Volume 7 - Issue 01
JANUARY - 2009
Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam. Welcome once more to this Q & A series, which, I hope, is of use to you. In this issue, I would like to deal with three or four questions, all connected with what might be called the true purpose of life and what humans must do to realise it. If you recall, this was the theme I started with, and there are still many questions in this topic before I can move on to another subject.
Let me first list the questions I wish to consider this time. They are as follows:
QUESTION 1: How can man have flaws, when he is the Spark of the Divine?
QUESTION 2: Why does man forget God? How does man deceive himself?
QUESTION 3: Why is the Cosmic aspect of man important?
QUESTION 4: How can man enter the Cosmic route, which would lead him to God?
So these are the four questions I will deal with today, and let me see how far I am successful! By the way, I do hope you are able to see some kind of a connection between the four questions above.
Let me start with the first question, which is:
How can man have flaws, when he is a Spark of the Divine?
I am sure all of us know that humans have faults, in fact plenty of them, but not many might be aware that we are Sparks of the Divine. So maybe, I should start with a brief remark on that latter point. If we look around, one thing we cannot escape seeing is bewildering diversity.
No matter to which religious faith one belongs or even if one does not believe in a God Supreme, one thing that no one can deny is the incredible diversity with which the entire Universe is packed. We have every thing from rocks to gigantic mountains, from little streams to big rivers to vast oceans, living creatures from the invisible bacteria and the tiny ant to huge elephants and so on.
For centuries, man has always wanted to know the source of all this diversity. Today, science has a pretty good reply, at least in part [and some of this story can be found in our H2H series entitled IN QUEST FOR INFINITY. It says that all the diversity in Creation came from one primordial event called the Big Bang, that occurred about 13.8 billion years ago and which signalled the birth of our Universe.
At the instant of the Big Bang, there was just one something, call it the Cosmic Soup if you will. Physicists would say that this Cosmic Soup was governed by a single Unified Field Theory and all that. However, within one second, yes, just one small second, this grand Unified Force field split into four distinct ones, that have ruled the Universe ever since. Playing out in different ways, these forces led step by step to the formation of electrons, protons, neutrons, etc., which, later, coming together in many different ways formed atoms from which came molecules, and so on.
Thereafter, it was a story of aggregation in many different ways, leading to everything from galaxies and stars to ants and monkeys. Thus, we can truly say, that even science accepts that from One came Many. Of course, the debate is all about what exactly that entity I call One is. Meanwhile, there is one critical fact I should mention here, and maybe, also stress. All our bodies are made up of atoms, and these atoms have a lineage going back almost to the beginning of our Universe.
Further, locked up in the recesses of the atom are all the four fundamental forces that have been ruling the Universe almost since its birth. These four forces are: the gravitational force, the strong force that holds protons and neutron together in atomic nuclei, the so-called weak force that governs radio activity, and finally the electromagnetic force that binds atoms and molecules, and is very much a part of the macro world. By the way, without radioactivity, we cannot have many forms of cancer therapy, the gamma camera that helps to diagnose many diseases, industrial radiography and so on.
I hope I have said enough to convince you that though we might not be conscious of it, the forces of Nature are in fact mirrored within us, indeed in every single atom of our body. In that sense, all of us are truly cosmic creatures. This is very interesting and flattering no doubt, but you will agree that we are, at least while alive, something more than a bunch of atoms or even complex molecules. We have something more, something we all know exists, but not easily described, and that is the mysterious entity called life.
Everyone accepts that life exists, including atheists, but few have been able to define it satisfactorily, in scientific terms that is. When it comes to issues related to life, consciousness and such other matters, one finds three kinds of scientists. One type says, “I do know what consciousness is, but scientifically, I am not concerned with it; I personally believe this topic falls outside the realm of science, and therefore I prefer not to comment on it.” This is the so-called uncommitted neutral group, if I may call it that.
Then there are others who say, “Life is something that transcends space and time, and science, as we know it, relates to matters that are bounded by space and time. Therefore, I believe science can never answer questions relating to life and consciousness. Perhaps only religion and spirituality can; maybe life is a gift of God.”
The third group is very allergic to God and vehemently declares [and its cries have become shriller lately], “There is no God. God is just a concept invented by humans who are weaklings and want a crutch to hold on to. Just hang on for a while, and science will have all the answers to the mysteries of life and consciousness, without invoking any God.” This is the atheist lobby speaking.
I am mentioning all this to stress, that when one declares that humans are a Spark of the Divine, it automatically assumes (a) that God exists, (b) humans came from God, that is to say God created humans [though maybe in an elaborate and evolutionary sort of way such as how Darwin outlined], and (c) the power of God resides in humans.
The statement that humans are a Spark of the Divine, is meant to stress that not only have humans been created by God but also that in His infinite mercy, God has packed humans with all kinds of capabilities, each of which is a reflection of the Divine, in a way more than atoms and molecules alone are – by the way, they too are packed with the power of the Divine in their own way. To cut a long story short, in the celebrated Gita, Krishna gives a brief glimpse of the different ways in which God’s power functions within humans.
Comments related to this are spread all over, but in the Tenth Chapter called the VibhutiYoga, there is an impressive collection. It is to stress that humans have been cast in the image of God [something which the Bible too records] that Swami almost invariably begins His Discourses with the words, Premaswaroopalara meaning ‘Embodiments of Divine Love’.
In earlier times, it used to be Diyatmaswaroopalara, which meant ‘Embodiments of the Divine Atma’. Either way, there is a reminder that we all are nothing but Sparks of the Divine.
Sorry about that long introduction, but it was needed to set the stage to answer the main part of the first question which I shall rephrase as follows:
If man is indeed a Spark of the Divine, why then does he not behave like God? Why does he, as he often seems to these days, behave more like the devil? How come such a thing happens?
This is the essence of the first question. It is a very important question that we would be dealing with in great detail as we go along but the short answer to this question is as follows, and it all revolves around action.
The Universe is full of action, and every entity acts, and by every entity, I mean inanimate entities like stars and planets, animate entities all the way from plants to ants through elephants, and finally human beings. Is there any difference in the way these different entities act? Sure there is. Inanimate entities act according to set rules and these are the rules that we refer to as Laws of Nature. Science is all about discovering the Laws of Nature and explaining them if one can.
Many such laws have been discovered and a good many have also been explained. When it comes to living beings except humans, they too have certain rules that they obey; they do so by what we call instinct, and so we say, instinct built-in by Nature governs the actions of animate beings, except humans of course. To put it differently, actions in the case of animals are hard-wired. No one teaches them how to; they know what to do and how to do because they have been programmed so to say; perhaps, the programs are encoded in the genes itself.
Let me now move on to man. To some extent, he too is programmed and hard-wired; this is inevitable since humans have evolved from lower animal species. But in one very important respect, humans are very lucky that God has blessed them with very superior and remarkable powers. The most important power is resident in what we call the Mind.
Thus, if man exhibits flaws, sometimes very serious ones, in spite of being a Spark of the Divine, it is entirely because the Mind tricks him into actions that constitute a blot on the innate Divinity of humans. In fact, that is the central problem today, and I guess we would be dealing with it quite extensively later on.
For the moment, the simple answer to the question I am dealing with is that man has been given a Mind that gives him a freedom of choice. Thus, though he knows what he should do and must do, he may decide not to do what is best for him and Society, and thus stands in denial of the Divinity latent in him. In short, Mind is the culprit!
This leads me on to the next question which is:
Why does man forget God? How does man deceive himself?
The short answer to both questions is MIND! Man forgets God on account of the mind. As someone said, the mind has infinite capacity to trick itself. In other words, man deceives himself through his mind!
It is no surprise then that the issue of the mind, what it is, and how to deal with it the right way, assumes great importance in Vedanta. I cannot deal with all that right now, but for the moment, maybe I could say the following:
If you recall, in my last instalment I mentioned that a human being is a composite of three entities namely, first the Atma which is fundamental and forms the core of the human personality, then a subtle mind which is supposed to play a role subordinate to the Atma, and finally the gross body.
By the way, when I say the mind should be subordinate to the atma, it means that the mind must take instructions and guidance from the atma. Having received this guidance, the mind is then supposed to direct the senses and the body on how they should act in this external world under various circumstances.
In this scenario, the atma is in the driving seat; and if this hierarchy, namely atma first, mind next, and body last, is maintained and always observed, then there are no problems whatsoever, spiritually that is. However, things do not always occur according to the script.
Often, the mind is easily misled by the senses, which drag humans into actions that seemingly lead to pleasure and happiness, but end up plunging the person into trouble and misery.
Although this happens again and again, and has in fact happened millions of times in history, most humans want to discover disaster all by themselves! And so, misled by the senses, and misguided by the deluded mind, they ignore the Voice of Conscience, or the Voice of God speaking from within. And that is how they court disaster; and when they find out about it, it is often quite late, rather like the man who constantly defies warnings, smokes heavily and finally ends up with lung cancer, from which he has no escape!
I now move on to the third question in the present series which is:
Why is the Cosmic aspect of man important?
This is an important question and requires a long and elaborate answer; obviously, I cannot do that now but the issue would surely come up again, at which point I shall deal with it in greater detail. Basically, it all boils down to almost the very first thing Lord Krishna told Arjuna, when he suddenly announced that he, namely Arjuna, was quitting and dropping out from the war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, just as it was about to begin.
Krishna then told Arjuna, “Arjuna, you are not the body but the eternal Atma. Let your atmic nature guide your actions rather than mere worldly considerations.” Swami reminds us of the same thing by telling us, “You are not man but God.”
However, what happens almost always is that misguided by the senses, the mind falls for the false attractions of the world. It forgets to take orders from the atma and help man to lead his life in the proper way; in short, man forgets his priorities. In particular, he easily becomes very selfish.
On the other hand, in the Gita, Krishna very clearly reminds man, “You have a Cosmic connection with every entity in Creati
on. Behind this connection, there is an underlying balance. If you forget this connection, you would engage in actions that upset the delicate balance I have ordained; result? You would be in deep trouble.” If you want one example that illustrates this point powerfully, it is climate change.
Driven by extreme self-interest and the desire to consume more and more, man has become addicted to fossil fuels, that is, oil and coal. In some way or the other, our major sources of energy today are fossil fuels. The more we burn them, the more we pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.
But who cares? Hardly a few; most say, “I live in Now; who cares what happens tomorrow? That is none of my concern!” And why have we landed in such a dangerous situation? Because we have stopped to think and be in harmony with the Cosmos.
It is this indifference that is leading to the destruction of forests, the extermination of species one by one, disturbance to biodiversity and bio-equilibrium, and so on. Ultimately, it is all because we are forgetting that it is the atma within us that is supreme and not the body or the senses which are quite transient.
True, the body and the senses do form a part of us; but to which do we give the importance, to the Master or the servant? When the obvious does not meet the eye and priorities are brushed aside, there can be problems for sure. If we do not want problems, then we cannot and must not ignore the Cosmic aspect. Once again, this is bound to come up later and I guess, slowly the bits and pieces would start adding up to make better sense.
This brings me to the last of the four questions I intend to discuss today, which is:
How can man enter the Cosmic route, which would lead him to God?
I would put it this way. When we are born, God does put us on the Cosmic route and in fact gives each one of us a compass called Conscience. All we have to do is keep consulting that compass and following it; if we do that, we are well on the road to God.
OK, all that is fine; man has now lost his way, and so what should he do? That really is the essence of the present question, and it is a fair one I must say. Let me go back to the compass business. Let us say, man has the compass but the glass is very dirty; as a result, he cannot see clearly which way the needle inside is pointing.
So, if he wants to use the Compass, what should he do? Obviously, he should clean the glass. In the same way, our Moral Compass within is not lost or misplaced; just that it is covered with a lot of muck. So, the first order of business is to remove the accumulated dirt. In spirituality, it is the mind that accumulates dirt and it is the mind that must be cleaned up.
In practical terms, one has to go through a drill of mind and sense control, even as one has to go through all kinds of exercise and diet control if one wants to bring down obesity. I shall not go into all that now, especially as it might frighten many of you! But I shall offer a simple recipe.
It is not original really, and Baba gave it to us a long time ago. It simply calls for us to keep chanting the Name of the Lord as often as we can, even as we are doing work that does not call for heavy concentration. What name to choose? A bhajan that we often sing gives the answer; it says, “Chant that name that appeals to you, but when you chant, do so with Love and deep feeling.” Remember that?
So you see, chanting the Name is not as tough as it might sound. Often when our boys travel together in a bus, they spend time singing bhajans. In Prashanti, when Sevadals move objects in tractors and trucks, they do so singing. You can sing as you vacuum the house, and so on; there is no limit to what one can do and it is so easy too!
Oh yes, there are other things also that one must do, but first, let us get started, and then we shall talk about steps 2, 3, 4, etc!
Well, that’s all for now, and I hope you were able to understand what I have tried to convey. All the best, and God bless. Jai Sai Ram.
(To be Continued...)
Vol 7 Issue 01 - JANUARY 2009
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