I was reading this book called ‘Flourish’ by Martin Seligman who is considered the father of positive psychology and was relating this concept to Purusharthas of Vedas, and that is when I had this insight. So I thought of sharing it on the blog.
I have talked about the four pursuits of time a few times already on my blog. Today, I want to dwell on the topic of Moksha a little and discuss why it is quite the odd one out among the four pursuits. You may already know, the Vedas talk of four human pursuits:
The pursuit of Pleasure = Kama
The pursuit of Security = Artha
The pursuit of Values = Dharma
The pursuit of freedom = Moksha
If you look closely, all these three pursuits together make up what positive psychology today calls well-being (not merely happiness). (Happiness, as per the Authentic Happiness Theory is momentary and subjective while well-being is more lasting and is experienced both objectively as well as subjectively.) Wellbeing is a construct made up of P-E-R-M-A:
Like the Dharma-Artha-Kama pursuits, each of the elements of PERMA can be independently pursued as an end in itself, but it is really when balanced together its leads to wellbeing.
So what really is Moksha? I think the general translation of ‘freedom’ or ‘liberation’ or ‘inner peace is not enough to describe it.
Moksha is different from the other three pursuits. Notice Dharma-Artha-Kama is quite similar to the concept of PERMA, both are to be sought in our external world, its dependent on our attitude, choices and actions in the external world. But Moksha is seeking PERMA within us. It is an inward search, which as per Vedanta, is the original seeking. Our pursuits in the world around us really is a reflection of our inward seeking for Moksha.
Moksha is finding meaning within us, developing a positive relationship with our own self, engaging with our inner self and then seeking accomplishment is finding one true self and deriving positive emotions from within. This is what makes Moksha a unique pursuit.
It is called ‘praptasya praptihi’ achieving that which has already been achieved, discovering what we already are. It can come across only by knowledge or insight (jnanam), not by external effort. Dharma-Artha-Kama need external effort, hence it is referred to as ‘apraptasya praptihi’, achieving that which is missing from us.
When our pursuit turns from being externally directed to internally directed, we can reach a higher state of wellbeing:
- Positive Emotion sought externally is pleasure and internally is contentment.
- Engagement when sought externally is called flowbut when sought internally is stillness of mind
- Positive Relations sought external give you healthy friends, family and community and when sought internally gives us peace of mind and clarity.
- When one looks gor meaning in the outside woeld, one sees oneself in others (sympathy). Moksha means seeing others as one self (empathy).
- Achievement when found outside us means acquiring a certain status or things or having choices. Directed inwards it means to feel complete in oneself, not wanting, finding freedom and inner peace.
Vedic tradition rightly prescribes the four pursuits and gives us a more complete construct of wellbeing and flourishing. While Dharma-Artha-Kama are external PERMA, Moksha is internal PERMA. Moksha being internally a discovery of who we already are is considered a higher pursuit than the other three.
I strongly recommend reading Martin Seligman’s book Flourish. Very few books come close to describing well-being and flourishing as comprehensively and succinctly as Martin does. Also in today’s times, the PERMA model of well-being is a much more practical, easy to understand, well-researched and contemporary guide to well-being and flourishing. All that we have to do in addition is to study Vedanta to turn this search for PERMA inwards.
We can seek each positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement independently yet a balance needs to be struck between them to enjoy real well-being to flourish. But this flourishing is not complete unless directed inwards towards the pursuit of Moksha, the final frontier – where seeking itself stops. It is breaking away from the endless cycle of seeking, gaining and losing; the end of samsara.
Moksha is not just a higher state of well-being and flourishing but the ultimate one.
Further reading: PERMA and the building blocks of wellbeing