The Rationalist Sees God Face-to-Face
God and salvation are right here
The Lord appears as a human incarnation in order to make Himself available to our direct perception. Thus He satisfies the Vedic statement 'yat saksat aparoksat brahma, which means that the Lord is available to direct perception right here. The bhagavad gita also says the same thing; "manusim tanumasritam. When the Lord takes human form, it is important to recognize Him as the Lord. Prophet Mohammed gave thirty three signs to identify the human incarnation of the Lord. Thus actually Islam also accepts the human incarnation of God although the prevalent form of the religion is averse to this concept. When these signs are followed the human incarnation can be identified and the statements of the scriptures which assert the direct perception or pratyaksa pramana are satisfied. People cannot accept God right in front of them owing to their ego and jealousy.
They try to place God in some other world and some later time (after death). These are people with a lower maturity. The mature people who have conquered their ego and jealousy accept God in human form in this world. The rgveda says ihacetavedit atha satyamasti na cetmahati vinasti, which means, "That which is here is true. That which is not here is not true". The acceptance of the Lord right here, available to direct perception is desirable as it satisfies a scientist or a rationalist too. Science is based on direct perception as the means to establish the validity or existence of a statement or an entity. From the above discussion, God in human form is not an obscure, unverifiable entity. He is available here and now for direct perception. 'yat saksat aparoksat brahma means that God is here itself. He is not to be known through some other medium of questionable validity but by direct perception. The statement that God is here, does not mean that every individual soul is God. The individual soul is certainly different from God. However God has taken up a particular human body and lives among us.
Salvation is freedom from all worldly bonds. It is also here. It is not in some other world. In this world we have a lot of attachments. These bonds with other souls and material things impede our salvation. All such bonds are temporary and changing. Today we are attached to some person and tomorrow to someone else. Salvation consists in breaking all such temporary bonds. This is achieved by developing and nurturing the single permanent bond with God. In no relation, or no action performed for any other soul here, is there permanence. By attaching to God alone can one free oneself from all the temporary bonds of the world.
The soul is made of the life energy or the superior energy called para prakrti. The para prakrti is a drop in the ocean of the totality of the superior energy called the para sakti or maya. The para sakti is the Power of the Lord. It gives rise to Creation. The individual soul has attachments to other souls which are also para prakrti. Additionally it also has attachments with material things which are a grossified (inert) form of the para prakrti called as apara prakrti. The apara prakrti includes all inert objects such as wealth, land, house, cars and so on. Now the individual soul is in this world. It has bonds to other souls and to inert objects, which are both in this world. The breaking of these bonds is also in this world. Therefore salvation is in this world. It is here and now. It is not after death, in some other unknown world.
Is death salvation?
Death is not salvation. It is only the soul changing one body for a new one, as a person changes one shirt for another. The five elements which constitute the body are like five free birds. The Lord brings them together by force and puts them in the cage of the form of a human body. In forcibly bringing the free birds together, there is a decrease in entropy (disorder). There is a natural tendency of any system to increase in entropy. In other words things spontaneously tend to go into disorder (a state of greater freedom). This is to say that the birds are always trying to get free and fly away. Owing to the Grace of the Lord the elements have combined in this human body by force. The human body is extremely rare to get. It has a very special goal and that is to realize God. It is for this purpose that we have been given the human body. When a human being, in his life forgets God and gets engrossed in samsara, it is a waste of precious human life. It becomes essential for the Lord to remind him of his purpose in life and to change his direction from the world to the Lord. He does so by threatening to open the cage of the birds representing the five elements. He does not open it, but merely threatens. This threat causes the five elements try to escape; they do not actually escape. We experience this as a disturbance in the five elements which constitute the body. Such a disturbance is disease. Thus disease is a warning from the Lord for us to change our course and remember the Lord.
There is another purpose of giving disease to a person. Every person has done some bad deeds in the past for which he has to suffer according to the theory of karma. He has to get the karma phala or the fruit of his actions. Therefore by giving disease God achieves more than one purpose; to reduce the ego of the person, to turn Him to God and to exhaust some of his karma phala. Thus delivering the karma phala and spiritual development of the soul is carried out simultaneously. This can be compared to a teacher, who as a punishment to poor performers in his class, assigns them extra assignments in the same subject. He achieves two ends by this single punishment. He not only punishes poor performance but also helps them develop in the subject by the extra assignments. Thus in giving disease and adversity to us, we can see the Lord's infinite compassion.
In spite of His repeated warnings in the forms of disease when a person refuses to mend his ways, He issues orders to release the birds from the cage. The elements, which were forcibly kept in the cage of the human form, fly away. This is seen as the death and disintegration of the body.
Even in death His compassion alone is reflected. Death is followed by severe treatment in hell. Here the soul suffers for its sins or bad deeds. This suffering exhausts all the fruits of the bad deeds. It can be compared to exceedingly dirty clothes being cast off and taken to the laundry. There they are soaked in a corrosive detergent, scrubbed, and beaten. When they are done they are as clean as new. Likewise the soul, after it has exhausted all its sins, comes out thoroughly cleansed. Disease or adversity can be compared to a simple wash in plain water. When that is not sufficient to change a person, He gives the person a thorough and vigorous wash in the laundry called hell. The soul comes out as good as new. Thus death is in fact the infinite kindness of the Lord.
Thus there is no need to fear death. One should be glad that one is dying remembering that it is the infinite kindness of the Lord. Death means that you will be washed thoroughly and will come out clean. He is wiping your slate clean and giving you a fresh start. We have an extremely negative view of death. In reality there is no reason to have such an attitude. We should have a positive attitude towards death. It is said that death is spontaneous and natural while life is brought about by force; maranam prakrtih saririran vikrtih jivitam uccyate budhaih. This is understood better using the concept of entropy. Death is a high entropy state while life is a low entropy state. Dying means the elements are going to a state of disorder and hence the process is spontaneous.
At the time of death we should thank the Lord with full heart for wiping our slate clean and giving us a new start. sthitva syamantakalepi brahmanirvana mrchate. God should always be looked at with a positive attitude. He is the embodiment of Love and Compassion. All that He gives us in our lives is ultimately for our benefit.
Relations are unreal
The Vedas say that the Lord is the Mother, the Father and the Teacher.; matrdevo bhava| pitr devo bhava| acarya devo bhava|. This Vedic statement is the source of a very widespread confusion. This relates to two different interpretations based on treating the above sentences as either of karmadharaya or bahuvrihi samasa as per samskrt grammar. Treating the above sentences as the karmadharaya samasa, its meaning becomes "Mother is God. Father is God...". This is a fallacious conclusion since individuals (mother, father and teacher) are called God. This interpretation may have a limited utility to indicate that parents and teachers are to be treated as if they were God (giving them respect and service) as compared to any other individual in the world. They are to be placed above all individuals and material things in the world. However when it comes to the interaction of an individual with God, then even parents are to be rejected in favor of God. This meaning is not clear unless the above Vedic statement is considered as a bahuvrihi samasa. Then the meaning of the sentence becomes "God is the mother. God is the father...". It means that He alone is all of them and that He is above all these temporary relations such as parents, teachers and others. If there is a choice between Him and anyone else or anything else in the world, one should choose Him alone even if it means rejecting the whole world.
Hanuman took the above Vedic statement as a karmadharaya samasa and took his mother to be God. At the behest of his mother, anjani devi he offered protection to yayati, and fought against Lord Rama who was God Himself. In doing so he committed an error. He realized his mistake, which was caused by the misinterpretation of the Vedic statement. He had mixed dharma with the spiritual path. He forgot that he had to give up dharma and follow God alone. In his next incarnation as Lord Sankara, he corrected his mistake by leaving his mother for the sake of God.
Thus in the pravrtti marga or the path of worldly activities, parents are to be treated above anyone or anything else but in the nivrtti marga or the spiritual path, parents have to be rejected in favor of God. There are three levels in the spiritual evolution of a person. The first is the lawless and chaotic life. This is the life of adharma. It can be compared to the ground (first) floor. Then there is the stage of dharma or righteousness. This is the second floor. The third floor is that of the devotee or the bhakti. The second floor is better than the first. The path from the first floor to the second is that of pravrtti, or righteous worldly action. You have to leave the adharmic or lawless way of life to go to the second floor. The third floor is the highest. The path between the second floor and the third is the nivrtti marga.
In order to reach the third floor you have to leave the second; you have to leave dharma, which is the code for righteous worldly living. dharma has to be sacrificed for the sake of God. The Lord says in the Gita, "sarva dharman parityajya mamekam saranam vraja...", which means, "Leave all worldly duties and laws and surrender to Me alone. I will free you from all sins; do not worry." Thus we have to sacrifice the bonds with parents and family and develop the single bond with God. We can follow dharma in our worldly interactions, since dharma is better than adharma but when it comes to our relation with God, we have to give up even dharma. The fruit of adharma or the unjust and lawless life is dhuhkha or sorrow.
In the mahabharata, we find that the kauravas under the leadership of duryodhana were unjust and cruel. They are on the ground floor of adharma. Lord Krishna was in the role of Yama, the Lord of death. He gave them dhuhkha or misery. yama is the one who controls; yamayati iti yamah. Their opponents were the just and righteous pandavas. They followed dharma or righteousness. Lord gave them heaven. The Lord asked dharmaraja, the pandava king, to lie to his teacher in order to win the war against injustice. dharmaraja, who was a firm believer in dharma did not do so. He chose dharma over the Lord. This was his mistake. This proved that he was only fit for the second floor. He was not fit to be a devotee. He was given heaven. He was also given temporary happiness in this world in the form of the kingdom of hastinapura. Heaven represents happiness or sukha. This happiness, whether in heaven or on earth, is finite. It is limited in intensity and duration. The follower of dharma is inferior to the devotee but it is better than the first floor of injustice. The devotee enjoys bliss or ananda. This is infinite and permanent happiness; sukhah atisayah aparichinnahanandam. The gopikas were real devotees. They left all dharma in their devotion for the Lord. They were given bliss.
Sankara left His widowed and helpless mother for the mission of the Lord. Prahlada did not intervene when the Lord slew his unjust and cruel father. He chose God over his father. In doing so, both Sankara and Prahlada violated worldy dharma for the sake of the Lord. The real devotee understands that his relations in this world are temporary and unreal. Those who are his parents in this birth were not his parents in his past births and will not be related to him in the next. All the souls are just playing their roles in the drama of life. In their subsequent births the same actors will come in different roles. Enemies of the past birth may become father and son in this birth and complete strangers in the next. Sankara gives the logic that that which does not exist before and will not exist afterwards, does not exist in the present and is unreal; 'yadanityam...loke'. The relation of father and son was not there earlier, will not be there in the future so it is not there in the present too. This is true for all relationships. They are essentially unreal. The individual is real in the past, present and the future. The only relation that is permanent is the relation between the Lord and the devotee (individual). He is like the employer of the actors in the drama of life.
The relationship of the devotee with the Lord is called devotion. Devotion is love for he Lord. Love is proved by service or seva. Claims of love without service are fraudulent. Praying, meditation, intellectual discussions, words, feelings or singing hymns does not substantiate devotion. If a husband loves his wife then he must serve her when she is ill. If he just sits by her side with his eyes closed or meditates upon her or chants her name aloud, while refusing to practically serve her by giving her medicines, food and drink, then he is only making a show of love; he does not really love her. The one who really loves her will serve her.
The Lord is pleased only with total devotion. The Gita says "eka bhaktih visihyate". He wants the devotee to love Him alone; not anyone or anything else. Nobody or nothing should be equal to Him. He will make the devotee reach this stage of devotion. This is the essence of all the datta parikra or the tests of the Lord. The devotee will be tested severely till he breaks all bonds with everyone and everything in the world, till only the bond with the Lord remains. The Lord does not compromise in this aspect. He will not tolerate even a drop of the devotee's attachment to anything or anyone in the world.
Lord Krishna tested Radha very severely. She was His beloved in vrndavanam. When the Lord left vrndavanam he left her behind. Not only that but He even married other women. He offered protection to sixteen thousand women. He never returned to vrndavanam to Radha. He never inquired about her. He never even saw her face again. Such was the severity of His test. His intention was to see if Radha would get jealous. The weakness of a woman is her lover. No woman can tolerate any other women around her lover. Radha, who was the Lord's beloved, for many years in vrndavanam had all the reason to get jealous of the wives of Lord Krishna. Yet her love was pure. It was free of expectation. She never once gave in to jealousy. She was ever full of love for Him. She would constantly imagine herself falling at the feet of the Lord. She died pining for Him. The Lord was extremely pleased with her and gave her his eternal companionship in the uppermost world.
The Lord tested Hanuman in the aspect of egotism. He gave Hanuman ample opportunity to develop egotism. Lord Rama never displayed any special powers to prove that He was the Lord. Hanuman himself had a lot of super powers and had to use them more than Lord Rama. The Lord also made sure that Hanuman was compelled to use those powers to save Him. He made Hanuman save Lakshmana's life by lifting the dronagiri mountain in order to obtain the life saving sanjivani herb. When Lord Rama and Lakshmana, both were knocked unconscious by the powerful demon, indrajit, Hanuman had to fly to the heavens and bring garuna the Divine Eagle, in order to save them. Thus the Lord made it appear that it was Hanuman, who was never incapacitated in the war while the Lord Himself was. It was Hanuman who had to rescue the Lord. It was Hanuman who displayed super powers and not the Lord. It would appear to a common observer that Hanuman was the Lord and not Lord Rama. However Hanuman's devotion was sublime. He did not fall pray to egotism. He understood fully well that Lord Rama was the Lord and that He was only testing him. He therefore said "daso'ham kosalendrasya; "I am the servant of the Lord."
The human incarnation of the Lord includes all gods
The Lord Himself is all the gods. He is indra, the giver of prosperity and wealth, who gave riches to the pandavas. He is yama, the Lord of death. He is the parabrahman, the Highest Lord, who gave the goloka to the gopikas. The goloka is the highest heaven. It was a special creation of the Lord especially for the gopikas whose devotion to the Lord was unparalleled.
The Lord, God, who is the Creator, Sustainer and the Destroyer of Creation is here in human form. The devotee is here too in this world. The devotee's bonds to people and objects are also in this world. The salvation of the devotee is also here. The salvation of the devotee lies in breaking all bonds in the world and establishing the bond with God.
Some people think too highly of altruism. They think that serving other human beings in need, is the highest service. Actually even this is no comparison to the service to the human incarnation of the Lord. Normally a person is bound to his family and relations who are only individual souls. In case of the altruist, he is bound to human beings other than his immediate family. Technically there is no difference as they too are mere individual souls. It is even foolish to serve the society at the cost of sacrificing your family. It is still in the realm of pravrtti or worldly action. It cannot compare with the service to the Lord, which is nivrtti or sublime action. Serving the Lord is bhakti or devotion.
Serving the society is creditable only if it is done as a complementary task to spreading the message of the Lord. If while spreading the message of the Lord, we find people who are in some financial or other trouble, we can help them out by providing them with the material help in addition to the knowledge of the Lord. This way they will be able to transform their mind and turn it towards the Lord. Adversity, illness or problems are given to a person so that he may turn to God. If you, in the name of altruism, try to remove their adversity, you are interfering in the Divine Plan of the Lord. The Lord is not pleased with such officiousness. On the other hand, if you help a person in adversity turn to God, and simultaneously remove his adversity, then the Lord is pleased. The only real help that you can do for anyone is to remind him of God. Giving the divine knowledge of the Lord to people is the real service to them. All other help is secondary and incidental.
Sankara criticized the loka sevaka matam, which was a sect that preached that 'service to man is service to God'; manava seva madhava seva. Sankara asserted that service to individual souls cannot be equal to the service to the Supersoul. Mother Teresa did a lot of social service but she simultaneously preached the message of the Lord to the people when served. Hence her work was commendable. If you serve without preaching about God, you will get happiness in heaven but it will be little and temporary. You will have to return to earth after enjoying the fruit of your good deeds.
Identification of the human incarnation of the Lord
The human incarnation of the lord is of utmost importance. The Lord comes in each generation. It is essential to identify the human incarnation. Service should be done to Him alone. Only in the human incarnation of the Lord can there be direct perception of the Lord. Direct perception is the necessary for establishing the validity of anything. This forms the basis of science and rationality. Without direct perception, science cannot accept anything. Therefore we commonly find that science and spirituality cannot come to terms since there is a misconception that God cannot be directly perceived. Although God in His cosmic form cannot be perceived by humans, God in his human form (human incarnation) can be directly perceived. The various stages of approaching God are:
salokyam - living in the same world as the Lord
samipyam - living in close proximity with the Lord
sarupyam - having the same form as the Lord; acquiring the divine knowledge, which is His form
sayujyam - being closely associated with the Lord
kaivalyam - becoming one with the Lord
All these steps are possible in this very world in case of the human incarnation of the Lord. Therefore the human incarnation is the ultimate vehicle for the direct perception of the Lord. Thus the rationalists are satisfied in that the whole of spirituality from the beginning to the ultimate goal is right here in front of their naked eyes; available to direct perception. None of this is beyond our understanding. None of it is beyond this world. It is not required to believe in any unverifiable world or heaven beyond this world. Although the scriptures testify to the existence of these worlds, belief in them is not necessary since the whole spiritual effort and the ultimate goal is available right here in front of your eyes.
Now the most important question that remains is how to identify the human incarnation. As stated earlier Prophet Muhammad gave signs to identify the human incarnation of the Lord. The Vedas give three essential signs to identify the human incarnation of the Lord. These are:
prajnanam brahma: He is of the nature is Divine Knowledge.
anadam brahmeti: He is of the nature of Infinite Happiness.
rasovai sah: He is of the nature of Infinite Love.
All of us have knowledge, happiness and love in us. However our knowledge, happiness and love are limited in both degree as well as duration. In case of the Lord they are infinite in degree and duration. However even if the human incarnation of the Lord actually is of the nature of these three qualities, how can we measure them? This brings us to the next point and that is these three qualities can be transferred to us by the human incarnation. They are brought to our experience. We experience them first hand. He gives us the experience of the wonderful Divine Knowledge; knowledge like no other knowledge we have known. He gives us the experience of infinite happiness; happiness like no other happiness we have known before. He gives us the experience of infinite Love of Him; love like no other love we have experienced before. He is the greatest giver of all. Therefore the Lord is called 'Datta', the Giver. We must recognize the Lord from our experience of knowledge, love and happiness.
He, who gives the wonderful Divine Knowledge to us, creates infinite love towards Him in our heart and fills our heart with infinite bliss is verily the human incarnation of the Lord.
Knowledge is represented by Lord Brahma (the Creator), Love is represented by Lord Vishnu (the Sustainer) and Happiness is represented by Lord Shiva (the Destroyer). Thus datta is all three is One. The three are different aspects of the same Lord.
The three signs given above are conclusive identifications of the Lord in human form. They can be compared to heat as a conclusive sign for fire. Fire is hot. There is no doubt that it is hot. Not only that it is hot itself, but it can also transfer that heat to anyone who comes close to it or tries to touch it. This is because the nature of fire is heat. It is essential that any identification is based on the nature or characteristic property of the object to be identified. Associated or extraneous properties cannot be used for a conclusive identification. For example, in order to identify a particular person, it is not enough to consider his shirt or his jewels and accessories. All these could be worn by some other person. However the face of the person is his own nature. It can be used to identify a person conclusively as is done through a photograph. Another person cannot borrow his face.
Another example can be borrowed from chemistry. While identifying different chemical radicals, there are standard confirmatory tests. One of them is a flame test. The unknown sample is heated on a flame. Each radical produces a characteristic color in the flame and can be identified from the color. The borate radical for example gives a green color. The green color is available to our direct perception from which we can identify the radical. It is not enough for the sample to have a borate radical. There has to be some of transferring that information to our direct perception. This is achieved in the flame test.
Limitations of miracles
Miracles are not conclusive identification of the Lord in human form. Miracles are performed by the Lord's super powers. They are His accessories or associated properties. They can be given to others. People who perform a lot of penance are granted certain supernatural powers by the Lord. However this does not make them the Lord. Even demons can acquire these powers through penance. They will pose as God but they cannot give infinite knowledge, happiness and love to another person.
The next important point is that in order to conclusively identify something, we have to use the correct and standard procedure. We cannot use any haphazard procedure and expect to arrive at conclusive results. If you have to conduct a flame test in chemistry, then you have to follow the correct procedure for the flame test. If you have to identify a chemical using a spectrometer then you have to follow the correct procedure of preparing the sample, positioning the sample, acquiring data, analyzing results and drawing conclusions. The correct procedure is detailed in the appropriate instruction manual or equivalent standard source. If you do not follow the procedure correctly and you are unable to identify the chemical then only you are to blame; not the chemical, the spectrometer or the instruction manual. Not only that you must follow the instruction manual accurately but you must also be qualified and trained to use the technique. You may be an intellectual and a well read person. You may even be a doctorate in say philosophy. However if you do not adequate training in chemistry then you are not qualified to operate spectrometer and will not be able to identify the chemical. You will not even be able to understand the manual.
The Vedas or the scriptures in general, are the authoritative and standard instruction manual in the case of recognizing God. They are the instruction manual of Creation given by the Creator. The procedure to identify the Lord is detailed accurately in them. However you must have adequate training and qualifications in the subject in order to follow the procedure correctly. Any statement from any person in the matter of spirituality cannot be taken to be authoritative unless is concurs with the Vedas. Other scriptures such as the puraanas are also authoritative however they are secondary to the Vedas. The reason is that the Vedas were protected in pristine condition by the oral tradition.
The oral tradition of Vedic recitation
The Vedas were transmitted by recitation. The ancients devised a fool-proof method of recitation using extremely complex mnemonics, to learn, memorize and teach the scriptures over millennia. This tradition exists even to this day. The traditional scholars have the entire Vedas consisting of hundreds of thousands of verses committed to memory. Accurate pronunciation, meter, pitch and duration of each syllable must be reproduced without distortion. This ensures that the original verses or prose are preserved without any corruption. This is not true in case of other scriptures which were preserved in writing. Manuscripts can disintegrate or be destroyed and verses can be inserted or deleted. These things have happened in history. Fanatic rulers have destroyed scriptures of other religions or coerced scholars to alter the original manuscripts to suit their convenience. Thanks to the oral tradition, the Vedas have escaped this and have been preserved in their original condition.
Therefore the authenticity or authority of any statement in spirituality should be traced to the Vedas. You can give additional supporting statements from other scriptures such as the Gita, the puranas and so on. However these secondary scriptues cannot be used as the primary authority. gautama dharma sastras say "sruti smati virodhetu sruti eva gariyase". This means that whenever there is a contradiction between the Vedas and any secondary scriptures the view of the Vedas is to be considered as final.
Resolving contradictions between different scriptures
The same Lord came to different parts of the world in different age to preach the same Divine Knowledge. All the scriptures of the world are the records of the knowledge given by the same Lord and hence cannot contradict each other. Yet we find sometimes that there are some glaring contradictions between different scriptures of the world. This is in part due to fact that the Lord taught the same truth in different ages and places in a slightly different way, so as to suit the culture and language of the people. This is only an extraneous difference. The essential knowledge is the same. Correct interpretation will remove the contradiction.
Sometimes there may be an apparent difference even in the essential meaning. In such as case the inconsistency is probably caused by corruption of the scripture over generations. Comparison with other scriptures of the world will help in removing the corrupted portions in each scripture. Here it becomes essential to bring in experience as a pramana or a valid means of knowledge. While comparing contradictory views in different scriptures, the view which agrees with experience or anubhuti should be taken as correct.
Pramanas: the valid means of knowledge
The accepted pramanas or valid means of knowledge are sruti (the Vedas or the Word of God), smati (secondary scriptures or the knowledge given by prophets and saints), yukti (reason) and anubhuti (experience). Reasoning is also a valid means of knowledge. However a person with better reasoning and argumentative skills can sometimes outwit an unskilled person even if the latter is correct. Such is not the case with experience. Experience is the final means of knowledge. The scriptures too do not contradict our experience. Therefore when a contradiction in the scriptures cannot be solved by any means then the opinion that is in keeping with our experience should be taken.
Therefore direct experience is the pramana used to recognize God in human form. Your own antaratma, your inner consciousness, will tell you who the real human incarnation of the Lord is. The Vedas will tell you how to recognize Him but you do not have live and die with this belief. You experience it yourself. It is like someone telling you that sugar is sweet. This is not an unverifiable belief. When you pop a cube of sugar in your mouth you experience it first hand. There is no indirectness. The temporary faith that you put in the person who tells you that sugar is sweet is not objectionable at all. Its verification is imminent. Likewise if we install temporary faith in the authority of the scriptures, as we do in case of any theory in science, and follow the path detailed therein, we are sure to find the truth. It comes to our direct perception. Faith can be dispensed with when there is direct knowledge or experience. This is the rational way to spirituality. This is Universal Spirituality.