The ultimate freedom has been called moksha because in that state there are no limitations. The ultimate freedom has been called nirvana because the “I” does not exist there, one’s individual existence disappears there and only existence remains. When I say “I am” I have to use two words, I and am. We call it nirvana because in that moment the “I” disappears and only the “am”, the “am-ness” remains. There is no sense of “I” there, there is only is-ness. And we also call it kaivalya because in this moment only I am. “Only I am” means that everything, all, is contained in me. The whole sky is within me, the moon and the stars all move within me. Worlds are created and dissolved within me. This “I” has expanded and become one with the cosmos. This “I” has become the brahman, the ultimate reality. Hence, it is called kaivalya.
This Kaivalya Upanishad is a search for this ultimate freedom, an inquiry and an exploration into the path of this inquiry.
It begins with a prayer. It will be good to understand this too, because generally, any journey should begin with effort, not with prayer; with endeavor, not with prayer. But this Upanishad begins with a prayer, and it is very meaningful.
The first thing is that what we are searching for will not be found by your effort. But this does not mean that it will be found without your effort, either. This is where there is a small difficulty, and this is the knot, the complexity of all religion, of all spiritual discipline: what you are searching for will not be found only through your effort, and it will also not be found without your effort. It will not be found through your effort because what you are searching for is too vast for you.
It is as if a man who is imprisoned in a jail decides to search for freedom; as if a prisoner, dependent and chained, tries to search for the open sky. What he is searching for is too big, too vast, and his capacity is too limited. If his capacity were not limited he would not be a prisoner in the first place; he would not be in jail at all. If his capacity were not limited, who would have been able to put chains on his hands? Who would have been able to shackle him? Who would have been able to create a prison around him? He is limited, weak; that’s why he is in a prison. “He is in prison” is a statement about his limitations. Hence, nothing will be possible through his own efforts alone. If it were possible only through his efforts, he would not be in prison in the first place.
But this does not mean that freedom will happen without his efforts, either. Because if a prisoner just accepts his chains and goes to sleep, then no power in the world can free him. He cannot get free alone, on his own, and even the greatest power can’t free him without his cooperation. So let us understand this most complex and profound problem of religion from the very beginning.
Man can become free, but he will also have to make efforts. But even before he makes any effort, he will have to invoke the power of one greater than himself. Even before making the effort, he will have to pray. His effort will begin with prayer. You can say that prayer is to be his first effort.
But a prayer does not look like an effort. Prayer means “You do it for me,” prayer means “You help me,” prayer means “You hold my hand,” prayer means “You pull me out.” If the prayer stops at this, then too it will not accomplish anything. If the prisoner prays and then goes back to sleep, then too he will not be able to get out of the prison. Prayer is only the beginning of an ongoing effort.
Prayer is needed, but it is not enough. Effort is a must, but it is not enough. Where prayer and effort join hands, a colossal energy is born which makes even the impossible, possible.