Here is an easy understanding of the path to Moksha as laid out in Vedanta tradition. Having said that, I would like to highlight that there is a certain state of mind-body state that is a necessary prerequisite for one to even begin contemplating the possibility of taking the path. This status is called ‘mumukṣutvam’, meaning the status of being desirous of liberation, mokṣaḥ, from sorrow. Simply put, it is the recognition of the quest for freedom and its means, jñānam as the topmost priority and the highest goal in one’s life. It means that one is not merely curious. It means one is ready to re-prioritizing life’s pursuits and make an enduring, unshakeable commitment to the quest for freedom.
Also one needs to prepare one’s mind for the pursuit, attain Antaḥ-karaṇa-naiścalyam, the steadiness of mind first. If the mind is not quiet, it can’t be receptive. This is an essential prerequisite for śravaṇam, which is the first part of the learning cycle. This quietude and focus can be attained through various meditation and ritual practices (dhyānam and upāsanām).
Śravaṇam means hearing, for a length of time, the step by step, systematic, regular, unfolding of Vedāntaḥ by a competent teacher (ācāryaḥ) who knows the sampradāyaḥ. Being a result (and not an action) hearing is involuntary since the ears naturally pick up sound, but the accuracy of hearing depends on actively listening, fully focusing one’s attention, without distortion or addition. Distortion means either changing whatever is heard to fit it into one’s existing belief system or wilfully changing it to mean something unintended by the speaker. The addition means adding one’s own ideas, beliefs or embellishments to whatever is said. Without proper accuracy of hearing, little will be properly understood. Now you can see why active listening with a focused, subtle, steady mind is a must. One cannot force this listening that leads to knowing. Knowing is, therefore, not an action, it is the inevitable result of this process. Self-knowledge too is not the result of the hearer’s action; it occurs naturally and effortlessly when certain words arrive at the ear. What follows listening is mananam.
Mananam literally means ‘thinking’ or ‘reflecting’ but more accurately it means resolving, with the help of the teacher, doubts about what has been heard during śravaṇam. It includes reflecting, with appropriate reasoning, on what has been heard – until understanding is flawless and complete. Here we are not trying to rationalize everything or cherrypick ideas that suit our taste, to help us believe easily. One needs to reconcile the learning with what one has already understood. In mananam, a good student is like an oyster that picks up a grain of sand along with the water and makes it into a pearl and makes it into his/her own.
Once we own up to the teaching, finally comes Nididhyāsanam which literally means contemplation. It involves repeatedly dwelling upon the nature of reality understood as one’s self, the truth of ‘I’. Contemplation is a form of meditation, dhyānam, wherein the meditator-meditated division or difference is absent because the ‘object’ of meditation is oneself, it is the truth or essential nature of you, the subject. Please note that Nididhyāsanam is not for gaining knowledge of the Self. The knowledge of the self has been acquired during śravaṇam. Also, Nididhyāsanam is effective only after sufficient śravaṇam and mananam, only then is the required knowledge well-enough ascertained to be worth dwelling on. Nididhyāsanam is for the removal of the obstructions to the clear understanding of the Self that was acquired during śravaṇam and mananam. Obstructions can be in the form of biases, conditioning, wrong notions of self, body identification and so on which can be deeply rooted in our psyche. Nididhyāsanam tries to unentangle and undo all these.
Applying this practice over a period of time, clears the clouds that eclipse our vision of our effulgent true self, that we are that Brahman, the limitless reality, limitless being, pure consciousness. Living in this light is Jeevan Mukti, it is Moksha.