Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Doubting Soul

Arjuna“But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.40)

Bhagavad-gita, 4.40In the realm of debate, reaching a point of void is very easy. You just cancel out everything that is presented in the arena of ideas. Like swatting away a series of flies that enter into an area, each idea presented with passion can be easily put down with skepticism, which is supported by apparent flaws and failures. Past examples of where misleading figures took advantage of trust from others to do them harm are cited to discount all future arguments. Yet if all viewpoints are swatted away, you’re left with nothing. The individual must act after all, and in the absence of real guidance the senses carry one towards all sorts of danger. Real trust is necessary when one is sincere about achieving the highest aim. And when that trust is wholeheartedly offered to the bona fide teacher, all past misgivings vanish like the riven cloud.

Skepticism certainly isn’t universally harmful. There is the famous saying, “If you believe that, then I have a bridge I want to sell you”, which points to the ability to exploit gullibility in others. I obviously don’t have a bridge to sell you, but since you are so quick to believe in what others say, it should be no problem for me to trick you into doing something stupid. If someone else tells us to jump off a bridge, we shouldn’t blindly follow their advice. Even if they tell us to trust them, our better judgment tells us that there is no good that can come from leaping off a bridge into water.

In a similar manner, when a spiritual leader tells us to send them money in order to receive a good seat in heaven, it is good to be skeptical. Why should the donation be tied to my spiritual future? Businessmen also solicit donations in return for services, and they don’t dare claim that there is any religious merit to the exchange. The spiritual leader in this case offers no tangible proof of the better life; as I will have to trust them that in the future I will be better off. It is therefore wiser for me to steer clear of such charlatans.

In the Vedas, religion, which can be likened to an ultimate guiding philosophy, is presented as a science. As in other sciences, there are laws that can be understood through experiment and observation. The law of gravity says that an object will fall when released. You can test the law by letting go of a pencil from your grip and seeing what happens.

Bhagavad-gita, 2.22“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)

In the spiritual science, it is said that the soul is the identifying agent within each life force. This point is stressed because the first inclination is to think otherwise. I identify someone else by their physical manifestation, so why wouldn’t that form represent their identity? It is because of this illusion that instruction is required. It is not easy to see the presence of the soul, but if you look at the bigger picture, taking before and after shots in between significant gaps of time, you’ll see that the outer covering does change, while the individual does not. We are the same person today as we were when we emerged from the womb. We may think that the infant was a different person, but then we weren’t a different person five minutes ago, were we? Not even yesterday were we a different person, so why when we add up more increments of time do we suddenly change identity?

The changing bodies are visual evidence of the existence of the soul and its position transcendental to matter. That the soul changes into a completely new body at the time of death is not as easily visible, but then again we know that new living beings manifest all the time. The question remains: from where do they come? Do they manifest on their own? Can we create life using matter? Actually, we can’t even maintain a life just by manipulating matter. If we could, no one would ever die. More importantly, no one would ever grow old. Real immortality is to stay in the same body. If we are helpless in stopping the decaying of the body, then there is no use in addressing death, as the changing of bodies already marks a kind of death.

There is more to the spiritual science than just understanding the difference between body and soul. I may tell you that the key in the ignition starts the car, but that knowledge isn’t sufficient to know exactly how the car works. You have to study all the parts and gain an understanding of the bigger picture to have complete awareness. It is also better to see these parts in action to really gain an understanding. In the same way, one has to realize the existence of the soul and its position with respect to matter. This is where religious practice, or a spiritual discipline, comes into play. The real spiritual science is a discipline that guides action. If I know that I am soul and not body, my actions should reflect that understanding.

Identifying how one acts in ignorance is easy. Who actually knows that they are spirit and not matter? The majority don’t, as we are born into ignorance. So basically any actions that we see are based on the perception that we are our body. Anger, lust, greed, pride, resentment, hatred, disappointment, sadness, and a host of other emotions are rooted in ignorance of the soul. On the other hand, one who knows who they really are will follow action that addresses their real needs.

Bhagavad-gita As It IsThe spiritual science is best presented in the Bhagavad-gita, a famous scriptural work of the Vedic tradition. In that work the teacher is Lord Krishna and the student Arjuna, but the instruction is for the benefit of all mankind. While the spiritual science is described in detail, there is still a requirement of faith from the listener. We can sit in a math class and hear about the multiplication tables, but unless we have faith in what the teacher says, we won’t really learn anything. The teacher may tell me over and over again that four times four equals sixteen, but unless I believe them I won’t be able to multiply those numbers correctly later on in life when I need to.

The skeptic will say that the Bhagavad-gita is another religious text like the Bible or the Koran. “It is just part of religion, and the history of the world has shown how damaging religion is. Therefore why should we take any stock in Krishna’s words?” The final instruction given to Arjuna is to take shelter in the Lord and thus be safe from all sinful reaction. This principal is the foundation of all the other truths. Without devotion to Krishna, the other truths are like individual pearls scattered about because they have fallen off of their thread. The thread can hold all the pearls together to form a wonderful necklace. If we are devoted to Krishna in thought, word and deed, following the methods of bhakti-yoga as they are described by the acharyas, then the true meaning behind reincarnation, the material nature, the spirit soul, and the goal of life is revealed.

Krishna is the name for God that says that He is all-attractive. If you are devoted to something that is all-attractive, you have the greatest gift in the world. If you reject that gift, then you are the biggest loser. It’s akin to being offered a million dollars and then tossing it away because you think it’s insignificant. The person who rejects the greatest wealth is more unfortunate than the person who never had it offered to them. Therefore one who hears the Bhagavad-gita from a devotee of Krishna is very fortunate, and if they listen without doubts, they will have everything to gain.

Skepticism is itself a guiding principle, one that leads to a position of void. We already know that void, an absence of an authorized guiding principle, does not lead to happiness. If it did, there would be no need for people to continuously write new books about positive thinking and offer their self-help services. If we already have a desire to accept a way of life, why not take what Krishna has to offer? It worked for Arjuna a long time ago and it has worked for countless others spanning many generations. The nature of the soul is to serve God, and through Krishna’s recommendation for surrender in bhakti-yoga, which is easily carried out by chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the individual finds their true calling, one which brings a confidence that no skeptic can shake.

In Closing:

Because flaws no one is without,

Every claim of truth I will doubt.


All the pitfalls I can thus avoid,

In skepticism reach a point of void.


Yet supreme bliss I still need to find,

Material nature to me isn’t so kind.


In any endeavor some faith must apply,

Determine validity after giving a try.


No happiness for doubter in life current or the next,

Says Shri Krishna in Bhagavad-gita, ancient Vedic text.


To find meaning of life is a must,

So to bhakti-yoga offer your trust.