All religions and spiritual traditions put forward the goal of liberation and enlightenment. Different traditions use different names for this state of being: liberation, enlightenment, salvation, nirvana, self realization and satori. Often this state is presented as an other worldly experience or an experience that is only achievable after death. In my reading and studies of the yoga philosophy, I have discovered that this state of liberation is attainable while alive and is not as far from our reach as we think.
In this essay, I hope to convey a tangible sense of what liberation is. Imagine a group of people all sitting in the same room. They look around and see the same walls, light fixtures, furniture. They look down and see the hardwood floor. There is a world that they all share in common yet within that physical space they have their own unique perspective. Take for example, a small statue at the small end of the room.
Depending on where one is sitting, the statue will appear a different size and the angle at which one looks at it will cause variations on what the statue looks like to each person.
Even though they are all in the same physical space, each person has their own unique visual perspective on every object in the room. Even more variation would be observed if we could look into each of their minds. Within our minds and hearts, we are all residing in our own individual worlds. We each have different thoughts, memories, and emotions flowing through our bodies. We can truly say that we are each in our own reality.
What Is Liberation?
What is liberation? Spiritual philosophy talks about liberation as an ultimate goal of the spiritual pursuit.
In Sanskrit the term guru means he or she who dispels the darkness. What is this darkness that needs dispelling? One way to look at enlightenment is as the process of waking up to our true nature. Within our own minds we doubt and limit ourselves, we have a certain perception of who and what we are. Usually our sense of self is rooted primarily in our bodies and to a certain extent in our thoughts. We identify with our physical form and the different ideas and opinions that we cherish. Spiritual philosophy says we are much more than the physical body and mind. We are the soul, we are eternal and immortal. The soul is described as animating our body and mind and yet not being limited by the body and mind. One way to understand enlightenment is that it is the process of waking up to our true nature.
What Is Enlightenment?
Enlightenment is often described as an awakening. The term awaken connotes awakening from something. Each night we awaken from our sleep, from our dreams. As mentioned earlier in the essay, each of us is living in our own world of thoughts. We can awaken from that into our true nature.
Let’s say, the process of awakening is the same in both situations.
One night I had a dream where I was lost deep in the jungle and all around were vicious wild monkeys. Swinging from tree to tree in sinister frenzy. I sensed they were out to kill me and I remember vividly the feelings of fear and dread. I remember thinking to myself, I am going to die, there is no way out. And then, I woke up.
Within that dream, there was no way out. The only way out was to awaken from the dream.
In the same way, spiritual philosophy says that our waking life is also a dream. We create our own individual dreams with our minds. Just as we awaken from the dream of sleep to waking reality, so too can we awaken from this waking-dream to a greater reality. The quest of the spiritual seeker is enlightenment, liberation from the dream of life.