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Hinduism Mokṣa
by
Ariel Glucklich

Introduction

The subject of Mokṣa occupies a central and prestigious place in Hindu culture, although in practical and philosophical terms it has always engaged a tiny minority of Hindus. The pursuit of liberation from samsara and attempts to understand the true nature of reality have figured prominently among the major systems of philosophy and the scriptures on which these are founded. But unlike other areas within the Hindu world, Mokṣa, strictly understood, lacks texture. Unlike bhakti or dharma for example, there is little that one could say informally about an experience, or a condition, that is said to transcend discursive qualities. However, due to the practical nature of the philosophical enterprise in India, Mokṣa is implicated in broader areas of discussion, such as psychology, language, metaphysics, and even ethics.

General Overviews

General overviews of Mokṣa are usually found in works that cover a wide range of topics or systems in Indian philosophy. Some are massive compilations by a single author such as Dasgupta 1951–1955 or Radhakrishnan 1996, or single volumes within a larger series such as Potter 1981. Other general approaches are far briefer but still comprehensive works on Mokṣa in the context of Indian thought (at times historically organized) such Pramod 1984, Hiriyanna 1949, Singh 1981, or even articles such as Mayeda 2000. Due to the prestige of neo-Vedanta the overviews have played up Vedanta, especially Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta, but over the last few decades the balance has shifted somewhat to yoga and Samkhya as seen in Dasgupta 1974 on yoga and in Halbfass 1991 on Samkhya.

  • Dasgupta, Surendranath. A History of Indian Philosophy. 5 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1951–1955.

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    Still the most comprehensive single-author survey of Indian philosophy, this classic work was largely based on original sources, many in manuscript form. It runs the full gamut of Indian thought in five volumes (the last posthumously published) from Vedas to modern theistic thought.

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  • Dasgupta, Surendranath. Yoga Philosophy in Relation to Other Systems of Indian Thought. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1974.

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    Based on the author’s doctoral dissertation and preceding his celebrated work on Indian philosophy, this is an early and highly technical presentation of yoga thought in relation both to other systems of Hindu philosophy and early Buddhism.

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  • Halbfass, Wilhelm. Tradition and Reflection: Explorations in Indian Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    Presents several essays on a variety of topics, some bearing on liberation and the ultimate nature of reality, from an Indian-centric point of view.

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  • Hiriyanna, Mysore. The Essentials of Indian Philosophy. London: Allen & Unwin, 1949.

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    Presents an introductory survey of a number of central topics in Indian philosophy, including Mokṣa. The discussion of Mokṣa begins with the Upanisads and includes the major systems of Indian thought.

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  • Mayeda, Sengaku, ed. The Way to Liberation: Indological Studies in Japan. Vol. 1. New Delhi: Manohar, 2000.

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    This volume contains twenty essays by Japanese Indologists on the nature of bondage, liberation, and the means to liberation in several Hindu systems and also Kashmiri Saivism and Indian philosophy in general.

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  • Potter, Karl H., ed. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 3, Advaita Vedanta up to Samkara and His Pupils. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

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    A useful introductory essay on Advaita Vedanta precedes extensive summaries of major works and a detailed treatment of Mokṣa.

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  • Pramod, Kumar. Mokṣa: The Ultimate Goal of Indian Philosophy. Ghaziabad, India: Indo-Vision, 1984.

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    Presents a general overview of Mokṣa according to the different systems of Indian philosophy—based on the author’s doctoral dissertation.

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  • Radhakrishnan, Sarvapalli. Indian Philosophy. 3 vols. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    This is a re-publication of the original 1923 work, which was written not just to provide a general overview of the major systems but to explain them in a comparative context with Western philosophy and with a marked preference for Advaita Vedanta.

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  • Singh, Balbir. Atman and Moksha: Self and Self-Realization. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1981.

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    Singh is a Sikh who writes extensively on Indian metaphysics and ethics. This work is based mostly on secondary works, offering a general overview of Vedanta theories of Mokṣa.

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Conceptual Analysis of Mokṣa

The conceptual discussions of Mokṣa in much of contemporary scholarship do not necessarily mirror the metaphysical and ontological preoccupation of traditional Indian philosophy, especially Vedanta and Samkhya. Instead of examining the overarching claims on behalf of the existence of Brahman or Atman and the removal of avidya, they focus on a variety of critical approaches to the idea of Mokṣa, including heuristics in Klostermaier 1985, Potter 1963, and Gelblum 1965; epistemology in Prasad 1971 and its critique in Bhatt 1976; psychology, particularly motivation theory in Framarin 2009 and hedonics in Chakrabarti 1983; and axiology in Daya Krishna 1996.

  • Bhatt, S. R. “The Concept of Mokṣa—An Analysis.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 36.4 (1976): 567–570.

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    Bhatt sets out to specifically refute the major points of Prasad 1971 on the relative merits of a philosophy that is based on knowledge derived from self-realization as opposed to conceptual knowledge.

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  • Chakrabarti, A. “Is Liberation (Mokṣa) Pleasant?” Philosophy East and West 33.2 (1983): 167–182.

    DOI: 10.2307/1399100Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Measures the hedonic quality of Mokṣa over and against the pleasure of samsara to gauge its desirability according to philosophers of the Nyaya. Concludes that the feel of Mokṣa must remain open to question.

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  • Framarin, Christopher G. Desire and Motivation in Indian Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 2009.

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    The author supports traditional philosophical conceptions of desireless action toward specific goals, including Mokṣa. Argues against contemporary theories of motivation.

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  • Gelblum, Tuvia. “India’s Philosophies—Whose Presupposition?” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 28.2 (1965): 308–318.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X00075121Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a highly critical and lengthy review of Karl Potter’s work in presuppositions and a defense of the traditional distinction between the first three purusarthas and Mokṣa.

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  • Klostermaier, Klaus K. “Mokṣa and Critical Theory.” Philosophy East and West 35.1 (1985): 61–71.

    DOI: 10.2307/1398681Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Brings Advaita Vedanta’s “desire for liberation” and “self knowledge” into conversation with Jurgen Habermas’s “emancipatory interest” in a manner that is designed to deepen the understanding and broaden the reach of both.

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  • Krishna, Daya. Indian Philosophy: A Counter Perspective. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    A polemical examination of central aspects of contemporary Indology with the author’s diametrically opposed perspective on several topics. Mokṣa is rejected as a “spiritual” value that must be juxtaposed against worldly values.

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  • Potter, Karl H. Presuppositions of India’s Philosophies. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963.

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    A philosophical analysis of Mokṣa in several traditional contexts in light of Nietzscheian views on freedom and control. Potter argues, controversially, that Mokṣa can be understood as a maximization of power and control more in the sense of freedom to accomplish, than freedom from restraint.

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  • Prasad, Rajendra. “The Concept of Mokṣa.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 31.3 (1971): 381–393.

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    Examines the relation between Mokṣa as highest value and dharma as a presumed means to the attainment of Mokṣa. Argues that the primacy of Mokṣa is based solely on super-rational experience, which is derived from self-realization, rather than conceptual reasoning.

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The Afterlife

In relation to Mokṣa, the subject of karma comes up when samsara, avidya, or maya are juxtaposed with liberation. And while the primary and secondary literature on karma is vast, it is not easy to find work that minimizes the Mokṣa/karma gap as Chapple 1986 does. Most works, including Strauss 1937 and O’Flaherty 1980, focus on the tension between action and liberation.

  • Chapple, Christopher. Karma and Creativity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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    Argues that human actions are, in fact, effective in promoting the goal of final liberation and that karma serves as a mechanism of betterment, creatively leading to Mokṣa.

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  • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy, ed. Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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    Presents twelve essays on karma, with several (especially Karl Potter) touching on the relation between moral retribution, rebirth, and final liberation.

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  • Strauss, Otto. “A Contribution to the Problem of the Relation between Karma, Jnana and Mokṣa” In Mm. Kuppuswami Sastri Birth-Centenary Commemoration Volume. Edited by S. S. Janaki, 159–166. Madras: Kuppuswami Sastri Research Institute, 1937.

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    Based on a lecture presented at Sastri’s birth centenary gathering in which he distinguishes between karma as ritual action, jnana as language-based knowledge, and mokṣa.

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Dharma and the Purusarthas

Dharma in Indian thought represents a normative concept that deals with individual, social, and cosmic obligations and the values that underlie them. Mokṣa appears on the face of it as a liberating and contradictory trajectory. This tension has been explored in a number of articles, most of them published in the journal Philosophy East and West, which focus on this specific issue—to the exclusion of other purusarthas. The essays generally split into those that emphasize the distinction such as Buitenen 1957, those who play it down (including Ingalls 1957, Potter 1958, and White 1959–1960), and those who seek a more comprehensive overview of various possible relations (Sastry 2005 and Perrett 2001). A number of broader works, including Koller 1968, Sharma 1999, and Perrett 1997, examine the same relationship but highlight the context of dharma and Mokṣa within the four purusarthas.

  • Buitenen, J. A. B. van “Mokṣa and Dharma.” Philosophy East and West 7.5 (1957): 33–40.

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    This article provides a historical-textual and conceptual overview of the tension between dharma and Mokṣa and concludes that the various efforts to overcome the gap have been inadequate, with the exception of bhakti-yoga.

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  • Ingalls, Daniel. “Mokṣa and Dharma.” Philosophy East and West 7.5 (1957): 41–48.

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    Argues that the conceptual break between dharma and Mokṣa represents the exception in Indian thinking on the relation between morality and Mokṣa, the supreme religious value, and that where this break was emphasized is found the work of monks.

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  • Koller, John M. “Purusarthas as Human Aims.” Philosophy East and West 18.4 (1968): 315–319.

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    Arguing against Karl Potter, contends that the difference between Mokṣa and the other three purusarthas is that it is the final aim of life that is desired for its own sake.

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  • Perrett, Roy W. “Religion and Politics in India: Some Philosophical Perspectives.” Religious Studies 33.1 (1997): 1–14.

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    Perrett examines the relation of Mokṣa to dharma and artha for the sake of extrapolating to the bearing of religion on Indian politics, where artha and dharma are said to correspond to political values and Mokṣa to religion. Author argues that the separation of domains is an incorrect colonialist interpretation.

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  • Perrett, Roy W., ed. Theory of Value. New York: Garland, 2001.

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    Volume 5 of the Indian Philosophy Series is an edited collection of republished (now classic) essays on the conceptual and historical relation between Mokṣa and dharma that had previously appeared in Philosophy East and West in the 1950s.

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  • Potter, Karl H. “Dharma and Mokṣa from a Conversational Point of View.” Philosophy East and West 8.5 (1958): 49–63.

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    Sets out to provide a framework in which one could say that dharma is not only duty but a means to attaining Mokṣa, which seems on the surface to be a contradiction.

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  • Sastry, Kutumba V. “Dharma and Mokṣa: Conflict, Continuity, and Identity.” In Dharma: The Categorial Imperative. Edited by Ashok Vohra, Arvind Sharma, and Mrinal Miri. New Delhi: D.K. Printworld, 2005.

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    Presents a comprehensive semantic examination of dharma as moral norm and natural order with an analysis of dharma’s complex relation to Mokṣa within distinct frames of reference.

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  • Sharma, Arvind. “The Purusarthas: An Axiological Exploration of Hinduism.” Journal of Religious Ethics 27.2 (1999): 223–256.

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    Sharma discusses the inclusion of Mokṣa among the four purusarthas while summarizing the scholarship on the issue. Includes a brief but useful appendix on the question in traditional philosophical and literary sources. This work updates Sharma’s earlier work on the purusarthas in The Purusarthas: A Study in Hindu Axiology (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 1982).

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  • White, David. “Mokṣa as Value and Experience.” Philosophy East and West 9.3 (1959–1960): 145–161.

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    Continues the discussion of Mokṣa begun with Karl Potter’s “conversational” approach to Mokṣa in his essay in Philosophy East and West.

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Living Liberation (Jivanmukti)

Jivanmukti is the term used to describe those rare individuals who attain complete liberation from the bonds of avidya and samsara while living. It is an extraordinary and exalted achievement, but Fort 1998 and Fort and Mumme 1996 show that such individuals have long existed in India and that the major philosophical systems were familiar with the idea. This has been particularly true for Advaita Vedanta, and as Srivastava 1990 and Valiaveetil 1980 argue, may have significant moral implications—especially from the perspective of neo-Vedanta. The metaphysical implications of living liberation, particularly the relation between Brahman and the world, are debated by Das 1954 and Malkani 1955. Due to the elusiveness of mukti it is extremely difficult to identify and agree on the individual who truly qualifies as a jivanmukti, but a few men, such as Ramana Maharshi (Mahadevan 1971a, Mahadevan 1971b, Osborne 1954) and Sri Candrasekharendra Sarasvati (“Sage of Kanchi”; Fort 1998), enjoy universal recognition.

  • Das, A. C. “Advaita Vedanta and Bodily Liberation.” Philosophy East and West 4.2 (1954): 113–124.

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    Argues that the concept of living liberation implies that Brahman is not impersonal and that the world is not illusory. Concludes that the Advaita idea of teaching on Brahman is self-contradictory.

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  • Fort, Andrew O. Jivanmukti in Transformation: Embodied Liberation in Advaita and Neo-Vedanta. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    Contains a historical and philosophical analysis of liberation while living (jivanmukti) ranging from the Upanisads to modern thinkers. Fort also argues for a distinct yogic Advaita tradition in the Yogavasistha and Jivanmuktiveveka.

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  • Fort, Andrew O., and Patricia Y. Mumme, eds. Living Liberation in Hindu Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    A collection of edited essays that examine the textual representation and conceptual likelihood of living liberation in several traditions, including Sankara and classical Advaita, Ramanuja, Madhva, Samkhya and Yoga, tantric Saivism, and others.

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  • Mahadevan, T. M. P. Ten Saints of India. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1971a.

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    A scholar and follower of Ramana Maharshi presents ten brief biographies of men who have achieved liberation (from Advaita Vedanta perspective), with a special focus on Sankara and Ramana.

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  • Mahadevan, T. M. P., trans. Self-Enquiry (Vichara Sangraham) of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Tiruvannamalai, India: Sri Ramanasramam, 1971b.

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    Presents a collection of forty questions and answers in an early interview with Maharshi on the nature of liberation and on the path to its achievement.

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  • Malkani, G. R. “A Note on Liberation in Bodily Existence.” Philosophy East and West 5.1 (1955): 69–74.

    DOI: 10.2307/1397110Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues against Das 1954 and claims that knowledge of Brahman need not be reduced to everything or nothing but can be regarded as a graduated path.

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  • Osborne, Arthur. Ramana Maharshi and the Path of Self-Knowledge. London: Ryder, 1954.

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    A brief biography of the liberated man from Arunchala (b. 1879–d. 1950) with several excerpts from his teachings on liberation and other topics.

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  • Srivastava, Lalit Kishore Lal. Advaitic Concept of Jivanmukti. Varanasi, India: Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan, 1990.

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    Examines and promotes the concept of living liberation from the perspective of neo-Vedanta and argues for the saintliness of the liberated “saint.”

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  • Valiaveetil, Chacko. Liberated Life: Ideal of Jīvanmukti in Indian Religions, Specially on Śaiva Siddhānta. Madurai, India: Dialogue Series, 1980.

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    Explores the Advaita Vedanta approach to living liberation and argues against the possibility of social engagement among the liberated individuals.

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Mokṣa in the Philosophical Systems

Liberation from samsara is a topic that dominates the more metaphysical systems of philosophy and is not frequently associated with the ritualistic, legalistic and hermeneutical framework of Purva Mimamsa. However, Chakravarthi 2001 shows that the action-oriented Mimamsa is conducive to liberation, and Maitra 1978 describes Mokṣa in a manner consistent with the goals (svarga) of that school. The broader issue of whether action (pravrtti) or only inaction (nivrtti) can lead to liberation is examined in a comparative manner in Potter 1980 and Lad 1967. Raju 1985 surveys the full range of philosophical systems with a preference for Advaita Vedanta.

  • Chakravarthi, Ram-Prasad. Knowledge and Liberation in Classical Indian Thought. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave, 2001.

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    Discusses the concept of Mokṣa in major systems of philosophy, including Advaita Vedanta and Purva Mimamsa, where liberation is said to result from action, contrasting with the Vedantic view of knowledge.

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  • Lad, Ashok Kumar. A Comparative Study of the Concept of Liberation in Indian Philosophy. Burhanpur, India: Gindharlal Keshavadas, 1967.

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    Based on Lad’s doctoral dissertation, this work surveys liberation, discussed primarily in terms of realization of Brahman, in a wide range of Indian systems, including Indian Buddhism and 20th-century philosophers.

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  • Maitra, Susil Kumar. The Ethics of Hindus. New Delhi: Asian Publication Services, 1978.

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    Discusses the nature of Mokṣa according to Purva Mimamsa and its position on whether happiness can be said to exist in the state of liberation.

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  • Potter, Karl H. “The Karma Theory and Its Interpretation in Some Indian Philosophical Systems.” In Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty, 241–267. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

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    Examines the process of dying and rebirth according to Samkhya and Advaita Vedanta, distinguishing rebirth from liberation and pravrtti traditions from nivrtti.

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  • Raju, Poola Tirupati. Structural Depths of Indian Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985.

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    A general and comprehensive overview of the major Indian systems of philosophy, covering many of the central topics, including Mokṣa. Like Radhakrishnan and Dasgupta, Raju shows a preference for Advaita Vedanta above the other approaches.

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Vedanta

Due to the high prestige of Vedanta, especially Advaita, the scholarly output on this particular system of philosophy has been immense. One could add that it is virtually impossible to write about Vedanta—be it metaphysics, epistemology, or psychology—without touching on the theme of liberation. A few works, however, do isolate mukti, including Nelson 1996 and Rambachan 2006, which give an overview according to Advaita, or Marcaurelle 2000, whose overview focuses on renunciation leading to Mokṣa. Other studies concentrate on more limited aspects of the Vedanta view of Mokṣa, such as Sthaneshwar 2008, a study of consciousness; Lipner 1999, which focuses on one mahavakya in the Chandogya Upanisad; and Phillips 1987, a critique of Padmapada. Other studies are more broadly comparative, such as Comans 1993, while Krishna Warrier 1981 is frankly apologetic for Advaita Vedanta on the subject of living liberation, and Bartley 2002 focuses instead on the competing ideas of Ramanuja on Mokṣa.

  • Bartley, C. J. The Theology of Ramanuja: Realism and Religion. London: Routledge, 2002.

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    Analyzes the theology of Ramanuja in the context of competing Vedantic ideas on such concepts as the mahavakyas.

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  • Comans, Michael. “The Question of the Importance of Samadhi in Modern and Classical Advaita Vedanta.” Philosophy East and West 43.1 (1993): 19–38.

    DOI: 10.2307/1399467Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Distinguishes the experience and doctrine of Samadhi as a product of yoga practice from Sankara’s writings on the contemplation and knowledge of the self.

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  • Krishna Warrier, A. G. The Concept of Mukti in Advaita Vedānta. PhD diss., University of Madras, 1981.

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    Promotes a neo-Vedanta perspective on the liberated man who acts in the service of others, both materially and spiritually, in order to promote their progress. Argues openly for the conceptual and moral superiority of Vedanta.

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  • Lipner, Julius J. “The Self of Being and the Being of Self.” In New Perspectives on Advaita Vedanta. Edited by Bradley J. Malkovsky, 41–55. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1999.

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    Discusses Sankara’s commentary on “That You Are” in the Chandogya Upanisad with a focus on the “you” that attains liberation.

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  • Marcaurelle, Roger. Freedom through Inner Renunciation: Sankara’s Philosophy in a New Light. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000.

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    Contains a thorough review of the Advaita Vedanda literature, including the disciples of Sankara, on the subject of renunciation. Argues that Sankara did not advocate the giving up of action (even rituals) as a necessary condition for achieving Mokṣa.

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  • Nelson, Lance E. “Living Liberation in Sankara and Classical Vedanta: Sharing the Holy Waiting of God.” In Living Liberation in Hindu Thought. Edited by Andrew O. Fort and Patricia Y. Mumme, 17–62. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    Provides a useful overview of classical Advaita understanding of liberation, discusses the debates over the possibility of living liberation, and shows how living liberation illuminates theology.

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  • Phillips, Stephen H. “Padmapada’s Illusion Argument.” Philosophy East and West 37.1 (1987): 3–23.

    DOI: 10.2307/1399080Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues against the Vedantist philosopher Padmapada’s position, which links metaphysics to a theory of perceptual illusion. However, the author accepts Padmapada’s meticulous phenomenology of the mental life.

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  • Rambachan, Anantanand. The Advaita Worldview: God, World, and Humanity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

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    Discusses Mokṣa in the broad context of Advaita philosophy on the self, knowledge, and ethics. Defines and surveys Vedanda Mokṣa as liberation from several forms of bondage, including karma, samsara, and desire.

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  • Sthaneshwar, Timalsina. Consciousness in Indian Philosophy: The Advaita Doctrine of “Awareness Only.” London: Routledge, 2008.

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    Analyzes Advaita Vedanta ideas on the nature of pure consciousness, the object of consciousness, error, and similar ideas that set it apart from other systems of Indian philosophy.

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Samkhya and Yoga

In a general sense the Samkhya and Yoga systems of philosophy do not focus on Mokṣa but other axiological and psychological concepts such as samadhi, kaivalya, and apavarga. Since the 1960s there has been an increase in scholarly interest in Samkhya and Yoga metaphysics relative to the more pervasive Vedanta scholarship. Larson 1979 (based on the author’s 1967 doctoral dissertation) and Larson 1987 have opened the field in the United States. On the more specific topics related to the goals of practice, Burke 1988 focuses on the three gunas, Burley 2006 surveys classical debates on kaivalya, and Whicher 1998 argues that kaivalya is embodied liberation. Fort 2006 looks at the possibility that there are several states of Samadhi, and Chapple 1996 examines the concept of living liberation in Samkhya and Yoga.

  • Burke, David B. “Transcendence in Classical Samkhya.” Philosophy East and West 38.1 (1988): 19–29.

    DOI: 10.2307/1398948Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The article explains kaivalya—the goal of Samkhya—as a state of equilibrium among the three gunas in prakrti in a manner that contrasts with, but corresponds to, the Mokṣa of Vedanta.

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  • Burley, Mikel. Classical Samkhya and Yoga: An Indian Metaphysic of Experience. London: Routledge, 2006.

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    Contains a systematic analysis of Samkhya metaphysics with a detailed consideration of kaivalya and a survey of scholarly debates over the nature of liberation.

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  • Chapple, Christopher Key. “Living Liberation in Samkhya and Yoga.” In Living Liberation in Hindu Thought. Edited by Andrew O. Fort and Patricia Mumme, 115–134. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    Surveys the notion of living liberation in the Samkhya Karika, Yoga Sūtra, and later texts in both of these systems.

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  • Fort, Andrew O. “Vijnanabhiksu on Two Forms of Samadhi.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 10.3 (2006): 271–294.

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    Investigates the way that Vijnanabhiksu (b. 1550–d. 1625), a commentator on Patanjali’s Yogasutras, understood Samadhi. Article concludes that there are several such states, not all consistently elaborated.

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  • Larson, Gerald James. Classical Samkhya: An Interpretation of Its History and Meaning. 2d rev. ed. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1979.

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    Based on Larson’s 1967 doctoral dissertation, this important study surveys the history and meaning of classical Samkhya while revising many of the basic interpretations that prevailed concerning central samkhya ideas and texts. Includes a translation of Isvarakrsna’s Sankhyakarika.

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  • Larson, Gerald James, and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, eds. Samkhya: A Dualist Tradition in Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987.

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    Detailed introductory survey of the philosophy of Samkhya and its history, including summaries of over sixty Samkhya philosophers and their major works. The topic of Mokṣa or kaivalya (and apavarga) receives extensive coverage in several dedicated sections.

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  • Whicher, Ian. The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana: A Reconsideration of Classical Yoga. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    Argues controversially that kaivalya, the supreme achievement of the yogi and yoga’s equivalent to Mokṣa, is a state of embodied liberation in which purusa and prakrti are united.

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Primary Sources

The number of texts that discuss Mokṣa, or other forms of escape from suffering, is impressive, especially if one counts the commentaries and compendia assembled by the philosophers of Vedanta, Samkhya, and Yoga. Olivelle 1998 is a translation of the earliest expression of the human pursuit of immortality, or realization of atman (or brahman) found in the Upanisads, and Olivelle 1992 is a translation of the later Samnyasa Upanisads, which are more technical and prescriptive. In between these, Edgerton 1944 is an accurate, if somewhat dated, translation of the Bhagavad Gita, creating a path to Mokṣa that is based not on renunciation but devotion (bhakti), while Bryant 2009 is the most recent translation of the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali, which received inspiration from Buddhism in describing the escape from suffering. Thibaut 1962a and Thibaut 1962b are translations of Badarayana’s Vedanta (or Brahma) Sūtras, which form another pillar (with the Upanisads and Bhagavad Gita) in the foundation of Vedanta with the commentaries of Sankara and Ramanjua and with the neo-Vedanta interpretation of Radhakrishnan 1968. Suryanarayana Sastri 1973 presents the foundational commentaries of Samkhya on the Yoga Sūtras, while Sinha 1979 translates further texts and commentaries on the metaphysical dualism of the Samkhya system.

  • Bryant, Edwin F. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary. New York: North Point, 2009.

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    Represents a new translation of the original text but also includes fairly substantive commentaries accompanying the Sūtras, representing an examination of the major commentaries, including those of Vyasa, Sankara, and Vacaspati Misra.

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  • Edgerton, Franklin, trans. The Bhagavad Gita. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1944.

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    Edgerton’s decades-old translation, though antiquated and wooden, is remarkably precise. The essays are still useful for introducing the basic ideas underlying this most important of texts on the subject of Mokṣa in relation to action and devotion.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick. Samnyasa Upanisads: Hindu Scriptures on Asceticism and Renunciation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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    A clear and useful translation of twenty later Upanisads that describe ascetical practices and prescriptions, along with the process and goal of renunciation.

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  • Olivelle, Patrick. The Early Upanisads: Annotated Text and Translation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    A readable translation of twelve early Upanisads, accompanied by extensive and useful notes.

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  • Radhakrishnan, S., trans. The Brahma Sutra: The Philosophy of Spiritual Life. New York: Greenwood, 1968.

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    Reprint of a 1960 translation by the Indian vice president of the seminal Vedanta text of Badarayana. The translation is accompanied by a long introduction, excerpts of major commentators on a number of topics (including Mokṣa), and demonstrates the translator’s neo-Vedanta (Advaita) inclinations.

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  • Sinha, Nandalal, trans. The Samkhya Philosophy (with the Samkhya-pravacana sutra, Aniruddha’s vrtti, and Vijnanabhiksu’s bhasya). New Delhi: Oriental Books, 1979.

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    Gathers the original documents of Samkhya philosophy, with further works (including Samkhya Karika) in the appendix. Reprint of the original 1915 translation for Sacred Books of the Hindus, Volume 11.

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  • Suryanarayana Sastri, S. S., trans. The Sankhyakarika of Isvara Krsna, 2d ed. Madras: University of Madras, 1973.

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    A reissue of Sastri’s 1930 translation of the important Samkhya text that synthesizes earlier Samkhya doctrines, with a still-useful introduction and extensive notes by the translator.

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  • Thibaut, George, trans. The Vedanta Sutras with the Commentary by Sankara. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1962a.

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    Despite the fact that this translation first appeared between 1890 and 1896 (in Sacred Books of the East), it is still highly regarded as a clear and accurate translation and is widely used.

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  • Thibaut, George. trans. The Vedanta Sutras with Ramanuja’s Sribhasya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1962b.

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    This reprint of the 1904 translation (that also appeared in Sacred Books of the East) presents qualified nondualism of Ramanuja, as given by his competing commentary on the key Vedanta text.

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The Mahābhārata

In addition to the many other subjects that the vast Mahabharata covers, the Santi Parvan’s sub-book of “Mokṣasharma,” translated and discussed by Fitzgerald 2004 and Hiltebeitel 2005 covers the major topics of philosophy, especially early Samkhya and (to a lesser extent) Vedanta, in addition to the mythological material that bears on Mokṣa seen in Weiss 1985 and Brown 1996.

  • Brown, Mackenzie C. “Modes of Perfected Living in the Mahabharata and the Puranas: The Different Faces of Suka the Renouncer.” In Living Liberation in Hindu Thought. Edited by Andrew Fort and Patricia Mumme, 157–186. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    Looks at three versions of the story of Suka, son of Vyasa, in the narrative literature of the Santi Parvan, Bhagavata Purana, and Devi-Bhagavata Purana.

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  • Fitzgerald, James L., trans. The Mahābhārata Vol. 7: Book 11, The Book of Women; Book 12, The Book of Peace, Part One. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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    This translation is a resumption of van Buitenen’s work for the University of Chicago Press. The “Mokṣadharma” sub-book is based on the translator’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago.

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  • Hiltebeitel, Alf. “Review: On Reading Fitzgerald’s Vyasa.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 125.2 (2005): 241–261.

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    A long review article that evaluates James Fitzgerald’s new translation of the Mahabharata. Discusses the structure and chronology books covered, including “Mokṣadharma.”

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  • Weiss, Brad. “Mediations in the Myth of Savitri.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 53.2 (1985): 259–270.

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    Uses Levi-Strauss-inspired structural analysis to contrast the values of dharma and Mokṣa in the myth of Savitri in the Mahabharata.

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Non-Hindu Traditions

South Asia is home to a number of major non-Hindu traditions, including Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikkhism. All of these possess rich soteriological doctrines and texts with a vast scholarly output for each. A limited number of works bear on Hindu discussions of Mokṣa, on comparative analysis with Hinduism, or with the social and moral implications of Mokṣa. Zydenbos 1983 and Jaini 1992, on the liberation of women, and Cort 2001, on Mokṣa and worldly well-being, touch on Jainism, while Singh 1991 and Shukla 1988 discuss Sikh and Buddhist approaches in juxtaposition to Hinduism. Brainard 2000 casts the net most widely, looking at Mokṣa as mystical experience in a number of traditions.

  • Brainard, Samuel F. Reality and Mystical Experience. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000.

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    Looks at Advaita Vedanta along with Mahayana and Christian mysticism in the context of the author’s constructivist theory of mystical experience as the undermining of “conventional awareness.”

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  • Cort, John E. Jains in the World: Religious Values and Ideology in India. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    An examination of Jain values based on fieldwork among Svetambar Murtipujak Jains of northern Gujarat. It contains a discussion of Jain conceptions of Mokṣa but focuses largely on the “well-being” associated with worldly existence in the Jain world.

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  • Jaini, Padmanabh S. Gender and Salvation: Jaina Debates on the Spiritual Liberation of Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

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    Jaini translates and discusses the Jain debates on Mokṣa, or liberation of women, in Jainism. The author provides useful introductions to the six debates between Svetambara and Digambara, experts on the question of women and Mokṣa.

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  • Singh, Dharam. Sikh Theology of Liberation. New Delhi: Haram, 1991.

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    Analyzes the Sikh concept of Mokṣa as a distinct and more socially engaged experience that transcends classical Hindu views.

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  • Shukla, Karunesh, ed. Nature of Bondage and Liberation in Buddhist Systems: Proceedings of Seminar Held in 1984. Gorakhpur, India: Nagarjuna Buddhist Foundation, 1988.

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    The seminar, focused primarily on Mokṣa and nirvana, and nineteen essays were gathered into this publication, spanning both Hindu and Buddhist systems with two essays (Clooney and Narain) engaging in a comparative study of the two traditions.

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  • Zydenbos, Robert J. Mokṣa in Jainism According to Umasvati. Wiesbaden, Germany: Franz Steiner, 1983.

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    Presents a translation of Chapter 10 of Umasvati’s commentary on his own Tattvarthadhigamasutra with a short introduction on the place of Mokṣa in Jainism. A useful translation, but the author’s notes are extremely brief.

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Theistic Traditions

Just as the Bhagavad Gita reconciles Mokṣa with bhakti, so do later Saiva and Vaisnava theologies and rituals, both from South India and Kashmir, understand the final eschatological goal in similar terms. Klostermaier 1984 and Tripathi 1987 provide an overview of several such traditions with their scriptural roots. Sivaraman 2001 and Valiaveetil 1996 focus on Saiva Siddhanta thought, while Davis 1992 looks at its rituals, and De 1961 focuses on Gaudiyas, Baird 1986 on Swami Bhaktivedanta, and Michaels 2004 looks much more broadly at Vaisnava and other traditions in his important introductory textbook.

  • Baird, Robert D. “Swami Bhaktivedanta: Karma, Rebirth and the Personal God.” Paper presented at a conference held at the University of Calgary, 20–23 September 1982. In Karma and Rebirth: Post Classical Developments. Edited by Ronald W. Neufeldt, 277–300. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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    Presents the ideas of Swami Bhaktivedanta of the International Society of Krishna Consciousness on a variety of topics, including karma and liberation. This includes the idea that Mokṣa can only be achieved through the grace of God—Krishna.

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  • Davis, Richard H. Ritual in an Oscillating Universe: Worshipping Śiva in Medieval India. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Examines Saiva Siddhanta ritual and liturgy in daily worship as a symbolic process of internalizing the major aspects of Saiva philosophy, including the liberation of the soul.

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  • De, Sushil Kumar. Early History of the Vaisnava Faith and Movement in Bengal. Calcutta: Firma K. L. Mukhopadhya, 1961.

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    Includes a detailed consideration of liberation, or the highest spiritual attainment, according to Gaudiya Vaisnavism, the unity with Bhagavat, which is described as supremely joyful. Notes the tension between Vedanta terminology (Mokṣa) and the ideals of devotion (bhakti).

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  • Klostermaier, Klaus K. Mythologies and Philosophies of Salvation in the Theistic Traditions of India. Waterloo, ON: Wilfried Laurier University Press, 1984.

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    A general discussion of the manner in which devotion (bhakti) can lead to Mokṣa based on Samkhya-Yoga, Vedanta, and other sources with particular reference to Vaisnava interpretations of foundational texts.

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  • Michaels, Axel. Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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    Chapter 7, “Immortality in Life,” analyzes ascetic practices and the conceptual relation between asceticism and sacrifice, including the logic of systematic identifications that underlie practices leading to liberation. Originally published in 1998 (Munich: Beck).

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  • Sivaraman, K. Śaivism in Philosophical Perspective: A Study of the Formative Concepts, Problems, and Methods of Śaiva Siddhānta. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2001.

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    A philosophical analysis of Śaiva Siddhānta theology that situates Mokṣa in a Śaiva worldview such that the elimination of ignorance and recovery of the Self (atman) are seen as integration with Siva.

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  • Tripathi, Bashishtha Narain. Indian View of Spiritual Bondage. Varanasi, India: Ardhana Prakashan, 1987.

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    A comprehensive and fairly detailed examination of the concept of bondage—taken usually as samsara and maya and is broadly conceived as a problem of suffering. Looks at multiple contexts ranging from Vedic sources and the major systems to Indian Buddhism, Jainism, and theistic philosophers.

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  • Valiaveetil, Chacko, S. J. “Living Liberation in Śaiva Siddhānta.” In Living Liberation in Hindu Thought. Edited by Andrew O. Fort and Patricia Y. Mumme, 219–246. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.

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    Provides an overview of the basic philosophical ideas of Śaiva Siddhānta and describes the stages of progress from bondage to liberation and the critical role of Shiva’s grace in achieving Mokṣa.

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Social and Political Contexts

Due to the metaphysical nature of Mokṣa and the usually arcane discussions of its nature and attainment, it is not clear how Mokṣa translates into social and political values and how it influences popular religion. A number of fairly recent works have begun to explore such a possible relationship, beginning perhaps with Brown 1984 on the political symbolism of Mokṣa. Rambachan 1990 and Hacker 1995 examine Vivekananda’s mediation between Mokṣa and practical concerns, while Vail 2002 looks more broadly at the moral implications of liberation. The focus on women’s practices, including renunciation and liberation in Denton 2004, Leslie 1991 on women, and Milner 1993 on caste, clearly demonstrate that Mokṣa cannot be studied in a sociological context without regard for gender and caste.

  • Brown, C. Mackenzie. “Svaraj, the Indian Ideal of Freedom: A Political or Religious Concept?” Religious Studies 20.3 (1984): 429–441.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0034412500016292Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues implicitly that Mokṣa as a religious concept has strong bearing on Indian politics, specifically the concept of svaraj, with which Mokṣa is identified in the sense of self-illumination.

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  • Denton, Lynn Teskey. Female Ascetics in Hinduism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2004.

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    Presents an original investigation of 132 female renouncers based on fieldwork carried out in Banaras.

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  • Hacker, Paul. “Vivekananda’s Religious Nationalism.” In Philology and Confrontation: Paul Hacker on Traditional and Modern Vedanta. Edited by Wilhelm Halbfass. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

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    Demonstrates the manner in which Vivekananda’s writings and lectures on Advaita, including the topic of liberation, served the ideals of Indian nationalism.

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  • Leslie, Julia., ed. Roles and Rituals for Hindu Women. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991.

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    The fourth section in the collection of essays contains articles by Julia Leslie, Sanjukta Gupta, and Lynn Teskey Denton on issues pertaining to women and liberation, including sati, Saiva women, and women ascetics in Banaras.

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  • Milner, Murray, Jr. “Hindu Eschatology and the Indian Caste System: An Example of Structural Reversal.” Journal of Asian Studies 52.2 (1993): 298–319.

    DOI: 10.2307/2059649Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a general analysis of the relation between key Hindu eschatological concepts (karma, samsara, Mokṣa) and the caste system to which they correspond in an inverse manner.

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  • Rambachan, Anantanand. “Swami Vivekananda’s Use of Science as an Analogy for the Attainment of Mokṣa.” Philosophy East and West 40.3 (1990): 331–342.

    DOI: 10.2307/1399427Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Looks at Vivekananda’s writings and lectures on the validity of scientific knowledge and its relation to Mokṣa as source of experiential knowing.

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  • Vail, Lise F. “‘Unlike a Fool, He is not Defiled’: Ascetic Purity and Ethics in the Samnyasa Upanisads.” Journal of Religious Ethics 30.3 (2002): 373–397.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9795.00114Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Discusses the view of the Samnyasa Upanisads on the renouncer who attains liberation and makes the case for a moral purity that emerges from the unity with Brahman.

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LAST MODIFIED: 01/27/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195399318-0036

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