One bright sunny afternoon, Socrates, with a lamp in hand, walked around the streets of Athens. Every now and then, he stopped to ask passers-by, "Who are you?" People replied saying they were doctors, lawyers, teachers, businessmen and so on. Then, one interested passer-by asked Socrates what he hoped to learn or gain by this strange manner of questioning. Socrates explained, "In reply to my question, people have described themselves in various ways, but no one has described himself as a man." Socrates continued, "I am in search of a man."
Pause to think, if this question was asked to you what would you reply? Socrates was after a deeper answer than the seemingly simple and superficial question suggested.
But even Socrates' expected answer is not the ultimate answer. Almost everyone confronted with this question is likely to answer on the basis of physical observation or their experiences and achievements during this lifetime. However, the final answer to the question "Who are you?" is much more subtle, yet unbelievably simple. It is because man has not, in general, searched for the real answer that his actual answer falls short. That is why in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-20, Shriji Maharaj says, "The jiva, which resides within the body, observes both the attractive and the unattractive. It witnesses childhood, youth and old age, as well as a countless number of other things. However, the observer fails to observe its own self. The jiva looks at objects externally; but it does not look at its own self... nor does it know its own nature."
However, for those who have delved deep and ventured to search, they have found the real answer and, consequently, enjoyed the rewards of their efforts.
The Chhandogya Upanishad describes the story of Indra, king of the gods, and Virochan, king of the demons, who both went to the great teacher, Prajapati, to learn the truth about the atma or self. They had heard that one who learns about the self and realises it obtains all the worlds and all desires. So, for 32 years they lived with Prajapati as his pupils and served him. Then, in answer to their question, Prajapati told them, "That which is seen in the eye is the self. It is fearless and immortal. Look at yourselves in the water and whatever you do not understand, come and ask."
So, both Indra and Virochan donned their finest clothes, looked in the water and reported to Prajapati, "We have seen the self, exactly like ourselves, well adorned and in our finest clothes." With this they departed, pleased with the knowledge they had gained.
But Prajapati lamented that both had left without truly comprehending the self and said, "Whosoever follows a false doctrine of the self will perish."
Soon, Virochan returned to the demons and taught them that the body itself is to be served and worshipped and that by doing so one will obtain all desires. But, such philosophy is, actually, the philosophy of the demons.
Meanwhile, Indra, on his way back to the gods, realised the uselessness of this knowledge. So, he hurried back to Prajapati and said, "This self seems to be well dressed when the body is well dressed. So, will it be blind when the body is blind, lame when the body is lame, deformed when the body is deformed? And when the body dies, this same self will also die. Such knowledge is of no good." He then requested further instruction. Prajapati agreed on condition that he stay another 32 years. After this time had elapsed, Prajapati taught Indra, "The self is that which moves about in dreams. It is fearless and immortal."
Pleased with this knowledge, Indra again departed. But, again, before arriving home, he realised the futility of this knowledge. He hastened back to Prajapati and questioned, "This self is not blind when the body is blind; nor lame or hurt when the body is lame or hurt. But even in dreams it is conscious of much suffering. So this doctrine is also of no good."
Again Prajapati instructed Indra to stay another 32 years and then taught him, "The self is that when a man is sound asleep, free from dreams and at perfect rest. It is fearless and immortal."
Indra departed with this knowledge, but before he reached home he realised the uselessness of even this knowledge. Returning to Prajapati, he said, "When asleep, one is not conscious of any existence. So, this knowledge is of no use either."
Once more, Prajapati told him to stay, this time for five years. After this time, he taught Indra the highest truth of the self, "This body is mortal, always gripped by death. But within it dwells the immortal self. This self, when associated with the consciousness of the body, is subject to pleasure and pain; and as long as this association continues, no man can find freedom from such pleasure and pain. Rising above physical consciousness and knowing the self or atma to be distinct from the senses and the mind makes one free."
Thus, armed with this knowledge, Indra returned to the gods and taught them the secret of how to obtain all the worlds and all desires.
This knowledge of the self is called atmagnan, atmanishtha and is a pre-requisite for offering devotion to the supreme God.
However, the jiva has, through a process of continual reinforcement, associated with the body and its relations. Shriji Maharaj describes this misunderstanding in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-70, "From the very day we began to understand and realised who our parents were, they have indoctrinated into us the following: 'This is your mother and this is your father; this is your paternal uncle and this is your brother; this is your maternal uncle and this is your sister; this is your maternal aunt and this is your paternal aunt; this is your mother's sister and this is your buffalo; this is your cow and this is your horse; these are your clothes and this is your house; this is your mansion and this is your farm; these are your ornaments,' and so on." No wonder, then, that this understanding becomes deep-rooted. Explaining the nature of this belief, Shriji Maharaj explains in the same Vachanamrut, "It is rather like the small pieces of glass that women attach into works of embroidery - the mind represents the embroidery, and the jiva represents the glass pieces. In this manner, the words and the sights of those kusangis, along with the other types of vishays, have become imprinted in the mind."
To counter this false understanding, Shriji Maharaj explains in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-21, "This body should not be believed to be one's true self. Nor should one's bodily relations be regarded as one's true relations. This is because the jiva has previously taken birth in each of the 8.4 million life forms. In fact, the jiva has taken birth in the wombs of all females in this world; it has also taken birth numerous times in the wombs of all of the dogs, cats, monkeys and other types of life forms in the cycle of 8.4 million life forms. Moreover, of all the different types of females in this world, which has it not previously made its wife? All have been its wife at one time or another. Similarly, assuming numerous female bodies, that jiva has also made all of the different forms of males its husband. Hence, just as one does not believe the relations of those previous 8.4 million life forms to be one's true relations, and just as one does not believe the bodies of those 8.4 million life forms to be one's true body, similarly, one should not believe this present body to be one's true self, nor should one believe the relations of this body to be one's true relations. Why? Because just as no relationship remains with bodies from the previous 8.4 million life forms, similarly the relationship with this body will not remain either."
Emphasizing the foolishness of the misunderstanding, Shriji Maharaj gives an interesting analogy in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-44, "The jiva has a misconception in that it does not believe itself to be the jivatma, i.e., distinct from the body; instead, it believes itself to be the body. To illustrate how the body clings to the jivatma, consider a person who wears a dagli (coat) after having it sewn by a tailor. That person then begins to believe, 'The tailor is my father and the tailor's wife is my mother.' Such a person would be considered a fool. In the same manner, the jivatma is given a dagli in the form of this body, which is born sometimes to a Brahmin couple; sometimes to a low-caste couple; or in any of the 8.4 million life forms. Therefore, a person who believes the body to be his true self and believes the parents of that body to be his own parents is called a fool, and should be considered to be like an animal." This understanding is also described in the Bhagvad Gita (2-22),
"Vãsãnsi jirnãni yatha vihãya, navãni gruhnãti naroparãni;
Tathã sharirãni vihãya jirnã-nyanyãni sanyãti navãni dehi."
"Just as a man casts of worn-out clothes and puts on new ones, so also, the embodied self casts off worn-out bodies and enters others that are new."
So this misconception needs to be corrected, as pointed out in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-38, "Just as upon beginning this human life the parents of the previous 8.4 million life forms have all been forgotten due to ignorance, similarly the parents of this human body should be forgotten through knowledge."
It is the lack of this knowledge which causes attachment for the body, its relations and worldly objects. The understanding that has to be developed is described by Shriji Maharaj in Vachanamrut Sarangpur-1, "I am chaitanya, while the body is jad; I am pure, whereas the body is the embodiment of narak; I am imperishable, while the body is perishable; I am the embodiment of bliss, whereas the body is the embodiment of misery.' In this manner, when one realises the atma to be totally distinct from the body in every way, one will never consider oneself to be the body nor will one harbour affection for vishays. This is how the vishays are subdued through knowledge of the atma."
It is the presence of the jiva in a physical body that gives it life. Although unseen, the jiva is the life-force which drives the body. Shriji Maharaj explains this power of the jiva in Vachanamrut Kariyani-1, "When the flames of a fire rise and fall, they do so because of the wind. The rise and fall of the flames are apparent, but the wind is not apparent. Also, when dung is placed in fire, the dung begins to burn. Then, when it is placed where there is no wind, smoke begins to rise. At that time, the rising smoke is apparent, but the wind within is not apparent. Also, the clouds that move in the sky are seen to do so because of the wind. But the wind that resides within them is not apparent." Continuing in the same Vachanamrut, Shriji Maharaj describes the jiva, saying, "It appears to be as fine as the tip of a spear, and it appears to be extremely subtle."
Naturally, the question arises regarding where in the body the jiva is located. Shriji Maharaj explains this in Vachanamrut Gadhada III-4, "In the body, just as food is transformed into semen, similarly, in the heart, there is a transformation of the five mahabhuts into a disc of flesh, within which the jiva resides. The jiva clings to this disc of flesh like a torch made of rags that is set alight after being immersed in oil. Also, just as fire pervades an iron nail, similarly, the jiva actually resides in the disc of flesh, and by consciousness pervades the entire body. Therefore, regardless of where pain is felt in the body, it is the jiva itself that feels the pain; so, in fact, the jiva cannot be said to be separate from the pleasures and pains of the body... the jiva, even though it pervades the disc of flesh and the body, does not die with the death of the body. Although the jiva does experience pleasure and pain along with the body, it is not perishable like the body. So, the jiva is indestructible and luminous, and it also pervades the body."
Again describing its nature and function, Shriji Maharaj replies to a question posed by Ashjibhai Patel in Vachanamrut Jetalpur-2, "The jiva is uncuttable, unpierceable, immortal, chaitanya, and the size of an anu. You may also ask, 'Where does the jiva reside?' Well, it resides in the hrudayakash, and while staying there it performs different functions. From there, when it wants to see, it does so through the eyes; when it wants to hear sounds, it does so through the ears; it smells all types of smells through the nose; it tastes through the tongue; and through the skin, it experiences the pleasures of all sensations. In addition, it thinks through the man, contemplates through the chitt and makes convictions through the buddhi. In this manner, through the ten indriyas and the four antahkarans, it indulges in all of the vishays. It pervades the entire body from head to toe, yet is distinct from it. Such is the nature of the jiva."
However, merely gaining knowledge of one's true and real form as the atma is not enough. A further final step is required - that is to worship God. This message is clearly emphasized by Shriji Maharaj in Vachanamrut Sarangpur-4, "One should clearly understand, 'I am the atma, and not a single one of my characteristics can be found in the body. Moreover, not one of the characteristics of the body - which is jad, full of misery and perishable - can be found in me since I am chaitanya.' After making such a distinction and becoming totally free of worldly desires, one should believe oneself to be chaitanya and contemplate upon Purushottam Bhagwan."
All this talk of spiritual knowledge is enough to confuse even the most intelligent of men. However, this essential spiritual knowledge can be mastered by association with the God-realised Sadhu, who is in constant, unbroken communion with God. He is the guide and the bridge between man and God. Through his company, one realises the true purpose of this human body and is then able to attain that purpose. So, since the God-realised Sadhu beholds God, he, too, like God is totally divine. And through his contact, we too can become divine. Shriji Maharaj explains this in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-50, "A diamond can be cut only by a diamond; it can never be cut by anything else. Similarly, the conviction of God can only be cultivated through God. In the same way, the darshan of God is also possible only through God." Again, in Vachanamrut Gadhada I-60, Shriji Maharaj declares, "One can attain ekantik dharma only from someone who has already attained the state of ekantik dharma."
In conclusion, an understanding of one's true form as the atma, separate and unattached to this body, its relations and the world, is an essential platform that has to be established before one can truly offer devotion to God. Consolidation of this knowledge is achieved through the continual association of a God-realised Sadhu like Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
Author : Sadhu Amrutvijaydas