will prosper and he himself has a chance to live a wealthy present and future life, or possibly even realize atman. However, if he were to neglect his dharmic duties then his next life may be lower in the caste system or even as a lower life form (Sharma 95). This is a very undesirable outcome as the act of re-death is on the opposite spectrum from moksa.

Kama (sensory pleasure) also plays an integral part in samsara as actions can be shaped by kama. Kama within the Hindu tradition is a part of human behavior; unlike Western notions, kama is a part of the mind which feeds the body. Kama can also be defined as “desire” desires born in the mind can influence the actions of the body. Although this notion is not seen as a “bad” thing, as in Western philosophy there is the idea of “too much of a good thing” which can affect karma and dharma. Karma can be argued as an effect of kama: action and thoughts caused by desire. When a jiva has been rid of desires and worldly pleasures it then has the ability to realize atman. One’s desire for life and worldly pleasures (bhukti) can also keep them within samsara, the Upanisads say one’s desire for life and its trivial matters can cause the soul to constantly be reborn again and again into the suffering world until its desire for life and the world ceases (Herman 71).

The Hindu view of life within samsara as a repetition of re-death and rebirth were present within the ancient Hindu traditions before samsara was named, and both are continuously associated with fear. The jiva is immortal; however its bodies must continuously die and be reborn into lives filled with the threat of fear or hunger, and the pain of sorrow and hardships, such as old age or disease in a seemingly endless cycle (Kaelber 76). The body and senses keep the soul tied to samsara until it can realize self.

The ignorance of atman is called avidya. Avidya could be equated to a veil; it is the jiva’s supposed perception of itself and its own limitations. Theory suggests that the true nature of ones soul is hidden from it, avidya is this force which hides atman from the jiva but can be removed though faithful meditation, ritual, and sacrifice (Rodrigues 96). Avidya is that which keeps the soul within the endless cycle of rebirth and re-death hiding the self’s true nature. Because of this the jiva is trapped in the bondage of karmic law and subject to samsara. Once that veil is removed it is possible for the jiva to realize Atman (Sharma 90-91).

Atman is absolute reality; when the jiva has lifted the veils such as karma (action), maya (Illusion), and anava (egotism) then they are able to realize their true nature. Once these veils are lifted “all” are then perceived or realized to be “one.” This realization is also associated with Brahman which is the knowledge and essence of all things, subsequently brahman is also one with atman. With the knowledge of atman and brahman comes the end to all ignorance such as ego, desire, illusion, and the jiva is then no longer subject to karma (Kaelber 76-77). From then one could be recognized as jivanmukti (liberated as a living being); these liberated beings are generally recognized as saints or sages and are highly sought after for knowledge and blessings (Rodrigues 96). It is in this state and through the realization of atman that one can attain moksa and stop the endless cycle of samsara.

Moksa is the highest attainment within the Hindu tradition generally referenced as liberation from samsara and derives from the Sanskrit root muc meaning “release.” The Bhagavad Gita states that liberation (moksa) can be attained through three paths of self discipline, action (karmayoga), knowledge (jnanayoga), and devotion (bhaktiyoga) (Sharma 114). Moksa, like samsara is not mentioned in early Vedic or traditional texts; however, following the two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata the concept of moksa becomes more widely recognized. If samsara is associated with words such as ‘bondage’ or ‘pain’, then moksa is then associated with words such as ‘liberation’ or ‘freedom,’ it is a release from worldly pleasures as well as worldly existence. The two also contrast one another as samsara is seen as a never-ending cycle of pain, whereas moksa is recognized as a halt and a break from endless recurring pain to be replaced by redemption. Apart from samsara, moksa is always associated with three other traditionally recognized goals (vargas) of earthly living. These are dharma (moral value, duty or law), kama (sensory pleasure), and artha (material wealth); moksa (liberation) is widely accepted as the fourth goal within religious and philosophical texts. Philosophically the four goals can be recognized as a circle as well with moksa returning the jiva back to Brahman (Eliade Vol.10 28-29)

Samsara is viewed as an eternal wheel which continues without beginning or end, and though Moksa is seen as liberation from that eternal wheel, there are those who are seen to accept their position within the cyclical samsara. Though Samsara is viewed as a painful repetitious process, there are those who would aspire to gain the vargas without moksa. There are many devotees within Jainism and Buddhism as well as Hinduism that take on a “samsaric” form of worship or religion. In this case followers practice a more pious and charitable lifestyle seeking not to end samsara but instead to ensure a better birth in their next life following their present lifetime (Eliade Vol.13 57).

Nature Of Samsara

In the Gita, Lord Krishna compares samsara to a peepal tree. In a tree, old leaves fall, and new ones come up. An atma is born in the body of a human being, or animal, or bird or plant etc, and when that birth ends, the atma is born again as something else. Just as leaves fall, and new leaves appear, so does one birth end, but a new birth begins. This tree called samsara has branches that grow upward and downward. In this tree, devas and gandharvas are at a higher level; humans rank lower. Then come animals, and below them come lower forms of life like worms. This tree is nourished by the gunas. The sense objects are the newly appeared shoots of the tree. These shoots are attractive to look at. In the same way, sense objects also attract us, and keep us trapped in samsara, said Valayapet Ramachariar, in a discourse.

A tree depends on its roots for its existence. Karmas are the roots of the tree called samsara. The Vedas are the leaves of this tree. Leaves, through photosynthesis, make the food required by plants and trees. This is a scientific fact. But if the Vedas are leaves of the tree of samsara, what is their role in keeping samsara alive? The Vedas prescribe all the karmas we need to do in this life, and so in this sense they keep samsara alive. But the Vedas also show us how to get rid of samsara. Those who understand the nature of samsara, have taken the first step towards liberation. The main root of the samsara tree is Brahma, which is why the tree is described as an upside down tree, with its roots at the top. Karmas are the secondary roots. Those who have not comprehended the nature of samsara can only think in terms of “I am so and so,” or “I am so and so’s son.” Detachment from worldly desires cuts down this tree of samsara.

Samsara or the Transmigration of Souls

The concept of Samsara is common to Hinduism and all the other religions of Indian origin. Samsara means course, passage, circuit of life, worldly or secular life, mundane existence, or the material world. In a philosophical sense, samsara means the cycle of births and deaths, transmigration, or the wandering of the souls from birth to birth in the mortal world. The way of the world is known as samsara-marg, whereas liberation from it is known as samsara-moksha or vimochana.

According to these traditions, the embodied souls (jivas) in the mortal world are subject to the impurities of ignorance, duality, desires, egoism, and delusion, whereby they indulge in desire-ridden actions and incur karma which keeps them bound to the cycle of births and deaths. They remain so until they overcome their delusion and ignorance through spiritual practice and righteous living and achieve liberation.

Each religion prescribes various ways, by which one can cleanse the impurities and escape from samsara. Hinduism and Jainism hold that souls become subject to Samsara at the beginning of creation. Of them some souls achieve liberation while some remain bound forever. The liberated souls live in the highest realm and will never enter the samsara. Buddhism does not believe in creation. Hence, it does not clarify when the souls become bound. However, it suggests that souls can overcome their bondage to Samsara through the practice of Dhamma on the Eightfold Path and attain Nirvana.

The idea of rebirth and karma are mentioned in several Upanishads. Many scholars hold that these ideas did not originate in Vedic tradition, but were adapted by it from the renunciant traditions which were popular and numerous in ancient India. However, there is no evidence to substantiate it. Since the Upanishads that we have are loose compilations of ancient texts and fragmentary in nature, and since each of the major Upanishads contain verses which were most likely composed in different time periods, we cannot be certain on mere literary evidence that the early Vedic people had no knowledge of rebirth, karma, or liberation.

The Vedic sacrifices themselves are meant to earn merit and secure a good place in the ancestral heaven. There are numerous verses in the Vedas and the Upanishads which suggest how the souls may continue their existence in the ancestral heaven and strive to secure a good life in the next birth by taking birth in the same families where they were born before. The scriptures also specify gender specific roles, remedies, and duties to facilitate the birth of ancestors as progeny and continue their journey further.

Hinduism prescribes many solutions to deal with the problem of samsara. The following are a few important ones.

  1. Right knowledge.
  2. Celibacy.
  3. Restraint of the senses.
  4. Practice of virtue through rules and restraints.
  5. Desireless actions.
  6. Offering the fruit of actions to the Self or to God.
  7. Yoga.
  8. Detachment.
  9. Renunciation.
  10. Devotion

What Is Dharma in Hinduism? – Definition & Overview

What is Hinduism?

We can’t define an integral part of something without knowing what we are talking about. So here’s a quick overview of Hinduism:

What is Dharma?

Dharma is a word without direct translation, but implies ‘religion,’ ‘duty,’ and ‘righteousness.’ It derives from a Sanskrit root word meaning ‘to uphold or sustain’. The concept behind Dharma is anything that upholds or sustains a positive order. For example, an individual, a family, a community, a nation and the universe all help uphold order.

Applied Dharma

Dharma changes, depending on the social expectation and level a person is at. A child’s dharma is different than their parents’, who have different dharmas than, say, a nation leader. Each individual’s expectations of how they are to be treated and expectations of what they should be doing are different. A child is expected to obey the parents and grow into a responsible adult. Parents are supposed to protect and look after their child. The head of a nation is to provide security and leadership to their citizens. If everyone follows their dharma, then prosperity is had. But if people fail to maintain, then the system begins to fall apart. For example, what if the leader acted like a child? What if the child refused to grow up? The entire system begins to fall apart.

Opposition to Dharma

A-dharma is the opposite of dharma; it is the failure of the individuals in the system to maintain the system. The children do not grow up, the police do not protect, the educators do not teach. If there is too much a-dharma then the entire system breaks down, and families, communities, nations, even societies break down.

A-dharma is like a wall of rising water. As it increases, the amount of people needed to fight back against it also increases. One bad child can be influenced or removed. A bad group of educators poisons everything.

History of Dharma

Many of the great epics from India and in Hindu, called Varnashrama Dharma, have the system of dharma built into the story. In Ramayana, the hero exhibits all of the aspects of what dharma is, while the villain represents the idea of a-dharma. To a westerner, the idea is superficially similar to the concept of order vs. chaos, but this is overly simplistic. In Mahabharata, the dharma and a-dharma collide, with cosmic beings, heroes and villains. In the end of the story dharma triumphs, as this is the way the universe is.

Lesson Summary

Dharma lacks a directly translatable term, but is related to sustaining the order of one’s duty based on one’s position. A-dharma represents the opposite of this, i.e. the unraveling of order and the universe. Many epic stories discuss the role of dharma in the universe and how the world should work.

Dharma: Leading a Righteous Life

According to the notion of sanatana­dharma, religion is not confined to a particular race or country. Here two white, British-born Hindus get married, thus entering the second stage of life according to the system of varnashrama-dharma. This second ashram brings greater social and spiritual responsibilities.

Dharma is roughly translated as “religious duty.” There are two principle dharmas, namely sanatana-dharma and varnashrama-dharma. There are also general moral codes called sadharana-dharma.

Sanatana-dharma refers to the soul’s never-ending propensity to serve God. The concept of sanatana-dharma underpins the Hindus’ more inclusive approach towards life and “other religions.” It is the basis for issues of equality, and tends to relate to overtly spiritual matters (e.g. worship).

Varnashrama-dharma defines duties for the individual, classified according to four divisions of labour and four stages in life. These specific duties change, for example as one passes through the different ashramsVarnashrama-dharma is the basis for accommodating diversity, and attributing different social and spiritual standards to various sections of society. Although varnashrama-dharma relates largely to social matters, it is not divorced from sanatana-dharma but is a means of recognising a common goal approached from different starting points. Some Hindu thinkers consider that the current, rigid caste system is a result of neglecting the principle of spiritual equality inherent in sanatana-dharma.

Sadharana-dharma, general morality, is often defined according to prohibitions (yama) and recommended practices (niyama). Hindu opinion varies as to the exact number of each.

In practical terms, dharma refers to leading a righteous life in harmony with natural laws as defined in scripture. In pre-modern, rural India, this was regulated through stable, sustainable lifestyles and traditional norms of behaviour. Today, with emigration and globalisation, it is far more difficult for Hindus to discern what practices are consistent with dharma. They find themselves facing situations and moral dilemmas not directly mentioned in scripture, and must re-evaluate what practical behaviour constitutes righteous living.

Significant emphasis is placed on personal responsibility. This contrasts with the current world trend towards individual rights. The Vedic (Hindu) view is that execution of one’s duties automatically fulfills the rights of others, and that stressing dharma fosters a climate of social and spiritual responsibility. The Hindus acknowledgement of interdependence thus differs from the individualistic, self-centred approach to life.

Related Values and Issues

  • Rights and responsibilities
  • The compensation culture
  • Who is to define what is right and what is wrong

Related Stories

Many, especially from the epics and the Puranas. They include:

  • King Shibi (STO-203)
  • Rantidevi (STO-206)
  • Shravana Kumar (STO-205)


Hinduism endorses the need for commensurate rights and responsibilities. However, it stresses responsibilities. If a person performs his or her duties, then another’s rights are automatically fulfilled. However, the current trend towards demanding our rights is creating a culture of blame, compensation and irresponsibility. Placing the emphasis on dharma tends to promote responsibility. It’s not wrong to demand legitimate rights, but without a culture of responsibility it creates problems. And it begins from the top, with the leaders. That is why many Hindu stories explain how leadership is based on character, not merely position.
Bimal Krishna

Dharma: The Social Order

Dharma is a concept of social order and duty that sustains the whole universe. A person’s placement in a caste (varna) and birth group (jati) is one element of dharma. Jati is historically also used to determine social interactions and marriages, as dharma guides every aspect of daily life. 

For Hindus as for religious people of other traditions, “religion” cannot be understood as one segment of life. The term dharma may be translated as “religion,” “law,” “order,” “duty” or “ethics.” It is far more encompassing than any of the particular activities that might be described as “religion.” Dharma is what centers, upholds, and makes meaningful all activities, not just those done at certain times and certain places. Indeed, the word dharma comes from a word root that means “to uphold, support, bear.” It is that order which supports the whole world, from the laws of nature to the inner workings of conscience.

Dharma includes ritual action. The proper performance of rituals is important to the ordering of individual lives and the life of the community. The texts called Dharmashastras detail the various categories of rituals. It is dharma to name and bless a child, to initiate his or her education, to perform the funeral rites of one’s parents. Rituals are not simply acts which lend dignity to critical transitions, but acts which have a role in the ordering of the world as it should be.

Dharma is also social order. In India, this traditionally included one’s duty as part of a particular stratum of society, a caste (varna) or birth-group (jati). In Rig Veda X.90, a creation hymn, the four broad varnas emerge from parts of the body of the divine being from whom the universe was created. From his head the priests and scholars (brahmins) arose; from his arms the kings and warriors (kshatriyas) arose; from his thighs the farmers and merchants (vaishyas) came to be; and from his feet came the servants and laborers (shudras). The hierarchy and stratification of society is thus written into the blueprint of the universe. At the same time, the interdependence of the castes is recognized, for they are parts of a body, a whole organism.

Dharma is not exactly the same for each of these castes. One’s duty, one’s vocation, even one’s moral obligations are different for the brahmin priest and for the king. Dharma differs for women and for men, for young persons and for elders. “Better one’s own dharma, though imperfect, than another’s dharma well-performed,” says Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. In this sense, dharma is not a universally applicable “law” at all, but highly contextual.

The thousands of sub-castes called jatis or “birth-groups” have long been even more important than the four general castes in the ordering of Hindu society. Traditionally, jati functioned to determine one’s occupation, and those with whom one was permitted to eat and drink, to interact socially, and to marry. The hierarchy of jatis is set by the measure of ritual “purity” and “impurity.” The brahmins are at the top, and “untouchables,” who deal with impure matters such as leather, laundry, and garbage, are at the very bottom.This hierarchical social ordering has come in for sharp criticism over the centuries. Hindu saints and poets, rebels and reformers have challenged the divisions of caste. The soul has no caste, the Divine sees no caste. Yet the dynamic tenacity of the caste system has been so strong in India that only the powerful forces of urbanization, the modern workplace, and the marketplace have been able to shake its stability. 

The nature of human life in Hinduism

The teachings of Hinduism include an understanding of the aims of human life and the personal virtues of a practising Hindu. Understanding the nature of human life also involves an awareness of the cycle of birth and death.


Dharma is an important term in Indian religions. In Hinduism it means ‘duty’, ‘virtue’, ‘morality’, even ‘religion’ and it refers to the power which upholds the universe and society. Hindus generally believe that dharma was revealed in the Vedas although a more common word there for ‘universal law’ or ‘righteousness’ is rita. Dharma is the power that maintains society, it makes the grass grow, the sun shine, and makes us moral people or rather gives humans the opportunity to act virtuously.

But acting virtuously does not mean precisely the same for everyone; different people have different obligations and duties according to their age, gender, and social position. Dharma is universal but it is also particular and operates within concrete circumstances. Each person therefore has their own dharma known as sva-dharma. What is correct for a woman might not be for a man or what is correct for an adult might not be for a child.

The importance of sva-dharma is illustrated well by the Bhagavad Gita. This text, set before the great battle of the Mahabharata, depicts the hero Arjuna riding in his chariot driven by his charioteer Krishna between the great armies. The warrior Arjuna questions Krishna about why he should fight in the battle. Surely, he asks, killing one’s relatives and teachers is wrong and so he refuses to fight.

Krishna assures him that this particular battle is righteous and he must fight as his duty or dharma as a warrior. Arjuna’s sva-dharma was to fight in the battle because he was a warrior, but he must fight with detachment from the results of his actions and within the rules of the warriors’ dharma. Indeed, not to act according to one’s own dharma is wrong and called adharma.

Correct action in accordance with dharma is also understood as service to humanity and to God. The idea of what has become known as sanatana dharma can be traced back to the puranas – texts of antiquity. Those who adhere to this idea of one’s eternal dharma or constitution, claim that it transcends other mundane dharmas – that it is the para dharma, the ultimate dharma of the self. It is often associated with bhakti movements, who link an attitude of eternal service to a personal deity.


Definition – What does Dharma mean?

Dharma is an important Hindu, Buddhist and yogic concept, referring to a law or principle which governs the universe. For an individual to live out their dharma is for them to act in accordance with this law. Dharma is considered to be one of the three jewels of Buddhism, alongside sangha and buddha, together paving the path to enlightenment. In Hinduism, it is one of the four main philosophical principles along with ArthaKama and Moksha. It can also be understood as a law of righteousness and satya (truth), giving order to the customs, behaviours and ethics which make life possible.

The implication of dharma is that there is a right or true way for each person to carry out their life in order to serve both themselves and others. Dharma is closely related to the concepts of duty and selfless service, or seva, and is therefore a fundamental principle of yoga. Although it can be a challenging concept to grasp since it has no single-word English translation, a close adaptation is “right way of living”.

Yogapedia explains Dharma

The word dharma comes from the Sanskrit root word dhri, which means “to hold,” “to maintain,” or “to preserve.” In the early Vedas and other ancient Hindu texts, dharma referred to the cosmic law that created the ordered universe from chaos. Later, it was applied to other contexts, including human behaviors and ways of living that prevent society, family and nature from descending into chaos. This included the concepts of duty, rights, religion and morally appropriate behavior, and so dharma came to be understood as a means to preserve and maintain righteousness.

On an individual level, dharma can refer to a personal mission or purpose. Traditionally, an individual’s dharma is thought to be pre-determined. Depending on karma, a soul is born into a particular caste or social group, either as a reward or a punishment for actions in their past lives. Their path in life is set by universal laws, and the only way to progress is to live within this path and work toward their destined purpose. According to the Bhagavad Gita, it is better to do your own dharma poorly than to do another’s well.

It is said that all beings must accept their dharma for order and harmony to exist in the world. If an individual is following their dharma, they are pursuing their truest calling and serving all other beings in the universe by playing their true role.

To Hindus, all entities have their own dharma: even the sun must shine and the bees must make honey. In Buddhism, dharma additionally means acting in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha and the Four Noble Truths.

The result of living in this “right way” is believed to be self-realization and enlightenment. Above all, when your life is aligned with your dharma, it brings a sense of joy and fulfilment.

During These Times of Stress and Uncertainty Your Doshas May Be Unbalanced.

To help you bring attention to your doshas and to identify what your predominant dosha is, we created the following quiz.

Try not to stress over every question, but simply answer based off your intuition. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else.

What’s My Dosha?

Knowing your current vikriti or state of health can help you understand how your health works and how Ayurveda can help you find balance.

Answer the following questions based upon how you are feeling at the moment (or at least within the recent few weeks). In the case where more than one answer is applicable, select the one that is the most true for you.

The True Meaning of Dharma

The word ‘Dharma’ has been misused in India since the past 1,500 to 2,000 years because people started to use Dharma in the sense of a religion or sect.

However, Dharma is universal and eternal. Dharma is not Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, etc. These are all different religions or sects.

In ancient times, Dharma meant the universal laws of nature, which are applicable to everyone. Even today, we come across Dharma being used in this sense. For example, in Hindi we say that it is the Dharma of fire to burn and to cause to burn. Here, Dharma has nothing to do with any religion but means the nature of fire. How can fire be Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Parsi or Sikh? Fire is fire.

Likewise, ice is ice. The Dharma of ice is to be cold and to cause to cool. This is the nature of ice, which is universal and eternal.

Similarly, when a person develops negativity such as anger, aversion, jealousy, and animosity, he feels unpleasant sensations and becomes miserable.

Neither the mental negativity nor the resultant misery can be called as Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Jain. This is the nature of mental defilements: to make one miserable.

When India became independent, the Indian government prepared its constitution, which stated that the constitution and government would be Dharma-nirpeksh, meaning non-Dharmic. This was a blunder. How can any government be non-Dharmic? It has to be Dharmic, meaning it will give importance to right conduct. Actually, the constitution should have stated that it is non-sectarian, not non-Dharmic. The English word ‘secular’ was wrongly translated as Dharma-nirpeksh.

Seth Govinddas was an eminent Hindi writer. I knew him well because he occasionally came to Myanmar. He played a major role in the Hindi translation of the constitution. So, I drew his attention to this blunder. He accepted the error and later corrected it. When I came to India, I came to know that the late Mr. Laxmimal Singhviji also objected to this mistake and made a request to correct it. Finally, ‘Dharma-nirpeksh’ was changed to ‘panth-nirpeksh’ (non-sectarian). However, even today, national leaders and others still use Dharma-nirpeksh.

Whenever a sectarian word is added to Dharma, it corrupts its meaning. The Buddha never added any sectarian adjective to Dhamma. The only adjective that he added was ‘truth’. Therefore, he used the term ‘saddhamma’ (true Dharma) for his teaching. When the teaching is based on saddhamma, it does not give rise to blind beliefs. The law of nature is the same for everybody. Therefore, the word saddhamma did not give rise to a sect because the entire teaching is based on truth.

This is why the Buddha is known as saccanāma, one whose name means truth. Nāma also means mind. Thus, saccanāma is a person whose mind is always immersed in truth. Later, saccanāma also came to be known as satanāma.

When Bhaktimarg (path of devotion) became predominant in India, some saints used the word satanāma as a synonym for God. For example:

Hota punīta japai satanāmā,āpu tarai tārai kula doī.


Kahai dariyā satanāma bhajana binu, roi roi janama gavaiho.

 Dariya sahab

Satanāma kī ratanā karikai, gagana-mandala caḍhi dekhu tamāsā. 

 Jagjivan sahab

Sometimes, satanāma is found in its true meaning. For example, when Guru Nanakji said:

“Satināma karatā purukha” meaning one whose name personifies truth and who practices only truth, who has attained the state ofsatanāma through one’s own efforts. Having attained this state, he becomes free from all hatred and fear.

‘Akāla mūrati’ meaning eternal and imortal. ‘Ajūnī’ meaning one does not arise again in the womb (natthidāni punabbhavo’ti in Pali). Gura Prasādi meaning this saccadharma is obtained only by the grace of a guru.

That is why Guru Nanakji gave importance to the practice of truth on the path of Dharma. He clearly stated

“Kiva saciyārā hoīye, kiva kūdai tutai pāli.”

-A meditator should become so truthful that every step should be based on the truth of personal experience. All the mental layers of falsehood should be broken.

The entire path of liberation is based on truth:

Ādi sacu, jugādi sacu, hai bhī sacu, nānaka hosī bhī sacu.

– Meditation should begin with the truth as its object, and as one progresses, hai bhī sacu, one should give all importance to the truth of the present moment. As one advances step-by-step, with the base of truth, one finally reaches the stage where hosī bhī sacu, one attains the ultimate truth.

One who wants to practice this path of truth does not gain anything by mere thinking or reasoning:

Socai soci na hovaī, je socī lakhavāra.

-The ultimate truth cannot be obtained even if one thinks about it one hundred thousand times.

The Buddha also said that one does not attain the ultimate stage through suta maya paññā (received wisdom) and cinta maya paññā (intellectual wisdom). So, he taught the practice of meditation to still the mind.

A certain tradition believes that the ultimate stage can be attained by observing silence. However, even if one is silent at the vocal level, the mind does not become silent. Various thoughts and ideas keep arising in the mind.

Therefore, Guru Nanakji said:

“Cupai cupa na hovaī, je lāi rahā liva tāra.”

 -Another meditative tradition says that if one starves the body till it is reduced to a skeleton, one can attain the ultimate stage. Another extreme course is to stuff oneself with food. But, one cannot fully appease craving by eating.

Bhukhiyā bhukha na utari, je bannā purīā bhāra.

-The Buddha said that a meditator should be bhattamattaññū, meaning one who knows the exact amount of food that he requires. One neither eats more nor less than necessary.

Sahasa siānapā lakha hohi, ta ika na calai nāli.

 -Although one might appear wise, only one in a thousand or hundred thousand accompanies one to the ultimate state.

Guru Nanakji explains the way to attain that stage:

“Hukami rajāī calanā, Nānaka likhiyā nāli.”

 -One must walk the path in accordance with the law of nature, which can be realized only through personal experience. This law (hukami) or will (rajā) cannot be found in any book or discourse. It is within ourselves and can be realized only through experience.

 Guru Nanakji also said:

“Hukamai andari sabhu ko, bāhari hukama na koī.”

 -This law is within every individual. Seeking it outside is meaningless. One can progress only by understanding it through personal experience. This law is universal.

Great saints used the term sikkha to refer to those who trained themselves in this path that leads to liberation. Buddha also referred to those who trained themselves in this technique as sekkha.

Nānaka hukamai je bujhai ta haumai kahai na koi.’

-When one realizes this law (hukamai) by his own experience, one’s ego is completely destroyed and one no longer says ‘I’ and ‘mine’.

‘Haumai ehā jāti hai haumai karama kamāhi.’

‘Haumai eī bandhanā phiri phiri jonī pāhi.’

 -Ego is the origin of karma and of birth.

 -Ego is the fetter that causes repeated birth.

In addition:

‘Haumai dīrgha rogu hai dārū bhī isu māhi.’

-Ego is a dangerous illness. However, the remedy can be found within oneself. When one realizes this through experience, one clearly understands that the path of liberation is contained within oneself.

 ‘Eha māiā mohaṇī jini etu bharami bhulāīā.’

-One becomes swayed by this illusion of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ and forgets the truth.

‘Asantu anādī kade na būjhai, kathanī kare tai māiā nāli lūjhai’.

 -One who is ignorant will never understand. He merely pays lip service but does not act accordingly. Such a person is in the grip of delusion and quarrels with everybody.

‘Manu māiā mein urajhi rahio hai, būjhai nahin kachu giānā’

 -One who is entangled in the snare of illusion simply does not understand the truth.

‘Jinā potai punnu ti humai mārī’

 -One who has gained merit by knowing the truth for oneself destroys one’s ego.

‘Sabade ūco ūcā hoi; Nānaka sāci samāvai soi.’

 -That word alone is noble hearing which a meditator becomes immersed in truth.

‘Nānaka māiā moha pasārā, āgai sāthi na jāī’.

 -Guru Nanakji said that one who is trapped in the snare of illusion do not understand that it will not accompany one to the ultimate stage. He also explained the way to realize the actual truth.

The Buddha also said that one should know and experience the actual truth as it is (yathā bhūta), which manifests itself within oneself at the present moment. It should not be a truth that has been created, imposed or imagined.

Guru Nanakji taught the same path:

‘Thāpiā na jāi, kītā na hoi, āpe āpi niranjanu soi.’

 -One should not impose any imaginary belief on the truth that manifests itself from moment to moment, within oneself (saccanāma). Therefore, it is called niranjanu (neither created nor imposed truth).

When one objectively observes the truth of mind and matter, he clearly understands by his own experience that the mind-matter phenomenon is impermanent. It arises and passes away every moment. One realizes that this mind and matter, which is so ephemeral, cannot be ‘I’, ‘mine’, or ‘my soul’.

When one understands the true nature of mind and matter by personal experience, one does not generate craving or aversion, which is dependent on the false notion of ‘I’, and ‘mine’. One realizes the ultimate truth because one is liberated from the snare of illusion.

The entire path of liberation is based on truth. Truth is eternal and not dependent on external conditions.

As a child, I studied at a Khalsa school, where we would greet our friends with the salutation, sata-siri-akāla (truth is auspicious and eternal). At that time I thought sata-siri-akāla was similar to namaste and pranaam. Later, when I understood the true meaning of sata-siri-akāla, I was delighted.

A meditator who walks on this true path experiences the truth pertaining to the entire mind-matter aggregate within oneself (saccakhanda), eradicates all mental defilements and purifies the mind. Then one is called as Khalsa.

Therefore, Guru Govind Singhji said:

‘Khālisa tāhi nakhālisa janai.’

 -One who knows the ultimate truth (nakhālisa) is known as Khalsa. He may belong to any race, clan or nationality.

 The guru who develops such pure-minded Khalsa is a true guru (sadguru). He is highly praised and known as wāhaguru. Such awāhaguru, who trains pure disciples (Khalsa) is always venerated.

‘Wāhagurujī dā khālsā, wāhagurujī dī fataha.’

 -Blessed are the Khalsa Sikhs (sekkha) who are walking on the path of true Dharma (saddhamma).

‘Ādi sacu, jugādi sacu, hai bhī sacu, nānaka hosī bhī sacu’.

 -Whoever walks on such a path becomes truly happy and will certainly become liberated.

Moral Law of the World

Hinduism describes dharma as the natural universal laws whose observance enables humans to be contented and happy and to save himself from degradation and suffering. Dharma is the moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one’s life. Hindus consider dharma the very foundation of life. It means “that which holds” the people of this world and the whole creation. Dharma is the “law of being” without which things cannot exist.

According to the Scriptures

Dharma refers to the religious ethics as propounded by Hindu gurus in ancient Indian scriptures. Tulsidas, author of Ramcharitmanas, has defined the root of dharma as compassion. This principle was taken up by Lord Buddha in his immortal book of great wisdom, Dhammapada. The Atharva Veda describes dharma symbolically: Prithivim dharmana dhritam, that is, “this world is upheld by dharma”. In the epic poem Mahabharata, the Pandavas represent dharma in life and the Kauravas represent adharma.

Good Dharma = Good Karma

Hinduism accepts the concept of reincarnation, and what determines the state of an individual in the next existence is karma which refers to the actions undertaken by the body and the mind. In order to achieve good karma, ​it is important to live life according to dharma, what is right. This involves doing what is right for the individual, the family, the class, or caste and also for the universe itself. Dharma is like a cosmic norm and if one goes against the norm, it can result in bad karma. So, dharma affects the future according to the karma accumulated. Therefore one’s dharmic path in the next life is the one necessary to bring to fruition all the results of past karma.

What Makes You Dharmic?

Anything that helps ​a human being to reach god is dharma and anything that hinders a human being from reaching god is adharma. According to the Bhagavat Purana, righteous living or life on a dharmic path has four aspects: austerity (tap), purity (shauch), compassion (daya) and truthfulness (satya); and adharmic or unrighteous life has three vices: pride (ahankar), contact (sangh), and intoxication (madya). The essence of dharma lies in possessing a certain ability, power, and spiritual strength. The strength of being dharmic also lies in the unique combination of spiritual brilliance and physical prowess.

The 10 Rules of Dharma

Manusmriti written by the ancient sage Manu, prescribes 10 essential rules for the observance of dharma: Patience (dhriti), forgiveness (kshama), piety, or self control (dama), honesty (asteya), sanctity (shauch), control of senses (indraiya-nigrah), reason (dhi), knowledge or learning (vidya), truthfulness (satya) and absence of anger (krodha). Manu further writes, “Non-violence, truth, non-coveting, purity of body and mind, control of senses are the essence of dharma”. Therefore dharmic laws govern not only the individual but all in society.

The Purpose of Dharma

The purpose of dharma is not only to attain a union of the soul with the supreme reality, it also suggests a code of conduct that is intended to secure both worldly joys and supreme happiness. Rishi Kanda has defined dharma in Vaisesika as “that confers worldly joys and leads to supreme happiness”. Hinduism is the religion that suggests methods for the attainment of the highest ideal and eternal bliss here and now on earth and not somewhere in heaven. For example, it endorses the idea that it is one’s dharma to marry, raise a family and provide for that family in whatever way is necessary. The practice of ​dharma gives an experience of peace, joy, strength, and tranquillity within one’s self and makes life disciplined.

Dharma: A Path of Righteousness

Dharma is a Sanskrit word which simply is a path of righteousness.

Dharma is a Sanskrit word which simply is a path of righteousnessDharma is a key concept used in HinduismBuddhism, and Jainism and has different meanings accordingly. The classical meaning of Dharma is “to hold, maintain, keep“. In Hinduism, Dharma means the behavior that makes the life and universe possible with RTA, the order. It’s a moral law that guides one’s life when combined with spiritual discipline. Dharma in Buddhism means cosmic law and order. It is the second gem of three jewels – Buddha, Dharma, Sangha. In Buddhism, Dharma is literally applied to the teachings of Lord Buddha. In Jainism, Dharma refers to belief and teaching that leads to moral transformation of human beings.


According to the legends of Vedic Hinduism, the origin of Dharma came to exist from the oldest Vedic literature of Hinduism. The root of Dharma is “Dhri” which means “to support, hold, or order“. It is believed that the gods created the universe and hold the earth and sun and stars apart and they support the sky distinct from the earth and keep the quaking mountains and plains in the earth. It is also believed that the gods, particularly the god Indra hold the order from disorder, maintaining the law and order that are believed to be the actions of Dharma.

“O Indra, lead us on the path of Rta, on the right path over all evils”

– Rigveda

In ancient myths as well as texts of Hinduism, Dharma meant cosmic law, rules which created the universe from the chaos. But in later Vedas, Puranas, and epics, the meaning of Dharma became more diversified, complex, and richer. Dharma holds important roles in the literature of Indian Religions and also holds the central figure in newly founded religion like Buddhism, Jainism. Dharma considered the behavior of human beings a necessity for the law and order of the Universe that encompasses duty, rights, religion.

    Dharma in Hinduism

    Dharma is believed to be originated from the ancient Hindu scriptures, Vedas, and texts. It is believed that Dharma is the foundation of all human goals which refers to obligations, conduct, as well as moral duties. It is described as the moral laws of the universe and without Dharma (law of being), things cannot exist. All human beings must accept and respect so that law and order can be sustained in the world.

    Nothing is higher than Dharma. The weak overcomes the stronger by Dharma, as over a king. Truly that Dharma is the Truth (Satya); Therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, “He speaks the Dharma“; and if he speaks Dharma, they say, “He speaks the Truth!” For both are one.

    An ancient sage Manu prescribes 10 important rules for the observance of Dharma. They are patience, self-control, reason, forgiveness, sanctity, honesty, truthfulness, knowledge of learning, control of senses, and an absence of anger.

    According to some texts of Hinduism, there exist three sources which help to discover Dharma in Hinduism. First source is to learn knowledge with the help from a teacher studying various Sanskrit literatures. Second is through observance of behavior of good and noble people. Third is when one follows his hearts and respect his own feeling.

    Dharma in Buddhism

    Dharma or Dhamma is one of the most important aspects of Buddhism besides Buddha and Sangha. These three aspects together are known as the three jewels of BuddhismLord Buddha gave preaching on Dharma and started the “Wheel of Dharma“. There are different meanings of Dharma in Budhism like the state of nature, the teachings provided by Lord Buddha, and collective as well as individual laws of Nature. Dhamma refers to the teachings of Buddha about the cause of suffering and pain and the path to take to end the suffering and pain.

    There is no term in Buddhist terminology wider than Dhamma. It includes not only the conditioned things and states, but also the non-conditioned, the Absolute Nirvana. There is nothing in the universe or outside, good or bad, conditioned or non-conditioned, relative or absolute, which is not included in this term.

    Dharma in Jainism

    According to Jain texts, nonviolence is regarded as the greatest Dharma and there is no religion which can be compared to the religion of non-violence. In Jainism, Dharma specially refers to the teachings of Jinas. Dharma has different meanings in Jainism. They are:

    Dharma, the Moral and Religious Duties in Hinduism


    A Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier-Williams defines the word dharma as duty; morality, religious merit; good works; justice (often used as a synonym for punishment).”

    According to Hindu philosophy, dharma represents the natural order of things with laws to govern their properties, natual propensities and Creation itself. It is more than just a set of laws of physics; it is a set of religious and moral laws which bind us in harmony with that order. Dharma also represents your natural propensity (sahaja svabhava) or your essential nature. For example, it is the dharma of fire to burn, of the wind to blow, of the water to flow and of the earth to provide support. Our essential dharma is to perform our obligatory duties and serve the aims of creation so that it progresses naturally as ordained by God.

    Dharma as the Foundation of Life

    In Hinduism, religion (dharma) influences the way people live and view themselves. The very act of living is regarded as an obligatory duty and an opportunity to fulfill the aims of creation and participate in God’s eternal dharma. Tradition holds that religious duty (dharma) is the primary aim (Purusharthas) of human life since it is the foundation upon which one develops the wisdom and discretion to pursue wealth (artha) and happiness (kama) without compromising the chances of liberation (moksha). From Introduction to Hinduism by Jayaram V.

    There are four different types of dharma:

    1) Universal, cosmic law (rita) regulates the forces of Nature, manifested by the  laws of physics. It controls everything from subatomic properties to motion of galaxies. The Hindu believes himself/herself to be part of Nature and seeks to bring the Self into harmony with the universal path.

    2) Social dharma (varna dharma) consists of the duties, occupations and responsibilities that everyone fulfills in the family, nation, society and communities. An important aspect is religious and moral law.

    3) Human law (ashrama dharma) is the natural expression and evolution of the body, mind, soul and feelings throughout the stages of life: righteousness, wealth, pleasure and liberation.

    4) Self-dharma (sva-dharma) is perhaps the dharma with which most Westerners are familiar. It is the sum of all accumulated “karmas” in one’s life, molded by one’s tendencies, personality, desires, and experiences. It represents the path one takes. 

    Hinduism strongly believes that it is best to follow one’s own path rather than the path of others. Search for the natural self is of utmost importance. Paraphrased from “Dancing with S’iva”, pp. 167, 169, 171, 173, 175

    When does Dharma become a burden?

    The duties prescribed in the scriptures of Hinduism are obligatory. It means you cannot avoid them. It is something like the rent you pay to live as a temporary tenant in the world of God, who is the true owner and indweller of all creation. To stay in this world, you have two options. Either you pay the rent in the form of karma or you offer all your actions to Him and take no credit for them. The first approach binds you and keeps you chained to the cycle of births and deaths. The second option, which is prescribed in several Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita is the best way to keep away from the burning fires of existential suffering.  Jayaram V

    Buddha Dharma and Hindu Dharma

    In Buddhism duties or obligations which ensure righteous conduct, both for the lay practitioners and monks, arise from the teachings of the Buddha and more specifically from the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. In Hinduism, they arise from God’s eternal duties as enshrined in the Vedas. The purpose of both is same, to free the jiva (living being) from karma and the cycle of births and deaths (samsara). However, the manner in which they approach the problem is different. In Buddhism, followers look to the teachings of the Buddha to determine what constitute good conduct and dutiful life. In Hinduism, it is determined by the Vedas and the law books called the Dharma Shastras. However, in both religions there is a great emphasis upon cultivating discerning intelligence (buddhi). Jayaram V

    Why is Hinduism called Sanatana Dharma?

    Hinduism is called Sanatana Dharma because the religion is derived from the duties of God which are eternal. Since as human beings we share these duties upon earth, just as gods and other beings in other worlds, to let the divine order of things to continue and since the knowledge of such duties are enshrined in our religion in the form of the Vedas, Hinduism, which is derived from the Vedas, is known as Sanatana Dharma or Eternal Duty. Jayaram V

    What is Adharma and svadharma

    Adharma or unlawful actions means actions which are performed with selfish intent to enjoy the fruit of such action or actions which are prohibited by the Vedas and other scriptures. Adharma also means actions which are considered evil or unlawful by tradition, or against the established code of conduct and religious practices which are prescribed by the law books or religious scriptures. While selfish actions lead to rebirth, evil and sinful actions lead to one’s downfall into lower hells. Svadharma is the duty which arises from your birth, essential nature, profession, gender or caste affiliation. In a sense, it also means your belief system or personal faith.

    What Is Moksha and How Can We Attain It?

    Moksha in English means salvation. Hindus believe in the doctrine of karma. According to this doctrine, there are four aims in life, namely dharma (duty), Artha (wealth), kama (desire), and moksha (salvation). Each is equally important. But moksha is the ultimate ideal of human life (purushartha).

    If one attains Moksha, one is set free from the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth. It is therefore imperative for all human beings to try and achieve moksha.

    Good deeds, pious feelings, and living your life according to the ideals of dharma can help you attain moksha. This article delves deep into the concept of moksha as expressed in Hindu philosophy and explicates how to attain it.

    What is Moksha?

    It is in the Vedas itself that we come to hear about moksha, meaning salvation. The concept of Moksha emerges from the concept of purushartha.

    Purush here refers to the primal man, who is the source of the universe. Scholars believe that this purush is not gender-specific and can include both men and women.

    Artha means the purpose or aim of life. Therefore purushartha refers to the aims in life. We all must design our lives in such a way that we fulfill our purushartha. The better we fulfill our aims of life, the higher are the chances of attaining moksha.

    Attaining Moksha or salvation is important for liberating the soul from the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth. Since our soul is eternal and never dies, it simply passes on to another body.

    The Bhagavad Gita states that just like a man sheds off its old clothes and wears new ones, so does the soul. It simply casts off an old body and enters a new one. This continues until one is liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth and attains moksha.

    What is Moksha in Hinduism?

    The concept of moksha is closely intertwined with the concept of the soul and the theory of karma. To understand moksha in Hinduism, we must understand the concept of the soul well.

    The concept of the soul is present in several other religions in the world, apart from Hinduism. However, the concept of soul significantly differs from one tradition to another.

    In Judaism and Christianity, only human beings have immortal souls. Animals and other creatures don’t. In Hinduism, however, the soul is everywhere. From the tiniest of the insects to the largest of the mammals, the soul is omnipresent.

    Further, Hinduism believes that soul transmigrates. In other words, the soul travels from one body to another. The soul cannot be killed, burnt, or wounded. It is neither born nor does it die. It simply travels from one body to another.

    The transmigration of the soul is also associated with the concept of moksha closely. Transmigration of the soul is common to many philosophies around the world.

    In several tribal cultures, the soul is believed to migrate from one body to another. The souls of ancestors are believed to be reincarnated in the forms of infants or even animals.

    The condition of the soul and the quality of the rebirth is determined by the cumulative total of your past karma (deeds).

    If your good deeds outweigh your bad ones, then the soul is liberated from the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth. This liberation or salvation is called moksha.

    What are the other names of Moksha?

    Since the concept of Moksha is common to Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, it is known by various names such as vimoksha, vimukti and mukti.


    In Buddhism, more emphasis is placed on enlightenment (nirvana) rather than salvation (moksha). Salvation is the responsibility of the individual soul.

    Unlike Christianity, where Jesus is the saviour who helps your soul to achieve salvation, in Buddhism, salvation is achieved through self-restraint and discipline, along with meditation.


    Moksha or mokkha (as it is called in Prakrit, the language of Jain texts) is the ultimate aim of human life. In fact, as per Jainism, it is the only aim of human life worth having.

    All other aims are subservient to it. Once the soul achieves nirvana (salvation), it attains its true and pristine nature of bliss. One is released from the cycle of birth and rebirth of samsara or the material world. A liberated soul is called Siddha.


    In Sikhism, the concept of salvation is known as Mukti. However, it is not as important as the devotion one has towards God. Guru Granth Sahib, the canonical text of the Sikhs, states, “I desire neither worldly power, nor liberation, I desire nothing except for seeing the Lord.”

    Guru Nanak, the most important of the Sikh preachers and the founder of the Sikh religion, recommends Naam Simran (vocal singing of hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib) as the way to achieve nirvana.


    The concept of salvation in Christianity is complex, as various denominations within the Christian community understand it differently. In Christianity, salvation is also known as redemption or liberation.

    In Christianity, not just the question of salvation, but how one partakes in this quest of salvation, through faith, baptism, and obedience to Christian doctrines, is also important.


    Like Christianity, Judaism’s concept of salvation is closely related to redemption. It is a saving from the state or the conditions that destroy the value of human life.

    Salvation is achieved through a union with God. God as the source of salvation is the ultimate repository of the liberation of the human soul.


    Uniquely in Taoism, the concept of salvation exists through a negation. It believes that there is nothing in this world from which you need to be saved.

    Unlike other religions, which sees the human world as a source of misery, from which one needs saving, Taoism believes in achieving perfect harmony with the universe in which one is living. If one achieves that, then perfect happiness is attained.


    In Islam, the concept of salvation is much simpler than other religions. Salvation simply means the ability to enter paradise. Those who die disbelieving in God do not attain salvation. However, those who believe in one true God (Allah) and his message (Islam) attain Paradise (Jannat).

    What are the two stages of Moksha?

    The Vedantic school of philosophy divides moksha into two stages: Jivanmukti (liberation in this life) and videhamukti (liberation after death).

    In Advaita Vedanta philosophy, a jivanmukta has attained a deep realisation of his sense of self and that of the universe.

    Therefore, a jivanmukta is also called Atma Jnani (one who possesses the knowledge of his self) and Brahma Jnani (one who has attained the sense of the universe). At the end of their lives, jivanmuktas attain paramukti (final liberation).

    When a Jivanmukta person teaches about the knowledge of self and the universe to others, then he is called Avadhuta. Some Avadhutas achieve the title of Paramhamsa (enlightened).

    On the other hand, this Jivanmukti is different from the concept of Videhamukti (literally meaning liberation from the body or liberation after death).

    This means that the soul has been freed from samsara or the cycle of birth and rebirth and attained moksha or liberation.

    Both the Vedantic and the Yoga philosophical schools of Hindusim discuss the concept of liberation through these two stages of jivanmukti and videhamukti.

    How do you get to Moksha?

    First, you must try to detach yourself from the desires, anger, fears, and frustration of this world. This is how you can achieve liberation in this life. This paves the way for liberation from the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth in the afterlife or after death.

    According to Vedantic philosophy, it is possible to achieve liberation in this life itself. One does not need to leave this world.

    All one needs to do is to free oneself from the negativity of the world and acquire true knowledge of the soul (atma) and the universe (brahma).

    On the other hand, there is liberation after death. This is called videhamukti or liberation after death. The soul finally frees itself from the pain and suffering and experiences infinite bliss, knowledge, and power.

    A person who is jivanmukta, experiences liberation both during lifetime and after death. Therefore, he becomes Paramukta. While jivanmukta has the body, paramukta and videhamukta are without the body.

    What happens when you achieve Moksha?

    Achieving Moksha means detaching yourself from the materiality of existence and achieving divine bliss.

    Once you achieve moksha, you find unity with the Supreme Being and free yourself from the cycle of birth and rebirth. You lose the sense of your ego and gain realization of the divine self.

    Hindu philosophy believes that samsara is the source of bondage and misery. The quality of your present life is based on your past-life karma. You will reap as you sow.

    Good deeds, charity, living your life according to the rules of dharma is supremely important. This ensures that your next life would be easy-going.

    However, the aim in human life is always to achieve moksha or salvation, so that you can free yourself from the misery of birth and rebirth. Once you achieve moksha, you break the cycle of birth and rebirth and attain true knowledge of the self and divine bliss.

    After attaining moksha, the soul loses its impermanent, gender-linked body and enters Vaikuntha or Moksha Loka or the liberated world. This is the ultimate realm of Lord Vishnu.

    Vaishnava texts define the Moksha Loka or the liberated space as the highest region beyond darkness and the cycle of birth and rebirth.

    In Vaikuntha, Lord Vishnu resides with his consort Lakshmi or Sri. This is the place of ultimate bliss and Vaishnava texts define Vaikuntha in glowing terms, where residents in their divine bodies float around.

    No soul ever returns once it reaches Vaikuntha or attains Moksha. It is impossible to physically travel to Vaikuntha. One can only travel to Vaikuntha or the Moksha land through the liberation of the spirit.

    Is Moksha a Nirvana?

    While Moksha as a philosophy is common to Hinduism, Nirvana, on the other hand, is common to Buddhism. Both of them mean the salvation or liberation of achieving a state of enlightenment.

    However, there are subtle differences between the two. Nirvana or enlightenment is also called Nibbana in Pali, the language of the Buddhist texts.

    Nirvana is the ultimate aim of human life in Buddhism. It comes from the core philosophy of Buddhism, which is based on the fourfold truths. There is dukkha or misery in this world.

    These miseries have causes. But there can be liberation from these dukkas. Following a path of righteousness leads to a cessation of dukka and helps you attain liberation or Nirvana.

    The noble eight-fold path of Buddhism includes the right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness.

    Therefore, in Buddhism, Nirvana has more to do with attaining enlightenment or the right kind of knowledge than simply liberation of the soul.

    However, the liberation of the soul entirely depends on the believers. A person can achieve Nirvana through self-discipline and practicing the noble eightfold path.


    This article explicated ‘Moksha’ meaning and took a detailed look at how to achieve Moksha or how to attain Moksha. We began by asking, what is Moksha?

    Moksha in English, we saw, means salvation or liberation of the soul. Moksha is a central concept of Hinduism, which refers to the freedom the soul achieves when it is finally liberated from the cycle of life and death.

    In Hinduism, Moksha can be achieved through good karma. When your good deeds or karma outweigh your bad ones, your soul is finally liberated and experiences eternal joy and knowledge of the divine.

    Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and yoga philosophy all share common beliefs around the concept of self-realization and enlightenment. The possibility of freedom, liberation, and emancipation from the bondage of suffering, attachment, and ignorance are the guiding principles of these spiritual paths. While the philosophical concepts of Moksha, Maya, Karma, and Samsara can be difficult to understand, they are necessary for yogis to learn and study if they wish to move along the path of enlightenment. Even if your goal is not self-realization, the spiritual practices originating from these philosophies can reduce suffering and increase inner-peace, contentment, and joy. Every step that we take towards a state of moksha can bring us more peace, joy, and happiness in our lives.

    What is moksha?

    Moksha or mukti, is a central concept of Indian philosophy. Moksha translates from Sanskrit as “liberation, freedom, emancipation or bliss.” It is a state of non-ego, where the ahamkara or “I-maker” vanishes and one stands free from all desires, actions, and consequences in a total state of oneness or absorption.

    Attachment, desire, and the inability to see or experience the oneness of all life bind us to this material world. The ancient yogis view this bondage as the primary source of suffering in human life. Moksha is the path of liberation from suffering and the attainment of self-realization. Through this path of liberation, one can experience transcendental planes of existence and a profound state of bliss.

    The liberation of Moksha is not a place; it does not exist in the heavens, the earth, or the spirit-world. This state of ultimate freedom has no space, no time, no location; it can only exist in the now, in the present moment. Moksha is not a destination, it is a process that begins when one becomes aware of their true nature.

    Moksha is the ultimate goal of yoga practice. When we practice yoga, we’re practicing to free ourselves from the bonds of our own ego. We’re learning to let go of what we think we know, and instead, we’re cultivating a greater sense of who we really are.

    Moksha is a state of spiritual liberation. It’s not about becoming perfect; it’s about being free. Moksha means freedom from the cycle of birth and death. It’s a state of pure consciousness where there is no separation between self and the divine.

    Moksha and samsara

    Hindus believe in a cycle of birth and death called samsara, in where the next incarnation of one’s life is dependent upon the karma, or actions taken in previous lives. They believe the soul reincarnates over and over again until it has achieved moksha, or liberation. This concept of reincarnation has been around since ancient times, and is part of the beliefs of Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

    These traditions describe Samsara as a cyclical prison of suffering. It’s a state of being where we have no choice but to experience pain, sorrow, and frustration. Yet we do have the opportunity to choose how we respond to those experiences. If we don’t choose wisely, we accumulate more bad karma, which will trap us in this cycle of suffering.

    While good karma, spiritual practice, and devotion to the divine can help liberate us from the cycles of rebirth, ultimately, we must work towards achieving moksha. In order to achieve this state of liberation, we need to purify our minds through meditation and contemplation. Moksha is the primary pathway to break free of the endless cycle of samsara and attain freedom and liberation.

    Moksha and maya

    Maya translates from Sanskrit as “illusion or ignorance.” Maya is our memories, conceptions, judgments, and biases that present a distorted sense of reality. This is seen as both the psychological separation between the ego and the universe and the psychological filter that colors all of our experience. These impressions of past experiences become superimposed or projected on current experiences, creating a false reality. Maya reinforces the ego, strengthens attachment, and defines our individual “story” that defines who we are and our relationship to the external world. Maya is often viewed as the sum total of all of our karma and samsaras.

    Atman and Brahman

    Essential to the concept of Moksha and Maya is the yogi’s understanding of Atman and Brahman. Brahman is the supreme being, the entirety of all there is in this existence. Brahman is described as the universal principle, supreme existence, or absolute reality. Atman is a tiny speck of Brahman existing at the center or core of our being. Atman is described as a soul, inner self, or spirit. Brahman and Atman are the exact same thing and seeing them as separate is the core of the illusion of maya.

    Moksha is achieved when a yogi sheds the veil of maya and solely identifies with either Atman or Brahman. This results in understanding our true reality and experiencing Atman and Brahman everywhere—both inside and outside of us.

    Rebirth, suffering, and the cycle of death

    The state of moksha can be defined in two different ways. Moksha can be understood as the complete liberation from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, which ends the cycle of suffering of reincarnation. Moksha is more often described as the liberation from suffering during one’s life, leading to deep states of bliss and enlightenment.

    Moksha is one of four aims in human life, known in Indian philosophy as Purusartha. The other three purusharthas are artha (wealth/prosperity), kama (desirability/pleasure), and dharma (righteous conduct/morality). These four purusarthas are considered essential to experience happiness and fulfillment in life. They are also the means by which we progress spiritually and fulfill their purpose of living.

     Liberation from dukkha

    It is believed that as individuals progress through these three goals, their attachments to worldly possessions and desires gradually decrease until they are able to achieve moksha. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna explains that one must pursue virtue while simultaneously avoiding attachment to material goods. He also states that one should avoid attachment to pleasure because it will only lead to suffering.

    Both the ancient yogis and the Buddhists point to the kleshas, the five poisons or afflictions, as the cause of our suffering. These negative thought patterns distort our minds and our perceptions affecting how we think, act, and feel. They create an imbalance within us causing us to seek happiness in external objects instead of internal peace. According to the teachings of Patanjali, the first step towards achieving moksha is to purify oneself of the five kleshas, the root causes of suffering.

    Moksha vs. nirvana

    You are more likely to have encountered the word nirvana than moksha in Western culture, but both words are used interchangeably and in general terms, considered equivalent to each other. Within the many schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and yoga, moksha and nirvana do have subtle differences and describe slightly different states of consciousness. Therefore, yoga practitioners should avoid using Nirvana and instead use Moksha when referring to their own personal experience and spiritual practice.

    How does one achieve moksha?

    To achieve moksha, Maya must be cast off, anava (ego) must be dissolved, and both our attachments to pleasure and our aversions to discomfort must be severed. The five kleshas or negative mental patterns must be removed. The yogic virtues of faith (sraddha), vigor (virya), friendship (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita), equanimity (upekshanam), and wisdom (prajna) must be cultivated. Committing to the yogic vows of the yamas and niyamas will be necessary as a foundation for all of this spiritual work.

    Moksha arises spontaneously when we become completely absorbed in the sensation of an experience without thought. This “taste” of total absorption is common yet fleeting. Through the practice of yoga, we seek to create the tools to consciously and willfully “pierce the veil” of Maya and see the transcendent nature of reality. These tools include selfless work (karma yoga), self-dissolving love (bhakti yoga), absolute discernment (jnana yoga), and meditative immersion (raja yoga).

    The goal of moksha is most easily achieved through the process of jnana (knowledge) and bhakti (devotion). Through knowledge, we come to know ourselves and gain insight into the nature of reality. We then develop an intimate connection with God through love and devotion. With this connection, we are able to transcend the limitations of Maya and realize the truth about our own identity and the nature of reality.

    The most fundamental tool yoga gives us to achieve moksha is conscious awareness. Through the use of awareness, we can slowly begin to see our projections, desires, attachments, and judgments for what they are. Once these distorting factors become conscious, they are able to dissolve and unblock the way to a direct experience of reality. When we become liberated from the illusionary world of maya, we are able to be in yoga: the union of the inner self (Atman) with the oneness of all life (Brahman).

    The two stages of moksha

    In Advaita Vedanta, the concept of liberation is divided into two stages: jivanmukti (liberation in this life) and videhamukti (liberation after death).

    The first stage of moksha is where you experience a neutral and detached attitude towards problems and miseries. You’re able to remain unperturbed when faced with difficulties. When you’re experiencing pain, you don’t feel overwhelmed by it; you simply accept it as part of life. This acceptance allows you to let go of your attachment to things, which leads to freedom from suffering.

    In the jivanmukti stage, you also begin to see the world as it truly is. You realize that everything has its purpose, and you no longer cling to anything. You become free from desire and greed, and you have compassion for everyone who suffers.

    A jivanmukta has achieved a deep realization of her true self and understanding of the nature of the Universe. The liberated sage fully knows that he is not the body, nor does he identify with the mind. She also realizes that his experience of life is merely an illusion. In fact, he is free from the kleshas (afflictions) because he has realized the true nature of reality.

    Swami Sivananda explains that a yogi in this stage “has now separated himself from the mind. He now stands as a spectator or witness of the mind.”

    At the end of their lives, jivanmuktas achieve paramukti (final liberation). She is no longer bound by the eternal cycle of birth and death and therefore is free from the cycle of samsara. In videhamukti, the world entirely vanishes and is replaced by an experience of pure consciousness and the realization of supreme bliss. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna Says that when one achieves this state, they enter into a realm called moksha loka (liberation land). This is where the soul lives eternally, without any physical form. It has no gender identity, no sense of time, and no desire to return to the material plane.

    Moksha: Liberation/Salvation

    Most Hindu traditions consider moksha the ultimate goal of life.The other three goals (see Scripture and Guru) are considered temporary but necessary stepping-stones towards eternal liberation.

    The main differences of opinion centre on the precise nature of moksha. Although practically all schools consider it a state of unity with God, the nature of such unity is contested. The advaita traditions say that moksha entails annihilation of the soul’s false sense of individuality and realisation of its complete non-difference from God. The dualistic traditions claim that God remains ever distinct from the individual soul. Union in this case refers to a commonality of purpose and realisation of one’s spiritual nature (brahman) through surrender and service to the Supreme Brahman (God).

    Key Points

    • For most Hindus, moksha is the highest goal.
    • Moksha means release from samsara.
    • Moksha is achieved through union with God.
    • Such union is understood in different ways, primarily two:
      • Complete union of identity
      • Unity of purpose

    Scriptural Passages

    “O best amongst men (Arjuna), the person who is not disturbed by happi­ness and distress, and is steady in both, is certainly eligible for liberation.”

    Bhagavad Gita 2.15

    Useful Analogy 1

    The drop of water in the ocean

    The soul is compared to a drop of water and liberation to its merging into the vast ocean which represents the Supreme Soul (God).

    According to the advaita schools, the soul and God are equal in every respect, and liberation entails realisation of one’s Godhood. Thus, one’s mistaken sense of individuality is dissolved, and one merges into the all-pervading Supreme.

    Useful Analogy 2

    The green parrot in the green tree

    The individual soul is compared to a green bird that enters a green tree (God). It appears to have “merged”, but retains its separate identity.

    • The personalistic schools of thought maintain that the soul and God are eternally distinct and that any “merging” is only apparent. “Oneness” in this case refers to:
      • unity of purpose through loving service
      • realisation of one’s nature as brahman (godly) but maintenance of one’s spiritual individuality.
    • Liberation involves entering God’s abode, though many schools teach that those souls who have become free from material contamination are already liberated, even before leaving the material body

    Related Practices

    Many religious practices and rites of passage are aimed at liberation. Particularly relevant are those designed to remove our attachment to this world and its transient pleasures. Renunciation, especially in old age, is an important feature of Hinduism. Without conquering qualities such as lust, anger and greed, and without control of the mind and senses, there is no question of being liberated from the entanglement of the material world.

    Related Values/Issues

    • Happiness – where is it to be found?
    • Salvation – by grace or personal endeavour?
    • Freedom – personal, social, political?

    Personal Reflection

    • Do you ever feel like dropping everything and making a clean break? Will it work, or will you again feel entangled? Would it be responsible? On the other hand, can claims of being responsible be excuses for not moving forward? Why do we sometimes remain attached to situations that give us pain?
    • Do you ever feel that you are not really free, even when you are apparently enjoying yourself? What is the nature of freedom?

    Common Misunderstandings

    Hindus believe that liberation is entirely dependent on personal spiritual endeavour
    Hindus have debated extensively the “grace versus works” polemic and developed many sophisticated theologies acknowledging the role of God’s grace. At the same time, they don’t, on the whole, totally exclude the role of personal endeavour.

    Hindus consider liberation to be the highest good
    Many do, but not all. For example, some Vaishnavas consider the desire for liberation to be selfish and advocate a “fifth goal of life”. This they describe as prema (love of God) or nitya-lila (entrance into the eternal pastimes of the Lord)

    Hinduism is world denying
    Although Hinduism tends to be ultimately “world renouncing”, it places much emphasis on accepting our temporal needs and meeting them in a dignified fashion, rather than denying them.

    Scriptural Passages

    “Though engaged in all kinds of activities, My pure devotee, under My protection, reaches the eternal and imperishable abode by My grace.”

    Bhagavad-gita 18.56

    “Perfection is characterised by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless spiritual happiness, realised through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being so situated, one is never shaken even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all mis­eries arising from material contact.”

    Bhagavad-gita 6.20–23

    see also: Bhagavad-gita 4.9, 5.19, 5.24, 8.05

    Meaning and Purpose

    • What is the purpose of life?
    • What is the goal of religion?


    Moksha (Sanskrit for “liberation”) is the highest goal of life in the Hindu religion. Also known as mukti (release), moksha refers to the sumum bonum of Hindu thought in which one’s soul is freed from the karmic suffering of the samsaric world. In higher Hindu philosophy, it is seen as a transcendence of phenomenal being, and an escape from all limitations entailed in embodied worldly existence, including any sense of consciousness of time, space, and causation (karma). It signifies the dissolution of the sense of self as an egoistic personality—the undoing of conditioned mentality-materiality or nama-rupa (name-form). During moksha, one allegedly gains self-realization and complete awareness of ultimate reality.

    Hinduism provides a number of spiritual paths for a practitioner to attain moksha, allowing such diversity for various types of people. However, it is said that the attainment of moksha is very rare and countless reincarnations are required for a person to reach this state of spiritual perfection. Some Hindu schools restrict the attainment of moksha to males only, while others claim that moksha is available to anyone who demonstrates the requisite effort and/or devotion. In some ways the Hindu concept of moksha resembles the Christian idea of salvation but the two concepts are incommensurate because they are based on different underlying presuppositions about reality.

    While early Vedic Hinduism was primarily centered on maintaining order in this world through sacrificial offerings to the gods, a shift away from this practice occurred around the time of the Upanishads (c. 600 C.E.) with the focus turning inward toward the goal of attaining personal liberation. The Upanishads taught that the true self (atman) could be released from suffering when it realizes its intrinsic oneness with Brahman. Whereas the early Vedas dwelt on worldly-affairs in relation to the devas (gods) offering no permanent changes of a metaphysical or psychological nature, the Upanishads encouraged inner sacrifice and abstract introspection. The philosophical Upanishads claimed to lead adherents to advanced states of consciousness, and great important was placed on knowledge (jnana) as a path to ultimate liberation.

    Paralleling these developments in Indian thought, was the emergence of the doctrines of karma and samsāra, championed by the Buddhists and Jains, which also facilitated the rise of the concept of moksha. Eventually, these three ideas became inextricably linked. The prospect of an endless chain of births, deaths and rebirths motivated Hindu religious thinkers to formulate some means by which to escape this cycle and find spiritual emancipation.

    The Upanishads established moksha as the ultimate goal of all Hindu religious activity, and this idea continued to influence nearly all forms of later Hinduism. Eventually, the concept of moksha became widely acknowledged as one of the four Vedic aims of life, or parusarthas, discussed below.

    The Four Aims of Life (Purusarthas)
    In classical Hinduism, higher-caste Hindus were encouraged to follow four aims of life known as the (purusarthas). These four aims consisted of wealth (artha), pleasure (kama), right conduct (dharma), and liberation (moksha). They were usually understood in hierarchal fashion with the practitioner working upward from the lower more self-centered goals towards the higher spiritual goals of life. The first and second aims allow for pursuits such as material wealth and are most commonly associated with what is known as the householder stage of life. However, higher still is the goal of dharma (right conduct) that is considered to be a precursor to the pursuit of spiritual liberation. Finally, a Hindu can seek the highest goal of moksha (liberation) if one so wishes. The Hindu texts instruct that one should pursue this goal when one has retired, or when one becomes a sanyassin (renunciate), one who is wholly devoted to attaining liberation.

    Pathways to Moksha
    Unlike other world religions that teach that the path to salvation is narrow, Hinduism allows for a multiplicity of ways to attain moksha depending on the personalities, tastes, and temperaments of its different devotees. In general, four different spiritual paths are widely accepted in Hinduism. They are the ways of selfless work (Karma Yoga), of self-dissolving love (Bhakti Yoga), of absolute discernment (Jnana Yoga), and of ‘royal’ meditative immersion (Raja Yoga). The paths are not generally seen as mutually exclusive but complimentary. Different schools of Hinduism place varying emphasis on one path or another. These paths are summarized as follows:

    Karma marga offers someone seeking liberation a way of ethical works allowing the person to remain within society instead of becoming a renunciation, while also cultivating qualities important in the achievement of salvation. In this path, one acts for the good of society while pursuing spiritual progress and adhering to standards of correct action.
    Jnana marga is known as the path of wisdom, and places much emphasis on study and pursuit of knowledge. This includes the study of philosophy, and more specifically philosophies that address Brahman and one’s connection to the Supreme. In this path, self-realization (Atma siddhi/Atmavidya) is the key to obtaining moksha.
    Bhakti marga, or devotion, is the most common path in Hinduism today. Bhakti involves cultivating a very personal connection to the divine through a conduit, found in the form of a deity. This path was popularized in part by Ramanuja of the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta philosophical school that advocated a more personal relationship with the divine. Bhakti typically includes devotional worship of a chosen deity, and the expression of single-minded love. Some of the most popular deities in Hinduism include Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Ganesha, or Devi (the Mother Goddess). It is often said that Hindu deities are but one manifestation or expression of this universal and all-encompassing force of Brahman.
    Philosophical Perspectives
    The main philosophical schools of India each have different views on the subject of moksha, which can be seen from the brief survey below:

    The famous orthodox school of Vedanta contains many subschools each with different interpretations of moksha. For example, Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta school advocates a non-dualistic approach wherein liberation is described as essentially being, knowing, and experiencing one’s true self (atman) as non-different from Brahman. Moksha is seen as a final release from one’s worldly conception of self, the loosening of the shackle of experiential duality and a re-establishment in one’s own fundamental nature, though the nature is seen as ineffable and beyond sensation. In achieving moksha, the Atman remains as it always was, except that it now is perceived in its true form.
    Ramanuja’s Vishishtadvaita Vedanta school promoted qualified non-dualism. While Brahman is still the ultimate underlying force residing in all things, it is qualified by three attributes: the soul (cit), matter (acit), and God (Isvara). By acknowledging Isvara as being a legitimate part of Brahman, it makes it much easier for people to connect with the divine on a personal level, and attain liberation. This devotional theism is the defining characteristic of Vishishtadvaita School and its development helped popularize the practice of bhakti, or devotional Hinduism. The concept of moksha in Vishishtadvaita School is one that reflects a highly theistic approach, as the liberated soul maintains a personal relationship with God after having attained moksha instead of experiencing a separation from all other things. In contrast to Shankara’s Vedanta school, moksha can be attained only by the grace of god alone, not purely by self-effort; hence devotion to God is very important in Ramanujas school. Additionally, Ramanuja also taught that anyone could attain moksha, salvation was not limited purely to male members of the priestly caste.
    Another Vedanta school known as Dvaita Vedanta was founded by Madhva, which taught that reality is dualistic. According to Madhva, the material world is completely separate from God, and therefore moksha is attained by achieving awareness of the distinction between self and divine, not the unity between the two. Brahman reveals itself to beings through the means of a personal form of God; therefore the Dvaita school is theistic in nature. Like in the Vishishtadvaita school, continuous devotion is essential to attaining moksha. This state of moksha is characterized as blissful and complete devotional surrender to God, as well as the retention of ones individual nature. In dualist and qualified advaitic Hinduism, Moksha means union or close association with God.
    Another school of Indian philosophy known as Samkhya is also dualistic and describes reality as consisting of the material world and spiritual world in tension. It teaches that human souls are entangled with matter, and to achieve liberation humans must be able to discern between the two and separate our spirit (purusha) from the material realm (prakrti). The Raja Yoga school echoes this perspective. The goal of yoga is to harness or control one’s thoughts and mental fluctuations so that one can discriminate between the true self (Purusha) and matter (prakrti). The eighth limb (stage) of Raja Yoga is that of samadhi, which is attaining absorption into the divine. At this stage one is unaware of any sense of individuality or self, having sunk so deeply into meditative contemplation. When the state of samadhi is attained, all karmic forces are halted, and the purusha is left alone, free of prakrti. The one who has attained liberation may then continue with their life and assist others in achieving spiritual goals, but will do so with an enlightened frame of mind that is unencumbered by the entanglements of prakrti, and therefore has realization of their true identity.
    Several theological and philosophical controversies have arisen in Hinduism in regards to the topic of moksha. There are at least three important issues that have been debated:

    First, there is some disagreement over whether an enlightened being, one who has achieved moksha (known as a jivan mukti), is above the law of the land as s/he has allegedly transcended all dualisms. According to Hinduism, some gurus who have achieved liberation while still alive and possessing a physical body have then acted in “strange” ways from the perspective of everyday life. Are the actions of gurus justified given that they have moved beyond ethical and moral dualisms?

    Second, various philosophical schools of Vedanta disagree over the question of whether moksha involves the complete merging into Brahman and the obliteration of one’s identity in a sea of non-duality, or if it means uniting with the divine but retaining a distinct identity.

    Third, it is unclear whether moksha means forsaking the world or staying engaged in the world to help others. Critics have declared that social-service is contradictory to the non-duality of moksha, which seemingly requires complete detachment from all matter. Yet, moksha has also been understood as favorable to social service due to heightened awareness of cosmic oneness and interconnectedness.

    In conclusion, the concept of moksha as liberation from rebirth is a constant and widely accepted goal in nearly all-Indian systems of belief. It is also a concept heavily entwined with philosophical matters and questions about the nature of reality, the divine, and salvation, and the human relation to each of these. While the Hindu philosophical schools have different ideas on how moksha may be achieved, they agree that freedom from suffering is the ultimate goal of life.

    The Essential Reality of God and Self (Brahman and Atman)

    In Hinduism, God and Self are used interchangeably. In many scriptures and Upanishadic verses, they refer to the same eternal, infinite and absolute reality. However, some schools of Hinduism not only draw a clear distinction between God and Self but also describe different types of individual selves such as the bound selves (baddha), the eternally free selves (nitya-mukta), the liberate selves (baddha), the eternally bound selves, and so on. In the following discussion, we present a few important views and philosophical notions regarding the essential reality of God and Self (Brahman and Atman) in Hinduism.

    God (Brahman)

    The highest and absolute God of Hinduism goes by many personal and impersonal names. However, in the Vedas he is mostly described as Self (atma or atman) or Supreme Self (paramatma) or Lord (Isvara) or Brahman. He has numerous manifestations, forms and functions. The Vedic Supreme God or Being who is without a beginning and without an end contains within himself all possibilities and realities. While his absolute reality is stable and permanent, his projected realities are impermanent and subject to modifications. Although for convenience we may consider him male, in reality he is without any specific gender and without any distinguishable form or feature, and usually mentioned as That (Tat).

    The Upanishads affirm that he is indescribable, incomprehensible, indestructible, and beyond the mind and the senses, whose nature is bliss, who represents indivisible oneness, who is perfection, completeness and fulfilment personified and who exists in all beings as their very Self, and in whom all exist. He is the paramatman (the transcendental Supreme self), the source and creator of all. For the mortal beings who seek liberation, he is also the highest goal (paranadhama). As the material and efficient cause of creation, he brings forth all the worlds and beings from himself, using his own materiality and dynamic energy (Prakriti).

    In his purest state, as Nirguna Brahman, he is without qualities (lakshanas), modes (gunas), dualities (dvanda), names and forms (nama rupa). However, in his manifested state as Isvara (Lord) or Saguna Brahman, he assumes numerous names and forms, qualities, colors, divisions and dualities. As the creator, he becomes all the diversity and objectivity which become manifested in the higher and lower worlds. Although we may see him as other than us or different from us due to our egoism, delusion and ignorance, in his absolute reality everything is Self or a projection of Self. His creation arises from him as a temporary projection or formation, just as the reflection of the sun or the sky in the water or the appearance of a film upon a screen.

    The Vedas describe how Brahman manifested our world by assuming a form of cosmic proportions, known as Purusha (person). This Purusha is the Self of the world as well as the Self in all beings. In the beginning of creation, he performed a cosmic sacrifice using parts of his own body as an offering, for his own pleasure, and manifested worlds and beings, dharma and divine order.

    As the subjective reality, the Supreme Self is present in all beings (jivas) as their very observer and enjoyer, hidden behind all happenings and beyond all notions of duality, change and objectivity. In the body, he is said to reside in the heart until death. As the lord of the breaths he is responsible for the functioning of the body, digestion of food, perception, thought, speech, awareness, discernment, intelligence and so on. As the supreme being, he moves the worlds, ensuring their order and regularity and their orderly progression from one division of time to another

    The complexity of knowing the reality of Brahman

    The concept of God, which is one of the most distinguishing features of Hinduism is so complex in its very conception, formulation and ideation that it makes God both determinate and indeterminate, existent and nonexistent, known and unknown, and with form and without form in the same breath. By presenting an all-inclusive and all-encompassing, multifaceted and multidimensional reality of God, the Vedas and Tantras makes any debate about his existence or proof of it a futile and facetious exercise.

    The scriptures confirm it. They present him as an indeterminate reality, about which nothing can be said in certain terms. You can make sense of him relatively in the context of something, in comparison to something or from a particular perspective, but none can fathom his beginning or end. All that exists here and elsewhere is but a fraction of his infinite reality, which he supports by a fraction of his infinite power.

    As one of the Upanishads affirms, if you think you know him, you probably do not know him, and if you think you do not know him, you may probably know him (because you understand his infinite nature and your own limitations). Therefore, truly enlightened masters of Hinduism do not engage in frivolous debates about God, nor do they try to explain or confuse those who have different notions of God. They prefer silence because they know that the observed reality of our minds and senses cannot truly fathom the true nature of the observer who uses them to witness the drama of life. Besides, his reality is such that he becomes and manifests in whatever way you worship him with your heart and soul.

    God is subjective reality. The world which we perceive through our senses is the objective reality. We can grasp objects, but we cannot grasp that (the subject), which grasps. For example, you can hear the words of someone, but you cannot hear the hearer. You can see an image, but you cannot see the seer. Objective reality is dependent, whereas subjective reality is independent. All objects depend upon a subject to become known, whereas the subject does not depend upon any object to be known. It is known by itself. Further, objective reality can be perceived in a state of duality, whereas subjective reality can only be experienced in a state of unity or in the absence of duality. One can say the same about effects. An effect cannot exist without its cause, but cause can exist without producing any effect. Until you understand these nuances, you cannot easily grasp the correlation between God and his creation. Knowing the subject of all as the subject of one’s own reality and as one’s very Self, dissolving all notions of separation and distinction, is the essence of liberation and self-realization.

    According to the expansive vision of the Hindu seers who composed the Upanishads in their exalted and expansive mental states, God is not to be found in the temples or on the tops of mountains or in sacred places, but within oneself as oneself. Brahman becomes self-evident when you restrain your mind and senses and withdraw into yourself to become the subject, the pure witness or the observer.

    In that pure state, you become the witness Self who is neither the eye nor the ear nor the nose nor the mind nor speech nor breath, but the one reality for whom and because of whom they all function. This is the truth. The logic is very fundamental and inherent in the core aspects of liberation theology. It goes like this. If you are present, God is not known. If you are absent, God becomes known or self-evident. It is as if you (the ego) are the major obstacle to your liberation.

    Hence, as the Upanishads vouch, the only way or the easiest way to know Brahman or experience his reality is to become Brahman himself without any duality, objectivity or separation. It is why renunciation is prescribed in all the ascetic traditions of Hinduism as a way to weaken and silence the ego and purify the mind and body to attain the pure consciousness of Brahman. For the same reason, the debate between the proponents of “Is” and “Is Not,” or the Asitik and Nastika vada, is never fully settled. For the atheists, who are full of themselves, God is not known. For the devotees who empty themselves, God becomes known by becoming their very selves.

    However, although we know that Brahman represents the all-inclusive and all-encompassing reality, we cannot purely rely upon abstract and transcendental notions to pursue our spiritual goals or achieve liberation. To sustain our faith and persevere in our effort, and to understand the essential reality of God, we need concrete symbols, ideas, forms and concepts which will help us ground the mind in spiritual thoughts and the goal of liberation.

    Even if we know that God is subjective reality, free from all entanglements and relationships, we still need to consider his objective forms and manifestations within the realm of our own minds to establish a conceptual relationship and engage our minds in his contemplation. Hence, in Hinduism devotees and spiritual aspirants turn their attention to objectified Brahman and his numerous manifestations and forms rather than the abstract Brahman.

    Focusing their minds upon the objectified Brahman, having established a direct and personal relationship with him, they gradually transcend their duality and objectivity and enter the transcendental realm of pure consciousness through self-absorption. Hinduism offers many spiritual solutions and large body of literature to accomplish this noble goal. They are extremely useful to elevate the external forms of ritual worship into internal contemplative practices so that once can engage in a continuous spiritual sacrifice (antaryajna).

    The Self (atman)

    The self or the soul is called Atman, which literally means the breathing one. It refers to the person in the personality or consciousness of a being. It is essentially the pure and unadulterated subjective state, free from the influence of the mind, the senses and the ego. It is the witness to all that happens in the mind and body.

    Atman represents the same essential reality as Brahman. In their purest state there is hardly any difference between the two. As the school of nondualism affirms, the existence of Atman as a distinct, individual entity is an illusion. It is but Brahman residing in the body of a being as its support. In many respects, it is the microcosmic aspect of Brahman, smaller than an atom and infinitely larger than the world, with the same pure consciousness. However, in the field of Prakriti, it becomes subject to illusion, bondage and the laws of karma. When it achieves liberation, it regains its true nature and returns to its purest state.

    The Chandogya Upanishad equates Brahman with the all-pervading Self in the following words.

    Truly what is called Brahman
    is the same as that space outside a person
    Truly that space which is outside a person is
    the same as that which is inside the person
    and that space which is inside a person is
    the same which is inside the heart.
    That is fullness. That is the unchanging.
    One who knows this
    invariably gains full prosperity and
    unwavering happiness

    Different schools of Hinduism differently interpret the relationship between Brahman and Atman. They can broadly be divided into three schools, namely those who believe that they are the same (Advaita), those who believe that they are different (Advaita) and those who believe that they are somewhat different (Vishishtadvaita). According to the first school, the individual soul is in reality an illusion. It has no existence of basis of its own. The same Brahman appears in the field of Prakriti and in the bodies of beings as an individual Self and as a temporary illusion, which disappears when the beings awaken to the indivisible and all-pervading reality of Brahman through liberation.

    The dualistic schools (dvaita) hold that the individual souls represent the subtle body of God, while the materiality of the entire creation represents his gross body. Beyond them is the Supreme Self or the purest consciousness of God, which is entirely free from all relationships and formations. The duality between Brahman and Atman continues even after souls attain liberation. Their consciousness also differs in some respects. The third school holds that individual souls are the same as Brahman in some respects, but not the same in some other. Upon liberation they attain the consciousness of Brahman, but do not become dissolved in him. They continue to enjoy an existence of their own in the presence of God, having established sameness and nearness, which enables them to experience God as their very Self.

    Unity in diversity

    Hindus also worship several gods and goddesses. They are not different entities but different aspects of the same highest Brahman. In their deepest essence, they are the same as Brahman. They also have some features, qualities and energies, which distinguish them from other divinities and which are essential to perform their ordained duties to uphold Dharma and ensure order and regularity.

    Devout Hindus worship them as their personal gods and goddesses representing the highest Truth. Some scriptures allude to the fact gods were once ordinary souls. They attained divinity or godliness through pure deeds or good karma. This is true with regard to all the gods and goddesses, including the three highest gods namely Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It also means that different gods may appear in each timecycle.

    The gods are not different from Brahman. They are Brahman only in their purest and highest aspect. As a Sanskrit verse declares, “ekam sat viptra bahuda vadanti.” It means that truth is one but perceived and spoken in different forms. If God has many forms and if they are all the same in the final essence, it logically follows that he can be worshipped in many ways, and we can reach Him through any of his forms and manifestations. This is stated in the following verse.

    Akasat patitam toyam yatha gacchati saagaram,
    Sarva deva namaskara kesavam pratigacchati

    It means that just as the rain water finally flows into the ocean, wherever it may fall, so also the worship offered to any god will ultimately reach the supreme God only.

    According to Hinduism, life in all its aspects and forms is sacred, and every being is an aspect of God in a latent form. God creates the worlds and populates them with different beings for his own pleasure or enjoyment. A knower of the Self or a self-realized person (atma jnani) is but God in human form. He is worthy of veneration, especially so when his or her identity is fully merged in him. God resides in beings as their very selves in different states of purity, awareness and ignorance. These impurities do not exist in him, but around him as a cloud or obstruction. At times, God also incarnates upon earth as an obligatory duty to destroy evil and restore order.

    The idea that the numerous divinities of Hinduism are but aspects of the same supreme reality is well described in the answer given by Yajnavalkya in the following verse from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

    Then Vidagdha Sakalya asked him: ‘How many gods are there, O Yagnavalkya?’
    He replied thus according to the offerings (nivid) made to them.
    ‘As many as are mentioned in the hymn of praise addressed to the Visvedevas,
    namely three and three hundred, three and three thousand.’
    ‘Yes,’ he said, and asked again: ‘How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?’
    ‘Thirty-three,’ he said.
    ‘Yes,’ he said, and asked again How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?’
    ‘Six,’ he said.
    ‘Yes,’ he said, and asked again:’ How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?’
    ‘Three,’ he said.
    ‘Yes,’ he said, and asked again: ‘How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?’
    ‘Two,’ he said.
    ‘Yes,’ he said, and asked again: ‘How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?’
    ‘One and a half (adhyardha),’ he said.
    ‘Yes,’ he said, and asked again: ‘How many gods are there really, O Yagnavalkya?’
    ‘One,’ he said.


    Definition – What does Moksha mean?

    Moksha is the concept of ultimate freedom and liberation, central to Indian philosophy and religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Also known as mukti, the term is derived from the Sanskrit word, mukt, meaning “liberation,” “release” and “emancipation.” It refers to the state of being released from the life-death cycle (samsara) and the limitations of a worldly existence. According to Indian philosophy, moksha is the ultimate Purusartha, the fourth and final goal for human existence.

    Traditionally, moksha is closely tied to the concept of universal consciousness, in which one accepts the Self as at one with all existence. It is believed that the only way to attain absolute freedom, peace, bliss and oneness with the Divine is to reach the state of moksha.

    Although the term is often used interchangeably with the Buddhist concept of nirvana, Hindus believe that nirvana is more specifically the state a person enters into after achieving moksha.

    Yogapedia explains Moksha

    Although Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism each have unique perspectives on moksha, the term is most prevalent in Hinduism. Hindus believe in a cycle of death and rebirth known as samsara, in which the next incarnation is dependent on karma, or actions in the previous life. Moksha marks the end of this cycle, in which one overcomes all ignorance and desires of a worldly existence to attain ultimate freedom and bliss. In some schools of Hinduism, moksha has connotations of self-realization and liberation within this life.

    Moksha is also central to Indian philosophy in general, comprising one of the four goals in human life known as Purusartha. The three purusartha prior to moksha are:

    • Dharma – living a virtuous and moral life
    • Artha – attaining the means for wealth, security and prosperity
    • Kama – appreciating sensual pleasures, enjoyment and love

    It is believed that as individuals move through these three goals, they slowly begin to release attachment to worldly possessions and desires until they are able to reach moksha. There is criticism as to the inherent tension between achieving these goals and attaining moksha, which gave rise to the concept of dharma-driven action otherwise known as Nishkam Karma. This is a central message of the Bhagavad Gita, in which balance between action and renunciation can be found as a means of reaching the ultimate freedom of moksha.

    The Eight Limbs of Yoga outlined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras can be interpreted as steps on the path to attaining moksha. In yoga, there are several paths to achieving this freedom; Jnana, Bhakti, Karma and Raja. A more recent style known as Jivamukti is also centred on the concept of moksha. Created by Shannon Gannon and David Life in 1984, Jivamukti combines Hatha yoga with principles of scripture, devotion, nonviolence, music and meditation as a means of self-realization and liberation.

    During These Times of Stress and Uncertainty Your Doshas May Be Unbalanced.

    To help you bring attention to your doshas and to identify what your predominant dosha is, we created the following quiz.

    Try not to stress over every question, but simply answer based off your intuition. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else.

    What’s My Dosha?

    Knowing your current vikriti or state of health can help you understand how your health works and how Ayurveda can help you find balance.

    Answer the following questions based upon how you are feeling at the moment (or at least within the recent few weeks). In the case where more than one answer is applicable, select the one that is the most true for you.


    Hindus believe that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives (samsara) and its next incarnation is always dependent on how the previous life was lived (karma).

    In a lifetime people build up karma, both good and bad, based on their actions within that lifetime. This karma affects their future lives and existences. People must take responsibility for their actions either within this life time or the next. Death is a key part of this cycle and is treated with specific importance. Death is the last samsara (cycle of life) referred to as the ‘last sacrifice’.

    Moksha is the end of the death and rebirth cycle and is classed as the fourth and ultimate artha (goal). It is the transcendence of all arthas. It is achieved by overcoming ignorance and desires. It is a paradox in the sense that overcoming desires also includes overcoming the desire for moksha itself. It can be achieved both in this life and after death.

    What happens after death

    It is preferable for a Hindu to die at home. Traditionally a candle is lit by the head of the deceased. The body is then placed in the entranceway of the house with the head facing south. The body is bathed, anointed with sandalwood, shaved (if male) and wrapped in cloth. It is preferable for cremation to take place on the day of death. The body is then carried to the funeral pyre by the male relatives and prayers are said to Yama, the god of death. Sometimes the name of God (Ram) is chanted. While doing this the pyre is circled three times anti-clockwise. This is usually done by the male relatives of the family, lead by the chief mourner.

    On the funeral pyre the feet of the body are positioned pointing south in the direction of the realm of Yama and the head positioned north towards the realm of Kubera, the god of wealth. Traditionally it is the chief mourner who sets light to the pyre. This is done by accepting flaming kusha twigs from the Doms’ who are part of the Untouchable Hindu caste responsible for tending to funeral pyres. The body is now an offering to Agni, the god of fire.

    Water is sacred

    After cremation the ashes are collected and usually scattered in water. The River Ganges is considered the most sacred place to scatter ashes. Similarly, Benares (the home of Siva, Lord of destruction) is a preferred place of death because it takes the pollution out of death and makes it a positive event. Anyone who dies here breaks the cycle of life and achieves moksha (enlightenment or release).

    It is important to remember that Hinduism is not only a religion but also a cultural way of life. Some practices and beliefs may not be common to all Hindus as regional differences occur.

    Moksha or Liberation in Hinduism

    Verily in the beginning this was Brahman, that Brahman knew (its) Self only, saying, ‘I am Brahman.’ From it all this sprang. Thus, whatever Deva was awakened (so as to know Brahman), he indeed became that (Brahman); and the same with Rishis and men. The Rishivamadeva saw and understood it, singing,’ I was Manu (moon), I was the sun.’ Therefore now also he who thus knows that he is Brahman, becomes all this, and even the Devas cannot prevent it, for he himself is their Self. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)

    Moksha is the most popular word used in Hinduism to denote the final or the ultimate liberation. It is not only the highest goal of all spiritual paths and practices but also the highest state (parandhama) to which a mortal being (jiva) can ascend. Other Sanskrit words which are used to describe it are Mukti, Kaivalya, Laya, Moksha, Nirvana, Sayujya, Jnanodaya, Siddhi and Samadhi. Liberation is not the freedom of the mind or body but freedom of the soul. It is also its natural state (sahaja). In liberation the soul does not gain anything or lose anything, nor does it undergo any transformation. It simply returns to its natural and original state and shines in its own light when the impurities of the mind and body that surround it are completely dissolved.

    According to Hinduism, neither dying nor going to heaven constitute true liberation. Death is a simple release from the body but not from the hold of Nature. Upon death, a soul may wander upon earth, temporarily become stuck in the middle planes or in one of the heavens, or attain liberation. We have many heavens and hells. We have the ancestral heaven, Indra’s heaven, Brahma’s heaven, Vishnu’s heaven, Shiva’s heaven, and the highest, immoral heaven of Brahman. Then, according to some accounts we have a series of seven bright worlds above the earth and seven dark worlds below the earth. Our Puranas also speak of Yamalok (underworld), to which sinners go upon death where they face extreme suffering and cleansing before taking another birth. They also speak of several other worlds 1, and worlds (trsankus) that cannot be categorized as a heaven or a hell.

    People may go to any of them upon their death according to their deeds and devotion. Those who worship Vishnu and Shiva and attain liberation go to their respective heavens namely Vaikuntah and Kailasa. Devotees of both gods, who worship them as the Lords of the universe, claim them to be the highest worlds, just as the world of Brahman which is located in the Sun. They believe that those who enter them will not return to take birth again. According to Srimad Bhagavatam (10.14.21), the world of Vaikuntah is infinite. There are innumerable Vaikuntahs. None can fathom their length and breadth.

    The Vedas state that those who engage in righteous actions but have not attained final liberation, go to the ancestral world (pitr-lok) upon departing from here. They leave the mortal world with their subtle, casual bodies and stay there until their karmas are exhausted. Life in the ancestral world is better than the earthly life. However, it not the final destiny of human souls, nor is it an ideal solution to lasting peace because it does not liberate the souls from the cycle of deaths and rebirths. Those who go there return again to take another birth and continue their existence upon earth. They will keep repeating this cycle birth after birth, until they are completely free from karma. Therefore, the Upanishads caution people not to become too involved with the world or with rites and rituals, since they lead to the ancestral world rather than to the immortal heaven.

    Liberation is achieved only when one renounces desires and attachments and engages the mind in spiritual practice by stabilizing it in the contemplation of God to attain oneness with him or become dissolved in him. Thus, in Hinduism liberation means the deliverance of individual souls (atman) from Samsara or the cycle of births and deaths. It is a complex, transformative process which requires the cleansing of the mind and body, the overcoming of duality, delusion and egoism and achieving oneness with the Self or Brahman. Sometimes, words such as self-realization, awakening, enlightenment, salvation, etc., are also used to denote liberation.

    The concept of liberation is unique to the religious and renunciant traditions of India. You do not hear about it in other religions, although they may refer to the possibility of an eternal life earned by the grace of God or an allegiance to a particular faith. Hinduism does not believe that anyone can ascend to the immortal heaven with a physical body or an ethereal body. Only pure souls can go there, which are godlike in every aspect. For that, they have to be completely pure and free from all forms of impurity, materiality, duality and delusion.

    The concept of Moksha is also difficult to understand, unless one is very familiar with related terms such as bondage, rebirth, attachments, karma, binding actions and liberating actions, yoga, maya or concealment, moha or delusion, anava or egoism and prakriti or nature. They refer to various forces or obstacles which keep the soul bound to the earth as a part of God’s creation to ensure the order and regularity of the worlds. Souls cannot easily escape from the mortal life. It is God’s will and Nature’s design to keep them bound, so that creation can progress in an orderly manner as ordained.

    According to Hindu theories of creation, souls become bound when they come under the deluding influence of Nature. She keeps them bound through its instruments of delusion, duality, desires, attachments, egoism and ignorance. They attain liberation when they are completely free from them, removing all traces of materiality and impurities which accumulate around them like a cloud. When the individual souls become aware of their eternal and indestructible nature and transcend the limitations which are imposed upon them by Nature through yoga or self-transformation, they gain freedom and return to their divine state. Upon discarding their mortal bodies, they ascend to the highest heaven from where they will never return.

    However, it does not happen instantly. It takes several births and a disciplined and organized effort by the souls to regain their freedom and return to their original state. From the scriptures we can discern a few important stages in the journey of liberation. It begins with the realization that one is not the mind and body, but an eternal Self and culminates in the experience of that State. It is facilitated by physical and mental purity, mental stability, discernment, faith, contemplative practices, and absorption of the mind in the Self or in God.

    The journey of souls from one birth to another is known as transmigration of souls. Their final and permanent release from the cycle of births and deaths is referred to as the state of liberation. Karma plays an important role in it. Depending upon their potential to achieve liberation, souls are of different kinds. For example, some souls are forever free and do not require liberation. Some never attain liberation because they are meant to inhabit the lower worlds. Some may attain it over several lives or over two or more cycles of creation. Others may become stuck in the higher or lower worlds for a long time. For the souls, life on earth is a perilous existence during which they face the prospect of prolonged bondage, pain and suffering, while their chances of attaining liberation are excruciatingly limited.

    Who can pursue liberation?

    Liberation is the chief aim of all human beings. It is not only an essential purpose of human life (purushartha, ) but also the highest of all aims (paramartha), which can be pursued by both young and old and men and women. The Vedas recommend it for both householders and renunciants. Householders have to pursue it as a part of their obligatory duties, which are ordained by God and which are meant for the order and regularity of the world and the upholding of Dharma. Renunciants have to pursue it as a part of their vows and according to the path or the teacher tradition they follow. In both cases, devotees have to practice renunciation, detachment, restraint of the mind and senses, virtue and purity. Liberation may be achieved by one of the following means.

    1. Self-effort through spiritual practice
    2. Due to the merit (punyam) earned in previous births
    3. The intervention of God or guru
    4. Due to chance or previous karma
    5. Death in the battlefield or death on an auspicious occasion

    The paths to liberation

    Hinduism does not prescribe a particular way to achieve liberation. It is goal specific, but not path specific. This way it differs radically and fundamentally from other major religions of the world. It specifies the primary and the most important objective of human life as self-realization. However, the specifics of the manner and the method in which it is to be attained it leaves to the wisdom of the scholars and philosophers and the individuals themselves. Since God is omniscient and innumerable are His forms, innumerable are also the paths and the methods, by which one can find Him. To limit the paths by which one can reach God or to declare a particular path as the one and the only super highway to the kingdom of God, is to measure the infinite with a scale or define the indefinable with words. In each cycle of creation, God reveals to seers and sages the knowledge of liberation and the paths to achieve them, leaving the devotees with the freedom to choose from them what suits them most.

    The various methods and approaches which are mentioned in the scriptures to achieve liberation or self-realization can be broadly grouped into four categories. They are usually referred to as paths (margas) or systems of practices (yogas). (In this discussion, we have used both the names interchangeably). Their ultimate purpose is liberation, and their immediate purpose is to prepare the devotees for the rigors of spiritual life through various methods and practices. They are not mutually exclusive, since they complement and strengthen each other.

    It is difficult to say which of them is better since they have their own merits and appeal to different types of people according to their modes or gunas. The Bhagavadgita presents them as complimentary paths, which play an important role in purification and liberation. They also contain many common practices and core themes, which overlap and contribute to overall progress. For example, the practice of detachment, renunciation, virtue, sameness is found in all, although the method of practicing them may differ.

    The four paths or systems to attain Moksha are mentioned below in the order of their importance to householders. Some scholars tend to place Karma Yoga in the first place. According to them since everyone has to perform actions, it is the ideal place to ground oneself in spirituality and begin the journey of liberation. However, while everyone engages in actions, actions by themselves do not lead to liberation but to bondage. One cannot truly practice selfless actions or uphold Dharma without proper knowledge of the scriptures, and without knowing one’s true identity and ultimate purpose. Sometimes, such knowledge may arise spontaneously due to the progress made in the past births, but it is rather an exception. One must acquire right knowledge to engage in righteous actions, practice various yogas and progress further. Hence, jnana yoga should rightly be considered the foremost of all the spiritual paths.

    1. The yoga of spiritual knowledge (jnana yoga)
    2. The yoga of selfless and desireless actions (karma yoga)
    3. The yoga of pure devotion (bhakti yoga)
    4. The yoga of renunciation (sanyasa yoga)

    As long as one has purified the mind and body and cultivated the predominance of sattva (purity), one can attain liberation by practicing any one of them individually or by combining the best of their features. As suggested in the Bhagavadgita, the four paths may be integrated into a holistic approach and practiced together. For the renunciants, Sannyasa is the only prescribed option. Hence, they have to bring the attitude of renunciation into every aspect of their lives, including the actions they perform or the knowledge they seek.

    However, householders have a choice. Traditionally, they can practice all the four. Until they reach old age and retire from active life, they have to practice the first three. When they reach the old age, after fulfilling their duties and obligations, they should retire from worldly life and practice renunciation. Nevertheless, it is not strictly necessary that householders should take up Sannyasa only in the last phase of their lives. They can do it at any time according to their inclination and interest.

    The path of spiritual knowledge

    Jnana Marg (the path of knowledge) or Jnana Yoga is ideal for those who are contemplative and introverted, and driven by unbound curiosity to pursue liberation in an intellectual, intuitive and scholarly way. Its main purpose is to overcome delusion, confusion, mental afflictions and modifications, and achieve mental clarity, stability, discernment, peace and equanimity. It is achieved through the study and recitation of the scriptures and contemplative and devotional practices to engage the mind in spiritual thoughts. They also have to practice the renunciation of desires and attachments, and purification of the mind and body. Seekers of knowledge aim to achieve these ideals through self-study, inquiry (vichara), contemplation (Dhyana), and by seeking the guidance of spiritual teachers and adepts.

    In the pursuit of right knowledge, one has to acquire the knowledge of the Self (atma jnana) and the knowledge of Brahman (Brahmajnana). Both are important for liberation. With right knowledge, you realize that you are not your mind and body but the individual Self, which is eternal, indestructible, immutable and pure consciousness. This realization brings a fundamental shift in your thinking and approach towards yourself and your relationship with the world and your essential purpose.

    Hinduism distinguishes two types of knowledge namely the lower knowledge or the knowledge of obligatory duties, rites and rituals, and the higher knowledge or the knowledge of Atman and Brahman. They are also known as avidya (nonessential knowledge) and vidya (essential knowledge). For householders, the knowledge of both are important since they have to perform their duties while pursuing liberation. The Isa Upanishad warns the seekers not to ignore either of them since both are important to avoid rebirth. However, for renunciants the knowledge of the Self is of utmost importance.

    Knowledge plays an important role in every aspect of human life. It is what distinguishes an ignorant being (pashu) from an enlightened person (jnani). Knowledge in this context means spiritual knowledge or knowledge of the right means, rather than worldly knowledge, which is considered an obstacle to liberation. It is difficult to pursue liberation without right knowledge. Hence, knowledge is considered to be the foundation or the prerequisite for all other paths of liberation.

    Without right knowledge or the knowledge of right methods, one can practice neither righteous actions nor renunciation. In case of householders, knowledge is the basis of dharma (moral duty), artha (wealth), enjoyment (kama) and liberation (moksha), while a renunciant must be conversant with right methods of yoga and self-transformation to discipline his mind and body. Hence, the pursuit of knowledge is the ideal starting point for both householders and renunciants.

    Jnana Yoga is difficult to practice because it requires a lot of effort to study and assimilate the knowledge. Devotees need the guidance of spiritual teachers to understand the true purport and meaning of the scriptures and the secrets of Yoga and other disciplines. They also need their help to choose right methods and practices and clear their doubts and confusion. Hence, to ground their minds in the knowledge of the Self and hasten their progress, initiates are encouraged to spend time in the company of truth seekers and right-minded people (satsang), besides finding a qualified teacher for guidance and support.

    The practice of Jnana Yoga leads to the purification and stabilization of the mind in the contemplation of the Self (atma samyama) and skillfulness in discernment, whereby one can choose right methods to worship God and overcome duality, delusion, attraction and aversion. Through discernment, one realizes the true causes and solutions for human suffering, the difference between action and inaction, and the importance of performing their obligatory duties without incurring sin. Hence, in many ways Jnana Yoga is considered foundational for the other three yogas.

    In the pursuit of knowledge our minds and intelligence play an important role. They let us know in practical terms what is needed and what should be accomplished to achieve liberation. However, in the process they also create rigid notions of how we should think and act, or what may be deemed as the ideal of state of liberation. Such intellectual notions create expectations, which can potentially interfere with our progress or lead us astray, if we become stuck in the intellectual idea of the Self rather than pursuing the truth of it. Seekers of knowledge have to resolve it by silencing the mind and its formations and modifications through detachment, silence, indifference, sameness, openness and nonjudgmental attitude, renouncing desires in all its forms.

    The path of desireless and selfless actions

    Karma Marg (the path of action) is known by different names as Karma Yoga, Karma Sanyasa Yoga, Jnana Karma Sanyasa yoga and Kriya Yoga. It rests upon two important ideas namely the importance of obligatory duties and renunciation of desires in performing them. The Vedas and the law books assign obligatory duties to all classes of beings for the order and regularity of the worlds. Their source is God only. When those duties are neglected, the world will fall into chaos and darkness, resulting in the ascendance of evil powers, often requiring the intervention of God himself to restore order and destroy evil. The Bhagavadgita states that those who ignore their duties or engage in desire ridden actions with an intention to enjoy the fruit of their labor incur sinful karma and remain bound to the cycle of births and deaths.

    Karma Yoga teaches people to live the right way, doing their part and fulfilling their obligation to God, gods, humans, their own families, ancestors, pious people, and other living beings. The right way is to engage in actions without egoism, selfishness and evil intentions. Actions must be performed with the spirit of selfless service as God’s true servant (bhagavata) upon earth, surrendering oneself to God and offering the fruit of such actions to him, with the firm belief that he is the doer in all actions and we are but his instruments.

    The idea behind Karma Yoga is simple. If you live for your sake and perform actions for your enjoyment or for the enjoyment of those to whom you are attached, you become responsible for your actions and suffer from their consequences. However, if you perform them in the name of God, then he solely becomes responsible for them, whether they are sinful or not, and you will be exonerated from all the consequences. In other words, you must mentally renounce all your identities, which arise from your name and form and from your attachment to things, places and people, and step into the shoes of God, identifying yourself with him in all respects. You are no more “you” but an aspect of the very essence of God himself. You have to live here and perform your actions not as you but as God himself.

    Karma Yoga acknowledges the reality that no one can escape from performing actions. Thereby, no one can escape from karma or the consequences of their actions. Even God himself engages in actions, although he has no desire or motive because he has to ensure the orderly progression of the worlds and set an example to others. In practicing Karma Yoga, one should follow the example of God as his devotee and voice upon earth, and live as how God would have lived. The epic Ramayana exemplifies this ideal in the person of Lord Rama. He is considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, because he lived upon earth as God in a human form and performed his duties, even though they were difficult and painful.

    While everyone performs actions, including the lesser beings, whether they possess knowledge or not, Karma Yoga cannot be practiced without right knowledge. One cannot become a true karma yogi without practicing jnana yoga and acquiring right knowledge to cultivate purity, faith, resolve, detachment, devotion and discernment. For a karma yogi, life is a great yajna or a long sacrifice, in which he pours all his energies, possession, actions, desires and intentions as offerings to escape from their sinful consequences and from rebirth. No one can become a true karma yogi, unless one is pure and selfless and saturated the mind with the thoughts of god.

    Thus, a karma yogi has to be a knower of the Self (atma jnani) and an awakened soul who practices what he learned and assimilated to cultivate discernment. He lives as a righteous practitioner of Dharma, who performs his duties as a sacrifice. As a devotee of God, he surrenders to him his will, ego, intentions and attachments, and finally as a renunciant he renounces desires and expectations in the performance of his actions. Although living life as a series of sacrificial actions is its central theme, Karma Yoga integrates the essential aspects of all other paths. Because of relevance to worldly life, it is the most suitable path for the householders, who are obligated to perform many duties in their lives without ignoring their ultimate goal, which is liberation.

    The path of ecstatic devotion

    Bhakti Yoga or Bhakti Marg became famous in the medieval period due to the tireless activity of countless seers and saints who wanted to protect Hinduism from the onslaught of Islam, and extend it to the masses rather than confining it to a few. However, it is an ancient path, with its roots in the origin and development of Shaivism and Vaishnavism, the earliest theistic movements of the Vedic period, which subsequently became the major sects of Hinduism. Of the two, Vaishnavism relies more upon devotional practices to achieve liberation. In Shaivism the emphasis is more upon spirituality and knowledge (yoga and jnana) rather than devotional service and worship (charya and kriya). One may find elements of devotional worship in the Classical Yoga of Patanjali also, in the concept of Isvara Paridhana (devotion to Self), which is to be practiced by a yogi by constantly meditating upon the sacred syllable Aum as the Self to attain mental absorption in it.

    The roots of bhakti (devotion) can be found in the very idea of the Vedic sacrifice (yajna). Bhakti is the act of offering sacrificial material (bhakta) to God or gods. They are its true enjoyers and final recipients (bhoktas). Thus, bhakti is the devotional act of offering oneself or one’s possessions to the object of veneration. In bhakti one symbolically becomes the sacrificed and the sacrifice, and God the recipient of it. It is the act of unconditionally sacrificing one’s very life and possession to him. Bhakti Yoga is thus the ultimate sacrifice of human life in the selfless love and service of God. In a state of unconditional devotion and surrender, you put everything before God and surrender to him, without any thought, concern or expectation. It is a test of your love and faith, and to what extent you can go to prove the purity of your though and intention.

    Thus, Bhakti Yoga aims to lead devotees on the path of liberation through unconditional surrender and devotion to God or the Self. It is not to be confused with the devotion of worldly people who ritually worship gods to fulfill their desires. Their devotion is tainted with selfishness and desires. It may eventually lead to pure devotion of the highest kind, which is emphasized in the scriptures, but it is not the same. It produces karma and keeps them bound. Their attachment to God is impure, since it arises from their attachment to worldly things.

    In Bhakti Yoga devotees renounce everything including all attachments, except their deep and ardent love and attachment for God. Their passionate devotion for God (raga marga bhakti) outlasts their distaste for worldly things. Hence, they worship him with blissful devotion, love and attachment (rati bhava), but without desires and expectations, treating God as their very Self and feeling ecstatic oneness with him, as they dissolve their egos and merge their minds in the contemplation of him.

    Their methods of worship may be physical, mental or spiritual. They may ritually or spiritually worship the physical, mental and spiritual forms of God as Saguna (with qualities) or Nirguna (without qualities) or both. The path approves idol or image worship as an important part of their spiritual and ritual practice, upholding the idea that each image of God or a deity represents his physical form upon earth, which gains supernatural powers from the ritual offerings made by the devotees. Hence, for all practical purposes, it is a living embodiment or incarnation of God himself (arca) and worthy of worship.

    The most popular forms of devotional service include remembrance, recitation of scriptures, singing prayers and devotional songs, contemplating upon the opulence and greatness of God and his divine deeds (lila), repetitive chanting of mantras and the names of God, making ritual offerings with love and devotion to the living idols, visiting temples, sacred places and pilgrim places, seeing God in everyone and everywhere, serving the devotees of God, helping the poor and the needy, spreading the knowledge of liberation, praising God, listening to spiritual discourses, and so on.

    The ultimate purpose of these methods is to purify oneself and saturate the mind with the thoughts of God to attain oneness (sayujya) or nearness (samipya) with him. The path is ideal for householders who have progressed well enough on the previous two paths and lead a life of sacrifice and selfless service, restraining their minds and bodies, overcoming their attachments and delusion and feeling the universal presence of God in all things they perceive. It is best suited for those who want to unburden themselves from the cares of the world and live in the care of God, loving him with intense and single-minded devotion and experiencing his love in return.

    Those who pursue this path are expected to surrender to God and live with complete trust in him, remembering and chanting his name all the time, without concerning themselves excessively or obsessively with the intricacies of theology or with the dreariness of a mechanical life, characterized by selfless action. It is ideal for those who prefer to live as the true children of God, having no egos, surrendering themselves to him completely and giving full expression to their feelings of love and devotion in a state of surrender and humility. The Bhagavadgita assures that God takes responsibility for the lives of those who devote themselves to God and become lost in their devotion to him and looks after them as his very Self.

    The Path of renunciation

    In the previous three systems of spiritual practices, devotees have to practice renunciation by renouncing their egoism, worldly desires and attachments. However, their renunciation is incomplete and limited in scope. For example, as householders in the practice of Karma, Jnana and Bhakti Yogas they are not allowed to give up their obligatory duties or the pursuit of knowledge or their deep love and attachment to God. In spite of their commitment, faith and resolve to pursue liberation, they still have to keep one foot in worldly life and one foot in the spiritual life as a part of their householder duties, making sure that their virtuous and righteous actions for the sake of Dharma do not result in sinful consequences for them or others, and their lives are spent in the contemplation and service of God as a sacrifice or an offering. They have to practice renunciation, by giving up selfish and desire-ridden actions, which according to the Bhagavadgita is true renunciation.

    In Sannyasa Marg (the path of renunciation) or Sannyasa Yoga, the practice of renunciation reaches its culmination. On that austere path, one has to unconditionally give up worldly life, cutting off all bonds and attachments to people and things. It is as if they can have nothing, be nothing and expect nothing from themselves, others or even from God. Even the desire for liberation and love for God have to be renounced, as a part of the emptying and unwinding process to be without any definition, individuality or identity. Sanyasa is the path of self-destruction, in which you destroy all attachments, accumulations and formations that burden your soul.

    Seekers of liberation who choose this path have to renounce their past, their family and relationships, personal name, caste and other identities, duties and obligations, possessions, their notions of virtue and morality, and their love and attachment to God and religion to become completely free and rootless. The purpose of such self-effacement is to live at the mercy of elements or by the will of God or chance, giving up even the subtlest desire to control or regulate anyone or anything, and spending one’s quiet moments in the contemplation of the Self or Brahman. The ideal of sannyasa is that one should give up everything and cut of all the bonds that keep the beings bound to the mortal world. By practicing physical and mental liberation in all their forms, one has to cross the ocean of impermanence to achieve spiritual liberation.

    This is the ideal or the highest Sannyasa which is exemplified in the Vedas, as the ideal pursuit of the seers and sages. Dutiful householders are advised to practice it in the last phases of their lives as a part of their Varnashrama Dharma, having given up worldly duties and retired from active life. They have to take initiation vows and strictly follow the moral code as prescribed by the law books.

    For example, the laws stipulate that those who choose to follow this path should give up the use of fire to cook food or perform sacrifices. They have to abandon their houses and families and live in open, under the sky or in a cave rather than in a house or a shelter. As a part of their austerities, they have to discipline their minds and bodies to cultivate purity. The laws also prescribe that they should bathe in a river or a pond or use cold water for bathing and cleaning. They have to gather food by begging only, and eat what has been offered. They are also advised to keep wandering,rather than staying at the same place; avoid the company of worldly people and the opposite sex; abstain from sexual intercourse or even the thought of it; not to use perfumes or ornamentation; and wear just a piece of cloth to cover their nakedness.

    In ancient India, renunciants used to gradually give up food in the final phases of sannyasa, so that their physical bodies would eventually fall off, and their souls would become free from the last breath that kept them on earth. Nowadays, you will not see anyone practicing such an extreme and austere kind of sannyasa, which was common in ancient times in many ascetic sects. Compared to it, the sannyasa of today looks like a watered-down version and easier to practice.

    Present-day sanyasis mostly live in groups or in ashrams, which are often well furnished with all modern amenities, including mobile phones and Internet. They use fire, eat cooked food, take hot water baths, spend time on social networks and in the company of worldly people, follow their gurus and become attached to them or their organizations, interact with the opposite sex, watch television and movies, engage in debates and discussions and even take part in partisan politics. Some of them may even own businesses, credit cards and bank accounts also. This is Kaliyuga. Hence, most of these practices have become mainstream and widely acceptable.

    Sannyasa is a noble practice. It is the highest and the ultimate sacrifice one can make upon earth to realize the Self and attain the highest and purest perfection. It is the meeting point where fear yields to faith and devotion, and the ego surrenders to silence and transcendence. Standing on the edge of life, a sannyasi stares into an uncertain future, with peace and equanimity, and free from delusion, attraction and aversion.

    A true sannyasi is a living and breathing God upon earth, even if he or she has not attained liberation. In him all the yogas are poised to reach their culmination. He practices them effortlessly and spontaneously as if he is guided by an invisible force. His actions inspire, his knowledge enlightens, and his devotion endears. His very intention to lay himself at the feet of God elevates him and sets him apart as a divine soul. He reflects the light of the soul and the wisdom of pure intelligence of the transcendental kind. In his presence, you are in the presence of God.

    Even if they have not yet attained perfection, true sanyasis who are not corrupted by the temptations and practices of materialistic world are worthy of respect. The problem is, you cannot easily find them or meet them. Since they shun worldly life and the company of worldly people, they are as difficult to find as God himself.

    Who can give moksha?

    Salvation is not from scriptural knowledge; it is from the experiential Gnan (Knowledge). The experience of Gnan can only be obtained from the Gnani Purush (Self-Realized one), who is the embodiment of absolute experience of the Self. Scriptures do not point out our mistakes, they address everyone in a common format. Does a picture of a lamp give light? The limitation of scriptures is like that of a drawing of a lamp. True light can only be given by a Gnani, who is the enlightened lamp! 

    The entire world wanders around in ignorance as a result of not knowing the path to liberation and as a consequence, they get lost wherever they go. If you want liberation, ultimately you will have to go to the Gnani (Self-Realized one). Even when you want to go to the Railway Station, you have to ask someone who knows the way there. But this path to liberation is narrow, complicated and like a labyrinth. If you attempt it on your own, you are bound to get lost so look for a Gnani and follow His footsteps exactly.

    What understanding do you attain during the Self Realization Ceremony?

    In Akram Vignan, the scientific process of Self Realization takes 2 hours, wherein the Gnani Purush (Self-Realized one) graces the seeker and imparts the experiential Knowledge of the Self along with the knowledge of the doer in this universe.

    • The knowledge of the Self: Is to come to the answer of ‘Who am I?’
    • The knowledge of the Doer: All events in this universe are under the control of scientific circumstantial evidences. There is no independent doer. This world is run solely by scientific circumstantial evidences. There is no one up there who has the time to run all this. Param Pujya Dadashri refer to these scientific circumstantial evidences as vyavasthit shakti (Natural energy of scientific circumstantial evidence). It keeps everything and everyone organized. Vyavasthit renders total satisfaction in every situation.  

    What’s wrong in this worldly life? Why should one attain moksha?

    In our lives, we constantly practice some form of religion. After making so much effort, there should be some kind of result, but we do not know what kinds of results we should get, and we just keep on practicing. We conduct business for profit, get married, have children and buy a house with the intent that it will result in peace, but it brings us misery also. How can we become free from misery and attain permanent happiness? If we attain moksha, then we not only become free from misery, but become free from our karmas as well. This is why we should attain moksha.

    How can you know whether you have attained moksha or not?

    When you become free from self-ignorance then you achieve the stage, which is free from all unhappiness. In this stage, you will experience that you are doing something different with your life than you did before Self Realization. From this experience, you will be able to see your own mistakes and that is the proof that you have achieved the first stage of moksha, as an awakened Soul is impartial. You can know this because you are a Soul and the Soul is the greatest judge in this universe.

    Is such freedom or moksha experienced while one is living or is it the freedom that comes after death?

    What is the point of having freedom after you are dead? This is how people become conned into promises of moksha after death and become trapped. Of what use is a pending moksha to you in this life? You need to be able to experience or get a taste of it right here and now. Otherwise, how can one be sure whether there is such a thing as moksha? You need to have the moksha in your hands, like ready cash. You should be able to experience this moksha while you are alive.

    Does the physical body resides in moksha?

    After Self Realization, you have to remain the Knower-Seer, without any attachment-abhorrence (raag-dwesh), therefore you do not need a physical (sthool) body in the permanent abode of absolutely liberated Souls (Siddha Kshetra). The Soul (atma) is able to Know and See, as well as remain in eternal bliss without a physical (sthool) body. Moreover, the Soul never dies, it is eternal and indestructible by nature.

    What do you do in moksha?

    Once you have attained liberation and gone to Siddha Kshetra (the permanent abode of absolutely liberated Souls), you remain in the infinite bliss of the Self while being the Knower and Seer of the whole universe including the plane of existence of humans, animals, plants, and other life-forms, celestial world and the realm of existence of hellish beings.

    Moksha in Hinduism: Definition & Overview

    Moksha is a Hindu concept that refers to the liberation from worldly possessions. Discover the definition and overview of Moksha, along with Hinduism, samsara, the Supreme Being, and self-realization in this lesson.

    Moksha and Samsara

    To understand moksha, which means ‘liberation,’ one must first understand several other important ideas in Hinduism – particularly, samsara. Samsara is a Sanskrit word that refers to the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, to the passing of the soul from one life to another. As the soul transitions between these lives, the next incarnation is informed by the deeds of the previous life. This is the Hindu belief of the concept of karma. You may have heard people talk about karma and the idea that people’s choices will come back to affect them one way or another in the future. The Hindu concept of karma is similar to the popular use, but a person’s responsibility for her/his actions, good or bad, is dealt with in the next life, not the current one.

    Moksha and the Supreme Being

    Hinduism is a theistic religion believing in supreme beings known as gods and demi-gods. Different sects worship different gods or demi-gods; however, Brahman is widely believed to be the Supreme Being in the religion. When one achieves moksha, he or she ultimately achieves unity with the Supreme Being.

    Moksha and Self-Realization

    As the soul finds unity with the Supreme Being and a person exits the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, self-realization occurs. As part of the process of achieving moksha, one loses the focus on the ego and the body and is able to focus on her or his own divine self. Often referred to as overcoming ignorance, moksha allows one to live in the present moment in total peace. This peace affords the person to become aware and experience true compassion for others, connecting to the divine self.

    Lesson Summary

    ‘O best among men Arjuna, the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress, and is steady in both, is certainly eligible for liberation.’

    – Bhagavad Gita 2.15.