I have heard the word "Moksha" in Hinduism. I know it is related to death and birth. What exactly it is?
Moksha in Hinduism and Nirvana in Buddhism are closely related concepts. One of the core beliefs of Hinduism is re-incarnation.
Everyone is subjected to this never ending cycle of misery and is bound to this suffering by the laws of Karma. Again, Karma mean 'your deeds'. It can be good or bad and you will be given the fruits of your Karma in your next life.
is called attaining Moksha or Nirvana.
To understand the Moksha, one should first understand the concept of Samsara and life cycle of soul. Samsara means cycle of repetitive birth-rebirth. Jiva gets birth according to his past Karma, then lives, experience fruits of Karma, does new Karma, dies and again born according to previous Karma. Which is subjected to birth-rebirth in different species and lokas also. These is considered the bondage of Karma and hence suffering in Samsara.
Moksha/Mukti means permanent liberation from this bondage and Samsara. It's said who attains Moksha never has to return in Samsara. So, unlike Samsara which is subjected to continuous changes, Moksha is considered eternal, free from suffering and bondage. That's why Moksha is believed to be ultimate goal.
From Katha Upanishad:
यस्त्वविज्ञानवान् भवत्यमनस्कः सदाऽशुचिः ।
न स तत् पदमाप्नोति संसारं चाधिगच्छति ।। 1.3.7 ।।
1-III-7. But whoso is devoid of a discriminating intellect, possessed of an unrestrained mind and is ever impure, does not attain that goal, but goes to samsara.
यस्तु विज्ञानवान् भवति समनस्कः सदा शुचिः ।
स तु तत् पदमाप्नोति यस्माद्भूयो न जायते ।। 1.3.8 ।।
1-III-8. But whoso is possessed of a discriminating intellect and a restrained mind, and is ever pure, attains that goal from which he is not born again.
From Bhagvad Gita:
अव्यक्तोऽक्षर इत्युक्तस्तमाहुः परमां गतिम्।
यं प्राप्य न निवर्तन्ते तद्धाम परमं मम।।8.21।।
8.21 What is called the Unmanifested and the Imperishable, That they say is the highest goal. They who reach It do not return (to this Samsara). That is My highest abode (place or state).
There are various paths called Margas (namely Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, Sharanagati) for attaining Moksha.
Actually the true self of Jiva is Atma which is described in Bhagavad-Gita as follows:
2.20 It is not born, nor does It ever die; after having been, It again ceases not to be; unborn, eternal, changeless and ancient, It is not killed when the body is killed.
2.21 Whosoever knows It to be indestructible, eternal, unborn and inexhaustible, how can that man slay, O Arjuna, or cause to be slain?
2.22 Just as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on new ones, so also the embodied Self casts off worn-out bodies and enters others which are new.
This true self is to know and realize.
According to Vedanta the only way to attain Moksha is Know & Realize Brahman. One who know & realize Brahman attains the Param Satya and Moksha. From ShvetaShvatar Upanishad:
III-8: I have realized this Great Being who shines effulgent like the sun beyond all darkness. One passes beyond death only on realizing Him. There is no other way of escape from the circle of births and deaths.
I recommend to read the story of Nachiketa from Katha Upanishad to understand the concept of Moksha. Nachiketa asked to explain the death and existence of soul after death from deity of death and the deity of death preached how and why ignorant people suffer into Samsara how can one attain the Moksha.
1-I-20. This doubt as to what happens to a man after death - some say he is, and some others say he is not, - I shall know being taught by thee. Of the boons, this is the third boon.
1-III-15. By knowing that which is soundless, touchless, formless, un-decaying, so also tasteless, eternal, odourless, beginningless, endless, subtler than Mahat and constant, man is liberated from the jaws of death.
If you go into deeper, the philosophy of Moksha is interpreted differently according to the school of philosophy viz. Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta etc. Among them worth to mention is Advaita & Vishishtadvaita.
According to Advaita, Jiva (Individual soul) is Brahman (Supreme soul) and hence self-realization leads you to Brahman-realization and to Moksha ultimately. According to Vaishnava, there are 5 types of Moksha/Mukti: Salokya, Sarsti, Samipya, Sarupya and Ekatva.
The Moksha described by Yoga and Advaita is often refereed as Kaivalya.
Moksha is ultimate liberation. This is the goal of human life. Moksha is the liberation of the soul from the cycles of birth and death; thereafter, it remains eternally in the service of God in His abode.
Moksha is when the causal body is destroyed and the pure ãtmã achieves everlasting bliss in the worship of God. The word causal body implies that it is the cause of the jiva having to undertake a physical body and bear out its destiny in accordance to its karmas. It is only through the grace of God or the God-enlightened Sãdhu (guru) that one’s kãran sharir is dissolved and moksha is achieved. Penance, austerities, yoga, yagnas (ceremonial sacrifices), donations, and other pious actions do not directly give moksha. The fruit of doing these pious deeds is the contact and association with God and the God-enlightened S ãdhu. Once such association with God and the God-enlightened Sãdhu has been achieved, understanding their true form, following their commands, and imbibing dharma, gnãn, vairãgya, and bhakti earns the jiva their grace and thus ultimate moksha.
When an ãtmã achieves moksha, God grants it a divine body. With this divine body it resides in the abode of God with infinite other liberated souls. Here it enjoys everlasting bliss in worshipping God. The happiness from infinite universes put together pales into insignificance in front of the bliss of God experienced by these liberated souls. In His divine abode, God grants the ãtmã powers and a form that is similar to His own. Yet, the ãtmã is distinct from God and forever retains a relationship of servitude towards God. In fact, such powers bear no attraction to these liberated souls because their experience of worshipping God brings infinite times more bliss than the exercise of any powers.
What Moksha means in layman's words, is that you get free from the cycle of rebirth.
A short description of rebirth, if you don't know about it:
In Hinduism, it is believed that you consist of two things, one is a soul, which is indestructible. No harm can be done to the soul whatsoever. The other is your body. It is destroyed to soil after you die. Your soul then gets free from your body and goes to another body, a newborn baby! This is called rebirth.
This cycle continues on. Every soul has to pass through several (8,400,000 * +) yonies or species. Then and only then do you get a human form. (The soul inside a human is the same as that of a soul inside an ant).
Your soul going to the holy abode of God.
If your actions transcend karma to become akarma, you can achieve Moksha. Your soul then doesn't go to any other body after dying, it goes to the holy abode of God. You serve him there, and you don't suffer from the wrath and tears of this world. You become free.
There are five kinds of liberation (moksha): sayuja, salokya, sarupya, sarsti, samipya (in increasing order of opulence).
- sayuja - merging into spiritual existence without an identity
- salokya - obtaining an eternal, all-knowing and blissful form on the planet of God
- sarupya - that form is human
- sarsti - in opulence similar to God (eternal spiritual palace)
- samipya - in constant presence of The Lord.
The 1st one happens in brahmajyoti (the destination of monists, shaivites), the latter four - on vaikunthas (the destination of ordinary vaishnavas).
Here is an article by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Moksha or Enlightenment:
Enlightenment or evolution has got two steps. The first step is from becoming somebody to nobody. It is not getting stuck in something or somebody. You get stuck being somebody in two cases - either you are too special or you are hopeless. People get stuck in the seat. If you don't give them a proper seat, that's it. That pushes their button. “What difference does it make if I sit on the sofa or on the carpet? I remain what I am.” Meditation is from being somebody to becoming nobody. Dissolving of ego is from somebody to nobody.
The second step is from nobody to everybody. That is the state where you feel oneness with everybody, you feel that you are a part of everyone and everyone is a part of you. That is the reason why Jesus said, "If you have to go to my Father, there is no other way, you have to go through me and me alone." Krishna said the same thing to Arjuna. He addresses him in three terms. First he says, "Surrender to Him who lives in everybody's heart". Then he says, "Just surrender to me." And then he says, "Surrender to that divinity that is deep in yourself and get out of this illusion of ‘me’ and ‘you’ and all the separation.”
The whole universe is one organism, one living Being. And each mind is just a part of that. This is the highest knowledge, the universal truth. You are in everybody. Only then the real service also begins. That service is really authentic. You see someone suffering and you feel you are suffering too or you see somebody getting hurt, and you also feel the pain.
See, the body is decaying. Whatever you do, your body is perishable. The direction of body is towards perishing, is towards decay. And the direction of your soul should be towards the immortal, the non-changing, imperishable. As you grow older, your mind should mature and look towards that eternal something that is undying, that doesn't age. That is deep in you: the spirit.
There is so much suffering in the world and that's why we need to be very active in giving this knowledge to as many people as possible. You can. All those who have learned meditation, and all those who have not learned meditation also, just get together, do some reading and satsang, meditate together, eat together; share lives together. Once in fifteen days, once in a month, have a sort of community get-together. And talk about knowledge. Instead of gossiping or talking something just trivial, why not talk about knowledge, wisdom? Putting your mind into something that is eternal is worth doing.
We need to improve the quality of life. Just look at the children when they are in kindergarten, in nursery school; there is so much joy, there is so much happiness, celebration in their life. And, as they grow older, when they go to high school, see how they are? Do they grow in joy, in bliss, in celebration, or are they going towards violence, hatred, unfriendly behavior, stress, frustration, agitation and dullness? Is this what we are doing to the children? And we spend thousands of dollars to bring this suffering on to them. And this we call as education? Losing all the human qualities is called education! That's ridiculous, no?
And this is not an instance here and there. This is widespread, nearly the same all over the globe. Maybe not so much in developing countries but especially in all the developed countries and metropolitan cities - there is absolutely no human quality at all being expressed. I wouldn't say they have died out. They are there but are never expressed. So there is such frustration, such pain, such suffering all over and we need to do something about it.
Simply saying moksha is the permanent liberation of a jiva from the cycle of death and birth. As per Hinduism it is the fourth and final objective of every Human, the other three being Dharma (right action), Artha (earning money) and Kama (procreation). All these four (Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha) are known as four purusartha (objective or exertion) of a human being in Hinduism.