Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Purpose of Life
Purpose of Life
So, here we are. Another year has passed as per the Gregorian calendar. Even as I started for home on Dec 31st evening from office, around 6:30PM, the grounds within the campus had been converted in to an ‘open-air’ ‘fun’ ‘party floor’. Laser lights, fog effects and ear-drum blasting music, alcoholic drinks… pretty much the trend these days, isn’t it? For one, I never understood the concept of ‘drunken fun’.
Drinking and driving don’t mix… how about drinking and dancing, like having something wriggling up the legs?? Surely, puking on the girlfriend’s (or boyfriend’s) dress (whatever part of it is ‘cloth’) isn’t fun now really, is it?
Well, I have seen this happen for the last couple of years, and this is becoming a tradition these days. It is cool to go to a New Year party, hang out (whatever that means) with cool buddies, stress and flush the stomach out, get up with a headache in the morning, start the daily grind… in the second day of the year, waiting for the weekend, so one can celebrate the New Week!
I won’t be surprised if I hear a “Happy Week #23!”, or a “Wish you a very happy new week! Best wishes for your promotion dreams to come true! Hope you get a good hike (for the treat, of course)!” in another couple of years.
(Does anyone think how the pay hikes are made possible? Does anyone think how ‘inflation’ occurs? This is another exercise for the readers to put their thinking cap on!)
“What’s wrong in partying? People are just having some good time… just a night of fun, to unwind, to relax…”
“Come on dude, life’s meant to be enjoyed…”
Hmmm. Hold on. Enjoyed? Is that what ‘life’ as we live it meant to be really? To be enjoyed?
Let’s dwell on this a bit, alright?
There are four activities in this world that are common to ALL living entities: Eating, Sleeping, Mating and Defending. We humans, especially, are doing all of the above extraordinarily well, since the level of intelligence we are endowed with allows a greater range of control, but along with greater intelligence and facilities comes greater responsibility… a purpose to this life, and living.
So, what is the purpose of life?
We take birth. We die. In the time between these two events, we do so many things, believing that it improves our lives, increases our standard of living and gives us happiness. Good parents, nice food and robust health, a cozy home, high education, beautiful wife, chubby children, warm friends… these are all the aspirations of anyone who wants to lead a ‘happy’ life.
But what is the purpose of life? No one taught us that really, did they? We learn everything at school and college, about math, history, zoology, music, spacecrafts, and microbes… each one is an expert in one thing or other. But where are we taught “the purpose of life”?
Truth is we are discouraged from asking such a question! You will see blank stares, snickering laughs, frowns and everything in between to such a question from ‘normal’ day-to-day people. But what else can they do? They, after all, are also as much in the dark, aren’t they? What really happens is that each one is left to one’s own imagination to cook up a purpose to their living (which might include just living without a purpose too, ironically).
Add to this confusion the modern philosophers and pseudo-spiritualists who have now begun singing a tune to “Each one decides what’s best for oneself”… and you can now see the mess it has done. I don’t even have to explain it to this audience, I hope. Nowadays, it doesn’t matter if a perspective is right or wrong… it is of no consequence, as long as everyone agrees with everybody else.
But there is an obvious difference between the individual perceptions on the purpose of life and the objective purpose underlying life itself.
“What a load of BS! Life has no purpose, other than what we imagine…”
I have heard this countless times. Yes, if the modern evolution theory is to be considered (just for a fleeting moment) as true, the above statement probably becomes valid, since the theory is based on the assumption that life evolved from matter by random, purposeless mechanical/ chemical processes. But that ‘theory’ is just that. If one accepts the teachings of the Vedas by proper guidance and application, one can easily understand that ‘life force’ cannot arise from matter and must have a spiritual origin. And consequently, everything has a purpose and reason for occurring/ existing. Just because that purpose or reason is not readily apparent to our limited senses does not mean it does not or cannot exist.
In the human form of life, a spirit soul is given great intelligence and so many facilities. But it comes with a condition, as put forth by the very first sutra of the Vedanta Sutras, which essentially states the purpose of ‘Life’:
athato brahma jijnasa
"Now is the time to inquire about the Absolute Truth."
Many say self-realization is the final goal, that once you understand who you really are (which varies from ‘you are nothing, zero’ to ‘you are God’ depending on who you ask) you become realized and nothing more to do. There are different kinds of such philosophers and spiritualists… mayavadis, sunyavadis and so on. But, unfortunately for them, we can understand from the Bhagavad Gita that self realization is just the first step towards something more important. It is only the ignorance and neglect the modern generation has been having regarding the Vedas and Vedic scriptures that have allowed all kinds of bogus philosophies to crop up in the name of spirituality.
The first step in understanding the purpose of life is to know our actual nature. Once that realization dawns upon us, the next step is to enquire in to our relationship with the Absolute being, God, revealed as Krishna through the Bhagavad Gita. Once the understanding of the relationship is got, the last step is acting on such knowledge. Considering this along with the concept of the Supreme Lord Krishna being the owner of everything as explained in the previous article, everything that we have must be used in the service of the Absolute being, Krishna (including the efforts of the scientists and leaders). That fulfills the purpose of life.
Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 1 Chapter 2 Verse 10:
lābho jīveta yāvatā
nārtho yaś ceha karmabhiḥ
“Life’s desires should never be directed toward sense gratification. One should desire only a healthy life, or self-preservation, since a human being is meant for inquiry about the Absolute Truth. Nothing else should be the goal of one’s works.”
The human form of life is especially meant for this purpose. We are given the faculties to do what many other species cannot: Think about ourselves. Yet, we would readily accept a grossly ‘unscientific’ declaration “Life has no purpose” when we can keep yapping about goodness, charity, eradication of poverty and what not.
Srimad Bhagavatam, the top most purana, explains in great detail that Bhakti Yoga is the only recommended way in this Kali Yuga to gain such a level of understanding on ourselves, the Supreme Lord and the real purpose of life easily. I am aware that all this is the ‘theory’ part… and I haven’t gotten in to the ‘how to’ part till now, because I do not consider myself as an accomplished spiritualist… consider me like a patient who has been cured by a doctor and is recommending the doctor to other ‘patients’.
With this, I end the “Ancient Wisdom, Modern Relevance” series.
Ambi’s personal Note: I do not know how effective or useful my articles were. There were so many discussions, so many arguments. I am sure there are several readers who did not participate in the exchange of comments but were silent spectators, several people who liked the articles/ comments, and several who disliked those. Almost everything I have put forth in my articles, I had learned from Srila Prabhupada’s books and his disciples (and No, I am not a member of ISKCON).
I hope at least a few of the readers would take up studying the “Bhagavad Gita As It Is” by Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada with sincerity and benefit from it for eternity. If anything, this whole exercise was probably meant to be for my own purification. Thank you.
Article written by Ambi.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Kali Yuga gaining
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Kali Yuga gaining
I did not find a more suitable title for this article than the one given.
All this while, I had attempted to present the teachings of Bhagavad Gita in a concise manner so that even a person with no prior knowledge can get interested in the vast literature. I had planned to present the next article on describing the material nature, 3 modes of material nature, how our everyday activities fall under it, how the food we eat is classified and so on. But I somehow did not get satisfied with the reason for writing on the topic at this moment. In the meantime, I wrote one article on the issue of faith that is inherent in modern science. But even that was not satisfying for me since I had given that article to try and put to rest certain types of arguments and doubts. So, this time, I have left my ‘flow’ take over.
Be warned that this article is not as focused as I would have liked it to be, for several reasons which are outside the scope of this discussion. Let’s begin, shall we?
Lord Krishna informs us in the Bhagavad Gita about the cosmic scale of time and the manifestation of creation and annihilation.
BG 8.17: By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together form the duration of Brahmā’s one day. And such also is the duration of his night.
If you read the purport for the above verse, it is explained that Kali Yuga, this age of quarrel, lasts for 432,000 years. Of this, approximately 5000 years have passed. Srimad Bhagavatam, the spotless purana, in the second chapter of its twelfth canto, describes the age of Kali in vivid terms and also declares the descent of the Supreme Lord as Lord Kalki, who will reinstate the eternal religion and the next Satya Yuga will begin.
What is surprising is how the ancient sages could have foreseen the calamity now that is the ‘modern era’. Please do click on the above link and just read through the text part. You will be surprised on how much has already happened as described, and more surprised by the accuracy of certain descriptions.
One can dwell on these topics for days together, but let us take just one symptom which is most prevalent these days.
"So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more according to my schemes. So much is mine now, and it will increase in the future, more and more. He is my enemy, and I have killed him, and my other enemies will also be killed. I am the lord of everything. I am the enjoyer. I am perfect, powerful and happy. I am the richest man, surrounded by aristocratic relatives. There is none so powerful and happy as I am. I shall perform sacrifices, I shall give some charity, and thus I shall rejoice."
Sounds familiar? Do you recognize any of the above mindsets? I am sure each and every one of us knows very well that these are the scales by which our current society measures us. Guess what? I did not make up the previous paragraph by myself!!
The above text is used by Lord Krishna to describe people with demoniac nature in verses 13 thru 15 of that chapter.
“Whoa! Hold on… are you calling us demons?”
Umm… not exactly, but this is what is termed as demoniac tendency. In fact, read through the entire Chapter 16 of Srimad Bhagavad Gita. It’s a pretty small chapter with just 24 verses, so don’t skip the reading part. One can easily understand the context.
We claim ownership over this world. We identify ourselves, with pride, foolishly, as a Tamilian, Andhraite (Telengaanaite??), Indian, American, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Rich, Poor, Male, Female… everything except what we truly are: Jivatmas. This is called ‘maya’ or illusion. And add to this the tendency to lord over the tiny part of creation we are in, we have just as well branded ourselves to be the Lord of ‘all that we have access to’.
What is the reality here?
The very first verse of Isopanishad establishes the fact that the Supreme Lord is the Lord of everything that is.
īśāvāsyam idam sarvaḿ
yat kiñca jagatyāḿ jagat
tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā
mā gṛdhaḥ kasya svid dhanam
Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.
Let us put this in perspective. ‘We’ do not ‘own’ anything in this world per se. Our ‘ownership’ is relative in the proper sense. Someone has placed all what we see and ‘we’ simply experience it. And in the insignificant space of time that we experience in the infinite timeline of creation, we think “This is mine, this is ours, it is our right, and it was meant for us” and so on. In doing so, we create misery for us and everyone around us.
How does this sound relevant in the present scenario? This is very relevant… at least to me. Without recognizing God as the owner of everything, there is no possibility of reconciliation between the warring people who are nowadays taking up arms for even the smallest of disagreements. Replacing Krishna’s position with a man-made authority like how the communists do will simply lead to further chaos or tyrannical regimes, as we already know from the several examples we have seen in this world.
At this juncture, mentioning the prayer of Prahlada to Lord Narasimha is very apt.
Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 7 Chapter 9 Verse 17:
sokagnina sakala-yonishu dahyamanah
duhkhaushadham tad api duhkham atad-dhiyaham
bhuman bhramami vada me tava dasya-yogam
O great one, O Supreme Lord, because of combination with pleasing and displeasing circumstances and because of separation from them, one is placed in a most regrettable position, within heavenly or hellish planets, as if burning in a fire of lamentation. Although there are many remedies by which to get out of miserable life, any such remedies in the material world are more miserable than the miseries themselves. Therefore I think that the only remedy is to engage in Your service. Kindly instruct me in such service.
For a person who is inheriting virtually all the wealth and status from his demoniac father, Prahlada Maharaj’s instruction is shockingly, in a good way, contrasting!
We think we can come over any problem in this material world by virtue of our limited intelligence and creativity, but we do not realize that we are creating more and more trouble for us, since our viewpoint is like that of a frog inside a well.
This can be a good exercise for the readers to do: Think and describe in brief a situation where a solution by humans for a problem has become a greater problem for mankind.
Let me conclude this article by saying this: We have dug ourselves a bottomless hole of quicksand called ‘construction-destruction paradox’. In the name of progress, we have ignored the teachings of the Vedas and ancient sages and are literally squeezing the life force out of our mother-like Earth, endangering our survival and a rare opportunity for eternal liberation.
Kali Yuga may be meant to be this way. That does not mean we don’t have any choice but to suffer. There is always a choice. It is up to us to take to the teachings of the Vedas seriously and live a purposeful life. Or ignore the instructions meant for our well-being (material and spiritual) and continue to suffer, thinking it is enjoyment.
Next topic: Purpose of Life.
Article written by Ambi.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Perfection of Yoga
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Perfection of Yoga
In my last article, I had addressed the details on who can be a Guru and how to identify a bonafide spiritual master. In the article before that, we saw Lord Krishna addressing Arjuna’s despondent pleas. Instead of going through a chapter-wise discussion as I had planned earlier, I am taking a thematic approach on presenting the conclusions made by the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna on various paths of Yoga as he explained in the Bhagavad Gita. This will reduce my effort significantly, thereby helping me to spend time on the discussions that might follow.
“Yoga” means “linking of our consciousness with the Supreme Absolute Truth”. When the linking process is predominantly through fruitive activities, it is called Karma Yoga. If it is done through empirical means, it is called Jnana Yoga. If it is done through unalloyed devotional service to the Supreme Lord, it is called Bhakti Yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches us of a “Yoga Ladder”, a series of steps made of yoga practices which ultimately lead to the Perfection of Yoga. Following this process, a conditioned soul can purify its existence gradually in this material world and reawaken its spiritual consciousness.
The first step in the ladder is called “Karma-Kanda”. This step has no spiritual objective. In this stage, a conditioned soul/ person, is introduced to regulated sense enjoyment, and to the Vedas which dictate the performance of sacrifices for the sake of results. This basically increases faith in the sastras.
Read BG 2.31, BG 3.11, BG 3.16.
Next is the step of “Karma Yoga”, which is performance of fruitive activities. The person begins to get frustrated with the sense enjoyment and shows inclinations of detachment. But he is still too attached to completely stop working for his own enjoyment.
When a person works for his own enjoyment but has a spiritual objective interlinked to the effort, the stage is called Sakama Karma. Continued practice of work in partial detachment to the results of fruitive activities leads to Nishkama Karma, work which is uncontaminated with material desires and has a pure spiritual objective.
Since any sense enjoyment leads to frustration in the end, a person gradually elevates himself through Karma Yoga to a stage where he begins to examine the ‘Jnana’ section of the Vedic literature. Here, as described by Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 06, one gives up all societal obligations and sets on a pursuit in search of knowledge of the Brahman. This path of realization is not easy at all to follow, as correctly pointed out by Arjuna and Lord Krishna in the chapter 06 of Bhagavad Gita.
Read BG 5.2.
Beyond Jnana Yoga, once the Jnani achieves knowledge of the Supersoul, the Paramatma, and begins to lead a life of austerity and meditation on the Paramatma, he enters the stage of “Ashtanga Yoga”, an eight fold process as the name implies. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Prathyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the 8 steps.
Read BG 6.30, BG 6.31
At the pinnacle of this Yoga ladder is “Bhakti Yoga” or “Unalloyed, pure devotional service to the Supreme Lord”. This is best summarized by Lord Krishna himself:
BG 9.34: Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.
BG 18.65: Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.
BG 18.66: Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.
And what does the Lord have to say about the other paths?
BG 6.46: A yogī is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances, be a yogī.
Note: The ascetic is the ‘tapasvi’, the empiricist is the ‘jnani’ and the fruitive worker is the ‘karmi’.
BG 6.47: And of all yogīs, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me — he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion.
So, you see, the Bhagavad Gita offers devotional service to Lord Krishna as the Perfection of Yoga, with pure devotional service being the goal. There are several stages of Bhakti too, but this is too premature a point in this series to get in to that. Bhakti Yoga is the path recommended for this age of quarrel, the Kali-Yuga. We do not reject the other paths, but making progress in them is extremely difficult, if not impossible, in this age. This was stated very clearly by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. Although one passes through one level or another of the previous stages even while trying to take to the path of Bhakti, it is much easier and the effect seen on oneself as well as the progress gained towards liberation is permanent.
I have tried to summarize the entire siddhanta of Bhagavad Gita within 900 words above. Now, there are certain issues which I would like to clarify upon.
I have read several articles on Bhagavad Gita where the author has very elaborately discussed on the merits of Bhakti Yoga as described in the Bhagavad Gita. Throughout the text, the author says “Krishna said this, Krishna said that”… and finally concludes “Krishna is instructing us to be surrender to the impersonal, all pervasive, inscrutable Brahman”. Throughout the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says “Surrender unto me”, means surrender unto Krishna… not something within him. I am sure the Lord as well as Vyasadev knew enough Sanskrit to state exactly what they wanted to state. Sure, Lord Krishna talks about people who want to ‘mingle’ with the Brahman as their final goal… but he does NOT conclude it is the ultimate goal or is the easiest way. Here’s what he says on that issue:
BG 12.5: For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.
BG 12.6-7: But those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Pṛthā — for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.
I have stressed upon one point so many times in the series till now and I am doing so again. The current trend seen among ‘spiritualists’ is basically to take the Bhagavad Gita, pick and interpret just a few specific verses completely out of context to suit their own philosophy, and present their own speculation in an (pseudo)authoritative manner. If one has to take reference from Bhagavad Gita, the conclusion arrived at MUST be the one presented by Lord Krishna and as it is accepted by Arjuna, as below.
BG 18.73: Arjuna said: My dear Kṛṣṇa, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.
Giving any other conclusion on the Bhagavad Gita, anything different from what is being said by Lord Krishna, is akin to cheating, no matter how popular or scholarly the person giving the different conclusion might be.
With this article, I would like say that enough foundation has been laid for any sincere seekers of Truth to go forward on their own. I hope the comments and the discussion in my previous articles as well as the ones that are to follow would add more fuel to their interest. If and when required, my help would always be available.
From here, I would like to get in to addressing issues that we face on a day to day basis and how the knowledge received through our ancient scriptures can help us even now. So, if the readers have any topics on which they would like me to elaborate with relevance to our current position in time, please feel free to add the suggestion as a comment.
The next article title from me would be “The Caste System – as it should have been”. I hope to complete it another week or so.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – śrī-bhagavān uvāca
Śrī-bhagavān uvāca means “The Supreme Personality of Godhead said”.
Bhagavān is how Lord Krishna is addressed by Srimad Bhagavad Gita. It means one who has the six opulences, namely Wealth, Strength, Fame, Beauty, Knowledge and Renunciation, unlimitedly. If you read the list carefully, you will see that almost all so-called celebrities of this world are known for having the opulences stated above, one or more at any time. But even they do not compare to Bhagavān, who is the Lord of everything that is and has all the opulence in unlimited quantity.
In my last article, we saw how Arjuna is overcome by grief and refuses to take up arms against his kinsmen. Being such a ‘nice person’, one would have thought that Lord Krishna, as God, would have been very happy and said “Arjuna, I am so proud of you! You are non-violent! That’s just great!”
Did he? NO. Krishna, in fact, scolds Arjuna in the strongest of words. Here it is, Bhagavad Gita Chapter 02, verse 2-3:
kutas tvā kaśmalam idaḿ
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, how have these impurities come upon you? They are not at all befitting a man who knows the value of life. They lead not to higher planets but to infamy.
klaibyaḿ mā sma gamaḥ pārtha
naitat tvayy upapadyate
O son of Pṛthā, do not yield to this degrading impotence. It does not become you. Give up such petty weakness of heart and arise, O chastiser of the enemy.
I do not think that Krishna’s words need any explanation here.
Arjuna is shocked! He asks Krishna how can he encourage slaying men worthy of worship, being his teachers. He declares it’s better to live of begging than to live at the cost of these great souls. Then he accepts that he is confused with miserly weakness and that he is now Krishna’s disciple and then requests Krishna to dispel his grief. Then he says “Govinda, I shall not fight” and became silent.
What comes next is a very, very important section of Bhagavad Gita. The Supreme Lord begins his instruction to his surrendered devotee. Since his instructions carry the essence of the entire Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 02 is termed as a summary of the contents of the Bhagavad Gita. This will be quite a long article if I were to address all the instructions, so I will summarize on the main topics that are being addressed.
Lord Krishna begins with the explanation of the soul or atma by reprimanding Arjuna and calling him unwise for speaking like a learned man (because he made so many emotional arguments) but grieving for things that don’t deserve grief and also that the wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead. The very next statement he makes to Arjuna on this topic is this:
na tv evāhaḿ jātu nāsaḿ
na tvaḿ neme janādhipāḥ
na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ
sarve vayam ataḥ param
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” – BG2.12
This statement is a damning rebuttal of the theory which states that all souls merge in to the brahma-jyoti, losing their identity, and also of the theory where individuality is said to be an effect of illusion or Maya. In a way, it also is a statement that refutes the theory of evolution, where life is proclaimed to come from matter and has no purpose or prior or future existence. The next statement explains the core principle of Transmigration of the Soul:
dehino ‘smin yathā dehe
kaumāraḿ yauvanaḿ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.” – BG2.13
So, what are the characteristics of this spirit soul? In Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, verses 16-25, this is described clearly. A spirit soul is eternal, indestructible, cannot be cut in to pieces, cannot be burnt by fire, cannot be moistened by water or withered by wind, immutable, invisible and inconceivable.
And so, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna that he shouldn’t lament for the person who dies, since it’s only the body that is slain. After that, Krishna explains why Arjuna must fight, by telling how people would speak ill of Arjuna if he didn’t do his duty, and how the generals would think him to be weak. Krishna also begins talking about how Arjuna should do his duty for the sake of doing it, without considering the result. This, Lord Krishna says, would let Arjuna avoid sin.
He also conveys to Arjuna that what he has heard till now was only from the analytical point of view. So, Krishna begins explaining the same principles in terms of working without fruitive results. It is in this section he speaks the famous verse 47 in Chapter 02 (made popular, thanks to the Mahabharata serial on TV and countless pseudo-philosophers who claim this as the essence of Bhagavad Gita)
karmaṇy evādhikāras te
mā phaleṣu kadācana
mā karma-phala-hetur bhūr
mā te sańgo ‘stv akarmaṇi
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.”
The Acharyas explain that the Lord is talking about prescribed duties here, but we normally, wrongly, take this to mean that Krishna is talking about day to day mundane activities. So, one must do his prescribed duty, without attachment to success or failure. Allow me to deal in this a bit more. Lord Krishna does not say here that results are to be ignored or that we should carry out our duties carelessly. Since the Supreme Lord is the proprietor of everything, he owns the results too. We must understand that our self is just one of the five factors that influence action. This is from Chapter 18, verse 14.
adhiṣṭhānaḿ tathā kartā
karaṇaḿ ca pṛthag-vidham
vividhāś ca pṛthak ceṣṭā
daivaḿ caivātra pañcamam
“The place of action [the body], the performer, the various senses, the many different kinds of endeavor, and ultimately the Supersoul — these are the five factors of action.”
So, unless the results are dedicated to the Supreme Lord, Krishna, then that work causes bondage and suffering. How we should understand this is simply that as a spirit soul, we have to be engaged in activity. We have capacity for work and are intermediate causes, but material nature creates result and it is controlled by Lord Krishna. This is mentioned in Chapter 09, verse 10.
“This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kuntī, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.”
So, we don’t really have a claim over results which are actually created by something which is not under our control. If we align our freewill through actions based on the Lord’s instructions, it does not cause any bondage.
One other important point to be noted from Krishna’s response is how he explains the root cause of all problems. Let’s hear it from him directly, shall we?
Lord Krishna says in Chapter 02, verses 62-64:
“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises. From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool. But a person free from all attachment and aversion and able to control his senses through regulative principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord.”
So, Lord Krishna declares that attachment and the lust that arises from it to be the real problem. The senses must be engaged in some real activity, and if they are not used in the service of the Supreme Lord, then they will be engaged in service of materialism. But for a person who is devoid of attachment or aversion and follows the regulative principles properly, he can achieve the highest state of becoming conscious of the Supreme Lord. Artificial renunciation won’t help when the desire to enjoy is still present in the mind and even the slightest agitation of the mind will pull down a person who is even on the verge of the ‘liberation’ often spoken about as the goal of life.
I will end this article with one of the verses which has influenced me in my personal life very much. Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 02, verse 66:
nāsti buddhir ayuktasya
na cāyuktasya bhāvanā
na cābhāvayataḥ śāntir
aśāntasya kutaḥ sukham
“One who is not connected with the Supreme [in Kṛṣṇa consciousness] can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?”
This relates directly to how I started writing this sequence of articles, on request from our very own Lakshmi Rajan. I started off by saying everyone wants to be happy, forever. And above is the clear solution to that! Without the mind being peaceful, there can be no happiness. And for the mind to be peaceful, one must be on the devotional platform.
So, how does Arjuna respond to Lord Krishna and what question he put forth to the Lord? What does Lord Krishna say about Karma Yoga? These I will address in the next article, which should be ready by early next week.
This completes the brief summary of Chapter 02 of Srimad Bhagavad Gita. I have tried to compress the whole chapter of 72 verses in to less than 1800 words. So if I have missed out on any important aspects or given incomplete explanations, it is only due to my fault and oversight, for which I pray forgiveness and understanding from my teachers as well as the readers. Please do not hesitate to ask for any clarification as required and I will try to clarify to the best of my ability.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Main Topics of Srimad Bhagavad Gita
In my previous article, I had concluded stating that if we want our understanding of the Bhagavad Gita to be perfect, one must understand it as Arjuna understood it. We now begin our journey through the vast ocean of knowledge that is the Bhagavad Gita.
There are five basic truths that Bhagavad Gita addresses
They are as below:
1. Īśvara – Supreme Lord, the supreme controller, the supreme soul
2. Jīvas – the living beings that are controlled, spirit souls.
3. Prakṛti – the material nature
4. Kāla – Time
5. Karma – Activity
Can anyone point the odd one out in the above? No? Well, it so happens that the Supreme Lord, the spirit souls, material nature as well as Time are all eternal. Karma, activity, is the only one which is temporary. (Amusing, isn’t it? It takes 4 eternal entities to create something that is temporary!)
Now, let’s see how these topics are addressed.
Srimad Bhagavad Gita establishes the superiority of Īśvara above everything else. And Lord Krishna is established as the Supreme Controller of everything that is there, throughout Gita. Krishna himself declares it in Chapter 10, verse 8:
ahaḿ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaḿ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māḿ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.”
In fact, Arjuna understood this perfectly. And that is the reason why we should try to understand Bhagavad Gita in a submissive mood, as a devotee of Lord Krishna, accepting him as the Supreme God (even if just theoretically), because otherwise the import of his teachings will be lost. We will see this in detail when I start addressing the chapter contents later on.
Next in line come the Jīvas, the living entities or spirit souls. While the subject of Īśvara is dealt in detail only at a later stage, the subject of the spirit soul is dealt with by Krishna in Chapter 02, verses 11 to 31. It is explained in Bhagavad Gita, as well as by the Acharyas, that each of us is a spirit soul (atma), infinitesimal sparks that are qualitatively the same as Īśvara, God. But just as a water droplet from the ocean of water cannot compare to the ocean itself even though being qualitatively same, we cannot compare ourselves to God in any manner. We are subordinate to the Supreme Lord and as such do not have the capabilities attributed to him.
Then we come down to Prakṛti or material nature. Bhagavad Gita clearly establishes that material nature is completely controlled by the Supreme Lord.
In Chapter 09, verse 10, Krishna states this:
“This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kuntī, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.”
Previously, he also states in Chapter 07, verses 4 and 5:
bhūmir āpo ‘nalo vāyuḥ
khaḿ mano buddhir eva ca
ahańkāra itīyaḿ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego — all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.”
apareyam itas tv anyāḿ
prakṛtiḿ viddhi me parām
yayedaḿ dhāryate jagat
“Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.”
Here, Krishna states that he is the Lord of the material nature and makes a clear distinction between himself and his energy. He also states that the living entities, the Jivas, are part of his superior energy whereas material nature is part of his inferior energy. Now, since the Jivas are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, they have the tendency of trying to lord over the material nature. The only problem is that they are not the Supreme Lord and hence cannot exercise full control over it.
While we stay on the topic of material nature, I wish to clarify an important point. What we are in, is part of material nature. It is real. But because material nature continually manifests and unmanifests itself under the effect of yet other energy of the Lord, Eternal Time, its manifestation is considered to be temporary. But its manifestation, this world and countless others, is never illusionary or false.
So, that brings us neatly to our next item: Time. Krishna mentions in Chapter 10, verse 30 that “kālaḥ kalayatām aham”, meaning “of the subduers I am Time”. As energy of the Supreme Lord, Time wears down everything. We see time only in relation to existence and movement in the material nature, whereas it does not have an end or a beginning. Since this is very difficult to understand at the outset, we will deal with this as and when we encounter it during the course of our study.
Last in line is Karma or activity. It is not activity performed just now. It includes everything from time immemorial, and by the laws of which our enjoyment and suffering are determined. Karma is affected by all the eternal entities. Activities arise due to the effect of combinations of 3 mode of Material nature (Goodness (Sattva), Passion (Rajas) and Ignorance (Tamas)), along with the influence of time. Karma, though its effects can stretch across millennia, is still temporary as we do have the ability to change our karma and hence the reactions to our Karma, based on perfection of our knowledge. Chapter 05 of Bhagavad Gita talks about Karma and Karma Yoga in detail and I will present that in due course of time.
(Phew, that was a heavy dose? Well, that is required as a foundation to proceed further. So, I will take a more relaxed pace from now.)
So, the next question anyone should ask is
How does one go about getting this knowledge perfectly?
If you want to learn or earn a degree in physics or nuclear medicine, I think you would pretty much know how to go about it. One has to go through 14 years of schooling, 4 years of college, another 2 years as post grad, and probably a Ph.D, before one can be considered as an expert in that field. Now, it so happens that for learning Spiritual science, there is a process to be followed. One must be humble in searching for the truth, must be able to identify a bonafide Guru, render service to him and inquire from him submissively. If you are wondering “Oi… hold it! That’s all? Are you sure you aren’t making this up?” well, here’s what Krishna says in Chapter 4, verse 34:
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaḿ
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.”
There. Satisfied? But note that I never said this is easy, since most of us (including me) fail miserably in the first criteria, which is humility. It is only by the mercy of our teachers that we are somehow dragged in to a higher level of understanding, regardless of whether we are taught modern science or Spiritual science.
(For a detailed description on the process of gaining knowledge in the Vedic methodology, please have a look at the article “Descending Knowledge” which I posted on my blog a while back.)
What made Arjuna lose his composure before the battle? What did he lament about? How does that relate to our current times? These I will address in the next article.
Ancient Wisdom, Modern relevance – Introduction to Srimad Bhagavad Gita
What is happiness?
If you ask anyone, ‘what is happiness?’ I am sure that the answers that you would get from most people would be similar. Good health, nice family, enough money, time to enjoy the little pleasures of this world, love, peace… it is not hard to imagine what would make people happy. Everyone in this world aspires to be happy all the time. The only problem is what WE define and seek as happiness, once gotten, doesn’t last forever. A few hours or days at best, that’s all. And then the rigors of the material world seize and engage us.
We use so many tools to aid us in our search for happiness, good health and why, even immortality! As a result of that relentless endeavor, modern science has enabled us to do so many things seemingly better than before, compared to natural alternatives. Life has become so dynamic that many people started professing that ‘change’ is the only constant in this world.
All these attempts at improving our condition of life, all the progress that we made, ignore the four other constants that come by nature in material life: Birth, disease, old age and death. Whatever efforts we make to improve our lives, and to be happy, the four constants always manage to get the better of us. And with death, everything comes to a very efficient end.
An intelligent person begins to think as to why he is forced to suffer, when all he wants is to be happy. A natural progress of that thought process would lead to questions like where did I come from, what am I doing here, where I would go after death and culminates in asking the most fundamental question which forms the basis of Vedic philosophy:
‘Who am I?’
The Vedas and associated Vedic scriptures offer great insight in to life’s mysteries. These ancient treasure troves of wisdom and knowledge, being coeternal with God and infallible in their own right, direct us to change our attention from the temporary towards the permanent, from matter to spirit, from the body to the soul.
They teach us that our endeavors to be happy through gratifying our senses would lead to only misery. They also inform us about our original spiritual nature – that each of us are not the body but infinitesimal spiritual sparks, Spirit Souls, that are not of this material world and that the only way to have eternal happiness to revive our natural relationship with the Supreme Soul, God, of whom we are all part and parcel of, yet different.
The Vedic knowledge was primarily transmitted orally in the previous ages. In order to make the Vedic knowledge easily accessible to the people in the Kali Yuga (the present age), the great literary incarnation, Sage Vyasa, compiled the entire knowledge in to principally the 4 Vedas, 108 Upanishads, 18 Puranas and 2 Itihaasas (epics, namely Ramayana and Mahabharata).
Understanding the Vedas, which are compiled in exquisitely perfected Sanskrit, is a nightmare even for the most erudite scholar these days. Learning Sanskrit itself would take close to 12 years of study and then one has to study the various siddhantas (philosophies) and Bhashyas (commentaries) as expounded by the great Acharyas of the past, to grasp even the basics of complex texts like Vedanta Sutras.
Of the texts that form the Vedic scriptures, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which is found in Mahabharata, is the most important section. It is the essence of all Vedic knowledge. It is also called Gitopanishad, and is the consolidated description of the most intense, hair-raising dialogue between the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna and his dearest friend, the warrior-archer, Arjuna. Running in to 700 verses over 18 chapters, it is described in much simpler Sanskrit, which leaves absolutely no room for interpretation and logical debating which is allowed by the Vedanta sutras.
This dialogue starts with questions asked by Arjuna, who is feeling very confused, dejected and sad on the eve of a great battle against his cousins, the Kauravas and their army. Arjuna is one of the ‘Mahajanas’, and being a friend to the Lord, he is above all ignorance. But the Acharyas explain that he was put in to this situation specifically to enquire about problems of life so that Sri Krishna himself can explain it for the benefit for future generations, namely, us.
(It is to be noted that this great dialogue was spoken on the eve of battle, in the middle of two armies standing ready to fight. It lends credence to the practicality of such a philosophy, much against a common belief that any spirituality or philosophical pursuit is meant for practice only in peaceful times or in a forest away from common day to day works.)
The spirit with which one should hear and accept the teachings of Srimad Bhagavad Gita is shown by Arjuna in the course of his discussion with Lord Krishna. When a physician gives a medicine, you take it only by following his directions. Similarly, the instructions given in Bhagavad Gita are to be taken only as Lord Krishna means it and not as per one’s own whim and wish. The perfect example for such a proper acceptance is shown by Arjuna himself. In the second chapter, verse 7, Arjuna surrenders:
pṛcchāmi tvāḿ dharma-sammūḍha-cetāḥ
yac chreyaḥ syān niścitaḿ brūhi tan me
śiṣyas te ‘haḿ śādhi māḿ tvāḿ prapannam
“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.”
Here’s how Arjuna accepts Lord Krishna’s instructions, in chapter 10, verse 12 thru 14:
paraḿ brahma paraḿ dhāma
pavitraḿ paramaḿ bhavān
puruṣaḿ śāśvataḿ divyam
ādi-devam ajaḿ vibhum
āhus tvām ṛṣayaḥ sarve
devarṣir nāradas tathā
asito devalo vyāsaḥ
svayaḿ caiva bravīṣi me
“Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Nārada, Asita, Devala, and Vyāsa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me.”
sarvam etad ṛtaḿ manye
yan māḿ vadasi keśava
na hi te bhagavan vyaktiḿ
vidur devā na dānavāḥ
“O Kṛṣṇa, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me. Neither the demigods nor the demons, O Lord, can understand Your personality.”
So, to conclude, one must understand the teachings of Bhagavad Gita as Arjuna understood it. Only then, that understanding is considered perfect. Only when one hears it in a submissive mood, in devotion to the Supreme Lord, one can understand the teachings of Bhagavad Gita as understood by Arjuna, which is to say, correctly and perfectly.
What do Arjuna and Lord Krishna talk about? What subject matters does Bhagavad Gita address? How does one go about getting this knowledge perfectly? These I will address in the next article.
Understanding the concept of God – Part 5
So the Conscious travels evolving into the panchaboothas , goes through the process of transforming into the 1st sense plants to the 5th sense , animals. I had already stated that, in between there were so many species in the ocean & in the earth.
(Refer the previous parts of this series – Understanding the concept of God)
The question now arises if man evolved straight away from the monkeys or whether there was any missing link between the monkey & the man.
There are a lot of similarities between a man & a monkey. So far, the animals walked with 4 legs & they were horizontal. Only in the monkey do we see it walking with 4 legs, but it uses its front legs as hands. It uses it to climb the trees & holds fruits in it hands & eat the food. Slowly its backbone which was horizontal evolves to become vertical & it develops into chimpanzees & orangutan which are very similar to a man.
A sculpture of Yazhi in a temple
My guru’s in sight says that the monkeys had a cross breed with another animal which had the face of a lion & the body of a man. This breed was called as Yazhi & since this became sterile, there was no chance of it to exist in many numbers & it extincted. If you see in the temples there are sculptures of this yazhi. Moreover, monkey is herbivorous & man coming from it also should be a vegetarian. Since man eats birds & animals there is a chance of monkey & yazhi, which is carnivorous, joining together to become a perfect human, who is a vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian.
So now if we have a comparison between Dasavathar & the evolution, we will come to know that the 1st Machavathara is a living being in the water.
An artistic interpretation of Matsya (macha)avatar
The 2nd, Koormavathar, tortoise with all it’s 5 senses lives in the sea & the land.
An artistic interpretation of Koorm Avatar
The 3rd, Varahagavathar is again an animal which borrows the earth to get its food.
A temple sculpture of Varaha Avatar
The 4th Narasimhavathara is the missing link before the man.
Ancient narasimha avatar sculpture in a temple
The 5th Vamana is a perfect human with manas (mind) who is described as a dwarf. So probably the humans were short statured.
A sculpture of Vamana avatar in a temple
The 6th is the Parasuramavathar who always goes around with an axe to show that man works with it to cut trees for his living.
An artistic impression of Parasurama Avatar
The 7th, Ramavathar, to show that a leader comes to take care of the people.
An artistic impression of Rama Avatar
The 8th, Balaramaavathar, with his plough tells that agriculture played an important role then.
An artistic impression of Balarama Avatar
The 9th, Krishnaavathar is an enlightened man who is considered as a God.
An artistic impression of Krishna Avatar
About Kalkiavathar my guru hasn’t said anything. What next? It is about you & me & how mind begins to function within us.
A letter to Krishna
People call the eighth day (ashtami) of the second (dark) fortnight of the month of Shravana as Krishna Jayanthi , Janmashtami, Janmashtam, Gokulashtami, Shri Krishna Jayanthi, Krishnashtami, Kalashtami, Gopalkala. Different words that denotes your this day – The day you incarnated in this earth , five thousand years ago, at the end of the third cosmic era , ‘Dwapar Yuga’ and the beginning of the present era, ‘Kali Yuga’. So in simpler terms, Happy Birthday!
All my life You have been my good friend and You know I have looked upon You more as a friend than seeing You as the Supreme Power. I know You are what I and many see as God. I know You are God but then I love You more as a friend and I am sure, You love me for the way I love this way. At times, I have been angry with You also for not being with me at my toughest times, I may have even chided with You as not my friend at all. At times , I would have even tried to make me believe You don’t exist. Still in spite of all that like a wave coming towards the shore again and again, I come back thinking about You as a good friend. I believe I cannot see the bigger picture behind all the tough times I handle all alone at times without You. May be, You will tell me the reasons later. I trust You as a friend so in spite of my occasional anger, disbelief, nothing could shatter our friendship…
You remember how much I would be excited when celebrating Your birthday when I was kid ? Remember, how mom makes the small footprints? She used to mix rice flour and little turmeric with water and make impressions with her folded fist like foot and make tiny toes marks with her fingers . She says, It would remind me that tonight i.e. on Krishna Jayanthi , You will make your baby steps from outside the doors of our home to inside.. I would be very thrilled seeing those baby foot prints ! My mom used to say , when I was a baby myself , she used to make those footprints by making me dip my feet in the rice flour , turmeric water mixture and make me walk so that the impression gets on the floor ! Even now , we make these footprints every year on this day!
I used to love your birthday for the wonderful delicious food mom makes for you ! Of course , I get to eat them to gleefully too ! The murukus , Cheedais , Adhirasam ( a sweet dish made out of rice flour and jaggery ) yum yum ! Love those traditional delicacies mom makes for you !
Midnight , we used to keep an Idol of You and decorate You with bright color clothes , adorn you with fresh fragrant flowers , light lamps with ghee , keep those delicacies before You.. and do puja for You . I love those little little things we do for You. It gives a satisfaction , contentment and a calm feeling to our soul..
My wife says in her native in North India ,they do fast the whole day and have food only after doing puja for you at midnight. My friend from Gujarat says that is how they celebrate too in their native.People from different region have their own way of loving you and expressing the love for you but then at the end of the day love is love , whatever way it is expressed. I know You will agree with me.
Its 12’o clock midnight now. They say you were born exactly on midnight . I just finished the puja and continuing the letter to You. There is a quietness in my heart now. A feeling that only You and Me can understand…
I would wind up the letter now , will write more about You later.
Happy Krishna Jayanti to all those who reads this letter. I know this letter to You is an open letter and all your friends , my friends , our friends would read it. On this day , I wish all of them good health , good mind , good thoughts , good will and goodness and wellness forever.
My dear Krishna can be find within me , within you , within all those who reads this letter and even within all those who don’t believe in Him. Open your heart and mind and see within yourself , within oneself and He will smile at You.
Love You All.