Questions about “Who am I’, ‘What is my purpose’, ‘Where or what is God’, ‘Why are bad things happening to me’ have been asked ever since man tasted apple (the fruit, not the company).
And the answer isn’t 42!
Wonder why we don’t question the awesome moments, relationships and things, however few, that have come our way though #FoodForThought
The Indian rishis and sages however questioned and thought about all this. And they were probably the first to find the answers to these existential questions which they generously recorded in the Vedas and Upanishad for future lost souls to learn from. Alas, if only Deep Thought had access to these philo-scientific gems, then mankind wouldn’t be as lost as the mice.
Mystery of Death by Swami Abhedananda (a first disciple of Sri Ramakrishna) is a collection of lectures delivered to American students on the central thoughts and philosophy of the Katha Upanishad which distils the essence of the Divine Truth or rather ‘the meaning of life’. Sharing my key take-aways for the curious and crazy.
What are the Upanishads?
Upanishad means “a collection of wisdoms and truths which are eternal, uncontradicted and permanent”
How does this collection of wisdoms and truths help you?
- It destroys the ignorance and superstition of the individual soul (and teaches men not to remain self-deluded)
- Guides the soul towards the attainment of the highest wisdom and truth
- And in the process slackens attachment to your
- material body,
- earthly attachment
- material world
What is the essence of the philosophy?
It teaches that truth is one but is manifested in manifold ways.
What is this “Universal Truth” (The ‘One Truth That Rules All Truths’)?
Your individual spirit (also referred to as ‘individual soul’ or ‘true self’) is a part and parcel of the Universal spirit (also referred to as ‘Creator’ or ‘God’) and your purpose in life is to realize this truth and become one with the Creator by becoming a self-realized soul.
Elaborating this “Universal Truth” a bit…
The universe you live in is a projection of cosmic energy that emanates from the Creator. This cosmic energy forms the body of Creator and through the process of evolution manufactures various objects of nature, including humans, in accordance with the laws of ‘karma’ of previous cycles.
Since you emanate from the same body of the Creator (akin to a single wave emanating from the body of the sea), the same spirit of the Creator lies within you, which is referred to as the soul.
Once you realize that your soul is a part of the Creator’s universal soul, you realize that you yourself are the Creator and you unite and become one with the cosmic energy. Then your journey through your cycle of birth and death ends. Which is why Jesus Christ said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”.
This philosophy on ‘oneness’ is further validated by other self-realized souls like Buddha when he said “He who experiences the unity in life sees his own Self in all beings and all beings in his own Self” and by Swami Vivekananda when he said, “Whoever sees in every being the same Atman (soul), and whoever sees everything in that Atman (soul), he never goes far from that Atman (soul). When all life and the whole universe are seen in this Atman (soul), then alone man has attained the secret. There is no more delusion for him. Where is any more misery for him who sees this Oneness in the universe” just to quote a from a couple of them.
Hence a life without putting in efforts to realize your own divinity, your immortal nature, your true self, is definitely a life missed meeting your maker and might be a life wasted.
How can you realize your true self and become a self-realized soul?
At a conceptual level there are 3 elements that go into self-realization –
- An extreme detached longing which makes the seeker after Truth well-qualified to receive instruction and to realize the immortal life. This is very rare to obtain. And an extreme longing yet detached state even harder. Something I tried to put a formula and approach to in an earlier post which you can read here.
- This longing must rise spontaneously from the bottom of our souls. How it comes and when it comes nobody can tell. It is the expression of the natural evolution of the soul.
- Some people may have that longing from childhood, other may have it in their youth and some others may have it in maturity and old age. It is said, unless all our earthly desires are satisfied, we cannot have that longing.
- An open mind which is receptive to the highest truth
- Reading various spiritual philosophies with an open mind, refraining from drawing immediate conclusions and seeing similar patterns and truths across various philosophies can warm you up and help you understand
- However, you cannot attain the knowledge of immortality by just reading books. Words hint at this Reality, but they do not, cannot, explain it. Truth is a state of being, not a set of words. You have to feel it, and that feeling must be the result of practicing one of the 4 techniques expounded in the Bhagavad Gita which later Swami Vivekananda expands in his lectures in America.
- Karma Yoga – through selfless action
- Bhakti Yoga – through selfless love
- Jnana Yoga – through self-knowledge
- Raja Yoga – a combination of:
- long practice of concentration (dharana) – to make your intellect or reasoning faculties very sharp and keep to grasp something which is beyond the 5 senses (taste, touch, sight, smell and sound)
- meditation (dhyana) – https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-dharana-and-dhyana and
- ecstacy (samadhi). Samadhi means God-consciousness
In addition, a right Guru can act as a catalyst (some philosophies say a Guru is an essential catalyst).
You will have to go through different grades of evolution. That evolution will come by itself, if we are animated by spiritual longing, strong desires and determination. They are necessary accompaniments of spiritual and mental evolutions, and those qualities will change your whole nature, transforming you into a quite different being.
There are some temperaments which will find it almost impossible to take up this path to the Truth. The suggestion for such souls is to deliberately spend time with inspired works of art (music, dance, poems which are inspirational rather than violent), lose yourself in Mother Nature’s beauty and serenity and embrace silence. As Paul Brunton (a first disciple of Ramana Maharshi) says, “There is spiritual power in these moments which we remember long after they are gone. Rightly used they can become as Jacob’s ladders leading from earth to heaven.”
Why is self-realization so difficult to achieve?
Your true Self, Atman (soul), is very subtle. It is subtler than the subtlest thing you can imagine. You cannot touch, taste, see, smell or hear it. Since it is beyond the realm of your senses, it is difficult to even grasp or understand let alone pursue.
To make matters worse, the Creator has pierced the opening of the senses and has made them go outward, not inward. Hence, whenever you see any fascinating thing, your ego is attracted by it and you become attached to it. Ego is nothing but the name given to your soul when it is on the earthly plane, attached to worldly desires (and has forgotten its true nature).
So long as you are following the power of your senses and sensations, you forget what is within you and you forget your true self and become fascinated, charmed and attached by the external objects of the world (which is why the universal advice from self-realized souls is “know thyself, look inward”)
Why these limitations have been made by the Creator I do not know (if someone does then feel free to enlighten me and the world).
There isn’t any reason to despair though. In his book, Swami Abhedananda assures us that “The soul will not be contented until it has realized its infinite nature, and that is the goal towards which we are running consciously or unconsciously”
And hence you will keep returning to this earth to fulfil your desires and purify your character and soul through karmic lessons till this goal is attained.
Deliberately practicing one or all of the 4 techniques can however help in your cause of getting the Creator to notice your efforts and maybe give you a helping hand to expedite your cosmic union cos apparently he is biased in helping those who help themselves.
Why should you believe this ‘Universal Truth’ on ‘Oneness’?
You shouldn’t believe it blindly. In fact, doubt everything unless you can prove it by yourself.
There are 2 steps involved in proving a postulate to yourself.
- Intellectual rationalization
- I’ve extracted the ‘Universal Truth’s’ thought evolution of the rishis/seers from the book Mystery of Death which outlines the logic behind their findings below.
- Experiencing outcomes through practice
- However, spiritual pursuit is a serious undertaking. Mere curiosity is not enough in that path. What one requires is deep loyalty to the ideal. Curiosity mongers will never reach the highest goal until their hearts and souls have become earnest. So, it won’t be fair to dispel the conclusion in its entirety if you haven’t made any progress, especially sans practice (in the same way it’s not fair to say Mt. Everest cannot be climbed if you can’t do so)
Thought evolution of the seers –
- The rishis first sought to find out ways and means for earthly pleasures and celestial happiness
- They had (somehow?) realized that there were realms of heaven
- According to them there were many heavens which afford different kind of celestial pleasure.
- Example, in realm of pitr or souls of departed ancestors, departed souls meet their relatives and enjoy the fruits of their good deeds and good thoughts after death (hence probably how the modern spiritualistic ideal of meeting friends and enjoying with them evolved)
- Souls go to these heavens/realms to fulfil our desires. Our unfulfilled desires cling to us and take us wherever it can be fulfilled. If the desires are of earthly nature, gross or material or sensuous, it will force the soul to come back to earth to fulfil it. Else if it is of refined character (what is refined character desires?), the soul will have to go to such realms as are mentioned in the Vedas
- The seers believed that the heavens were meant for people who lived a virtuous and righteous life. They didn’t believe in the concept of an eternal hell but believed in the law of karma (cause and effect). And souls came back to earth, after their visit to the relevant realms of heaven. They were born again and again until they have learnt the law through hard experiences and are ready for higher life and gradual perfection.
- So karmakanda describes the ritualistic portion of the Vedas, various sacrifices, rites and ceremonies, which lead to heavens
- However, they figured that the difference in enjoyment in heaven and that on earth is only a difference of degree and not of kind
- And the duration of pleasure on earth is limited with longer periods of pain whereas in heaven that may be just the opposite
- They realized that even in heaven there is some kind of suffering. Even if there is no immediate suffering, there is fear of losing pleasure from having to return to earth and/or their place being taken by mortals on earth who are becoming extremely virtuous
- The seers also realized and concluded that the earthly and celestial pleasures were not eternal (Pleasure would be no pleasure if it continued forever. This is a thing that very few people understand)
- Based on this principle the jnanakanda or rationalistic portion of the Vedas came into existence)
- They rationalised that while the celestial pleasures could be enjoyed through good thoughts and good deeds in the earthly lives, good thoughts and deeds are limited by time and space and as such finite in nature.
- Anything finite must only produce a finite result and an eternal effect (eternal happiness/pleasure) is possible only when the cause is eternal and not otherwise
- There is no work or thought which is unlimited by time and space, and consequently its results, however great it may be, must be limited by time and space.
- So the Vedic seers of Truth could no longer believe that the heavenly pleasures as well as the heavens were eternal
- At this point we should bear in mind that the Vedic seers were monotheistic (believed that there is only one God) in their ideas.
- At first, they tried to explain the mystery of the universe and its creation by conceiving of a Creator who was omnipotent and omniscient Lord of all. But then they rejected the theory of creating ‘something out of nothing’ and used the word ‘Creator’ in the sense of one who projects the universe out of the cosmic energy (mahashakti), which forms the body of the Lord, and manufactures through the process of evolution the various objects of nature, in accordance with the types of previous cycles.
- Thus, explanation of the origin of the external world depended upon the conception of God as the projector of evolution.
- The Vedic seers then enquired into the nature of the individual soul, the internal or subjective world and its relation to the external or objective world. They gradually came to the conclusion that the internal or subjective world is connected with the objective world by the individual soul or ego, which is beyond matter.
- They also discovered through their experiences in the superconscious state and revelation that the individual soul is eternal. It is beginningless and endless, and its relation to the universal Being or Creator is a spiritual one like absolute oneness on the spiritual plane, or in other words, the Creator manifests Himself in the form of an individual ego.
- Hence, gradually those ancient seers gave up the idea of going to heaven as the highest aim of life, and discovered happiness which is more permanent and more lasting then the celestial pleasures.
Why can’t science prove the connection between True-Self and Cosmic Energy or the Creator?
- Science as it deals only with the sense perceptions, cannot explain the mystery of self. It is only within the province of philosophy
- Science cannot reach it as its domain is within the sense perception and all its observations and experiments depend entirely upon the sense perceptions too. The Atman or soul however is beyond the realm of the 5 senses.
- At the same time the Atman (soul) forms its background by which we perceive the sense objects
- The studies of percepts and concepts will not reveal what we may call the witness. The chair is illumined by the light but if you want to study the light the chair will not help you.
- Similarly the sense perceptions will not help you in studying your own Self cos they have no separate existence from the Self… sense perceptions and Self are one and the same
- They cannot reveal any truth but truth is revealed by itself
- Hence, study yourself and find out who you are and what you are, and that study will reveal to you that constant entity.
- Through practice of deep meditation, when you are able to reach super-conscious state, samadhi, will you be able to find your true self, your soul.
“The soul will not be contented until it has realized its infinite nature, and that is the goal towards which we are running consciously or unconsciously.” – Swami Abhedananda
So why not run consciously?
And btw, if you haven’t guessed, the answer to life’s existential questions is not 42 but ONE!