Discerning mokSha as the end in life and seeking it makes one’s life meaningful. They do not prevent a person from seeking artha and kAma. In fact, without them, life is just a rat race. One should always remember that the truth of the rat race is that, even after the race, the winning rat continues to be a rat. Swami Dayananda
Swami Dayananda’s bhagavadgItA Home Study Course is a four-volume tome, running in total to over two thousand pages. When one considers the bhagavadgItA is only seven hundred verses in length, the Course is a definitive and exhaustive work; that said, when one then takes into account that under the correct guidance from a swami or swamini in an ashram, it could take anything up to ten years of committed study and scholarship, this series of large, weighty paperbacks appears, superficially at least, to be a significant and sizeable short cut.
In the Introduction, Swami Dayananda is keen to get down to the basics by examining the fundamental behavioural laws of the human being. Unlike animals and children, driven by their physical needs and the vagaries of Mother Nature, an adult is given the gift of self consciousness, by which his or her emotional and psychological maturity is something, ultimately, of his or her own making: ‘You now have the rare capacity, called free will, to initiate a further process of evolution. The whole process, then, is in your own hands’ (p.1).
All of us are compelled to chase after something, are driven by a latent craving for people, experiences, and things. Such human pursuits are called puruShArtha, the most universal tendencies being security, artha, and pleasure, kAma. The third puruShArtha is dharma; more subtle than pleasure, it is a joy arising from pursuing a worthwhile life, filled with selfless and worthy activities in tune with one’s essential qualities and character.
The most important puruShArtha, however, is mokSha, or freedom, one which very few people knowingly embrace and yet, paradoxically, are in fact chasing after in one guise or another all the time. Indeed, the quest for freedom often belies an attempt to extricate oneself from a situation one does not actually want: by pursuing security, for example, there is the inherent belief that ‘I am insecure’; by pursuing pleasure, ‘I am not satisfied with myself’ (p.4). Even dharma, ultimately, is a distraction from the main event: that we are all compelled, be it wittingly or unwittingly, to be free of seeking that which takes us out of, and away from, ourselves.
This is all very well and good, and for most people on the spiritual path, this is not new. But what Swami Dayananda is suggesting is that this state of affairs is part and parcel of the human condition, and as a starting point, must first be accepted and understood. And rather than trying to jettison insecurities and desires in an attempt to cancel out the disharmony in one’s self as a means for finding liberation (giving away one’s wealth and possessions for example), he suggests that such actions serve only to compound the problem in hand. Instead, one’s energies should be harnessed and redirected towards what is really going on behind the scenes: that the problem is not the puruShArtha-s but ourselves: ‘This is where the teaching of vedAnta comes in and tells you that your problem is not one of lacking something, but of not knowing that you do not lack anything. It converts all one’s pursuits into a pursuit of knowledge’ (p.9).
And thus, mokSha is not only another end – the end of seeking through the application of knowledge – but ‘… the end, the end behind all ends’ (p.14).
Moreover, knowing that knowledge brings psychological maturity and acceptance of oneself, as is, means that one can in fact continue various artha and kAma pursuits: ‘The vision is now clear; freedom is seeing myself as a secure and happy person, free from being insecure and unhappy’ (p.15).
Once again, one pauses and is compelled to think, so far so good. And yet how exactly can ‘myself’ become an object, like a specimen in a laboratory experiment, to be used for the application of such knowledge? ‘It cannot,’ states Swami Dayananda, ‘And yet, at the same time, I must know myself’ (p.16).
He continues: ‘I do know that I exist, and to know this, I do not require a means of knowledge… All I need to know is what I am’ (p.16).
But of course, very few of us know that with any conviction, and the reason for this is the veil of ignorance that clouds this belief: ‘Ignorance is the main reason for any error. Knowledge alone can dispel ignorance and knowledge cannot take place without a means of knowledge’ (p.16).
Reading Swami Dayananda’s prose is not only inspiring but actually brings upon a great sense of relief – there’s no post-code lottery of enlightenment going on here. Indeed, his message points to a wholly democratic methodology of self-actualization, one which is exclusively for all, something which the spontaneous combustion school of thinking of the Neo Advaitins and New Age experientialists may find hard to swallow: ‘This you must know. The enlightened mind is not brought about by the elimination of thoughts. Knowledge always comes because of an appropriate means of knowledge. There is no way of altering knowledge and there is no replacement for a means of knowledge’ (p.17).
So what exactly, then, is the means of knowledge that I should apply? ‘Self-knowledge is a peculiar knowledge in that, it is not knowledge of an object. It is knowledge of myself, for which the means of knowledge is the last portion of the veda, in the upaniShad-s, collectively called the vedAnta. Any statement that reveals the truth of oneself, the nature of oneself, with all fallacies removed, is vedAnta, whether it is in Sanskrit, some tribal dialect, or any other language. Although the literal meaning of the word "vedAnta" is "the end of the veda", the veda itself means "a body of knowledge". This body of knowledge is available for the humanity. All that one has to do is make use of it.’