Man And Spirituality
Gautam Saha: MAN’S ETERNAL QUEST FOR ANSWERS
Man as a species is inherently intelligent, be it an endowment from material nature, or God, or Darwin’s or LeMarck’s theories of evolution at work, or just a random occurrence in the eyes of those who do not see a “design” in the disposition and layout of the material cosmos. Whatever be the reasons he chooses to attribute, suffice it to state that man in general possesses the powers of thought, discrimination, awareness, analysis, and a higher level of understanding of his own condition as well as the conditions of others around him. It is also apparent to our average level of intelligence that most of the other species do not possess these attributes, and even if they do, such as in the case of certain species of primates, some of these attributes are present in very few cases, but in a rudimentary or nascent state only.
Hence it becomes clear that man’s design and construction enables him to ask questions and seek answers thereof. Once the questions keep forming in his mind, he seeks to find answers from them based on his own awareness, his surroundings, his upbringing, his family members, his playfriends, student friends, and later, workmates. As he grows older, his understanding develops and envelops more and more outlooks and viewpoints, helped along by the viewpoints of his contemporaries, what he learnt at school, college and university, the books he read then, the books he reads now, and also the vast playground of material life and his interactions with numerous persons from different socio economic backgrounds, education, religious or ethnic denominations, nationalities, and so on. We should not forget the great changes that have taken place in the last few decades in our lifestyles, enabled by rapid strides in travel facilities, personal communications by telephones, mobile phones, emails, etc; the role of mass media which includes a more or less vibrant and well informed press, multichannel TV, cinema, the convergence of information technology with entertainment technology, and other lifestyle changes that influence our thinking and outlooks, and subject us to an information bombardment.
But as our life becomes more and more sophisticated, and we become more and more economically advanced, we also have a range of choices which brings in complications too. As a simple example, the question asked by most middle class persons is not whether I shall get dinner, but rather, what shall I have for dinner tonight ? At times, such a question puts us into a quandary and we spend considerable time in finding the answer, as if the welfare of the world ( or our own welfare ) depends on it. Of course, for those who are not fortunate enough to have come to the level of middle class ( one uses the term middle class in its most generalized or loose understanding ), anywhere in the world, the question still is : shall I get dinner tonight or will I have to go hungry ?
Since our childhoods, we have all along seen deprivation of various kinds, either our own or the deprivations we have seen in the lives of others. We have seen physical suffering, disease, old age and death, in our own homes and among the circles of friends, acquaintances, neighbours, the sudden onslaught of natural calamities in our own country or in some remote region of the world, occurrences which none of us are able to avoid. We soon come to realize that life is a continuous struggle for all of us, whether are ailing, need money, seek a job, whether we are successful professionals, trying to meet time deadlines at our offices / clinics / chambers, or businessmen striving to get the next big contract. It is also not a one time struggle, but a continuous affair, till death do us part.
Just as in the Srimad Bhagavad – Gita, Arjuna was bubbling with questions, as is the wont of all intelligent beings, each and every one of us has questions which beg for answers.
Sooner or later, we begin to ask, what is the meaning of all this ? Why so much inequity in this world, why this untold suffering ? Why the hunger, disease and social and economic injustice ? If at all there is a God, is He malevolent ? Why does He not stop persons who go about killing, raping, bullying, stealing, and depriving others of their rights ? Why this indifference from the so called God ? Some of us, being baffled for answers, begin to think that certainly there is no central design or designer, and this world is just a random occurrence. Thus does atheism take root. But being baffled for answers does not mean that there are no answers.
Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker has immortalized in sculpture man’s eternal quest for answers.
THE DANGERS AND FUTILITY OF SPECULATION
Man, by his own nature, wants to dominate material nature around him. He likes to feel that he is in control. And therefore, he will try to rationalize the happenings around him and his own experiences by putting his own ideas to work, and will come up with theories or justifications which he believes best matches with his own observations. But man’s intelligence is very limited, while his sense perceptions are also imperfect, if we judge the incomplete awareness of anyone about his own situation and his certainty about what condition or where he will be in, say one month from now. Hence it stands to reason that his own conceptions or theorizing or perceptions are basically a function of his own level of intelligence and awareness. There is a saying in Bengali, “joto poth, toto mot” ( there are as many paths as there are opinions ). In the multitude of opinions that exist, which is the correct one ? Are all the opinions correct ? Is the correct opinion the arithmetic mean of all opinions that abound in the marketplace ? Or are we like the person from the parable who wants to pacify his three sons-in-law who are involved in a vigorous and unending argument with widely differing views, “all of you are absolutely right, and I basically agree with each and every one of you”, even though only one of them could be right ?
As we keep on speculating that maybe it is this, or maybe it is that, thinking that our own intelligence is sufficient to unravel all the questions that form in our minds or as we seek to unravel all the mysteries of the universe, we end up like armchair philosophers or speculators, Some persons have even called themselves God. A true spiritual master or acharya, or gyani, who knows every well that he, like any other mortal being, is subject to aging, disease, suffering and death, can and will never equate himself with God.
While great rishis and munis in the past, using their monumental mental faculties and being unsullied by gross materialism like most of us in today’s life, have already exercised their minds on our behalf and come to certain conclusions about our true identity, the Absolute truth and our relationship with that Absolute Truth, why do each and every one of us need to embark on the Santa Maria in a new cruise like Columbus, to discover India afresh ? Is it necessary ? Is it sensible ? Somehow this analogy with Columbus brings to the fore, though unintentionally, that the discovery of India is no different from the discovery of her rich spiritual heritage and endowment, and how we are unintentionally and wantonly squandering her greatest spiritual treasure in our quest for material advancement. As an afterthought, perhaps by coincidence, since Columbus did not desire to find spiritual riches, of course he could not find India.
The Srimad Bhagavad – Gita (12.5) states :
kleso ‘dhikataras tesam
avyakta hi gatir duhkham
For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.
Since time immemorial, each soul is entrapped in a material body, and hence to understand our true identity of being pure spirit soul is so much more difficult when we consider the impersonal form of the Absolute Truth.
And also in (7.19) the Lord states :
bahunam janmanam ante
jnanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti
sa mahatma su-durlabhah
After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.
After many, many lifetimes of executing devotional service, one comes to complete understanding of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, and this understanding only will enable the individual spirit soul to surrender fully to Him, and for the spirit soul to find the fullest satisfaction, contentment, fulfillment and bliss in the association of the Supreme truth Lord Krishna.
The Srimad Bhagavad – Gita (6.46-47) also states :
tapasvibhyo ‘dhiko yogi
jnanibhyo ‘pi mato ‘dhikah
karmibhyas cadhiko yogi
tasmad yogi bhavarjuna
yoginam api sarvesam
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam
sa me yuktatamo matah
A yogi is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances, be a yogi.
And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.
Hence, if we keep on spending our time in speculations and philosophying, we are not in a position to reach clear cut results of such speculation on the basis of our own imperfect senses and limited intelligence, and relapse into ignorance and confusion due to our inability to find satisfying answers or conclusions. Our stubborn refusal to realize the limitations and ineptness of our own thought processes and analytical abilities plays a significant role in this confusion and subsequent complacency due to directionlessness.
OUR TRUE POSITION IN THE LORD’S SCHEME OF THINGS
The Lord Himself states in The Srimad Bhagavad – Gita ( 11.53 – 54) :
naham vedair na tapasa
na danena na cejyaya
sakya evam-vidho drastum
drstavan asi mam yatha
bhaktya tv ananyaya sakya
aham evam-vidho ‘rjuna
jnatum drastum ca tattvena
pravestum ca parantapa
The form which you are seeing with your transcendental eyes cannot be understood simply by studying the Vedas, nor by undergoing serious penances, nor by charity, nor by worship. It is not by these means that one can see Me as I am.
My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.
It is wrong to believe that the Srimad Bhagavad Gita was first spoken on the battlefield of Kurekshetra. As stated in 4.1 and 4.2 :
imam vivasvate yogam
proktavan aham avyayam
vivasvan manave praha
manur iksvakave ‘bravit
imam rajarsayo viduh
sa kaleneha mahata
yogo nastah parantapa
The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.
This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.
The Srimad Bhagavad – Gita had been extensively studied and commented upon by, among others, Ramanajucharya and Madhavacharya, foremost Sanskrit scholars and vaisnava exponents and spiritual masters of their day, not to mention the goswamis and acharyas who have given enlivening commentaries and selfless insights on the same. Hence, any attempts by modern philosophers or speculators, steeped in materialism or religious materialism, and perhaps contaminated by various degrees of the traits of envy, hypocrisy and / or gross materialism, to give the Srimad Bhagavad – Gita their personal coloring or interpretation, or demeaning or downplaying or denigrating it, can be only presumptuous and counterproductive. We have to accept it from a spiritual master ( acharya) in the disciplic tradition or parampara.
The Srimad Bhagavad – Gita is not sectarian, does not cater to denominations, nationalities or ethnic backgrounds, or cultures, does not recognize the distinctions of national or sectarian borders, and delivers a universal message that is all inclusive without exception.
yatah pravrttir bhutanam
yena sarvam idam tatam
sva-karmana tam abhyarcya
siddhim vindati manavah
By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, each man can, in the performance of his own duty, attain perfection.
Whatever be one’s occupation, profession, education, location, age, socio economic position, whatever and wherever, anyone is eligible to become fully aware of his own position, material nature, the Lord, the Lord’s pastimes, and man’s connection and eternal relationship with the Lord. This is the perfection of human life.
DOES SCIENTIFIC TEMPER ALIENATE ONE FROM SPIRITUALITY ?
Science teaches one to be objective and rational. In science, we learn to use logic to come to certain conclusions about the physical processes that occur in nature. Every time we manage to explain something that satisfies our sense of logic, we say eureka with great euphoria, as if we invented something anew. How many of us would ponder for a moment, as to whose intelligence it was in the first place, that created a system that was so exact and foolproof and repeatable to a tee ? Furthermore, what we cannot find easy conclusions for, by the use of the tools at our disposal, we discard into the bin of designlessness, or simply, statistically random occurrences.
But logic is a tool for scientific analysis, and like all tools, just as it has its usefulness, it also has limitations. Logic does not have the complete capability to understand spirituality. Logic talks of cause and effect, but the Lord’s mercy and love for all living beings is causeless. Logic cannot estimate or quantify bhakti, or the transcendental mellows experienced by a devotee in love of God. Hence our need to fall back on the statement of scripture.
There have been many eminent scientists who, having perceived the great automation and perfect physical systems existing in the universe, both at the macro and micro levels, have realized more and more, the existence of a Hand that cannot be understood fully by our limited perceptions, and have acknowledged and marveled at that Hand. In fact, it would be difficult to find a great scientist who has made great contributions to the welfare of mankind, and who simultaneously does not believe in the existence of a supreme intelligence. A google run on the personal or spiritual leanings of the great scientists, philosophers and thinkers since the beginnings of recorded history can yield results that are both eye opening and reassuring.
Science and spirituality are not inimical to each other. They complement each other. Science attempts to explain or rationalize the systems that were conceived and implemented by divinity. Spirituality attempts to understand that divinity directly. Whereas one tries to understand and rationalize the work of divinity, the other tries to understand and unravel the Personal aspect or Personality of that divine maker.
THE SOLACE AND EMPOWERMENT OF SPIRITUALITY
Every human being, in fact, every living being with a discernible rudimentary intelligence, wants and craves to be loved. We seek love, at first from our parents and siblings, and later from friends, class mates, work mates, and greater social circles. When we are near to or reach marriageable age ( starting from the adolescent to the teenager stage and much later ), we want to love and be loved by someone special of the opposite sex. In fact, there are also quite a few persons who want to experience the same emotion from a person of the same sex. This complicates matters a little more. We love to love. And we want our love to be reciprocated. But, material life being what it is, not everyone will reciprocate, as the frame of reference and expectations from life of every individual is different. Furthermore, earthly love is always conditioned by some return expectation or some limitations of the person. Most of us, being contaminated by material nature or material desires, are also not capable of complete emotional expression or fulfillment of love. Hence when we seek unconditional love from our worldly associates or acquaintances, we end up being unfulfilled and subsequently frustrated, sooner or later. This situation also has the potential for profligacy, faithlessness, inconstancy or cynicism to creep into our lives, as we can well see all around us.
But as the Srimad Bhagavad – Gita (4.5) states :
bahuni me vyatitani
janmani tava carjuna
tany aham veda sarvani
na tvam vettha parantapa
The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!
While our association with our present associates, kith and kin, is for this lifetime only, or a fraction of a lifetime, at the end of which each of us will go our separate ways, our association with the Supreme Being, the Lord, is for eternity. Hence it is in our own interest that we cultivate a lasting loving relationship with Him and not try to invest all our intellect and emotions in the transitory relationships of this world, which give us insignificant or momentary pleasure at most, but have the potential to give us significant or real pain. As we increase our love for the Lord, we find increased and sublime pleasure in this special relationship, unmatched by any human relationship. This, by itself, is of lasting benefit and happiness in this material world, what to speak of the other beneficial fallouts, and our future in eternity. Because the Supreme Lord is transcendental, even our relationship with Him does not belong in the material plane but moves onto the transcendental plane, impelling us into an eternal loving relationship with Him, transcending time and future births.
Batch of ‘76
Chem. Engg, H3
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