Passover

The narrative of the Exodus, the journey from bondage to freedom, symbolizes the central theme of the ancient Indian philosophy of Vedanta.

Religions may be broadly understood as comprising two aspects: philosophy and ritual. The former presents universal truths about the human experience, and practical ways to achieve greater prosperity, inner peace, and spiritual growth. Ritual serves as a vehicle by which the philosophical content is retained and transmitted.

Judaism’s annual celebration of Passover commemorates the Israelites’ liberation from slavery by God in ancient Egypt, and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. This narrative of the Exodus, the journey from bondage to freedom, symbolizes the central theme of the ancient Indian philosophy of Vedanta.

Vedanta asserts that the natural State of every human being is essentially free. The Kaivalyopanishad describes one’s authentic Self as avimukta,1 never not-liberated. But our preoccupation with worldly acquisition and enjoyment, “the two main human motivations,”2 eclipses authentic Self-knowledge. We instead assume our physical, emotional, and intellectual personalities to be our true identity. As a result, their constraints and limitations define our subjective reality. We take the mask to be the face; conflate the character with the actor. Thus we trade permanent freedom for the promise of temporary gratification.

This inauthentic-self is referred to as ego. We thus suffer a plague of ego-centric desires and their attendant agitation and negative emotion. These desires constitute emotional shackles, keeping us dependent on factors outside ourself for a sense of satisfaction. “The desires thus generated use the body to find sensual pleasure. Use the mind to indulge in emotional joy. The intellect to seek rational satisfaction.3 Refuge comes by following the path of sadhana, self-development disciplines, laid down by spiritual trailblazers. “These disciplines protect the mind from the onslaughts of desires, and render it steady.”4 And when sadhana intensifies, it leads us to the unalloyed Freedom that is our birthright.

However, the path to Freedom is not for the faint-hearted. The ego persists, and the seeker may experience moments of fear and trepidation. It requires a firm conviction, consistent faith, and tireless effort to reach the Goal.

It starts with gratitude. The ego, never satisfied, quickly loses sight of the beauty of life that surrounds us. But complacency and entitlement wane in the atmosphere of gratitude. And dissipate as gratitude flourishes into the mature form of devotion. The heart fills with awe and wonder, aścārya,5 at the marvel and miracle of creation.

Humility opens receptivity to knowledge, and thus we turn to philosophical inquiry. “All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so.6 The intellect pursues the Truth, soaring to grander visions of who we are and who we can become.

Buoyed by gratitude and devotion, and fired with the ideal of Self-knowledge, we express what we have learned as action. In further contradiction to ego, we dedicate unselfish action to the welfare of an ever-widening in-group. Thus the Bhagavad Gita admonishes humanity, “so should the wise one act, wishing the welfare of the community.7

Finally, though every person’s journey is solitary, one cannot find Liberation alone. A community of the like-minded supports our own efforts towards the Goal. We draw from the wisdom, love, and energy of others, and share what we have in return. Together and alone, each seeker traverses the path to become established in a new state, one free from the persecutions of an ever-demanding ego.

From the company of the good arises non-attachment, from non-attachment arises freedom from delusion, from non-delusion arises absolute steadfastness, from absolute steadfastness arises liberation in life.8


1^ A. Parthasarathy (Trans.). Choice Upanishads. Kaivalyopanisad, II.1

2^ A. Parthasarathy (Trans.). Bhaja Govindam, Preface

3^ A. Parthasarathy. Vedanta Treatise: The Eternities. Ch.1

4^ A. Parthasarathy (Trans.). Bhagavad Gita. VI.19

5^ A. Parthasarathy (Trans.). Bhagavad Gita. II.29

6^ Cloud Atlas. (2012). Film.

7^ A. Parthasarathy (Trans.). Bhagavad Gita. III.23

8^ A. Parthasarathy (Trans.). Bhaja Govindam,verse 9