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  Moksha (mukti) means ‘liberation’, ‘freedom’ or ‘release’ from one\'s individual fate and from the cycles of history. The concept first appears in the Upanishads. In the Brahaclaranyaka Upanishad, a distinction is made between the righteous (who rely on faith and so escape from the cycle of rebirth to the ‘way of the gods’), those who did no more than their duty, performed austerities and gave alms (who are reborn as mortals), and the ignorant (who are reborn as insects or unclean animals). This doctrine had the advantage of showing how the virtuous would be rewarded and the wicked punished in their next rebirth, but it was difficult to reconcile with the Vedic belief. In the Upanishads, it is not just a question of an endless cycle of rebirth until one attains moksha, but of cycles of history, of age after age, and the whole universe going through endless phases known as ‘the day of the gods’. Moksha means liberation from this, too.

If moksha is seen as liberation from samsara, the endless prolongation of life, and from karma, the next step came at the end of the Upanishad period when life itself was seen as evil, something to be transcended, as reason itself must be. The one who has attained moksha can see the eternal in the temporal and the temporal in the eternal. However, under the Samkhya system, widely accepted in the Middle Ages, moksha consisted of separating the soul or self from the world. The temporal and the eternal are not reconciled in the Absolute. (For the consequences of this system, see yoga.) Alternatively, under the advaita system of Vedantism, moksha means that the soul realizes itself as it eternally is, that is as the one Brahman-Atmam which is Absolute Being, Consciousness and Bliss. EMJ

Further reading R.C. Zahner, Hinduism (good bibliography).



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