Top Banner

of 36

How to Make the Life Meaningful

Apr 07, 2018



Welcome message from author
This document is posted to help you gain knowledge. Please leave a comment to let me know what you think about it! Share it to your friends and learn new things together.
  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    What Makes Life Meaningful

    The Hallmark of Human Life

    A well-known Sanskrit verse lists four ways in which human

    beings and animals are alike: they need food, they need sleep,they have fear, and they desire to reproduce. Is theresomething that distinguishes a human being from animals?Yes, says the verse and underlines dharma as the uniquehuman trait. Dharma has different shades of meaning, themost important being morality, or righteousness. Only humanbeings can observe their thoughts and actions and make surethat they are morally acceptable. Dharma means the power ofdiscrimination between the real and the unreal, good andbad, moral and immoral, and what leads to fulfillment and

    what leads to frustration.

    Need for an Ideal

    The average human life is lived prompted by circumstances, orby the behavior of others. Most people react to events ratherthan act in accordance with an ideal they have set forthemselves. They are good to others because others are good to

    them and bad because others are bad. That certainly is not alife of freedom, but a captive life without a direction or purpose.

    That brings us to the need for an ideal. When we have an idealin life and try to live up to it, we have something with which toevaluate our thoughts and actions. When we go wrong, weknow it and try not to repeat our mistake. In the absence of anideal, however, we have no reference point to guide us. We arenot aware of our mistakes and keep repeating them. Such a life

    can only be a series of errors. That is why Swami Vivekanandasays, If a man with an ideal makes a thousand mistakes, I amsure that the man without an ideal makes fifty thousand.

    Therefore, it is better to have an ideal.

    Living up to an Ideal

    When we decide to live according to an ideal, our higher mind,

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    or buddhi, helps us exercise discrimination, discipline thewayward mind, and march forward towards the ideal. Buddhiis the seat of willpower and decision-making. A person with anawakened buddhi has strong willpower, is more decisive and isendowed with discrimination. Our life becomes truly human tothe extent this higher mind is awake in us. And that involvesstruggle with the lower mind, which habitually takes us for aride. The lower mind does not like discipline and resists it. It isthis struggle with the lower mind that makes human lifemeaningful. Man is man so long as he struggles againstnature, says Swami Vivekananda.

    The Highest Ideal

    The highest ideal, according to Vedanta, is God-realization. TheUpanishads and the Bhagavad Gita point out that God is notsomeone who dwells above the clouds, but dwells right in ourheart, as the core of our being. Says Sri Ramakrishna, If youseek God, then seek Him in man; He manifests Himself more inman than in any other being. Glorifying human birth, SwamiVivekananda says, Man is the highest, the Taj Mahal, of alltemples.

    But most of us are not aware of this divinity in us, nor do wefeel God as the very core of our being. God-realization, or Self-realization, is the goal of human life, says Vedanta. In SriRamakrishnas words, Man should possess dignity andalertness. Only he whose spiritual consciousness is awakenedpossesses this dignity and alertness, and can be called a man.Futile is the human birth without the awakening of spiritualconsciousness.

    True Devotion

    The Bhagavad Gita (7.16) describes four kinds of people who worship God: the afflicted, those desiring prosperity, theseekers of knowledge, and the knowers of God.

    The afflicted pray to God for relief from physical and mentalproblems. These could range from anxiety or stress to

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    complicated diseases of body and mind. Finding other meansinadequate, such devotees pray to God, placing their trust inHim.

    Devotees of the second kind pray to God for worldly

    prosperity: wealth and enjoyment, name and fame, power andposition, and so on.

    What is the meaning and purpose of human life? How are weto deal with evil? Does God exist? Is there a soul behind thebody and the mind? What happens at death? These arequestions that all of us encounter sometime or other, after wehave had our share of pleasure and pain, success and failure,and praise and blame in the world. Most people brush aside

    these thoughts and continue with their humdrum life. Thereare some, however, who take them seriously. They turn to Godfor answers. They are seekers of knowledge, and belong to thethird kind of devotees.

    And there is the fourth kindthose who have known God.Why do they worship God? He who knows the SupremeBrahman verily becomes Brahman, says the MundakaUpanishad (3.2.9). Such devotees see God, the supreme Spirit,

    in others as well as in themselves. Their lives are a blessing tohumanity, and everything they do is worship of God.

    Sri Krishna says that all four kinds of devotees are noble-hearted, but He considers the knowers of God to be His verySelf (Bhagavad Gita, 7.18). The first two kinds of devotees turnto God to realize their worldly ambitions, instead of merelyrelying on their ego to manipulate things. And, in due course,turning to God can become a habit with them, helping them to

    turn to Him for devotion and Knowledge. When they becomeseekers of devotion and Knowledge, they long to love God andknow God alone. True religion, true devotion, begins at thatstage.

    Swami Vivekanandas words are most appropriate here: Onethat wants to love God, to be a Bhakta, must discard all such

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    [worldly] prayers. He who wants to enter the realms of lightmust first give up this buying and selling, this shopkeepingreligion, and then enter the gates. It is not that you do not get

    what you pray for; you get everything, but such praying is abeggar's religion. Foolish indeed is he who, living on the banksof the Ganga, digs a little well for water. A fool indeed is theman who, coming to a mine of diamonds, seeks for glassbeads. This body will die some time, so what is the use ofpraying for its health again and again?...We are striving tocome into the presence of the King of kings. We cannot getthere in a beggar's dress....Shopkeepers never have admissionthere; buying and selling have no place there....Do not pray forlittle things. If you seek only bodily comforts, where is the

    difference between men and animals? Think yourselves a littlehigher than that.

    Stages of Devotion

    When I am conscious of my body, I look upon you as theMaster and myself as your servant; when I am conscious that Iam an individual soul, I look upon you as the whole and myselfas a part; when I am one with the Atman, I look upon myself as

    one with you. That was Hanumans attitude toward Sri Rama,the object of his worship.

    Our idea about God depends on our idea about ourselves.Almost all of us feel that we are limited individuals, bound bybody, mind and senses. For people such as us, devotion to apersonal God with form and attributes is the logical way toprogress in spiritual life. But there are a very few people whoare pure in mind and free from body-consciousness from their

    childhood, and they alone are able to derive spiritual benefit byworshiping God without form. Sri Krishna makes it clear in theBhagavad Gita that the ideal of a formless God is hard to attainfor those who are embodied, or those who are bound by theirbody and mind (12.5). For them there is the path of devotion.Assures Sri Krishna: But those who consecrate all theiractions to Me, regarding Me as the Supreme Goal, and who

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    worship Me, meditating on Me with single-mindedconcentrationto them, whose minds are thus absorbed in Me,verily I become before long, O Partha, the Saviour from thedeath-fraught ocean of the world. (12.6-7) Then follows agraded course of devotion in decreasing order of difficulty.

    1. Fixing the mind and buddhi on the LordSri Krishna teaches the first and foremost stage in devotion:

    Fix your mind on Me alone, rest your buddhi on Me alone, andin Me alone you will live hereafter. Of this there is no doubt.(12.8) The word used for mind is manas, which is thedeliberative faculty in us. It comes into play when we examinethe pros and cons of anything. Manas is characterized by

    restlessness, doubt, confusion, anxiety, emotions, and desires.It is usually outgoing, ever eager to attach itself to any of thefive sense organs: the ears, the skin, the eyes, the tongue, andthe nose. In turn, these organs are eager to be in contact withtheir corresponding sense objects. Fixing the mind on Godinvolves the challenge of giving an inward turn to the outward-directed mind by repetition of Gods name, prayer,discrimination, meditation, study of sacred texts, and such

    disciplines. In his commentary on the Katha Upanishad (2.1.1),Sri Shankara compares turning the mind inward to reversingthe current of a river. The task is as difficult, but grows easier

    with steadfast spiritual discipline.

    Buddhi comes into play when we practice discriminationbetween the real and the unreal, good and bad, moral andimmoral, and allow our thoughts and actions to be guided bythe knowledge gained from such discrimination. Buddhi is also

    our determinative, or decision-making faculty, and the seat ofour willpower and resolution. Buddhi awakens in proportion tothe strength of our willpower. It remains dormant in those whoare impulsive and indecisive, and indiscriminate in theirthoughts and actions. Fixing the buddhi on God impliesmaking a firm resolve to seek God alone as the supreme goal inlife, says Sri Ramanuja.

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    And in Me alone will you live hereafter: The word hereafteris usually interpreted as after the death of the body. But SriRamanujas interpretation is as inspiring as it is logical: You

    will live in Me from the moment you fix your mind on Me withthe firm conviction that I alone am the supreme goal to beattained. (To be continued)

    2. The yoga of constant practice

    Sri Krishna suggests a less rigorous practice for those whocannot fix their mind and buddhi on God alone: If you areunable to fix your mind steadily on Me, O Dhananjaya, then

    seek to reach Me by the yoga of constant practice. (BhagavadGita, 12.9)

    An untrained mind is restless, always in a state of flux,wandering from one thing to another. It looks outward, and isever eager to attach itself to sense objects. Long, steadfastpractice is needed to discipline such a mind and give it aninward, Godward turn. Sri Krishna describes this practice inthe Bhagavad Gita: Renouncing entirely all the desires born of

    the will, drawing back the senses from every direction bystrength of mind, let a man little by little attain tranquillity

    with the help of the buddhi armed with fortitude. Once themind is established in the Self, he should think of nothing else.Let him withdraw the fickle and unquiet mind from whatevercauses it to wander away, and restore it to the control of theSelf alone. (6.25-6) In other words, practice involves repeatedlybringing the mind back to the object of meditation in the heart.

    Arjunas power of concentration and skill in archery werelegendary. He, too, found it difficult to tame his mind. Hecomplains to Sri Krishna: This yoga, which You, OMadhusudana, have declared to be characterized by evenness

    I do not see how it can long endure, because of therestlessness of the mind. For the mind, O Krishna, is restless,turbulent, powerful, and obstinate. To control it is as hard, it

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    seems to me, as to control the wind. (6.33-4) Sri Krishnaconcedes that the mind is restless and hard to control, butsays that it can be restrained by practice and by detachment.(6.35) Detachment involves staying away from anything thatdeflects us from the path to God-realization.

    When someone told Sri Ramakrishna that it was extremelydifficult to proceed toward God while leading the life of ahouseholder, the Great Master spoke encouragingly:

    What about the yoga of practice? At Kamarpukur I have seenthe women of the carpenter families selling flattened rice. Letme tell you how alert they are while doing their business. Thepestle of the husking-machine that flattens the paddy

    constantly falls into the hole of the mortar. The woman turnsthe paddy in the hole with one hand and with the other holdsher baby on her lap as she nurses it. In the mean timecustomers arrive. The machine goes on pounding the paddy,and she carries on her bargains with the customers. She saysto them, Pay the few pennies you owe me before you takeanything more. You see, she has all these things to do at thesame timenurse the baby, turn the paddy as the pestle

    pounds it, take the flattened rice out of the hole, and talk tothe buyers. This is called the yoga of practice. Fifteen parts ofher mind out of sixteen are fixed on the pestle of the husking-machine, lest it should pound her hand. With only one part ofher mind she nurses the baby and talks to the buyers.Likewise, he who leads the life of a householder should devotefifteen parts of his mind to God; otherwise he will face ruin andfall into the clutches of Death. He should perform the duties of

    the world with only one part of his mind.3. Working for Gods sake

    Sri Krishna describes the third stage of devotion: If you areincapable of constant practice, then devote yourself to Myservice. For even by rendering service to Me you will attainperfection. (Bhagavad Gita, 12.10)

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    Commentaries on the above verse describe several methods ofserving God: construction of temples, laying out templegardens, cleaning the place of worship, lighting lamps in thetemple, gathering flowers, preparing offerings, procuringarticles of worship, performing the worship, chanting Hisnames, singing His praises, prostrating before God, andcircumambulating templesdoing all this out of love of God.

    Rasik, a sweeper at the DakshineswarTemplegarden, was ofthe lowest caste. He kept the temple premises clean, includingthe privies, but shied away from people because of his lowstatus. One day, as Sri Ramakrishna was returning to his roomfrom the pine grove, a disconsolate Rasik fell at his feet and

    earnestly implored him, Father, shall I not achieve anything inthis life? Sri Ramakrishna told him, Of course you will, you

    will achieve everything. So many devotees visit this temple and you serve them by cleaning the temple garden. SriRamakrishna blessed him and said, You will see me at thetime of death. And it happened that Rasik spent his lastmoments chanting the name of God. All of a sudden, his facebeamed with joy. He cried out, Father, you have come! So you

    have not forgotten me. Thus he breathed his last. Rasik attained everything because of his great longing forGod. Without this longing, worship becomes just anotherhumdrum activity. Describing worldly peoples worship, SriRamakrishna says: Some people have their shrine rooms intheir attics. The women arrange the offerings and flowers andmake the sandal-paste. But, while doing so, they never say a

    word about God. The burden of the conversation is: What shall

    we cook today? I couldn't get good vegetables in themarket. That curry was delicious yesterday. That boy is mycousin. Hello there! Have you that job still? Don't ask me how Iam. My Hari is no more. Just fancy! They talk of such thingsin the shrine room at the time of worship!

    We need to learn to do our duties looking upon God as the

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    Master and ourselves as His servants, and accept that ourcapacity for doing work is His gift and that the results of our

    work really belong to Him. Work done in such a spirit amountsto doing Gods work. Sri Krishna describes the efficacy of doing

    work as worship: From whom all beings proceed and by whomthe whole universe is pervadedby worshipping Him throughthe performance of his duty man attains perfection. (Gita,18.46)

    God dwells in the hearts of all beings (Gita, 18.61). Servingothers in a spirit of worship of the indwelling God is yetanother way of working for God.

    Furthering the mission of a divine Incarnation also amountsto serving God. Many people today worship Sri Ramakrishna asa special manifestation of God. He realized the same ultimate

    Truth through all religions. He lived in God, knew nothing butGod, and talked only about God. His one aim in life was toawaken people to the ideal of God-realization and to help themadvance toward that goal. Ramakrishna Math andRamakrishna Mission, the twin organizations founded in hisname, have a twofold objective: Ones own freedom and the

    welfare of the world. Rendering service to these twoorganizations through any of their centers throughout the

    world is also rendering service to God. (To be continued)

    4. Renouncing the fruit of all action

    For those who are unable to work for Gods sake, Sri Krishnadescribes the fourth stage of devotion: Resign yourself to Me,be self-disciplined and surrender the fruit of all action to Me.(Bhagavad Gita, 12.11)

    We need to remember that this stage of devotion is for theaspirant who cannot fix his mind and buddhi on God, take to

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    the yoga of constant practice, or do work for Gods sake. So heresigns himself to Gods saving power. Sri Krishna teachesArjuna: One should pray, I take refuge in that Primal Beingfrom whom has streamed forth this eternal activity, and seekthat Goal from which they who have reached it never return.(Gita, 15.4)

    The first three stages of devotion enable the seeker, in variousways, to practice remembrance of God. Thinking about Godmakes it easy for the aspirant to develop self-control by givingan inward turn to his outward-directed mind. But in the fourthstage, self-control is not a result of practice but an integral partof practice. At this stage, it requires a great struggle for the

    aspirant to attain self-control. With an effort of the will he hasto curb the outgoing tendencies of his mind and coax it to giveup attachment to the fruit of action.

    As he repeatedly surrenders the fruit of action to God, theaspirant begins to feel more and more that God and not he isthe real doer of action, and therefore the results of his actionsbelong to God.

    When we surrender the fruit of action to God, we grow in

    devotion and become more conscious about our actions, bothphysical and mental, for they are to be offered to God, to whomnothing but the very best can be offered. With our mind freefrom anxiety about the results of actions, we become calm anddo our work better.

    All actions leave impressions in the mind, called samskaras.The sum total of these impressions, good and bad, is whatSwami Vivekananda calls character. To be free from the grip of

    bad impressions, we cultivate good thoughts and actions, andstrengthen our character. But being good is not the goal of life.

    There is a higher ideal, which is the desire for freedomthedesire to be free from the hold of good impressions too. Offeringour actions and their results to God detaches the mind fromthe world and leads us to true surrender and freedom:

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer insacrifice, whatever you give away, and whatever you practice inthe form of austeritiesdo it as an offering to Me. Thus you

    will become free from the bondage of the good and bad resultsof your actions. With your mind firmly set on renunciation, you

    will attain liberation and thereby come to Me. (Gita, 9.27-8)

    Divine Qualities

    Swami Vivekananda taught that true religion results intransformation of character. He said, Religion is the idea

    which is raising the brute unto man, and man unto God.Animality, humanity, and divinity coexist in our character.

    When we have no higher goal of life, our thoughts and actionsare influenced by selfishness, and our divine nature remainsveiled from us. All great teachers have taught thatmanifestation of divinity is the goal of life and the greatestchallenge before us.

    The thirteenth and sixteenth chapters of the Bhagavad Gitadescribe divine qualities that spiritual aspirants need tocultivate on their journey to ultimate Truth. We shall examine

    some of these qualities.

    Fearlessness Fears are of different kinds, such as fear of solitude, fear ofheights, fear of water, fear of the unknown, fear of undesirableoutcome from work, which manifests as anxiety, and, above all,fear of death. Phobias are unreasonable fears and are usuallyharmless; but when they become excessive, they could leave apermanent scar in the mind.

    Fear originates from a sense of duality, says theBrihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.4.2): I and the object of fear. Inthe words of the Taittiriya Upanishad, When a man findsfearless support in That which is invisible, formless,indefinable, and supportless, he has then attainedfearlessness. If he makes the slightest differentiation in It,

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    there is fear for him. (2.7.1)

    Swami Vivekananda emphatically declares what fearlessnessis: Those moments alone we live when our lives are in theuniverse, in others; and living this little life is death, simply

    death, and that is why the fear of death comes. The fear ofdeath can only be conquered when man realizes that so long asthere is one life in the universe, he is living. When he can say,I am in everything, in everybody; I am in all lives; I am theuniverse, then alone comes the state of fearlessness.

    In the Vairagya Shataka (A hundred Verses on Renunciation),Bhartrihari describes how fear is associated with everything inthe world: In enjoyment there is the fear of disease; in social

    position, the fear of falling off; in wealth, the fear of hostilekings; in honor, the fear of humiliation; in power, the fear ofenemies; in beauty, the fear of old age; in scholarship, the fearof opponents; in virtue, the fear of calumny; and in the body,the fear of death. Everything in this world is fraught with fear.Renunciation alone stands for fearlessness. (verse 31)

    Knowledge of the Atman, the divine Self, alone can give usfearlessness and the realization that we are of the nature of

    infinite Being, infinite Consciousness and infinite Bliss. Afterimparting the knowledge of Brahman to Janaka, Yajnavalkyasaid, Verily, Janaka, you have attained That which is freefrom fear. (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.2.4.)


    We saw that fear is inevitable as long as there is a sense ofduality and that true fearlessness is synonymous with God-realization.

    According to Sri Ramanujas commentary on the BhagavadGita (16.1), We feel miserable when separated from objects ofdesire or associated with objects of aversion. Fear is a kind of

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    pain resulting from the awareness of the cause of such misery;the absence of this pain is fearlessness. The mind desirespleasure-producing stimuli and avoids contrary ones. Whileevery little joy of life becomes an occasion for us to celebrate,any unpleasant event, even a little bad news or mild criticism,is enough to disturb our mind and drive us to a corner. Ourmind is normally programmed to be elated with pleasure anddepressed with pain.

    But to develop fearlessness, we need to write a new programwith the help of buddhi, the discriminative faculty. This meansstrengthening our character by augmenting our stock of goodimpressions (samskaras) with the help of noble thoughts and

    actions. Only a strong character can help us remain unaffectedby external circumstances.

    The Gita emphasizes equipoise in work, that is, having amindset that prevents our swinging back and forth betweenelation and depression at every turn of events. When adespondent Arjuna was overcome with misplaced compassionfor his enemies, Sri Krishna taught him to perform his dharma:Pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeatlooking

    upon all these alike, engage yourself in battle; you will incur nosin. (Gita, 2.38) Offering everythingboth pleasure and painto God is a powerful spiritual discipline to cultivate equipoise.Says the devotee, Whatever I do, O Shiva, all that is worship of

    you. (Hymn of Mental Worship to Shiva, 4) Sri Krishna teachesus to offer everything to God: Whatever you do, whatever youeat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you offer as gifts,

    whatever austerities you performdo it all as an offering to

    Me. (Gita, 9.27)Commenting on the Gita (16.1), Sant Jnaneshvar explains

    fearlessness: If we dont jump into a flooded river, we have nofear of being drowned. If we eat sensibly, we dont need to beconcerned about falling ill. Even so, if we are not egotistic whiledoing work or not doing it, we need not fear life in the world.When our mind is filled with the notion of nondualism, we

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    know that the whole world is pervaded by Brahman and rejectall fear.

    When a spiritual aspirant offers the fruit of his action to God,he grows in devotion, becomes less egotistic, and develops

    freedom from fear or anxiety about the outcome of work. Thenotion of nondualism implies a strong faith in the Atman, ourdivine Self. While doing any work, a devotee learns to lookupon himself as a luminous spiritual entity different from thebody and the restless mind. He strives to emulate the sattvic

    worker described in the Gita: He who is free from attachmentand egotism, endowed with fortitude and zeal, and unaffectedby success and failuresuch a person is said to be a sattvic

    worker. (Gita, 18.26)

    The Message of Liberation

    The Ramakrishna Mission's motto is: "For one's ownliberation and for the good of the world." Liberation of the soulis the promise of all religions and their central teaching. It is

    this promise that distinguishes religion from all other quests oflife. Prophets and saints, mystics and philosophers,theologians and scriptures assure us of ultimate liberationfrom the pain and suffering of life. All seekers, whetherChristian, Buddhist, Hindu, or Muslim, dualist, qualified non-dualist, or non-dualist, strive for liberation. All believe thatthrough liberation they will attain immortality. The desire forimmortality is inherent in human nature. Desiring

    immortality, people beget children, create works of art, erectmonuments, sacrifice their self-interest, and practice charity,contemplation, and prayer. What is the meaning of liberation?What really happens to one who becomes liberated?

    The Differing Views

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    The general consensus among the religions of the world isthat liberation is eternal life in heaven and that such liberation,

    which is possible only after death, is the reward for thevirtuous and the believers. The non-believers and the sinnersgo to hell to expiate their wrongful actions on earth.Enjoyment in heaven and suffering in hell are described in thescriptures of different traditions in vivid terms. But thereligions vary in their views of the nature of liberation, how toattain it, and how to verify it. Some claim that liberation isreserved only for their own followers and ask for unquestioningfaith in their dogma. Others claim that liberation is only forthe elected and chosen onesand not universal. Immortalityfor some is physical, for others, spiritual. Some insist that

    liberation is dependent on effort, and to others it is solely amatter of faith. Again, some traditions declare that our life onearth is only for one term, and therefore there is only oneopportunity to strive for liberation. Others speak of the law ofrebirth and of many terms of life.

    Honest Doubt

    The questions that are often raised by the scientific-minded,and quite reasonably so, are the following:

    (1) If liberation is possible only after death, how can thereality of such liberation be verified? The conditions on the twosides of the grave are different. The dead do not come back totestify about the validity of heaven. Scriptural assurances arenot enough to silence our doubt, since, having been written byhuman hands, they are subject to human error. Could it be

    that the ideas of heaven and liberation are merely the result ofpious imagination? Such doubt persists. There is the story ofa mountain climber who was trying to scale a 5,000 foot peak.At one point he lost his balance and began to falluncontrollably. Desperately grabbing hold of the stump of atree, he found himself hanging in mid-air. An avowed atheist,the man did not believe in any prayer or in the hereafter. But

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    facing this harrowing situation, he look toward heaven andcalled out, "Is there any one to save me?" To his utter surprise,he heard a deep voice resounding from the sky, saying, "Myson, let go thy hold. I shall bear thee up." There was a pause,and then the man again looked toward heaven and asked, "Isthere anyone else?"

    (2) Are the descriptions of the hereafter true? If so, why dothe accounts differ? Immortality in heaven has been describedas being of infinite duration, that is, not bound by time. Buthow can everlasting life be described in terms of time? Whatbegins in time must end in time. Heavenly life has beendescribed as enjoyment without suffering, youth without old

    age, pleasure without paina claim which is untenable fromthe point of view of reason. The subtle or spiritual bodythrough which one experiences heavenly happiness cannot lastfor ever. How can an embodied person be immortal? Can it bethat our individual desires create our ideas of heaven and thatour definition of heaven changes with the change of ourdesires? So Swami Vivekananda says:

    "Everyone's idea of pleasure is different. Ihave seen a man who is not happy unless heswallows a lump of opium every day. Hemay dream of a heaven where the land ismade of opium. That would be a very badheaven for me. Again and again in Arabianpoetry we read of a heaven with beautifulgardens through which rivers run. I havelived much of my life in a country wherethere is too much water; many villages areflooded and thousands of lives are sacrificedevery year. So my heaven would not havegardens through which rivers flow; I wouldhave a land where very little rain falls. Ourpleasures are always changing."[i][i]

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    (3) One cannot imagine how a soul which has a beginning intime can be without end. The claim that the soul is created atthe time of birth and that life is for only one term lacks arational basis. Such an idea fails to explain the inequalitiesthat exist between one person and another in the physical,mental, moral, and spiritual spheres. To say that suchinequalities are all due to the environment and upbringing isnot an adequate explanation. To attribute such inequalities tothe will of God only makes God cruel and whimsical. Mostpeople die as sinners and consequently if there is only one termof life, it must follow that most are destined to suffer eternallyin hell. How is it possible that the soul, being an integralportion of God, can be punished forever? To believe in the

    eternal punishment of the soul for the mistakes of a few yearson earth is absurd.

    (4) The assertion of some traditions that theirs is the only way raises very serious doubts about their validity. Such aclaim is possible only in a non-moral universe created by anunjust God. Claims of exclusiveness have prompted sometraditions to proselytize and at times persecute. Such claimshave prompted these traditions to increase the number of thefaithful by forcible conversion and to eliminate the unfaithfulby means of extermination.

    In a recent article in The New York Times, the author Karen

    Armstrong writes:

    "Is acceptance of Jesus Christ necessary for

    salvation? That is the question threateningto split the Dutch Reformed Church inAmerica, which has about 200,000members. The Rev. Richard A. Rhem, pastorof ChristCommunityChurchin Spring Lake,Mich., has said he no longer believes that

    Jesus is the only route to God. Through

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    their own religions, he argues, Jews,Muslims and Buddhists can be admitted toheaven. His stance shocked the regionalReformed Church authorities, who censuredMr. Rhem in July. But the pastor has beensupported by his congregation as well as bysome Christian churches in otherdenominations. Christians have beenarguing about the salvation of unbelieversfor at least 1,600 years. (Before that, thereligion's struggle for survival overshadowedconcerns about the fate of unbelievers.) Butthe debate has an urgency in the late 20th

    century because of our expandedunderstanding of other religions....Christianslike Mr. Rhem find it difficult to believe thata just and merciful God would damnmillions of well-meaning men and womenmerely because they have not found faith in

    Jesus. Others insist that the Christian faithis an indispensable requirement for eternal

    beatitude....In this century, the twotendencies have struggled against abackdrop of greater religiouscommunication. Our new knowledge andnew technology make the old isolation of the

    world's religions seem parochial andoutdated. Christians are discovering thatdespite their obvious differences, the great

    world religions are in profound agreementabout essential spiritual issues. People arenow beginning to seek inspiration from morethan one religion....In the 21st century,people of all faiths will have to decide

    whether to embrace the new globalization byexpressing it in religious terms or to react

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    vehemently against it and retreat intodenominational ghettos."[ii][ii]

    Exclusiveness always creates suspicion. Spirituality is auniversal phenomenon, not the exclusive possession of any

    particular faith. No religious tradition has a monopoly of Truth. Moral and ethical virtues of purity, compassion,truthfulness, and self-sacrificethe means to liberationarecommon to all traditions. All are children of one and the sameGod, to whom all return at the time of liberation. Prophets andsaints of different religions are the messengers of that oneGod. Different religions are only the different paths to reachHim. Those who deny these facts deny God Himself.

    An individual brought up today with a scientific outlookinsists on the rule of law. In the classroom and the workplacehe is encouraged to raise honest doubt and make criticalenquiry about everything, and thus he feels puzzled when he isasked to accept the teachings of a scripture or the tenets of aparticular tradition as infallible. Two reasons are generallyinvoked in support of infallibility: Such teachings and tenetshave been handed down from ancient times and our ancestors

    believed in them. Yet mere belief in liberation does not make itreal for us. Until Galileo told us otherwise, the world used tobelieve that the sun moves around the earth. If the laws ofscience work everywhere and at all times, should not the samelaws apply to religion? Science has thrown open a window onthe cosmos, which is now regarded as infinite. Our sun is aspeck on the edge of a vast galaxyone of innumerablegalaxies, and our earth is a mere particle of dust circling that

    speck. The creation did not begin at a certain time on aparticular day; it evolved through billions of years. The view ofa universe with God at the top, the devil below, and the human

    world in between can be accepted by only the most naive.

    Science demands deduction from facts, not from dogmas. Inreligion too we must draw our conclusions from facts, and not

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    attempt to create facts based upon preconceived conclusions. Too often in religious matters reason has been used as ameans of reinforcing our prejudices. The strict methods ofscience require us to accept a proposition only when we are ina position to prove it. Skeptics think that the notion ofliberation is nothing but wishful thinking on the part of somevisionaries who hope to fulfill their heart's desire for eternallife, in defiance of the laws of science. (to be continued)

    - Swami Adiswarananda

    The Vedanta View of Liberation

    Regarding liberation, Vedanta maintains the following:

    (1) Liberation is jivanmukti or freedom while living in thebody. It is not going to another realm or attaining somethingnew, but realizing our true nature. It not freedom fromanything, but in the midst of everything. Liberation as eternalhappiness in heaven is only a halfway house. Vedanta assertsthat liberation in order to be believable must be attained beforedeath. One who dies in bondage, bound will he remain afterdeath. As the Upanishad says:

    "What is here, the same is there; and what isthere the same is here. He goes from deathto death who sees any difference here.(Katha Upanishad, II.1.10)"[iii][iii]

    If everything ends for one with liberation, then there would benone to teach and serve as an exemplar.

    (2) Vedanta's liberation is spiritual and depends upon Self-Knowledge. Immortality or eternal life in order to be real mustbe free from all forms of embodimentgross, subtle, or causal.Sankaracharya asserts:

    "Let people quote the scriptures and sacrifice

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    to the gods, let them perform rituals andworship the deities, but there is no liberationwithout the realization of one's identity withthe Atman, no, not even in the lifetime of ahundred Brahmas put together [that is, analmost infinite length of time]."[iv][iv]

    This realization, known as Self-Knowledge, is neither anemotional thrill nor an intellectual conviction. It is not "put apenny in the slot and pull out a pardon."[v][v] Self-Knowledgeis direct perception of one all-pervading Self dwelling as theindividual self in all beings. Direct perception is not simplybelief in the scriptures. Believing in the scriptures is believing

    in the belief of other persons. On the other hand, reason,which begins in doubt and also ends in doubt, cannot give thecertainty of faith. Direct perception is experiencing the Self bybeing one with It. It is seeing the Self with eyes closed inmeditation as well as with eyes open in action. Such directperception carries its own credentials: it transforms ourconsciousness forever, silences all doubt, is not antagonistic toreason and common sense, and is conducive to the welfare of

    all beings.(3) Complete liberation is attained gradually through many

    births, and this process guarantees every creature, however wicked, many opportunities to rid himself of imperfections.Rebirth is governed by the law of karma. It is through a humanbody that liberation is generally attained. Vedanta speaks ofthree courses which departed souls may follow before they arereborn on earth in a human body: Those who have led a life of

    extreme wickedness are born as subhuman beings. Thoseagain who have discharged their social and moral duties,cherished desires, and sought the results of action, repair afterdeath to a heaven called the "plane of the moon," where theyreap the fruit of their actions, before being reborn in a humanbody. But Brahmaloka, the highest heaven, is attained bythose who have led an intense spiritual life on earth and

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    actively sought the reality of God. Some of the dwellers inBrahmaloka obtain liberation, and some return to earth. Suchdescriptions of the afterlife are not literal, but symbolic andpoetic, and are intended to spur the human mind to make thespiritual quest. Life's bondage created while living, cannot beovercome by some readjustment after death.

    (4) Liberation is universal and is the inevitable destiny of allliving creatures. Vedanta speaks of the three basic desires ofall living beings: eternal life, limitless knowledge, andunbounded joy. We first seek to fulfill these through change ofform and place. But nothing limited can give us the fulfillmentof all three desires. At last we begin to change our thoughts

    and practice spiritual disciplines for self-purification. Whenour heart becomes purified, our true self, which is the Self ofthe universe, becomes revealed in the mirror of our pure heartand we discover our true identity. Liberation is returninghome. In Biblical terms it is the return of the prodigal son tohis all-loving father. Consciously or unconsciously, all beingsare striving for liberation. When the striving is unconscious wecall it evolution of nature, but when it is conscious we call itspiritual quest.

    What happens to a knower of the Self after death? Wheredoes his soul go? The Upanishads say:

    "Of him who is without desires, who is freefrom desires, the objects of whose desireshave been attained, and to whom all objectsof desire are but the selfthe life-breathdoes not depart. Being Brahman, he merges

    in Brahman." (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad,IV.iv.6)[vi][vi]

    "When all the desires that dwell in his heartare gone, then he, having been mortal,becomes immortal and attains Brahman inthis very body." (Brihadaranyaka

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    Upanishad, IV.iv.7)[vii][vii]

    As milk poured into milk becomes one with milk, as waterpoured into water becomes one with the water, as oil pouredinto oil becomes one with the oil, so the illumined soul

    absorbed in Brahman becomes one with Brahman. A free soul,however, out of compassion for mankind, may of his own free

    will again assume a human body and work for the welfare ofmankind.

    (5) The Self-Knowledge of Vedanta liberates not only our soulbut also our mind. Psychologically speaking, Self-Knowledge,by raising the blaze of spiritual consciousness, frees us fromthe bondage of highly-personalized life and separative


    (6) Liberation through Self-Knowledge is not just cessation ofsorrow and suffering but positive bliss. Cessation of sorrow isnot in itself happiness; it requires something positive. Tastingthe overpowering bliss of the Self, the liberated soul goesbeyond all sorrow and suffering. As the Katha Upanishad says:

    "There is one Supreme Ruler, the inmost Selfof all beings, who makes His one formmanifold. Eternal happiness belongs to the

    wise, who perceive Him within themselvesnot to others. There is One who is theeternal Reality among non-eternal objects,the one [truly] conscious Entity amongconscious objects, and who, though non-dual, fulfils the desires of many. Eternalpeace belongs to the wise who perceive Him

    within themselvesnot to others." (KathaUpanishad, II.ii.12 and 13)[viii][viii]

    (7) Liberation through Self-Knowledge requires cooperationbetween self-endeavor and divine grace. To make effort isnecessary in order to know its limits. In the end we discover

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    that effort was possible because of grace. We strive for theDivine only when the Divine draws us toward It.

    (8) Self-Knowledge alone can confer true liberation. SwamiVivekananda beautifully describes this liberation through Self-


    "One day a drop of water fell into the vastocean. When it found itself there, it began to

    weep and complain just as you are doing. The great ocean laughed at the drop of water. `Why do you weep?' it asked. `I donot understand. When you join me, you join

    all your brothers and sisters, the other dropsof water of which I am made. You becomethe ocean itself. If you wish to leave me, youhave only to rise up on a sunbeam into theclouds. From there you can descend again,a little drop of water, a blessing and abenediction to the thirsty earth.'"[ix][ix]

    (9) The liberated soul is called a free soul. Only a free soul

    demonstrates the reality of God, the validity of the sacred texts,the divinity of man, and the oneness of existence. He is alsoknown as the Awakened One or the Illumined One. A free soullives in a world of duality, yet he remains undisturbed by itspain and pleasure. He is free but not whimsical, spontaneousbut not given to license, and he never sets a bad example toothers. As a fish swimming in waters leaves no mark behind,or as a bird flying in the air leaves no footprints, so a free soul

    moves in the world unnoticed by others. A free soul does nottraffic in miracles, nor does he publicize his holiness. Theineffable peace radiating from his personality bespeaks his holynature.

    A free soul is aware of his identity with all beings. He isconscious that he feels through all hearts, walks with all feet,

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    eats through all mouths, and thinks with all minds. Heregards the pain and pleasure of others as his own pain andpleasure. Physical death and birth have no meaning for him, achange of body being to him like a change of garments. Aboutsuch a person it can truly be said that he exists, because hehas become one with Existence; knows, because he hasbecome one with Knowledge; and enjoys bliss, because he hasbecome one with Bliss Absolute.

    A free soul, while living in the body, may experience disease,old age, or decay; may feel hunger, thirst, grief or fear; may bea victim of blindness, deafness, or other conditions. Buthaving realized that these are no more than characteristics of

    the body, the mind, or the senses, he does not take themseriously and so is not overwhelmed by them. A person whosees a play on the stage does not consider it to be real, yet heenjoys it to his heart's content; likewise, a free soul living in themidst of the joys and sorrows of the world experiences them asthe unfolding of a divine play.

    In modern times, Sri Ramakrishna's life is a perfect examplein this context. In April 1885 Sri Ramakrishna felt a soreness

    in his throat. Prolonged conversation or absorption in God-consciousness would aggravate the pain. As simple treatmentbrought him no relief, a specialist was called for, and theillness was diagnosed as cancer. Though the doctor cautionedhim, he could neither control his ecstasy nor turn away anysincere spiritual seeker. In spite of his excruciating pain andemaciated physical condition, Sri Ramakrishna continued tominister to the spiritual needs of his disciples and devotees.

    Seeing his constant ecstasy, a leader of the Brahmo Samaj wasmoved to declare: "Good heavens! It is as if he were possessedby a ghost!"[x][x] As we read in The Gospel of SriRamakrishna:

    " Pandit Shashadhar [a renowned religiousleader of the time] one day suggested to Sri

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    Ramakrishna that the latter could removethe illness by concentrating his mind on thethroat, the scriptures having declared that

    yogis had power to cure themselves in thatway. The Master rebuked the pundit:

    "`For a scholar like you to make such aproposal!' he said. `How can I withdraw themind from the Lotus Feet of God and turn itto this worthless cage of flesh and blood?'`For our sake at least,' begged Narendra andthe other disciples. `But,' replied SriRamakrishna, `do you think I enjoy this

    suffering? I wish to recover, but thatdepends on the Mother.'Narendra: `Then please pray to Her. Shemust listen to you.'Master: `But I cannot pray for my body.'Narendra: `You must do it, for our sake atleast.'Master: `Very well, I shall try.'

    A few hours later the Master said toNarendra: `I said to Her: "Mother, I cannotswallow food because of my pain. Make itpossible for me to eat a little." She pointed

    you all out to me and said: "What? You areeating through all these mouths. Isn't thatso?" I was ashamed and could not utteranother word.'"[xi][xi]

    This is the liberation in life declared by Vedanta, and this isthe primary goal to which the Ramakrishna Mission's works ofservice are directed.

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful



    by Swami Adiswarananda

    From How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife, 1STEdition by Christopher Johnson and

    Marsha McGee, Copyright 1991 by the Charles Press Publishers, Reprinted with permission.

    This chapter is based on the teachings of Vedanta as embodied in the major Hindu scriptures--the

    Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Brahma Sutras, and others--and interpreted by Sankaracharya, the

    exponent of non-dualism. According to non-dualism, the Ultimate Reality of everything is Brahman,the non-dual pure consciousness, and It alone exists. The universe of beings and things is merely an

    appearance of Brahman in time and space. The individual soul and Brahman are absolutely non-different. The root cause of all bondage is the soul's ignorance of its true nature. Liberation is union

    with Brahman attained through Self-knowledge. The two other interpretations of Vedanta are qualified

    non-dualism and dualism. The chief exponent of qualified non-dualism is Ramanuja and of dualism,Madhva. Qualified non-dualism maintains that Brahman, though non-dual pure consciousness,

    transforms Itself into God, the universe, and the world of souls, and that the transformation is real. God

    is the whole and the individual soul is the part. The bondage of the individual soul is due to itsalienation from God, and liberation is communion with God. Dualism believes that God is a personal

    being who creates the universe and the world of souls. The creation is real and the created beings and

    things are different from and dependent on God. The bondage of the soul is due to its forgetfulness ofGod, and liberation is communion with God.

    Background of the Faith

    Hinduism, considered the oldest religion of the world, is today practiced by over 500 million

    people in India and other countries. The word "Hindu" is a distorted form of "Sindhu," the Sanskritword for Indus, the river that flows into the Arabian Sea. This mispronunciation is attributed to the

    Persians who invaded India at the end of the sixth century B.C. Later, during the Greek invasion of

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    India (326 B.C.), the Greeks described the river Sindhu as "Indos," which was sometime afterward

    changed to "Indus." Since then, the country east of the river Indus has come to be known as India, its

    people as Indians, and their religion as Hinduism. The original name of Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma,

    which means "eternal religion." It was also known as Vaidika Dharma, or the "religion of the Vedas."The European traders and Christian missionaries who came to India at the beginning of the seventeenth

    century signified Hinduism as "Brahmanism."

    A federation of many systems of thought, Hinduism is based not on any fixed sets of creeds anddogmas but on certain eternal principles. It was not founded by any historical personality. Manyprophets, saints, mystics, and philosophers, both ancient and modern, have contributed to its growth,

    development, and perpetuation. The great teachers of Hinduism are Sri Rama (of the Ramayana), Sri

    Krishna (of the Bhagavad Gita), Sri Sankaracharya (A.D. 788-820), Sri Ramanuja (A.D. 1017-1137),Sri Madhva (A.D. 1199-1276), Sri Chaitanya (A.D. 1485-1533), and in modern times, Sri Ramakrishna

    (A.D. 1836-1886), and Swami Vivekananda (A.D. 1863-1902). Their lives demonstrate the validity of

    the spiritual teachings of Hinduism. Hinduism derives its authority primarily from the four Vedas: theRig-Veda, the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda, and the Atharva-Veda. Each Veda consists of four parts:

    the mantras, or hymns in praise of Vedic deities; the brahmanas, or the section dealing with rituals and

    ceremonies; the aranyakas, or philosophical interpretation of the rituals; and the Upanishads, or the

    concluding portions of the Vedas (known as Vedanta), which describe the profound spiritual truths.Hinduism derives its authority secondarily from another group of scriptures-the Ramayana, the

    Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita, the Puranas, and others. Of the two groups of scriptures, the Vedas

    along with the Upanishads are known as srutis, while the others are called smritis. Sruti is revelationandsmriti is tradition.

    The Ultimate Reality

    Hindu scriptures describe ultimate reality as Brahman. Brahman is non-dual pure

    consciousness, indivisible, incorporeal, infinite, and all-pervading like the sky. Brahman is of thenature of existence-knowledge-bliss-absolute-the ground of all existence, basis of all awareness, and

    source of all bliss. It is the reality of all realities, the soul of all souls, one without a second, theconstant witness of the changing phenomena of the universe. From the absolute point of view,Brahman alone exists. Brahman has two aspects: transcendent and immanent. In Its transcendent

    aspect, Brahman is devoid of name and form, sex and attributes. But in Its immanent aspect, Brahman

    is endowed with them. The Upanishads designate the transcendent Brahman by the word "It" and theimmanent Brahman by the word "He." Through Its inscrutable power called maya, the transcendent

    Brahman appears to be conditioned by time and space and to manifest itself as personal God, the

    creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe. The Upanishads describe God as the supreme person:

    His hands and feet are everywhere; His eyes, heads, andfaces are everywhere; His ears are everywhere; He exists

    compassing all.[ix][i] The heavens are His head; the sun

    and moon, His eyes; the quarters, His ears; the revealedVedas, His speech; the wind is His breath; the universe,

    His heart. From His feet is produced the earth. He is,

    indeed, the inner Self of all beings.[ix][ii]

    The various Godheads of Hinduism, such as Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Kali, and Durga, are but

    different facets of Brahman. The supreme Brahman assumes various forms for the fulfillment of the

    individual spiritual seekers. All concepts and forms of God, according to Hinduism, are what we think

    of Him and not what He is to Himself. Again, various seekers of God, depending upon their

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    advancement, perceive God differently. For example, to the beginner God appears as an extra-cosmic

    creator; to the more advanced seeker as inner controller; and to the perfect knower of God, God is

    everywhere and in everything. Still another manifestation of the conditioned Brahman is the

    incarnation of God-God's taking human form. According to Hinduism, God incarnates Himself tofulfill the needs of the universe, whenever and wherever such a need arises. In the Bhagavad Gita Sri

    Krishna says:

    Whenever there is a decline ofdharma (righteousness), OBharata, and a rise ofadharma (unrighteousness), Iincarnate myself. For the protection of the good, for the

    destruction of the wicked, and for the establishment ofdharma, I am born in every age.[ix][iii]

    Thus, according to Hinduism, the supreme Godhead is both formless and endowed with many

    forms. (to be continued)


    by Swami Adiswarananda

    From How Different Religions View Death and Afterlife, 1STEdition by Christopher Johnson and

    Marsha McGee, Copyright 1991 by the Charles Press Publishers, Reprinted with permission.

    Part 2

    (continued from previous month)

    The Universe

    Hinduism maintains that the universe is beginning less and endless. It subscribes to the theory

    of manifestation and non-manifestation of the universe, of evolution of cosmic energy into names and

    forms and its involution. The Vedas describe this process as the out-breathing and in-breathing ofBrahman. The Upanishads say that just as the hair and nails grow on a living person, as the threads

    come out of a spider, as sparks fly from a blazing fire, as melodies issue from a flute, or as waves rise

    on the ocean, so also does the universe come forth from Brahman. Brahman is both the material and theefficient cause of the universe.

    This manifestation of Brahman as the manifold universe is not real but apparent. Through its

    inscrutable power ofmaya, Brahman appears as the world of matter and souls, and as endowed with the

    activities of creation, preservation, and dissolution. Maya veils the ultimate reality and in its placeprojects various appearances. Maya is change and relativity. It is neither real nor unreal nor both. If the

    world ofmaya were real, then it could never be changed. On the other hand, it cannot be unreal because

    the sufferings of life are felt tangibly. As long as it is not known, maya is delusive; but when known,

    maya is nothing but Brahman. Maya is comprised of the three gunas, or qualities: sattva, rajas, andtamas. Sattva is balance or equilibrium; rajas is restlessness or imbalance; tamas is inertia or darkness.

    The three gunas are present in varying degrees in all objects, gross or subtle, including the body-mind

    complex of an individual. For example, when sattva prevails in an individual, the light of knowledgebegins to shine through his body and mind. When rajas prevails, he is stirred by unrest. And when

    tamas prevails, he is taken over by inertia. When the universe is in a period of non-manifestation, the

    three gunas remain in a state of non-differentiation, or equilibrium. Manifestation begins when theequilibrium of the gunas is disturbed.

    According to Hinduism, the process of manifestation and non-manifestation of the universe
  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    follows a cyclical pattern. In each cycle there is a recurrence of the same material phenomena, and the

    same recurrences continue throughout eternity. No energy can be annihilated; it goes on changing until

    it returns to the source. Nature presents both movements-from the subtle to the gross and back from

    gross to subtle. Evolution presupposes involution. Only that which was involved before can be evolvedafterwards. Evolution of the physical universe follows a graduated process. The first element to evolve

    at the beginning of a cycle is akasa, or the ether, in its subtle form. Then gradually evolve four other

    elements: air, fire, water, and earth. In the beginning, the five elements remain unmixed. Then, throughtheir various combinations, the elements take their gross forms. From out of the basic gross and subtle

    elements are produced all objects, gross and subtle, including the body-mind complex of all living


    According to the Puranas, each world period is divided into four ages, or yugas: Satya, Treta,Dwapara, and Kali. The Satya yuga abounds in virtue, with vice being practically non-existent. But

    with each succeeding age, virtue gradually diminishes and vice increases, making the age of Kali the

    reverse of Satya. The approximate duration of each yuga has been described as: Satya yoga, 1,728,000years; Treta, 1,296,000 years; Dwapara, 864,000 years; and Kali, 432,000 years. These four yugas,

    rotating a thousand times, make one day of Brahma, the creator, and an equal number of years, one

    night. Thirty such days and nights make one month of Brahma, and twelve months make one year.

    After living for a hundred such years, Brahma dies. Brahma, too, like all other entities of thephenomenal universe, has a limited life span, although this life span seems nearly endless from the

    viewpoint of human calculations.

    The Human Individual

    According to Hinduism, man is essentially a soul that uses its body and mind as instruments togain experience. What is the nature of the soul? Hinduism maintains that the macrocosm and the

    microcosm are built on the same plan, and that Brahman is the soul of both. As the soul of man,

    Brahman is known as Paramatman. The Upanishads speak of the two souls of man dwelling, as it were,

    side by side, within him: the real soul (Paramatman) and the apparent soul (jivatman). The real soul isthe witness consciousness, serene and detached. The apparent soul is the embodied soul, the

    experiencer of birth and death, and is ever in quest of freedom and eternal life. The apparent soul is theego self--the reflection of the real soul. The real soul has been described as Self and the apparent soulas non-Self. Hinduism analyzes man in terms of three bodies, five sheaths, and three states. It says that

    a human individual has three bodies: physical body, subtle body, and causal body. The physical body is

    produced out of the gross forms of the five basic elements (ether, air, water, fire, and earth), and issubject to a sixfold change: birth, subsistence, growth, maturity, decay, and death. At death the physical

    body perishes and its five constituent elements are dissolved. The subtle body is made of the subtle

    forms of the five basic elements that produced the physical body. It is the receptacle of thoughts andmemories and continues to exist after death, serving as the vehicle of transmigration. A human

    individual enters this world with a bundle of thoughts in the form of his mind, and he also exits with a

    bundle of thoughts, some old and some new. The causal body, characterized by ego sense only, is finer

    than the subtle body. All three bodies are for the fulfillment of desires, gross and subtle. The soul isdifferent from these three bodies.

    Hindu scriptures further describe the body-mind complex of man as consisting of five sheaths,

    or layers: the physical sheath, the sheath of prana (the vital air), the sheath of mind, the sheath of

    intellect, and the sheath of bliss. These sheaths are located one inside the other like the segments of acollapsible telescope, with the sheath of the physical body being the outermost and the sheath of bliss

    being the innermost. The sheath of the physical body is dependent on food for its sustenance and lasts

    as long as it can absorb nourishment. The sheath of the vital air is the manifestation of the universalvital energy. It animates the gross body, making it inhale and exhale, move about, take in nourishment,

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    excrete, and reproduce. The sheath of the mind is the seedbed of all desires. It is changeful,

    characterized by pain and pleasure, and has a beginning and an end. The sheath of the intellect is the

    seat of I-consciousness. Though material and insentient by nature, it appears intelligent because it

    reflects the light of the Self. It is the cause of embodiment. Finer than the sheath of the intellect is thesheath of bliss, the main features of which are pleasure and rest. It, too, is material and subject to

    change. The five sheaths are the five layers of embodiment and they veil the light of the Self.

    The Upanishads mention that man experiences three states of existence-waking, dream, anddeep sleep-and his Self within, the experiencer of the three states, is different from them. Analysis ofall three states reveals the true nature of the Self. In the waking state man remains identified with his

    physical body, in the dream state with his subtle body, and in deep sleep with his causal body. The

    Atman, or Self, is the monitoring consciousness of all three states and is the basis of their unity.Hinduism contends that conclusions based only on an analysis of the waking state are incomplete and

    cannot reveal the real nature of man. In this sense, Hinduism considers the conclusions of physical

    science as inadequate although not incorrect.


    by Swami Adiswarananda

    Part 3

    (continued from previous month)

    The Problem of Suffering

    Why is a soul born on earth, and why does it suffer? What happens to it after death, and what is its

    destiny? Why are there inequalities between one person and another? According to Hinduism, the ideaof complete annihilation of the soul after death is inconsistent with the concept of a moral order in the

    universe. If everything ends with death, then there is no meaning to life. Nor is the view that the soul is

    created at birth and then becomes eternal at death reasonable, for anything that has a beginning willalso have an end. Further, this view does not explain the obvious inequalities among people. Clearly,

    all are not born equal. Some are born with good tendencies, some with bad; some strong, and some

    weak; some fortunate, and some unfortunate. Moreover, all too often the virtuous suffer and the viciousprosper. One cannot attribute these injustices to the will of God or to some inscrutable providence,

    because such a concept belies any belief in God's love for His beings. These glaring differences cannot

    be considered the mere results of chance happening; for if such were the case, there would be noincentive for moral or material improvement. Then, heredity and environment, although they explain

    the physical and mental characteristics of an individual partially, do not explain inequalities

    satisfactorily. Nor does the doctrine of eternal happiness in heaven, or eternal suffering in hell, answer

    this question. Everlasting life in terms of time is self-contradictory. The dwellers in heaven, endowed

    with subtle or spiritual bodies, are still subject to embodiment and therefore cannot be immortal. Theidea of eternal damnation for the mistakes of man's brief earthly career contradicts justice and reason.

    The inequalities and sufferings of life cannot be set right by readjustments after death, because whathappens after death cannot be verified. The conditions on the two sides of the grave are different, and

    the dead never come back to testify to their afterlife conditions.

    Rebirth and the Law of Karma

    Hinduism contends that the cause of suffering and inequalities must be sought not in what happens

    after death, but in the conditions before birth, and puts forward the doctrine of rebirth. Rebirth is the
  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    necessary corollary to the idea of the soul's immortality. Death is a break in the series of continuing

    events known as life. Through death the individual soul changes its body: "Even as the embodied Self

    passes, in this body, through the stages of childhood, youth, and old age, so does It pass into another

    body." A knower of the Self can witness the passing of a soul from one body to another at the time ofdeath: "The deluded do not perceive him when he departs from the body or dwells in it, when he

    experiences objects or is united with the gunas; but they who have the eye of wisdom perceive him."

    Rebirth, Hinduism maintains, is governed by the law of karma. According to this law, man is thearchitect of his own fate and maker of his own destiny. Karma signifies the way of life, that is, what wethink, say, and do and it brings conditioning of the mind, the root cause of embodiment. It is the mind

    that produces bodies, gross or subtle. Remaining identified with the body-mind complex, the soul,

    though ever-free, follows its destiny and, as it were, experiences all pairs of opposites, such as birth anddeath, good and evil, pain and pleasure. Patanjali (the teacher of the Yoga system), in one of his

    aphorisms, describes the causes of suffering as five: ignorance, ego-sense, attachment, aversion, and

    clinging to life. Reality is neither good nor evil. There is nothing in the universe which is absolutelygood or absolutely evil, that is to say, good or evil for all time. Good and evil are value judgments

    made by the individual mind in keeping with its inner disposition caused by past karma. If one asks,

    why does God permit evil, then the question will come, why does God permit good? According to the

    Hindu view, good is that which takes us near to our real Self, and evil is that which creates a distancebetween us and our real Self. The law of karma is the law of automatic justice. It tells us that no action

    goes without producing its result. The circumstances of our present life, our pains and pleasures, are all

    the results of our past actions in this existence and in countless previous existences. As one sows, soshall one reap. This is the inexorable law of karma. Karma produces three kinds of results: (a) results of

    past actions which have produced the present, body, mind, and circumstances; (b) results which have

    accumulated but are yet to fructify; and (c) results that are being accumulated now. Over the firstcategory of results no one has any control; these are to be overcome by patiently bearing with them.

    The second and third kinds, which are still in the stage of thoughts and tendencies, can be countered by

    education and self-control. Essentially, the law of karma says that while our will is free, we areconditioned to act in certain set ways. We suffer or enjoy because of this conditioning of our mind. And

    conditioning of mind, accumulated through self-indulgence, cannot be overcome vicariously. A Hinduis called upon to act in the living present, to change his fate by changing his way of life, his thoughts

    and his actions. Our past determines our present, and our present will determine our future. He is taughtthat no change will ever be effected by brooding over past mistakes or failures or by cursing others and

    blaming the world or by hoping for the future. To the contention that the law of karma does not leave

    any scope for the operation of divine grace, Hinduism's answer is that the grace of God is ever flowingequally toward all. It is not felt until one feels the need for it. The joys and suffering of a human

    individual are of his own making. Good and evil are mind-made and not God-created. The law of

    karma exhorts a Hindu to right actions, giving him the assurance that, just as a saint had a past so also asinner has a future. Through the doctrine of rebirth and the law of karma, Hinduism seeks an ethical

    interpretation of life. The theory of the evolution of species describes the process of how life evolves.

    But the purpose of this evolution can be explained only by the doctrine of rebirth and the law of karma.The destiny of the soul is immortality through Self-realization. Existence-knowledge bliss-absolutebeing its real nature, nothing limited can give it abiding satisfaction. Through its repeated births and

    deaths it is seeking that supreme fulfillment of life.


    by Swami Adiswarananda

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    Part 4

    (continued from previous month)

    The Ideas of Heaven and Hell

    According to the Hindu Puranas, there are fourteen worlds in the universe - the seven upper and

    the seven lower. The seven upper worlds are Bhuh, Bhavah, Swah, Mahah, Janah. Tapah, and Satyam;

    and the seven nether worlds are Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Rasatala, Talatala, Mahatala, and Patala. Theregion known as Bhuh is the earth where we dwell, while Swah is the celestial world to which people

    repair after death to enjoy the reward of their righteous actions on earth. Bhuvah is the region between

    the two. Janah, Tapah, and Satyam constitute Brahmaloka, or the highest heaven, where fortunate soulsrepair after death and enjoy spiritual communion with the personal God, and at the end of the cycle

    attain liberation, though a few return to earth again. The world of Mahah is located between

    Brahmaloka and Bhuh, Bhuuah, and Swah. Patala, the lowest of the seven nether worlds, is the realmwhere wicked souls sojourn after death and reap the results of their unrighteous actions on earth. Thus,

    from the viewpoint of Hinduism, heaven and hell are merely different worlds, bound by time, space,

    and causality. According to Hinduism, desires are responsible for a person's embodiment. Some of

    these desires can best be fulfilled in a human body, and some in an animal or a celestial body.

    Accordingly, a soul assumes a body determined by its unfulfilled desires and the results of its pastactions. An animal or a celestial body is for reaping the results of past karma, not for performing

    actions to acquire a new body. Performance of karma to effect any change of life is possible only in ahuman body, because only human beings do good or evil consciously. Human birth is therefore a great

    privilege, for in a human body alone can one attain the supreme goal of life. Thus, in search of eternal

    happiness and immortality, the apparent soul is born again and again in different bodies, only todiscover in the end that immortality can never be attained through fulfillment of desires. The soul then

    practices discrimination between the real and the unreal, attains desirelessness, and finally realizes its

    immortal nature. Affirming this fact, the Katha Upanishad says: "When all the desires that dwell in the

    heart fall away, then the mortal becomes immortal and here attains Brahman."

    Death and Life Beyond Death

    Death, according to Hinduism, is a series of changes through which an individual passes. The

    Brihadaranyaka Upanishad describes thus the passing of a soul:

    When the soul departs from the body, the life-breath follows: when the life-breath departs, all theorgans follow. Then the soul becomes endowed with particularized consciousness and goes to the body

    which is related to that consciousness. It is followed by its knowledge, works, and past experience. Just

    as a leech supported on a straw goes to the end of it, takes hold of another support, and contracts itself,

    so does the self throw this body away and make it unconscious, take hold of another support, andcontract itself. Just as a goldsmith takes a small quantity of gold and fashions another - a newer and

    better - form, so does the soul throw this body away, or make it unconscious, and make another - a new

    and better - form suited to the Manes, or the celestial minstrels, or the gods, or Virat, or Hiranyagarbha,or other beings. . As it does and acts, so it becomes; by doing good it becomes good, and by doing evil

    it becomes evil - it becomes virtuous through good acts and vicious through evil acts.

    Hinduism speaks of the four courses that men follow after death. The first, called devayana, way

    of the gods, is followed by spiritually advanced souls who lead an extremely pure life, devotingthemselves to wholehearted meditation on Brahman, but who have not succeeded in attaining complete

    Self-knowledge before death. They repair to Brahmaloka, the highest heaven, and from there in due

    course attain liberation. The description of this path in the Chhandogya Upanishad is as follows:

    Now, such a one-whether his after-death rites are performed or not-goes to light, from light today, from day to the bright half of the month, from the bright half of the month to the six months
  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    during which the sun rises northward, from the months to the year, from the year to the sun, from the

    sun to the moon, from the moon to the lightning. There he meets a person who is not a human being.

    This person carries the soul to Brahman. This is the divine path, the path of Brahman. Those

    proceeding by this path do not return to the whirl of humanity.

    The second course, known as pitriyana, way of the fathers, is followed by ritualists and

    philanthropists who have cherished a desire for the results of their charity, austerity, vows, and

    worship. Following this path, they repair to Chandraloka, the lunar sphere, and after enjoying immensehappiness there as a reward for their good actions, they return again to earth since they still haveearthly desires. The third course, which leads to hell, is followed by those who led an impure life,

    performing actions forbidden by the scriptures. They are born in sub-human species. After expiating

    their evil actions, they are again reborn on earth in human bodies. The fourth course is for those whoare extremely vile in their thoughts and actions. They are reborn again and again as insignificant

    creatures such as mosquitoes and fleas. Eventually, after the expiation of their evil actions, they too

    return to human bodies on earth. When a soul assumes a human body, it takes up the thread of spiritualevolution of its previous human birth and continues to evolve toward Self-knowledge. According to

    Hinduism, all souls will ultimately attain Self-knowledge. The four courses do not apply to those souls

    who attain Self-knowledge before or at the time of death. For these souls there is no going to any

    realm. Upon their death, their souls become absorbed in Brahman, and the elements of their body-mindcomplex return to their original source.

    From the point of view of Hinduism, dying may be compared to falling asleep and after-death

    experiences to dreams. The thoughts and actions of the waking state determine the nature of ourdreams. Similarly, after death the soul experiences the results of the thoughts it entertained and the

    actions it performed during its life on earth. After-death experiences are real to the soul, just as a dream

    is real to the dreamer, and may continue for ages. Then, when the soul wakes up after this sleep, it findsitself reborn as a human being. According to the Hindu scriptures, some souls after death also may be

    born as human beings without going through the experiences of heaven or hell. There is no real break

    in the spiritual evolution of the soul toward Self-knowledge. Even the soul's lapse into sub-human birth

    from human life is a mere detour. A dying man's next life is determined by his last thought in thepresent life. The Bhagavad Gita says: "For whatever objects a man thinks of at the final moment, when

    he leaves the body - that alone does he attain, O son of Kunti, being ever absorbed in the thoughtthereof." And the last thought of the dying person inevitably reflects his inmost desire. These different

    courses after death have been described to warn people against neglecting the path of Self-knowledge,

    which alone can confer immortality and eternal peace and happiness.


    by Swami AdiswaranandaPart 5

    (continued from previous month)

    The supreme goal of life, according to Hinduism, is moksha, or liberation. Liberation is the realization

    of the soul's identity with Brahman, the absolute reality. It is not merely the cessation of suffering; it isthe positive experience of great bliss. Hindu scriptures designate this realization as Self-knowledge.

    Hinduism holds that Self-knowledge alone can conquer death. The Katha Upanishad says:
  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    What is here the same is there; and what is

    there, the same is here. He goes from death to death who

    sees any difference here. Having realized Atman, which issoundless, intangible, formless, undecaying, and likewise

    tasteless, eternal, and odorless; having realized That which

    is without beginning and end, beyond the Great, andunchanging-one is freed from the jaws of deaths.

    Self-knowledge and immortality are synonymous, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

    Whosoever in this world, O Gargi, without

    knowing this Imperishable, offers oblations, performssacrifices, and practices austerities, even for many

    thousands of years, finds all such acts but perishable.

    Whosoever, O Gargi, departs from this world withoutknowing this Imperishable is miserable. But he, O Gargi,

    who departs from this world after knowing the

    Imperishable is a knower of Brahman.Immortality is not the result of any spiritual discipline. It is a revelation. Spiritual disciplines purify the

    heart, and in the mirror of the pure heart the immortal Self is reflected.

    Self-knowledge is not miraculous, nor can it be achieved vicariously. It is a burning realization

    that totally transforms the person. The knower of Brahman becomes Brahman. Hinduism speaks ofthree things that, taken together, can verify Self-knowledge: sruti, or faith in the scriptures; yukti, or

    reason; and anubhuti, or personal experience. Scriptures, according to Hinduism, are only

    compendiums of the direct experiences of past sages and saints. Blind belief in them makes a person

    dogmatic. Then reason, Hinduism contends, begins with doubt and ends in doubt, and it cannot proveor disprove Self-knowledge. A person who depends solely on reason always remains a doubter and

    may even turn into a cynic. Personal experience can be deceptive and delusive, and therefore it cannotgive decisive proof of Self-knowledge. Self-knowledge, in order to be authentic, must be negativelycorroborated by reason, testified to by the scriptures, and also felt as a deep experience of life.

    According to Hinduism, there are three further tests of Self-knowledge: First, it is avadita-an

    experience of enlightenment that is not contradicted by any other subsequent experience. Second, it isaviruddha-an experience that does not come into conflict with our everyday experience of the world of

    reality, just as our adulthood experiences do not negate those of our childhood. Third, it is sarve bhute

    hiteratah-always conducive to the welfare of all beings.

    Self-knowledge, the Upanishads point out, must be attained in this very life. One who dies inbondage, will remain bound after death. Immortality, in order to be real, must be experienced before

    death. The Katha Upanishad says: "If a man is able to realize Brahman here, before the falling asunder

    of his body, then he is liberated; if not, he is embodied again in the created worlds." Self-knowledge isthe consummation of all desires. According to the Hindu scriptures, one should give up individual

    self-interest for the sake of the family, the family for the sake of the country, the country for the sake of

    the world, and everything for the sake of Self-knowledge.

    The liberated soul is the free soul, who through his life and actions demonstrates thereality of God. Free from all desires and egotism, and ever-established in the knowledge of the

    immortal nature of his soul, he regards the pain and pleasure of all others as his own pain and pleasure.

    Though living in the world of diversity he is never deluded by it. He never makes a false step or sets a

    bad example. Virtues such as humility, unselfishness, purity, and kindness, which he practiced for

  • 8/3/2019 How to Make the Life Meaningful


    self-purification, now adorn him like so many jewels. He does not seek them; they cling to him. A free

    soul wears no outward mark of holiness. As a fish swimming in water leaves no mark behind, as a bird

    flying in the sky leaves no footprint, so a free soul moves about in this world. While living in the body,

    he may experience disease, old age, and decay, but having recognized them as belonging to the body,he remains undisturbed and even-minded. For him, the world is a stage and his own life is a play. He

    enjoys the play and the stage, knowing them to be so.

    (to be continued)