Moksha: The Utmost Aim of Human Life

Moksha (मोक्ष), also called VimokshaVimukti, and Mukti is a term in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism for various forms of emancipation, enlightenment, liberation, and release. It refers to freedom from Dukkha and Saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth, by knowledge of the true self (Atmanjnana), c.q. the lack of a permanent essence, and the release from craving and clinging to passions and the mundane mind. In Hindu traditions, moksha is a central concept and the utmost aim of human life. The other three aims are Dharma (virtuous, proper, moral life), Artha (material prosperity, income security, means of life), and Kama (pleasure, sensuality, emotional fulfillment). Together, these four concepts are called Puruṣhārtha in Hinduism. A modern concept i.e. Swami Hardas Life System of Dr. Swami Hardas is also helpful to attain moksha.

Moksha Etymology

Moksha is derived from the root, muc, which means to free, let go, release, and liberate.

Moksha - Harlem Yoga Studio
Meaning and Definition of Moksha

Definition and meanings of Moksha

Moksha is a concept that means liberation from rebirth or saṃsāra. 

Moksha has been defined not merely as the absence of suffering and release from bondage to saṃsāra, various schools of Hinduism also explain the concept as the presence of the state of paripurna-brahmanubhava (the experience of oneness with Brahman, the One Supreme Self), a state of knowledge, peace, and bliss. For example, Vivekachudamani – an ancient book on moksha, explains one of many meditative steps on the path to moksha, as:

जाति नीति कुल गोत्र दूरगं
नाम रूप गुण दोष वर्जितम्।
देश काल विषया तिवर्ति यद्
ब्रह्म तत्त्वमसि भाव यात्मनि॥ २५४ ॥

Beyond caste, creed, family or lineage,
That which is without name and form, beyond merit and demerit,
That which is beyond space, time and sense-objects,
You are that, God himself; Meditate this within yourself. ||Verse 254||

— Vivekachudamani, 8th Century CE

Eschatological sense of Moksha

Moksha is a concept associated with saṃsāra (birth-rebirth cycle). Samsara originated with religious movements in the first millennium BCE. These movements such as Buddhism, Jainism, and new schools within Hinduism, saw human life as bondage to a repeated process of rebirth. This bondage to repeated rebirth and life, each life subject to injury, disease, and ageing was seen as a cycle of suffering. By release from this cycle, the suffering involved in this cycle also ended. This release was called mokshanirvanakaivalyamukti, and other terms in various Indian religious traditions.

Eschatological ideas evolved in Hinduism. In earliest Vedic literature, heaven and hell sufficed soteriological curiosities. Over time, the ancient scholars observed that people vary in the quality of virtuous or sinful life they lead, and began questioning how differences in each person’s puṇya (merit, good deeds) or pāp (demerit, sin) as human beings affected their afterlife. This question led to the conception of an afterlife where the person stayed in heaven or hell, in proportion to their merit or demerit, then returned to earth and was reborn, the cycle continues indefinitely. The rebirth idea ultimately flowered into the ideas of saṃsāra or transmigration – where one’s balance sheet of karma determined one’s rebirth. Along with this idea of saṃsāra, the ancient scholars developed the concept of moksha, as a state that released a person from the saṃsāra cycle. 

Epistemological and psychological senses

Scholars provide various explanations of the meaning of moksha in epistemological and psychological senses. For example, Deutsche sees moksha as transcendental consciousness, the perfect state of being, of self-realization, freedom, and of “realizing the whole universe as the Self”.

Moksha in Hinduism, suggests Klaus Klostermaier, implies a setting free of hitherto fettered faculties, a removing of obstacles to an unrestricted life, permitting a person to be more truly a person in the full sense; the concept presumes an unused human potential of creativity, compassion, and understanding which had been blocked and shut out. Moksha is more than liberation from a life-rebirth cycle of suffering (samsara). The Vedantic school separates this into two:

  • jivanmukti (liberation in this life) and
  • videhamukti (liberation after death). 

Moksha in this life includes psychological liberation from adhyasa (fears besetting one’s life) and avidya (ignorance or anything that is not true knowledge).

Moksha as a state of perfection

Many schools of Hinduism according to Daniel Ingalls, see moksha as a state of perfection. The concept was seen as a natural goal beyond dharmaMoksha, in the epics and ancient literature of Hinduism, is seen as achievable by the same techniques necessary to practice dharma. Self-discipline is the path to dharmamoksha is a self-discipline that is so perfect that it becomes unconscious, second nature. Dharma is thus a means to moksha.

The Samkhya school of Hinduism, for example, suggests that one of the paths to moksha is to magnify one’s sattvam. To magnify one’s sattvam, one must develop oneself where one’s sattvam becomes one’s instinctive nature. Many schools of Hinduism thus understood dharma and moksha as two points of a single journey of life, a journey for which the viaticum was discipline and self-training. Over time, these ideas about moksha were challenged.

Nagarjuna’s challenge

Dharma and moksha, suggested by Nagarjuna in the 2nd century, cannot be goals on the same journey. He pointed to the differences between the world we live in, and the freedom implied in the concept of moksha. They are so different that dharma and moksha could not be intellectually related. 

Dharma requires worldly thought, moksha is unworldly understanding, a state of bliss. “How can the worldly thought process lead to unworldly understanding?”, asked Nagarjuna. Karl Potter explains the answer to this challenge as one of context and framework, the emergence of broader general principles of understanding from thought processes that are limited in one framework.

Adi Shankara’s challenge

Adi Shankara in the 8th century AD, like Nagarjuna earlier, examined the difference between the world one lives in and moksha, a state of freedom and release one hopes for. Unlike Nagarjuna, Shankara considers the characteristics of the two. The world one lives in requires action as well as thought. Our world, he suggests, is impossible without vyavahara (action and plurality). The world is interconnected, one object works on another, input is transformed into output, and change is continuous and everywhere. 

Moksha, suggests Shankara, is that final perfect, blissful state where there can be no change, where there can be no plurality of states. It has to be a state of thought and consciousness that excludes action. He questioned: “How can action-oriented techniques by which we attain the first three goals of man (KamaMartha, and Dharma) be useful to attain the last goal, namely moksha?”

The Vaisnavas’ challenge

Vaishnavism, one of the bhakti schools of Hinduism, is devoted to the worship of God, sings his name, anoints his image or idol, and has many sub-schools. Vaishnavas (followers of Vaishnavism) suggest that dharma and moksha cannot be two different or sequential goals or states of life. Instead, they suggest God should be kept in mind constantly to simultaneously achieve dharma and moksha, so constantly that one comes to feel one cannot live without God’s loving presence.

History of Moksha


The concept of moksha appears much later in ancient Indian literature than the concept of dharma. The proto-concept that first appears in the ancient Sanskrit verses and early Upanishads is mucyate, which means freed or released. It is in the middle and later Upanishads, such as the Svetasvatara and Maitri, where the word moksha appears and begins becoming an important concept.

Kathaka Upanishad

Kathaka Upanishad, a middle Upanishadic era script dated to be about 2500 years old, is among the earliest expositions about saṃsāra and moksha.

In Book, I, Section III, the legend of boy Naciketa queries Yama, the lord of death to explain what causes saṃsāra and what leads to liberation. Naciketa inquires: what causes sorrow? Yama explains that suffering and saṃsāra result from a life that is lived absent-mindedly, with impurity, with neither the use of intelligence nor self-examination, where neither mind nor senses are guided by one’s Atma (soul, self). Liberation comes from a life lived with inner purity, an alert mind, led by buddhi (reason, intelligence), the realization of the Supreme Self (purusha) who dwells in all beings.

Kathaka Upanishad asserts knowledge liberates, knowledge is freedom. Kathaka Upanishad also explains the role of yoga in personal liberation, moksha.

Svetasvatara Upanishad

It is another middle-era Upanishad written after Kathaka Upanishad, beginning with questions such as why is a man born, what is the primal cause behind the universe, and what causes joy and sorrow in life? It then examines the various theories, that were then existing, about saṃsāra and release from bondage. Svetasvatara claims bondage results from ignorance, illusion, or delusion; deliverance comes from knowledge. The Supreme Being dwells in every being, he is the primal cause, he is the eternal law, he is the essence of everything, he is nature, and he is not a separate entity.

Liberation comes to those who know Supreme Being is present as the Universal Spirit and Principle, just as they know butter is present in milk. Such realization, claims Svetasvatara, comes from self-knowledge and self-discipline. This knowledge and realization is liberation from transmigration, the final goal of the Upanishad.

Sarasvati Rahasya Upanishad

Starting with the middle Upanishad era, moksha – or equivalent terms such as mukti and kaivalya – is a major theme in many Upanishads. For example, Sarasvati Rahasya Upanishad, one of several Upanishads of the Bhakti school of Hinduism, starts out with prayers to Goddess Sarasvati. She is the Hindu goddess of knowledge, learning, and creative arts; her name is a compound word of ‘‘Sara’’ and ‘‘sva’’, meaning “essence of self”. After the prayer verses, the Upanishad inquires about the secret to freedom and liberation (mukti). Sarasvati’s reply in the Upanishad is:

It was through me the Creator himself gained liberating knowledge,
I am being, consciousness, bliss, eternal freedom: unsullied, unlimited, unending.
My perfect consciousness shines your world, like a beautiful face in a soiled mirror,
Seeing that reflection I wish myself you, an individual soul, as if I could be finite!

A finite soul, an infinite Goddess – these are false concepts,
in the minds of those unacquainted with truth,
No space, my loving devotee, exists between your self and my self,
Know this and you are free. This is the secret wisdom.

— Sarasvati Rahasya Upanishad, Translated by Linda Johnsen

Evolution of the concept

The concept of moksha, according to Daniel Ingalls, represented one of many expansions in Hindu Vedic ideas of life and the afterlife. In the Vedas, there were three stages of life:

  • Studentship,
  • Households, and
  • Retirement.

During the Upanishadic era, Hinduism expanded this to include a fourth stage of life: complete abandonment. In Vedic literature, there are three modes of experience: waking, dreaming, and deep sleep. The Upanishadic era expanded it to include turiyam – the stage beyond deep sleep.

The Vedas suggest three goals of man: Kama, Martha, and Dharma. To these, the Upanishadic era added moksha.

New religious movements

It is unclear when the core ideas of samsara and moksha were developed in ancient India. Patrick Olivelle suggests these ideas likely originated with new religious movements in the first millennium BCE. Mukti and moksha ideas suggest J. A. B. van Buitenen, seem traceable to yogis in Hinduism, with long hair, who chose to live on the fringes of society, given to self-induced states of intoxication and ecstasy, possibly accepted as medicine men and “sadhus” by the ancient Indian society. Moksha to these early concept developers, was the abandonment of the established order, not in favor of anarchy, but in favor of self-realization, to achieve release from this world.

Vedic, yogic, and bhakti forms of Moksha

In its historical development, the concept of moksha appears in three forms:

  • Vedic,
  • Yogic, and
  • Bhakti.

Vedic period Moksha

In the Vedic periodmoksha was ritualistic. Mokṣa was claimed to result from properly completed rituals such as those before Agni – the fire deity. The significance of these rituals was to reproduce and recite the cosmic creation event described in the Vedas; the description of knowledge on different levels – adhilokamadhibhutamadhiyajnamadhyatmam – helped the individual transcend to moksa. Knowledge was the means, the ritual its application. By the middle to late Upanishadic period, the emphasis shifted to knowledge, and ritual activities were considered irrelevant to the attainment of moksha. 

Today at Kauai's Hindu Monastery
Vedic Moksha

Yogic Moksha

This moksha replaced Vedic rituals with personal development and meditation, with the hierarchical creation of the ultimate knowledge in self as the path to moksha. Yogic moksha principles were accepted in many other schools of Hinduism, albeit with differences. For example, Adi Shankara in his book on moksha suggests:

अर्थस्य निश्चयो दृष्टो विचारेण हितोक्तितः |
न स्नानेन न दानेन प्राणायमशतेन वा || १३ ||

By reflection, reasoning and instructions of teachers, the truth is known,
Not by ablutions, not by making donations, nor by performing hundreds of breath control exercises. || Verse 13 || — Vivekachudamani, 8th Century AD

What is MOKSHA
Yogic Moksha

Bhakti Moksha

Bhakti moksha created the third historical path, where neither rituals nor meditative self-development was the way, rather it was inspired by constant love and contemplation of God, which over time results in a perfect union with God. Some Bhakti schools evolved their ideas where God became the means and the end, transcending moksha; the fruit of bhakti is bhakti itself. 

Epic World History: Bhakti Movements (Devotional Hinduism)
Bhakti Moksha



The words moksha, nirvana (Nibbana), and kaivalya are sometimes used synonymously because they all refer to the state that liberates a person from all causes of sorrow and suffering. However, in modern-era literature, these concepts have different premises in different religions.

Nirvana, a concept common in Buddhism, is accompanied by the realization that all experienced phenomena are not self; while moksha, a concept common in many schools of Hinduism, is acceptance of Self (soul), the realization of liberating knowledge, the consciousness of Oneness with Brahman, all existence and understanding the whole universe as the Self. Nirvana starts with the premise that there is no Self, moksha, on the other hand, starts with the premise that everything is the Self; there is no consciousness in the state of nirvana, but everything is One unified consciousness in the state of moksha.


This concept akin to moksha, rather than nirvana, is found in some schools of Hinduism such as the Yoga school. Kaivalya is the realization of aloofness with liberating knowledge of one’s self and disentanglement from the muddled mind and cognitive apparatus. For example, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra suggests:

तस्य हेतुरविद्या,
तदभावात्संयोगाभावो हानं तद् दृशेः कैवल्यम् |

After the dissolution of avidya (ignorance),
comes removal of communion with material world,
this is the path to Kaivalyam. — Yoga Sutra (Sadhana Pada), 2:24-25

Nirvana and Moksha

Nirvana and moksha, in all traditions, represent resting in one’s true essence, named Purusha or Atman, or pointed at as Nirvana, but described in a very different way. Some scholars state that Jayatilleke asserts that the Nirvana of Buddhism is the same as the Brahman in Hinduism, a view other scholars and he disagrees with. 

Buddhism rejects the idea of Brahman, and the metaphysical ideas about the soul (atman) are also rejected by Buddhism, while those ideas are essential to moksha in Hinduism. In Buddhism, nirvana is ‘blowing out’ or ‘extinction’. In Hinduism, moksha is ‘identity or oneness with Brahman. The realization of anatta (anatman) is essential to Buddhist nirvana. Realization of atman (atta) is essential to Hindu moksha.

Moksha in Hinduism

Different schools of Hinduism

Ancient literature of different schools of Hinduism sometimes uses different phrases for moksha. For example:

  • Keval jnana or kaivalya (“state of Absolute”), 
  • Apavarga
  • Nihsreyasa
  • Paramapada
  • Brahmabhava
  • Brahmajnana, and 
  • Brahmi sthiti.

Modern literature additionally uses the Buddhist term nirvana interchangeably with moksha of Hinduism. There is a difference between these ideas, as explained elsewhere in this article, but they are all soteriological concepts of various Indian religious traditions.

How to attain Moksha?

Moksha, meaning “liberation,” is one of the major goals (or purushartha) of most practicing Hindus. The idea behind moksha is to achieve freedom from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth and the suffering that comes along with that cycle. There’s no one way to achieve moksha, so look for the spiritual path that feels right to you. No matter which path you choose, you’ll need to focus on achieving self-control, letting go of your desires, and selflessly serving others.

Method 1: Attaining the first 3 Purusharthas

First step

Attain kama by enjoying life’s pleasures. Moksha is just one of the 4 major goals that most practicing Hindus hope to attain during their lifetime. Before you can reach moksha, you’ll need to first work on mastering the other 3. The first, kama, translates roughly as “desire.” In order to achieve kama, make a mindful effort to enjoy the various pleasures that life has to offer.

These pleasures can include enjoying good food, appreciating music or art, or having a fulfilling sex life. You must enjoy these pleasures virtuously—your pleasure should not come at someone else’s expense, and it’s just as important to give kama as it is to receive it. For example, you can give kama by performing music, creating art, or cooking delicious food for someone else.

Second step

Work on reaching artha as you get older by building your wealth. Artha can be translated as “success” or “abundance,” which is usually defined in terms of achieving material wealth. As you move into adulthood and the prime of your life, you can achieve artha by building a fulfilling career and establishing a stable and successful household and family. 
Like kamaartha should not be self-serving. The goal is to grow the wealth and influence of your family and to share the wealth you obtain with others. It’s also important to achieve your success and wealth through honest, ethical means.

Third step

Focus on behaving virtuously throughout your life to achieve dharma. Dharma is difficult to translate into English, but it is related to the concepts of correctness, order, and balance. To achieve dharma essentially means to live your life ethically and according to your specific purpose, which varies depending on factors like your age, social status, and individual personality. 
The path to achieving dharma is varied and complex, but some ways that you can do it include:
  • Practicing humble devotion to God (yagna),
  • Being charitable towards others (daan),
  • Maintaining physical, mental, and verbal discipline (tapas),
  • Meditating on what is right and wrong, and
  • Setting a good example for your family through regular spiritual practice at home.

Forth step

Prepare to work towards moksha after attaining the other purusharthas. It can take a lifetime to achieve the other 3 purusharthas, so don’t try to rush into attaining moksha. For many people, working towards moksha means renouncing your place in society after living a full life enriched by simple enjoyment, familial and material success, and spiritual devotion.

In many Hindu traditions, people seek moksha by cutting ties with society and their personal life after their first grandchild is born. Some people choose to bypass the other parts of the process by becoming a sannyasin (or someone who “puts away everything”) at a young age and living an ascetic lifestyle, detached from society and material things.

Method 2: Following the main tenets of Moksha

First step

Let go of your desires and your ego. One of the most important components of achieving moksha is letting go of the things that tie you to your life in the physical world. This is part of the reason that most people renounce society and live a simple, ascetic lifestyle once they are ready to achieve Moksha. Practice selfless acts of service, such as helping the sick or needy, to help you let go of your desires and attachments.

Doing any kind of task, from cooking a meal to meditating, can be considered an act of service as long as you do it with the intention of helping others without expecting any reward in return. Of course, wishing to achieve moksha is a desire in itself, but many Hindus consider the desire for moksha to be necessary for letting go of all other desires.

Second step

Work on overcoming ignorance through study and meditation. Ignorance is an obstacle to achieving moksha. In order to overcome it, spend time meditating on ignorance and enlightenment. Some people do this by meditating on a specific god (such as Krishna) or on a general divine or creative force.

Another way to overcome ignorance is to practice jnana yoga, a type of yoga that focuses on the study, contemplation, and experience of spiritual knowledge.

Third step

Focus on achieving self-control. Physical, mental, and emotional self-control are also key elements of achieving moksha. There are a variety of ways to learn self-control, including meditation and yogic practices.
Work towards being able to:
  • Remain calm and peaceful even when circumstances around you are chaotic and stressful.
  • Control your speech—i.e., always speak the truth and use your words to help others rather than harm them.
  • Refrain from any sort of violence.

Method 3: Choosing your path to Moksha

First step

Try working with a guru if you need guidance. Look for a guru who can guide you in your spiritual practice and help you let go of your ego, desires, and attachments.

Finding a guru can be difficult. Many practitioners of Hinduism believe that you will not find a guru by actively seeking one. Instead, you have to be patient and have faith that a guru will come to you when you are ready. Until you find a guru, learn what you can from your experiences, your own study, and the people around you.

Second step

Choose a yoga path that fits your personality. Practicing yoga is a popular path toward attaining moksha. Traditional yoga not only focuses on physical exercise, but also on meditation, spiritual study, and acts of service to others. To achieve moksha through yoga, consider taking up one of the following yoga practices:
  • Bhakti yoga: this form of yoga focuses on prayer, ritual worship, and the glorification of God.
  • Jnana yoga focuses on study, meditation, and spiritual enlightenment.
  • Raja yoga is a classical form of yoga that focuses on physical control, concentration, meditation, and the study of morals and ethics.
  • Karma yoga is centered around acts of selflessness and service to others.

Third step

Practice tapas if you prefer to work towards moksha alone. In order to practice tapas, you must spend time alone, living a simple life and focusing on staying calm and detached from the world around you.

Doing tapas can involve meditating, studying, and reciting spiritual texts, or self-disciplinary practices such as fasting, remaining isolated for a certain period of time, or taking a vow of silence.

Ways To Attain Moksha In Kali Yuga - जहां जाने पर लौटना नहीं होता - Amar Ujala Hindi News Live
A Simple Path to Moksha


Because of the above, I am confident that you have learned in-depth about moksha, its meaning, definition, Hinduism, Buddhism, history, how to attain moksha, etc. Now, that you have become self-sufficient to practice and achieve the goal, hence it’s the right time to use your acquired knowledge for gaining numerous benefits for well-being.

After reading this article, how would you rate it? Would you please let me know your precious thoughts? 

Frequently asked questions

Before posting your query, kindly go through them:

What is the definition of Moksha?

Moksha is a concept that means liberation from rebirth or saṃsāra. 

Which is the challenge of Adhi Shankacharya about Moksha?

Moksha, suggests Shankara, is that final perfect, blissful state where there can be no change, where there can be no plurality of states. It has to be a state of thought and consciousness that excludes action. He questioned: “How can action-oriented techniques by which we attain the first three goals of man (KamaMartha, and Dharma) be useful to attain the last goal, namely moksha?”


What is the concept of Moksha?

In Hindu traditions, moksha is a central concept and the utmost aim of human life. The other three aims are Dharma (virtuous, proper, moral life), Artha (material prosperity, income security, means of life), and Kama (pleasure, sensuality, emotional fulfillment). Together, these four concepts are called Puruṣhārtha in Hinduism.



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  1. मोक्ष के विषय में लोगों की अलग-अलग धारणाएं हैं, अधिकतम यह सुनने को मिलता हैं कि मोक्ष प्राप्त करने के उपरान्त जन्म मृत्यु के चक्र से मुक्त हो जाना, परंतु मेरा मानना इसके विपरित हैं। क्योंकि परमात्मा ने सृष्टि का निर्माण करते समय कई जिवात्माओं को सृष्टि में उत्पन्न किया, जिसमें पेड़, वन्य जीव, समुद्री जीव, नदी में रहने वाले जीव आदि कई तरह के जिवात्मा इस सृष्टि में समाहित थे। कालान्तर में कुछ जीवों का अस्तित्व नष्ट हो जाता है जैसे कि डाइनासोर जैसे खतरनाक जीव जो भविष्य में होने वाले क्रियाओं में अवरोध उत्पन्न कर सकते थे। परन्तु मेरा मानना है कि जिन जीवों का अस्तित्व नष्ट हो चुका है, वह किसी और जिवात्मा के स्वरूप में अवतरित होते हैं क्योंकि शरीर नश्वर है, आत्मा तो अमर है। इस प्रकार जिवात्माओं का स्वरूप परावर्तित होने से सृष्टि का संतुलन परमात्मा बनाए रखते हैं। अब बात आती है मोक्ष की, मोक्ष प्राप्त करना मतलब जीवन मृत्यु के चक्र से मुक्त हो जाना, ऐसा नहीं है, बल्कि परमात्मा की इच्छा नुसार भगवत् भक्ति का प्रसार करने हेतु मोक्ष प्राप्त कि हुए आत्मा को जन्म धारण करना पड़ता है।
    अर्थात यह मेरी धारणा है, परंतु आपने इस लेख के माध्यम से भली-भांति परिचित कराया। धन्यवाद…

    1. So kind of you, Vishal Saheb! I don’t agree with your concept because if one drop of water is removed from the ocean, it makes no difference to the ocean or nature. Attaining Moksha is not on the large scale as we expect, a very few people get Moksha and they get freed from the cycle of birth-death-and-rebirth. I hope, you will agree with me!!!

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