06 August 2007

Spirituality, Revisited

I had rejected Indian spirituality as a negative philosophy, on the grounds that it is only about escaping from the cycle of births and deaths. However, other interpretations are available.

1. The aim of life is to realise the oneness of the universe, the essential unity of all creation. Advaita Vedanta teaches us that everything that exists is nothing but a manifestation of Brahman (Ultimate Truth, or Absolute Reality). [Vedanta, the last of the six orthodox schools, is generally considered to be the culmination of Hindu thought. In particular Advaita, which is Shankara's version of Vedanta] Once a man attains this realisation he will continue working for the welfare of mankind, knowing that other men are not separate from him, but merely sparks from the same Fire that he is also a spark from. He is them, and they are him. This is a more positive, more life- and world-affirming view.

2. The aim of life is to be happy. But if we seek happiness in material objects and sense enjoyment, we are bound to be disappointed. Because such happiness does not last forever. Once it is over, we are left wanting more. We are thus caught in an endless cycle of acquisition and consumption, without finding lasting happiness. Real and enduring happiness lies within, not without. It lies in contentment and a balanced mind. As Krishna says in the Geeta, "Samatvam Yoga uchyate" (Evenness of mind is called Yoga). However this does not mean a lazy life devoid of ambition. The happiest man is he who combines an active, dynamic life with a calm, serene mind. Sanjaya expresses this beautifully: "Yatra Yogeshwara Krishno yatra Partho dhanurdhara..." (Where there is Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, and the archer Arjuna...). Only here the ambition is for a larger cause, and not one's own petty material desires and comforts. This is also a more practical and worldly view.

3. The aim of life is to live in accordance with Dharma. This will result in the welfare of both the individual and society. What is Dharma? I won't go into that here. I hope to take it up some other day.

So we see that viewed in the right light, Indian spirituality is a positive and optimistic philosophy. Incidentally, I got these ideas from the first few chapters of "Bunch of Thoughts", a compilation of M S Golwalkar's speeches. Golwalkar ('Guruji') was the second, and longest serving, chief of the RSS - from 1940 to 1973.

[It also helps to keep in mind the definition of spirituality.
Spirituality = the state of being spiritual
Spiritual = relating to the human spirit, as opposed to material things]


Anonymous said...

IMHO, the beauty of Hindu philosophy, I feel, is that it tries to focus on how the question to live everyday life spiritually, even if you are a butcher or a banker..

The fact that the Gita happened to be on the battlefield is also testimony to that the situation is not given to idleness or lack of application, but in fact on carrying out one's dharma..

It is why Vivekananda said once that India is a country where the business of people is philosophy first.

- Kaddi

Psomax said...

"a butcher or a banker"

Hmm... are the two professions similar? :-)

roadtriplife said...

you may find this interesting



Sudhir said...


There is a marked departure from your first blog on Spirituality to this.

My 2 cents:

Before we put the question , is there a God, is there a soul ,lets try to define what is God and what is soul. Unless you know the how an orange looks, feels and tastes, u cannot deny or agree whether another fruit is an orange or not.
So the denial or acceptance of God follows your definition of God .

The basic question which we need to ask is "What is God ?" , "What is Soul?" . Given our scientific and rational thinking backgrounds , it will be difficult to accept God as 'one supernatural power' or 'an idol in a temple' etc..

Vedanta defines God as "tat tvam asi" (you are that) . In other words, the answer to the question "What is God" is "You are God." . To deny God will be the same as denying yourself. So God is your very existence.

Lets try to understand who is being referred to as 'You' . I would like to make one comment about 'soul'. I dont like the usage of the word 'soul' . Soul is a word of Christian belief. Our word would be 'Atma' . In "tat tvam asi" , it is this Atma which is being referred to as You.

Vedanta holds the view that God is the same as the Atma . The vedantic term for God is "Brahman". Atma is same as Brahman.

What is this Brahman, what is its nature ? Brahman is said the "Sat -Chit-Ananda" of the nature of (existence, consciousness and happiness) . Why cannot we qualitatively describe Brahman ? Because its said to be beyond the senses, its the eye of the eye, ear of the ear etc ..,

Quoting you:
Hence the goal of life is to attain freedom (mukti/moksha) from the cycle of births and deaths (samsara). This is the cornerstone of Indian spirituality.

"May his/her soul rest in peace" is a condolence message we hear often. This is a borrowed from Christian thought. In our belief, Atma is "Ajaro Amaro Avyayaha" . So what can be 'rest' to one which is undecaying, unborn and ever lasting ?

Since the atma has no birth or death, then who is the one who is born and who is the one who dies ? Understanding this forms the cornerstone of Indian spirituality.

Please let me know your views.

Psomax said...

1. 'God' and 'soul' are English words. If we want their definitions we must refer an English dictionary. This is what I found:
God = a being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe.
Soul = the spiritual element of a person, regarded as immortal.

2. A small correction. Brahman is not God. Brahman is Absolute Reality, or Ultimate Truth. God is Ishwara. What is the difference between Brahman and Ishwara? The equation is commonly given like this: Brahman + Maya = Ishwara. When Brahman is seen through the lens of Maya (illusion), we have Ishwara. Brahman is nirguna (as you have pointed out), whereas Ishwara is saguna. That is, He (Ishwara) has qualities - He is loving, merciful, etc, etc.

3. 'Tat tvam asi' means 'You are That'. 'That' refers to Brahman, not to Ishwara. So the statement does not mean 'You are God'. A similar statement is 'Aham Brahmasmi', which means 'I am Brahman'. It does not mean 'I am God'. There is a subtle difference.

That apart, I agree with what you have said. Interesting to see a former communist/atheist expound on Vedanta ;-)

Sudhir said...

1. Ok .. agreed. God and Soul are English words, So lets stick to the words Atma. Brahman and Ishwara.

2. I said earlier Brahman is God. Since they are from different languages, I accept that they can not be equated.

Brahman + Maya = Ishwara .
I would like to say that Ishwara is a personal view of Brahman. Ishwara is more like a aid for the weak mind to develop upon.
Your equation implies that maya causes one to see Brahman as Ishwara. Rather, a person sees Brahman as Ishwara when he is under the influence of Maya. When Brahman is being comprehended, there is no Maya and there is no Ishwara.

3 . From a advaitic point of view, there is no difference between Atma and Brahman .
So "Tat tvam asi" and "Aham brahma asmi" are essentially same. In both the maha-vakyas, tvam and aham exist only in the plane of maya. The final truth is that only Brahman exists.

My communism went to the same grave which you drew on the affixed sickle and hammer rubber stamp. (Hope you remember) :))

Going further , I would like to ask what is your view of vedanta now?

Psomax said...

Hmm... your fundas are very clear :-)

My view of Vedanta? Please see my next post (might appear on Mon).

And yeah, I remember the grave drawing now ;-)