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MUKTI and its synonym mokh (Sanskrit moksa, Pali 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. Also see Jivan Mukta

Although sometimes translated as ‘salvation’, mukti 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 mukti.

Mukti 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 (ajnan), nescience (maya), mortality (kal), suffering (dukkha), passion (kama), desire (trishna), attachment (moha), superstition (bhrama), physical body (sharira) or the wheel of life and death (avagavan). All these spell only a perilous existence for man.

Mukti, 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, mukti 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 mukti 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 Carvaka, 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 Nyaya-Vaisesika school views it as freedom from bondage to the senses and sensuous life of pleasure and pain.

The Sankhya view characterizes mukti as the cessation of the three types of pain (adhyatmika, adhibhavika, and adhidaivika). The Purusa (self) is able to attain such a state only by transcending the adjuncts of Prakrti (material nature). Happiness and misery are the handicraft of the gunas (qualities). The liberated soul having transcended the gunas goes beyond pleasure and pain.

The yogic school prescribes dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (the state of pure, contentless consciousness) as means to liberation—the emptied consciousness shining with its own radiance.

In Vedanta, mukti stands for the removal of duality (dvaita) and the merger of the self (Jivatman) with the Absolute (Brahman). The self then becomes resplendent as existent, intelligent and blissful (sat, cit, and ananda).

Nirvana is the name for mukti in the Buddhist vocabulary, the two being considered mutually comparable in the same Thought category (Majjhimai 304). Nirvana literally means extinction, and implies the extinction of ‘the five’—viz, rupa (form), sanjna (name), sanskara (impression), vijnana (knowledge) and vedana (pleasure-pain).

According to Bhakti schools, mukti is attained through upasna (worship) and consists in finding an abode in the spiritual realm of the upasya (worshipped deity).

The above bird’s-eye view of mukti 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 moksa, nirvana, aparamgati, brahmajnana, nirbhau pad, shunya (Punjabi sunn), nirguna avastha, etc.—has been indistinctively employed in the Sikh Scripture. That possibly signifies that these various terms, though differing somewhat in conceptual detail one from the other, are held to be essentially identical by Sikh thought. Alternately, the Sikh view of mukti 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 mukti—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 moksa in the Bhagvadgita 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 (jnani) desire not vaikunth (heaven),

They reject even mukti as of little import.

(GG, 328)

and again,

I crave not for a kingdom, nor even for mukti;

What I long for is the lotus feet (of the Lord).

(GG, 534)

In these quotations mukti 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 (mukti). “The free (mukat) 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 (dhat). In order to re-emerge from it and to re-attain the original state of sahaj he must pursue the path of liv (devotion). Mukti, 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 forever.

The path of liv has its own distinctive discipline which therefore is a prerequisite for mukti. This discipline includes good actions as the first requisite (binu kartuti mukti na paiai—GG, 201). Other requisites are: the giving up of egoism (mukti duara soi pae je vichon apu gavai, GG, 1276); associating with God-men (mukti paiai sadh sangati, GG, 675); dwelling upon the Guru’s word (mukti maha sukh gur sabadu bichari, GG, 942), and accepting it mentally (mannai pavahi mokhu duar. GG, 3); and ever remembering the Lord (mukte raman gobindah, GG, 1360).

It is imperative for attaining mukti that one should be ‘dead to oneself’. An egoist, be he clever or dumb, never can attain mukti ( hau vichi murakhu hau vichi siana mokh mukati ki sar na jana, GG, 466). One can attain freedom by serving him alone who is free himself (mukte seve mukta hovai. GG, 116). The Guru can remove all fetters and render one free (bandhan kati mukati guri kina, GG, 804). However, none can attain mukti without Divine Grace (soi mukti ja kau kirpa hoe, GG,1261).

The Sikh concept of mukti is essentially that of jivan mukti, the one attainable in one’s lifetime itself. Further, Sikhism rejects the idea of considering renunciation as the vesture of a jivan 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. Joshi: Atman and Moksa. Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, 1965, p. 260).

Jivan mukti itself brings one to the brink of videha mukti (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 mukti is a continuation of jivan mukti, going on after the shedding away of the corporeal frame to the final absorption into the One Absolute—the blending of light with Light (joti jot samana).

The Sikh mukti is positive concept in two important ways. First it stands for the realization of the ultimate Reality, a real enlightenment (jnana). 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 the freedom as well. He no longer lives for himself. He lives for others.

See also


  • 1. Dharam Singh, Sikh Theology of Liberation. Delhi, 1991
  • 2. Glassnapp, Helmuth Von (Tr. E .F. J. Payne), Immortality and Salvation in Indian Religions. Calcutta, 1863
  • 3. Gutierrez, Gustavo, A Theology of Liberation. New York, 1983
  • 4. —., A Comparative Study of the Concept of Liberation in Indian Philosophy. Burhanpur, 1967
  • 5. Shivkumar, Muni, The Doctrine of Liberation in Indian Religions with special reference to Jainismm. Panchkula, 1981
  • 6. Sher Singh, The Philosophy of Sikhism. Lahore, 1944
  • 7. Radhakrishnan, S., Indian Philosophy. London, 1948
  • 8. Nripinder Singh, The Sikh Moral Tradition. Delhi, 1990

Above adapted from article By J. S. Neki