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The Path of Liberation

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Section 92 of the Upanishads for Awakening

The path

“Yajnavalkya said: ‘The path of liberation is subtle, and hard, and long. I myself am walking in it; nay, I have reached the end. By this path alone the wise, the knowers of Brahman, attain him while living, and achieve final liberation at death.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:8).

The path of liberation is subtle.

Without refinement of mind and the interior faculties of perception, yoga is not going on. Yoga is itself the purification of the mind and heart in order to allow the highest powers of the individual to come into play and transform his life and consciousness. Because this is so, Patanjali puts ten necessary elements for yoga at the top of his list of the eight limbs of yoga: 1) Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness; 2) Satya: truthfulness, honesty; 3) Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness; 4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses; 5) Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness; 6) Shaucha: purity, cleanliness; 7) Santosha: contentment, peacefulness; 8) Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline; 9) Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study; 10) Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God. This is a total overhaul of external and internal life, and it is only the beginning of yoga.

The path of liberation is hard. Yes, indeed. When confronted with Patanjali’s list there will be a lot of indignation, whining and general complaint. Why? Because the path of liberation is hard! Such reaction is proof of that. Only the hardy even really begin the journey, and only the toughest and strongest will end it successfully. This is not a path for the weak and whimsical, and it is definitely not a mere body-splash, a hobby, or a free-time diversion. It is the attainment of Brahman, for God’s sake (literally).

The path of liberation is long. It takes lifetimes–many if we dawdle, and not so many if we knuckle down and go for it. And believe me, those pathetic souls that boast of how they are “taking the jet-plane route to God” while looking and living more like a jet crash, do not have a clue. Yes, it is possible to realize God in one birth–the last birth. Everybody does. So we need to get busy. There can be no periods of coasting along, deluding ourselves that our liberation is assured and just around the next corner. (Real spiritual life goes in a straight line–there no bends or curves.) Buddha meditated and engaged in intense discipline right up to the moment of his leaving the body, even though he had attained enlightenment decades before. And so did Swami Sivananda. All real yogis do the same.

By this path alone…is Brahman attained. And that attainment is not some swell surprise after death. It takes place right here in this world which is no longer an obstacle to enlightenment. By changing himself the yogi changes the effect the world has on him. What hindered him before now helps him. The once-closed door is now open to him. Death is the final going through that door. For him there will be no return.

No more worlds

“‘Other worlds there are, joyless, enveloped in darkness. To these worlds, after death, go those who are unwise, who know not the Self.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:10, 11).

Any relative world is fundamentally joyless and enveloped in darkness–so the truly wise understand. No world is fit to live in, for they are all realms of death and constant change. There is no peace possible for those who live therein. But those who know the Self have ended that compulsion, for: “‘When a man has realized the Self, the pure, the immortal, the blissful, what craving can be left in him that he should take to himself another body, full of suffering, to satisfy it?’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:12). Desire being the root of rebirth, when it is eliminated rebirth vanishes along with it.

In the body

“‘He that has once known the glory of the Self within the ephemeral body–that stumbling-block to enlightenment–knows that the Self is one with Brahman, lord and creator of all. Brahman may be realized while yet one dwells in the ephemeral body. To fail to realize him is to live in ignorance, and therefore to be subject to birth and death. The knowers of Brahman are immortal; others, knowing him not, continue in the bonds of grief.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:13,14). The suffering may be very subtle, but it will be there, nonetheless.

Fearless in knowing

“‘He who with spiritual eye directly perceives the self-effulgent Being, the lord of all that was, is, and shall be–he indeed is without fear, and causes fear in none.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:15). Even more, he removes fear from others. This is why we experience such great peace and ease in the presence of enlightened beings. Not only have I experienced this many times, I have seen people walk into the presence of a great master and immediately begin shedding tears of relief. In a moment their anxieties and fears were removed.

“‘He who knows Brahman to be the life of life, the eye of the eye, the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind–he indeed comprehends fully the cause of all causes. By the purified mind alone is Brahman perceived.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:18). There are no mysteries or puzzles for the knower of Brahman. All is known to him who knows The All.

“‘In Brahman there is no diversity. He who sees diversity goes from death to death’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:19). All our lives are but deaths. When we really enter into the Life that is Brahman then birth and death are finished for us.

“‘Brahman can be apprehended only as knowledge itself–knowledge that is one with reality, inseparable from it. For he is beyond all proof, beyond all instruments of thought. The eternal Brahman is pure, unborn, subtler than the subtlest, greater than the greatest.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:20).


“‘Let therefore the wise aspirant, knowing Brahman to be the supreme goal, so shape his life and his conduct that he may attain to him. Let him not seek to know him by arguments, for arguments are idle and vain.’” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4:4:21).

We need only to reshape our life and go directly to God, not bothering with critics or nay-sayers. Just smile, wave, and go on to the Goal.

Know you the journey that I take?
Know you the voyage that I make?
The joy of it one’s heart could break.

No jot of time have I to spare,
Nor will to loiter anywhere,
So eager am I to be there.

For that the way is hard and long,
For that gray fears upon it throng,
I set my journey to a song,

And it grows wondrous happy so.
Singing I hurry on for oh!
It is to God, to God, I go.

Sister M. Madeleva, C.S.C.

Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Some Final Words

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Introduction to The Upanishads for Awakening

Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:

The Story of the Upanishads

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