De-construction the discourse of liberation
The Sramanic sign moksha literarily means letting goâ. But what does that actually mean? It is, according to semiotics, the function of a surrounding system of signs to clarify such matters. Moksha has its meaning from being linked to other signs – to discourses. As soon as we start to look into these surrounding signs systems – discourses – we realise that, as they each employ different signs, they hence also have different understandings of moksha. In fact we realise that mostly they do not even use the sign moksha, but replace it with signs, which fit better into the existing overall sign system. Hence we see moksha being replaced with signs like nirvana, mukti, brahman realisation, isolating purusha, awakening, samadhi, in the West often called either enlightenment’ or liberation. The more we look into the surrounding signs, the more we wonder if we actually are talking about the same signification.
If we compare the various discourses, we can see that for the individual the sign of liberation promised in very vague terms the end of existential suffering’; a self’ or soul’ enjoying eternal bliss’ and lasting happiness. Sometimes other ineffable benefits were indicated. Overall it was a promise of significant transformation of existence – a subjective transformation beyond any imagination of this world. Each discourse framed and described this event in various and often conflicting ways. So the use-value was basically about some sort of significant transformation.
Transformation implies difference. Hence the liberated adept changed. He was said to be transformed into something that was highly culturally valued. In other words through this association – or link – to something positive, the liberatorâ was turned into a symbol. He was now a different person from the rest of society – a high ranking person. So the sign of liberation created and legitimised rank and difference – symbolic value. In summary the discourses of liberation constructed a new impressive social identity: a liberated one’ often called a living liberated’ (jivan-mukti); a super-human; a Buddha; a semi-divine guru; a saint of endless wisdom and compassion; and a mystical sage. In other words a nebulous figure beyond human comprehension.
Interestingly enough we can also see that the more fascinating and ambiguous the liberated one became, the more his symbolic value increased: i.e. the stronger was his capacity as a screen for symbolic projections. Let us now look at the specific tensions within liberation.