MUKTĪ or Mukti and its synonym mokh (Sanskrit mokṣa, Pālī mo(k)kha) are derived from the root much (to let go, release) and seem to be identical in primary meaning with the English words deliverance, liberation, release, freedom and emancipation.
Although sometimes translated as ‘salvation', muktī is different from the Christian salvation. The latter is a composite concept embodying redemption and reconciliation. Redemption is ‘the change in man's relation to God by the removal of guilt and sin' (R. Hazelton, ‘Salvation' in a Handbook of Christian Theology edited by M. Halverson and A. Cohen, London : Collins Fontana Books); guilt and sin, however, are not basic to the concept of muktī.
Muktī has two aspects — a negative and a positive one. On the negative side, it stands for having got ‘loose from' or ‘rid of’. That essentially implies a bonded state from which man must be freed — be it ignorance (añjān), nescience (māyā), mortality (kāl), suffering (dukkha), passion (kāma), desire (trishṇā), attachment (moha), superstition (bhrama), physical body (sharīra) or the wheel of life and death (āvāgavan). All these spell only a perilous existence for man.
Muktī, however, is not to be construed as escapism. It is not that man is removed to a safe quarter in existence where no perils overtake him. He, rather, discovers within himself an unexpected power to withstand and not be shaken by any threat or danger. The security and integrity experienced are spiritual and ultimate; neither ephemeral nor circumstantial.
On the positive side, muktī signifies the fullest and truest realization of the self. The saved life is a fully human self, open and unhindered. It embodies the realization that there is no other than the self. Separation and ego-consciousness stand decimated. Everlasting peace of the eternal and infinite self transcend the make-believe world of weal and woe, good and evil, gaiety and sorrow, wisdom and folly.
The basic concept underlying muktī is that human life is in bondage on account of its own works (karma). All the schools of Indian philosophy, with the lone exception of Cārvāka, conceive of an emancipated soul which, after exhausting the effects of all karmas, attains the liberated state. However, what exactly is conceived as bondage, and what as liberation varies from school to school.
The Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika school views it as freedom from bondage to the senses and sensuous life of pleasure and pain.
The Sāṅkhya view characterizes muktī as the cessation of the three types of pain (ādhyātmika, adhibhāvikā, and adhidaivika). The Puruṣa (self) is able to attain such a state only by transcending the adjuncts of Prakṛtī (material nature). Happiness and misery are the handicraft of the guṇas (qualities). The liberated soul having transcended the guṇas goes beyond pleasure and pain.
The yogic school prescribes dhyāna (meditation) and samādhī (the state of pure, contentless consciousness) as means to liberation — the emptied consciousness shining with its own radiance.
In Vedānta, muktī stands for the removal of duality (dvaita) and the merger of the self (Jīvātman) with the Absolute (Brahman). The self then becomes resplendent as existent, intelligent and blissful (sat, cit, and ānanda).
Nirvāṇa is the name for muktī in the Buddhist vocabulary, the two being considered mutually comparable in the same Thought category (Majjhimai 304). Nirvāṇa literally means extinction, and implies the extinction of ‘the five' - viz, rūpa (form), sañjñā (name), saṅskāra (impression), vijñāna (knowledge) and vedanā (pleasure-pain).
According to Bhaktī schools, muktī is attained through upāsnā (worship) and consists in finding an abode in the spiritual realm of the upāsya (worshipped deity).
The above bird's-eye view of muktī as conceived by different schools of Indian philosophy serves as the essential background for the Sikh concept. In the first place, the variegated terminology employed by the various schools — including such terms as mokṣa, nirvāṇa, paramgatī, brahmajñāna, nirbhau pad, shūnya (Punjabi sunn), nirguṇa avasthā, etc — has been indistinctively employed in the Sikh scripture. That possibly signifies that these various terms, differing somewhat in conceptual detail one from the other, are held to be essentially identical by Sikh thought. Alternately, the Sikh view of muktī is essentially an eclectic one. That they can lend themselves to an eclectic treatment also testifies to their conceptual proximity and the Sikh concern with its catholicity.
In the second place, the Sikh thought seems to place accent on the positive aspect of muktī -— thus departing from those schools that lay primary emphasis on its negative aspects. As an example of the latter, one may take the concept of mokṣa in the Bhagvadgītā which is described as emancipation from evil (vii, 20), from karma (iv, 28), from lust and anger (v, 26), from decay and death (vii, 29), from the body (v, 23), from the illusion of opposites (xv, 5) and so on. A predominantly negative view, according to Sikh thought, cannot be the highest objective of life. Therefore
Those who know (jñānī) desire not vaikuṇṭh (heaven),
They reject even muktī as of little import.
I crave not for a kingdom, nor even for muktī;
What I long for is the lotus feet (of the Lord).
In these quotations muktī as a negative concept is rejected.
The Sikh view holds that God, in His own pleasure, has Himself created both : the state of bondage (bandhan) and the state of freedom (muktī). "'The free (mukāt) and the bonded (bandh) alike are your creation" (GG,796).
In point of fact, man is born free, but as he grows up, the ways of the world grow upon him. That is how from his nascent free state (sahaj) he slinks down step by step into the conditioned existence of worldly pursuit (dhāt). In order to reemerge from it and to reattain the original state of sahaj he must pursue the pah of liv (devotion). Muktī, in fact, is a by-product of the practice of liv, not its highest objective which is nothing short of God-experience itself, and subsequently remaining immersed in it for ever.
The path of liv has its own distinctive discipline which therefore is a prerequisite for muktī. This discipline includes good actions as the first requisite (binu kartūti mukti nā pāīai —GG, 201). Other requisites are : the giving up of egoism (muktī duārā soī pāe je vichon āpu gavāi, GG, 1276); associating with God-men (mukti pāīai sādh saṅgati, GG, 675); dwelling upon the Gurū's word (muktī mahā sukh gur sabadu bīchāri, GG, 942), and accepting it mentally (mannai pāvahi mokhu duār. GG, 3); and ever remembering the Lord (mukte ramaṇ gobindah, GG, 1360). It is imperative for attaining muktī that one should be ‘dead to oneself'. An egoist, be he clever or dumb, never can attain muktī (hau vichi mūrakhu hau vichi siāṇā mokh mukati kī sār na jānā, GG, 466). One can attain freedom by serving him alone who is free himself (mukte seve muktā hovai. GG,116). The Gurū can remove all fetters and render one free (bandhan kāṭi mukati guri kīnā, GG, 804). However, none can attain muktī without Divine Grace (soī muktī jā kau kirpā hoe, GG, 1261).
The Sikh concept of muktī is essentially that of Jīvan muktī, the one attainable in one's lifetime itself. Further, Sikhism rejects the idea of considering renunciation as the vesture of a jīvan mukta. Contrast with it, for example, the Jain view according to which "The liberated persons...have to lead a mendicant's life, for, otherwise, they cannot keep themselves free from karma" (G.N. Joshī : Atman and Moksa. Gujarāt University Ahmedābād, 1965, p. 260).
Jīvan muktī itself brings one to the brink of videha muktī (incorporeal emancipation), which is freedom not from the present body but from any corporeal state hereafter. It spells for the mukta a final cessation of the weals and woes of the cycle of birth-death-birth (janam-maran). This ultimate muktī is a continuation of jīvan muktī, going on after the shedding away of the corporeal frame to the final absorption into the One Absolute — the blending of light with Light (jotī jot samāṇā).
The Sikh muktī is positive concept in two important ways. First it stands for the realization of the ultimate Reality, a real enlightenment (jñāna). The mukta is not just free from this or that, he is the master of sense and self, fearless (nirbhai) and devoid of rancour (nirvair), upright yet humble, treating all creatures as if they were he himself, wanting nothing, clinging to nothing.
He rises from the life of do's and don'ts to that of perfection — a state of at-one-ment with the All-self. Secondly, the mukta is not just a friend for all, he even strives for their freedom as well. He no longer lives for himself. He lives for others.
Jaswant Siṅgh Nekī