The Wonder of Reincarnation
As a river nears the ocean it looks back at its life. The virgin snows on mountain-tops that gave birth to it. The lake down below which was its nursery. The travel through mountain passes where it met its tributaries and gained adulthood. The solitude and tranquility of the forests, the singing of the birds, the lush green valleys laden with wheat, corn and rice. The adventurous ride through cities, gladly accepting their refuse and sometimes flooding them as if in a fit of anger. Thousands of experiences and hundreds of memories. And now its imminent merger into a bigger entity. Its losing of the shores which defined it and gave it its uniqueness. What a trip!
Merging into the ocean however is just a brief stopover. The water evaporates leaving behind all its impurities in the ocean, the clouds drop snow on a different mountain-top, the snow melts and water feeds into a different river and keeps the never-ending cycle going.
Might nature have fashioned the human life and for that matter every type of life in the same manner? A life force appearing in its mortal form, going through its journey, disappearing into a bigger entity and after being cleansed and rejuvenated, reappearing at a different time and at a different place in a new mortal garb. Does that somehow show us that we should revere the life force within and not indulge in worshipping the external attributes provided to it by the Providence? Should this shared life force provide for a common bond between all living beings or should we let ourselves be consumed by our petty differences? And if we choose the latter, would that not be an affront to the very essence of nature?
Self Observation -I
The discovery of self is a must for experiencing depth. It comes by self-observation. The Upanishads describe a simple technique for accomplishing this. They say : deliberately divide your attention at all times so as to direct a portion of it back on yourself. Divide you, the `person' into an `observing I' and an `acting or thinking I'. Within the vast array of selves of your personality, establish an awareness that only watches all the rest. By observing yourself you will realize that not YOU but IT speaks within you, moves, feels, laughs, and cries in you. This concept is enumerated in the following Upanishadic sutra:
The individual self, immersed in the world of change,
deluded, laments its lack of freedom.
But when it discovers God, full of dignity and power,
it is freed from all its suffering.
Thoreau, a transcendentalist, had this to say about the concept of self-observation: `I am conscious of the presence of a part of me, which, (as it were,) is not a part of me, but a spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it ..... When the play, (it may be the tragedy,) of life is over, the spectator goes his way. It was a kind of fiction, a work of the imagination only, so far as he was concerned.
The hallmark of Socrates' philosophy was `Know thyself'.
Discover and nurture the `observing I', and you will find yourself to be more in command of your life!
In this 'partially awakened' state, a person does everything with a feeling of awareness and with a certain degree of control. His actions are not mere automatic responses to different stimuli. A person can see himself with complete objectivity. This results in his being able to make more meaningful choices.
With continued practice of 'self observation' a person ultimately reaches the highest state - the 'fully awakened' state. In this state a person sees, not only himself but everything around him with full objectivity. The base and meaningless concepts of 'I', 'mine', 'yours' etc. disappear. The constant clamor of the mind is replaced by a sense of serenity. An inner peace prevails and the person becomes 'liberated'.
George I. Gurdjieff, a noted Russian philosopher, who was also a student of Hinduism, found the practice of 'self-observation' to be the starting point of all conscious raising efforts.
The concept of 'self-observation' and how to practice it, is the single most revealing gift of the Upanishads.
Self Observation - III
A lot has been written about higher consciousness. It simply means being able to see the things around you, the way they really are, and not have your perception be colored by your personal biases and prejudices. The Upanishadic way to accomplish this is by sepa rating the 'observing I' from the 'acting or thinking I'. A good way to start practicing this technique is to just observe for a few days, your one hand do all it does during your waking hours. Then you can stretch this 'self-observation' to include different parts of your body, ultimately to include your mind. It is a long drawn out process but worth the results it produces.
There are many practical benefits that come from moving your consciousness to a higher level. Extracting and enhancing the 'observing you' from the 'rest of your personality' enables you to 'merely observe your anxieties' rather than be 'part of them'. That is a great way to reduce stress. Self-observation reveals to you how small a portion of your most valuable possession - your emotional energy - is expended wisely. People normally squander it on a host of utterly futile activities such as anxiety, purely imaginary fears, agitation and anger, and also on maintenance of an exhausting degree of muscle tension. Having discovered how wasteful you are in the use of your nervous energy, you can improve your daily life by using it wisely.
By moving to a higher level of consciousness, you can see things from other people's viewpoint. This gives you an edge in resolving minor disputes before they flare up into full-scale egotistical wars.
By conserving your reservoir of emotional energies, by separating your 'self' from 'the crises in your life' and by having your perceptions devoid of any biases, your life becomes a lot simpler. The choices you make in life are more thought out. The mental equilibrium you attain calms you down. It has been said that 'awaken ing is the evolutionary destiny of mankind'. Why not embark on this journey now?
Since we are embodied souls, we tend to think of our own or others' bodily affairs as our first and foremost duty. But the Vedas say, "No, there is a much greater goal! Human life is meant for self-realization, If you occupy yourself only with thoughts of your body and things related to it; if satiating the needs and desires of your body become the primary focus of your existence, then you will waste an invaluable opportunity. And the subsequent anxiety, strain and agitation will cause your loving relationships to disintegrate. All that will be left at the end will be suffering." As long as we are attached solely to our selfish sensual pleasures, we will remain selfish in our relationships. This, in the long run, will only create misery. The remedy is to awaken our spiritual understanding that a person is actually a soul , who can never be satisfied by any amount of sensual pleasure, and who needs to awaken his loving relationship with the supreme soul.
For spiritual upliftment, one has to follow a regimen of meditation and service to the divine; one has to glorify the Lord's name by chanting mantras and develop a loving relationship with Krishna. Built into this concept is a tacit understanding that faith is required for connecting to the divine for spiritual upliftment. God's existence is revealed, not deduced. It can only be experienced by a loving and faithful devotee whose sole purpose of existence is glorifying and serving the Lord. It is not something to be deduced by conducting experiments in a lab.
Spiritual upliftment - the highest purpose of life - is attained by shifting the focus of our existence from merely attending to the bodily needs and desires, to awakening our natural love for Krishna through the chanting of the Mahamantra and through our service to His Lordship.
Our desire to understand and rationalize the infinite with a primitive intellect is the most amazing thing about us humans. Science enables us to analyze and validate events happening in the material realm; it lets us observe and study activities and processes in a controlled environment in a lab. Psychology and Logic help us to understand human behavior in the material world. But many of our educated elite try to view our sacred scriptures through the scientific and psychological lenses with disastrous results.
The Bhagwad Gita, our most revered sacred text, is there to guide us through life while we inhabit the mortal shores. Most of us read its translation into English or one of our native languages and are mesmerized by its spiritual content. Some go to the extent of learning Sanskrit, so as to be able to read the original text; others try to memorize it in its entirety. Having done that, we fail to follow up and live it – we don’t heed the Lord’s word to clean up our act and become more spiritual. Learning about Krishna’s divine song without ever trying to live it is like spending our lives at the temple door without ever entering it. We all know that for darshan, we must enter the deity room. To cleanse our hearts, we must come there in a submissive mood with prayers on our lips; determined to change our lives by developing our love for Him. Unfortunately, we don’t go the extra mile; we are content with just a token association with the divinity, making it to be the end of our efforts.
Fast forward by a few decades and we find ourselves in the autumn years of our lives without having experienced spirituality. We feel a sense of hollowness, a sense of betrayal, a frustration with our perceived notion of the scriptures having failed us. Our analytical intellect starts to tear at the very basis of our existence – our scriptures. Many a men have come up with a million doubts about the Bhagwad Gita. To name a few, why is the Lord’s message divided into 18 chapters, who selected the irrational names for the chapters, how could the two armies be kept waiting at the battlefield while Lord Krishna spoke to Arjun, how could the soldiers live out in the open or in tents during the biting cold December nights of Kurukheshter without dying of sickness and disease, why did the Lord have to teach Arjun – a smart older person - about some of the basic things mentioned in the Gita, why did Sanjay have to be the intermediary for transmitting Lord Krishan’s word to Dhritrashter and by extension to us all, etc. etc. I understand that there is even a foundation in Pune, India – Vanderkar Research Institute – that is busy analyzing the Bhagwad Gita. Mind you, a group of spiritually unhinged academics have embarked on an ego driven trip to refute/validate the Lord’s word – the Bhagwad Gita. How can an analytical intellect mired in reasoning comprehend the divine? What else could be expected from a group of neurotic people who would try to measure the size of infinite with a measuring tape? How could a person totally devoid of any spirituality, expect to see the invisible spirit with his eyes?
God’s presence can be experienced only by a sincere devotee. It cannot be deduced in a lab by conducting some experiments and making measurements with a set of hi-tech instruments. To expect to validate spiritual phenomenon in a lab with instruments meant for validation of events occurring in the material realm is sheer madness. So is an effort to understand it through psychology and rational logic. To spend ones life by giving only lip service to religion, without crossing the threshold to spirituality, is sure to cause the person to lose faith at some point in his life.
One of our prominent Acharayas, the ISKCON founder Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami wrote, “By scriptural knowledge one can remain steady in his convictions but by mere academic knowledge one can be easily deluded and confused by apparent contradictions”. That is exactly what happens to some of our senior citizens who have spent their whole lives by looking at the scriptures from an academic point of view without ever surrendering to the Lord, who have been totally focused on performing rituals without ever crossing the threshold of spirituality through developing their love for Him, and who have never really lived their religion. In their advanced years they feel confused and deluded and they start tearing at the scriptures. Scriptures are not the reason for their unhappiness; it is their lack of having followed the injunctions of the scriptures to attain spirituality that makes them feel hollow on the inside. It is the act of spending too much time on the academic study of the scriptures instead of using them to raise their level of consciousness, which is at the root of their confusion. "In the spiritual sense, wisdom is the ability to discriminate between matter and spirit". Cultivating that wisdom, and using it for spiritual growth is what provides the path to happiness.