What do we seek when we resolve to tread the path to liberation? Liberation entails that there is bondage and therefore freedom manifests through being liberated. It is then our resolution to become free from our current state of bondage. Most basically this bondage is comprised of suffering.
What other motivation could there be for a person to seek liberation than to free themselves from a state of suffering and bondage. In Buddhism enlightenment is a release from the cycle of birth and death, freedom from samsara, the transcendence of the not-self. In Advaita Vedanta liberation is freedom from the delusion of maya, the shedding of the false self which reveals the Atman or true self. In both philosophies suffering is the root of bondage, or more precisely attachment to the false self that suffers.
I won’t comment on the Buddhist position since I’m not as familiar with its nuances however I can say something about Advaita and my approximation of its position. Within Advaita there is in reality no separate, individual self who is alone in this world and subject to suffering. Just as in Buddhism it is the transience of manifest reality that brings suffering to the perceived individual. But according to Advaita there is no jiva or individual self. The whole problem you are having is the mere belief that ‘you’ are here in this world and subject to all its harsh realities. It’s the whole “me against the world” mentality. In true there is only Brahman and “That art thou”.
When we set out on a path of sadhana practice we desire to set ourselves free from bondage to this belief that we are here suffering and we of course already intuitively know that this belief is false, yet we are seeming unable to break the chains of this bondage. How does this dilemma arise then? Basically it manifests in the mind. I like to call the mind a prismatic filter of sorts to illustrate the dilemma of the false self.
You see the basic substance of reality (if you can call it that) is consciousness or awareness. You and I possess this consciousness and you know you have it, you intuit that you are conscious and that you exist. If we were able to stay in this place of pure awareness, this free and open experience of reality there would be no suffering in the usual sense. The problem of suffering arises in the mind when it, as a prism of sorts, receives the pure white light of consciousness. Light enters the mind and like a prism splits that light into a rainbow of perceptions, colors, aspects – into dualities. The One free, pure, experience of unfettered reality becomes many.
This is not in itself a fault, it’s when we become attached to certain colors emitted by the prismatic mind that suffering then arises. The basic duality that arises in the individual mind is the separation into subject and object. What does this mean? As I said above, you know that you are conscious and you know that you exist. There is awareness and beingness. To the jivatman, the liberated person, these two aspects of reality are one. That is, knowing and being are one. But in the mind the thought comes up “I am aware, and I know that I am aware”. Being and knowledge as one indivisible experience split, as it were, into a subject ‘me’ knowing ‘I exist’ and then there comes knowledge of all other separate things that are not ‘me’.
Liberation is the convergence of being and knowing. Dividing them into two brings into existence both a separate self, what I call the “Self-Assertion” or sense of self (body, mind, ego, senses, feelings) and a separate world “out there”. All the strife and suffering experienced in the world is at root a battle in the individual mind to give reality to the mental belief in a collection of thoughts that I label ‘me’. The conflict between me and you is all about me being protected from dissolution. Maybe it doesn’t seem that simple but stop and think about this for a while. Nations go to war to defend themselves against annihilation which is the dissolution of their separate group identity. You and I do this in our personal relationships as well, such is why selflessness is regarded as the virtue of virtues.
So when we step onto the path of liberation we deeply desire to end not merely our personal suffering but the suffering we impose on the world. We wish to end the pervasive delusion that keeps us as well as our companions in this wonderful drama stuck on the wheel of samsara. The goal is not to destroy the mind and no longer think thoughts…the mind is a great tool for the enjoyment of this world, why get rid of it!? The goal in fact is to sever our attachment to the mind and its thought that it is a separate person in a world of separate objects. You can play the part of ‘me’ without ever having to suffer for it, you play the part to relieve the suffering of others perhaps, you use it to end the illusion of the world.
When you watch a movie you become totally immersed in it and you may even forget yourself for a moment identifying yourself with its world, but when it ends you always come back. There’s that thought “Ah, it was only a movie, that was fun for a moment!”. Life is the same way, we can enjoy being individual persons as long as we don’t become attached to that role and think we are really it. We don’t, as liberated souls, get hung up on the movie of ‘me’. Liberation is freedom from the suffering of being bound to the illusion of ‘me’ which resides in the prismatic mind. Then there is only being, consciousness, and bliss…these three are One…and you are That!