Aum Namo Bhagavathe Vasudevaya…!!
We are humans and you are reading this because you are one among those species endowed with a pair of eyes and cognition skills aside from an ultra powerful brain. We identify ourselves day-to-day with our bodies and consider ourselves as finite beings. This is possibly the greatest mystery and part of it is perhaps unsolved. We consider ourselves as beings that came into existence between our birth and death. Because the term soul has been drilled into your vocabulary, we behave as if we understand what it means, but no one has seen one or felt one ever. So, the idea that a soul even exists is preposterous and in my opinion, the greatest discovery of men. However, once born onto earth, the soul tends to forget its true identity and begins to identify itself with the body. This is a great mystery. Swami Vivekananda beautifully describes it as quoted from his speech in Vol 1 of Swami Vivekananda’s works.
The idea that we are not the bodies and that there is a part of us, which doesn’t die is spelt out by none less than the creator himself. In Bhagavad Gita, which consists of 18 chapters, Krishna Paramatma makes this point very early in Chapter 2 itself. The grasp and mental calibre of Krishna is beyond words and beyond awe, I don’t think any of us can even come to terms with it in a lifetime. That’s a different subject in itself and I don’t wish to digress.
I wonder at times, how Krishna knew so well that we catch hold of jargons and then pretend, as if we understood the subject just because we found a word that describes it. We know what the words “heat” and “fire” describe, because we all have touched a hot object or accidentally touched fire at some point in life. But, we coolly accept terms from physics like an atom, nucleus, gravity, black holes or surface tension just because we found a suitable word without necessarily having a full grasp of what it is and even lost the inquisitiveness to question them.
Krishna does not use the word “Atma” or any other word to indicate soul in Chapter 2, but simply abstains from using a term or jargon to indicate that thing in us, which doesn’t die. Krishna points out that what is in us (referring to the soul, bear with me for using the terminology to drive home my point) doesn’t perish because fire cannot burn it, water doesn’t drench or wash it away, not cleaved by sword, air doesn’t dry it, nor is it broken down to pieces.
The revelation of the imperishable thing in us is best captured in the sloka “Tat Twam Asi” (from Sama Veda). That means “You are that”. It’s also expressed as “Aham Brahma Asmi” (I am Brahman) in Yajur Veda . Christianity said the same thing as “Man is made in the image of God”. The entire gamut of spiritual exercises and acrobatics that we do (or we seek to do) is to ultimately get to that stage of realising the immortal being in us. We have to realise it by experience and not just know it as a fact. Imagine that you haven’t ever seen a fire and experienced heat before, but you just believed it because your Mother told you as a child. It’s like believing something without experiencing it. The experience of heat is best understood by feeling heat rather than by reading an article or Googling what heat feels like. The same way, realising who we are and what is the immortal reality inside us through experience is the life goal though we can safely conclude that nearly whole of population is not even working towards it. (I am not making a mockery of anyone, I am part of that population too..!!).
The same point is driven by Maha Mrityunjai Mantra. The sloka “Mrityor Ma Amritanga maya” means from death to immortality. The scientific community today somehow believes that through a miracle of science or some special compound, one can be saved from death and I am sure lot of research in developed world is happening to avoid or at least indefinitely postpone death. The scientific community will save precious wasted resources and time, if they understood basic principles of life and set about their research.
In Gita, Krishna beautifully summarises that whatever has been always there will continue to remain always and whatever had a beginning has to have an end. Anything that is born (therefore having a beginning) is bound to perish or come to an end one day. Scientists are working on transporting humans to other planets without the basic understanding that human body wasn’t created for such intra-celestial motion. Human body was created to live on earth. It’s impossible to travel using this physical body across planets. Our Rishis including the famous sage Narada moved across the worlds and across the space because they had conquered the limitations of human bodies. Sri M touches on this topic briefly but beautifully by quoting a conversation with his Guru as to how advanced Yogis can transform their bodies.
In all humbleness, one needs to understand that immortality as declared in the Vedas and Upanishads does not mean a body that lasts forever as it is fundamentally not even making sense. Immortality means that a Yogi realises his true form and everlasting form is immortal – “Atma or whatever else you wish to call it, which does not die when the body dies” – and that the Yogi who realised his true inner nature and merged with it does not die because he is freed once for all from the cycle of birth and death that rest of us mortals go through endlessly through the eons.
Aum Namo Bhagavathe Vasudevaya…!!