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Introduction to Spirituality

by Swami Mukundananda


People from time immemorial have yearned to understand the rarest of rare secrets of divine knowledge housed in the spiritual land of India. People have travelled to this holy land in search of resplendent knowledge which contains the key for bringing divine transformation in our lives and so there is an inherent curiosity for understanding the concepts of Hinduism through scriptures. However without proper guidance, such endeavours to fathom secrets of Hinduism, even with best intentions, do not meet with success. People get stumped with how to access the knowledge, comprehend its wide-spectrum of concepts and utilize them meaningfully in their lives. That is why Hinduism is an enigma for most westerners. Their clichéd understandings of Hinduism as a way of life, etc. cannot fathom the precious treasure of gems in its repository. Interestingly, Hinduism is not mentioned by that name anywhere in the Vedic scriptures. The word “Hindu” was first coined by the Arabs to refer to the people who lived on the other side of the river Indus. The Vedas which are the eternal knowledge of God, in contrast, have a very different and majestic perspective on the nomenclature of the religion that they teach. Thee name of the religion described in them is called Sanatan Dharm, or “Eternal Religion.” It is the path to God-realization, based on scientific, non-sectarian, and eternal principles.

Swami Mukundanada has explained this ancient esoteric knowledge with rigorous scientific logic, in the modern context. He uses a simple-yet-scientific approach to make this enormous knowledge comprehensible to both youth and westerners, at the same time each subject is treated with philosophical depth for the satisfaction of the more learned and erudite readers.

Below is the first in a series of articles by Swami ji on the theme “Introduction to Spirituality,” covering the philosophical concepts enshrined in the Vedic scriptures.

NATURE OF THE SELF

It is said that the day a man asks the question, “‘who am I?” he begins his spiritual journey. Philosophers like Socrates pondered over such questions for years and years, but lesser mortals like us, also ask this question at some point of our lives. Who am I? Am I this body or is there something beyond my body? Vedic scriptures provide elaborate answers to this fundamental question of our existence and so it is essential to first understand the awareness of “I”.

“I am reading.” “I am eating.” “I am walking.” The awareness of “I” remains with us at all times. However, who is this “I”? This question has captured the interest of innumerable profound thinkers throughout history.

When you look at your family album, you find the picture of a newborn baby, and you say, “That is me.” Then you see the picture of a two-year old, and you say, “That is me.” Then there is a picture of a five-year old, and you say, “That is also me.” Now, who are you? The body is continuously changing. If you were the body, you too would have changed. However, you intuitively realize that you are the same person who was the newborn baby in the photograph, and then the two-year old, and then the five-year old.

Biology teaches us that the body consists of trillions of cells. These cells keep dying while new ones are created in their place. The process of regeneration changes the whole body within a period of seven years. Yet, despite the constantly changing body, one remains the same person. The Vedas teach us that within the body is the unchanging atma, or soul. That is the real “I,” the real self. The body is material, while the atma is spiritual and immortal, like God.

The real “I” called the soul or atma is seated within this body, and we are actually not this body. It is false sense of identification with our body that makes us feel that I am a boy, a lady, a teacher, American etc. But we really are just souls wearing different bodies.

The nature of atma or soul has been a topic of immense curiosity for anyone who comes across this subject. Therefore the Vedic scriptures further explain that the atma is extremely tiny and is seated in the region of the heart.

Hridi hyesha atma (Prashopanishad 3.6)

“The soul is situated in the heart.” Yet, it is not locked to the heart. During a heart-transplant, the soul would continue to reside in the heart region, even if the heart were removed and replaced. Situated in one place, the soul spreads its consciousness throughout the body. This is just as a light-bulb remains in one place, while its light spreads throughout the room. The soul too, while being seated in the heart, enlivens the entire body.

Now a likely question arises, “why can we not see the soul?” As already mentioned the soul and body are different from each other because the former is spiritual or divine and the latter is material. Our scriptures state that the material eyes, nose, tongue and skin can only grasp material objects. However the atma is beyond the material realm, so it cannot be perceived by any of the senses. Also one can prove the existence of soul by the presence of consciousness in the body. It is a fact that the material body functions as long as the soul imparts energy of life to it, but the moment it leaves, the same body is declared dead. Hence, the symptom of the soul is life, or consciousness.

When the soul leaves the body it is not the soul that dies, it merely changes its body. For the soul, there is no birth or death. The Vedic scriptures state:

Vasansi jirnani yatha vihaya ( Bhagavad Geeta 2.22)

“There was never a time when it did not exist, nor will there ever be a time when it will cease to be”. As a man sheds worn-out garments and wears new ones, likewise (at the time of death), the soul casts off its worn-out body and enters into a new one. The body is like a dress for the atma. Every morning, you take off your old clothes and put on new ones. Similarly, when the body becomes unfit for the atma to reside in it any longer, the soul leaves the body. It is then given a new body in accordance with its karmas (actions). This process of giving up the old body is looked upon as “death,” and the process of taking on a new body is called “birth.”

Upon someone’s death, some bury the body and assume that the person is lying in the grave. However, the soul is not in the grave; it has left for its destination to another body. What is buried in the grave will soon be eaten by worms and turn into mud. In the Indian tradition, the body is not buried after death. It is burnt and prayers are offered for the departed soul.

As we unfold the mystery of our soul, the next apparent question is, “where does the soul go once it leaves its body?” An interesting thing to note at this point is that the soul does not exist alone as the All-knowing God always resides with the soul. Hence the God keeps an account of all the actions of the soul and upon death gives their results. But one must not think that God is a mere judge, He plays a much bigger role in our eternal journey although for now this understanding should suffice. According to the scriptures there are 8.4 million life forms and the soul could be born in any of these species. It is not necessary that if a soul previously had a body of a human being it would continue to do so. It could take any form of a cat, dog, cow, tree etc. Somewhere this knowledge also helps us to realize that our human life is a tremendous opportunity given by God to know the Absolute Truth and attain perfection. Amongst all the life forms, human life is the most special because it possesses the power of knowledge. With this special faculty, we humans also have a greater responsibility. Instead, if we make our goal to eat good food, then God will say that the body of a pig is more suitable for us. We could well be born as a pig in the next life. If we make sleeping our primary goal, then God could put us in the body of a polar bear in the next life, where we could sleep for many months at a stretch.

Most people are living in a state of forgetfulness of their “self.” If you ask car drivers to introduce themselves and they say, “I am a Mercedes,” “I am a Ford,” “I am a Toyota,” etc. you will think it to be gross ignorance. You have asked the drivers for their introduction and they are introducing the cars in which they are seated. Similarly, people are confusing the body to be themselves. But this body will be left behind one day. When someone dies, people say, “He left the world.” Who has left the world, when the body is lying in the hospital bed? Intuitively they realize that the person was not the body, and hence he is no longer present in the world.

Now, if we confuse the body to be the self, it leads to compounding problems. This is like a compounding mistake in Mathematics. If you begin your calculations from the equation 2 + 2 = 5, all further multiplications will only compound the error. Similarly, if we think the body to be the self, our goal will be to give happiness to the body.

Most people are in the confusion that bodily happiness is their happiness. They keep planning, “What should I eat to become happy? What should I see to become happy? What should I hear to become happy?” They think that if they get the objects of the bodily senses, this will give them happiness. However, no matter how much they try the soul within remains unsatisfied. They spend their entire lives searching for happiness and yet find no satisfaction.

The simple logic is that the body is material and the world is also material. Worldly happiness enjoyed through the body can never satisfy the soul. If you take a fish out of the water, you may massage it in scented oil and put food down its throat, but this will never make it happy. The poor fish cannot speak, but if it could, it would say, “I do not want all this. If you want to make me happy, then put me back into the water.”

The soul is divine, and is a part of God. The happiness it is seeking will also be attained only from God. If we can understand this simple logic, then we will make God-realization the goal of our lives. This is what the Vedic scriptures and all the religions of the world ask us to do.

Swami Mukundananda is a world renowned spiritual teacher from India, and is the senior disciple of Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj and founder of JK Yog. He received his degrees in Engineering and Management from two world renowned institutes in India, IIT and IIM. He has inspired people all over the world on the path of spirituality, holistic health, yoga, meditation, service to society and God realization.

Contact: secretary@jkyog.org website: www.jkyog.org

Attend Swami Mukundananda’s Yoga, Meditation and Spiritual Discourses in USA. See the schedule for your city: www.jkyog.org/2013

Watch Swami ji on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/JagadguruKripaluYog

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Swami.Mukundananda


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