Saturday, June 2, 2018

What is the Sanskrit equivalent word for the English word 'enlightenment'?

Last updated on 6th June 2018

I am sharing this as a public post as I thought it may perhaps be of interest to some readers.

In response to a question on Facebook, about equivalent of the English word enlightenment in Sanskrit, I commented (slightly edited):

I think one of the typically used Sanskrit words for self-realization is Moksha. Atma-Sakshaatkaar is used in Maharashtra but I don't know whether that is a Marathi word only or is a Sanskrit word as well.

I don't know the etymology of the English/European word, enlightenment. I don't think most traditional Hindu scripture is into light as a metaphor for self-realization. As far as I have read (and can recall now), it is more of an insightful experience of knowing what is false (bhrama/illusion) and knowing what is eternal truth & changeless (awareness/consciousness/ ...).

The great metaphor used in Vedanta is the snake and the rope. The spiritually-ignorant person imagines the rope to be a snake as he/she is caught up in Maya. The spiritually-realized person realizes that what appears to be the snake is only a rope and thereby loses fear of the snake (Maya/world of Maya) and is content and peaceful in his knowledge of the rope.

The other popular metaphor is the dream experience and the waking experience where the dream is understood to be an unreal, figment of the mind experience. Neither of these two popular Vedanta metaphors have any light metaphor component in it.

Given below are some comments from my public Facebook post,, associated with this blog post:

Susan Baker wrote (and was OK with public sharing of her comments): Jyoti?

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: Interesting point Susan Baker. Jyoti means light. I don't think I have come across terms like somebody attaining to Jyoti in Indian languages to signify somebody being enlightened.

However, your comment reminded me of the phrase in a famous Hindu mantra - 'Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya'. Extracts from

The Pavamana Mantra (pavamāna meaning "being purified, strained", historically a name of Soma), also known as pavamāna abhyāroha (abhyāroha, lit. "ascending", being an Upanishadic technical term for "prayer") is a Hindu mantra introduced in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad.


The text of the mantra reads:

ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।,
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।,
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।,
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
asato mā sad gamaya,
tamaso mā jyotir gamaya,
mṛtyor mā amṛtaṃ gamaya,
Om shanti~ shanti~ shanti hi~~
This translates to:

Lead me from falsehood to truth,
Lead me from darkness to light,
Lead me from death to the immortality
Om peace peace peace

--- end extract ---

Ravi: Now this mantra is from the Upanishads and so part of Vedanta. The mantra, when chanted by spiritual aspirants seeking true knowledge and moksha (freedom from Maya and cycle of births & deaths), uses 3 metaphors for true knowledge & moksha - Truth (Sath), Light (Jyoti) and Immortality (Amrutam).

So clearly this is an example of Vedanta using light as a metaphor for self-realization/liberation. Thanks for your comment which reminded me of the above mantra which I myself have chanted as part of prayer, verbally and mentally, many times in my spiritual journey (in this life), but which I do not regularly chant nowadays.

Susan Baker wrote: Pranam. ,,,I sing a bhajan,,,,Anthar Jjyoti Namo
Paramatma Jyoti Namo ,,,,etc

Antharyami = In dweller of all ,indwelling Lord

Jyothi - light

Thanks so much for your explanation. Sai Ram

Susan Baker wrote: It says in my bhajan book,, ,meaning ::::
Bow to the light within, ,
The omnipresent light of God
Bow to the endless light,
The light That is
my very life ,,,
Bow to the indwelling Lord..
Our true Guru Sathya Sai

Also, Jesus said,,,,I am the light ,the light is in me,,
I find it very interesting ,,,

Ravi S. Iyer wrote (slightly edited): Susan Baker, Here's a great bhajan (and video with Swami - Sathya Sai - video clips) that I love and speaks of Akhand (indivisible) Jyoti and Divya (divine) Jyoti. Around 5 mins, Akhand Jyoti Jalao Sai Man Mandir Mein,

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: Jyoti - light as a wonderful aspect of the Lord, of divinity, to be worshipped is very popular in Hindu culture. For example, the Sun-God (Surya Deva) is a very popular God to which worship is offered by Hindus over millennia. Part of my own name is Surya-Narayanan which is the Sun-God's name.

So as worship I think Jyoti is very common in Hindu culture. And it seems to me that in terms of lighting the lamp within, the idea is more of encouraging the growth of virtues like goodness, charity and love. But would that be referred to as enlightenment? I don't think so, at least in what I think is the commonly understood meaning of the term.

I think enlightenment signifies knowledge dawning upon oneself, true knowledge about the reality of oneself and the world/universe. That I think is equivalent to self-realization (Atma sakshaatkar/ Atma Anubhav) in Vedanta.

Great avatars, mystics and prophets sometimes have a different take. Your line about "Jesus said,,,,I am the light ,the light is in me,," is one example. Sathya Sai focused enormously on love. I mean, that word of love was driven home, again and again, in his public discourses. Not only did He say that his main attribute is Love, and that God is Love and Love is God, but He would refer to listeners of his discourses as PremaAtmaSwarupularas, which I would translate literally to 'Forms of Love-Self(atma)'!

So while some Sai bhajans as well as Hindu worship traditions do lay great importance to Jyoti (light), my considered opinion regarding Sathya Sai is that He focused on Love (rather than light) as the path (spiritual effort), the goal (self-realization) and the ultimate reality of existence (God). I don't think Vedanta lays such emphasis on Love. And given my limited reading of the Karma Kanda (ritual and worship related parts) of the Vedas, I think they also do not lay so much emphasis on Love.

Susan Baker wrote: Yes they don’t say anything on love ,,,Bhakti is the best way Sai Baba said.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: Susan Baker, I think the Vedas (Karma Kanda and Vedanta) imply love through some of their ***Great Statements*** (Maha Vakyas) like you are in all and all is in you. But they do not empasize it like the accounts of the Avatars (Bhagavata Purana, Ramayana) and other Bhakti related Hindu scripture where the major focus is on love of the devotee (Bhakta) for God and God's love for the devotee (Bhakta).

Saithra Leilani wrote: Mukti.. 😊

Vr Ganti wrote: Mukti is liberation

Saithra Leilani wrote: Liberation is all about being enlightened meaning you already know your real self, the nature of this transcient world, having known the purpose of your birth and being one with the source is I suppose enlightenment.

Vr Ganti wrote: No no

One gets enlightened while one is living - the way BUDHA got enlightened under the Banyan tree.

Saithra Leilani wrote: Yes.. That's what I meant.. A jivan muktha..(enlightenment while alive).. Like Paramahamsa yogananda, Shri Ramana maharishi, Sharadamma, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa..n Etc.. Etc..

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: Thanks for your inputs Saithra Leilani, Vr Ganti.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: An Indian correspondent wrote over email (and was OK with public sharing):

I am far from being an expert in these matters so please take my comments with this big reservation.

I thought moksha meant the liberation of the soul from the cycle of reincarnation. Enlightenment is what results in this liberation, or moksha.

I look forward with interest to seeing where your comments lead to and what other views there are.

Vr Ganti wrote: In my humble opinion Moksha may be the result of enlightenment. Once you get enlightened you realise the TRUTH and then become eligible for MOKSHA.

Thus is how I understand.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: Noted your view Vr Ganti sir. Thanks.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: Hmm. We (me surely included) seem to have got into a zone of jargon confusion. I thought of looking up wiki and other noted reference sources to help clear the jargon confusion.

First I think we need to know what the word 'enlightenment' means in the South Asian context. Note that enlightenment in the Western world context has one primary meaning as a reference to an age of reason in Western Europe. Short extracts from

The Enlightenment (also known as the Age of Enlightenment or the Age of Reason; ... was an intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century, "The Century of Philosophy".

The Enlightenment included a range of ideas centered on reason as the primary source of authority and legitimacy and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government and separation of church and state.
--- end wiki extract on Age of Enlightenment ---

But in the context of the question of this post, "What is the Sanskrit equivalent word for the English word 'enlightenment'?", I think it is understod that we are referring to South Asian context usage of the word enlightenment like that of Buddha's enlightenment.

Short extracts from :

The English term enlightenment is the western translation of the term bodhi, "awakening", which was popularised in the Western world through the 19th century translations of Max Müller. It has the western connotation of a sudden insight into a transcendental truth.

The term is also being used to translate several other Buddhist terms and concepts used to denote insight (prajna, kensho and satori); knowledge (vidhya); the "blowing out" (Nirvana) of disturbing emotions and desires and the subsequent freedom or release (vimutti); and the attainment of Buddhahood, as exemplified by Gautama Buddha.

What exactly constituted the Buddha's awakening is unknown. It may probably have involved the knowledge that liberation was attained by the combination of mindfulness and dhyāna, applied to the understanding of the arising and ceasing of craving. The relation between dhyana and insight is a core problem in the study of Buddhism, and is one of the fundamentals of Buddhist practice.

In the western world the concept of (spiritual) enlightenment has taken on a romantic meaning. It has become synonymous with self-realization and the true self and false self, being regarded as a substantial essence being covered over by social conditioning.
--- end extracts from wiki ---

Ravi: The last paragraph of the wiki extract above captures the enlightenment word meaning that we need in this discussion, very well. Enlightenment in our context refers to spiritual enlightenment and which is typically synonymous with/equated with self-realization.

So my view is that it is fair to view enlightenment in our context as self-realization.

Now comes the other aspect of the question which then becomes what is/are the Sanskrit equivalent word(s) for self-realization.

Given below are some extracts from

Self-realization is an expression used in Western psychology, philosophy, and spirituality; and in Indian religions. In the Western, psychological understanding it may be defined as the "fulfillment by oneself of the possibilities of one's character or personality." In the (South) Asian understanding, Self-realization is liberating knowledge of the true Self, either as the permanent undying Atman, or as the absence (sunyata) of such a permanent Self.
--- end wiki extracts ---

Ravi: From my Hindu beliefs, scripture and teachings of contemporary Hindu spiritual masters perspective, a slightly modified version of one line from the above wiki page extract captures it a nutshell quite well. "Self-realization is liberating knowledge of the true Self as the permanent undying Atman". I would add the word changeless as an essential attribute of the Atman/true Self. Further, the Hindu scripture and teachings of contemporary Hindu spiritual masters that I have read, disagrees with and disputes the sunyata view.

I think a well established view among Vedanta authors and readers is that the self-realization (enlightenment) achievement/event in the life of an individual involves liberating knowledge and experience of eternal and changeless Self/Atma/consciousness/awareness.

So my view/undrstanding is that the aspect of liberation is tied into the event of self-realization (spiritual enlightenment) and not a separate consequential result event/state flowing from self-realization. That is why the self-realization term is referred to as Moksha (and as Mukti too).

Some extracts from
Moksha (/ˈmoʊkʃə/; Sanskrit: मोक्ष, mokṣa), also called vimoksha, vimukti and mukti, is a term in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism which refers to various forms of emancipation, liberation, and release. In its soteriological and eschatological senses, it refers to freedom from saṃsāra, the cycle of death and rebirth. In its epistemological and psychological senses, moksha refers to freedom from ignorance: self-realization and self-knowledge.

In Hindu traditions, moksha is a central concept and the utmost aim to be attained through three paths during human life; these three paths are dharma (virtuous, proper, moral life), artha (material prosperity, income security, means of life), and kama (pleasure, sensuality, emotional fulfillment). Together, these four concepts are called Puruṣārtha in Hinduism.

In some schools of Indian religions, moksha is considered equivalent to and used interchangeably with other terms such as vimoksha, vimukti, kaivalya, apavarga, mukti, nihsreyasa and nirvana. However, terms such as moksha and nirvana differ and mean different states between various schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The term nirvana is more common in Buddhism, while moksha is more prevalent in Hinduism.

--- end wiki extracts ---

Ravi: My readings of Vedanta and commentaries on it by contemporary Hindu spiritual masters is that Moksha is primarily equated with liberating knowledge or self-realization. The freedom from cycle of birth and death is supposed to be a kind of after-effect but I am not clear about this. Karma gets into the picture and time required to go through remaining karma that one has to endure (unless the karma gets cancelled by divine power). The self-realized/liberated/JeevanMukta person is said to act in a Nishkaama way (without desire) due to which he/she does not acquire additional karmic fruit. But my readings of Vedanta and commentaries on it did not give a very clear picture about the aspect of freedom from cycle of birth and death associated with the event/stage of self-realization/(spiritual) enlightenment.

And then there are more Sanskrit/Indian language terms which perhaps map better literally to self-realization and self-realized beings, e.g. Atma Sakshatkaar, Atma Jnani/Brahma Jnani, Atma Bodha and Atma Anubhav.

Jnani is a somewhat common term in typical Vedanta commentaries that I have read, when referring to spiritually enlightened beings/self-realized beings. But I think Mukta, JeevanMukta and (person who has attained) Moksha are more commonly used in this context than Jnani. Jnana and Jnani, at times, have a connotation of scholarly knowledge which may not be fully backed by experience of self-realization. But Moksha and Mukti/Mukta ***do not*** have that connotation of scholarly knowledge not fully backed by experience of self-realization. A person who has attained Moksha or Mukti is said to have become self-realized. Period. Perhaps that's why Moksha and Mukti are more commonly used in Vedantic literature for self-realization.

To conclude, my view based on my readings of Vedanta is that (spiritual) enlightenment in the Hindu Vedantic context means self-realization. The common Sanskrit terms used for Hindu Vedantic context self-realization are Moksha and Mukti. Atma Sakshaatkar is a slightly less common term that I have come across for the same, and I think Atma Anubhav and Atma Jnana are also less common Sanskrit terms for self-realization/(spiritual) enlightenment.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: A couple of quotes from Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba discourse related to Moksha. From discourse given on 23rd February 2006 in Prasanthi Nilayam (Puttaparthi), :

It is said, Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandhamokshayo (mind is the cause for bondage and liberation of man). Both bondage and liberation occur due to the mind only.
Considering God as your everything and sole refuge, dedicate your senses to Him. This is an easy method to reach God. When you follow such an easy path, you will attain moksha (liberation). After all, what is moksha? Moha kshaya is moksha? (coming out of delusion is liberation). There is no use chanting “Ram, Ram, Ram” when your mind is full of moha (delusion)

--- end Sathya Sai discourse extracts ---

Ravi: I prefer to translate Moha to infatuation (with the world, in this case) than delusion (about the world). So Moha kshaya (destruction/dissolution) can be translated as destruction/dissolution of infatuation.

Perhaps I equate self-realization to Moksha due to studying discourses of my beloved and revered Gurudev Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba like the above. I don't think he used terms like Atma Sakshaatkar or Atma Jnana or Atma Bodhi so much. I think he used the word Moksha frequently. And in the second extract above I think it is clear that Sathya Sai was referring to Moksha as "reaching God" (or attaining self-realization). I don't think he was using it to specifically mean escaping out of the cycle of repeated births & deaths (though that seems to be a consequence of being self-realized).

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: Some more discourse/writings extracts of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba related to Moksha (liberation from bondage to illusory world/self-realization):


Once, a king summoned an assembly of scholars in his court. He posed the following question before them: “Here you are scholars who have mastered the scriptures. Which of you is capable of attaining Moksha (Liberation)?" Not one of them, despite their scholarship, had the courage and confidence to stand up and give the answer. The whole assembly was stunned into silence. At that stage, one lay member of the public got up and said: “Maharaja, I may possibly attain Moksha" ("Nenu pothe povachchunu"). All the pandits felt outraged by this impudent claim from an unschooled person, who was totally ignorant of any of the scriptures and had done no spiritual exercise whatever. They wondered on what basis such a person could make such a claim.

The Maharaja asked the man: “On what grounds do you make your claim? It appears to be an insult to all the scholars present here." The man replied: “Maharaja! Please forgive me. When I said, Nenu pothe, povachchunu,' its meaning is: If the 'I' goes, liberation can be attained.' This is what I meant."

When the Aham ("I") acquires a form, it develops into the Ego. The lesson of this story is that only when man gets rid of the body-consciousness, he will be fit for achieving liberation. It is the identification with the body that promotes the sense of Ahamkara (I-am-the doer). As long as one suffers from egoism, his intelligence will not shine.
----end extract(s) ---

[Ravi: the 'Nenu pothe povachchunu' phrase is in Telugu and has a delightful pun on Nenu. From what I have seen and heard live of Sathya Sai discourses in Sai Kulwant Hall, Puttaparthi, I found that he used to enjoy such Telugu puns.]


Today, for example, we had the Shaasthri, who spoke of the four Purushaarthas (goals of human life), as mentioned in the Bhagavadh Geetha, which itself is the essence of the Upanishadhs, the latter part of the Vedhas called Vedhaantha. Of these goals, the final consummation is moksha; that is the very crux of the problem of life. Moksha means liberation from bondage to both joy and grief, which are the obverse and reverse of the same coin. Moksha is the recognition of the truth; but, though it is so simple, it required the cultivation of viveka, vairaagya and vichakshana (discrimination, detachment and ability), to know the Truth and escape from the temptation to hug falsehood. Viveka is necessary to decide what is dharma---the very first of the Purushaarthas. Each one must decide for himself the dharma he must choose for his uplift; this required viveka, the recognition of the permanently beneficial source of pure and lasting joy.
----end extract(s) ---


The Vedhas lay down four goals before men: Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha. But they have. to be pursued in pairs. Dharma and Artha (virtue and wealth) together and Kaama and Moksha (desire and liberation) together. That is to say, wealth has to be earned through righteousness, and desire has to be for liberation. But, man takes these four separately, and loses all.

He puts them into separate compartments and adopts distinct plans to achieve them. So, his personality is not integrated; he leads a broken life. He gives up dharma and moksha as beyond him and wastes his life pursuing sheer artha and kaama. They lead him into ruin.
----end extract(s) ---


The fulfilment of life consists in the realisation of the Atma (Atma-sakshatkara). To get this realisation, one should be entirely free from impulses (vasanas). Liberation (moksha) is, in the true sense of the term, liberation from the bondage of these impulses. These tendencies are of two types: beneficent and maleficent. The beneficent tendencies are saturated with holiness; the maleficent ones feed the mind and make it more and more uncontrollable and unsteady; they spread and strengthen the desire for objective pleasure.
How to destroy ignorance and develop wisdom (sujnana)? That is the question! The answer is through meditation. The conquest of ignorance, ego, attachment, and impulse brings about liberation  moksha) for the individual (jivi).
Of course, even pure desires are a bond. But they are not hindrances, however many they may be. A thorn is removed by another and both are thrown out afterward, right? So also, when impure impulses are overcome through the influence of pure impulses, one has to outgrow both. This means that even the purest of impulses, the craving for liberation (moksha), has to disappear in time. Only then can you become That. A shackle is a shackle, whether it be of iron or gold. One has to be free from both. That is to say, one should attain a stage when neither good nor bad will attract or repel.

Anyone aiming at the realisation of God should practise the diminishing of impulses, the curbing of the mind, and the understanding of the fundamental principle. One of these is not enough for liberation (moksha). In the liberated soul (jivanmuktha), impulses persist, but only as fried seeds. They will not cause further births.
----end extract(s) ---

Ravi: The above extracts show that Sathya Sai focused on the word Moksha as part of the four purusharthas of man, which seem to be highlighted in key Hindu scripture (see for details). And they clearly show that for Sathya Sai, Moksha was liberation from bondage of (worldly) impulses of man and realizing that one's reality is the divine Atma (part and parcel of God).

And that for a person who has attained moksha (liberated soul/Jivanmuktha) the impulses that persist are 'fried seeds' and do not cause further births.

Ravi S. Iyer wrote: A comment (slightly edited) I made on a private chat conversation on Facebook, a few minutes ago:

Well, Sai Baba would have used that word (Atma Jnana) on occasion (to refer to enlightenment). And he seems to have also used the word Brahma Jnana. But I think he used the word Moksha more often as it is one of the four Purusharthas of life in Hindu scripture and tradition - Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.

So it is not that Sai Baba did NOT use Atma Jnana for self-realization/enlightenment. I think he did. But he used the word Moksha more often. So Atma Jnana is not wrong as a Sanskrit equivalent word for self-realization/enlightenment. However, Moksha is also NOT wrong as a Sanskrit equivalent word for self-realization/enlightenment.

But Moksha also has other meanings which brings in some confusion. I think in Sanskrit it literally means liberation/freedom and so, taking a superficial view, one may say it is NOT wisdom/enlightenment. But I think that Vedanta teachers including Sathya Sai equate Moksha with liberation from worldly impulses and illusory world (Maya) by knowing & experiencing the truth of the eternal and changeless divine Atma. So that usage of the word Moksha maps to self-realization/enlightenment.

And Moksha also seems to have a meaning of liberation from cycle of births & deaths.

So the multiple meanings associated with Moksha do create some confusion. Whereas Atma Jnana is a more precise word easily mapping to Self realization (or Self Wisdom to view it more literally). However, I think that Moksha is more often used by most Vedantic teachers including Sathya Sai for self-realization and we have to come to terms with that aspect of usage of the word Moksha. This is my view. I could be wrong. But I think I have based it on fairly solid ground. Thanks.

[I thank wikipedia, and and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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