Almost every human must have been confronted by this question, 'Who Am I?'. Some may have found the right answer and many just let this thought go by without realizing how imperative it is to answer it. Why is it so important to answer this question?
If we do not understand who we are and what our aim in life is, we will continue to wander towards the edges of this life in search of 'something' that will give us 'complete happiness', peace and tranquility. The mind may assume that this 'something' could be material like money, property, person or even power. It may also be an object beyond the material realm, something more subtle and spiritual in nature.
Unless we find the answer to our true identity, our goal, and the means to acquire it, a void will remain inside us. No matter how much you feed the senses and the mind with all the material pleasures dispensable to us, a feeling of emptiness hangs heavy within, that life remains unfulfilled.
It is the experience of almost every person, that mere material objects cannot completely satisfy the mind. It may provide temporary happiness, but will either consume the person completely or leave him dissatisfied after a while, making him want more of the same thing. Hence, this short-lived mirage of happiness is not what we truly seek.
Therefore, to quench the inner thirst, it is essential for every individual to sincerely seek the answer to the more profound questions in life. One must recognize this inner calling for true knowledge and not fall prey to procrastination. This is the very beginning of our spiritual journey for the 'Absolute Truth'.
Where do we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go when die? Since time immemorial, these are also some of the most debated questions that scores of sacred texts, manuscripts and religious books have attempted to answer. Renowned philosophers, scholars, theologists, historians, and even scientists have propounded a variety of theories. Yet, very few have been able to provide a universally acceptable answer.
The most comprehensive and decisive answer to these questions is provided in the divine scriptures of Sanātan dharma, the eternal religion. The original name of Hinduism is Sanātan dharma. Sanātan means eternal and 'dharma' means those actions, thoughts and practices that promote social, cultural and economic harmony in the world and ensure God-realization.
Standing tall amongst all the scriptures of the world, The Vedas, Upaniṣhads, the Smṛitis, the Purāṇas, Darśhan śhāstras, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayan, the Bhāgavatam as well as the writing of many saints, āchāryas and Jagadgurus, reveal the complete knowledge for the sincere, faithful and discerning.
Click here for an introduction about the scriptures of Sanatan dharma
The concept of eternity is difficult to grasp since our conception of time is limited. We are unable to reconcile the notion of something or someone being eternal that has no beginning or end. Our modern scientific method of learning and thinking does not lend itself favourably to believe facts such as, 'God is eternal' or 'the scriptures' are eternal. We always look for a beginning and an end. The mind is sceptical by nature.
But the spiritual world, which governs the material world is an eternal realm beyond the immediate grasp of the material mind which we have. It would not be possible to fathom or comprehend it unless we are given a Divine intellect. Hence, it is best to put our complete faith and belief in the holy scriptures, the saints and the Guru during the learning process. Just as we trust our teacher in school during our kindergarten stages without questioning too much, it will be beneficial to trust the facts of spiritual wisdom as presented.
These doubts will slowly disappear as the facts present themselves, falling into place like a giant puzzle, to unravel the philosophical truth of the spiritual realm at the opportune moment.
When a person is asked to introduce himself, he would say, 'I am Krishna'. That is the person's name, not his true identity. If we continue to question him in the same fashion, his answers would mostly talk about his country of origin, profession, state, class, religion, etc. If prodded more, his exasperated answer would be, 'I am a human being!' He cannot go beyond that since he does not know any more about himself.
It is evident that people identify themselves with the body, their occupation, country, class or religion. But who is the true 'I'?
When we say, 'I am sick'. It is the body that is sick not the real 'you'.
'I am thinking'. It is the brain that is thinking. We constantly use terms such as, 'I feel', 'I see', etc. Here we see people identifying themselves with the mind and the intellect.
It is clear that our perception of 'I' keeps changing. Sometimes it is a name, then the body then the country then occupation, the species, and sometimes the mind. It is not constant.
When a person dies, we say, 'He has left this world.' That might appear as a strange statement because we can clearly see the body of the person in front of our eyes. Then who has 'left this world'? We could not see any entity leave the body.
The person who left this world is the true 'I'. That invisible 'I' is the real identity of each person. That 'I' is the soul. It is also referred to as 'spirit' in western philosophical tenets. The soul provides the 'life and breath' in each person. It is the life giving force that enlivens a person and powers the intellect, mind, senses and every cell in the body.
The consciousness in a body is due to the presence of the soul. Without the soul, the body is but a mass of flesh and bones that will decompose rapidly. We can perceive the soul by the presence of consciousness in the body.
This consciousness does not exist in matter nor can it be created in the laboratory. Scientists can manipulate matter to create different forms. However, they cannot make matter conscious. Matter is thus insentient, or lifeless, while all living creatures are termed sentient, or possessing life. Consciousness is thus the evidence of the soul.
The soul is a part of God's own energy, known as Taṭasthā Śhakti. According to the scriptures, God possesses innumerable powers and three of them are considered as the most important. Swaroop Śhakti, Maya Śhakti and Taṭasthā Śhakti.
'I' reside inside a body and leave when it is time to take on another body. This insight about the soul's journey from one body to another lends affirming credence to the concept of
“The soul is situated in the heart.” Yet, it is not locked to the heart. It is referred to as atma in the scriptures. During a heart-transplant, the soul would continue to reside in the heart region, even if the heart were removed and replaced.
Although it is situated in one place, the soul spreads its consciousness throughout the body. This is just as a light-bulb remains in one place, while its light spreads throughout the room. The soul too, while being seated in the heart, enlivens the entire body.
It is now clear that 'I' am a soul and not the body. 'I' am eternal and indestructible. 'I' am a part or a fragment of thehimself. Just as a drop of water is part of the ocean, the soul is a part of God.
Science tell us that the body consists of trillions of cells. These cells die and regenerate in a constant cycle. The process of regeneration changes the whole body within a period of seven years. Yet, one remains the same person, despite constant change of the body. The Vedas teach us that within the body is the unchanging atma, or soul. That is the real 'I', the real self.
The body is material, while the atma is spiritual and immortal, like God.
"The soul is neither born, nor does it ever die; nor having once existed, does it ever cease to be. The soul is without birth, eternal, immortal, and ageless. It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed."
What we term as “death” is merely the soul changing bodies. For the soul, there is neither birth nor death. There was never a time when it did not exist, nor will there ever be a time when it will cease to be. The Vedic scriptures state:
As a man sheds worn-out garments and wears new ones, likewise (at the time of death), the soul casts off its worn-out body and enters into a new one. The body is like a cloth for the atma. Every morning, you take off your old clothes and put on new ones.
Similarly, when the body becomes unfit for the atma to reside in any longer, the soul leaves the body. It is then given a new body in accordance with its karmas (accumulated thoughts and actions). This process of giving up the old body is looked upon as “death,” and the process of taking on a new body is called “birth.” In many cultures, the distinction between the soul and body is not clear. Thus, upon someone’s death, they bury the body and assume that the person is lying in the grave. However, the soul is not in the grave; it has left for its destination to another body. What is buried in the grave will soon decay and turn into mud.
Like God, the soul is eternal in nature. It was not created one day. If it were created at one point in time, as per the laws of physics, it may also be destroyed or transformed in the future. But we have never heard, seen, read or witnessed a soul being destroyed or transformed into another form of energy. Moreover, it is impossible to destroy God's own power as it belongs to the all-powerful God himself. Hence, the soul is eternal since God is eternal and is a part of God's own energy.
Since the soul is an eternal part of God, it naturally seeks God.
This profound śhlok is from the 11th Canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, says,
The soul has been forgetful of its servitor and protector Shree Krishna since eternity. It has turned its back towards God. Hence, Maya Śhakti has engulfed the soul. If ever the soul decides to turn towards God, the veil of Maya shall be lifted and the soul will forever be liberated.
Earlier, we discussed the confusion that we all are in. We consider ourselves to be this body and seek happiness that is related to the body. If we confuse the body to be the self, it leads to compounding problems. This is like a compounding mistake in Mathematics. If you begin your calculations from the equation 2 + 2 = 5, all further multiplications will only compound the error. Similarly, if we think the body to be the self, our goal will be to give happiness to the body.
Most people are in the confusion that bodily happiness is their happiness. We continuously plan, “What should I eat to be happy? What should I see to be happy? What should I hear to be happy?” We think that if we get the objects of the bodily senses, they will give us happiness. However, no matter how much we try, the soul within remains unsatisfied.
We spend our entire lives searching for happiness and yet find no satisfaction. The simple logic is that the body is material and the world is also material. Worldly happiness enjoyed through the body can never satisfy the soul. If you take a fish out of the water, you may massage it in scented oil and put food down its throat, but this will never make it happy. The poor fish cannot speak, but if it could, it would say, “I do not want all this. If you want to make me happy, put me back into the water.”
The soul is Divine, and is a part of God. Hence, if we realize that we are not the body but the soul, we will begin to look away from the material world and turn towards God. Once this -process gets going, the soul will automatically progress towards God as there is no other realm to consider.
What do the scriptures have to say about the soul?
Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita,
"The embodied souls in this material world are my eternal fragmental parts. But bound by material nature, they are struggling with the six senses including the mind."
"The soul is an eternal and indestructible fragment of God's own power."
This is the sixth mantra from the Subalopaniṣhad which states that, As the creator, God is not only the governor of the soul, but also the mother, father, brother, friend, beloved, destination and everything.
Moving further, the Padma Purāṇ states that the soul is an eternal part of God and is his eternal servant.
Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the descension of Shree Radhaji said,
As we move forward, we will learn why the soul is referred to as the servant of God.
It is our experience that every action that we perform is with a definite aim or a purpose. No action is performed without an aim. This might seem like a very lofty statement to make, but come to think of it, every action has an aim.
Action needs not involve just the physical movement of the body. Even thoughts are to be considered. Thoughts lead us to perform actions and at times, we think of certain ideas or action but never commit them. What is aim of our actions? Let us consider some examples.
We sit, stand, walk or laze around. Why do we do this? What can be the "aim" for such a simple, involuntary action that we perform hundreds of times a day? We don't even think about these actions but we do it instantaneously. Why? Because it gives us pleasure or happiness. If we are tired and sit down for a while, our body is rested. Our mind feels good, happy and relaxed. Can we continue to sit like this for 5 hours or more. No, we cannot. We get bored, lazy or even tired. To overcome this feeling, we walk.
Why did we walk when sitting gave us happiness initially? Because after a while, even sitting did not provide us with pleasure. By walking, our body feels stretched and refreshed. Now, his new action gives us happiness. Can we continue to walk for 5 hours? Not all time. We have to come to a rest because resting will give us happiness.
If such a simple action has an aim of happiness, what about larger and more complex actions? We work and earn money. Why do we do that? Because money allows us to buy material objects that we believe will give us happiness. Suppose we were asked to work without receiving any material benefit, would we go to work? A vast majority of us would be unhappy about it. How can we survive without earning?
It is needless to say that one needs money to buy food, shelter and clothing but what about the amenities and luxurious items beyond the basic necessities of life? We desire many such objects and work hard to attain those objects. What do we intend to gain from those objects? The answer cannot be anything but happiness, pleasure, satisfaction or bliss.
What is it that we are all looking for? The Vedic scriptures say that we are all seeking happiness in everything we do. We may have different opinions about the source of happiness.Someone feels that if only he could get a bigger car, he would be happy. Another person thinks that if she could get a nice house, she would be happy. Someone else believes that by becoming rich, he would be happy, while yet another feels that if only she could become a movie star, she would be happy. However, everyone’s goal is happiness, and twenty-four hours a day, all that we do is for the sake of happiness.
It is the inherent nature of every individual to constantly perform actions with the intention of attaining happiness. He cannot cease to act until he attains Supreme Bliss.
We all know that we want happiness, but to deepen our understanding about happiness, let us ponder over a question. Did anybody teach us to seek happiness, just as we had to learn everything else? We were taught, “My child! You should always speak the truth.” “Son, you should never speak lies.” “My daughter, you should never steal from anyone.” We had to learn how to read, write, and speak.
In the same way, did we have to be taught, “My child! You must always seek happiness. It should not come about that you start loving misery.” This instruction was never given to us. Without ever being taught to do so, we naturally began seeking bliss. Is it not astonishing! We all instinctively seek bliss!
In fact, the moment we were born, the first thing we did was to express our desire for happiness. We did not say it in words, since we could not speak. We did it by crying out with all our might. That is the first thing a child does when it comes into this world.
Why does the child cry on birth? In the process of birth, it experiences pain, and it cries to reveal its nature. “I have not come into this world for pain. I have come for bliss. Give me happiness!” Since then, until this day, all we have done is for the sake of happiness.
Let us reflect further upon our actions that we perform regularly. What about our desires to have a family, children, wealth, power, friends, etc.? Even these actions that we perform as a part of our social nature are for the attainment of bliss alone.
There are higher levels of actions than the mundane ones mentioned above. What about the aim of attaining knowledge? The aim of scientific, philosophical, creative, scholastic, recreational, sportive excellence in any field?
Even these actions and the related thoughts are performed with the aim of attaining happiness. Suppose you ask a professor of Physics to study history and teach history. Will he be willing to do that? It goes against his wish or desire. He will not find happiness in doing so. Can a race driver run a blood donation camp in a war torn country? No he cannot, because his happiness is in driving cars alone.
There are many people who dedicate their time and even lives in research, service of the society or nation, voluntary missions, philanthropy, conservation of nature and so on. We could argue that these people have to be selfless in their thought and actions and do not have desires.
Without a doubt, these actions are praiseworthy, noble in thought and practice. But at a deeper and subtle level of the consciousness, even these actions are driven by a simple desire to attain happiness. It is definitely a fact that they bring a smile on other people's faces by performing good deeds for others, sacrificing some of their own happiness in the process. But, these actions still have an aim and that is happiness of the self. They are not fully selfless. It is limited in nature and not eternal.
History is witness to the fact that many noble good Samaritans have sacrificed their lives for others, trying to help the community, society, people, nation, etc. Even these heroes (men and women) found a degree of happiness in performing the very same actions that brought them fame.
Let us now consider saints and sinners. Saints perform deeds and act in this world for the sole benefit of humanity. They do not have any desires of their own. Why? A saint is one who has attained the most desirable object - Eternal Happiness. Once he has received it, what other desire could remain? So, a saint can only distribute that happiness to others and make them happy. This is the only desire of saints.
The saints do good to others without any personal motive. In the same way, the All-Powerful supreme Lord is causelessly merciful to all. Thus, it appears that all three - the wicked, the saints and God, perform actions without any purpose. That is not true.
A wicked person is pleased when sees others in distress. This is the real, hidden motive. In the same way, God and saints grieve on perceiving the sufferings of others and rejoice on seeing them happy.
Hence, God and saints perform actions for the welfare of others because it makes them happy. It is evident that the actions of both the divin (God and saints) and the wicked are driven by the desire of happiness. This proves that the aim behind all actions is the attainment of happiness.
The Shrimad Bhagavatam clearly sums up that the aim of all actions is the desire to attain bliss.
We can thus conclude that every living being in the world - be it an ordinary person, a learned scholar, the wicked, the saint or God - all are unanimously motivated by the aim of happiness in all their actions. However, we must understand very diligently, the nature of true happiness and the path to attain it. If one's decision about the nature of happiness is wrong, he will choose the wrong path and attain misery.
Human life is a rare opportunity presented by God to the soul. Other species, such as plants, fishes, birds, reptiles, insects, and mammals, have only sufficient knowledge to survive. They cannot ask philosophic questions related to God, the soul, Divine love, and the goal of life. They do not have sufficient knowledge to ponder over these topics.
Even if they could, they would not be able to do anything about it. They do not possess the ability to go against their basic instincts. For example, a lion is carnivorous by nature. It cannot wilfully decide to go on a vegetarian diet for spiritual progress. On the other hand, humans possess both—the power of knowledge and the ability to control their mind and intellect.
We are well aware of the prowess of the human mind and intellect. The enormous progress made by mankind in almost every sphere of life is there to see in front of our eyes. It is only humans who possess the unique quality to speak their mind. We are able to express our thoughts by speech. We are able to write what we want to. The human mind possesses unfathomable intellectual capacity and the faculty of cognizance which makes it unique amongst all living creates in this universe.
Yet, since time immemorial, mankind has been fighting the mind and intellect when the question of God arises. Many of us are unwilling to bend our mind and seek to learn about God and his causeless merciful nature. Our sceptical mindset always questions the veracity of such "claims" and dismisses the puritan thoughts of God, saints and matters that are spiritual in nature.
Instead, the human mind is ever ready to indulge in search and attainment of material pleasures without questioning whether material objects will give us true and everlasting happiness.
Human beings can wilfully decide their goal in life and strive to attain it. Many humans have never thought about their goal, and they wander purposelessly through life. This is like the traveller who asked a bystander whether he was on the right path. The bystander asked him where he wished to go. The traveller replied that he did not know. The bystander said that if he had no goal in mind, then it did not matter which path he went.
Similarly, many people stumble aimlessly through life, from childhood to youth to old age, confused about their goal. To be successful in life, it is important to think deeply about one’s goal.
If any object or a person has true bliss, it must possess the following three qualities.
Bliss is always infinite in nature, it unlimited because attainment of Bliss implies that it can never be overcome by suffering. There can no other pleasure greater than what has beenattained. Just as light cannot be overcome by darkness, a person who has attained bliss can never be overcome by sorrow.
The question is, where will one find such everlasting bliss?
In the simplest terms, the quest for happiness can be classified in two categories. We will look for happiness in the material world or the spiritual world. There is no other place to turn to
Our experience with the material world is vast and well known. We enjoy the various bounties that nature has provides us. Some fortunate people revel in the many luxurious benefits that they have. Many of us have more than what we required, yet we crave for more. The lesser privileged people live on with the hope of attaining some form of happiness in the future.
Where do we lay our faith, belief and trust about the source of happiness? It is mostly in material objects or people. We think that attaining wealth, family, children or power will make us happy. But how much of these will make us happy? Is there a limit to it?
Are we a satisfied lot? A person who owns a family sedan wants a large SUV. One who owns an SUV craves for a bigger or a faster vehicle. One who owns a Ferrari wants an Aston Martin. Somebody who owns a private jet wants a fighter aircraft and so on. This desire for the next level of happiness is never ending. What we have experienced is that, once we acquire whatwe crave for, the desire does not end. We do not attain unlimited happiness. After a while, our mind aims to attain the next level. Our desires just keep increasing.
If a person is very fond of food, he will eat a lot of it. But once his stomach is full, he has to stop. Why not continue eating bucket loads of food? It is bliss after all! No. It is not possible. After eating a certain quantity, happiness or pleasure dies down. Tomorrow, if the person wants to eat the same tasty food, can he just recall the previous day's sumptuous meal and feel satisfied? Impossible. He will have to eat it again to feel the pleasure.
The point to be noted is that the intellect has decided that happiness can be attained if a certain type of material object or a person is acquired. Once that is attained, the happinesscomes down slowly and eventually dries up. The mind now needs the next level of ntertainment or happiness. If desire is unfulfilled, disappointment or anger will definitely set in. Noperson can claim that he or she will never get disappointed if a certain desire is not fulfilled. Only the saints can lay claim to such a statement.
Hence, the fulfilment of desires leads to further and larger desires, and if a desire is not fulfilled, anger ensues. Whatever happiness was attained, it was temporary and diminishing. It was present at all times and in every place.
In conclusion, material desires are endless. We will never attain the true happiness or bliss that we seek if we look for it in the material realm. It will remain a mirage that will never come true. Hence, the only other remaining sphere or realm to explore is the spiritual realm.
If true happiness or bliss is not there in the material realm, it is obvious that true bliss is definitely present in the spiritual world. There is no other third realm to turn to!
Why do we all want happiness? In the entire world, the answer to this question is only found in the Vedic scriptures. They declare that we are all looking for happiness because God is an ocean of happiness.
These three verses from the holy scriptures have a single essence - That God is an ocean of unlimited bliss. Anand means Bliss.
We souls are tiny parts of God, and hence we are all tiny parts of the ocean of Bliss. For example, a piece of stone is a part of the mountain, a drop of water is a part of the ocean, and a ray of light is a part of the sun. Similarly, we souls are small fragments of God.
Now, every part is naturally attracted towards its source. A lump of mud is a part of the earth and it is drawn towards it. If you throw it up, it will automatically fall down, pulled by the gravitational force of the earth.
Similarly, rivers are parts of the ocean and are drawn towards it. They were created from the water vapour that rose from the ocean, and then formed into clouds and rained on the earth. Hence, rivers naturally flow towards the ocean, which is their source. In the same way, the soul is naturally attracted towards its source, which is God. And since, God is the ocean of Bliss, the soul is drawn towards Bliss. This is the explanation to the question why we all have the desire for happiness within us.
We like divine qualities. People always admire noble souls who have qualities like humility, sincerity, love, peace, politeness, mercy, compassion, benevolence, non-violence, tolerance and so on. No person can claim that he loves hatred, immorality, violence, chaos, robbery, etc.
There is a saying, 'Honesty amongst thieves'. Even thieves expect honesty and loyalty from their fellow companions. Why is that so? When a thief is immoral himself, why is he expecting truthfulness from the other?Because dishonesty and deceit makes the thief unhappy. It is our innate nature to be attracted towards good. These good natured qualities emanate from God. Thus, every soul is attracted to divine qualities. Knowingly or unknowingly, we are all searching for God.
We can thus conclude that the goal of our life is to realize God. Only on attaining Him, can we experience the peace, contentment, happiness, and satisfaction that our soul has been searching for since endless lifetimes. Once we have decided that God-realization is the aim of our life, we then have to learn, from the Vedic scriptures, how to attain it.
Is there a God? If so, who is He? And should we believe in Him merely on faith, or is there any proof of His existence?
These questions have been raised innumerable times in history. In the present too, they arise in the minds of many people. Let us begin finding the answers to these questions, from the world around us.
We live in a creation that is so amazing; from the smallest atom to the largest galaxies. How did this world come into existence? Some scientists propose the “Big Bang” theory to explain creation. They claim that there was a big mass of concentrated matter. It exploded and cooled down as it scattered and the world came into being.
There is a humorous anecdote regarding this theory. James Maxwell, one of the greatest scientists in history, was a firm believer in God. His fellow scientist and close friend did not believe there was a God. He would argue that the world was created by itself. One day, Maxwell made a model of the solar system, and put it in motion in his study room.
His friend came to meet him, and on seeing the model, he exclaimed, “This is amazing! Who made it?” “Nobody made it,” replied Maxwell. “I was working on my table when I heard an explosion. I turned around and saw this had been created.”
“How ridiculous,” his friend retorted. “How can this be created by an explosion? Definitely, someone must have made it.”
James Maxwell said, “My friend, you are not willing to believe that a little model of the solar system could be created by itself. And you want me to believe that the real universe, consisting of many such solar systems has come into existence without a creator. If it is logical to believe that someone has created this model, it is also commonsensical to conclude that the real world must have a Creator too.”
One Geography teacher taught her students that the world was created by itself. She then asked the students to make a map of the world for their homework, and bring it the next day.
One of the students disagreed with what the teacher had taught. He decided to play a prank on her. The next day, he scribbled lines on a sheet of paper and filled it with random colours. He put his sheet in-between the pile of sheets submitted by the other students. The teacher came to the classroom and began correcting the maps before her. When she came to that scrap of paper, she was infuriated. “Who did this!” she exclaimed. The whole class was silent. “Tell me who did it, or I shall punish everyone,” she said.
The student who had made it got up. “Ma’am! In my opinion no one made it,” he said.
“What do you mean?” asked the teacher.
“I think the paper flew and it fell on your desk,” the student replied. “The pencil flew and scribbled lines on it. The colours flew and they got filled in the paper.”
How is that possible?” the teacher retorted. “Definitely someone must have made it. And I strongly suspect you must be the one.”
“Ma’am! You are not willing to believe that a small map of the planet earth has been made by itself. Yet, you have taught us that the real world consisting of innumerable such planets was created by itself? Just as it is reasonable to assume that the map must have been made by someone, it is also logical to conclude that the actual world must have a Creator.”
FUERHER READING: ONE GOD
Earlier, we learnt about God's three principle powers. Taṭashtā Śhakti is the soul energy that we are all a part of. There are countless souls in the universe since God's powers are infinite.
Maya Śhakti is the material energy from which this world is created. It is the lifeless cosmic energy of God and the entire universe is a representation of this energy. This entire creation including water, air, fire, earth and ether, all are a part of Maya. All matter that exists on earth and in space, can only be made of these five elements. Every object known to man comes from a combination of these five basic elements.
The physical body of a human being or any other living creature is the creation of Maya. Like Maya itself, the body is also lifeless. The body has a limited period of time to exist in this world. The presence of the soul inside the body makes it alive and conscious. This entire creation is Maya and Maya itself is a lifeless energy of God. It works under the inspiration of God otherwise it is lifeless. The soul, also an energy of God but sentient and eternal, is under the influence of Maya. Even though the soul is taṭasthā and thus higher than Maya, due to forgetfulness of its identity, it is overpowered by the Maya energy.
Maya has another very significant role to play in this universe. It also puts souls, who are forgetful of God, into a state of illusion. We learnt earlier that the soul is immortal but the body has to perish. Once a soul leaves body, it has find another one to reside. As per the thoughts and actions accumulated (karma) by that soul in the previous lifetimes, the soul will transmigrate into another life form or species.
Our body, mind and intellect are all made from Maya, or the material energy. Maya consists of three modes: sattva guṇa, or the mode of goodness, rajo guṇa, or the mode of passion, and tamo guṇa, or the mode of ignorance. These three modes are in Maya, and they exist in our mind as well. Depending upon our environment and where we focus our thoughts, one of the guṇas becomes prominent and our mind takes on that quality.
Note that Maya is not an illusion or a delusive power. It creates the effect of illusion or delusion over the souls who are in its grasp.
All these Ved mantras state that these three entities—God, the individual soul, and Maya—are all eternal.
Happiness in the material world is characterised by these observations.
The mind perceives happiness in the material world by creating desires for them. The external gross senses like the eyes, ears, taste, touch and nose are employed by the subtle mind to absorb this "perceived happiness".
For ex: A smoker finds pleasure in a cigarette. A non-smoker, however, would shun it and does not perceive pleasure in it. All smokers in this world find temporary relief in smoking but not everyone in this world perceive happiness in a cigarette.
We have all experienced this fact personally. If a person earns a million dollars, he wants two. Someone who makes fifty million wants a hundred. If a person has one house, he wants a new one like a palace. This greed for more and more material pleasure never ceases.
How many times have we been disappointed or angered when something that has not gone our way? From the smallest to the biggest desires, there have been setbacks that have made us angry. A deal that went wrong, a house we could not buy, a lover we could not make ours, a friend who cheated, etc.
These are some of the main qualities of this Mayic world. It is the nature of this world to be in such a fluctuating state. Sometimes things are good and very colourful. Everyone is happy. Sometimes the situation deteriorates and there is chaos all around. Our mind revolves in the three modes of Maya - goodness, passion and ignorance. Whichever mode is dominant, our mind will act according to the nature of that mode. Every person has a dominant nature or mode and acts accordingly. = This is the simple science behind the operation of the mind.
The intellect is above the mind but is deluded with the wrong knowledge and decision. It is the firm decision of the mind that happiness exists in this world and hence it directs the mind to seek happiness in the material realm. If the intellect is provided with the right and absolute knowledge, it will automatically take the right decision. If mind is taught to withdraw its attachment to this world, it can become the recipient of true knowledge. It should neither love or hate any person or object in this world. This is true detachment or Vairagya.
The mind is material and so is the world, therefore there is a natural inclination of the mind towards Maya. On the other hand, as God is Divine, there is no natural attraction of the mind towards him. It is due to the effects of Maya that a soul transmigrates in the cycle of life and death. If the soul were to look away from Maya and transcend these three modes, it will become one with God.
The Upaniṣhads say there is a chariot, which has five horses pulling it; the horses have reins in their mouths, which are in the hands of a charioteer; a passenger is sitting at the back of the chariot. Ideally, the passenger should instruct the charioteer, who should then control the reins and guide the horses in the proper direction. However, in this case, the passenger has gone to sleep, and so the horses are holding sway.
In this analogy, the chariot is the body, the horses are the five senses, the reins in the mouth of the horses is the mind, the charioteer is the intellect, and the passenger seatedbehind is the soul residing in the body. The senses (horses) desire pleasurable things. The mind (reins) is not exercising restraint on the senses (horses). The intellect (charioteer) submits to the pull of the reins (mind).
In the materially bound state, the bewildered soul does not direct the intellect in the proper direction. Thus, the senses decide the direction where the chariot will go. The soul experiences the pleasures of the senses vicariously, but these do not satisfy it. Seated on this chariot, the soul (passenger) is moving around in this material world since eternity. The soul does not perform any action but is the real benefactor of the thoughts and actions collectively performed by the intellect, mind and the senses.
The purpose of existence (human body) is to reach its final destination, God. If the chariot (body) goes the wrong way, the passenger (soul) will reach the wrong destination and will have to suffer
However, if the soul wakes up and decides to take a proactive role, it can inspire the intellect in the right direction. The intellect will then govern the mind, the mind will control the senses, and the chariot will move in the direction of eternal welfare.
In this way, the higher self (soul) must be used to control the lower self (senses, mind, and, intellect).
We could question, how did the soul come under the influence of Maya?
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Since the soul is a tiny part of God, its every relationship is with him. However, in bodily consciousness, we look upon the relatives of the body as our father, mother, beloved, child, and friend. We become attached to them and repeatedly bring them to our mind, thereby getting further bound in the material illusion. But none of these worldly relatives can give us the perfect love that our soul yearns for.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, these relationships are temporary, and separation is unavoidable when either they or we depart from the world. Secondly, even as long as they are alive, the attachment is based on selfishness and so it fluctuates in direct proportion to the extent by which self-interest is satisfied. Thus, the range and intensity of worldly love varies from moment to moment, throughout the day. "My wife is very nice….she is not so nice…she is ok….she is terrible," this is the extent of fluctuation of love in the drama of the world.
On the other hand, God is such a relative who has accompanied us lifetime after lifetime. From birth to birth, in every life-form that we went, God accompanied us and remained seated in our heart. He is thus our eternal relative. In addition, he has no self-interest from us; he is perfect and complete in himself. He loves us selflessly, for he only desires our eternal welfare. Thus, God alone is our perfect relative, who is both eternal and selfless.
To understand this concept from another perspective, consider the analogy of an ocean and the waves that emerge from it. Two neighbouring waves in the ocean flow together for some time, and play mirthfully with each other, creating the impression that they have a very deep relationship between them. However, after travelling some distance, one subsides into the ocean, & shortly after, the other does the same. Did they have any relationship between themselves? No, they were both born from the ocean & their relationship was with the ocean itself.
Similarly, God is like the ocean and we are like waves who have emanated from him. We create attachments amongst our bodily relations, only to leave everyone upon death, and journey alone into another birth. The truth is that the souls are not related to each other, but to God, from whom they have all emanated.
It is the natural aim of every soul to attain true and everlasting happiness which is found only in God.
It was mentioned earlier that God is beyond the body, mind and intellect.
This inspiration is nothing but the power of life and consciousness that the soul provides to the three faculties in every human being. Without this power, they are just lifeless material objects. A material object cannot grasp a divine entity.
Thus the inspired senses, mind and intellect are incapable of comprehending their Inspirer, God.
In such a situation, how can we know God if he is beyond our reach?
It is definitely possible to know God and innumerable souls have attained him and found eternal bliss. It is possible only through his grace.
Being dependent upon God, the soul must also depend upon His Grace to get out of its present predicament and attain the ultimate goal. Self-effort will never suffice. But if God bestows His Grace, He will grant His divine knowledge and divine bliss upon the soul, and release it from the bondage of the material energy. Shree Krishna emphasizes (to Arjun) that by His grace, one will attain eternal beatitude and the imperishable abode.
The same verdict is given by the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayan and the others scriptures as well.
When God bestows His Grace, our material senses, mind, and intellect are illumined by his power. Equipped with His power, we will be able to see Him, hear Him, know Him, and attain Him. Those fortunate souls, who received His Grace, became God-realized Saints.
On understanding the principle of Grace, a natural question arises: If God-realization depends upon Grace, then is there no need for self-effort? Can we simply laze around and wait for the Grace, or do we need to do something to receive that Grace?
Definitely yes. As the saying goes, "To hear a clap, you need two hands". God will definitely bestow his grace upon us because he is causelessly merciful. But even to receive that grace, we have to put in our self-effort to deserve that grace.
Even in the material world, to achieve any objective, we need to deserve it or be qualified for it. For ex: if a person has to study PhD in any subject, he must possess a Masters degree in the same subject. A high school student cannot walk into the University with the aim of becoming a PhD.
Similarly, to gain God's infinite grace, we must have a qualification.
Many people use misconstrued ideas and notions about the grace of God and use destiny, fate or incidents otherwise as an excuse for not putting in the effort to know God and reach him. The path laid down by the scriptures is very clear.
If one wants to attain true bliss, he must try to know God and reach him. Else, he will have to suffer the consequences of wasting this precious human life in search of material pleasure.
The concept of Grace of God should not diminish the need for self-effort in our minds. God is causelessly merciful, and is waiting to bestow His Grace upon us, but He can only do so when we have a proper vessel for it. If you went to a milkman with a leaking vessel and asked for some milk, the milkman would say, “I am ready to give it, but you will not be able to retain it. Bring a proper vessel and I will pour it in.”
What is this vessel that we need? What effort should we put in? What should we do to know God?
The most important and precious object a human possesses is the mind. It is the mind that can act as per the direction of the intellect. The intellect is also a part of the mind and hence both the mind and intellect are collectively referred to as 'the mind'.
If the mind moves in the right direction, anything is possible, including God-realization. But if the mind goes astray, terrible acts are committed by the person whose mind is misdirected.
The act of gaining the true and absolute knowledge about God, and directing the mind to march towards God is the duty of each soul. The rest is done by God and his saints. This is the "qualification" that a human needs to gain to attain the grace of God. This process is called Surrender and needs the help of a God-realized saint who will be your Guru.
If God is causelessly merciful, why has He not bestowed His mercy upon us? If He is impartial, why has He bestowed His Grace only on Saints? What did they do to receive His Grace? And what did we not do that we are bereft of it?
God bestows His Grace to souls who surrender to Him. This is His eternal law. There are laws that govern every aspect of this universe. Nothing is random though some things may appear to be so. The Sun, the moon, the earth, etc., all of them follow the laws of motion as described in science. They do not wander the Milky Way galaxy in gay abandon for the fun of it. Every aspect of this vast universe is governed by law. Even the human body works rhythmically and as per the laws of nature, including the laws of science.
To receive God's grace we need to surrender to Him.
How can we surrender to God when we do not even know Him?If we do not know who God is, how He is related to us, and what He does for us, we will have no faith or love for Him. But with knowledge of His attributes, His qualities, the most gracious of which is His merciful nature, we will naturally develop great love for Him. Hence, the Ramayan states:
We have to put in the effort to understand the nature of God. This is done by approaching a God-realized Saint, described later.
What do we have to surrender? The object of surrender is the mind, along with the intellect. Both these objects that we humans hold in high esteem must be surrendered to God. This is the only condition that we need to satisfy in order to gain His Grace.
An argument may again ensue saying that this is equal to a business transaction. We give the mind and God gives us His Grace. This is a naïve statement since the act of surrender means "to do nothing". For the act of doing nothing, we get His Grace.
FUERHER READING: Grace and Surrender
“The Need For a Guru”
One of the most common questions that people ask is, Why do I need a Guru?
In today's world, access to knowledge is extremely quick and affordable. Scores of books and other sources of information are available at the click of a button. Knowledge about material subjects like science, mathematics, etc. are aplenty. The method of training and presentation of such knowledge has increased manifold, decreasing the need for tutelage in many areas. This gives people the false notion that a teacher is not necessary for learning and begin to believe that self-effort alone will give them success.
Spiritual knowledge cannot be completely grasped and understood by reading books alone. Without doubt, we can search the Internet for various sources of information and like material knowledge, there are innumerable sources that can put forward conflicting views on various topics. This is will either lead to confusion and discontentment or diminished interest. What was to be a quest for spiritual learning becomes an unsolvable puzzle.
We consult books to acquire spiritual knowledge but they usually do not suffice. We also need a teacher who can explain the complex content of the books. Besides, while reading them, innumerable doubts arise in the mind. The teacher helps us resolve these doubts and attain clarity in our understanding.
If we wish to learn Mathematics, Physics, or Geography, we do not do so on our own. We acquire knowledge of any subject through text books and a teacher. The text books contain the knowledge, but they are difficult to understand on our own. So along with the books, we take the help of a teacher as well.
The Vedic scriptures are a treasure-house of Divine knowledge. However, there are so many scriptures and the knowledge in them is so sublime that it is not easy to comprehend them on our own. Their complexities can easily baffle down an unguided reader. The Vedic scriptures are the text books that contain a vast treasure-house of Divine knowledge. But they are very intricate and complex.
Thus it abundantly and overwhelming clear that, to attain true spiritual knowledge and attain our goal of God-realization, we must find a spiritual master or a Guru.
The word “guru” has been adopted into the English language, and has come to mean “expert in the field”. In today's world, it is common to call an expert as a Management guru, or an Economics guru, etc. The word Guru has become trivial and its significance diluted by modern degenerative society. However, we are talking about a Guru in the spiritual realm. Whom can we call a true Guru?
The Vedas describe two qualifications that the Guru must possess. The first qualification is that he must be shrotriya, or a knower of the scriptures. He must be well-versed and a master in scriptural knowledge, and have the ability to impart it to us.
The second qualification is that the Guru must be brahm niṣhṭha, or God-realized. Only the one who is God-realized himself can help others to reach that state. This is common sense.We can give others only what we possess ourselves. Blind people cannot show others the path; illiterate people cannot teach others how to read; ignorant people cannot bestow nowledge. Similarly, only one who has realized God can help others attain that state.
Thus, the Guru is one who is śhrotriya brahm niṣṭha, or accomplished in both—theoretical knowledge and practical realization.
Such a Guru is called Sadguru, or one situated in the Truth.
The True Guru is someone who has no personal desires of his own. He has merged his will with the will of God. Also, He is free from any pride and self-seeking. Such a Sadguru doesnothing of his own accord. God becomes his guide and inspires his actions from within. Thus, the Guru becomes an instrument through whom God does His Divine work of elevatingsouls in the world. For such a true Guru, it is said:
The importance of a Guru cannot be described in words. He is as important to a spiritual aspirant as breath is to life; as soul is to the body.
It is the Guru who will accept an aspirant and teach him the very basics of spirituality and impart all the knowledge required about God, the nature of this world, the soul, etc. It is the Guru who decides which path is best for each devotee to surrender to God. He will practically teach the student about surrender of the mind and intellect. It is only the Guru who knows the inner feelings and thought process of his student and constantly advises him. He will protect his student from spiritual pitfalls and warn of dangers ahead.
In short, the Guru is like a father, mother, brother, friend and beloved. He fulfils all these roles and more for the benefit of the student. From beginning to the step of God-realization, it is the Guru who moulds the student into a Saint worthy of God's grace.
A student can never redeem himself from the indebtedness to a Guru because what he receives from the Guru is completely Divine and the only thing that a student can offer to God and Guru is material.
Since eternity, our intellect has been afflicted by the disease of ignorance. It is because of this lack of true knowledge, that we are unable to reach our goal in life. We want happiness, but we get misery; we want peace, but we experience conflict; we want to succeed, but we repeatedly experience failure. We all know that anger, greed, hatred, envy, pride, etc., are undesirable, and we want to get rid of them.
Why do we say that man is living in ignorance?
If we humans were truly wise and knowledgeable, a lot many of us would be on the path towards God-realization. But what we see in the real world is contrary. Material satisfaction takes precedence for a vast majority of us and we are engaged in pursuit of securing our retirement benefits. Very few are serious about cleansing their heart of all the afflictions and practising devotion to the Lord. God graces those who are humble, kind, sincere and modest.
Once we find a God-realized Guru, we must then follow His instructions, if we wish to benefit from him. When we are sick, we go to a doctor and explain our symptoms. Beyond that, we do not apply much of our intellect. The doctor understands our problem and then gives us the remedy. “Take two tablespoons of this medicine thrice a day for one month, and you will become all right.”
We follow the doctor’s instructions and get cured. Now suppose we used our intellect, “The doctor has told me to take a little medicine everyday for one month. Let me take all of it today, so that I may be cured in one day itself.” If we were to do that, the doctor would not be able to cure us and we may have to face some dire consequences of such an action.
Similarly, only the Guru can cure us from the disease of ignorance, if we follow his instructions. So we must first learn the secrets of the scriptures from a true Guru, and then act in accordance with them, to surrender to God.
FUERHER READING: Importance of the Mind.
There are three main paths that have described by the holy scriptures which lead to God. Karm, Jñāna, and Bhakti. There is no other path to God.
The great scripture Shrimad Bhagavatam, contains a very significant dialogue between Lord Krishna and the highly revered jñani, Uddhav who was a dear friend of the Lord Himself. This event took place over 5000 years ago just before the dawn of this new age,. A jñani is a highly knowledgeable scholar who has mastered the Vedic scriptures.
Uddhav questions, "O Lord! There are a myriad paths being propagated by various spiritualists. Which of them are true and which ones are to be shunned? Why did so many paths come into existence? When a person hears and reads about thousands of different paths, he is confused and cannot decide the right path to follow because he is ignorant. I beg you to solve this confusion. A blind man cannot take a decision about matters related to sight."
This question has paramount importance for all us, especially because it addresses an equally precarious conundrum in our minds about the current state of faith in spirituality and the bundance of Masters, Mystics and Gurus. It is astonishing that, what was discussed 5000 years ago, bears significance even today more than ever before!
Those who read and contemplated on the words of the Vedas had varied characters, personalities and temperaments. They had different sanskars (tendencies) accumulated over different lifetimes. Their attitude, interests and nature were also variegated. As a result, those who were of a sāttvik temperament made sāttvik or pious interpretation of the Vedas; those with rajasik temperament made rajasik interpretation; those with tamasik temperament made tamasik interpretation of the Vedas. Thus, various paths came into existence. Some paths also came about by tradition. People started to follow certain rituals and norms because it has been there for generations."
Shree Krishna explained to Uddhav that because of the varied nature and character of the persons interpreting the Vedas, they were misread and misrepresented. This resulted is many false paths coming into existence.
How many paths exist that leads to God?
There is a name for God in the Vedas: Sat-chit-anand. These three, sat, chit, and anand refer to three energies of God. The nature of sat is action, or Karm. The nature of chit is knowledge or Jñāna and the nature of anand is devotion, or Bhakti. Hence, God has three aspects to His nature—Karm, Jñāna, and Bhakti.
We tiny souls are small parts of God, and hence we too have the same three aspects to our nature, although smaller in measure. Just like a drop of water has the qualities of the ocean.The three aspects of our nature are Karm, or work, Jñāna, or knowledge, and Bhakti, or devotion. Accordingly, the scriptures state three paths to God:
The various paths of achieving union with God are referred to as different systems of Yog, such as karm yog, jñāna yog, aṣhṭāṅg yog, and bhakti yog. Thus spiritual practitioners are in general called yogis, or sādhaks. Occasionally, the word Yog refers specifically to the process of aṣhṭāṅg yog.
In this system of Yog, the emphasis is on self knowledge. The Gita occasionally mentions it as sankhya yog as well. Through the practice of intellectual discrimination, the jñani focuses on realizing the self, which is distinct from all bodily designations and contaminations. Self-realization is considered as the ultimate goal of perfection. The practice of jñana yog is based on self-effort, without support of the grace of God. Hence, it is a difficult path and there is danger of downfall at every step.
It involves a gradual process of purification beginning with mechanical practices and progressing to the control of the mind. In it, the life force is raised through the suṣhumṇā channel in the spinal column. It is brought between the eyebrows, which is the region of the third eye (the inner eye). It is then made to focus on the Supreme Lord with great devotion. This process was presented in a structured system of practice containing eight stages by Maharshi Patanjali in the famous text written by him, called Yog Sūtras. Thereby, it came to be known as aṣhṭāṅg yog or the eight-fold system of Yog. A variation of this is haṭha yog, in which the emphasis is on austerities. The haṭha yogi strives to gain mastery over the mind and senses by exercising the force of will power.
In many places, the Vedic literature also states that there are only three paths to God realization—karm yog, jñana yog, and bhakti yog. In such a classification, aṣhṭāṅg yog is included in jñana yog.
Karm refers to performing one's worldly obligations and responsibilities, while Yog refers to union with God. So the practice of uniting the mind with God even while doing one's obligatory duties in the world is karm yog. This requires detaching the mind from the fruits of actions, by developing a resolute decision of the intellect that all work is meant solely for the pleasure of God. Thus, the Gita occasionally refers to it as buddhi yog, or the Yog of the intellect. Since most people practice spirituality while living in household life and discharging their worldly duties, karm yog becomes necessary for them alongside with any other system of Yog they may pursue.
This path involves attaching the mind to the names, forms, virtues, pastimes, etc. of God through selfless and exclusive love. One develops a loving relationship with God by seeing him as the eternal father, mother, friend, master, and soul-beloved. By surrendering to him and uniting the individual will with the divine will, the devotee attracts the grace of God and achieves the goal of spiritual perfection more easily than by the other paths. Although the Bhagavad Gita embraces all the systems of Yog, it consistently emphasizes the path of bhakti as the superior system of Yog. This repeated pronouncement by Shree Krishna that he can only be known through bhakti is highlighted in different places to dispel the misconception amongst some about bhakti being an inferior system of Yog.
Let us learn the foundations of each of these paths.
Karm is the path of action. As humans we all have duties, responsibilities and obligations towards our immediate family, ancestors, friends, well-wishers, community, country and the societyin general. We cannot ignore or dismiss them for any reason or because we are not in conformance with it.
These duties can be broadly classified in two categories. Social and Spiritual duties.
These are our duties towards God, Who is our eternal Father, Mother, Friend, and Well-wisher. Performing these is called Bhakti, or devotion, and results in the purification of the mind and the attainment of God.
The spiritual duties, or Bhakti, are the eternal principles that always remain the same. They are also called par dharma, or the spiritual aspect of religion.
These are the duties we have towards our parents, friends and relatives, the society we live in, the nation, etc., and have been described in the Vedas and are called Karm. They do not result in God-realization.
However, fulfilling these duties ensures that we act in a responsible manner, and contribute towards the wellbeing and harmony of society. The social duties, or Karm, are based on ouroccupation and position in life. And they may change from time to time, depending upon the nature of society, etc. They are also called apar dharma, or the material aspect of religion.
The complete concept of Karm and all the associated knowledge is extremely vast and complex. It will require many lifetimes just to read the various wings of the Vedas that contain the verses describing all these duties. Yet, it is important to understand the basic foundation of this path and its consequences.
As mentioned earlier, the social duties mentioned in Vedas are called Karm. These are in accordance with one’s āśhram (stage in life) and varṇa (occupation). There are four stages in life - Brahmacharya (student life), Gṛihastha (household life), Vānaprastha (partially renounced life) and Sanyās (completely renounced life). They helped society function in a harmonious manner, giving everyone an opportunity to do their duties according to their nature and gradually perfect their lives to reach God-realization. Some of these duties are not relevant today since the nature of society has changed. But they helped organize Hindu society thousands of years ago, while humans in the western world were still living in forests.
In this varṇāśhram system, the duties were according to one’s nature and occupation, not according to birth. However, with the passage of time, the system got degraded and the classifications became based on birth. This was a wrong interpretation of what was mentioned in the Vedas. When the British ruled India, they highlighted the social practice, and called it “caste system”. The long term impact of negative publicity accorded over 200 years ago is still evident today.
Even today, a discussion of Hinduism is incomplete without the mention of the caste system. Most people are unaware of the sublime knowledge of the science of God realization that exists in Hinduism, which has no comparison anywhere in the world.
Shree Krishna explains that people have different natures, according to the gu?as that constitute their personality, and thus different professional duties are suitable for them.
The four varṇas (occupational categories) were Brahmin (priestly class), Kṣhatriya (warrior and administrative class), Vaiśhya (mercantile and farming class), and Śhudra (worker class). The var?as were not considered higher or lower amongst themselves.
Since the centre of society was God, everyone worked according to their intrinsic qualities to sustain themselves and society, and make their life a success by progressing toward God-realization. Thus, in the var?ashram system, there was unity in diversity.
Diversity is inherent in nature and can never be removed. We have various limbs in our body, and they all perform different functions. Expecting all limbs to perform the same functions is futile. Seeing them all as different is not a sign of ignorance, but factual knowledge of their utilities. Similarly, the variety amidst human beings cannot be ignored.
Even in communist countries where equality is the foremost principle, there are party leaders who formulate ideologies; there is the military that wields guns and protects the nation; there are farmers who cultivate the land; and there are industrial workers who do mechanical jobs. The four classes of occupations exist there as well, despite all attempts to equalize. The var?ashram system recognized the diversity in human natures and scientifically prescribed duties and occupations matching people's natures.
It is thus necessary to clarify that the var?ashram system was not a part of the spiritual principles of Hinduism. It was a set of social duties described in Hinduism thousands of years ago, when civilization in the western world had not even begun. It got distorted with time, but that was a social defect caused by malicious people who distorted the facts for their own benefits Hinduism cannot be blamed for it.
It is akin to blaming Christianity, Judaism or even Islam for slavery that existed in the western world till about two hundred years ago. It was a social practice that was rampant amongst all the religions of the world for thousands of years. In fact, even until the 1960s, discrimination on the basis of skin colour existed in USA. This was a social ill, but we do not find fault with religion(s) associated with the land.
The path of Karm involves adherence to elaborate rules, injunctions, rituals, practices and norms laid down by the Vedas for humans to follow. Without rules, we humans would be reduced to the level of beasts as they also live without any rules or social norms.
A part of the social duties is Karmakāṇḍ, or the ritualistic ceremonies, that help purify the mind. Very few people have so much love for God that they can simply sit and meditate upon Him. Most people need some rituals or external ceremonial procedures to help them engage the mind positively. The Vedas describe such Karmakāṇḍ, or ceremonial procedures. These include method of praying, the items required to pray, what to wear and so on.
There are thousands of verses in the Vedas, shastras and other holy scriptures dedicated for describing Karmakāṇḍ. It details how people should live, the social structure, the justice system, the celebration of festivals, etc. All these help in maintaining a society living in harmony and peace.
For ex:, Indra, the celestial god of rains and the king of heaven is responsible for ensuring good rains on earth. Humans have to repay the debt for ensuring timely and copious rains for their crops. As a gesture of honouring Indra, we are instructed by the Vedas to perform Yajña (a ritual of offerings accompanied by chanting of Vedic mantras as a form of prayer, worship, praise and offering along with fruits, rice, ghee and other agrarian offerings as prescribed).
As administrators of various processes of the universe, the devatās provide us with rain, wind, crops, vegetation, minerals, fertile soil, etc. We human beings are indebted to them for all that we receive from them. The devatās perform their duty, and expect us to perform our duty in proper consciousness too.
There are many rules laid down for making such offerings and they cannot be relaxed. They imply strict observance of all ritualistic actions as specified by the Vedas and the scriptures. There should be no deviation from the methods prescribed. Only then will it be considered as a complete offering.
The time, place, mantra, priest, materials and process have to be perfectly in accordance with the Vedic recommendations. Not a single digression will be tolerated. If there is the slightest error in the pronunciation of even one syllable of a Vedic mantra, the performer of the sacrifice will be harmed, instead of being benefited.
Many Hindus still perform Vedic rituals or Yajña but in a very diluted form. The money used to purchase material for the sacrifice should be completely free of any immoral gains. To perform Vedic rituals or Yajña, an auspicious time has to be chosen. The materials used should be pure and of the highest quality. The money spent must be obtained by honest means. The priest performing the Vedic rituals should be highly knowledgeable, and the host should be humble and sincere. The incantation of the mantras should be perfect. It is almost impossible to get all these six elements right in the present age of.
These rules are extremely stringent for people to follow in this age. These rituals and procedures mentioned in the Vedas were applicable for certain times in the history of mankind and social structures. In this age of Kali, Vedic rituals are not recommended by the holy scriptures themselves!
FUERHER READING: Karm Unravelled
Knowledge is Power and it is no different in the spiritual realm either. True and absolute knowledge about the nature of the soul, nature of this world, Maya and nature of God empowers a human being to achieve the greatest and highest ideal, God-realization.
In the spiritual realm too, knowledge carries the same kind of power. Social scientists say that as civilization is evolving, it has moved from an agricultural-based society, to a manufacturing based society, and presently it is moving towards a knowledge-based society. Success in any enterprise is becoming increasingly dependent upon the quality of knowledge we possess.
In the Hindu tradition, we are fortunate to have a vastavailable in the Vedic scriptures. There is no literature or set of scriptures grander than that of Hinduism, which can enlighten the entire universe and lead all souls on the most glorious path-towards Eternal Bliss.
In its simplest form, the path of knowledge or jñāna involves the practice of understanding the self, the atma, by reading & memorising the scriptures, commentaries, & sacred teachings. It also encompasses the practice of deep meditation and practice of Aṣhṭāṅg yog, as the means of attaining liberation from the cycle of birth & death. This practice is performed with the aim of merging the soul with the Supreme One. It does not rely on the Grace of God but on the power of the will of the individual.
Isn’t that surprising! If knowledge is illuminating, how can it lead to darkness?
This is so because there are two kinds of knowledge - theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge. For example, let us say that a lady has learnt by heart, all the recipes in her cookbook, but has never even entered the kitchen in her life. Undoubtedly she possesses knowledge of cooking, but it is merely theoretical knowledge. Another woman has been cooking for many years, and has experience of all its intricacies. She possesses practical knowledge of cooking. Such knowledge is far superior to mere knowledge from the books.
In the very same way, we have theoretical and spiritual knowledge of spirituality too. A person with mere theoretical knowledge is one who memorizes the Vedas and other scriptures. He could be a great scholar travelling the globe and delivering stellar lectures to sell-out audiences. But without practical knowledge, which can come only from experience and practical of the particular spiritual discipline, sadhana, the value of the theoretical knowledge amassed amounts to nothing.
A person with practical spiritual knowledge is one who has followed the prescribed spiritual path and knows God by His Grace. Mere theoretical knowledge, which is without experience, leads to the pride of learning. Proud people think they know a lot, but their practical life does not reflect their knowledge. Hence, the Vedas say that instead of taking them upwards in life, such knowledge pulls them down. It is such empty and hollow learning that is criticized by the scriptures.
Practical realization makes a person humble because it makes one aware of his or her defects, & how much further one needs to go. Such knowledge has been praised in the scriptures. Thus, we must not only acquire the theoretical knowledge of the scriptures, but we must also practically apply it in our lives.
Those who follow the path of jñāna yog consider themselves to be non-different from God. They contemplate deeply on sūtras such as: so ’haṁ (I am That), shivo ’haṁ (I am Shiv), etc. Their ultimate goal is to attain realization of the Supreme Entity as the undifferentiated Brahman, which possesses the attributes of eternality, knowledge, and bliss, but is devoid of forms, qualities, virtues, and pastimes.
Non-dualistic worship of the Abstract, Formless, Attribute less Absolute is referred to as jñan yog.
Jñāna yog requires analyzing that one is not the body, senses, mind, intellect, and ego. The knowledge is first understood theoretically by hearing from the Guru and the scriptures. Then, one repeatedly meditates on this knowledge and tries to realize it practically. In this manner, material desires related to the body slowly diminish. Finally, one gains insight into the nature of the self. The “self”, or soul, is a tiny part of God. Self-realization is considered as the ultimate goal of perfection
Yogis who follow the path of discrimination, or jñana yog, take the help of knowledge to withdraw their senses from the world. While haṭha yogis strive to restrain the senses with brute will-power, jñana yogis accomplish the same goal with the repeated practice of discrimination based on knowledge. They engage in deep contemplation upon the illusory nature of the world, and the identity of the self as distinct from the body, mind, intellect, and ego. The senses are withdrawn from the world, and the mind is engaged in meditation upon the self.
The goal is to become practically situated in self-knowledge, in the assumption that the self is identical with the Supreme Ultimate reality. As aids to contemplation, they chant aphorisms such as: tattvamasi “I am That,” (Chhāndogya Upaniṣhad 6.8.7) and ahaṁ brahmāsmi “I am the Supreme Entity.” (Bṛihadāraṇyak Upaniṣhad 1.4.10)
The practice of jñāna yog is a very difficult path which requires a very determined personality, a supremely tenacious mind, and a highly sharpened intellect.
Knowledge of the self is called ātma jñāna, while knowledge of God is called Brahm jñāna. Jñan leads to ātma jñāna, but as was stated earlier, knowledge of God, or Brahm jñāna, cannot be attained by self-effort. It requires the Grace of God.
Hence, jñana yog is incomplete until we surrender to God, and engage in His devotion. The jñani needs to do Bhakti to attract the Grace of God, & complete the journey to God-realization.
This is a variation of jñān yog. It aims to control the mind by physical means, and reach the state of ātma jñāna. The procedure consists of eight steps. Hence, it is called Aṣhṭāṅg yog, or the eight-fold system. These steps help to gradually prepare the body and regulate the mind and senses, by following codes of conduct, practicing physical postures, breathing exercises, meditational techniques, etc.
The third step amongst these is Asan. This has become famous all over the world as “Yoga”. The western world has picked out the part of the eight-fold system that has to do with the physical postures, and it is practiced for good health, beauty, anti-aging, alternative healing, etc. It is considered fashionable nowadays to do Yoga, & scores of Yoga studios have opened in every city of the world. These physical Yogasans are undoubtedly highly beneficial for physical health, but the spiritual aspect is often ignored.
The system of Aṣhṭāṅg yog helps develop the personality at the physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual levels. However, it has one deficiency. It is based on self-effort, which is insufficient to control the mind, without the Grace of God. When we add Bhakti to it, that leads to true Yog, or union with God. The system of “Jagadguru Kripaluji Yog” teaches a perfect blend of the yogic techniques with Bhakti.
FUERHER READING: Deep into gyan
We have previously learnt about the two paths that lead towards God. The third and final path, devotion or Bhakti is the most suitable path for all human beings.
As we learnt earlier, Karm and jñāna have many injunctions, rules, obstacles and is very difficult to follow in this day and age. The path of devotion is very easy and anyone can practice it simply because every human has a mind and a heart! All we need for devotion is the presence of these two elements!
If a blind man has to practice Yog and jñāna, it would be extremely difficult for him to follow instructions given to him. How can he practice it? What will a lame man do to practice Yog? What about people who are very sick and frail? If a poor man does not have the means and provision to follow the path of Karm, does that mean he cannot reach God?
The path of Bhakti can be followed by every human being, irrespective of caste, creed, religion, colour, gender or age. This cannot be applied in whole to the other two paths. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that Karm and jñāna are true paths but their application is extremely difficult in
To attain God-realization, Bhakti is essential in every path. The karm yogi does Bhakti along with Karm, or worldly duties. The Jñānayogī and Aṣhṭāṅg yogi progress by their particular sādhanā path. However, in the end, they too need to do Bhakti, to attract the Grace of God, and reach the final destination. The scriptures state very categorically, that without Bhakti, no one can attain God.
Adi Jagadguru Shankaracharya, the foremost exponent and master of jñāna in the last 2500 years was a great devotee of Lord Krishna. He advocated devotion to Shree Krishna in his commentaries and even wrote poem in praise of the Supreme Lord!
Is it not astonishing to note that the one of the greatest philosophers and spiritual teachers of the path of jñāna is a devotee of Lord Krishna?
Bhakti is presence of immense love for the Lord. The devotee develops an intense longing to see God, meet Him, and be with Him. Whatever one does, the mind remains attached to God and the thoughts flow towards Him, like rivers flowing towards the ocean. Such love in the heart cleanses it of all impurities. With a pure heart, one begins to see God in all living beings and in all things. As the thoughts become sublime, the devotee experiences the unlimited Divine Bliss of God and becomes fully satisfied
Those who are established in this knowledge perform all their actions as an offering to him and are released from the sinful reactions of their work.
There are souls who have the good fortune of being born in pious families, where they are educated in good values and virtuous living from childhood. This is a consequence of their good deeds in past lives. Then, there are also souls who have the misfortune of being born in families of drunks, criminals, gamblers, and atheists. This is also the result of sins committed in past lives.
Here, Shree Krishna states that irrespective of birth, sex, caste, or race, whoever takes complete shelter of Him will attain the supreme goal. Such is the greatness of the path of devotion that everyone is eligible for it, whereas in other paths there are strict criteria for eligibility.
This verse states that God is not concerned with the time or place where we perform devotion. He only sees the love in our heart. All souls are the children of God, and he is willing to accept everyone with open arms, provided they come to him with genuine love.
The amazing thing is that Bhakti, or devotion, does not only have to be done in the temple or a place of worship. It can be performed in any place, at any time of the day, and with every action we do. A businessman, without Bhakti, will go about his business in material consciousness - "Let me earn money so that I can enjoy in the world." If you have love for God, you will still do business, but your attitude will change: "Let me earn a lot of money, so that after taking care of my bodily necessities, I can serve God with it."
A student will probably spend a large portion of the day studying. The material attitude is: "Let me get good results, so that I can make a good career." But if one has devotion in the heart the feelings towards studies will be: "Let me acquire knowledge and use it to serve and glorify my Beloved Shree Krishna."
If one is to eat food, the material attitude would be, "Let me eat tasty things and have a good time. It does not matter if I fall sick later, as long as I enjoy myself now." In contrast, if someone possesses Bhakti, that person would still be eating food, but with sublime thoughts: "Let me eat good food, so that I may become strong and healthy, and then I will be able to do a lot of service to God."
FUERHER READING: Manifestations of God.
Bhakti or devotion is performed by engaging the mind in complete absorption of God. It is the mind (that includes the heart) alone that has to do the devotion by applying its thoughts towards God. Other physical actions can be subservient to the act of devotion but the primary engagement is through the mind alone.
When a person desires an object, he works towards procuring it. Our minds have been trained to desire for material objects since eternity. Hence, it would seem extremely difficult to concentrate the mind on God since He is not yet our subject of desire. By learning more about God and His Divine Grace, the mind needs to be slowly trained to develop loving sentiments and emotions towards God since He alone can bring us the happiness that we seek.
It is the nature of the mind to desire or like an object that gives happiness. By understanding (through the intellect) that God alone is ours and He alone can bring us eternal peace, we can train the mind to constantly think of God. We will learn more about this in the section about
When the mind slowly begins to meditate on God, it will receive his Grace to that extent and progress on the path of Bhakti. The end result of this practice is the attainment of Divine Love.
God does not easily bestow Divine Love, since it is His highest power, and the ultimate thing one can possess. He waits till the devotee becomes deserving of it. So if we want Divine Love, we will have to qualify ourselves for it. This qualification is not an external certificate or degree; it is the preparation of the heart and mind. We will have to purify our mind completely, to have the good fortune of receiving Divine Love.
During the initial stages, the mind is unaware of the method to 'visualize' God. How can the mind meditate or concentrate on someone when it does not know how that person looks? In the path of Jñāna yog and Aṣhṭāṅg yog, the aspirants aim to concentrate their mind on a void, a circle or on some 'formless' power. This is extremely difficult to realize an entity which has no form.
On the contrary, the full personal form of God can be chosen as your beloved deity for worship. It is much easier for any person to imagine 'his' or 'her' God to be of a certain form which is easier to identify with. Remember, God is present in both, Formless and Personal Form in this world.
How does one perform or practice Devotion? What are the benefits?
The aim of practicing devotion or Bhakti is to cleanse one's mind and heart so that is can receive the Divine Love of God. Cleansing involves the removal of mental afflictions like greed, hate, anger, lust and many such impurities that cloud the mind. Our mind has been attached to this material world since eternal lifetimes. It is also through the practice of devotion, we aim to neutralize the mind by detaching it from the world and attaching it to God.
Neutralizing the mind denotes that we neither hate nor love this world. We should become indifferent to the events that unfold in front of us. Whether the situation or the incident is favourable to us or unfavourable, the path of devotion builds the inner strength so that we can remain unaffected by the external disturbances, good or bad.
This practice also helps us to develop the ability to give up desires for material happiness or pleasure. This is closely related to the "attachment" that we have for the material world andthe people around us. Bhakti helps to reduce material desire and increase desire for objects related to God. This is the beginning of devotion. We will want to meet Him, talk to Him and be with Him. This is the germination of the seed of bhakti in our hearts.
When the mind becomes strong enough to withstand the vagaries of this dynamic world full of changes that are good and bad, we will find more peace, stability and serenity within. With such a neutral mind, one can move towards God swiftly and steadily.
How will the mind be cleansed? This will happen through “preparatory devotion”. Such devotion will prepare the vessel of the mind, in which God will then bestow His Divine Love. Hence, Bhakti is of two kinds:
Sadhan Bhakti, or Preparatory devotion. Sadhan Bhakti is what we will have to do to cleanse the mind from anger, greed, lust, envy, pride, and illusion.
Siddha Bhakti, or Divine Love. Siddha Bhakti is a Divine power that we will receive by God’s Grace. The purification of the mind is a natural consequence of doing Sadhan Bhakti. God is all-pure, beyond the three modes of material nature. When we attach our mind to Him, it starts rising above the three modes. First, tamo guṇa, the mode of ignorance, is destroyed. Then, rajo guṇa, the mode of passion is finished, and the mind becomes sattvic, or established in the mode of goodness. Finally, by the Grace of God, the sattva guṇa is also destroyed. At this stage, Sadhan Bhakti is complete, and the vessel is ready for receiving Siddha Bhakti. So to get Divine Love, we must first learn how to do preparatory devotion.
Another name for Siddha Bhakti is upasana. The word upasana means to come close to God. How can we do that? By thinking, “He is mine.” We can think, “Shree Krishna is my Father. Radharani is my Mother.” Or if wish, we can think, “Shree Krishna is my Friend.” Just as the cowherd boys of Braj looked upon Shree Krishna as their friend. We then have the privilege to play with Him, and confide in Him.
We can even think that Shree Krishna is our Beloved. This is how the gopis of Vrindaban worshipped Shree Krishna. A great example of this bhav (sentiment of devotion) was Meera Bai. She looked upon the Lord as her Beloved, and in this way, felt the greatest proximity with Him. We too can increase our love for Shree Krishna, by establishing sweet loving relationships with Him.
Devotion may sometimes seem very similar to worldly love, but actually it is totally the opposite. The distinction is that love in the world is selfish, while true Love for God is selfless.
The essence of practical Sādhanā for a vast majority of the people in this age of Kali is to adopt the path of karm yog, as instructed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
In the Hindu tradition, we are fortunate to have a vast treasure house of knowledge available in the Vedic scriptures. There is no literature or set of scriptures grander than that of Hinduism, which can enlighten the entire universe and lead all souls on the most glorious path-towards Eternal Bliss.
The first line of this verse is the essence of teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. It has the power of making our life divine. It also encapsulates the definition of karm yog. Shree Krishna says, “Keep your mind attached to me, and do your worldly duty with your body.” This applies to people in all walks of life—doctors, engineers, advocates, housewives, students, etc. In Arjun’s specific case, he is a warrior and his duty is to fight. So he is being instructed to fulfil his duty, while keeping his mind in God. Some people neglect their worldly duties on the plea that they have taken to spiritual life. Others excuse themselves from spiritual practice on the pretext of worldly engagements. People believe that spiritual and material pursuits are irreconcilable. But God’s message is to sanctify one’s entire life.
When we practice karm yog, the worldly works will not suffer because the body is being engaged in them. But since the mind is attached to God, these works will not bind one in the law of karma. Only those works result in karmic reactions which are performed with attachment. When that attachment does not exist, even worldly law does not hold one culpable.
A person can go about dispensing his daily duties as before. By adopting the path of karm yog, we aim to remove the attachment towards the objects that we love most. The mind should be attached to the Supreme God alone. This is the process of neutralizing the mind where our attachment to this world is reduced, and eventually eliminated.
If we concentrate our love in God alone, and limit ourselves to the performance of duties in the world, then both our goals will be accomplished easily. Duties of the material world will be accomplished, and at the same time, we will achieve our Divine goal.
In addition to our duties, we must practice devotion in isolation without disturbance so that we contemplate and meditate in peace. This is equal to practicing karm sanyas temporarily, where we do not perform any worldly duties or actions but only concentrate the mind and body on pure devotion to God. This period of 'devotion in isolation' has immense importance in building our loving sentiments towards God and fortifying our mind.
One must dedicate a few hours in contemplation of the Personal Form of the Supreme God every day. This is a very essential and important part of devotion, and is also the 'heart and soul' of the devotional process. This is called Roop Dhyan meditation
To be able to fix our mind on God, we need a Form of God that we can identify with. By practicing Roopdhyān meditation for a few hours every day and continuing with our daily duties, one can attain the true Bliss of God.
At present, our mind is unfocussed. This scattering of thoughts in the mind in various directions not only reduces our effectiveness at work, it also becomes an impediment in devotion. We experience this when we sit to chant verses praising God, but the mind wanders way towards the material world. Meditation is a process for practicing to focus the mind on God.
The untrained mind has been compared with a monkey. By nature, a monkey is restless. In addition, if it afflicted by hysteria, how restless will it be? To top that, feed it with alcohol and then consider its state! Further, if you tie a scorpion to its tail, then imagine the monkey’s condition.
The Saint Tulsidas said, “My Lord! My mind is like such a monkey.” He said it out of humility, but we all experience that the mind does wander beyond our control. This negatively impacts our performance at every task.
Concentration increases the effectiveness. Water vapour rises from lakes, and drifts ineffectively in the sky. But the same water vapour, when concentrated in the form of steam and focused on the piston of the railway engine, becomes so powerful that it is able to push the engine on the railway track, along with thousands of tons of carriage, at the speed of knots. Similarly, an unwavering mind has tremendous power when focused like a strong beam of light towards a dark object. This is the reason why peoples in diverse cultures around the world use a variety of meditational techniques to improve their concentration.
People practice meditation in many ways. Some meditate on the breath, others on the centre of the eyebrows, yet others on the psychic centres in the spinal cord, still others on a tranquil lake, and while some meditate on a light. These different meditations do improve the focus of the mind. However, their benefits are incomplete and impermanent.
The problem with these mechanical techniques is that they do not address the issue of purification of the mind. As long as lust, anger, greed, envy, illusion, etc. reside in the mind, these forces again destroy the gained concentration. The second problem is that they aim at stopping the thought flow and bringing the mind to a void. This is against the nature of the mind, and hence these techniques are uninteresting and difficult.
If you want it to stop thinking, it becomes an unstable condition. Such a thoughtless state is difficult to sustain. However, if you turn the mind towards God, it very easily begins meditating upon the Divine Realm.
Meditation upon God is also very sweet. The mind by nature, desires attractive forms, activities, sounds, smells, sensations, tastes, etc. In devotion, the all-Blissful Forms of God are attractive subject matters for the mind to meditate upon. Most importantly, God is all-pure, and when we fix our mind upon Him, the mind too becomes pure.
Shree Krishna tells Arjun: “I am beyond the three modes of material nature. By engaging the mind in meditation upon Me, through Bhakti yog, your mind will transcend the three modes and become Divine.”
Roop Dhyan is meditation upon the Form of God. In this, we learn to close our eyes, and visualize the Form of God in front of us, or within our heart. Since the Form of God is all-attractive, the mind gets a wonderful subject on which to focus. In this way, the mind stabilizes with loving thoughts upon God. Roop Dhyan is absolutely indispensible in devotional practice.
Before we start to love someone, we need to more about that person. In the same way, before we begin devotion to God about whom we know very less, it is important to learn more about Him and His virtues so that it can help us understand more about His Divinity.
FUERHER READING: Our Eternal Relationship with God
You may ask, having never seen Radha Krishna, how can we bring Their Forms to the mind? However, God is so merciful that He lets us meditate on a Form of His that we like and cherish.
If you are attracted to beautiful Deities of Radha Krishna in some temple, you can make Them the basis of your meditation. Carefully look at Them with your eyes open. Then close your eyes and try bringing Their image in front of you. Else, you can meditate on a nice picture of Radha Krishna. Or you may simply make Their image with your mind. In whatever way you meditate upon Their form, try to feel Their Divine presence in it, and increase your love for Them.
If you wish, you may meditate on Shree Krishna alone, or on Radharani alone. Else you can bring the image of both of Them to your mind; that is all up to you. Some people like to meditate on their Guru alone. That is fine too. The idea is to keep the mind in the Divine Realm. The best is to first meditate on your Guru, to receive his blessings, then meditate upon God.
Other techniques employed in Roop Dhyan is to mediate on the Divine Pastimes of God (leelas), His Divine virtues, His Divine Abodes and His Saints.
Shree Maharajji has revealed a treasure trove of Divine knowledge of the spiritual benefit of all mankind. Mostly written in Hindi and translated into other languages, these books have helped many a soul cross the ocean of ignorance and move swiftly towards the path of God realization.
Apart from these, Shree Maharajji has also written Yugal Ras, Shyama Shyam Geet, Sankirtan Sargam, Shree Krishna Dwadashi, Shree Radha Trayodashi, Kripalu Trayodashi, Sebak Sebya Siddhanta and Pravachan Madhuri.
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