Moksha & Nirvaan
(Liberation & Extinguished)
(Interactive session on 17.10.2013)
Keynote address by Ms. Manimala Das
(Other participant speakers: Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Asim K. Banerjee, Mr. Sarada Ranjan Das, Ms. Sharmila Bhawal, Dr. B.B. Chakravarti, Mr. Amitava Tripathi, Dr. Santosh Ganguly, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Mr. R. K. Gupta, Mr. A. K. Sengupta & Ms. Anuradha Banerjee Sarkar)
[Devotional song – chorus – By Ms Jayanti Dasgupta, Sikha Majumdar, Manimala Das, Mitali Ghosh, Sharmila Bhawal etc.]
Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha
Moksha is a Sanskrit term meaning ‘liberation’ – liberation from the cycle of birth and death which according to the Vedanta is possible only after realization of Brahman or God. Nirvaan is also a Sanskrit term meaning ‘extinguished’ as a lamp or fire, implying cessation of birth and death, and is central to Buddhist philosophy.
Apparently though both the terms look synonymous taking into account the end result, i.e. cessation of birth and death, the Vedantists and the Buddhists generally find the above two terms as conceptually distinctive on the question of existence of God and soul. Besides, there are other grey areas and lingering doubts relating to both the concepts, even among the followers and subscribers who are divided in interpretation and understanding of the above concepts. Some of the questions and doubts that need to be addressed are as follows:
1) Whether Moksha implies merger of an individual soul with Brahman or God. Whether even after attaining Moksha individual soul continues as distinct identity.
2) Whether Buddha denied the existence of God.
3) Whether Buddha denied the existence of soul.
4) Whether a person after attaining Moksha or Nirvaan can live on, and after death can be reborn.
5) Considering that both the Vedantists and the Buddhists consider all human beings as potential God or Buddha, as the case may be, are we not visualizing a utopia consisting of humans turned into Gods/Buddhas?
6) Holding this mortal world as the place of sufferings, doesn’t the theory of Moksha and Nirvaan smack of escapism resulting from a pessimistic view of worldly life? If the Brahman has evolved multifold so as to enjoy His creation, why should we strive to escape from it to thwart His enjoyment?
Before we address above questions, let us deal with the concepts of Moksha and Nirvaan in general.
CONCEPTS OF MOKSHA & NIRVAAN
Moksha (Liberation) and Nirvaan (extinguishing) are the supreme goals aimed at by the spiritual seekers in Hindu religion and Buddhism respectively. The above two concepts essentially belong to the domain of experience and not intellect, and hence can be best explained by those only who have experienced it. Nonetheless, one who has a glimpse of the gems and jewels of both the Vedanta and the Buddhist philosophy will share the thrills of John Keats of stepping into a new realm of indescribable beauty and grandeur which the poet described in his poem “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”, after he read the translation of Chapman’s Homer.
Both Moksha and Nirvaan ( often called Nibbana in Pali; Buddha chose to teach in the language of the common people of the time ) apparently seem to be similar as both are the states of infinite bliss, devoid of desires, delusions and sorrows; and can be experienced in one’s present life; but they appear also to have deep-rooted differences inasmuch as Shakyamuni Buddha’s understanding of life , Samsara and spirituality was an epoch making departure from the traditional Hinduism of the day. All through his life, Buddha taught how life should be lived. He preached neither God, nor soul, nor heaven or hell; the focus was only on the individual, faced with himself or herself and responsible for his or her every act in life. In Buddha’s teachings, as Edwin Arnold in The Light of Asia says, “there is this eternity of universal hope, the immortality of a boundless love, an indestructible element of faith in final good, and the proudest assertion ever made of human freedom.”
MOKSHA IN THE VEDAS & THE UPANISHADS
2. The Vedas, the ancient Hindu scriptures, talk about the concept of an External God. God who is master of nature and governs the universe, who is formless, but All-Powerful, All-Merciful, Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent; worshipping Him only man’s sorrows and sufferings can be eliminated. Man’s age- old quest for freedom and happiness, which his desire-bound acquisition of wealth, power, fame and glory could not satiate; all his evolutions, revolutions, reformations and innovations to make life perfect and free, still left him with a sense of void and futility, at last found an answer in the Vedic conception of God. God who is beyond all darkness and delusion and knowing Him alone man could be free from the fetters of sorrows and sufferings. The Vedas, particularly the Upanishads also said that man is not the body and the mind alone; he is more than that. In the depth of his innermost being, there is this spirit, pure and perfect which is the human soul. This soul is immortal and unchanging, does not perish with the body and is part of that intangible energy which the Vedas have given the epithet of God. To put it simply, the Upanishads and the Vedas taught that the macrocosmic universe is one with the microcosmic universe, i.e. the individual. In other words, The Brahman or God and the self or the human soul is one.
3. The Vedic sages addressed men as the Children of Immortal Bliss/Amritasya Putra who is oblivious of his inmost purity i.e. the soul, owing to his mundane desires and impure actions. The ancient sages said that Man can regain his purity and perfection through worship of God and His mercy. To worship God with a pure heart, one should struggle to become perfect, to become divine, to reach God and see God and in the process become one with God. Swami Vivekananda beautifully says, “Man is to become divine by realizing the divine. He will have to strive to realize the external divinity as well as the divinity in himself which is an undying spirit, perfect, pure and eternal. Shattering the bondage of matter and delusion around this pure spirit or soul which is within us is Moksha itself.” The scriptures say that the external worship, the material worship is the lowest stage; mental prayer is the next stage, but the highest stage is when God has been realized.” Again Swami Vivekananda’s poetic words drove the message home, “To him all the religions, from the lowest fetishism to the highest Absolutism means so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realize the Infinite, each determined by the condition of his birth and associations and each of these mark a stage of progress; and every soul is a young eagle soaring higher and higher, gathering more and more strength, till it reaches the Glorious Sun.”
Seeking God or the truth in our hearts is most important. We will feel that God is within us, within the universe and in each one of us. And this philosophy is the essence of the Vedanta philosophy.
4. So then, Moksha, is to feel the All powerful, the Perfect and the Free in myself, in each and everybody else and in every gleam and spark of life in the universe. It is the ultimate goal of a conscious and unconscious seeker. Having realized God, Man lives a life of bliss infinite. We have read that Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, the Guru of Swami Vivekananda lived a life of infinite bliss. In a plane of super consciousness, he saw and felt the presence Goddess Kali whom he called his beloved Mother, talked with Her and felt Her always within himself. This realization of Sat-Chit- Ananda meaning Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute, Bliss Absolute is Moksha or liberation. If we feel God inside us , we become fearless, ; if we see God in everyone else, we feel one with him or her. This is a sublime state of life and mind that is never entangled by desires or base instincts and this is called Moksha. Hindu Scriptures say that devotion, and moral integrity and disinterest in worldly things is a must to attain Moksha and it may take many births before Moksha is achieved. The ultimate reward is release from Samsara or cycle of birth and death and a sense of being one with God.
SRI SANKARA’S MONISM
Sri Sankara in his Advaita philosophy, talked about Nirguna Brahma as well as Saguna Brahma. Jiva’s fundamental ignorance keeps him in delusion and he, with his body, mind and senses, thinks, acts and enjoys. In reality Jiva is not different from the Brahman or the Absolute. The Upanishads declare, “Tat Tvam Asi (Thou Art That).” As Jiva destroys ignorance through karma (action) and bhakti (devotion), he feels that he is of Sat-Chit-Ananda (eternal existence, eternal consciousness and eternal bliss) nature. The river of individual life joins the ocean of existence. This realization is Moksha. Karma and Bhakti enable one to reach this self-realization or identity with Brahman. This concept is delineated in verse 30 of chapter 13 of Bhagavad Gita:
“Yada bhuta-prithak-bhavam ekastham anupashyati I
Tata eba cha vistaram Brahma sampadyate tadaa II”
[“When one realizes that the state of diversity is rooted in the ONE, and that their manifestation is also from THAT, then one gets identified with Brahman.”]
The very same concept has been poetically depicted in the following hymn by Sri Sankara in Nirvana Shatakam:
“Om Mano-budhi-ahangkara chittani naaham
Na cha Shrotra-Jhibe Na cha Ghraana-netre
Na Cha vyoma Bhuumir-na Tejo na Bayu
Chidananda Ruupah Shiboham Shiboham”
[“Neither am I the mind, nor intelligence or ego,
Neither am I the organs of hearing, nor that of tasting, smelling or seeing,
Neither am I the sky, nor the earth, neither the fire nor the air,
I am the ever pure Blissful Consciousness; I am Shiva, I am Shiva.”]
SRI RAMANUJA’S QUALIFIED MONISM
Sri Ramanuja’s Vishtadvaitabad or Qualified Monism describes the oneness of God with Visesha or attributes. God alone exists and all else that we see are His manifestations or attributes. These manifestations or various forms of existence are not Maya but a real part of Brahman’s nature. God is Vishishta, a complex organic whole. Ramanuja identifies God with Lord Narayana. For Ramanuja , Moksha means the soul’s passing away from the mundane into a kind of paradise ( Vaikuntha ) where it will remain forever in perfect bliss in the presence of Lord Narayana. The individual can attain Moksha through the Grace of Lord Narayana and the grace descends on those who are pure and struggle for it.
Samkhya, one of the ancient Indian philosophies, denies the notion of God and regards the universe as consisting of two realities : the Purusha (consciousness) and the Prakriti ( phenomenal realm of Matter ). Jiva is the state in which the Purusha is bonded to the Prakriti through desire and the end of this bondage is Moksha.
There are four major paths through which one can attain this sublime state of life. These are called Yogas.
a) Karma Yoga: It is a path of action, of selfless service. Karmayoga is a system of ethics and religion intended to attain freedom through unselfishness and by good works. To work without any motive and give up all the fruits of work, to be unattached to them is the way of the Karma Yogin. Swami Vivekananda says that “in whole human history Buddha is the ideal Karma Yogin. He had the highest philosophy, yet had the deepest sympathy for the lowest of animals and never put forth any claims for himself. He was in the conduct of his life absolutely without any personal motives and what man worked more than he? He works best who works without any motive, neither for money, nor for fame, nor for anything else; when a man can do that he will be a Buddha and will have the power to transform the world.”
b) Jnana Yoga is the Path of knowledge. Moksha is attained through the knowledge of Brahman, through realization of the identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul or Brahman or God….a direct realization of oneness or unity with the Supreme or God. It can be achieved by intense meditation-Nididyasana. Discrimination ( Viveka ), dispassion ( Vairagya ), the six fold virtues ( Shat Sampat ) and yearning for liberation ( Mumukhutva ). The six virtues practiced by the Jnanayogin are: tranquility ( Shama ), restraint ( Dama ), satiety or renunciation ( Uparati ), endurance ( Titiksha ), faith( Shraddha) and concentration ( Samadhana ). After practicing deep meditation with these qualities, he becomes Jivanmukta or liberated. He attains Moksha.
c) Raj yoga is the path that leads to union with God through self restraint and control of mind. It teaches how to control the senses and the mental faculties or Vrittis and how to develop concentration and thus commune with God. Yama, Niyama, Asana , Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the eight limbs of Raja Yoga. Yama and Niyama constitute the ethical discipline which purifies the heart. Yama consists of Ahimsa/non-injury, Satya/truthfulness, Brahmacharya/continence, Asteya/non stealing and Aparigraha/non receiving of gifts conducive to luxury. Niyama is observance. It consists of Sauchya/external and internal purity, Santosha/contentment, Tapas/austerity, Sadhyaya/study of scriptures and repetition of mantras, and Ishvara Pranidhana/ self-surrender to God.
Asana is steady pose. Pranayama is regulation of breath. These lead to serenity and steadiness of mind and good health. Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses from the objects so that one is able to look within. Dharana is the concentration of the mind on Ishta Devata , internal chakra or tutelary deity. Then comes Dhyana/meditation, meaning deep concentration on one object /God. This leads to Samadhi when all tendencies, impressions, sense perceptions and subtle desires die down. The Yogi becomes one with God. He obtains liberation or Moksha. Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi in which it is difficult to retain the body. Besides Nirvikalpa Samadhi , Sri Ramakrishna used to go into Samadhi whenever some external object or happening like Swami Vivekananda’s songs used to kindle fire of divine feelings in him.
d ) Realization of God or liberation or Moksha attained through immense love of God is called Bhakti Yoga. It is absolute self surrender to God. Loving God and not wanting anything in return. Desires for any sensual objects debar us from having love for God. He who loves God, loves all, has no sorrow or pain; he has surrendered to God unconditionally. He lives in bliss chanting the name and qualities of God and contemplating the Lilas or divine activities of God. Sri Chaitanya, Sri Ramakrishna, Mirabai attained Moksha through Bhakti path. They realized the Truth and experienced intense trances or Samadhi where they had no physical or worldly senses and could feel God in their hearts and thus attained Moksha.
So Moksha is very much a living experience when the seeker or Yogi tries to delve into the innermost region of his heart, after discarding all his desires and negativities and disciplining his mind through one of these Yogas. The spiritual seekers yearn for Moksha because their ultimate goal is to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death. Whether liberation from the cycle of birth and death really happens is beyond senses and rational power of ordinary mortals. Sri Ramakrshna said that in Kaliyuga man will be able to realise God and thus attain liberation or Moksha by chanting God’s name and contemplating on His qualities, activities and image sincerely and earnestly. It would ultimately make his mind pure and perfect.
NIRVAAN – SOCIO-HISTORIC BACKGROUND:
In the time Shakyamuni lived, the Hindu religion was dominated by the Brahmins or the priests along with the aristocracy. Brahministic religious teachings were mostly esoteric and were handed down from one believer to the next. The Hindu religion became ceremonial and ritual based. The Brahmans performed religious rituals and prayed to God for blessings in this world. The common people followed these rituals and placed offerings so that their lot could be improved in the present life as well as in the next one. They were made to believe that the human soul could reach God only after living many lives by accumulating good karma in which they climb up through the Varna or caste system. Shakyamuni’s stance was against such authoritarianism and ritualism and caste structure of the day.
NIRVAAN – MEANING
Before we discuss what Nirvaan means in Buddha’s teaching, a few things are necessary to know. Shakyamuni defined 3 main characteristics of existence: 1) Sufferings, 2) Impermanence and 3) The concept of no unique self. Buddha renounced his princely life at the age of 29 to search for the causes of sufferings and how to end sufferings. After years of austerities and meditation he was enlightened to the 4 Noble Truth: sufferings, causes of sufferings, cessation of sufferings, and the path to cessation of sufferings. According to Buddha, human being is not a permanent or fixed entity but part of an ongoing reality. We are a collection of body, feelings, perceptions, and mental formations and consciousness which are interconnected. It is in contrast to the concept of eternal Self in Hinduism, which is an unchanging identity and locked in some rigid fate. To elaborate, a physical body is dependent on food and warmth and develops as time and age progress. Our feelings change as we grow in life and as a result of perceptions of what we see and hear around us. Our feelings and perceptions, lead us to make decisions and they in turn constitute our mental formations. From body, feelings, perceptions and mental formations originate consciousness. Self is the sum of body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness, dependent on everything that has gone before and constantly changing in accordance with an interconnecting and changing reality. In place of a separate and benevolent creator Buddha saw the interdependence of all life and the cause and effect of actions which create their own future. Buddha’s Dependent Origination is the Law of cause and effect and closely linked to the 4 Noble Truths, which says that desire causes suffering, one is dependent on the other. Following the Right Path causes desire to reduce and so causes suffering to reduce. Buddha’s only concern was the people, their suffering and how this suffering can be eradicated. Buddha said, “One thing and only one thing do I teach, suffering and cessation of suffering.” He asked the people to do good and be good. And this would take one to freedom or whatever the truth is. One should abandon the extremes; cultivate virtue/sila, concentration/Samadhi, and wisdom/ prajna to reach Bodhi or self realization or Nibbana/ Nirvana. Shakyamuni Buddha said that anybody could attain enlightenment or Nibbana/Nirvaan in this present life if he followed the Noble 8 fold path: namely right knowledge, right thinking, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. These paths should lead men to understand that greed, selfishness and ignorance are the causes of all sufferings.
NIRVAAN – THERAVADA & MAHAYANA SCHOOLS
8. After 100 years of passing away of Shakyamuni Buddha, and just before the reign of King Ashoka, Buddhism separated into two main schools. This separation is known as the ‘fundamental split’. The two main schools are : The Therevada tradition or the doctrine of the Elders, and the Mahayana school or the Greater Vehicle. In Therevada, the focus is on Nirvana and it relies closely on the word of Buddha as it appears in the Pali Cannon. Theravada school also follows Tripitaka or the Three Baskets consisting of Vinay Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. Theravada Buddhists aspire for Nibbana for their own sake.
In his book, “Essence of the Heart Sutra,”Dalai Lama said that Nirvana is a state beyond sorrows.
Nibbana or Nirvaan means blowing out or extinguishing the fires of greed, hatred and delusion ( raagaggi, dosaggi, and mohaggi). When these fires are blown out, peace is attained and one becomes cooled (siitibhuuta). Nibbana is a state that can be attained here and now, in this very life. . Nirvana is freedom from whatever binds man from the burning passion of desire, jealousy and ignorance. Once these are totally overcome a state of perfect bliss is achieved. The way to Nirvaan involves a person showing love, sympathy and compassion for others and showing patience in everything. 5 main principles of no killing, stealing, ill language, sexual immorality and use of toxic substance should also be observed. When one successfully follows these principles, 3 roots of evil like greed, hatred and deceit can also be overcome.
In Milinda’s Questions, a sacred Buddhist text, Nagasena the Buddhist monk, explains to king Milinda that ‘one can avoid attachment to self and others by not becoming entrapped by the ego. The goal is to overcome the bonds of the “lesser or individual self” and create a magnanimous approach to life that is inclusive of self and others. Overcoming the lesser self creates a state of nothingness, or non-self, and when this state of mind is achieved, sorrow, grief and heartache are forgotten and one’s mind is at peace. This is an “immovable” state of mind in which all joys and sorrows can be observed objectively. This state of mind is referred to as Nirvaana.’
9. In Sutta pitaka, Buddha describes Nirvaana as the perfect peace of mind. In Dhammapada the Buddha says that Nibbana is the highest happiness- mind becomes unconditioned, not obscured by volitional formations. This ultimate state is described by Buddha as Nibbana. It has four attributes. They are: Happiness, Moral perfection, Realization and Freedom. It is a pure, blissful, serene state, full of loving kindness/metta or maitree and compassion or Karuna. Buddha was the living embodiment of Karuna. Nirvaan is a radiant and infinite state of consciousness free of lowly habits and tendencies and desires. Everybody in his present life can attain Nirvaan. Nirvaan is the feeling of immense love and compassion for everybody. It is perfect wisdom and insight and seeing things in their true aspect and nature. It is absolute freedom from all bonds. Actions are done with a free and joyful mind. Buddha was a human being who found his perfection in Nirvaan. He emerged perfectly moral, perfectly ethical and his suffering ended forever.
10. People’s suffering induced Buddha to renounce his princely life which is known as The Great Renunciation and after he was enlightened, his whole life was dedicated to the well being and happiness of all. The poor and the ignorant got his most attention, so his teachings are in Pali, the vernacular of the then society. The Mahayana or the Greater Vehicle Buddhists focus not on Nirvaan but on enlightenment. They have taken the Bodhisattva vow of helping people ease their sorrows and sufferings. This school emphasizes compassion, wisdom and Bodhisattva ideal. Bodhisattva is a being whose Buddhahood is assured but who is deeply concerned with helping others achieve Nirvaana first. Buddha told his first disciples to journey far and wide to spread his teachings among the people. Mahayana Buddhists remain in the world or Samsar to free others from their sufferings. This magnanimous and noble approach of making others happy underlies the activities and principles of Mahayana Buddhists.
AWAKENING INNER BUDDHA THROUGH CHANTING
The thirteenth century Japanese priest Nichiren Daishonin studied all Buddhist scriptures in detail and based his teachings on the Lotus Sutra preached by Shakyamuni Buddha during the last 8 yrs of his life. Here Buddha declared that every human being, high and low, rich and poor, male and female has the potential to attain Buddhahood. Buddha nature which symbolizes boundless wisdom, courage, and immense compassion is inherent in every being. Nichiren Daishonin declared that one can be reawakened to his or her Buddhahood by chanting the title of the Lotus Sutra which is Nam Myoho Renge Kyo( JP: Sad dharma Pundarika Sutra in Sanskrit ). Chanting this with devotion one is empowered to awaken his Buddhahood and thus achieve enlightenment. While Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is the ultimate law of the universe, the Gohonzon, Its graphic expression is the object of fundamental devotion in Nichiren Buddhism. The follower should not only awaken his or her Buddhahood, namely, immense wisdom, courage and boundless compassion but make others happy and ease their suffering by enabling them to realize their own inherent Buddhahood through chanting. Daishonin said that reciting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo with deep faith, even if just once, has infinitely vast and immeasurable power to revitalize our lives. Daisaku Ikeda the president of Soka Gakkai International and the Buddhist follower of Nichiren Daishonin says, “ Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is the ultimate Law of the Universe, the fundamental rhythm of life itself. Through the practice of chanting , we can bring forth our inner Buddhahood and increase the splendor and power of our lives.” Being able to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo , the source of unsurpassed joy, is in itself the greatest good fortune. The goal of a follower of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism is to strive for the flowering of the highest human potential and achieving it with a view to the well being and happiness of others as well as his own. This ideal of making others happy as well as one’s own self is defined as Enlightenment in Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism.
NIRVAAN – A LIVING EXPERIENCE
Just before Mahaparinirvaana (extinguishing of the great light), Buddha told Ananda, his closest disciple, who asked in tears ‘what shall we do when you are no more?’, “Be lamp unto you.” On our journey through life, we would take suffering in our stride and triumphant we would emerge because our innate divinity or Buddha nature will resurface as we dispel our own fundamental ignorance. This lamp of divinity or Buddhahood will create value for all by showing everyone the way to achieve his or her inner Buddha nature.
Nirvaan is very much a living experience, defined by total absence of sorrow, remaining and taking action in the glowing warmth of truth and happiness. One does not have to die for it. One can have a glimpse of that sublime state that shines forth through small things in our everyday life: As Kahlil Gibran. The Lebanese American writer says, “Yes, there is a Nirvaana: it is leading your sheep to a green pasture, and putting your child to sleep and in writing the last line to your poem”.
In conclusion, we will address the six posers raised in the introduction, as these are considered quite pertinent.
1) Whether Moksha implies merger with Brahman/God:
According to the Advaitavad or monist school of thought, led by Sri Sankara, the universe as we see in naked eyes is illusory and unreal. The only reality is Brahman. All beings are only evolved and impermanent form of Brahman. When we realize this truth we get merged in Brahman. According to this school of thought, Moksha implies complete merger with God. Even after attaining moksha the liberated souls may continue to live in this world to fulfill their mission, mostly for well-being of the people. In ancient time such persons were called Brahmarshi (God-realized sage). To name a few among them, Vashistha, Vishwamitra and Yagnavalkya were Brahmarshi. As for re-incarnation after merger with Brahman, obviously with no distinctive identity, a Brahmarshi is not re-born.
According to Dvaitvad or dualist school of thought led by Sri Madhavacharya and Sri Chaitanya, even after Moksha or God-realization cum liberation, one does not get merged with God but continues with distinct identity and can be born at will.
According to Vishistadvaitavad or qualified monist school of thought led by Sri Ramanuja, Moksha depending upon the path of Truth pursued by the Yogi, may lead to complete merger with Brahman or continuation with separate identity. It goes without saying in so many words; liberated yogis with distinct identity can be re-incarnated at will.
2) Whether Buddha denied the existence of God:
It is believed that Buddha had denied the existence of God, which in reality he never did. When he was asked this question by the uninitiated, he became evasive, because his questioners perhaps did not have the frame of mind to perceive God Which was beyond their perception. It has also to be borne in mind that Buddha preached his Dhamma to the savant and the savage alike. His preaching to the savant could not obviously be the same as his preaching to the laity. It is claimed by the Lamas of Tibet (refer ‘The Book of the Dead’) that Buddha’s esoteric teachings were reserved for the Lamas and have been kept secret from the outside world. Thus, from his evasive, rather mystical replies regarding existence of God, it is not permissible to infer that he denied the existence of God.
3) Whether Buddha denied the existence of soul:
Scholars, who subscribe to the view that Buddha denied the existence of soul, refer to a passage in the Brahmajal Sutta (Digha Nikay) which mentions sixty two erroneous beliefs, one of which is the fallacy that the soul and the world are eternal. The final sentence in the said Sutta is as follows: “Mendicants, that which binds the teacher to existence is cut off; but his body shall remain, he will be seen by gods and men; but after the termination of life, upon the dissolution of the body, neither gods nor men will see him.” Based on this sentence, scholars like Rhys Davids has concluded that Buddha has denied existence of soul (refer The Spirit of Buddhism by H.S Gour). However, same scholars find a contradiction in Buddha’s creed of transmigration which does not integrate with no-soul theory. If there is no soul, how can there be re-incarnation?
The fact of the matter is Buddha never denied the existence of soul. What he meant was that nothing was permanent in this world, including the soul. The soul is comparable to the garment of a child. Just as the child needs a larger garment when he outgrows his clothes, man’s soul enlarges with his spiritual growth. With Nirvaan his/her soul cannot be framed in a mortal body. In other words, the soul has outgrown the receptacle in which it can dwell in this mortal world. From this point of view Nirvaan is nothing but higher state of existence.
4) Whether after Moksha and Nirvaan man can live on, and can be re-born after death:
In response to poser no. 1, we have already mentioned that as per Vedantic philosophy, a liberated Yogi, not merged with Brahman, can be re-born at will. If merged with Brahman, the Yogi ceases to exist and hence the question of his re-incarnation does not arise.
Let us now address the above question from Buddhist point of view.
When king Pasenadi of Koushal confronted Khema, a female disciple of Buddha, with the question whether Buddha would exist after death, she replied that the Exalted One had not declared that he would or would not exist after death. Her subsequent explanation of the phenomenon of existence of the Perfect One in corporeal form was mystical. She explained it thus: “If the existence of the Perfect One be measured by the predicates of the corporeal form, these predicates are abolished in the Perfect One, their root is severed, they are hewn away like a palm tree, and laid aside, so that they cannot grow again in the future. The Perfect One is deep, immeasurable, and unfathomable like the great ocean.” It is said that king Pasenadi confronted Buddha with the same question and received similar answer.
The encounter of Buddha with Vacha, a wondering monk, on the question of re-birth of an emancipated soul is more direct and focussed and hence is recounted here.
Vacha: When a man is emancipated, where is he re-born?
Buddha: The word ‘re-born’ does not fit the case.
Vacha: Then Gautam, he is not re-born?
Buddha: To say he is not re-born does not fit the case. Nor is it any better to say that he is both re-born and not re-born or that he is neither re-born nor not re-born”.
Vacha: I am completely be-wildered and my faith in you is completely gone.
Buddha: Never mind your be-wilderment. This doctrine is profound and difficult. Suppose there was a fire in front of you, you would see it burning and know that its burning depended on fuel. And if it went out you would know that it had gone out. But if someone were to ask you to which quarter has it gone, east, west, north or south, what would you say?
Vacha: The expression does not fit the case, Gautam. For the fire depended on fuel and when the fuel is gone, the fire is gone.
Buddha: In just the same way, all forms by which one could predicate the existence of the saint are abandoned and uprooted like a palm tree, so that it will never grow up in future. The saint who is released from what is styled form, is deep, immeasurable, hard to fathom, like the great ocean. It does not fit the case to say either that he is re-born, or not re-born (Ref: The Spirit of Buddhism by H.S Gour).
Buddha’s evasive reply to the direct question as to whether he would be re-born after Nirvaan is somewhat similar to the Vedantic concept of re-incarnation at will by an emancipated soul.
5) Whether we are visualizing Utopia of humans cum Gods/Buddhas:
As to the poser whether we are visualizing utopia of humans turned into God/Buddhas, the simple answer from the point of view of Advaita (Monistic) Vedanta is that the Truth is we all are Gods in evolved form sans our awareness. From Dvaita and Vishistadvaita points of view, God-realized Yogis may continue with distinct identity. Only a handful of them may merge with God. One essential pre-requisite of God-realization is the uprooting of one’s ego which is deeply embedded in mind. Therefore, unless the mind is annihilated, it is not possible to realize God. Since it is extremely difficult for the mortals to annihilate mind, thereby uprooting the ego to turn into God or Buddha as the case may be, the utopia may not ever come into being in this mortal world. However, Sri Aurobindo has foreseen the world of overmen and thereafter the world of supermen which may look like utopia at this point of time, but cannot be ruled out in distant future.
6) Whether Moksha and Nirvaan are concepts of escapism:
It is often alleged that the whole purpose of struggling for Moksha and/or Nirvaan is to escape from worldly sufferings. This was precisely the reason why Tathagata renounced the world to seek emancipation or Nirvaan so as to eliminate re-birth.
The above perception is convoluted and distorted. True it is that the sufferings in this mortal world had driven young Siddhartha to renounce the world in search of a panacea for the humanity. And the panacea that he found was the renunciation of all desires and the ego. When a person renounces his ego and consequently all desires, he is surely not running away from sufferings but transcends it by not identifying self with the sufferings. In other words, he/she detaches self from the body that suffers. This is a practical way to get rid of sufferings and to prepare self for Nirvaan. As a matter of fact, Nirvaan that Buddha taught his disciples was not extinction but the completion of being, as Max Mueller has put it.
The Vedanta, however, confers a divine shield on the humans to either absorb or reject whatever is inflicted by Prakriti or nature and to remain untouched like the lotus leaf (refer verse 5, chapter 10, Gita). Sri Sankara and Swami Vivekananda have described the Maya as the glass sheet between Brahman and the mortal world that has the effect of distorting our vision. Unless the glass sheet is broken, our vision of the Truth or Brahman would not be possible. The Vedanta, earlier than Buddha, has spoken of uprooting the palm tree so that our ego does not sprout again from its root which in this illustration stands for mind. Once the mind, the root of ego, is gone the self/soul is gone. This state is attained in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. From Buddhist point of view as well, once the root of ego is severed, the soul is gone. In such event, sufferings become inconsequential.