The supreme goal of life, according to Hinduism, is moksha, or liberation. Liberation is the realization of the soul's identity with Brahman, the absolute reality. It is not merely the cessation of suffering; it is the positive experience of great bliss. Hindu scriptures designate this realization as Self-knowledge. Hinduism holds that Self-knowledge alone can conquer death. The Katha Upanishad says:
What is here the same is there; and what is there, the same is here. He goes from death to death who sees any difference here. Having realized Atman, which is soundless, intangible, formless, undecaying, and likewise tasteless, eternal, and odorless; having realized That which is without beginning and end, beyond the Great, and unchanging-one is freed from the jaws of deaths.
Self-knowledge and immortality are synonymous, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:
Whosoever in this world, O Gargi, without knowing this Imperishable, offers oblations, performs sacrifices, and practices austerities, even for many thousands of years, finds all such acts but perishable. Whosoever, O Gargi, departs from this world without knowing this Imperishable is miserable. But he, O Gargi, who departs from this world after knowing the Imperishable is a knower of Brahman.
Immortality is not the result of any spiritual discipline. It is a revelation. Spiritual disciplines purify the heart, and in the mirror of the pure heart the immortal Self is reflected.
Self-knowledge is not miraculous, nor can it be achieved vicariously. It is a burning realization that totally transforms the person. The knower of Brahman becomes Brahman. Hinduism speaks of three things that, taken together, can verify Self-knowledge: sruti, or faith in the scriptures; yukti, or reason; and anubhuti, or personal experience. Scriptures, according to Hinduism, are only compendiums of the direct experiences of past sages and saints. Blind belief in them makes a person dogmatic. Then reason, Hinduism contends, begins with doubt and ends in doubt, and it cannot prove or disprove Self-knowledge. A person who depends solely on reason always remains a doubter and may even turn into a cynic. Personal experience can be deceptive and delusive, and therefore it cannot give decisive proof of Self-knowledge. Self-knowledge, in order to be authentic, must be negatively corroborated by reason, testified to by the scriptures, and also felt as a deep experience of life. According to Hinduism, there are three further tests of Self-knowledge: First, it is avadita-an experience of enlightenment that is not contradicted by any other subsequent experience. Second, it is aviruddha-an experience that does not come into conflict with our everyday experience of the world of reality, just as our adulthood experiences do not negate those of our childhood. Third, it is sarve bhute hiteratah-always conducive to the welfare of all beings.
Self-knowledge, the Upanishads point out, must be attained in this very life. One who dies in bondage, will remain bound after death. Immortality, in order to be real, must be experienced before death. The Katha Upanishad says: "If a man is able to realize Brahman here, before the falling asunder of his body, then he is liberated; if not, he is embodied again in the created worlds." Self-knowledge is the consummation of all desires. According to the Hindu scriptures, one should give up individual self-interest for the sake of the family, the family for the sake of the country, the country for the sake of the world, and everything for the sake of Self-knowledge.
The liberated soul is the free soul, who through his life and actions demonstrates the reality of God. Free from all desires and egotism, and ever-established in the knowledge of the immortal nature of his soul, he regards the pain and pleasure of all others as his own pain and pleasure. Though living in the world of diversity he is never deluded by it. He never makes a false step or sets a bad example. Virtues such as humility, unselfishness, purity, and kindness, which he practiced for self-purification, now adorn him like so many jewels. He does not seek them; they cling to him. A free soul wears no outward mark of holiness. As a fish swimming in water leaves no mark behind, as a bird flying in the sky leaves no footprint, so a free soul moves about in this world. While living in the body, he may experience disease, old age, and decay, but having recognized them as belonging to the body, he remains undisturbed and even-minded. For him, the world is a stage and his own life is a play. He enjoys the play and the stage, knowing them to be so.