God, Religion, Goals and Observances

By Dr. J Das

In this life we are on a journey, and we have to learn the lessons of life. Just as we go to school to learn, we go to temples to learn.  We read various scriptures, but we will learn only when our heart is in them.  We cannot just read or listen and forget.  We have to read, listen and understand, and then apply the lessons in our life.  The following is an outline of the goals and observances throughout life.

There are four goals in life i.e. dharma, artha, kama and moksha.  Going to the temple is a part of dharma. But we have to satisfy all four of these goals in life. Dharma is that process of life in which we live in accordance with nature i.e. the natural laws.  We look after the health of the body, but we must also look after the health of the mind and spirit.  We are the soul or atma.  Atma comes from param-atma. Param means eternal. They are both Spirit, so the atma that we are is eternal.  The soul is said to be sat-chit-anand – existence, consciousness and bliss.  That is our true nature. But our true nature is covered with the veil of ignorance, which is called avidhya.  Because of that, we are not seeing the reality of ourselves.  All the satgurus, and great teachers of humanity, have taught us to know the real Self.  It is called atma gyan, or we can say Brahm Gyan where Brahm is the Absolute.  When we know that, we can say that we have moksha.  Moksha is the last goal of life.  Therefore in dharma we must live rightly in every aspect of life.

The second goal is artha.  I think most people spend about 50% of their life in this category.  Artha means wealth i.e. material things.  And we know from experience that we are working to gather material things such as a house, a big bank account, fancy cars, all kinds of tasty foods etc.  These are all earthly things.  They satisfy our physical and mental being, but not the spiritual.  We are spiritual beings, and we have to satisfy that, so we have to put the proper emphasis on artha.  We need to live, so we have to work, we have to have things, but we do not own anything.  Kabir Saheb said: mutthi bandh ke aye jagat me, hath pasar ke jana hai (We came into the world with clenched fists, but we have to leave with hands outstretched).  We are not going to take anything with us when we depart, so how can we say that anything is ours. We did not bring anything in the world. We met everything here.  We must put a limit on this artha, although we need it, we must not get entangled.  Things must not hold us.  We must have the freedom to say yes or no, so we can have a balanced life – not only a materialistic life, but also a spiritual life.

The third goal of life is called kama.  We all have desires. But we have to know our desires and whether they are worthwhile or not. Man mare na maya mare, mar mar jat sharir; asha trishna na mare, kahagaye das kabir (Kabir says that the mind, illusion, desires and longings do not die, even when the body approaches death).   It is for us to understand that desires can control our life.  Lord Buddha said that the main cause of suffering is desires.  Because of desires we do all kinds of things, good and bad, to satisfy our senses.  We want to see, hear and taste things, but we must have control over desires especially on a spiritual path. Kabir Saheb says: man ko mar gagan charhi jayi; mansarovar paith nahai. (We must subdue the mind and bathe in the lake of tranquility). When we can make our mind calm like the Mansarovar Lake, then we are able to go above the mind and become realized.  As long as we are working with the mind, we will be trapped with sensual pleasures.  So desires have a place, but they must be noble desires.

The last goal is moksha.  What is moksha?  Moksha is that state of our own awareness where we realize that we are not separate from God.  In Sanskrit it is tat twam asi or aham brahm asmi.  “Thou are that” or I am the eternal soul, the param tatva or Brahm, the Absolute. These are maha vakyas or great sayings. We have to experience that state and not just say it.  And how do we experience that reality, that is tat. We have to control the mind, go above the mind, and get to the realm of the spirit.  When we get to that region of the spirit, then we will see that all the worldly things are left behind. They are materialistic.  The spirit, God, is not materialistic.  All the matter comes from God, but God is spirit.  The atma is spirit, so atma must realize God.  The atma that we are is like water in a pot and the pot is in the water. Kabir Saheb said: jal men kumbh, kumbh men jal hain, bahar bhitar pani; phute kumbh jal jalahin samana, aisa gyan birle jani (Water is in the pot and the pot is in the ocean; break the pot and the waters merge. Scarcely do people realize this relationship between the soul and God). But only the pot seems to make the difference. This body is like that pot.  Atma is there.  Remove the idea of being the body and know that we are the atma. We will then go above the body consciousness, and merge into God-consciousness. We can then say aham brahm asmi or tat twam asi and know what we mean.  That is the stage called moksha.

According to Patanjali’s yoga system there are yamas and niyamas to guide our life.  The yamas are ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha.  What do these mean?  Ahimsa is non-violence towards any living being, not even to the trees, water or earth. We should not to be violent in thought, word and deed. This is necessary since God’s presence (omnipresence) is in everything.  If we want to be close to God, then we have to be non-violent in every thing we do in life.  Satya is truth.  Always be truthful to others and to ourselves.  Be truthful to God.  We cannot hide anything from God. He is omnipresent and omniscient, and knows everything.  Truth must be in what we think, say and do.  Kabir Saheb said: sanch barabar tap nahin, jhuth barabar pap (There is no austerity greater than truth and no sin greater than untruth). Asteya means non-stealing, not taking anything not belonging to us.  Kabir Saheb said: kar bahiyan bal apane, chhor birane as (We must earn our living honestly and not depend on others). God will always fulfill our needs in life. Brahmacharya is the fourth of the yamas, but the first of the four stages (ashrams) in life: brahmacharya, grihast, vanaprasth and sanyas. We must be pure in life and not go after sexual pleasures during student life. We need to control lust, anger, attachment, greed and egoism. We all have to learn, as we never know enough. Aparigraha is non-hoarding of things. Gandhiji said that if we take anything more than we need for our immediate use, we are stealing it from someone else. Take from the earth only according to our need, and from others only when they give, or what we earn. We all accumulate material things and we have to leave them and go. We feel trapped.  We have to look after the car, the home, the bank account, the clothes, and we become entangled, and lose our freedom.

In the yoga system of Patanjali there are also the niyamas – shouch, santosh, tapa, swadhyaya, ishwarpranidhana.  What do they mean?  Shouch means cleanliness.  It must be in thought, word and deed, in our home, kitchen, food, and environment.  Santosh means contentment.  jahi vidhi rakhe saheb, tahi vidhi rahiye (Live according to God’s will).  God knows what we need in life, but if we want to go beyond what should really be ours, how will we be happy? We may not be wealthy, but we must live within our means. Life is at such a fast pace in many countries, that people do not stop and enjoy the simplicity of life. Tapa means to endure some hardship in order to learn, practice and develop spiritually. A soft and pampered life will not produce spiritual growth. Swadhyaya means to study, learn, read the scriptures and other educational material, and analyze what they mean. We must apply the good teachings in our life. Ishwarpranidhana means a longing to realize God in this life.  We want to be jivan mukt – liberation from avidya or ignorance, and its consequent bondage. We must have the knowledge that we are free. We cannot depend on faith and belief alone. Knowledge gives freedom, while ignorance gives bondage. We arrive at knowledge by using vivek or spiritual discrimination.

According to the Vedanta teaching, there are four means by which we can reach our spiritual goal in this life.  They are vivek, vairagya, shatsampat and mumukshutva.  What do they mean?  They are guidance for our life.  Viviek means to use our intelligence and spiritual discrimination, to know what is the atma, what is paramatma, and what is the reality?  Is paramatma material or immaterial?  We must use vivek to analyze and know that the soul cannot die, because it is spirit, it is not a material thing. What is Brahm, the Absolute? By using vivek we begin to understand the true nature of our reality.  Vairagya means to practice detachment or renunciation, and not allow things to hold us. Use things that we have to, but do not be attached.  We, and not the things, are the master. Shatsampat are six attributes we must cultivate. They are 1.  Sama, or control of the mind and desires. 2. Dama, or control of the senses that seek fulfillment in objects. 3. Shraddha or faith and belief in the scriptural teachings, and in the guru.  4. Titiksha or undergoing some hardship and discipline to obtain spiritual benefits.  Everything cannot be handed to us on a silver platter. We have to earn spiritual merits by our own effort. 5. Uparati or indifference in worldly matters, impartiality, and calmness. We cannot reach our spiritual goal if we long for material things. 6. Samadhana or proper concentration and meditation. We cannot go to God taking our body, but we can go to God through the spirit, through the atma.  What God wants more than anything else, is for us to realize that we are the atma.  That is true knowledge.  Mumukshutva is to have a great longing for God. God must be in our heart all the time, so that whatever we do must be directed towards getting the realization of God in our own being. It is just as when we are longing to buy a new car or new clothes, and we have to save up for it. Our mind is focused on getting the car or the clothes.  Just so, we must want God without any strings attached. We cannot say to God, please give me a son and I will do a puja or religious ceremony, or O God, let me get a good job and I will perform yajnas (ceremonial offerings) in your name. We cannot bargain with God. God is not a businessman.  God is that source of life, radiance, sustenance, and our being.

Further in the Vedanta teaching there are three steps to realization. They are shravan, Manan and Nididhyasan. Shravan means to listen to good teachings given by spirituality advanced people. We do not know everything, so we need to be humble and learn. Manan means to contemplate on the teachings. Allow the buddhi or intellect to examine the teachings until the meanings become clear.  In this way we advance from the material world to the more refined, inner world, eventually attaining enlightenment. The material world is not the ultimate reality. Reality is that which is always existent and unchangeable. For example, satya is truth, and we cannot make truth false.  What is truth, is truth.  So we must try to hold on to the truth of our own true Self, and not the body that will die one day.  The truth is eternal and we need to realize it.  God is truth and truth is God. Nididhyasan is meditation that allows us to realize God in ourselves and in all beings – God’s omnipresence.

After considering the above teachings, it becomes clear that we must apply ourselves diligently, sincerely and humbly in order to make our lives meaningful and successful. Only then can we reach our spiritual goal.