MYSTERY OF SHIVA LINGA & THIRD EYE

                                                    (Interactive session on 05.04.2015)

Keynote address by Asish Kumar Raha

(Other participant speakers: Dr. Ananda Mukherjee, Mr. Gaur Kanjilal,                                    Mr. Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, Mr. D.P. Das, Dr. J. Bhawal & Dr. Suhas                                                                                          Majumdar)                                                                                                  [Opening song – Shiva chanting played by Ms. Sharmila Bhawal]

Anchor: Mr. Asim Banerjee




Manner and form of worship varies from religion to religion. Besides, God is conceived in varied forms and also as formless   . Amidst these various forms and manner of worship, perhaps the most mystical and enigmatic one is the worship of Lord Shiva by the Hindus in India, Nepal and other countries as well, in symbolical form of the Linga and the Yoni. Going by the shape and the form of those symbols, as also some Puranic texts, several scholars known as Indologists are of the view that the Linga and the Yoni represent male and female sex organs. Indian scholars and pedantists on the other hand rubbish such construction, alleging that the ancient texts have been totally misunderstood, and misinterpreted by those Indologists. Our effort here will be to examine the rival contentions in historic perspective, in order to find out the truth.

The concept of the Third Eye is the other aspect under our focus. It is no less mystical, conceptually, and can even be called esoteric as it is believed that the one whose Third Eye has opened even a little bit is capable of showing super natural power. There has been considerable research on the subject with no satisfactory finding in medical terms. It is, however, believed that the phenomenon of the Third Eye belongs to the domain of the Yoga. Our efforts here will be to examine, analyse and understand this esoteric phenomenon scientifically.


Meaning of the term ‘Linga’

In Sanskrit, Linga means a ‘mark’ or a symbol. Thus the Shiva Linga is a symbol of Lord Shiva – a mark that, according to the Linga Purana, symbolizes the Omnipotent Lord, who is otherwise formless and Infinite.

Is the Linga phallic symbol?

Does Linga represent phallus? Western scholars and Indologists beginning with Max Mueller in the 19th century up to Wendy Doniger in the current century are predominantly inclined to believe so, while majority of Indian scholars disdainfully reject the said western version, holding that the Linga, far from representing phallus, actually symbolizes Infinite Brahman in form of pillar or Stambha / Skambha that links the spirit world with the material world, having no beginning or the end. In support of their above contention, Indian scholars rely upon some passages from the Atharva Veda. Western scholars on the other hand find support for their phallic theory in the Shiva Purana and the Linga Purana.

Genesis of conflicting views

To trace the genesis of this conflict, western Indologists from the time of Max Mueller, were convinced that the Vedic religion was the outcome of the worship of the fire, the sun, and other awe-inspiring objects of natural phenomena. This came out prominently in the Paris Congress of the History of Religions, soon after the grand assembly at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago in 1893 where Swami Vivekananda stood out as the most enlightened and popular speaker. The purpose of the Paris Congress was only to inquire into the historic evolution of different forms of established faiths. Vivekananda was present at Congress, but declined to speak owing to his ill health.

Mr. Gustav Oppert, a German scholar, gave his scholastic finding at the Congress to the effect that the Shiva-Linga was the phallic emblem of the male and the Shalagrama-Shila represented the female generative principle. In other words, he wanted to establish that the worship of the Shiva-Linga and that of the Shalagrama were nothing but the component parts of the worship of the Linga and the Yoni, which were put together in course of time. Swami Vivekananda repudiated above thesis of Gustav as completely unfounded and ridiculous, arising from mis-interpretation of some Vedic and Puranic texts. He pointed out that the worship of the Shiva-Linga originated from the famous hymn in the Atharva-Veda Samhitâ sung in praise of the Yupa-Stambha, the sacrificial post. In that hymn a description is found of the beginning-less and endless Stambha or Skambha (pillar), put in place for the eternal Brahman. In the Linga Purâna, the same hymn is expanded in form of stories, in order to establish the glory of the great Stambha and the superiority of Mahâdeva. As for the Stambha or endless pillar getting reduced to the present size of Shiva Linga that has a resemblance of Stambha, the Swami drew an analogy of the massive Buddhist Stupa (memorial topes) getting reduced to miniature substitutes for worship or devotion, or Varanasi Shiva temple getting reduced in miniature form. According to the Swami, Shalagrama-Shilas are natural stones resembling in form artificially-cut stone-cases of the Buddhist Dhatu-garbha (metal-wombed or memorial topes). Those were being first worshipped by the Buddhists, which gradually got into Vaishnavism, like many other forms of Buddhistic worship that found their way into Hinduism. (ref. vol. 4, pp 422-429, 2nd reprint of subsidized edition, March 1989, of The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda).

Interpretation of western Indologists

The contra view of western scholars relating to Shiva Linga as phallic symbol is founded on some Puranic stories, which are as follows.

According to Siva Purana and the Linga Purana, when the universe was dissolved and immersed completely in water, Lord Vishnu alone was resting on the water in sleeping posture. From his navel arose Brahma in a lotus. At that time two demons, viz. Madhu and Kaitava came out from Vishnu’s ears and attacked Brahma. Afraid, Brahma sought intervention of Vishnu and eventually Vishnu killed both the demons. However, both Brahma and Vishnu started fighting over who was greater. At that time, there emerged from the water a huge pillar like structure, which went up to the sky. Brahma in form of a swan flew upward to find the top-end of the pillar while Vishnu in form of a boar dived down into the earth to find the bottom end of the pillar. But both were unable to find the end of the pillar. At that time, they heard a cosmic voice saying that they ought to worship the Stambha or the pilar, which is the ultimate power known as Mahadeva or Shiva joined by the Shakti. In course of time, that Stambha or pillar was represented by Linga, which looked like phallus, established in a foundation, which resembled a female Yoni, representing Shakti. Thus the Linga and the Yoni placed together were believed to represent the Shiva and the Shakti.

According to another tradition, when entire universe was immersed in a single ocean, Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra arose from the water. Both Brahma and Vishnu witnessing the power of the Rudra as blazing suns beseeched him to create progeny. Rudra condescended to their request and went into deep meditation to acquire extra power to create perfect progeny. As several celestial years passed by and Rudra was still lost in meditation, Vishnu requested Brahma to create progeny without waiting for Rudra, for which purpose Vishnu lent his power (Shakti) to Brahma. Thereupon, Brahma started creating gods, demons, Gandharvas, Yakshas, serpents, birds, Raksasas, humans etc. and the earth was bristling with population of above species. At that time finally, Lord Rudra emerged from the water, ready to create progeny with his newly acquired Yogic power. Witnessing the earth as already over-populated, he became angry and was about to destroy the entire creation so as to start it afresh. A flame of destructive fire came out of his mouth to burn the whole universe. In order to pacify Rudra, Brahma chanted his praises. Satisfied, Rudra withdrew from his destructive mode and released his excess energy in the form of Linga, which he broke off from his body and threw it on the surface of the earth. The Linga broke through the earth and also rose to the sky. Brahma took the form of a swan and flew to the sky to reach the top-end of the linga while Vishnu took the form of a boar and dived into the earth to find its bottom-end but both failed to find either end of the Linga. Rest of the story is similar to the one already stated above.

The third account of the origin of the Linga is again from the Siva Purana, Linga Purana and the Brahmanda Purana. The story is like this. In a pine forest where the sons of Brahma, the seven sages and other ascetics, viz. Bhrigu, Angiras, Vasishtha, Visvamitra, Gautama, Atri, Sukesha, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Marichi, Kashyapa and Samvarta, were engrossed in deep meditation and austerities, Shiva in order to teach them the value of worldly life for the sake of balance in creation, took the form of a nude, semi-lunatic but of extremely handsome and shapely figure, and seduced their wives. The sages being outraged and angry by the seductive and vulgar gestures of the perverse intruder cursed him that he would lose his manhood and drop his phallus on the ground. Though the above curse affected Lord Shiva in the least, in reverence to the sages he chose to drop his Linga on the ground and revealed his identity to the sages. Consequent upon retribution of the Shiva, the whole of the pine forest got parched by fire and the seven sages were banished from the earth to take their refuge in the firmament. All the sages after knowing the identity of the Shiva worshipped the Linga and took the lessons of life from him. They also took a vow not to dishonour any guest in future and also to grant him his wishes, as the god himself came in the guise of a guest. The sages also learnt the lesson of striking a balance between austere asceticism and family life.

According to Padma Purana, which tends to establish superiority of the Vishnu over Brahma and Siva, the sages once requested Bhrigu to determine who among the three gods was superior. Bhrigu went first to mount Kailash to meet Siva but was not allowed access by Nandin as Siva was engaged in love making with his consort. Enraged, Bhrigu cursed Siva that the form of the Yoni and the Linga will represent him and his consort. Thereafter, he went to Brahma and found him passionately engrossed with his consort, ignoring the sage altogether; Bhrigu thereupon cursed Brahma that he would not be worshipped by anyone. Bhrigu’s next journey was to the abode of Lord Vishnu. He found Vishnu equally engaged in lovemaking with his consort. Losing his temper, Bhrigu entered the bedroom of the Lord and kicked him in his chest. Vishnu, instead of being angry, told the sage he felt honoured by the touch of the feet of a great sage like Bhrigu. For reason of this modesty of Vishnu, Bhrigu instantly declared Vishnu as the greatest of the threesome.

Based on the above Puranic stories, western Indologists are inclined to look upon the Shiva Linga, juxtaposed with the Yoni, as nothing more than phallic symbols representing male and female sex organs.

Interpretation of Indian scholars based on the Atharva Veda

The Indian scholars, on the other hand, predominantly subscribe to the philosophical or spiritual background of the Linga worship, tracing its origin to the Skambha Sukta (Hymns of Skambha) in the Atharva Veda. The concept of Skambha or Stambha representing Brahman or Existence Absolute, Consciousness Absolute and Bliss Absolute was later migrated to the Linga Purana and the Shiva Purana to symbolize Shiva or Mahadeva. Since Purusha needs Prakriti or Shakti for creation and procreation, Shiva and Shakti are envisaged as co-existing in the Stambha / Skambha, later taking the form of the Linga and the Yoni in miniature form. In order to understand this Indian point of view let us look into some of the verses in Skambha Sukta, relied upon by indian scholars.

Extracts from the Stambha Sukta, the Atharva Veda (X- 7):

yásmint stabdhvā́ prajā́patir lokā́nt sárvām̐ ádhārayat
skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ – (7)

7) Who out of many, tell me, is that Skambha, On whom Prajāpati set up and firmly established all the worlds?

 yát paramám avamám yác ca madhyamáṃ prajā́patiḥ sasr̥jé viśvárūpamkíyatā skambháḥ prá viveśa tátra yán ná prā́viśat kíyat tád babhūva – (8)

8) That universe which Prajāpati created, wearing all forms, the highest, midmost, lowest, How far did Skambha penetrate within it? What portion did he leave un-penetrated?

 yásmin bhū́mir antárikṣaṃ dyáur yásminn ádhy ā́hitāyátrāgníś candrámāḥ sū́ryo vā́tas tiṣṭhanty ā́rpitāḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ – (12)

 12) Who out of many, tell me, is that Skambha On whom as their foundation earth and firmament and sky are set; In whom as their appointed place rest Fire and Moon and Sun and Wind?

 yásya tráyastriṃśad devā́ áṅge sárve samā́hitāḥskambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ – (13)

13) Who out of many, tell me, is that Skambha He in whose body are contained all three-and-thirty Deities?

 yé púruṣe bráhma vidús té viduḥ parameṣṭhínamyó véda parameṣṭhínaṃ yáś ca véda prajā́patim jyeṣṭháṃ yé brā́hmaṇaṃ vidús te skambhám anusáṃviduḥ – (17)

17) They who in Purusha understand Brahma know Him who is Supreme. He who knows Him who is Supreme, and he who knows the Lord of Life, These know the loftiest Power Divine, and thence know Skambha thoroughly.

 yátrādityā́ś ca rudrā́ś ca vásavaś ca samā́hítāḥbhūtáṃ ca yátra bhávyaṃ ca sárve lokā́ḥ prátiṣṭhitāḥ skambháṃ táṃ brūhi katamáḥ svid evá sáḥ – (22)

22) Who out of many, tell me, is that Skambha In whom Ādityas dwell, in whom Rudras and Vasus are contained, In whom the future and the past and all the worlds are firmly set;

 br̥hánto nā́ma té devā́ yé ‘sataḥ pári jajñiréékaṃ tád áṅgaṃ skambhásyā́sad āhuḥ paró jánāḥ – (25)

25) Great, verily, are those Gods who sprang from non-existence into life. Further, men say that that one part of Skambha is nonentity.

 hiraṇyagarbhám paramám anatyudyáṃ jánā viduḥskambhás tád ágre prā́siñcad dhíraṇyaṃ loké antarā́ – (28)

28) Men know Hiranyagarbha as supreme and inexpressible: In the beginning, in the midst of the world. Skambha poured that gold.

 skambhó dādhāra dyā́vāpr̥thivī́ ubhé imé skambhó dādhārorv àntárikṣamskambhó dādhāra pradíśaḥ ṣáḍ urvī́ḥ skambhá idáṃ víśvaṃ bhúvanam ā́ viveśaskambhó dādhāra dyā́vāpr̥thivī́ ubhé imé skambhó dādhārorv àntárikṣamskambhó dādhāra pradíśaḥ ṣáḍ urvī́ḥ skambhá idáṃ víśvaṃ bhúvanam ā́ viveśa – (35)

 35) Skambha set fast these two, the earth and heaven, Skambha maintained the ample air between them. Skambha established the six spacious regions: this whole world Skambha entered and pervaded.

The above verses from the Skambha Sukta of the Atharva Veda would conclusively prove that the Skambha has no reference whatsoever to phallus or phallic symbols. Quite on the contrary, the Skambha connotes the Supreme Power, the Infinite God or Brahman WHO is formless as also in form, existent as also non-existent, and the ultimate source of the entire creation. Now the question is how the Shiva Linga can be related to the Skambha. The answer to this lies in the Puranic verses relating the Shiva Linga, some of which are cited below.

Shiva in form of Skambha in the Puranas

skambhénemé víṣṭabhite dyáuś ca bhū́miś ca tiṣṭhataḥ
skambhá idáṃ sárvam ātmanvád yát prāṇán nimiṣác ca yát – (2)

[Upheld by Skambha’s power these two, the heaven and the earth, stand fast. Skambha is all this world of life, whatever breathes or shuts eye.]

 ékacakraṃ vartata ékanemi sahásrākṣaraṃ prá puró ní paścāardhéna víśvaṃ bhúvanaṃ jajā́na yád asyārdháṃ kvà tád babhūva -(7)

[Up, eastward, downward, in the west, ‘it rolleth, with countless elements, one-wheeled, single-felled. With half it hath begotten all creation. Where hath the other half become unnoticed?]

 yád éjati pátati yác ca tíṣṭhati prāṇád áprāṇan nimiṣác ca yád bhúvattád dādhāra pr̥thivī́ṃ viśvárūpaṃ tát saṃbhū́ya bhavaty ékam evá – (11)

[That which hath power of motion that which flies, or stands, which breathes or breathes not, which, existing, shuts the eye. Wearing all forms that entity upholds the earth, and in its close consistence still is only one.]

 anantáṃ vítataṃ purutrā́nantám ántavac cā sámanteté nākapāláś carati vicinván vidvā́n bhūtám utá bhávyam asya – (12)

[The infinite to every side extended, the finite and the infinite around us, These twain Heaven’s Lord divides as he advances, knowing the past hereof and all the future.]

 bā́lād ékam aṇīyaskám utáikaṃ néva dr̥śyatetátaḥ páriṣvajīyasī devátā sā́ máma priyā́ – (25)

[One is yet finer than a hair, one is not even visible. And hence the Deity who grasps with firmer hold is dear to me.]

 tváṃ strī́ tváṃ púmān asi tváṃ kumārá utá vā kumārī́tváṃ jīrṇó daṇḍéna vañcasi tváṃ jātó bhavasi viśvátomukhaḥ – (27)

[Thou art a woman, and a man; thou art a damsel and a boy. Grown old thou totterest with a staff, new-born thou lookest every way.]

 pūrṇā́t pūrṇám úd acati pūrṇáṃ pūrṇéna sicyateutó tád adyá vidyāma yátas tát pariṣicyáte – (29)

[Forth from the full he lifts the full, the full he sprinkles with the full. Now also may we know the source from which the stream is sprinkled round.]

 yó vidyā́t sū́traṃ vítataṃ yásminn ótāḥ prajā́ imā́ḥsū́traṃ sū́trasya yó vidyā́d sá vidyād brā́hmaṇaṃ mahát – (37)

[The man who knows the drawn-out string on which these creatures all are strung, The man who knows the thread’s thread, he may know the mighty Brahmana.]

 akāmó dhī́ro amŕ̥taḥ svayaṃbhū́ rásena tr̥ptó ná kútaś canónaḥtám evá vidvā́n ná bibhāya mr̥tyór ātmā́naṃ dhī́ram ajáraṃ yúvānam – (44)

[Desireless, firm, immortal, self-existent, contented with the essence, lacking nothing, Free from the fear of Death is he who knoweth that Soul courageous, youthful, undecaying.]

 The above Puranic verses lend support to the view that the concept of the Shiva Linga had a direct nexus with the Vedic Skambha and had nothing to do with human sex organs. As to the question why Skambha in form of the Shiva Linga needed to be juxtaposed with the Yoni representing Prakriti or Shakti, the explanation offered in the Purana is as follows. There is no creation without the union of the opposites. There could be no creation from Shiva alone, or from the Prakriti (nature) alone. “The union of a perceiver and a perceived, an enjoyer and the enjoyed, of a passive and active principle, is essential for creation to take place. Transcendent manhood is the immanent cause of creation; transcendent womanhood is the efficient cause. There cannot be procreation without such union and there cannot be divine manifestation without their cosmic equivalent.”

Why the Vedic Skambha in the Linga – Yoni form

The question that arises for determination is why the symbols looking like the phallus and the yoni have been used to represent Shiva and Shakti or the Purusha and the Prakriti, as the case may be.

While addressing the above question, two important phenomena have to be kept in view. First, symbolism was widely prevalent in ancient India during the early and late Vedic period. By way of a crude illustration of symbolism, we may refer to the Tantric ritual of creating an effigy of the prospective victim for the purpose of inflicting pain or harm to the targeted victim by way of pricking, hitting or excising the limbs of the effigy. Likewise, superimposition of divinity on a symbol or image has been widely prevalent. Secondly, it has to be borne in mind that the Puranic texts such as the Linga Purana and the Shiva Purana were composed during the ascendancy of Buddhism when ascetic practices and celibacy in pursuit of the Nirvana (liberation), posed a serious challenge to the Hindu tradition of the balanced life in following four phases, viz. Brahmacharyam (abstinence), Garhastham (married life), Vanaprastha (seclusion) and Sannyas (monastic life). The Hindu reaction to the Buddhist drive for celibacy led to extolment of sex-images in contemporary temple sculpture and the deification of sex symbols. This would largely explain why the Vedic Skambha was reduced into the shape of the Linga and the Yoni put together for purposes of worship as the Shiva and the Shakti during the ascendancy of Buddhism. It is pertinent to mention here that no ardent worshipper of the Shiva Linga is driven by sex desire. On the contrary, as per the standing ritual, the worshipper is to resort to strict abstinence, if not fast, before his / her obeisance to the Linga. Another important aspect of the Linga worship is that the Linga is necessarily to rest on the Yoni for purposes of worship. Except for the Ekalinga (Linga without the Yoni) temple near Udaipur in Rajasthan, all other Linga temples have the Linga and the Yoni grouped together. In this regard we may mention the twelve Jyotirlingas (self-radiant Lingas), which are as follows:

 Names of 12 Jyotirlingas

Somnath  (Gujarat).

Rameshwaram (Tamilnadu)

Mallikarjuna (Srisailam, Andhra Pradesh)

Ghrishneshwar  (Aurangabad, Maharashtra)

Mahakaleswara (Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh)

Vishwanath (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh)

Dwarka   (Gujrat)

Bhimsankar  (Maharashtra)

Trimbakeshwar  (Nasik, Maharashtra).

Omkareshwar  (Madhya Pradesh)

Vaidyanath  (Bihar).

Kedarnath  (Uttarakhand)

Alinga – Linga distinction

Invisible Shiva called ‘Alinga’ is the root of the visible ‘Linga’ or  ‘Prakruti’/Shaivi /Maya or the Universe. Thus the visible Linga (Prakriti) is Shiva Swarupa itself. Alinga in Hindu philosophy connotes Infinite, All-pervasive, and the ultimate source of all souls and matters, and in short the Pure Consciousness. In other words, Alinga is Brahman, the source of the Purusha and the Prakriti. Manifested in Saakar (form), Alinga becomes the Linga, which is a combination of the Purusha and the Prakriti inasmuch as all the attributes of the Prakriti are subsumed in the Linga. The synthesis of the Alinga and the Linga is known as ‘Aouttama’ Linga. From the above point of view, one should not distinguish the Linga from the Yoni, describing the former as the Shiva and the latter as the Shakti as the Linga is only a combination of the two and cannot be vivisected into two separate identities.

Three parts of the Linga explained

It is customary to form the Linga in three parts for worship in a temple. The lowest part is the square base, which is called the Brahmabhaga or Brahma-pitha which symbolically represents Brahma, the creator. Lord Vishnu represents the middle part, which is octagonal, known as Vishnubhaga or Vishnu-pitha. The top cylindrical portion is known as the Rudrabhaga or Shiva-pitha, also called the Pujabhaga (part for worship) as this part is meant for worship. The top part also symbolizes fire as it represents the destructive as also preserving power of God.

Pouring of water on the Linga explained

It is commonly believed that the ritual of pouring Ganga water over the Linga has originated from the belief that the holy river Ganga descended from the paradise to the Shiva’s matted head as otherwise the earth would have been swamped by her gushing water. The Ganga was released to earth afterward by the Shiva when the devotion and prayer of king Bhagirath pleased him. The pouring of milk on the Linga symbolically represents pouring of Ghee on the sacred fire of the Yajna signifying sacrifice of the self to God.

There is another explanation for the ritual in the perspective of the Puranic stories. One of the stories indicate that the Shiva broke away the Linga from his self and threw it on the earth when he found that the Brahma had already created the creatures including humans, without waiting for the Shiva to arise from his long meditation. Given the fact that the Linga means mark or symbol, the breaking of the Linga and the throwing of it would logically mean that the Shiva dispersed or released his accumulated energy as his mark on the stones which alone could absorb it, without being burnt. Whether the transmitted energy of the Shiva could change the shape of a stone slab into the present Linga-form is debatable. However, in all likelihood, it was felt necessary by the contemporaries to reduce the heat of the stones by pouring water on it. As the stones wre believed to be recipient of the Shiva’s energy, those stones were held as the Linga or the symbols that represented the Shiva. This may explain how did the paradigm of the pouring of water on the Linga originate.

 Concept of the Third Eye

The Third Eye, also known as the Pineal gland, is situated in-between the eyebrows in the forehead, at a depth of about an inch and a half, and placed at the centre between two hemispheres of our brain. It is often described as the gate to the cosmic world. From the yogic perspective The Third Eye is essentially an esoteric concept. The awakening of the Third Eye amounts to the opening of the gate to allow us access to the mystic world that lies beyond the three dimensional world. According to physicists, 95% particles remain invisible to our eyes and perception. The Quantum Physics postulates oneness of the universe and also that all sub-atomic particles are inter-connected. The Yoga provides empirical validation of the above axiom primarily through the medium of the Third Eye. When it awakens, nothing remains invisible. In the Yoga, the Third Eye is known as Ajna (command) Chakra (sixth out of seven Chakras in ascending order) in the human body. One who has attained mastery over Ajna Chakra is believed to have complete command over all the sense organs. The other Chakras (from one to five in ascending order) are Muladhar, Svadhisthan, Manipura, Anahata, Vishuddha and (the seventh one located on the head) Sahashrara. Each of these Chakras has a special character, and the mastery over each Chakra helps the yoga practitioner to rise to a certain spiritual level, the highest spiritual experience of Nirvikalpa Samadhi (experience of merger with the Divine) being attainable when the Kundalini (primal energy, called shakti, located at the base of the spine in coil form) rises to the Sahashrara.

Shiva’s Third Eye

Lord Shiva is known as Triyambaka or the possessor of the Third Eye. In the Shiva Purana, we find an interesting account of the impact of the Thrid Eye of the Shiva. The story goes as follows. After having lost Sati, his consort, Shiva got deeply absorbed in meditation. Meanwhile, the demons led by Tarakasur went berserk. They drove out the Devas from the paradice. Indra, the king of the Devas, came to learn from the Brahma, one of the Trinity and the Grandsire of the Devas and the asuras, that only the offspring of the shiva and Parvati would be able to kill Tarakasur. Therefore, it was important for them not only to break the meditation of the shiva but also to generate love in his heart for Parvati, the beautiful daughter of the Mountain King. The Devas deputed Kama Deva, the God of Love, on the mission. Kama Deva succeded in breaking the Shiva’s meditation but paid the price with his life as he was burnt into ashes by the fire emitting from the Third Eye of the angry Shiva. The story does not end there, but we need not continue with the story further as it is strictly not relevant.

The second instance when the Third Eye of the Shiva was shown as emitting light to the world was when his consort Parvati playfully placed her palms on his eyes. His Third Eye instantly popped up to light the world, which was enveloped in darkness when his eyes were covered by the palms of Parvati.

Even though authenticity of both the stories can be questioned, the Third Eye phenomenon cannot be dismissed or discarded as a mere fiction. From the ancient to modern time there are umpteen instances of the Third Eye factor being experienced without any satisfactory scientific explanation.

Third Eye activation in Mahabharata

There are at least three instances in Mahabharata when the Third Eye was got activated. On the eve of the Battle of Kurukshetra, Vedavyasa bestowed upon Sanjaya the Third Eye vision to give a running commentary of the battle to Dhritarashtra, the blind emperor. We also have the full account of the cosmic form of Sri Krishna, envisioned by Arjuna through his Third Eye that was got activated for the purpose by Sri Krishna. This is narrated in Chapter 11 of the Bhagavat Gita. Mahabharata further mentions that after the battle when Dhritarashtra, Gandhari and the Pandavas were immersed in grief for losing their nearest and dearest ones, Vedavyasa gave them the Third Eye vision to see departed ones in their mortal shape and form.

From the above three accounts of activation of the Third Eye and its effect, the following facts emerge. First, the activation of another person’s Third Eye for a limited period and purpose could be accomplished by the known masters of the Yoga such as the sage Vedavyas and Sri Krishna. Second, what is not visible to naked eyes is visble to the Third Eye. Third, the Third Eye is capable of transcending the three dimensional barrier, like it happened in the case of Arjuna. Fourth, it helps travelling into the past like it happened with King Dhritarashtra and the Pandavas when they could see their departed children and relations as engaged in the battle, long after the battle was over. According to the Yoga Shastra, all these phenomena are possible once the Third Eye awakens. However, the extent or degree of awakening may depend upon the spiritual advancement of the person concerned.

Modern anecdotes – experience of Swami Yogananda

In Chapter 14, titled An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness, in his Autobiography of a Yogi, Swami Yogananda has left the following account of his experience. On a fine morning when the young Mukunda (Yogananda’s pre-sannyas name) was trying to meditate in the sitting room of his Master Sri Yukteswar, without being able to concentrate, he was summoned by his Master twice. Mukunda shouted protestingly: “Sir, I am meditating.” His Master retorted: “I know how you are meditating with your mind disturbed like leaves in a storm. Come here to me.” Sri Yukteswar struck gently on Mukunda’s chest and the effect has been penned down by Yogananda in following words:

“The whole vicinity lay bare before me. My ordinary frontal vision was now changed to a vast spherical sight, simultaneously all perspective. Through the back of my head I saw men strolling far down Rai Ghat Lane, and noticed also a white cow that was leisurely approaching. When she reached the open ashram gate, I observed her as though with my two physical eyes. After she had passed behind the brick wall of the courtyard, I saw her clearly still.”

“All objects within my panoramic gaze trembled and vibrated like quick motion pictures. My body, Master’s, the pillared courtyard, the furniture and floor, the trees and sunshine, occasionally became violently agitated, until all melted into a luminescent sea; even as sugar crystals, thrown into a glass of water, dissolve after being shaken. The unifying light alternated with materializations of form, the metamorphoses revealing the law of cause and effect in creation.”

Experience of Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda, known by the name Naren prior to his Sannyas or monkhood, often teased Sri Ramakrishna, his Master-to-be. Once, in the temple of Dakshineswar, young Naren with his friend Hazra were offered by Sri Ramakrishna tea with Rasagolla (round-shaped milk-made sweet dipped in syrrup). When Sri Ramakrishna was out of sight, Naren started taunting him by telling Hazra: “See, this tea is Brahman, the cup is Brahman, so are the Rasagolla, the wall, you and I. All are Brahman.” Just as he burst in laughter, Sri Ramakrishna entered the room and touched him gently in the chest. Immediately, the Third Eye of young Naren opened and his whole vision changed. He saw the tea, the cup, the Rasagolla and the wall being made of same substance as his own body. As a matter of fact, entire world and his own self were in his vision made of the same stuff. In his case the above vision lasted for several days, which made him learn through direct experience the oneness of the universe, which was pronounced as the axiomatic Truth by the Yoga and the Vedanta long ago, and has since been validated by the Quantum Physics.

Nostrodamus, Edgar Cayce and Ramanuja

Both Nostrodamus and Edgar Cayce are believed to have foreseen the future and quite a few of their predictions are believed to have come true. They were neither soothsayers, nor astrologers, but the persons who claimed to have possessed extra-ordinary power to see the past and the future while in trance. Edgar Cayce lived in the 20th century America and is credited with curing several thousand incurable patients by prescribing medicines unheard of. It is on record that Cayced prescribed a medicine for a female member of the family of Rothschild who happened to be one of the richest Americans. As the medicine’s name was unheard of, Rothschild advertised in newspapers whereupon a Swedish gentleman responded saying that his father took a patent of that medicine but never manufactured the same and he was no more. Nevertheless, he supplied the formula of the medicine to Rothschild and the latter got it produced through hired chemists. When the medicine was administered to the patient, she was completely cured. It is said that Cayce could not explain how he could suggest the medication or could see the future. But as per his version, all those things materialized before his eyes. There is a strong possibility that the Third Eye got activated in the case of Cayce as also Nostrodamus which enabled them to see the things that were ordinarily not visible to naked eyes.

In the case of Ramanuja who could not pass his Matriculation examination, he was credited with solving most difficult mathematical problems instantaneously, which phenomenon astounded mathematical giants like Professor Hardy of Cambridge University. It is said that when Ramanuja was on his death bed owing to Tuberculosis, Professor Hardy came to Madras Hospital to see him. From his hospital bed, Ramanuja saw the number plate of his car, and told Hardy that the number of his car was unique for four aspects. After Ramanuja’s death, Hardy struggled to find out those four aspects. Before his death, he could discover only three aspects and he willed his property to researchers for discovering the fourth aspect. Eventually the fourth aspect could be discovered after 22 years of research. Now the question is, how could Ramanuja, who had no formal training in Mathematics, solve the hardest mathematical problem almost in no time. It is said that Ramanuja had no explanation to offer except that the solution materialzed in his vision which he could see and reveal. This may be yet another example where the Third Eye was got activated.

Yoga technique of opening the Third Eye

 The Yoga that deals with the technique of opening the Third Eye is known as Shiva-yoga. As has been stated above, the Third Eye as a gate to the cosmic world enables our consciousness to transcend the barrier of three dimension and access higher dimensions beyond this phenomenal world of matter. Shiva Yoga takes us to a higher dimension from where we can find the unity, inter-connectivity and integrity of souls as all souls have emanated from the Shiva, the Absolute and the Ultimate Truth. Here, the Shiva is taken as indentical with Brahman, the Existence Absolute (Sat), the Consciousness Absolute (Chit) and the Bliss Absolute (Ananda).

The Shiva-yoga also teaches us how to transcend the symbol through the symbol. To elucidate it, we can meditate on the external Linga as Ishta (God as the focus of concentration) and the Linga within as Prana (the life force). Thus concentrating on an external symbol, one can go in trance and gradually lose external consciousness in the course of which the Linga-without gets merged into the Linga-within, till both slowly melt away into nothingness or the wholeness, that pervades inner consciousness.

The prevalent practice to awaken the Third Eye, however, is to concentrate on the Third Eye location, in-between the eyebrows on the forehead, for meditation. It is customary to apply sandal paste in form of Tilak or Tika on the Third Eye location, as sandal paste is believed to have a smoothing effect on the hidden eye.

The Third Eye in non-Hindu traditions

Apart from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, the Third Eye concept was known and practised in other traditions such as Chinese, Christian, Theosophist and the Sufi. Taoist and Chan schools of China were not only aware of the Third Eye phenomenon but they both followed elaborate training to awaken the Third Eye or the Mind’s Eye, held as one of the main energy centres. Incidentally, the word ‘Chan’ is a derivative of the sanskrit word ‘Dhyan’ or meditation, and the Japanese word ‘Zen’ is a derivative of the Chinese ‘Chan’. Thus it is no wonder that the Chan school of thought, and similarly the Zen school as well, were well conversant with the Buddhist method of meditation where the focus was on the Third Eye point. According to Taoist Alchemical tradition, the Third Eye is also known as ‘muddy pellet’.

According to the mystic tradition of Christianity, represented by mystics such as Father Richard Rohr, the Third Eye concept is intricately connected with non-dualistic thought. As per this tradition, the Third Eye has the mind of Christ. According to the neo-gnostics like Samael Aun Weor, the Book of Revelation metaphorically mentioned the Third Eye in several places. Like the Third Eye in Hindu tradition happens to be the sixth of the seven Chakras, the gnostic tradition equates the Third Eye with the sixth of the seven churches of Asia, viz. the church of Philadelphia.

The Third Eye phenomenon was well known in Sufi system as well. Sufi philosophy is essentially dualistic, love being its essence. Its tradition of meditation is founded on the holistic, non-dualistic principle of the Divine. Like in Hinduism, in Sufi tradition also human body is divided into a number of spiritual centres, which are called ‘lataif’. Each spiritual centre in a body is associated with a particular colour. The purpose of meditation is to open and activate these spiritual centres, the Third Eye being one of the spiritual centres.

Madam Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophist Society, has identified the Third Eye with the Pineal gland, which is a tiny organ, about 1 cm in length and shaped like a pine cone. It is located between the two hemispheres of the brain. C.W. Leadbeater, a renowned theosophist, has explained that the Third Eye, when awakened, enables one to have a microscopic vision when tiniest objects like quarks become visible to us. It also helps us with macroscopic view of the universe.


Concluding remarks

Our analytical finding on the contentious issue whether the Linga combined with the Yoni are phallic symbols as the western Indologists are generally inclined to believe, or it is the miniature form of the Vedic Skambha or pillar representing Brahman as is convincingly held by the vast majority of Indian scholars, tilts, no doubt, in favour of the latter, based not only on the Vedic and the puranic texts but also on the belief of worshippers.

In the first place, the Linga is understood by worshippers as inclusive of the Yoni. Second, no worshipper of the Linga looks upon the Linga and the Yoni as sex symbols. On the contrary, they look upon it as holy representation of the Divine, the Shiva. It is also customary to keep fast and to purify one’s thoughts before worshipping the Linga. The god of sex and love in Hindu mythology is Kama Deva and Rati and not the Shiva and Parvati. As the story goes, it is the shiva whose anger burnt the Kama Deva into ashes when the latter tried to arouse sex desire in the shiva to break his meditation. Thus the ascetic Shiva is looked upon traditionally as a detached Maha Yogi, while his consort Parvati is held as representing Shakti or the energy. Neither of them had anything to do with lust or materialistic desire. Third, the plain meaning of the word Linga is mark or symbol and not phallus. The sanskrit word for phallus is Shishna. Fourth, the description of the Shiva as the Formless, Infinite, above all qualifications, without beginning or end etc. in the Linga Purana and the Shiva Purana make it amply clear that the Shiva is held as the Brahman or Sat-Chid-Ananda in both Alinga (formless) and Linga form (in symbolic form). Lastly, the Skambha Shukta in the Atharva Veda and its reference in the Linga Purana establish a strong link between the Vedic Skambha and the Puranic Linga.

As for the concept of the Third Eye, it is traditionally associated with the Shiva, referred in the ancient texts as the inventor and the preceptor of the Yoga. Our findings based on the Yoga and recorded experiences of revered spiritual leaders as also of some extra ordinary individuals, is that the Third Eye is not a fiction or chimera. It is the key to extra sensory perception (ESP) that lies within us, and can be activated by Yogic processes through meditation. The person whose Third Eye is fully awakened can access the cosmic world at both microscopic as also macroscopic levels. The past, present and the future events surface before such person and the mysteries of the cosmic world get unfolded.

Our study reveals that the mystery of the Third Eye was known not only to Hindu Yogis and Buddhist monks in India, but also to Taoists, Chan and Zen practitioners, Christian and Sufi saints and mystics as also to Theosophists and advanced spiritualists of other faiths as well.

From the example of Ramanuja and Edgar Cayce who were not yogis or monks, but commoners, it would appear that the Third Eye could effortlessly open in an individual without any austerity or elaborate practice overtly undertaken. Those who subscribe to the theory of re-incarnation like the Hindus and the Buddhists, explain such phenomenon with reference to the past life austerity and penances undertaken by those individuals. For those who do not subscribe to the theory of re-birth, there is no plausible explanation for the activation of the Third Eye in a non-practitioner like them.

It is, however, a fact that extra sensory perception is a subject of serious research among scientists, particularly neuro biologists, who do not dismiss such phenomenon as unreal or improbable. Yoga, which was earlier looked upon as esoteric or mystical is now getting recognition from the community of scientists after the effects of the Yoga have been recorded, experimented and experienced. The activation of the Third Eye is, however, a subject of advanced Yoga and is yet to pass the scrutiny of experimental science, despite the instances of Ramanuja and Edgar Cayce. Such experimentation is difficult owing to the fact that an advanced Yogi whose Third Eye has awakened will rarely submit himself to scientific study or researches. Nevertheless, the gap between the experimental science and the empirical science, between the science of matter and the science of mind and consciousness, between physics and neuro science, is getting bridged by the day. The day may not be far off when the mystery of the Third Eye gets unravelled to us with scientific evidence and explanation.






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                                                    DIVINE GRACE OR COINCIDENCE !                                              (Interactive session on 7.3.2015)

Keynote address by Mr. D. P. Dash

(Other participant speakers: Dr. Kalyan Chakravarty, Dr. Kushal Shah, Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Mr. N.N. Sarkar, Mr. A.K. Sengupta, Dr. Suhas Majumdar, Ms. Anjoo Chowdhury, Dr. S. K. Gangul & Ms.Nipa Das)

[Devotional song by Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta]

Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha  


Granted that there is God, and He is Omni-present, Omni-scient and Omni-potent or Sat (Existence Absolute), Chit (Consciousness Absolute) and Ananda (Bliss Absolute), as the case may be, the question is whether He is selectively, uniformly or at all graceful.

Before one addresses the above poser, one has to define the word ‘grace’. In Divine perspective, the meaning of the word ‘grace’, as per Oxford Dictionary, is ‘the free and unearned favour of God’. Thus when we accept the above dictionary meaning of the words ‘Divine Grace’, we accept that God dispenses His grace to people unconditionally and irrespective of whether they have earned such grace or not. The underlying proposition is that such grace is not uniform or routinely dispensed as otherwise the word ‘grace’ would no longer be counted as favour.

A question may arise whether the word ‘favour’ implies bias which is a pejorative term. However, those who believe in God, believe in Divine Justice, and from this point of view, God’s favour is to be understood as meant for the ones who deserve it, according to God’s judgment.

The most critical question is how do we make out an event or incident as Divine Grace, and not just a coincidence? While it is not uncommon for a Yogi or a spiritually advanced soul to prceive and envision Divine Grace as also to distinguish It from what we call coincidence, for a commoner this distinction is often blurred and confused.

The thrust of our keynote speaker’s talk today is the Divine Grace that he has experienced time and again, and is unable to explain away as mere coincidence.


Divine grace is commonly understood as an act of kindness showered by God on a sinner or a person who does not deserve it. But in fact, human life itself is a product of divine grace, flowing incessantly. The problem is, we do not know about it and treat only a few special miraculous incidences of life as divine grace. Then there are some who do not treat anything as divine grace and call them as mere coincidences in life. The fact is that without divine grace there is no life. Even in death or suffering there is grace. It is a matter of faith, belief and trust; it is a matter of individual conviction and decision, whether to accept it as an act of divine grace or a simple occurrence of an incident.

When a person sleeping in his house near Patna airport is killed by a plane crashing into his house or when a python that escapes from its enclosure, enters through the air-conditioning duct into a house on the top floor of an apartment in the US and devours a child sleeping in her bedroom, you do not call it coincidence. There is something which is beyond what our eyes can see, the ears can hear and the brain can reason out. Accepting the phenomena of divine grace is not being superstitious or unscientific in one’s approach to life. In fact in its acceptance one gets an assurance of eternal peace – a state of paramanand.   Divine grace does not mean one will conquer death and always lead a happy, healthy and wealthy life. Then what does it really mean? In fact, true divine grace is the supreme realization of the dynamics of life, and its meaning – a life that is full of love, and service; where there is pleasure in giving to others.

Speaker’s personal anecdotes – atheistic childhood & youth

I was born to a Hindu Brahmin family and unknowingly called myself a Hindu. I routinely followed the rituals of a Hindu, without understanding their meaning. By the time I began to question all these, I was already embraced by the so-called sacred thread through a ritualistic function called bratopanayan.   However, as days passed by, there was one incident that brought about a major change in my life. The death of a close friend of mine made me an atheist. I considered him nobler than the Mahatma, as he always tried to help the poor and needy. I failed to understand why God was so unkind and took him so early. In this kaliyug, there was certainly a greater need of such noble souls, who spread the message of love and help, wherever they went. I got angry and dared to challenge the existence of the God.

As life moved on, I became aware of the strength of my muscles, the power of my brain and the utility of my intellect. Success was my own and failure was lack of adequate preparation, there was nothing divine about anything including the special feats that brought laurels to me. I lived in my own glory. The youthful ego took over and controlled my life; I removed the sacred thread, which was no more sacred to me, stopped going to temples and even if I went, I hardly believed in those stone statues as the creator, preserver and destroyer of life – The Trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwar. I asked to myself, ‘Can these small stones, decorated in colourful dresses and crowns, really manage the Universe from the precincts of these small temples? ’ Promptly came the answer – obviously in the negative. I started believing that the very purpose of the creation of the God is to opiate the masses with a blind belief to follow a treaded path, not to deviate, and not to question. The life of a religious person, according to me, was predestined and everything in his life was the handiwork of the God or guru. I felt it made people lose their scientific temper and creativity and killed their energy.

During this phase of atheism, I also tried to test the limit up to which my atheism could stretch, but could not get myself to spit on God’s image or stamp it with my feet. I realized, that God and Godliness was still within me, it had not died.   As I meandered through the lanes and by-lanes of my life, another death confronted me head on. It was the death of my beloved father, who was a friend, philosopher and guide to me. I could not accept the metamorphosis of this man, made of flesh and blood, into a photograph, hung on the walls of the very house he had built to live in. I passed through a vacuous state and felt suffocated breathing the air of nothingness. I could not hear the sound of the soul. It was beyond me to comprehend the mystery of death. I was scared of losing, bewildered with the happenings around me. Suddenly, I felt my muscles melting away, the balloon of my intellect, energy and my bloated ego all collapsing in midair.   I fell but slowly got up to walk again.

As days passed by, I tried to rationalize things and accepted the changes in life as natural occurrences. There were no miracles though and everything had a causative explanation. There was no grace of anybody, divine or otherwise. Life was simply a journey on a highway and the little incidents, both good and bad, passed by as milestones of coincidental occurrences.   In crisis, I turned to the Gods in their million avatars, beseeched Him or rather Them to be kind to me and forgive me for the wrongdoings. But as the cloud passed over, I smelt the freshness of wet soil, forgot the gracious help which He had so kindly rendered to me and took it as a mere coincidence in the journey of life.  


Finally, a time came in my life, which opened my eyes. After getting opportunities to travel around the world, representing the country, the Commonwealth of Nations and the UN Security Council, I suddenly got a big jolt in my life. The light of my eyes threatened to switch off. I got terrified, the black clouds reappeared again. I was literally forced by my boss to go and meet a saint, whom I hardly knew. But reluctantly, I went there, during the waiting period I harboured all kinds of doubts about the saint but soon all that disappeared when my eyes met his and I felt an electric current passing through my body. He raised his hand to bless me from a distance; I got greedier and prayed for a closer darshan. As if he heard my whispering wish, he came to me and blessed me again with a smile on his lips. I felt blessed as I was the only one among thousands of devotees who got this special treatment. It was this divine grace through which I continue to see this beautiful World for the past six years. It helped me connect the hazy dots of my yesteryears.

In yet another instance, the biopsy report of a close acquaintance of mine was positive for cancer and the doctor had advised against surgery. On hearing this, a friend of mine advised me to perform Maha Mrutyunjay puja at the Divine Life Society’s Ashram in Rishikesh. The day the puja started, the treating surgeon suggested to go for the surgery. It was a very risky surgery, a rare one in India. The five-hour long surgery went off well and the patient’s biopsy report showed negative for cancer. God touched me with His soft hands.

A few years later, I had forgotten this grace and had suspected the initial biopsy report to be wrong. But in retrospect I realised the grace to be truly magical and not a coincidence.

On yet another occasion another close acquaintance of mine suffered from a serious ailment and lost his vision. His relative was told about an incident by his colleague. His colleague’s brother had suffered a brain stroke and was paralysed. He took him to Puttaparthi in a stretcher to seek blessings from Sai Baba. On seeing him, Baba called him towards him but since he could hardly move his body, he gave a blank look to Baba. But still Baba asked him to stand up and go towards him. The person stood up and went forward and got his blessings. Remembering this incident, this person prayed to Baba and next day his relative could get back his vision.

In another case, a close acquaintance became very sick and bedridden. The biopsy report came positive for cancer. This time, instead of conducting puja at Rishikesh, I decided to offer my prayers. Weeks of prayers were answered and he became all right again. I decided to stop testing God and stopped forgetting the miracles as coincidences. I thought enough was enough. God does not need to create miracles to convince me. I need to change my attitude towards Him.

Autobiography of a Yogi – the game changer

I was given a copy of ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by a friend of mine some thirty years ago. I remember having flipped through a few pages of the book before discarding the book as a chronicle of imaginary visions. But after thirty years, I was gifted the same book by a colleague of mine. This time, I read it cover to cover and surprisingly started believing every story narrated by the author. It was a game changer for me and I advised every person to read this book. A relative of mine was given this book but he did not read this. One day his costly mobile phone fell into water, and stopped working. Helpless and desperately thinking of all the important data stored in the phone, his eyes fell on the book nearby and was mesmerized by the captivating eyes of Yoganandji. He silently sent a prayer to Yoganandji that if he showed him his powers and his mobile would be all right then he would read the book from cover to cover. He had not disclosed this to anybody. After a few days, I was given the task of getting the same mobile phone repaired. I got it done and it started working. When I returned the mobile in working condition to him, I also gave him a copy of the book to read. He had goose bumps all over his body – Yoganandji had won. He could no longer take this as a coincidence and read the book from cover to cover, as promised. I heard about this much later.

Mother’s experience

In another incident, my mother, who is very old and ailing, wanted to see Lord Jagannath in Puri. It was very difficult for her to climb the 22 steps of the temple leading to the sanctum sanctorum. While my sister was standing beside her, thinking how to take her inside during the heavy rush of devotees, who had almost choked the entrance, suddenly from nowhere appeared a dark complexioned boy of weak physique, who took my mother’s hands and took her inside the temple. Mother, who could barely stand, almost ran with him and returned after a good darshan. It was not the case of a priest doing this job for money as the boy disappeared within minutes of leaving her in the safe hands of my sister. You may call this coincidence or divine grace. But many years later, my mother again desired to see Lord Jagannath during his boat ride, called ‘Chapa Khela’, in the holy temple pond in Puri. All the roads leading to the pond were blocked by the traffic police and our car was not allowed to move. We were stranded and felt bad that mother could not see the boat ride. Suddenly, the palanquin carrying the idols of the God appeared on the road, approached towards our car and stopped next to the window of the car, where my mother was sitting. She had her eyes full of divine tears, with the reflection of God’s grace. Want to call this coincidence? Choice is yours and grace is hers!

Need for self-tuning to receive God’s grace

Divine grace is showered on all, all the time. One has to open one’s eyes to see it, open one’s heart to feel it. One has to tune one’s body, mind and soul to feel the grace. Once I was given an explanation about the existence of God by a Vedic scholar from Chennai. Answering my question which doubted the impossibility of the omnipresent God, he said that when the newsreader of BBC, sitting in the studio in London could be seen and heard by all in every house, in every corner of the world, why can’t God be seen and heard everywhere. As a TV set requires to be tuned to capture the image and sound from the air of the room, the body, mind and soul of a person should be perfectly tuned to feel the presence of God and receive His grace.

There are many instances of miracles narrated by Paramhansa Yoganand in his book, “Autobiography of a Yogi’. He has narrated how Babaji had materialized a palace for Lahiri Mahasaya in 1861 in Ranikhet and how Swami Pranabananda surprised Yoganandji with his clairvoyance and appeared in two bodies. Resurrection of Swami Yukteswara before Yoganandji after his mahasamadhi may not surprise those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yoganandji has mentioned about the story of Leo Tolstoy, ‘’The Three Hermits’’ in which the three Hermits used to show miracles by just saying a simple prayer, ‘We are three; Thou art Three – have mercy on us’. These Hermits walked on water and performed many miracles. Paul Brunton in his book, “A Search in Secret India’ has also mentioned many such miracles witnessed by him during his visit to India, including the appearance of Shankaracharya before him in his room. Sri M’s book, “Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master: A Yogi’s Autobiography’ has stories of many such miracles. Unlike other saints, Sri M is in India, available to the seekers of truth.

We may dismiss their stories as unrealistic, hallucinations, mental illness or explain them with scientific reasoning. But from my experience, I am convinced that these miracles are possible and keep happening every moment, every day, and everywhere. We need to completely surrender to the divine power like Draupadi did and then we can see similar lights of the three Hermits that followed the local Bishop.   It is up to a person to call Him God or energy or divine power or by any other name. One need not go to the temple to pray to God, one can feel God by looking within. God is everywhere and inside every person. As we breathe in and out, we get connected to the divine energy. God and we are one and connected intimately. Look within yourself. Make a beginning by listing out all the wrongs you have committed in this life. All the sufferings in our present life should not be attributed to the wrong deeds of one’s past life, about which one pretends to be unaware. There are enough wrongdoings committed in this life and one should be prepared to accept it, get the courage to confess before others and seek the forgiveness of the person who was at the receiving end of your wrongdoing. Make a beginning and you will start feeling better. From the stage of fear and suffering, one will move to the next phase of anand and from there the ultimate phase of paramanand. It is through, introspection, faith, belief and complete surrender that we can realize the divine grace which is Life.    


The question raised by the speaker as to how do we make a distinction between Divine Grace and coincidence needs to be addressed carefully and critically. We find substance in the contention that our belief in Divine Grace may make us over-dependent on such supernatural phenomenon, instead of making us self-reliant, striving to resolve our own problems.   It is not denied that the sages and the spiritual Masters of yesteryears and present time might have acquired supernatural power through their Yogic practices and austerities which cannot yet be explained in scientific terms as modern science is primarlily focussed on the phenomenal world and not on consciousness. Viewed as supernatural, Divine Grace remains undefined as a spiritual phenomenon and hence, a matter of subjective perception and speculation. A sceptic mind is, therefore, at liberty to explain away any inexplicable phenomenon as nothing but coincidence.

Is there any proof of Divine Grace?

We have no hesitation in accepting that our individual consciousness ought to be sourced to cosmic consciousness or Super-consciousness as it cannot sprout from nothing. That cosmic or super-consciousness being a reality is perceived as God or Divine. Since individual consciousness is logically sourced to cosmic consciousness, there must be a connection between our consciousness with its source which we call Divinity or God. To stretch this link a little farther, the attributes of our sense organs such as eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin are sourced to our consciousness as without it, those attributes become non est. Thus it would stand to logic to find a remote connection between our sense organs at one end and the cosmic consciousness through our individual consciousness, at the other end. Hence it is not unlikely, even without scientific validation, that the grace of the Super-conscious or God may come down to us through the channel of individual consciousness.

As to the question why God should do so selectively, we have no answer. A plausible explanation for that is that a person whose consciousness is attuned to its source is a possible recipient of God’s grace.   A question may arise whether by positing that a mind in tune with its source, viz. God, is a better candidate to receive God’s grace, are we not suggesting that God is biased toward those who are in touch with God and is indifferent to the rest? A possible explanation for that is, only those whose channel of consciousness is unfettered to receive God’s grace are capable of receiving the same, even though Divine Grace is avilable to one and all. This would also pre-suppose that one should endeavour toward self-awakening so as to render one’s channel of consciousness free of obstacles to receive God’s grace directly, rather than looking for external help or aid.

This would bring us to the last puzzle: whether man is created by God, or God has evolved into man. The former proposition perceives a duality by distinguishing man from God, while the latter postulates non-duality as the ultimate reality. In the former case, Divine Grace is pertinent as there is the Dispenser and there is a recipient of the grace, while in the latter case, such concept is unreal as the Dispenser and the recipient are one and the same in reality. However, from a phenomenal perspective of our three dimensional existence, Divine Grace appears to be a reality. Only those whose consciousness has transcended the dimensional barrier of self-consciousness and has merged into the Source-consciousness, realize identity with God. But then that is a different subject altogether. In an ultimate analysis, whether an individual is a recipient of Divine Grace, or the relief in question is just a coincidence, is a matter of perception depending on his level of understanding. In olden days, natural phenomena such as rain, good harvest etc. were ascribed to Divine Grace, owing primarily to our ignorance. With advancement of science, we now know the reasons why such things happen. In the near future, with advancement of our knowledge in spiritual science, we may find a better explanation for the inexplicable phenomena called ‘Divine Grace’ and will perhaps be in a position to clearly distinguish it from natural phenomena, called coincidence. Till then, our search for Truth must continue.

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                                                                       TRUTH IS LOVE

                                            (In the light of Christ’s philosophy)

                                                 (Interactive session on 21.2.2015)

Keynote address by Ms. Meriel Michael

(Other participant speakers: Mr. Jyotirmoy Bhattacharya, Dr. Santosh Ganguly,                     Mr. Arun Sahu, Mr. Ramesh Chanda, Mr. P.C. Jha, Mr. Ranjit Ghosh & Mr. R. K.                   Gupta)

[Devotional song by Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta]

Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha



Truth in philosophical parlance denotes a thing, concept or existence that is non-transient, immutable and ever-lasting, or in other words, a permanent reality. Since God is the only existence that is believed to be permenent and non-transient, Truth is held as synonymous with God. Now, going by the caption of our topic, the question is whether God can be equated with love.

Theists firmly believe that God has created this universe which inter alia includes human beings. Since it is but natural that one would love one’s creation, the proposition that God loves all would stand to logic. However, following rider or caveat is often introduced by pedantists that God loves all those who listen to God’s command and do what God wishes. Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace as they flouted God’s command by tasting forbidden fruit. Some pedantists, however, subscribe to the view that irrespective of the sin committed by Adam and Eve, God continued to love them. It is also propagated by priests and philosophers that the ultimate purpose of life is to love God. Thus we have following two propositions before us: God loves all, and we must love god.

The caption of our topic, however, goes beyond the above two propositions. If God is love, can we say that we love / worship God by loving someone, some community, or for that matter, all beings. Or the word ‘love’ should be strictly restricted to God only and not to any lesser beings, thereby making a distinction between God, the Creator and His creation so far as dispensation of love is concerned. Obviously, in the above context, the meaning of the word ‘love’ needs to be explored.

Since our topic has a reference to Christ’s philosophy, let us first dwell upon Jesus and his thoughts relating to God and love, before we deal with the question whether Truth can be equated with love.

Does God exist?

Is there a creator? The scientists are the ones who delve into nature and can answer such questions. In the words of Francis S. Collins, Director of the National Genome Research Institute, “The scientific method can really only answer questions about HOW things work. It can’t answer questions about WHY – and those are in fact the most important ones. Why is there something instead of nothing? Why does mathematics work so beautifully to describe nature? Why is the universe so precisely tuned to make life possible? Why do we humans have a universal sense of right and wrong, and an urge to do right – even though we disagree on how to interpret that calling?”

“Confronted with these revelations, one may reasonably infer that the proposition that faith is the opposite of reason — is incorrect. Scripture defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Evidence! Theists argue, not unreasonably, that atheism is, in fact, the least rational of all choices. As Chesterton wrote, “Atheism is indeed the most daring of all dogmas … for it is the assertion of a universal negative.” How could we have had the arrogance to make such an assertion? It will be more rational to accept the plausibility of a powerful force, a creative Mind,  that exists outside of Nature.”

The following observation of Stephen Hawking, though known by now to be a sceptic, if not an atheist, published in The Times, 6th September, 1993, is pertinent to the core issue: does God exist?

‘If the density of the Universe one second after the Big Bang had been greater by one part in a thousand billion, the Universe would have re-collapsed after ten years. On the other hand, if the density of the the Universe at that time had been less by the same amount, the Universe would have been essentially empty since it was about ten years old. How was it that the initial density of the universe was chosen so carefully? May be there’s some reason why the universe should have precisely the critical density.’

Dr. John Polkinghorne, a well-known quantum physicist and former President of Queen’s College, Cambridge, is apparently stuck by the astounding configuration of energy and matters to bring in existence the universes and lives. In his words:

“In the early expansion of the universe there has to be a close balance between the expansive energy (driving things apart) and the force of gravity (pulling things together). If expansion dominated then matter would fly apart too rapidly for condensation into galaxies and stars to take place. Nothing interesting could happen in so thinly spread a world. On the other hand, if gravity dominated, the world would collapse in on itself again before there was time for the processes of life to get going. For us to be possible requires a balance between the effects of expansion and contraction which at a very early epoch in the universe’s history (the Planck time) has to differ from equality by not more than 1 in 1060. The numerate will marvel at such a degree of accuracy. For the non-numerate I will borrow an illustration from Paul Davis of what that accuracy means. He points out that it is the same as aiming at a target an inch wide on the other side of the observable universe, twenty thousand million light years away and hitting the mark!”

From the above citations, one may find it logical to infer that the orderly, well designed and accurately crafted laws of nature leading to the formation of the universes and lives have an underlying purpose, obviously of the creator who is called God. Let us now take our discussion to the next level – the purpose of the creation.

Does creation and life have a purpose?


Why am I here and what is life for?  what is my purpose in life? Am I of any value? Those are the refrains of a questioning mind.

To put it clearly, do I have time to discover why I was born before I die? Why do I have to know this answer? Because I am unable to believe creation was only an accident, and if it wasn’t one, it must have some meaning.   Is there any meaning in my life that will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death which awaits me? All these fundamental questions are answered by Jesus.

Given a Creator, I believe that  there has been an intelligent purpose to the entire creation. What is that purpose? Christians know that all humans were created to live in a loving relationship with God. He did not need us, but we need Him. Without the relationship with God there will always be a hunger, an emptiness, a feeling that something is missing.

Sometime people say that it does not matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.  But it is possible to be sincerely wrong. Adolf Hitler believed he was right and killed millions of people, as did Pol Pot in Cambodia. One’s belief affects one’s behaviour. Thus it matters a great deal what we believe, because that dictates how we shall live.

Jesus said “ I am the way, the TRUTH and the life. He who believes in Me shall not perish, but have everlasting life”

The proof that Jesus existed?

Jesus was a historical person. There are contemporary writings which mentioned Him. The Jewish historian Josephus born in AD 35 mentions Jesus as a wise man and his followers  as coming from both Jews and Gentiles. Two Romans, Tacitus and Suetonius have mentioned him in their writings.

The second proof is the existence of documents mentioning Him. There exist actual copies of full manuscripts of the New Testament (which applies to the life of Jesus) from as early as AD 350. There is a fragment of the gospels carbon dated to around AD 125, papyri in existence from the 3rd century containing most of the New Testament.  We can compare the position of other historical works authored by scholars like Herodotus (428 BC), Thucydides (400 BC), Tacitus (100 AD), Julius Caesar’s Gallic wars (58-50 BC), Livy’s Roman History (59 BC – 17 AD) etc. with that of New Testament written in AD 40 – 100, the full manuscript of which was available in AD 300 – 350 only. It is important to note that the number of copies of those ancient works available at the material time or after about a few centuries did not exceed a few hundreds. Just as the historicity of the narratives of those ancient scholars or personalities is not in doubt, by the same logic historicity of the New Testament or its central character, viz. Jesus, cannot be in doubt.

From the above facts it is clear that He existed and that the Gospels on which our knowledge of Him is based are eyewitness accounts of his life.

Some people call Him a great teacher or a prophet but no more than that. His disciples and followers do not accept such categorisation. The Christian contention is that He was the Son of God and at the same time, fully human.

He had a human body (Matthew 4.2) He could be tired and hungry. He had emotions like anger, love and sadness. He experienced poverty, temptation work and obedience. All this proves that he was a genuine human being. How do we say that He is the Son of God, if not God?

His teaching centred on Himself. Some of the things he said about himself are incoceivable as coming forth from a person who does not have God-consciousness. He said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6.35); “I am the light of the world”( John 8.12); “I am the Resurrection and the life” (John 11,25) ;  “ I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14.6); ”To have seen me is to have seen God” (John 14.9) “Receive me, receive God” (Matthew 10.40),” Before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8.58). This statement refers to the Jewish idea that the creator was too great to be called by name, He was referred to as the Great “I AM”.  To any Jewish person of the time, it meant he was claiming to be God Himself.

He claimed to forgive sins—all sins against other people (Mark 2.5)  His followers insist that the only person who can forgive all sins is God. Jesus was either a liar, deluded or actually God when He said this.

He claimed to judge the world (Matt 25.31).

Further, He did many miracles for all people. His character was perfect. He conquered death.

What is the evidence of the resurrection? He was definitely dead when the soldiers took him down from the cross and even thrust a spear into his side from which flowed a clot and serum only seen in dead bodies.  The absence of His body from the tomb, is a further proof. It cannot be argued that he could have escaped death and come out of the tomb himself. The tomb was guarded around the clock by Roman soldiers. Neither the authorities nor the Jews would have had any reason to steal the body and create a problem for themselves. Some have suggested that the disciples stole the body. This is improbable as they were depressed and disillusioned at the time of the crucifixion, but soon after they became powerful preachers. When you consider how much they had to suffer for their beliefs, it is inconceivable that they would have gone through with it if they knew it to be untrue.  Over 500 people saw the risen Jesus at different times and different places. He cooked, ate with them  and touched them, all things not possible if he was a ghost or hallucination. Finally, the effect of his rising from the dead changed a handful of uneducated, poor fishermen and labourers, into powerful evangelists; and swept the whole known world in the next 300 years. This is a peaceful revolution that has no parallel in history.

In the Greek language, there is a concept of AGAPE, self sacrificing love that expects nothing in return. This is the love of God for humanity and all His creation.

Taking all the evidence seen above there is little doubt that Jesus existed, He was believed to be the Son of God, and by some followers, even as God himself, and He declared that He was the Truth. Also, his death in agony to save us, show that God is Love. Jesus came to earth to sacrifice himself as a lamb to the slaughter to free us from our guilt, our sins.

Love in Christian philosophy

\No human is perfect, we all are less than what we could be, our punishment is lifted because Jesus suffered and died in our place. Jesus came to reveal the truth about God’s intent in creating us.

You cannot say that it is fine for other people but it doesn’t apply to me. If Christ is the Truth it is applicable to all humans. If not, Christians are deluded people. It is not possible to hold Him as a great teacher and deny His Godhood or deny the things he taught.

When Christians say, in relation to their faith, that I know that Jesus is the Truth, it isn’t just an intellectual knowledge, it is a deep connection, a personal friendship, an emotional and soulful tie.

When Jesus was being questioned by Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, he was asked what he was.  In reply, Jesus said I was born and came into the world for one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth, listens to me. Pilate asked  “What is truth” (John 18 28- 38) when Jesus replied that He was the Truth, the Life and the Way.

People are made in the image of God and there is nobility about every human being. We are all loved.  God is truth and our purpose is to love him as He loves us. Jesus reveals the truth of God’s love and purpose in the world.

Why do we need Jesus and why are we the way we are? In the Bible, which is the inspired word of God, there is the story of the Garden of Eden where Man and Woman lived in perfect harmony with God and nature and talked to God daily. But because of their disobedience, both Truth and love of God were withdrawn and humans were banished. This act of our progenitors is what separated us from the love of God and is in our fundamental nature to yearn for return to the presence of God.

The truth of God is called the Holy Spirit, and it is only by the intervention of this part of God which allows us to have faith.  A Christian can only witness to the good news to others. It is not possible to force or induce someone to believe in Christ, any attempt to do so is a mere sham. To be a Christian means to have a personal relationship with God, and to believe that He is the Truth and that He is love. To love God with all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself are two cardinal messages of the New Testament which were in conformity with the commandment of the Jewish Torah. The Christian apostles delineated the above concept of love in various ways. In the words of Apostle John: “Let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4: 7-8, NIV). According to Saint Augustine, God is the only one who can love you truly and fully. Love between humans is flawed with jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger and contention. To love God is “to attain the peace which is yours” (refer St. Augustine’s confessions).

Love in non-christian traditions


Judaism that preceded Chritianity and belonged to the same Abrahamic tradition uses the word ‘Ahava’ to connote love between the humans as also between humans and God. The commandment “Love your neighbour as yourself” was incorporated in the Tohra (Leviticus 19:18) long before Jesus said it. The Tohra also included the commandment: “Love God with all your heart, soul and might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). The ‘Song of Solomon’ in fact goes beyond the metaphoric love between God and His chosen people and stands out for its romantic character.

Hinduism made a distinction between ‘Kama’ or sexual love and ‘Prema’ or non-sexual mental attachment. ‘Bhakti’ or devotion to God has been distinguished from ‘Prema’, even though the concept of ‘Bhagavat Prem’ or Divine Love is prevalent in Hinduism. Love for God has been classified into several forms such as ‘Dashya’ (Master-servant relationship), ‘Sakhya’ (friendly relationship), ‘Vatsalya’ (father-son or mother-child relationship) and ‘Madhur’ (blissful union with God).

Buddhism, like Hinduism, made a clear distinction between ‘Kama’ or sexual love and ‘Advesa’ or ‘Metta’ which implied benevolent and unconditional love. Buddhist concept of ‘Karuna’ or compassion is founded on this benevolent and unconditional love for self-seeking humanity.

The Greeks used following five words for love of different sorts: ‘Philia’ (dispassionate, virtuous love), ‘Eros’ (passionate love), ‘Agape’ (pure, ideal love), ‘Storge’ (natural love such as paternal/maternal or fraternal love) and ‘Xenia’ (friendly love like the one between the host and his guests). The words ‘Agape’ and ‘Philia’ have been used in contemporary Christian writings while other three words viz. ‘Eros’, ‘Storge’ and ‘Xenia’ are found to be missing.

The Chinese concept of love was influenced by the Confucian tradition that used the word ‘Ren’ for love in the sense of being benevolent love focusing on action, like the action of a parent to his or her child and vice versa, loyalty to the king, etc. In the 4th century BC, the Chinese philosopher Mozi developed the concept of ‘Ai’ in the sense of universal and unconditional love not bound within any relationship, in reaction to the Confucian concept of benevolent love. Later the Chinese Buddhists interpreted the term ‘Ai’ both as passionate love driven as also selfless love.

The Persians used the word ‘eshgh’ (most likely derived from the Arabic word ‘Ishq’) for love. In the hands of Rumi, Hafiz and Sa’di, the word ‘eshgh’ took passionate form to begin with and later was used in the sense of Divine Love as well.

In Islam, God or Allah is described in the Quran as ‘Ar-Rahman’ and ‘Ar-Rahim’ meaning the ‘Most Compassionate’ and the ‘Most Meciful’, and full of love. The word ‘Birr’ is used in the Quran to mean love and kindness that children must show to their parents. In the hands of Sufi saints, the word ‘Ishq’ took the form of Divine Love. Sufism as a sect of Islam developed into the Religion of Love.

The Turkish word for love is ‘Ask’ and the state of beiing in love is ‘Asik’ which is used in romantic sense only.

In modern time, writers and poets have romanticized the concept of love in a secular sense, emphasizing inter-personal or to be more precise, man-woman relationship, rather than Divine Love. The following lines from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 are a case in point:

“Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom,

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

Tagore, however, romanticized love between man and God and took it to a new level when he wrote:

“Thou have come down

As Thy joy is upon me.

If I were not,

O the Lord of the Three worlds,

Thy love would have been meaningless”.

(Free translation)




The question that we posed in the Introduction was whether Truth or God could be equated with love. That God is all love is the standard refrain of Saints and sages of all ages. At the same time, we have also been warned from the time immemorial that if we defy God or commit sin we will be punished by God and consequently will be deprived of His love. We have also been told by those wise persons that the prime objective in our life is to love God. The question may arise how do we love someone we do not know and cannot see with our naked eye, merely in the belief that He exists, He has created us, and He loves us unconditionally. Undoubtedly, the love that does not arise spontaneously is a strained, forced and artifical love. But that is besides the point as the question confronting us is whether Truth is love. As we have already defined Truth as a phenomenon that is ever-lasting and non-transient, the question that falls for determination is whether love can be non-transient and ever-lasting in order to be equated with Truth. Without quibbling in sophistry, one can of course conclude that the emotion or feeling that is transient and not ever-lasting is not love. The contra proposition that since man himself is not ever-lasting, his love cannot also be ever-lasting is equally valid. However, our proposition is not that man is Truth. It is precisely the reason why Christian philosophers have held that inter-personal love cannot be Divine or the Truth as such love cannot be ever-lasting and unconditional. The Divine love is essentially what emanates from God and, therefore, Divine love is Truth.

The Vedanta, notably the Brihadaranyaka Upanishada, has gone to the root of the phenomenon called love, primarily to settle the issue whether love can be equted with Truth. Sage Yajnavalkya while explaining the mystery of love to his wife Maitreyee (ref. Chapter 2, Brahmana 4, Brihadaranyaka Upanishada) states that we love our relations, friends and aquaintances, not because of our present worldly relationship, but because we love the Soul that pervades the whole world. That soul is me, you and all of us. That soul gives us the sense of unity and draws us toward others. That soul is the root of our existence and also the root cause of our love for one another, which in reality is love for ourselves, sans any duality of existence. Only a man with Divine perception envisions this eternal Truth. And love is this eternal Truth.

If that all pervasive soul of the Upanishada is called Biblical God, the ever-lasting love as a phenomenon can be reasonably sourced to IT, thereby validating the proposition that Truth is Love.

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                                                (Interactive session on 14.11.2014)

Keynote address by Dr. Somik Raha

(Other participant speakers: Mr. Asim K. Banerjee, Mr. Paritosh                                  Bandopadhyay, Mr. R. K. Gupta, Mr. Sujit Chatterjee, Mr. S.R. Das & Mr. Gautam                            Kanjilal, Mr. Jyotirmay Bhattacharyya, Ms. Sikha Majumdar, Ms. Ratna                                  Chatterjee, Mr. A.K. Sengupta, Mr. Chayan Singha & Mr. Aditya Sen)

[Devotional song by Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta]

Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha



Ordinarily one may find it difficult to reconcile Decision analysis, an important tool of modern management, to spirituality. The difficulty in such reconciliation arises from the fact that spirituality belongs to higher domain of thought and realization while decision analysis belongs to secular domain of business management or administration. Therefore, the above two concepts are generally believed to be incompatible, if not antithetical to each other. It is also believed that in the course of spiritual journey, one has to look for guidance of a spiritual master in whom absolute faith needs to be reposed, while the very concept of decision analysis presupposes logical analysis of various alternatives before arriving at a decision. Belief or faith has no place in decision analysis.

In view of apparent contradiction between the above two conceptual propositions, it falls for determination whether it is possible to juxtapose spiritual journey with decision analysis. If the answer is in the affirmative, it also needs to be determined whether in order to attain siritual progress, one can afford to be questioning and analytical instead of surrendering to prevailing norms or to a spiritual master.

Before we address the above issue, let us first dwell upon the concept of spirituality and decision analysis.

What makes an action meritorious

The Emperor Wu looked at his strange visitor. A bearded monk with big bulging eyes stood in front of him. He had come all the way from India and was regarded as a great teacher of Buddhism. The Emperor, eager to get an affirmation of his divine merits, asked, “How much merit have I earned for my support of Buddhism?” He was a great patron and had done a lot of public service in the name of Buddhism. The monk replied bluntly, “None. Deeds that expect worldly return may bring good karma but produce no merit whatsoever.” Emperor Wu was shocked. He asked, “Then, what is the meaning of noble truth?” The monk replied, “There is no noble truth, only emptiness.” Now annoyed, the emperor thought he’d trap this monk in his own sophistry, and asked, “Then who is standing before me?” The monk replied, “I don’t know, your majesty,” and turned around and left. This monk was the great teacher, Bodhidharma, now regarded as the one who established Zen Buddhism, and this peculiar conversation makes us question our assumptions on service.

If action driven by the motivation / expectation of some return or impact, is not meritorious, then what is meritorious action?

To find an answer, we go to an unknown time and place where the monk Kaushika is having a profound conversation with a virtuous butcher. Kaushika has been asked to seek this butcher out and learn from him. He started by expressing regret that the butcher was engaged in such a sinful profession. The butcher replied,

I have been born into this profession and could not choose it due to my circumstances. However, I bring all the virtues of renunciation, self-control and love to my work. Even though the behavior of a profession may be bad, a person in that profession may still be of good behavior. So also a person may become virtuous, even though he is a slayer of animals by profession.

Kaushika further inquired, “How shall I know what is virtuous conduct?” The butcher replied, in essence, “That which takes you closer to knowing your true nature.”

While Bodhidharma’s conversation shows us that what outwardly seems like service may not be meritorious upon examination, the butcher’s conversation shows the opposite, where, what outwardly may appear to lack merit may in fact hold the possibility of deep and authentic service. The virtuous butcher has given us a wonderful test — is our work deepening our own understanding of what our true nature is? If so, that is virtuous work and the service performed is sacred service for us.

The butcher has shown us that work should not be judged from its external appearance alone, but also the attitude with which it is performed. The butcher’s perspective is unparalleled in the philosophy of work, and is echoed as the core message of the Bhagvad Gita, where Krishna is encouraging Arjuna to fight a gruesome battle in perhaps the most incredible decision analysis dialog that has ever been recorded. Is it possible to perform work that looks ugly on the exterior and yet practice the sagely virtues of renunciation and detachment? Krishna says yes, and exhorts Arjuna to fight like a yogi who displays such attributes.

Introduction to Decision Analysis

In this backdrop, we shall begin our introduction to Decision Analysis. This field was so named by Prof. Ronald Howard at Stanford University in the 60’s. In Indian Psychology, there are four major ways to experience oneself, namely, yoga (or union) with the Intellect (Gyana), Action (Karma), Psychology (Raja) and Devotion (Bhakti). Of these, Karma Yoga is considered to have a strong link with Bhakti, as we are told to serve others as though we are serving God. This link works well only if we are theists.

Decision Analysis, for the first time, offers a link between Karma and Gyana Yoga, where we can obtain freedom from our ego by using our intellect in the context of action. There is no need for a theistic belief. We shall also see how the mathematics of Decision Analysis may even be considered to be the mathematics of Karma Yoga. These are big claims, and we need to take a deeper dive to see whether we can support them.

Cardinal Principles – A decision cannot be judged from the outcome

The first cardinal principle of decision analysis is that a decision cannot be judged from the outcome. Krishna says the same thing to Arjuna, when he says, “You are competent only in action, and not in determining outcomes. Therefore, focus on the best action you can take; and do not be attached to inaction.” Understanding the difference between decisions and outcomes is critical. For example, driving sober is a good decision, while driving drunk is a bad decision. I could drive sober, making a good decision, and reach home safe, which is a good outcome. I could also crash, which would be a bad outcome, but my decision to drive sober would still be a good one. Similarly, if I drive drunk, that would be a bad decision. I could crash, which would be a bad outcome, but even if I reach home safe (good outcome), my decision would still be bad.

A lady who had been divorced used to say, “I made a bad decision and married this guy, and now I am divorced.” After studying decision analysis, she now says, “I made a good decision marrying this guy, and then I made a good decision divorcing him.” As decisions cannot be judged from outcomes, we will have to necessarily rely on the process we use to make our decisions to judge decision quality. As it turns out, it is possible to make good decisions every time.

Sunk-Cost Principle

The second cardinal principle of decision analysis is the sunk-cost principle, which says that the past matters for learning, not for accounting. The person who can change the past has not yet been born. Therefore, counting our past investments is a fruitless exercise. We must learn from the past, but should not be anchored to it. This wonderful principle of detachment finds its way into the mathematics of decision analysis where it is mathematically illegal to include past investments in calculations of future value.

The implications of applying this principle are that the following statements would all be logical fallacies:

  1. I have invested so much in my relationship with this person, so I don’t want to let it all go to waste.
  2. I have invested so much in my relationship with this person, and I don’t want to invest any more.
  3. We have spent so much money already on this project, so we must get it to the finish line.
  4. We have spent so much money already on this project, and even though we’ll double the money we put in now, counting everything we’ve spent so far, we’ll be at a loss. So, we won’t make the investment.

The only thing that matters when making a decision at the present time is our view looking forward, not backward.

Prof Howard on Decision Analysis

In a paper assessing 20 years of Decision Analysis in the 80’s, Prof. Howard noted two wonderful things. First, that the Buddha was a great example of a person who combined a cool head with a warm heart. A cool head protected him from sentimentality while a warm heart protected him from indifference. He, like Socrates, broke things into their constituent parts to understand their essence and then put them back together to arrive at clarity of action. Buddha was a great decision analyst, next only to Krishna (in point of time).

The second wonderful thing in that paper is that it talked about who needs Decision Analysis. People like the Buddha and Lao Tzu certainly didn’t, and that is because they were not confused. It is only when we are confused that Decision Analysis is valuable to us. In fact, classes in Decision Analysis begin with the statement, “If you are a monk who lives with the attitude that every outcome is the right outcome, then there is no decision to be made and you don’t need decision analysis. But if you believe in attaining outcomes, then we don’t know of a better way than decision analysis for you to think through it.”

Just the two cardinal principles of Decision Analysis bring a breath of freedom into our lives, and when practiced diligently, bring us closer to clarity, freedom and truth. Decision Analysis does not stop there. It proposes the six elements of decision quality to help us think through our decisions. The six elements are: Framing, Alternatives, Information, Values, Integration and Commitment to Action. Let’s look at each of these, from both cool head and warm heart perspectives.

Six elements of decision quality: 1) Framing

Cool Head: A frame should neither be so big that it feels like boiling an ocean, nor should it be so small that it makes no difference to anyone. It should be actionable. For example, a person thinking of asking another person out on a date might frame a decision as “Should I ask this person out?” This is not an actionable frame, for regardless of whether the answer is a “yes” or a “no,” the decision-maker still does not know what to do next. A much better question is, “Where and when should I ask this person out?” for the question of asking someone out is philosophical and not really a decision. If our mind has brought that question up, the answer is yes, of course, provided we live in societies where a single date does not imply a long-term commitment.

Warm Heart: A frame should be meaningful to us. A date might be one way to go, but if we were to ask what we are really after, perhaps it is to meet people of the same wavelength. If that’s the case, there might be other ways to discover such people. Perhaps by taking up projects that resonate with our values.

2) Alternatives

Cool Head: Alternatives should be as distinct and feasible as possible. It is not much of a choice to pick between feasible and infeasible alternatives. We, therefore, want to be in a situation where we have to pick between multiple feasible alternatives. The temptation here is attachment to a particular alternative. In our hurry, we can end up constructing poor quality strawman alternatives that we are not really interested in just so we can drive others to the one we like. This temptation must be avoided and time must be taken to construct multiple good pathways.

Warm Heart: Alternatives should be inspiring. They should be able to take us to a deeper level within us. For instance, if I were to ask my wife, “Do I look fat in this shirt?” and she wants to respond, “It’s not the shirt, it’s you. You look fat in whatever you wear because you are fat.” What are her alternatives? This is a situation where we might be tempted to tell a so-called white lie in order to make the other person feel good. But we if we have a commitment to the whole truth, perhaps we can step it up by creating a new alternative, where my wife might say, “Are you really interested in how fat you look, or are you asking me whether I love you? If it is the latter, then please know that I do. Now, are you still interested in knowing about how fat you look?” By going a level deeper into the real question that wasn’t asked, my wife has just deepened our relationship. We always have the alternative of changing the question we’ve been asked.

3) Information

Cool Head: Is the information we seek material, that is, is it going to change our decision? If not, it is a waste of time collecting it. For instance, if you were asked to do a painful medical test, you would do well to ask your doctor, “Will the results of this test change your treatment decision one way or the other?” If the doctor says, “no, the treatment will be the same,” then the information produced by such a test has zero value. This unfortunately does happen in real life. A student once told me that his son was diagnosed with H1N1 and the doctor wanted to do a bunch of painful tests. As the student had learned Decision Analysis, he asked the doctor if the therapy would change. The doctor said no! The student refused the test, but unfortunately, due to government regulations, the doctor forced it on the child. At least the student tried.

Two more examples come from Buddha and Krishna respectively. The Buddha is so important in the history of Indian philosophy as he came in at a point where the wisdom of the Vedas (India’s ancient scriptures) was only recited mindlessly, and not lived. People were steeped in intellectual debates on what happens after death. The Buddha applied classic decision analysis with the argument that if our decision to be compassionate and to take right action does not change with information of the afterlife, then resolving that uncertainty has no value for us. We’d be better off not debating and instead practicing things we know to be of value in the present. That was a great example of the materiality principle.

In Krishna’s case, in the Gita (2.25), Krishna tells Arjuna that as it is declared that the soul is imperceptible, inconceivable and immutable, and cannot be killed or harmed, Arjuna ought not to lament on account of destroying the bodies of his opponents. And in case Arjuna believes that the soul is born, it dies and is re-born   (2.26) then also he should not lament, as for one who is born, death is certain, and for the one who dies, birth is certain, so, what is the point of lamenting over the inevitable? His conclusion – lamenting is a bad decision, no matter what information Arjuna has about the nature of the soul.

Warm Heart: Is the information we seek of a decisive nature? Does it have the juice to get us to inspire us to act immediately? An oil company executive once told me that he went to his boss showing two alternatives. One was a conventional project, while the other made a quantum leap forward in clean fuels, while being more expensive. Both projects were profitable. His boss took one look and told him, “I don’t need to see tradeoffs. If we truly can deliver on clean fuels, we should of course do the more expensive project because we are here to take the world to a better place.” And that was it.

4) Values

Cool Head: What are our preferences? What do we want, and how much do we want it? In Alice in Wonderland, we see a remarkable conversation between Alice and the Cheshire Cat.

Alice: I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh! It really doesn’t matter as long as…
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go.
Alice: … as long as I get somewhere.
Cheshire Cat: Oh! you’re sure to do that if you keep walking.

Prof. Ron Howard puts it nicely – the question here is, “Do you want to get what you want, or do you want to want what you get?” In the West, we are in the business of impact and good outcomes; so without admitting that it is the right thing to do, if we must play the game, then we need clarity on our preferences.

Logic can help us avoid simple mistakes. For instance, if we prefer mango over chocolate ice-cream, and chocolate over vanilla ice-cream, then we must prefer mango over vanilla ice-cream, otherwise, we will get tangled up in circles.

Warm Heart: The question here is “Who am I?” or “What do I stand for?” and it has to do with discovering our noble purpose. A little story to illustrate this is in order. In junior college, I was at that age where boys are discovering the pressure to be macho, especially in co-ed schools. For some reason or the other, perhaps over petty insults, I found myself standing eyeball to eyeball with a classmate. We were both daring each other to strike first. The whole class was watching. In that situation, I paused. In that pause, I thought about two things. First, there would be no winner in this fight. Both of us would be hurt. From the cool head perspective, I preferred not to be hurt. From the warm heart perspective, this was not the person I wanted to be. I did not want my friend to be hurt either. That resulted in a completely novel alternative, which I offered up, “Hey look, if you attack me, I may not be able to beat you, but I am pretty sure we will both end up hurting each other. What’s the point of fighting if we can’t win? Why not just go back to our seats?” It didn’t take my friend even half a second to respond, “Good idea!” and off we both went, feeling thankful and silly at the same time.

5) Integration

Cool Head: Are we using the right logic to put together our decision? Are we making associative logic errors? This is a very common mistake. For example, most people would agree that their chance of a hemophiliac being male (usually very high as almost all hemophiliacs are male) is not the same as their chance of a male being a hemophiliac (usually very low as hemophilia is a rare disease). However, we make all kinds of subtle mistakes in other areas. For instance, we think Jainism is about non-violence and vegetarianism, when in fact, Mahavira talked about the entire universe being alive. Because he felt it, he could not get himself to hurt other beings. There came a point where it was clear he could not die – his cells would just be used up to support the life of other beings, and as the whole universe was alive, he’d still be in it, just not in his embodied ego-form. His followers, however, reduce this rich philosophy into non-violence and vegetarianism, which, unfortunately, does not guarantee them reaching the conclusion of aliveness by their own experience.

Another common mistake is to think Gandhi’s legacy is one of non-violent action. While he did experiment very heavily with it, the reason for it was his absolute focus on purifying his heart. As his heart got purer, he felt motivated to manifest it in action as well. However, in our present time, it is not uncommon to see people emphasizing non-violent action and think they are on Gandhi’s path without paying any attention to the inferno inside. For example, when Bush visited Stanford during the Iraq war, there was a massive protest that was organized. A functionary from Sarvodaya (Gandhi’s organization) was visiting us at that time, and he was invited to participate in their act of “civil disobedience” (blocking Bush’s path). He asked a simple question, “Do you love or respect Bush?” The students were shocked, and said, “Of course not!” His simple question was, “How then can you hope to change his heart with your actions?”

The logic of decision analysis is also the home of its mathematics, and here, some attention is merited. First, the tools of decision analysis, prima facie, appear similar to those in economics. However, under the covers, there are big differences. For instance, if you face an uncertain deal with a 50-50 chance of getting Rs. 100 versus nothing, the economists (and statisticians) will have you calculate an “expected value” of Rs. 50. The problem with this calculation is that there is nothing expected about Rs. 50. You will in-fact never get that amount – the deal is structured to get you either Rs. 100 or nothing. Then why should we use a highly misleading term like that? The economists pride themselves in being scientists and avoiding philosophy; so they couldn’t care less and would call this nitpicking. However, decision analysis requires us to make a strong commitment to the whole truth, and that extends to not willfully misleading our minds and the minds of others if we can help it. Therefore, decision analysis provides an alternate term for the same mathematical operation of probability-weighted averages, “certain equivalent,” which is exactly what it says. It is the amount that if I had it for certain (in the example, Rs. 50), I would be indifferent between the certain amount and the uncertain deal. This is much better language than expected value, as the philosophical practice here is to stop making expectations. In fact, contributions like this are precisely what makes the logic of decision analysis work as the mathematics of karma yoga. For, practicing it reorients our minds to think that we have already accrued the certain equivalent before the outcome becomes evident. We thus become free and ahead, ready to make the next decision well. Every decision made in this manner adds to our equanimity. It is remarkable that an accounting method could turn into a method to develop equanimity! And even more ironic that the economists completely miss this and go in the exact opposite direction!

Warm Heart: While logic appeals to our minds, a powerful narrative appeals far more than dry logic to our hearts. We need a good story that carries our logic home to us, and to our communities. The Hazelden Foundation, a non-profit organization that focuses on serving those with addiction problems, had figured out that they needed to overhaul their facilities to be more welcoming. Money at non-profits is always scarce, and the staff was initially asking why that money could not be used to give everyone raises. The dry logic wasn’t sufficient to get buy in. It was only when the staff understood the narrative of dignity of the clients they were serving that they agreed to try it. When one facility was transformed to be more welcoming, and made a difference to their clients, the staff themselves asked for other facilities to also receive these changes.

When the Stanford police department wanted to reduce bicycle accidents on campus, they realized they had to find a way to reach out to bicyclists. Police officers were asked to cite bicyclists when they broke the law. This is something that officers don’t like doing. However, the narrative that drove it home was that officers were also educators, and in the process of writing the citation, they would get an opportunity to interact and educate the students about safe bicycling. Moreover, as safety was the goal and not citation, students were allowed to waive the fine by attending a bicycle safety workshop run at the police department in collaboration with the department of transportation. The narrative of being an educator helped officers see the logic behind their work and commit to it. For students, it was a transformative experience that began with resentment initially upon being cited, and changed to gratitude after the workshop where they realized that in-spite of being considered intelligent, they were taking stupid risks with their lives, and someone else actually cared about them.

6) Commitment

Cool Head: Making high quality commitments is a big challenge in our lives, as this is not taught in high school. A high quality commitment is different from an order. In an order, there is only one party committed to action – the one who gives the order. In a high quality commitment, both parties, the requestor and the promisor, are committed to the action involved. A high quality request is one where the terms of fulfillment are clear, where the requestor is actually interested in what is being requested, and where the promisor has the freedom to decline. A high quality promise is one where the promisor is actually interested in keeping the promise, and understands what is required to fulfill it. For requestors who have more power, it becomes their responsibility to ensure that the promisor is capable of delivering on what is requested when the promise is being made. The promisor has the responsibility to get back to the requestor should something change in their situation which makes fulfillment difficult, and request a renegotiation of the commitment. Clear action planning is also an important part of the activity here. If there is no action, then the rest of the analysis is just entertainment.

Leadership, Followership, Laddership: The heart involves understanding that sometimes, we need to stand tall for the right decision even when others oppose us. That is an act of leadership, but unfortunately, leadership is much too associated with brilliant, macho alpha males. The kind of leadership that we don’t pay much attention to is often called servant leadership, or laddership (you can treat me like a ladder and use me to step up, and similarly, offer to be my ladder). For example, when at the height of the civil rights movement, when Martin Luther King decided they would stay nonviolent, his colleagues protested. He fired them back and even though he was isolated, refused to budge. That act of moral courage saved the civil rights movement from devolving into mass riots, and today we look at the struggle of the blacks with so much respect.

Gandhi, also the idol of King, was a strong believer in his own conscience and in the goodness of others – if anyone tried to convince him otherwise, he would stand firm and hold the space for these values. It is because of his convictions that the riots in Bengal and elsewhere could stop. The story goes that he just walked through active killing scenes with no more than 25 people in a procession, singing God’s name, and people would stop killing and calm down. For Gandhi, that was a considered decision after analyzing the logical conclusion of his starting beliefs. Then, all that was left to do was to die for these beliefs, which he was always prepared to do, and ultimately did. Commitment to action was a huge thing with Gandhi – he was known to be that rare person who actually took action on the things he held dear.

Another story of commitment to action comes from my grandmother. She was by nature simple and had a strong commitment to see God in others and love them as they are. One day, she heard a knock on her door. She was a mother of pre-teens at that time. A neighborhood kid was at the door, and he breathlessly uttered, “Come quick. There’s been a fight. Your younger son’s hand has been broken.” She rushed to attend to her 10-year-old, who had to be taken to the hospital in great pain. After getting a cast on his hand, she came home late that evening with her son, and decided to pay a personal visit to the offending boy who had broken her son’s hand. She knocked at their door, and was told by the father, “Our boy is not home.” Pushing the door open, she calmly said, “I know he is here, and I am here to see him.” Sure enough, the boy stood trembling inside. The parents were terrified, not knowing what drama would unfold. She looked at the boy and said, “I know you have received a lot of scolding from everyone today. I am here to give you some love. Come.” And she hugged him. The boy melted in her arms, howling with tears. His parents broke down, saying in between sobs, “We have not seen a mother like this.” And in that breakdown, a great service was performed, one that would form deep roots of love and community of a kind that is hard to describe. In the space that she created for herself, she must have connected to her commitment to love, but it was acting on it that made love come alive in her life.

Decision analysis in spiritual life – an integral approach

Questions may be raised as to why a spiritual person should analyze decisions. We have already noted that for those who want what they get, there is no decision to be made, as there is no confusion. It is important, however, to be authentic about this and check whether we have truly surrendered in that way to something higher than us. If not, then decision analysis offers us a great way to practice equanimity and purify ourselves. However, a flip side is also true. It is the observation of the ancients in India that one cannot make spiritual progress without being scientific, and vice versa. It is not just about science and spirituality being compatible – one cannot happen without the other. By science, what is meant is an unwavering commitment to the whole truth of the present moment. Seeing science and spirituality as a duality is largely a result of industrialization-era thinking. Eastern approaches have always been integrated – the poet, scientist and philosopher are one and the same. Consider for instance the poetic couplet,

Purnamadaha Purnamidam Purnaat Purnamudachyate
Purnasya Purnamaadaya Purnameva Vashishyate

That is whole. This is whole. From that wholeness comes this wholeness.
When wholeness is taken away from wholeness, what remains is wholeness.

Now, the symbol for wholeness is a circle, which is also the symbol for zero, or nothing. What happens when we interpret the same couplet with the language of nothing?

That is nothing. This is nothing. From nothing comes nothing.
When nothing (zero) is taken away from nothing (zero), what remains is nothing (zero).

Look at this for a moment. “From nothing comes nothing” is the foundation of modern materialistic science. The last line of this couplet gives us the formula of 0-0 = 0, or the foundation of mathematics! This is an example of poetry merging with philosophy as also science.

Even in the west, when people took integrated approaches to life, the renaissance became possible.

Why does Decision Analysis hold so much promise for us? It gives us a modern secular language to practice the essential elements of truth and detachment that are to be seen in all major world traditions. People practicing this in business may be engrossed in the most material of decisions, but if they practice detachment through Decision Analysis, they will end up purifying themselves, even if the outer results seem materialistic. That is a big evolutionary step forward in the spiritual thinking of humankind! Never before has this link between karma yoga and gyana yoga been worked out in this way.

Finally, having painted a rosy picture for Decision Analysis, we must also understand caveats. If Hitler had DA in his hands, he might have killed twice the number of people that he did. We can use DA to plan assassinations effectively, and we can also use DA to do great service for humankind. It is therefore incumbent upon us to realize that DA does not give us a moral apparatus. It is more like an adding machine, totally amoral. Therefore, we need to do the hard work to form our personal ethical code thoughtfully, and also reflect on how much of our personal ethical code we want to impose on others by force (i.e. our legal system). These two aspects are essential components in a DA training program without which it would be irresponsible to teach DA.

Concluding remarks

Let us now address the following two posers we raised in the Introduction: 1) whether it is possible to juxtapose spiritual journey with decision analysis, and 2) if the answer is in the affirmative, whether in order to attain siritual progress, one can afford to be questioning and analytical instead of surrendering to prevailing norms or to a spiritual master.

As has been pointed out above, for those who have surrendered themselves to something higher, be it their spiritual master or their higher self, decision analysis or any worldly matter means precious little. But for those who are on spiritual path, the prescription is for self-analysis which in other words means decision analysis. The case in point is verses 5 and 6 of chapter 6 of the Bhagvad Gita where Sri Krishna proclaims as follows:

“Let man uplift the self (ego) by the self; let the self not be degraded. Indeed the self is its own friend; and its own enemy as well.

For him whose self (ego) has been conquered by the Self (soul), the Self is the friend of the self; but verily, the Self behaves inimically toward the self that is not subdued.”

This highly loaded statement in the Gita strongly suggests that a man in pursuit of spiritual path ought to be constantly wary of his / her inflated and irrational ego which needs to be suppressed, overcome and subdued by a rational and analytical mind. Where alternatives exist, decision analysis helps in choosing the right alternative according to one’s objective, spiritual or material. And as we have seen, it is one of the fundamental principles in both spiritual and secular spheres that the decision should not be driven by the expectation of a desired outcome. This is in conformity with the spiritual canon of the Gita: “Karmenyevadhikaraste Ma faleshu kadachana” menaing that “You have the right of action, not to the result” (which is not under your control). We, therefore, do not find any difficulty or incongruity in the juxtaposition of spirituality and decision analysis.

As for the second poser, it would be reasonable to conclude that one of the essential pre-requisites of spiritual growth is self-introspection or a questioning mind. Even where seekers of liberation choose to surrender to a spiritual master, they should not shun self-introspection and an analytical mind. If Arjuna did not have doubts or a questioning mind, there would have been no Bhagvad Gita. Similarly, if the disciples of the Buddha had no questions in their mind, there would have been no Buddhism. Surrender to a superior master presupposes a conviction in the mind of the one who surrenders that the other person is not only superior for reason of his / her wisdom but is also fit to be the master. This is precisely happened with Arjuna who eventually surrendered to Sri Krishna, but only after all his doubts were resolved.

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Spiritual Evolution of Man
(In the light of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy)

(Interactive session on 14.11.2014)
Keynote address by Mr. Ashok Kumar Sengupta
(Other participant speakers: Mr. Asim K. Banerjee, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Mr. R. K. Gupta, Mr. Sujit Chatterjee, Mr. S.R. Das & Ms. Sharmila Bhawal)
[Devotional song by Ms. Mitali Ghosh]
Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha


It is believed that man is the only rational animal having the ability to think, analyse, debate and meditate. Man also has the ability to transcend the limits of individuality and enter into the spiritual realm of selflessness. Our focus here is not on the physical evolution of man but on the mental and the spiritual one up to the level of supramental in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy as contained in his magnum opus, the Life Divine. However, questions and doubts do crop up when we try to understand a new concept or phenomenon, yet to be validated scientifically or empirically. The common posers while on the present subject are as follows:
i) Is the concept of superman or supramental a realistic phenomenon? Is there any predictable time line for supramentalisation?

ii) Is the concept of cessation of the cycle of life and death, evolution and involution, creation and dissolution after the descent of the Supramental, in conformity with any known philosophy such as Samkhya, Vedanta, Buddhism, Abrahamic religions etc., or a unique concept of Sri Aurobindo?

iii) Is the spiritual evolution of man necessarily progressive, as has been explained by Sri Aurobindo with reference to Dashavatar (ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu)?

We will dwell upon the above posers in our concluding remarks, after we have briefly gone through the basic tenets of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy.


“Evolution is not finished; reason is not the last word nor the reasoning animal the supreme figure of Nature. As man emerged out of the animal, so out of man the superman emerges.”
This statement from Sri Aurobindo indicates that the culmination of spiritual evolution of man will be the emergence of a superhuman race on the earth. But for to-day’s interactive session on “Spiritual Evolution of Man”, let us present the topic in a systematic manner.
A large segment of the Western world that accepts a literal meaning of the Biblical parable of Genesis condemns as false the very concept of evolution as the cause of creation of species. We have to see whether the historic statement by the present Pope last month that there is truth in the scientific theory of evolution as well as in the big bang theory of creation, alters the attitude of the Church faithfully towards evolution.


But in India, the process of evolution seems to have been detected since ancient times. In the Rig Veda, the Nasodiya Sukta (I.129) refers to “the darkness wrapped in darkness” and points out that the breath stirred in that original darkness, there stirred the life-force as desire, and that desire was the seed of the mind. There is a fable in Aiitareya Upanishad that gods rejected the animal forms successively offered to them by the Divine Self and only when man was produced, cried out, “This indeed is perfectly made”, and consented to enter in the human body (I.2.1-3). In Sankhya philosophy, the infinite Force is figured as a sea, initially at rest and therefore, formless, but the first initiation of movement necessitates the evolution of forms of Matter which grow gradually from a subtle to solid states. Upon these forms of Matter depend all our sense experience. What we call the power of sensations, of vibrations of the mind, of the ego-sense and even of intelligence, which has the faculty of discrimination, is involved in Matter; and because of that involution, the evolution of what is involved takes place. In the Sankhya theory of Satkaryavada nothing comes out of nothing, the effect is already present in the cause, and whatever manifests is already inherent in the original state of the Force, the Prakriti. This Sankhyan view of involution and evolution is accepted by several other systems of Indian Philosophy including Vedanta.
Even the Puranic story of Dashavatar, from Matsya to Kalki, is considered to be a parable of evolution. First the Fish Avatar (Matsya) in water, then the amphibious animal (Kurma) then the land animal (Varaha) and then the man-lion (Narasimha) Avatar, bridges man and animal. Isn’t it the exact sequence of evolution that the scientists have postulated? The fifth Avatar dwarf (Vamana), a man not yet fully developed (tamasic) but containing in himself the godhead and taking possession of existence. Then came Parashuram and Ram Avatar, leading the human development from the vital rajasic to the sattwic mental man. The last three Avatars – Krishna, Buddha and Kalki – depicts the stages of man’s spiritual development, Krishna opening the possibility of reaching the highest level of spiritual mind (overmind), Buddha attaining the supreme liberation (Nirvana) but not returning to complete the evolution. Kalki is to correct this by bringing the Kingdom of Divine upon earth, destroying the opposing Asura forces. The progression of 10 Avatars is striking and unmistakably depicts evolution, including the spiritual evolution of man


The scientific theory of evolution began to develop in 18th century through the work of Linnaeus (1707-78) Buffon (1707-88), and in the 19th century by Charles Darwin (1809-82) and his followers. Charles Darwin, in his Origin of Species (1859), argues that life on earth evolved by a gradual and yet continuous process from the earliest form of living organism to the latest species, man. Natural selection, variation and heredity are said to be the factors through the operation of which new species arise out of the existing ones. When new characters are produced by the variability of organisms, natural selection decides their survival or death. If the characters do not adapt to their environment, they are eliminated in the competition. If, on the other hand, they equip themselves better for the struggle, they tend to survive. The off springs of the successful tend to resemble the parents in exhibiting the favoured variation to a greater degree than the parents and a new type gets established by a continuous piling up of small useful accretions through many generations.
There have been critics of Darwin’s theory even among the naturalists and scientists and the faithful even put a Theory of Intelligent Design to counter Darwin. But despite all opposition, particularly from the Church, the concept of evolution deeply influenced the thinkers all over the world including in India. Rabindranath Tagore wrote several essays on evolution of man; Swami Vivekananda referred to it in his speeches in the West and Sri Aurobindo propounded his philosophy of supramental evolution, although his views were based on the Vedantic knowledge of involution and evolution of consciousness


Ancient Greek Philosophers had important ideas of evolution, but these were set aside later by the account of creation in Genesis. However, in last three centuries a number of Western Philosophers came out with new theories of evolution.
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) felt that there is something more in evolution than mere material urge. He talked of an inner urge or life-force’ (elan vital) that causes evolution. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) questioned the assumption that life always came from life. He also argued, if survival was the aim of nature, life would have never appeared. According to Samuel Alexender (1859-1938), the whole process of universe is an evolutionary growth from space-time. He enunciated a philosophy of emergent evolution, saying, out of a complexity in the physical structure, life and later mind emerged. Lloyd Morgan (1852-1936), who seems to agree with Alexander’s theory of emergent evolution, acknowledges God as the nisus through whose activity emergents emerge. He maintains that evolution is the expression of God’s purpose.
According to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) the evolutionary process cannot be evaluated in terms of its origin. What comes later is more than what was earlier. He feels evolution is pushing man towards an omega-point, or stage of collective divinity and foresees a cosmic divine manifestation in the making. While recalling the Platonie view of the cosmic process, Whitehead (1861-1947) put up a theory of “Ingressive evolution”. There is according to him, a progressive ingression and incorporation into the cosmic series of the eternal order which God embraces in Himself.
These philosophical theories depart in different degrees from the scientific concept of evolution, although they admit the world movement as an evolutionary process. They also try to explain in some ultimate terms, the rationale of evolution by a process of philosophical speculation.


We have already depicted the vision of ancient India on the question of creation of universe and its gradual unfolding through a process of evolution. Be it in the Nasadiya Sukta, the Purusha Sukta and the Aghamarshana Sukta of Rig Veda, several texts of Sankhya and Vedanta, or in the Puranic story of Dashavatar, we can see that our Rishis had a clear idea of the evolutionary progression in the unfolding of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) enunciated his vision of a spiritual evolution of man, culminating in a Divine Life on earth and emergence of a god-like supramental species, based on this ancient knowledge of India. He accepts the Sankhya views that nothing comes out of nothing, and points to the Vedantric rationale for evolution, as an inevitable aftermath of involution of consciousness. The following lines from Sri Aurobindo’s magnum opus, the Life Divine, which tells the full story of the spiritual evolution of man – its past, present and future, are cited below:
“We speak of the evolution of Life in Matter, the Evolution of Mind in Matter, but evolution is a word which merely states the phenomenon without explaining it. For there seems to be no reason why Life should evolve out of material elements or Mind out of living form, unless, we accept the Vedanta solution that life is already involved in Matter and Mind in Life. ….. And then there seems to be little objection to a further step in the series and the admission that mental consciousness may itself be only a form and a veil of higher states which are beyond Mind. As the impulse towards Mind ranges from the more sensitive reactions of Life in the metal and the plant upto its full organisation in man, so in man himself there is the same ascending series, the preparation, if nothing more, of a higher and divine life. The animal is a living laboratory in which Nature has, it is said, worked out man. Man himself may well be a thinking and living laboratory in whom and with whose conscious co-operation she wills to work out the superman, the god…..If it be true, that spirit is involved in Matter and apparent nature is secret God, then the manifestation of the divine in himself and the realisation of God within and without are the highest and most legitimate aim possible to man upon earth.”


The process of creation, the model of our evolutionary world, can be metaphorically represented by a stair of worlds manifested by the Supreme Diivine, first to descend (Involution) from the Superconscient to Inconscient, by which He objectively incarnated in every higher evolutionary forms and He now climbs up the stairs (evolution) physically manifesting Himself as new forms of species, back to his absolute perfection. The present human stage is evidently a mid-point in the staircase of evolution.
A little elaboration on these two poles of evolutionary ladder is called for. In Vedanta, the Superconscient is Sat-Chit–Ananda (Existence – Consciousness – Bliss). The other pole is Inconscient, the darkest end of the spectrum, which Sri Aurobindo has also termed as Inane, a total negation of Consciouness. And this is not an abstract term denoting philosophical speculation, but a concrete spiritual experience of many seekers of the spiritual, from Vedic Rishis to Sri Aurobindo. As pointed out earlier, Nasadiya Sukta (Rig Veda) describes it as darkness enveloping darkness, which was the beginning of creation and also the starting point of evolution.
In Vedic metaphor, the two poles – Superconscient and Inconscient – are described as two oceans. In Tantra, they are called Bindu and Visarga. Since Tantric tradition is deep-rooted in Bengal, these two words, signifying beginning and end of any subject, has become commonplace in Bengali language. In his epic poem Savitri, Sri Aurobindo describes these two poles as the “first and the last nothingness”.
In the climb up from Inconscient to Superconscient spanning aeons, man is, at this juncture, somewhere halfway in the stair of evolution. Sri Aurobindo says, the next level in the evolution will be the emergence of superman, a being whose consciousness is supermind. The question comes, what is supermind and how does it differ from mind, which is the centre of our consciousness?
We can give the answer with a little historical tale. In 1908-09, Sri Aurobindo, then a young revolutionary, Aurobindo Ghosh, was serving a jail sentence given by the then British rulers of India. In meditation in his solitary prison cell, he heard the voice of Swami Vivekananda imparting spiritual knowledge to him about the higher spiritual levels of mind for a fortnight (or about a month). Later, out of jail, Sri Aurobindo wrote about these higher levels of spiritual mind. Put in an ascending order, these are the Higher Mind, the illumined Mind, the Intuitive Mind and then the highest level, the Over mind. The Overmind is the abode of the gods, the inspired source of the great founders of religion. This is where all the religions we know were born, deriving from one overmental experience in one of its myriad facets. This is the plane described in the Vedas as “an ocean of stable lightning” and Vedic Rishis made Overmental consciousness their abode.
But Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual consort, the Mother discovered that overmind would not be able to bring about the desired transformation so that a new species of god-like beings evolve on earth. “In the terrestrial evolution itself the overmental descent would not be able to transform in each inner it touched the whole conscious being, inner and outer, personal and universally impersonal, into its own stuff and impose that upon the Ignorance illumining it into cosmic truth and knowledge”, Sri Aurobindo wrote in his Life Divine, the problem lies in the inconscience at the root of all existence including human existence. Giving an example from the world of astronomy he writes, “it would be as if a sun and its system were to shine out in an original darkness of Space and illumine everything as far as its rays could reach so that all that dwelt in the light would feel as if no darkness were there at all in their experience of existence. But outside that sphere the original darkness Inconscious would still be there and, since all things are possible in an overmind structure, could re-invade the island of light created within its empire.” He further explained that Overmental consciousness, by its very nature would develop all possibilities, one at a time, which may hamper the evolutionary ascent. “Also by this much evolution there could be no security against the downward pull or gravitation of the inconscience which dissolves all the formations that life and mind build in it, swallows all things that arise out of it or are imposed upon it and disintegrate them into their original matter.”
For all these levels, including the highest overmental level, belong to the lower half of the evolutionary stair, to the lower hemisphere of the Globe of Being. At the top of the upper hemisphere, there is the Supreme Divine, the Sat-Chit-Ananda of Vedanta. There is a barrier between the two halves, and men are not supposed to cross that barrier in the evolutionary sense, unless done by great yogis individually in their meditation. In Ishopanishad, this overmental line is called the golden plate which covers the face of Truth (Hiranmayena Patrena Satyasyapihitam Mukham).
Vedic Rishis who have crossed this barrier in their individual sadhana, found it difficult to bring it down to earth. A Vedic verse says, he who goes through ‘the gate of the Sun’ cannot come back.
Perhaps the time was not ripe for it in the ancient Vedic period. But Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, who always felt that ‘the time is now’ for the great evolutionary leap, have pierced this golden barrier and ultimately succeeded in bringing down the supreme consciousness from the higher hemisphere to the earth. This consciousness, where Sat-chit-ananda has fully manifested, was called by Vedic Rishis as Satyam, Ritam, Brihat, or the sun world. Sri Aurobindo called it Supermind, a technical, neutral term, to denote a level far above the highest reaches of the mind.
The Supermind – itself a resplendent prism of world – is essentially a principle of Unity. The mind looks at a thesis, and then considers its antithesis and labours to arrive at a synthesis, but in supermind, all contradictions are spontaneously harmonised. Apart from solving the fundamental problem of division and discord, a descent of the Supermind into the terrestrial formula would bring into it ‘the supreme law and light and dynamics of the Spirit’ and transform the inconscience.
According to Sri Aurobindo, only the Supramental Force can entirely overcome the difficulty of the resistance of the Inconscience. “The whole radical change in the evolution from a basis of Ignorance to a basis of Knowledge can only come by the intervention of the supramental power and its direct action in earth-existence,” Sri Aurobindo declares in his Life Divine.
At this stage, it is necessary to clarify one of the basic elements of the Aurobindonian philosophy of evolution. According to him, only earth is the chosen field for evolution. But in the creation, there are many type worlds and the beings that are unaffected by the march of evolution. Here no reference is being made to the physical universe with its galaxy of stars, but realms in the occult space, where beings belonging to what he has categorised as vital plane, mental plane, the overmental plane (the world of gods) and beyond, where beings having the appropriate consciousness exist. This is where the involution that we talked about, get stratified for all eternity, Thus a vital world, a mental world, an overmental world and a supramental world always existed before life or mind appeared on the earth or great yogis possessing the overmental or supramental consciousness, roamed the earth. The Mother has explained that beings in these typal worlds are satisfied with these levels of their consciousness and the state of their existence. But if they wish to transcend themselves and progress, they have to be born on earth and be part of the evolution.
The part of the man which evolves through successive births is their soul, that Shri Aurobindo called the psychic being. While Jivatman remains outside the cycle of births and deaths, the psychic being, which is a part of Jivatman, grows through successive rebirths. In Sri Aurobindo’s integral yoga, stress is put on realisation of the soul. When the psychic being comes in the forefront and takes control of the mind, life and body of the individual, a process Sri Aurobindo called as psychic transformation, the real yoga sadhana of the individual begins. Then he can look forward to the other two stages of sadhana, the spiritual transformation and the supramental transformation, that would take the individual to the next level of evolution by becoming a superman.


But such an evolution has a pre-requisite condition to be fulfilled, the descent of the Supramental Consciousness on earth. Sri Aurobindo dedicated his whole life to hasten this supramental change, which, he said “is a thing decreed and inevitable in the evolution of the earth nature” When he left his body (on 5.12.1950), the supramental force was said to have descended in his body and kept the lifeless body shining and without any decomposition for five days, till the supramental percolated to the rest of the earth. The Mother took up his work thereafter and declared on 29.2.1956 that the supramental force has manifested on earth (shattering the golden barriers that separates the two hemispheres, of which a mention was made earlier) Mother’s Agenda , a book in 13 Volumes , records Mother’s spiritual experience for continuing the work of supramental transformation. In 1970, she declared that she has completed the work (Yoga) entrusted by Sri Aurobindo upon her. She left her body on 17.11.1973, but her talks during her final years give clear indication that the ‘decreed and inevitable’ evolutionary leap to a supramental species is near at hand.
But how near? Sri Aurobindo termed evolution as the yoga of Nature. It would have taken aeons for the life to appear on a lifeless material world, first as plants and then as animals. Paleonthologists say human beings made its appearance on the Earth between one and three million years ago, and according to Mother, a million years would have already elapsed between the descent of the mental principle on earth and the first material incarnation of the human being. But Sri Aurobindo says, the spiritual evolution of man to superman, would be far more accelerated, since man has the capacity to consciously collaborate and thus accelerate nature’s yoga, the process of evolution. He was asked about 90 years back, how long it would take for the suramental change to become apparent. Instead of replying in terms of million years, he said, ‘let us wait for three hundred years’. But that is also long enough for us who have to count their life-spans in decades or maximum around a century.
But then Sri Aurobindo talks about intermediate beings, like those with a human body and a mind of light, the spiritually advanced individuals who would emerge well before the arrival of the supramental species. The spiritual evolution of man is, therefore, a thing, not only of future, but realisable in our life-time, one that our inner heart can feel, our inner-mind can comprehend and inner eye see and our inner being touch and hold in a rapturous embrace. Sri Aurobindo has termed this period of history as the Hour of God. When a little effort produces big result and changes destiny. This is the period when the spiritual evolution of man makes rapid progress, takes a quantum leap.


Let us now deal with the posers made in the Introduction. These relate to some fundamental doubts about the validity of the concept of descent of the Supramental on our mortal world, as has been developed by Sri Aurobindo, one of the greatest Indian Yogis of modern time.

Poser 1: Is the concept of superman or Supramental a realistic phenomenon? Is there any predictable time line for supramentalisation?

The concept of Supramental in the sense of being Sat-Chit-Ananda is in conformity with Indian Vedantic philosophy according to which Brahman (The Divine) is Sat (Existence-Absolute), Chit (Consciousness-Absolute) and Ananda (Bliss-Absolute). Brahman in the Upanishads / Vedanta is verily described as indescribable, formless, without beginning and end, imperceptible, infinite mass of light, subtler than the subtlest and grosser than the grossest, immanent in every living being and non-being or in other words all-pervasive. When Sri Aurobindo talks of Supramental in conjunction or in juxtaposition with superman, there is obvious distinction between Brahman of the Vedanta and the Supramental or superman of Sri Aurobindo. The Upanishadic sages have envisioned Brahman as existing in every living being. The case in point is the famous anecdote of sage Uddalak and his son Shvetaketu in Chhandogya Upanishad narrating how Uddalak explained the concept of Tat Tvam Asi (Thou Art That) to his son Shvetaketu. The fact that Brahman is immanent in every living being has been postulated by the Vedanta several millenniums ago and is by no means a new concept. However, Sri Aurobindo’s concept of supramentalisation of this phenomenal world including humans in collective sense as a permanent phenomenon is unique inasmuch as such permanence at phenomenal level has not been conceptualized by the Vedanta. In other words, the phenomenal world, according to the Vedanta, is transient and destructible, and the spiritual liberation from the bondage of the cycle of birth and death can be attained only by detachment of the soul from the world of matter. To be more precise, unless a seeker kills or dissolves his ‘I’-ness or Aham, he/she cannot attain liberation.

Sri Aurobindo’s concept of supramentalisation is to materialize in this phenomenal world only when the Super-Mind is envisaged as descending on the world of matter. This, according to sri Aurobindo, is expected to happen in about three hundred years from the time he predicted, some ninety years ago, and that too for reason of his and the Mother’s joint efforts and austerity. However, sceptics have reason to doubt this vision of Sri Aurobindo in view of the fact that in last ninety years there has been no noteworthy spiritual progress in India or for that matter in the world as a whole. According to Sri Aurobindo, descent of the Supramental will happen at the last stage of spiritual evolution of man. Afterward, there will be permanence of the body and mind and no dissolution, as every cell in the body will be transformed or mutated into the Supramental.

It is patently clear that Sri Aurobindo’s concept of spiritual evolution is linear and not cyclical as in the Vedanta, the Samkhya, or for that matter, in the Buddhist philosophy.

As to the question whether the concept of superman or supramentalisation of this world of matter is a realistic phenomenon, we keep our mind open to the possibility of mutation of our cells, whether by Yoga or by science, to turn us into immortal spiritual beings in this material and transient world at some point of time in the future. But we find it difficult at this point of time to accept the proposition that the mutation of cells will bring permanence to the super-human body and the phenomenal world.

Poser 2: Is the concept of cessation of the cycle of life and death, evolution and involution, creation and dissolution after the descent of the Supramental, in conformity with any known philosophy such as Samkhya, Vedanta, Buddhism, Abrahamic religions etc., or a unique concept of Sri Aurobindo?

The cyclical evolution of the four Yugas, viz. Satya, Treta, Dvapar and Kali, without beginning or end is fundamental to all schools of Indian philosophy. Likewise, the cycle of evolution and involution is also fundamental to Indian philosophy. To elucidate the concept of cyclical evolution as in the Vedanta, each Yuga cycle is of 12000 years comprising Satya (4800 years), Treta (3600 years), Dvapar (2400 years) and Kali (1200 years). This cycle rotates alternately in descending and ascending order and is never- ending till the time of dissolution when entire creation gets involved in Brahman (refer: Holy Science by Sri Yukteswar). The above concept of evolution and involution is somewhat similar to the concept of Big Bang after Big Crunch, sans God or Brahman. However, according to Vedanta, the cycle of evolution and involution also has no end as it goes on seamlessly. It is difficult to reconcile this Vedantic concept of evolution-involution to the linear concept of evolution of Sri Aurobindo who rules out involution after Supramentalisation of earth existence.

It is conceived by Sri Aurobindo that after the descent of the Supramental on this material world, all men will become supermen and they will not perish or die. In other words, this phenomenal world will be everlasting. It is not that Sri Aurobindo has rejected the concept of Yuga Cycle of the Vedanta. As a matter of fact he has accepted the concept of Yuga Cycle which would mean that countless times in the past, the world has rotated from the state of the lowest degradation to the highest spiritual enlightenment and again going down from the zenith to the nadir to come up and go down, time and again, ceaselessly. A logical corollary to the above concept is that if supramentalisation has not happened at the pinnacle of the past cycle, it is not likely to happen in next cycle. Alternately assuming that man became superman in each of the preceding cycles, the obvious conclusion will be that there is no permanence in the status of superman also. But Sri Aurobindo has held in Life Divine that supramentalisation of the man will lend permanence to his phenomenal existence. This would pre-suppose that such futuristic phenomenon will be unprecedented, as it would mean an end to the Yuga Cycle as also to the cycle of evolution and involution.

According to Abrahamic tradition, however, on the Judgment Day, all the souls with their bodies shall rise from their graves and God shall determine in each individual case whether the person concerned by virtue of his or her deeds while living, deserves to be in permanent heaven or permanent hell with their erstwhile bodies, re-constructed by God. According to some school, the Heaven will descend on the earth, post-Judgment Day, permanently. Even though we find some similarity in Abrahamic concept of the heaven on earth to the concept of superman of Sri Aurobindo from the point of view of permanence, it is noteworthy that supramentalisation in Sri Aurobindo’s Life Divine is a collective phenomenon while in Abrahamic traditions it is purely individualistic phenomenon, depending upon whether the man was good or evil while living. Since Abrahamic tradition did not generally subscribe to re-incarnation, there is also no scope of evolution of an individual soul in said tradition.

It would thus appear that Sri Aurobindo’s concept of superman and supramentalisation is unique.

Poser 3: Is spiritual evolution of man necessarily progressive, as has been explained by Sri Aurobindo with reference to Dashavatar (ten incarnations of the Lord)?

According to Sri Aurobindo, evolution of man, as is demonstrated by Dashavatar (Ten Incarnations of the Lord), beginning with Matsya (Fish) and followed by Kurma (Tortoise), the amphibious animal, Varaha (Boar), the land animal, Nrisimha (man-lion), who was not yet complete man, Vamana (Dwarf), the first complete man but Tamasic one, Parashuram (Axe-man), the Rajasic man, Rama, the Sattvik man, Sri Krishna, the Overman, Buddha, the Liberated Man and the Kalki, the Superman, was both at physical and spiritual level showing progression at each stage. However, even though at animal level, incarnations may match with Darwin’s sequence, same thing cannot be said about the human incarnations, as per the Hindu text. In the first place, there may be serious objection in categorizing Sri Krishna as Overman on two counts. First, Sri Krishna, according to one school of Hindu scholars was not included in the list of Dashavatar, his brother Balaram taking his place. However, the school that included Sri Krishna in the list of Dashavatar considered him as Purna Avatar (complete incarnation of Lord) while others were partial or fragmented and not complete incarnation. As Purna Avatar Sri Krishna was liberated from the very beginning, possessing supreme wisdom and all the attributes conceivable, and knew the past and the future. Thus, to describe such personality as Overman and not Superman may not be found acceptable.

Secondly, according to the concept of Yuga Cycle, spirituality of man is supposed to take a down-slide when the cycle is on its descending path and up-swing when on ascending path. In the time of Rama and Sri Krishna the cycle was believed to be on a descending path and spirituality collectively was on a down-slide. However, Avatars are believed to be an exception inasmuch as though they themselves were liberated, they came to this mortal world of their free will for good of the people.
Buddha also accepted Hindu Yuga Cycles and its alternate descending and ascending paths.
In Abrahamic religions, notably in Old Testament, spiritual decline of man has been amply demonstrated with help of several anecdotes.

Thus the concept of Sri Aurobindo that man as also the Avatars had been advancing spiritually with the passage of time does not find validation in any religious text. On the contrary, those texts rather suggest that man has become more materialistic and less spiritual in the current cycle.

Be that as it may, Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s Yogic austerity to achieve a near impossible goal of bringing down Supramental to earthly existence for the sake of collective immortality of entire mankind smacks of their boundless compassion for humanity. In the above context, the question whether they have been successful in their endeavour, or their goal is achievable by the projected time-line is not pertinent. What is worth remembering is that two great Yogis of present era dedicated their lives in utmost austerity in order to accelerate the process of liberation of the entire humanity without discrimination.

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(Interactive session on 12.09.2014)
Keynote address by Mr. R. K. Gupta

(Other participant speakers: Ms. Anuradha Banerjee Sarkar, Mr. A. K. Sengupta, Dr. Suhas Majumdar, Dr. Santosh Ganguly, Mr. Asim Banerjee, Mr. Sarada Ranjan Das, Mr. Amitava Tripathi, Mr. Sumit Dutt Majumdar, Ms. Sharmila Bhawal, Mr.Somnath Sarkar & Mr. Sujit Chatterjee)

[Opening song – Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta]
Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha


Soul, from the very inception of our civilization, has invoked our curiosity with the most fundamental question – who am I. Am I the body, or something that survives the body? Am I consciousness? Do I die when the body dies? Am I matter or non-matter?

In the beginning of our civilization when science was nascent, all those posers essentially belonged to the domain of philosophy, and were addressed only by philosophers and spiritual masters for resolution. With exponential advancement of science, the postulates of age-old wisdom have obviously come under our scrutiny for validation. While some of those postulates have been demolished and some others have passed the scrutiny of science, the most contentious and yet unresolved issue relates to the mystery of soul, given the possibility of existence of a phenomenon called soul to make a body living.

The unresolved questions are varied and manifold. Some of those questions that we propose to dwell upon today are as follows:

A) Does soul exist or it is co-terminus with life? If soul exists following questions are relevant.
B) Whether soul is a matter or non-matter?
C) Whether it is single, manifested as many, or multifarious, as many as living beings?
D) Whether same soul is re-incarnated in different bodies, or it dies with the body?
E) Whether it is dynamic or inert?
F) Whether Shradh ceremony for Hindus or memorial services in other religions really matter to departed souls?
G) Whether soul is eternal or it ceases to exist at some point of time?

Before we take up all those contentious and thought provoking issues, let us examine in depth the concept of soul as has been enunciated and delineated by sages and spiritual masters who are believed to have unravelled the mystery of soul in the course of experiencing the Truth.


Philosophers irrespective of their religious orientation or spiritual upbringing have uniformly held soul as something that is Indescribable and Unexplainable; it is subtler than the subtlest and grosser than the grossest. Not only beyond words, it is also beyond the mind and the intellect. All faculties work on the strength of the soul and, therefore, it is impossible for the senses, mind and intellect to comprehend the soul; it can only be realized through the grace of the Master or the God. Yet, we are making an attempt to talk about the soul, for which we would like to take help of some of the stories in order to make our task a bit easy.

The story of Nachiketa & Yama (Katha Upanishad)

The story of Nachiketa and Yama, the Lord of Death is relevant. This story, narrated in Katha Upanishad in the form of a dialogue between Nachiketa and Yama, also finds mention in many scriptures. The Rigveda (10.135) talks of Yama and a child, which may be a reference to Nachiketa. He is also mentioned in the Taittiriya Brahmana, (3.1.8) and later, in the Mahabharata, the name appears as one of the sages present in the Sabha (royal assembly) of Yudhisthira (Sabha Parva, Section IV, and also in the Anusasana Parva).
Vājashrava was the father of Nachiketa, who while performing a Yajna (offering in sacred fire) desired to donate all his possessions, expecting a gift in return from the gods. Vājashrava, however, offered blind, lame or infertile cows to the Brahmans. Nachiketa, who was then only 12, was not satisfied with the offerings of his father. He wanted the best for his father and, therefore, asked him why he was not offering the best and in the process asked his father: “I too am yours, to which god will you offer me?”

Being pestered, in a fit of anger Vājashrava shouted, “Go to hell; I give you to death (Yama)”. Nachiketa, who was a true seeker, reached the ‘Yamaloka’ (abode of death) and was told that Yama was away. The young boy waited outside at the door of Yama for three days without sleep or food and when Yama returned, he was amazed to see this determined, fearless boy in contemplation. The pleased and somewhat embarrassed Yama offered Nachiketa three boons in lieu of the three days that he spent waiting for him. Knowing that his father would be upset and anxious about him, Nachiketa asked for the peace of his father, as the first boon. Then for the sake of the community, Nachiketa asked Yama the secret of fire sacrifice by which he could bring progress and prosperity to the community.

For his third boon, Nachiketa desired to learn the mystery of what comes after death. He asked ‘What is beyond death? Is there any soul, if so does it survive the disintegration of the body? Nachiketa pleaded that this question has been plaguing humanity for long. Nachiketa further clarified his query: Is there anything that is beyond good and bad, beyond past and present, beyond doing and non doing? He sought to know the ground that supported all these flow and flux – a changeless support for the changing world.

Yama was startled at this question coming from a young person. He didn’t want to reveal the secret of death that easily. Yama tried to dissuade Nachiketa from asking such difficult questions whose answer the young boy may not grasp. He said that this had been a mystery even to the gods. He asked Nachiketa to ask for some other boon, and offered him many material things. Nachiketa, however, replied that material things will last only till the morrow. He who has encountered Death personally, how can he desire wealth? Yama tried to scare, tempt and distract Nachiketa from pursuing that question. But the more Yama insisted, the more Nachiketa persisted. Finally pleased with the resolve of the boy, Yama yielded and started revealing the truth to him.
Yama said there are two paths – Preyas (pleasant/attractive) and Shreyas (good/transcendental). Preyas – the path of material pleasures that tempts humans leads to death. Shreyas – the path of spiritual bliss leads to immortality. By a process of detached thinking the clear minded choose the path of immortality and the muddle headed fall for the path of pleasure and eventual pain and death. Yama then elaborated on the nature of the true Self, which persists beyond death. The essence of the realization is that this Self is inseparable from Brahman, the Supreme Soul, the vital force in the universe. The Self is the same as the Omnipresent Brahman. Smaller than the smallest and larger than the largest, the Self is formless and all-pervading. The goal of the wise is to know this Self. The Self is like a rider; the horses are the senses, which the Self guides through the maze of desires. After death, it is the Self that remains; the Self is immortal. Mere reading of the scriptures or intellectual learning cannot lead to the realization of the Self; one must discriminate the self from the body, which is the seat of desires; inability to realize Brahman results in one being enmeshed in the cycle of rebirths and that realisation of the Self leads to Moksha or liberation from the cycle of life and death.

The Katha Upanishad talks of a Self that lights up the body, mind and senses, but that remains untouched by their limitations. It also talks about the millions of subtle channels/Naadis (nerves) that branch off from the heart through which the life energy flows. It again reiterates that everything in this universe is an expression of that universal spirit, the Brahman. The main theme is the spiritual foundation of the material universal consciousness, and unity of all life forms. It states senses are higher than the objective world, feeling mind is higher than senses, discriminating intellect is higher than mind, higher than the intellect is the collective conscious, higher than the collective conscious is the collective unconscious and higher than the collective unconscious is pure consciousness. That is the final destination. The Katha Upanishad, therefore, exhorts to resolve words in mind, mind in the pure heart and pure heart in the higher self.
Thus having attained the wisdom of Brahman from the Yama, Nachiketa was freed from the cycle of births. The great awakening call: Uttishtata jagrata praapya varaan nibodhata (arise awake and stop not till the goal is reached), is found in this Upanishad.

The story of Shvetaketu & sage Uddaalak (Chhandogya Upanishad)

An equally interesting and relevant story is the one from the Chhaandogya Upanishad relating to Uddaalak and his son Shvetatketu. Shvetaketu was the son of sage Uddaalak. Shvetaketu had learnt a lot from his father cum teacher and considered himself to be a great scholar. When he returned after completing his education, he was full of pride. Looking at his state of mind sage Uddaalak rightly came to the conclusion that Shvetaketu had not acquired the knowledge of the Self.
Uddaalak enquired-“Shvetaketu, Have you ever asked your teacher to give you that knowledge by which we hear what cannot be heard, by which we perceive what cannot be perceived, by which we know what cannot be known? Shvetaketu was baffled and asked his father-“What that knowledge is?”

The father replied – “My dear, just as by a single lump of clay, all that is made of clay is known, all modifications being only a name based upon words, (the difference being only a name arising from speech) but the truth being that all is clay thus, my dear, is that instruction.” This aroused a lot of curiosity in Shvetaketu, who requested his father to explain this to him further.

Uddalaka asked him to bring him a fruit of nearby Nyagrodh tree (banyan tree). Shvetaketu immediately brought one, which Uddalaka asked him to break and asked him “What do you see there?” Shvetaketu replied that inside the fruit were extremely small seeds. Uddaalak asked him to break one of them and enquired “Shvetaketu, what do you see there?” Shvetaketu replied that he saw nothing inside the tiny seeds. The father said – “My son, that subtle essence which you do not perceive there, of that very essence this great Nyagrodha tree, grows (exists). Believe me, my son. Now, that which is the subtle essence (the root of all) in That all that exists has its Self; that is the Self; That is the Truth; That thou art, O Shvetaketu!”
Shvetaketu not having fully understood, requested his father to explain to him further. Uddaalak gave him a grain of salt and asked him to place it in the water and to come to him in the morning. Shvetaketu complied with his father’s instructions. Next day the father said to him – “Bring the salt, my dear, which you put in the water last night.” The son looked for it and did not find it, for it had been dissolved in the water. Sage Uddaalak asked Shvetaketu to taste the water from the surface and to answer how does it taste? The son replied – “It is salt.” Uddaalak then asked him to taste the water from the middle and from the bottom and to answer how it is? Shvetaketu replied – “It is salt.” The father said – “Throw it away and come to me.” The son did so. Then the father said to him – “Here also in this body, forsooth, you do not perceive the Truth (Sat or Pure Being), my son, but there it is indeed.” The father said – “Now that which is the subtle essence (the root of all), in That all that exists has its Self: That is the Self; that is the Truth; That thou art; O Shvetaketu!

This is the real knowledge, the knowledge of the Self, which is the highest knowledge beyond which there remains nothing more to be learnt.
Both these stories reflect upon the soul from a spiritual point of view. It would be interesting to know what the philosophers have to say about the soul.

Soul in Greek philosophy

The Ancient Greeks used the same word for ‘alive’ as for ‘ensouled’, indicating that the earliest surviving western philosophical view believed that the soul was that which gave life to the body. The soul was considered the incorporeal or spiritual ‘breath’ which animates (from the Latin, anima, cf. animal) the living organism.

Socrates believed that the soul existed even after death. He believed that as bodies died, the soul was continually reborn in subsequent bodies. His disciple Plato, however, considered the psyche to be the essence of a person, being that which decided how we would behave. He considered this essence to be an incorporeal, eternal occupant of our being. Plato believed in the immortality of the soul as well but he thought that only one part of the soul was immortal (logos). The Platonic soul comprised three parts located in different regions of the body:

• the logos, or logistikon (mind, nous, or reason) – located in the head. This part of the soul has to do with reason. It regulates the other part.
• the thymos, or thumetikon (emotion, or spiritedness, or masculine)- located near the chest region. This part of the soul has to do with anger.
• the eros, or epithumetikon (appetitive, or desire, or feminine) – located in the stomach. This part of the soul has to do with one’s desires.

Each of these has a function in a balanced, level and peaceful soul. However, logos (reason) governs the others in order for the “psyche” or soul to function optimally.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) did not believe in a separate existence of the soul from the physical body and defined the soul or psyche as the first actuality of a naturally organized body. In Aristotle’s view, the primary activity of a living thing constituted its soul; for example, the soul of an eye, if it were an independent organism, would be seeing (its purpose or final cause). For Aristotle, the soul was the form of a living creature.

The various faculties of the soul or psyche, such as nutrition also known as vegetative (peculiar to plants), movement also known as passionate (peculiar to animals), reason (peculiar to humans), sensation (special, common, and incidental) and so forth, when exercised, constituted the “second” actuality, or fulfilment, of the capacity to be alive.

A good example was someone who fell asleep, as opposed to someone who fell dead; the former actually could wake up and go about their life, while the latter could no longer do so. Aristotle identified three hierarchical levels of living things—plants, animals, and people, for which groups he identified three corresponding levels of soul, or biological activity:

(1) The nutritive activity of growth, sustenance and reproduction which all life shares: This is the power living beings have to grow and take in nourishment. Aristotle considered nutrition as first of the individual faculties of the soul, for two related reasons. The first was that the nutritive soul belonged to all naturally living things. The second was that the higher forms of soul presupposed nutrition.

(2) The appetitive-the self-willed motive activity and sensory faculties, which only animals and people have in common: This is the power of desiring. The sensory: This is the power of perceiving things with the five senses. The locomotive: This is the ability to move; and

(3) The reasoning- reason, of which men alone are capable: This is what makes humans different from animals.
As regards the immortality of soul, there is controversy as to whether he stated that soul as a whole was mortal or a part called “active intellect” or “active mind” was immortal and eternal.

Soul in Oriental & Western philosophies & traditions

Following Aristotle, the earlier Persian Muslim philosophers made a distinction between the soul and the spirit, and included the idea that the immortality of the soul was a consequence of its nature, and not a purpose for it to fulfil. Avicenna (Ibn Sina) in his theory of “The Ten Intellects”, viewed the human soul as the tenth and final intellect. According to him, the idea of the self was not logically dependent on any physical thing, and that the soul should not be seen in relative terms, but as a primary given, a substance. This argument was later refined and simplified by René Descartes in epistemic terms when he stated: “I can abstract from the supposition of all external things, but not from the supposition of my own consciousness.”
Avicenna generally supported Aristotle’s idea of the soul originating from the heart, whereas Ibn al-Nafis rejected this idea and instead argued that the soul “is related to the entirety and not to one or a few organs”. He further criticized Aristotle’s idea that every unique soul requires the existence of a unique source, in this case the heart. Ibn al-Nafis concluded that “the soul is related primarily neither to the spirit nor to any organ, but rather to the entire matter whose temperament is prepared to receive that soul,” and he defined the soul as nothing other than “what a human indicates by saying ‘I'”.

Later, Thomas Aquinas stated that the soul is not something made up of matter and form and that it could not be destroyed in any natural process.

Psychology being defined as the study of mental processes and behaviour, James Hillman distinguishes between the soul and spirit, which are often viewed as synonyms. Hillman argues that they can refer to antagonistic components of a person. Summarizing Hillman’s views, author and psychotherapist Thomas Moore associates spirit with “afterlife, cosmic issues, idealistic values and hopes, and universal truths”, while placing soul “in the thick of things: in the repressed, in the shadow, in the messes of life, in illness, and in the pain and confusion of love”. Hillman described the soul as that “which makes meaning possible, [deepens] events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern”, as well as “a special relation with death”.

Advances made in neuroscience have undermined the validity of the concept of an independent soul/mind and has done much to illuminate the functioning of the brain but much of subjective experience remains mysterious.

Soul as per religious traditions (Egyptian, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Chinese etc.)
Coming to the religious point of view, in the ancient Egyptian religion, an individual was believed to be made up of various elements, some physical and some spiritual. Similar ideas are found in ancient Assyrian and Babylonian religion.

In so far as Christianity is concerned, most Christians believe in the reality of the soul, which is integrally connected with the body and yet distinct from it. Its characteristics are described in moral, spiritual, and philosophical terms. According to a common eschatological belief, when people die, their souls will be judged by God and consigned to the Heaven or the Hell for the eternity. All sects of Christianity recognise that Jesus Christ plays a decisive role in the process of the salvation of the soul. Some Christians believe that if one has not repented of one’s sins and did not have firm faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, one will go to Hell and suffer eternal damnation or eternal separation from God. Some others hold that the unrighteous soul will be destroyed instead of suffering eternally. Believers will inherit eternal life in Heaven and enjoy eternal fellowship with God.

Some Christians espouse a trichotomic view of humans, which characterizes humans as consisting of a body (soma), soul (psyche), and spirit (pneuma). The majority of modern Bible scholars, however, point out how spirit and soul are used interchangeably in many biblical passages, and so hold to dichotomy: the view that each of us is body and soul.

The present Catechism of the Catholic Church (a summary of principles, often in question-and-answer format) defines the soul as “the innermost aspect of humans, that which is of greatest value in them, that by which they are most especially in God’s image: ‘soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man”. All souls living and dead will be judged by Jesus Christ when he comes back to earth. The souls of those who die unrepentant of serious sins, or in conscious rejection of God, will at judgment day be forever in a state called Hell. The Catholic Church teaches that the existence of each individual soul is dependent wholly upon God: “The doctrine of the faith affirms that the spiritual and immortal soul is created immediately by God.”
References to the Spirit having the attributes of God are found in the Holy Bible as under:

• eternal, having neither beginning nor end (Hebrews 9:14),
• omnipotent, having all power (Luke 1:35);
• omnipresent, being everywhere at the same time (Psalm 139:7); and
• omniscient, understanding all matters (1 Corinthians 2:10,11).

Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox views are somewhat similar, in essence, to Roman Catholic views although different in specifics. Orthodox Christians believe that after death, the soul is judged individually by God, and then sent to either Abraham’s Bosom (temporary paradise) or Hades/Hell (temporary torture). At the Last Judgment, God judges all people who have ever lived. Those, who know the Spirit of God, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, go to Heaven (permanent paradise) whilst the damned experience the Lake of Fire (permanent torture). The Orthodox Church does not teach that Purgatory exists (Purgatory, according to Catholic Church doctrine, is an intermediate state after physical death in which those destined for heaven “undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven”.)

Protestants generally believe in the existence of the soul, but hold different opinions about what this means in terms of an afterlife. Some, following Calvin, believe in the immortality of the soul and conscious existence after death, while others, following Luther, believe in the mortality of the soul and unconscious “sleep” until the resurrection of the dead.

Buddhists believe that nothing is permanent and that all things are in a constant state of flux, including the human beings. According to Buddhism, therefore, there is no permanent “Self”, which is also known as the doctrine of anatta (Pāli; Sanskrit: anātman) – “no-self” or “no soul”. The words “I” or “me” do not refer to any fixed thing. They are simply convenient terms that allow us to refer to an ever-changing entity. If the word “soul” simply refers to an incorporeal component in living things that can continue after death, then Buddhism does not deny the existence of the soul. Instead, Buddhism denies the existence of a permanent entity that remains constant behind the changing corporeal and incorporeal components of a living being. Just as the body changes from moment to moment, so do the thoughts come and go. There is no permanent, underlying mind that experiences these thoughts, rather, conscious mental states simply arise and perish with no “thinker” behind them. When the body dies, the incorporeal mental processes continue and are reborn in a new body. Because the mental processes are constantly changing, the being that is reborn is neither entirely different from, nor exactly the same as, the being that died. However, the new being is continuous with the being that died – in the same way that the “you” of this moment is continuous with the “you” of a moment before, despite the fact that you are constantly changing.

There are differences of opinion amongst various schools of Buddhism about what continues after death. The Yogacharya school in Mahayana Buddhism believes in Store-house consciousness which continues to exist after death. Some schools, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, believe in the existence of three minds: very subtle mind, which does not disintegrate in death; subtle mind, which disintegrates in death and which is “dreaming mind” or “unconscious mind”; and gross mind, which does not exist when one is sleeping (similar to Jagrat, Swapna and Sushupti states in Hindu philosophy). Therefore, gross mind is less permanent than subtle mind, which does not exist in death. Very subtle mind, however, does continue, and when it “catches on”, or coincides with phenomena, again, a new subtle mind emerges, with its own personality/assumptions/habits, and that entity experiences karma in the current continuum.

On the contrary certain modern Buddhists, particularly in the Western world, reject or at least take an agnostic stance towards the concept of rebirth or reincarnation, which they view as incompatible with the concept of anatta.

Jainism believes in every living being having a soul, which has no beginning and end, being eternal in nature but changes its form till it attains liberation. They categorize souls as Liberated Souls, which have attained liberation (Moksha) and, therefore, do not become part of the life cycle again and Non-Liberated Souls, which are stuck in the life cycle of four forms Manushya Gati (Human Being), Tiryak Gati (Any other living being), Dev Gati (Heaven) and Narak Gati (Hell). Till the time the soul is not liberated from the innumerable birth and death cycle, it gets attached to different types of above bodies based on the karma of individual soul.

In the Islamic tradition, the Holy Qur’an speaks very briefly about the ‘Ruh’ (Soul), as the brilliance of the God. It mentions:
And they ask you about the Ruh. Say, “The Ruh belongs to the domain of my Lord; and you were given only little knowledge.” (The Holy Qur’an 17.85)
God takes the souls at the time of their death, and those that have not died during their sleep. He retains those for which He has decreed death, and He releases the others until a predetermined time. In that are signs for people who reflect. (The Holy Qur’an 39.42)

The followers of Bahá’u’lláh (Bahá’í Faith) believe that “the soul is a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind, however acute, can ever hope to unravel”. Bahá’u’lláh stated that the soul continues to live after the physical death of the human body and is immortal. Heaven can be seen partly as the soul’s state of nearness to God; and hell as a state of remoteness from God. Each state follows as a natural consequence of individual efforts, or the lack thereof, to develop spiritually. Bahá’u’lláh taught that individuals have no existence prior to their life here on earth and the soul’s evolution is always towards God and away from the material world.

In modern Judaism the soul is believed to be given by God to a person by his/her first breath. It is mentioned in Genesis: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Genesis 2:7. Judaism relates the quality of one’s soul to one’s performance of mitzvah (divine commandments) and reaching higher levels of understanding, and thus closeness to God. A person with such closeness is called a Tzadik (righteous one).

In the Chinese traditions, every person has two types of soul called hun and po, which are respectively yang and yin. Taoism believes in ten souls, Sanhunqipo “three hun and seven po”. The pò is linked to the dead body and the grave, whereas the hún is linked to the ancestral tablet. A living being that loses any of them is said to have mental illness or unconsciousness, while a dead soul may reincarnate to a disability, lower desire realms or may even be unable to reincarnate.

Soul according to Vedantic tradition

Let us now revert to Hindu point of view, which has most elaborately dealt with the subject in various Upanishads and Bhagwat Gita, known in short as the Vedanta, as also in the Puranas, wherein the expressions Jiva, Ātman and “Purusha” have been used to refer to the Self meaning thereby the individual Self, which perceives all objects. This self is distinct from the various mental faculties such as desires, thinking, understanding, reasoning and ego, all of which are considered to be part of Prakriti (nature).
The three major schools of Hindu philosophy agree that the Atman (individual Self) is related to Brahman or the Paramatman, the Absolute Atman or Supreme Self, but they differ in the nature of this relationship. Scholars belonging to the Advaita school of thought consider the individual Self and the Supreme Self, as one and the same. Scholars belonging to the Dvaita school, reject this concept of identity and instead identify the Self as a separate but similar part of Supreme Self (God), that never loses its individual identity. Scholars belonging to the Visishtadvaita take a middle path and accept the Atman as a “mode” (Prakara) or attribute of the Brahman. Both the Brahman and Atman possess the same attributes or qualities of Sat, Chit and Anand. I would, however, like to mention that these differences are only from a relative perspective, depending upon the plane where one stands. Here it would be important to mention that the Srimadbhagwat Mahapuran in Tritiya Skandh, Adhyay 29 mentions that ‘the God resides in the heart of all creatures in the form of the soul. One, who considers the soul and the God to be even slightly different, faces the supreme threat of death’. The soul, therefore, is qualitatively the same as the Supreme Soul and its true nature is eternal bliss.

According to the Sankhya Yoga, human body comprises of the twenty three elements namely, Mahtatva, Ahankar, five gross elements (namely Aakash, Vayu, Agni, Jal and Prithvi), their five subtle principles (namely Shabda, Sparsh, Tej, Rasa and Gandha), Manas (the mind), five organs of senses (namely, the ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose) and the five organs of action (namely, the speech, hands, feet, the genitals and anus). But these elements could not combine together to result into a human aggregate. The Sat Purush, therefore, cast His irradiation in the form of Atman to bring life to this conglomeration, into the human being.

The Srimadbhagwat Gita in chapter 2 ‘Sankhya Yoga’ mentions about the soul that it is unmanifest, immutable, inconceivable and eternal. Weapons cannot cleave the soul; fire cannot burn it; water cannot wet it nor can the air dry it. The soul is unbreakable, insoluble, all pervading, unchanging and immovable. The great philosopher Socrates was asked by Crito ‘in what manner should he be buried?’ It is said that Socrates had replied: ‘In any manner you like, but first you must catch me, the real me. You can bury only my body and not the real me.’

Because of the ignorance of its own true nature, the soul, however, gets involved in the process of manifesting and transmigrating through cycles of birth and death. According to the Hindu Philosophy, human aggregate comprises of three bodies-gross, subtle and causal bodies. The gross body has the characteristic qualities of Movement and growth. Thinking and knowing are the characteristic qualities of the subtle body. The union of gross body and subtle body is called birth and their separation is called death. In regard to birth and death the Srimadbhagwat Mahapuran in Tritiya Skandh, Adhyay 31 mentions that the subtle body remains in existence till one achieves liberation; its union with the gross body is known as birth and its inability to work together i.e. their separation is known as death. The causal body, which is the storehouse of all Karmas (actions), however, causes their union or separation.

When the Soul gets embodied it is called birth, when the Soul leaves a body it is called death. The Soul transmigrates from one body to another body to enable it to bear the fruit of actions, thoughts and desires according to the Karmic theory of Hindu philosophy. Being the irradiation of the all-shining luminous Sat-Purush, the soul is also luminous. It, however, lost its original luminosity while descending in the human aggregate, because of identifying itself with the body, senses and mind due to false association with the ego.

The feeling of man’s existence as a separate individual arises because of his ego. The individual’s mind and his physical body are the manifestation of man’s ego. The mind, however, assumes the position of the ruler and rules over not only the physical body but also over the soul (the Jeeva or the embodied soul), which due to this false association has lost its original luminosity and has assumed a false identity. The story narrated by Sant Sunder Das is related: A lioness gave birth to a cub in the forest, which fell in the hands of a ‘shepherd’ who brought up the cub as one of the sheep. One day a lion passed by and spotted the cub. The lion wondered how the cub was behaving like a sheep and was feeding on grass, forgetting his own true self. The lion roared and asked the cub to do the same. The cub also roared imitating the lion. The sheep and the shepherd ran away. The lion took the cub with him and showed him his face in a pond of water. The cub then realised that it was not a sheep but a lion.

The real meaning of this story is that our soul is the cub, which lives under the control of the mind, which is the shepherd and the senses are the sheep. The soul has come from the Infinite. The mind has mixed up the soul with the senses and body. The mind now rules us and feeds us on worldly things, which are like grass. When a Master like the lion tells us about the Truth and shows us our reality, we know the real form of our soul.

SELF-REALIZATION – the essence of Vedanta

The emphasis of Vedanta philosophy lies in attaining Self-realization. Self-realization refers to the process in which one acquires the knowledge of the Self and returning back to the Source which is Brahman. The Mandukya Upanishad verse 7 describes the Self as the ‘Pure Consciousness’. It mentions the fourth aspect of Atman or Self as Turiya, (literally the fourth) in which consciousness is neither turned outward nor inward. Nor is it both outward and inward; it is beyond both cognition and the absence of cognition. This fourth state of Turiya cannot be experienced through the senses or known by comparison, deductive reasoning or inference; it is indescribable, incomprehensible, and unthinkable with the mind. This is Pure Consciousness itself. This is the real Self. It is within the cessation of all phenomena. It is serene, tranquil, filled with bliss, and is one without second. This is the real or true Self that is to be realized.

Consciousness is the attribute of the Soul and since all sentient and insentient beings possess consciousness, the entire universe is pervaded by Soul. The Srimadbhagwat Mahapuran states that in the beginning there was nothing except God and in order to create the world, He started to look around. This faculty of differentiating the seer from the scene was the first manifestation of Maya. This was the foremost illusion and the mother of all principles of relativity. The man has to realise this truth; overcome this illusion of duality of the seer and the scene, in order to realise his true Self. The faculty, which realises, however, is not the soul since the soul is the very object that is to be realised. The soul is the reality, the real state of being. That which realises the soul is not the soul. When one realises the soul all is left behind, as everything gets merged in the soul. Everything in the first instance has originated from the soul and one can get back to it only when all that is created by it gets dissolved in its essence.
The first glimpse of the soul occurs in the ‘Chitta’ (the faculty of thought-Mahtatva in the Sankhya Yoga), where alone the knowledge of Truth is first perceived. The feeling of duality very much persists at this plane, as the one who perceives and the one that is perceived stand distinctly apart.

More important than acquiring the theoretical knowledge of the Soul is to know how to realise it? While seers and sages have described various ways and volumes have been written about them, I intend to mention here the essence of them all and that is-‘Satsang, Satguru and Satnam’. Satsang means spending time in the company of realised souls-saints and Mahatmas, which gradually prepares the seeker to receive the true knowledge. It is the exhortation of all scriptures that when the disciple is ready, Satguru (a true Master) is sent to guide him. It is not true that the seeker finds the Master; rather it is the Master, who descends to guide and help the true seekers. The Satguru leads the seeker on the path of Self-realisation through his grace, which is known as ‘the Satnam given’ by the Master. In other words, it is the desire or inquisitiveness to seek the Truth that leads one to the Truth and the nature of Truth is such that one, who realises the Truth, becomes the Truth personified.

An integral self-realization, according to Sri Aurobindo, is a triple process. First, the realization of the individual soul called ‘the physic being’, the immortal in a mortal body as the divine element in the evolution. Second, is the realization of the cosmic self which is one in all. Third, is the realization of the Supreme Divine at the height of all forms of Atman (Sarvabhutantaratma – Kena Upanishad). Both individual self (Jivatman) and cosmic self have emanated from Him. The soul which was represented by the Vedic god Agni or the mystic fire, was replaced by Atman (inner soul) in the Upanishads, according to Sri Aurobindo.
The Upanishads prescribe a triple path for selef-realization – Shravana or study and listening to scriptures, Manana or contemplation of what is learnt, and Nididhyasana or constant focusing and meditation on Atman or soul. But Katha Upanishad and the Rig Veda warn that all those efforts may not eventually lead to self-realization and that Atman reveals itself only to the chosen ones, just like a chaste woman bares herself to her husband. In Sri Aurobindo’s words: “He who chooses the Infinite has been chosen by the Infinite” (refer ‘Synthesis of Yoga’ by Sri Aurobindo).

The Vedantic concept of soul can be aptly summed up by saying that the essence of ‘being’ lies in ‘non-being’, which is the real state of the soul. The ‘non-beingness’ can be realised only when all attributions, adaptations, coverings, assumptions and presumptions, are gone.


From the above discussions, it is implied that soul exists within the body and when it leaves the body, death occurs. It is also suggested that soul is independent of body and is not co-terminus with the body. In other words, soul does not die with the body, but outlives it. As for definition of soul, there can be none, inasmuch as definition means limitation, and it has not been possible yet to find the limitation of soul. In other words, soul is indefinable. Thus our first poser in the Introduction is answered. Let us now deal with remaining posers.

i) Whether soul is a matter or non-matter?

Vedanta that has extensively and intensively dealt with soul has envisaged soul or Atman at three levels. At the first level, it is known as Kshara or destructible phenomenon as it is encompassed with the three Gunas (qualifications) viz. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, along with its correspondent attributes (refer verse 5, chapter 14 of Bhagwat Gita). In that state, the soul within the body is identified with the person in whose body it remains encaged. When the body dies that destructible phenomenon ceases to exist. In other words, the soul after shedding off the mortal body realizes that it is not the body. It is in fact indestructible or Akshara which is its real character. This realization dawns at the second level. As a matter of fact, a man of wisdom realizes that truth while living, and is thereby able to transcend the limited mortal identity of the soul. But vast majority of men confuse soul with their mortal self and when they die, their deluded soul leaves the body, shrouded by ignorance, being tied by the three Gunas without realizing its true character. The soul at the third or the last level is nothing but pure consciousness or divine existence per se. In that state soul is non-matter while in previous two states, not being free from the bondage of the Gunas the soul remains as matter and is subject to law of nature or Prakriti.

ii) Whether same soul is re-incarnated in different bodies?

Factum of re-incarnation has been extensively dwelt upon in our interactive session cum post on ‘Spirit World’ dated 7.2.2014 wherein the anecdote of Shanti Devi, a young North Indian girl who vividly remembered and described her past life, has been presented as an incontrovertible proof. Besides, opinions of neuro-biological researchers like Sir John Eccles, a Nobel Laureate, and the findings of past life regression therapists like Dr. Brian Weiss have been referred to in support, in our post on ‘Consciousness & Super-consciousness, dated 9.8.2014. All those findings in present time validate the Vedantic and Buddhist affirmation of re-incarnation according to one’s past Karma (action).

iii) Whether soul is dynamic or inert?

According to the Vedanta, it is the Prakriti that is dynamic or kinetic. Soul as pure consciousness is inert and without action. In support we rely upon verse 27, chapter 3 of Bhagwat Gita which states as follows:
“All action is universally engendered by the attributes (Gunas) of primordial nature (Prakriti). A man whose self is deluded by ego thinks, ‘I am the doer’.”

iv) Whether Shradh ceremony for Hindus or memorial services in other religions really matter to departed souls?

It is generally believed that the departed souls that are not liberated are destined to different lokas or levels according to their karma and attributes, such as Deva Loka (level of gods), Pitri Loka (level of fathers), Preta Loka (level of lower spirits) etc. Brahma Loka or the level of Brahman happens to the ultimate level meant for liberated souls who have conquered the cycle of birth and death. While the liberated souls do not need any sustenance from the phenomenal world, it is believed that non-liberated souls do need such sustenance as long as the bondage of Prakriti shackles them. It is believed that Shradh ceremony and memorial services help such non-liberated souls in receiving their sustenance primarily through olfactory power.

v) Whether soul is eternal or it ceases to exist at some point of time?

The soul as pure consciousness is identified with the Divine and is, therefore, eternal. However, the soul while at its lower levels of delusion when it identifies itself with a mortal being or beings, cannot be considered as eternal. Such deluded souls exist as long as their delusion lasts. To be precise, the delusion is nothing but ‘I’ consciousness. When ‘I’ Consciousness is eliminated or killed, the soul realizes that all through it has been pure consciousness only, which is without beginning or end. The Moksha or liberation of Vedanta and the Nirvana or extinguishing of the soul of Buddhism imply and suggest the annihilation of this ‘I’ consciousness only. Sans ‘I’ consciousness, the soul is indivisible and eternal.

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(Interactive session on 09.08.2014)
Keynote address by Asish Kumar Raha

(Other participant speakers: Dr. Debabrata Mukherjee, Mr. Amitava Tripathi, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Mr. R.K. Gupta, Ms. Sharmila Bhawal, Dr. Manisha Mukherjee, Mr. Ashok Sengupta, Dr. Kalyan Chakravarty & Mr. Asim Banerjee)
[Opening song – Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta]


Our three-dimensional phenomenal world of particles and the metaphysical world of consciousness are antithetical or mutually incompatible, prima facie. The former is generally labelled as unconscious, while the latter is governed by consciousness, meaning state of awareness, which is again divided into sub-conscious, conscious and super-conscious. From time immemorial, olden philosophical treatises such as Sankhya, Vedanta, Buddhist, Greek, Abrahamic traditions etc. have sought to resolve the puzzle of the mystical phenomenon called consciousness, sourcing its origin either to Nature (Prakriti) or to God. Recent researches into the same phenomenon by Quantum Physicists and Neurobiologists, though not yet conclusive, have come to preliminary findings that are diametrically opposed to each other and have raised more questions rather than resolving the existing ones. Some fundamental questions that we propose to dwell upon herein are as follows.

The question that confronts us at the very outset is whether consciousness is a natural or a spiritual phenomenon. Secondly, what is the difference between consciousness and super-consciousness? Third, whether there is any synergic or symbiotic relationship between the two worlds, phenomenal and spiritual; and if so, what are the nature, degree and extent of such relationship? Fourth, whether consciousness under dimensional limits is real or illusory, stable or variable? Fifth, whether consciousness is sourced to matter or matter is sourced to consciousness, or both are sourced to some other phenomenon, common or diverse? Lastly, whether our lives and destiny are controlled by a super-conscious entity or nature or by our own consciousness?
Before we dwell upon above posers to find logical answers, let us critically analyse ancient wisdom as also modern scientific researches on the subject.

Sankhya philosophy on consciousness:

“There is no philosophy in the world” says Swami Vivekananda (refer ‘A study of the sankhya philosophy’ in vol.2 of The Complete Works), “that is not indebted to Kapila” (the author of Sankhya philosophy). “Pythagoras came to India and studied this philosophy”, the Swami goes on, “and that was the beginning of the philosophy of the Greeks. Later, it formed the Alexandrian school, and still later, the Gnostic. It became divided into two; one part went to Europe and Alexandria and the other remained in India; and out of this, the system of Vyasa was developed.”

According to Sankhya philosophy, the nature or Prakriti is the cause of everything that exists, including consciousness. To be more precise, Prakriti manifests into Mahat or intelligence which includes not only consciousness but sub-consciousness and super-consciousness as well, among its many other qualities or attributes. From Mahat comes Manas or mind and Aham or universal egoism. What is striking in Sankhya philosophy is that all these so-called qualities such as intelligence, mind and egoism are nothing but matter. From egoism come five sense organs, viz. eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin with their corresponding qualities, as also five Tanmatras, viz. form, fluid, smell, touch and sound and out of the Tanmatras come gross matter viz. earth, water, fire, air and ether.

Prakriti, according to Sankhya, is insentient or Jara. Hence all its derivatives such as intelligence, mind, egoism or even the will, being compounds are also insentient. But when they reflect upon the Chit of the ‘Purusha’, the ‘Purusha’ becomes sentient. The second striking feature of Sankhya philosophy is that the ‘will’ being a compound and, therefore, a derivative of nature or Prakriti cannot be the cause of the creation of that very nature or Prakriti.

The Purusha of Sankhya is not just one but numberless. It is identical with souls, and a simple entity, not a compound and, therefore, immaterial. It is the witness for every work, but unaffected by it, for it is without action and without attributes since all attributes are compounds and the Purusha being outside of nature/Prakriti is not compounds. It is the unity of the Purusha with the Prakriti (the former being the enjoyer) that renders the creation kinetic and dynamic. The Purusha alone is sentient, even though sentiency or consciousness as a compound is a derivative of the nature/Prakriti. Both the Purusha and the Prakriti are omnipresent, without beginning and without end and this co-existence of two infinities without a cause is the third important feature of Sankhya philosophy.
The fourth and the most striking feature of Sankhya philosophy of Kapila is that God is not necessary to create the universe and that nature is self-sufficient to create the universe.

Vedanta as logical corollary to Sankhya:

While Vedanta agrees with Sankhya in its fundamentals that Mahat with all its derivatives including consciousness is a compound or a product of the nature/Prakriti, it differs from Sankhya in that the soul or Atman, called Purusha by Kapila is not infinite in number but just one, being the Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute and Bliss Absolute. In other words, the soul is not just Purusha of but Brahman. Thus while Purusha and Prakriti in Sankhya are two everlasting infinites without a cause, in Vedanta Brahman is the ultimate cause of Purusha and Prakriti.

“According to Vedanta”, to quote Swami Vivekananda, “the three fundamental factors of consciousness are, I exist, I know and I am blessed.” When that supreme awareness gets limited to mortal existence in this phenomenal world, the consciousness becomes a compound or a product of the nature, conditioned by dimensionally limited mind, intelligence and egoism.

Vedanta envisages Universal Purusha or Self, called Ishwara, as the governor of the cosmos as also individual lives and said Ishwara is not subject to the rule of Prakriti. Such being the case, Prakriti cannot be called infinite, in the given proposition that Universal Purusha or Ishwara falls outside its ambit. That Universal Purusha or Self in Advaita (non-dualist) Vedanta is called Brahman in Whom all universes including every particle and every living being are subsumed. In Dvaita (dualist) Vedanta, said Universal Purusha as the governor of the outer cosmos is called Ishwara and as the governor of inner cosmos of living beings is called soul or Atman. In other words, Vedanta postulates that all that exists is Brahman – Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma. Therefore, there is no material difference between soul and matter as the soul pulsates or vibrates in every matter. Therefore, what we find as matter is an illusion, not real, according to Advaita Vedanta.

Consciousness in Greek, Buddhist, Egyptian, Abrahamic and Gnostic traditions
Consciousness in above traditions has been invariably linked to soul and has been generally de-linked from matter. But none of the above traditions has linked human consciousness to God-consciousness like Advaita Vedanta has done.
Greek philosophy owes its parentage to Pythagoras who is also acknowledged as the father of the western scientific tradition. He had spent considerable time in India and Egypt to learn the secret wisdom of the East. He is credited with the teaching of transmigration of soul through successive incarnations and the linking of symbolic properties of mind with the mechanism of the universe. One of his greatest contributions was the notion of the harmony of the spheres that linked inner states of the mind to the celestial spheres. He claimed that he could hear music of the Heaven and visualized the soul in ecstasy. Democritus, another Greek philosopher cum scientist went to the extent of declaring that the soul was composed of the finest atoms and that at death soul molecules detach themselves from the corpse. He attributed all mental activities to the atomic particles, just like Kapila. Socrates who left no writings of his own was reputed to be the greatest Greek philosopher and was also known as an explorer of consciousness who bridged the gap between the spirit and the intellect. He subscribed to the theory of reincarnation. Plato, the well known disciple of Socrates, described this world as the shadow of the reality. Like Pythagoras and Socrates, he subscribed to the theory of reincarnation and out of body consciousness.

In Buddhist philosophy, consciousness is termed as Vinnana or Vijnana in Sanskrit. Vinnana arises from five material sense bases which are eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin, while the sixth sense base is mind. Buddhism, therefore, has envisaged six types of consciousness. Vinnana causes craving (tanha) and craving causes suffering. Therefore, one should not be attached to Vinnana. In Cetana Sutta (Awareness Discourse) the Buddha proclaimed as follows: “Bhikkus, what one intends, plans or is inclined toward, becomes a basis for consciousness. When consciousness is established, and grows, it leads to renewed existence, future birth, ageing and death, sorrow, pain, lamentation and despair. Thus the whole mass of suffering takes its root.” In Anguttara Nikaya discourse the Buddha lucidly explained his concept of consciousness as follows:
[Ananda:] “One speaks, Lord, of ‘becoming’. How does becoming take place?”
[Buddha:] “… Ānanda, kamma (action) is the field, consciousness the seed and craving the moisture for consciousness of beings hindered by ignorance and fettered by craving to become established in. Thus, there is re-becoming in the future.”
It can thus be seen that though Buddhist philosophical background is cast in the mould of Sankhya and Vedanta, by identifying consciousness as the root of suffering, it has drifted from the Vedantic postulate of Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma. Like Sankhya, Buddhist philosophy does not consider God as essential for creation of the universe.

Egyptian concept of consciousness revolves around Ka or the double residing inside the body and Ba, the main soul element. Both, according to Egyptian philosophy, are conscious and capable of independent thought. Both merge after the death through the machination of Akh after the Judgment. Egyptian belief in the likelihood of re-animation of the body (Khat) after death and consequent mummification of the dead body so as to enable its re-animation has made its philosophy rather mundane and worldly.
Abrahamic tradition that generally subscribes to single life existence till resurrection after the Judgment Day has its theory of consciousness centred on the experience of that single life based on which God will evaluate every individual on the Judgment Day. Consciousness, in this tradition is, therefore, necessarily body-centric.

The philosophy of Gnosticism (the word came from the Greek word Gnosis meaning knowledge or insight) came to be widely known in the 1st and 2nd century A.D. It was Platonic in the beginning as it drew its inspiration from Plato’s concept of two conflicting world souls – one rational, doing good only and the other irrational, doing just the opposite. While the cosmic soul is in the state of being and unchanging or the ideal, the irrational soul is represented by the matter and is in a constant state of flux, or becoming. It is for the rational soul to control the irrational soul. Gnostic philosophy, however, holds this material cosmos as an error on the part of the supra-cosmic being called Sophia (Wisdom) in fulfilment of a reckless desire to know the transcendental God, One beyond Being. In the process, Sophia created a semi-divine being called demiurge who in turn created this imperfect world. Thus Gnostics reject this world as a product of error and ignorance, a failed experiment that produces only sufferings and dejection. Later, on the question of possible salvation from the bondage of the irrational soul, they came under the influence of the Christian thought that God had sent His only son to suffer and die for the sins of all mankind so as to make possible the salvation of mankind. One of the well-known Gnostics was Ptolemy (140 C.E) who interpreted the desire of Sophia to know her Father as the desire to dissolve herself inasmuch as after knowing the Father she would no longer exist as a separate entity. This was precisely the reason why the Father rejected her desire. Gnostic philosophy conceived of three classes of human beings: material, animate and spiritual with their levels of consciousness varying widely. The material level of consciousness is non-intellectual centring on material comforts that are perishable, while animate consciousness is ritualistic with limited concept of God. Spiritual consciousness, according to Gnostics, needs no faith, as they know the reality and receive protection from nature.

Quantum physics and consciousness:

Stephen Hawking, arguably the greatest living quantum physicist, in chapter two of his book ‘The Grand Design’ has raised serious doubt as to whether man possesses free will. In his words, “It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behaviour is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.” He has based his above observation on recent experiments in neuroscience that have led to the finding that by electrically stimulating the brain, one could create a desire in a patient to move his/her hand, arm or foot or to move the lips and talk. He goes on to say in the last chapter of his book under the same caption viz. ‘The Grand Design’: “We cannot solve exactly the equations for three or more particles interacting with each other”. Hence, we are just not in a position to predict action of a human being, containing a thousand trillion, trillion particles so as to prove that it is actually a robot, having no free will/consciousness. Thus owing to our inability to do the calculations so as to predict actions of a human being, we concede, according to Hawking, that any complex being has free will (though in reality they do not have). It is thus patently clear that quantum physicists like Stephen Hawking are reluctant to accept the phenomenon like consciousness or free will for the simple reason that all these are governed by brain and not independent of it.

Secondly, Hawking is firmly of the view that since there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. The universe in the beginning was as small as the Planck size, a billion-trillion-trillionth of a centimetre from which it expanded by the law of gravity as if “a coin 1 centimetre in diameter suddenly blew up to ten million times the width of the Milky Way”. And this was possible because of the principle that gravity warps space and time. Based on the above phenomenon of quantum physics Hawking concluded that “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

While to Hawkins consciousness is nothing more than an accidental byproduct of laws of physics, to David Bohm, another well-known quantum physicist (refer: The Undivided Universe: An ontological interpretation of quantum theory), consciousness is rooted deep in the implicate order, and is, therefore, present to some degree in all material forms. In his words: “everything material is also mental and everything mental is also material, but there are many more infinitely subtle levels of matter than we are aware of”. “”It could equally well be called idealism, spirit, consciousness. The separation of the two – matter and spirit – is an abstraction. The ground is always one.”

Hawking’s observation that God is not necessary for the creation of universes, is strikingly similar to the essence of the Sankhya philosophy of Kapila. His other findings that man has no free will and his action is governed by laws of nature (Prakriti of Sankhya & Vedanta) agree in substance with the philosophy of Sankhya and are also akin to the revelation of Sri Krishna in verse 27, chapter 3 of the Gita as follows:

“All action is universally engendered by the attributes (Gunas) of primordial nature (Prakriti). A man whose self is deluded by ego thinks, ‘I am the doer’.”

Neurobiological explanation:

Latest neurobiological researchers like Nobel Laureate Sir John Eccles (refer: How the Self Controls its Brain) and Stem Cell researchers like Robert Lanza (refer: Biocentrism) have a scientific explanation for consciousness and super-conscious phenomena. Sir John Eccles and Robert Lanza speak of a mental world in addition to the material world and hold that our mind or consciousness acts on the brain at the quantum level. To them, the mind is not only nonphysical, but non-material and non-substantial, while brain is just the opposite. Life/consciousness, according to them, plays a central role in creating the cosmos instead of the other way round. The perspective of our study of universes, therefore, ought to be switched from physics to biology, with emphasis on consciousness that governs the matter.

There are two physical phenomena that have so far defied known principles of Quantum Physics – viz. wave function of particles and quantum entanglement. Those two physical phenomena, in fact, hold the key to our study of consciousness and super-consciousness.
As for the first phenomenon, experiments have revealed that electrons behave differently when observed by a human. When not so observed, the electron behaves like a wave. When observed, it behaves like a particle. This change in behavioural pattern would suggest that the electron is aware, just like the human, whether it is being observed or not. Neurobiologists have taken the above finding of Quantum Physicists to a different level for explaining out-of-body experience (OBE) and near-death experience (NDE) while the body is in an anaesthetized or inactive state. In that state consciousness remains dis-embodied, and the subject observes events from outside the body. After returning to normal sense, the person can relate what his/her consciousness observed and heard from an out of body location. According to Susan Greenfield, Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University and Professor of Physics at Gresham College, London, none has yet pointed to a single event that occurs in awake but not in anaesthetized brain. Experiments have also shown, as stated by John Eccles, that consciousness leaves a dying person, floats around observing things and later attach itself to an unborn foetus to start a new existence. Consciousness, therefore, has been classified by neuro-biologists like Eccles as a non-material entity and not a property of brain. It is similar to electron in behaviour. While the electrons in the brain behave as particles, it prevents consciousness from realizing that it is part of a whole. When the electrons behave as a wave, the consciousness becomes aware of its existence outside the mind and body, as a part of the larger whole. When the wave function collapses, consciousness returns to the physical body to become entangled just like the electron. This is known as double slit experiment with electron in quantum physics, which has been applied by neuro-biologists to consciousness. Experiment has further revealed that the dis-embodied consciousness possesses visual, auditory, and olfactory senses and experiences a new perception of reality outside of one’s self, I-ness, or oneness. When the person becomes self-conscious, the wave function collapses and the electron changes from wave to particle preventing the person from being aware of his/her larger self or existence as part of the whole.

This out-of-body consciousness can be achieved by a person through meditation when he/she gets eventually merged like a wave with the larger Whole, transcending the limit of time and space. In that state, his super-conscious mind may become capable of controlling the matter/nature and performing miracle. While in a state of meditation, mind is withdrawn from material world setting the particles into wave motion. In that state, if anybody touches the body of the meditator, he is likely to feel an electric shock, as has been experienced and recounted by a person who touched Swami Vivekananda (then Narendra Nath) while the latter was in deep meditation.

The second phenomenon defying scientific explanation is known as Quantum Entanglement of two particles that interact with each other almost instantaneously and certainly at a speed much faster than light, irrespective of distance. This is known as Nonlocality or ‘super-nonlocality’ as Bohm would describe it, which provides an explanation for telepathy, teleportation and clairvoyance.

We have received corroboration of the existence of dis-embodied consciousness from the book of Dr. Raymond Moody, an American heart surgeon, titled ‘Life after Life’. In his book he has recorded out-of-body experiences of some of his patients during the course of heart surgery. Further corroboration is available from the writings of past life regression therapists like Dr. Brian Weiss, suggesting that human brain does not only contain current life memory but also memory of several past lives.

Jill Bolte Taylor episode – the poser:

Ms. Jill Bolte Taylor (b.1959), an American neuro-anatomist and the national spokesperson for the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Centre, experienced a stroke on December 10, 1996, and underwent a major brain surgery on December 27, 1996, at Massachusetts General Hospital to remove a golf ball sized clot in the left hemisphere of her brain. She recorded her experience during the stroke and subsequent period of recovery in her sensational best-selling book ‘My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey’, published in 2008.
Her poser to self and humanity based on her experience during the period when left hemisphere of her brain was practically non-functional is as follows:
“We have two magnificent information-processing machines inside our heads. Our right mind focuses on our similarities, the present moment, inflection of voice, and the bigger picture of how we are all connected. Because it focuses on our similarities, in my mind she is compassionate, expansive, open, and supportive of others. Juxtaposed to that, our left brain thinks linearly, creates and understands language, defines the boundaries of where we begin and where we end, judges what is right and wrong and is a master of details, details and more details about those details. Because it focuses on our differences and specializes in critical judgment of those unlike ourselves, our left brain character tends to be our source of bigotry, prejudice, and fear or hate of the unfamiliar.” Her poser to humanity is quite pertinent: “So who are we? We are the life force power of the universe, with manual dexterity and two cognitive minds. And we have the power to choose, moment by moment, who and how we want to be in the world. Right here, right now, I can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere, where we are. I am the life-force power of the universe. I am the life-force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form, at one with all that is. Or I can choose to step into the consciousness of my left hemisphere, where I become a single individual, separate from the flow, separate from you. I am Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor: intellectual, neuroanatomist. These are the ‘we’ inside of me. Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when?”
While it is difficult at this point of time to validate her substantive finding about diametrically opposite functions and characters of two hemispheres of human brain, her finding that the human brain contains ‘I’-ness as well as universality is in conformity not only with neurobiological endorsement of disembodied consciousness, but also with the quantum theory of dual character of electrons, one as a particle representing individuality and the other as a wave representing universality.

Explanation of super-consciousness by Sri Aurobindo & Swami Yogananda

It is two great yogis of 20th century, viz. Swami Yogananda and Sri Aurobindo, who have explained super-consciousness most lucidly and also how it can be accessed through yoga.

Shri Aurobindo:

The whole effort of Sri Aurobindo and after his demise by the Mother was focused on the descent of Super-mind (or super-consciousness) into the earth-consciousness. In his magnum opus ‘The Life Divine’ Sri Aurobindo has described spiritual mind at four levels, viz. Higher Mind, Illumined Mind, Intuition and Over- Mind, in that order. According to him, our first decisive step in spiritual journey is an ascent into a Higher Mind which brings a large clarity of spirit. Its basic substance is a Unitarian sense of being. “It is a luminous thought-mind, a mind of Spirit-born conceptual knowledge.”

Our next ascent is into Illumined Mind, which in Sri Aurobindo’s words is “a Mind no longer of higher thought, but of spiritual light.” This light, according to him, is not a material creation, but primarily a spiritual manifestation of the Divine Reality, illuminative and creative. “The illumined Mind does not work primarily by thought, but by vision; thought is here only a subordinate movement expressive of sight (ref. The Life Divine, page 944).

The next level of ascent is into Intuition which is “a power of consciousness nearer and more intimate to the original knowledge of identity; for it is always something that leaps out direct from a concealed identity. It is when the consciousness of the subject meets with the consciousness of the object; penetrates it and sees, feels or vibrates with the truth of what it contacts, that the intuition leaps out like a spark or lightening-flash from the shock of the meeting.” “Its rays are not separated but connected or massed together in a play of waves of what might almost be called in the Sanskrit poetic figure a sea or mass of ‘stable lightening’.” (ref. The Life Divine, pp.946-47).

The next ascent of mind is into the Over-mind which is “a power of cosmic consciousness, a principle of global knowledge which carries in it a delegated light from the Supramental Gnosis.” “When the Over-mind descends, the predominance of the centralising ego-sense is entirely subordinated, lost in largeness of being and finally abolished; a wide cosmic perception and feeling of a boundless universal self and movement replaces it.” This sense of cosmic delight, according to him, “is not confined to the person or the body but can be felt at all points in an unlimited consciousness of unity which pervades everywhere.” (ibid, pp 950-51)

The final ascent of mind is to get merged into the Supramental. It goes to the credit of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who thought of and strived for the descent of the supramental into this earth-existence rather than their own ascent. As for the descent of the Supramental, he wrote to a disciple: “But in its nature the Descent (of the Supermind) is not something arbitrary nd miraculous but a rapid evolutionary process compressed into a few years. That cannot be done in the whole world at a time, but it is done like all such processes, first through selected Adharas and then on a wider scale. We have to do it through ourselves (himself and the Mother) first and through the circle of Sadhaks gathered around us in the terrestrial consciousness as typified there. If a few open, that is sufficient for the process to be possible.” (Overman – by Georges Van Vrekhem, pp 117-18).

Swami Yogananda:

In Autobiography of a Yogi, Swami Yogananda has explained the science of Kriya Yoga as follows. One of the fundamental principles of science that no material body whose mass increases with its velocity, can ever attain the velocity of light, viz. 1, 86,300 miles per second. Only a material body with infinite mass could equal, if not exceed the velocity of light. This principle, according to Yogananda (refer Autobiography of a Yogi – Chapter 30: The Law of Miracles) is the cornerstone of miracles. In his words: “Masters who are able to materialize and dematerialize their bodies and other objects, and to move with the velocity of light, and to use the creative light rays in bringing into instant visibility any physical manifestation, have fulfilled the lawful condition; their mass is infinite.” The law of gravitation obviously has no effect on such master who is able to transform his body into weight-less infinite mass with a sense of identity with the Supramental or Pure Consciousness – ‘I am He’ (Sohaham). Free from matter-consciousness of three space dimensions and the fourth dimension of time, the Yogi transfers his body of light with equal ease over or through the light rays of earth, water, fire and air. It is thus that a Yogi can walk on water or through fire, or fly.

“The law of miracles is operable by any man,” says Yogananda, “who has realized that the essence of creation is light….. The actual form of the projection (whatever it be: a tree, a medicine, a human body) is determined by the Yogi’s wish and by his power of will and of visualization” (ibid).

The Yoga, by practising which the Yogi is able to transform his gross body into subtle body of light, or can separate his subtle body from his gross body, is known as the Kriya Yoga. Sri Krishna spoke of this Yoga to Arjuna, several millenniums ago (refer Chapter IV, verse 29, and Chapter V, verses 27-28 of Bhagavad Gita). Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras mentioned Kriya Yoga twice. It is said that one thousand Kriyas practiced in 8.5 hours gives the Yogi in one day the equivalent of one thousand years of natural evolution, and 3,65,000 years of evolution in one year. “The body of the average man is like a fifty-watt lamp,” writes Yogananda (ibid), “which cannot accommodate the billion watts of power roused by an excessive practice of Kriya.” Through regular practice and gradual increase, by reversing the flow of life energy from the outward world to the inner cosmos, the Yogi’s body and brain cells get re-vitalized by a spiritual elixir. He finally becomes master of his body and mind, fit to express the infinite potentials of cosmic energy, and achieves victory over the last enemy – Death (implying that the soul continues in body as long as the Yogi wills).

The following two anecdotes from Swami Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi are recounted to explain the phenomenon of super-consciousness. The first anecdote is taken from chapter 14 titled ‘An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness’ and the second one from chapter 39 titled ‘Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist’. In the first incident, in his early days of celibacy prior to monkhood when in his Master Sri Yukteswar’s abode young Mukunda (Swami Yogananda’s earlier name) was trying in futility to meditate, his Master understood his restive mind and just struck gently on his chest above the heart. What he experienced thereafter has been recounted in following words: “My body became immovably rooted, breath was drawn out of my lungs as if by some huge magnet. Soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage and streamed out like a fluid piercing light from my every pore. The flesh was as though dead, yet in my intense awareness, I knew that never before had I been fully alive. My sense of identity was no longer narrowly confined to a body but embraced the circumambient atoms. People on distant streets seemed to be moving gently over my own remote periphery. The roots of plants and trees appeared through a dim transparency of the soil; I discerned the inward flow of their sap…….The creative voice of God I heard resounding as Aum, the vibration of the cosmic motor.”

The second anecdote related to the Swami’s yogic interface with a Catholic mystic of Bavaria, named Therese Neumann, who since 1923 abstained completely from food and drinks and on every Friday since 1926 was believed to have been experiencing in her own body the stigmata or sacred wounds of Christ (from crucifixion). On a Friday in July, 1935, the Swami visited the saint of Bavaria primarily to test whether her stigmata was genuine or self-inflicted. As he entered her cottage, he put himself in a yogic trance in order to attain telepathic and televisional rapport with her. In attunement with her, the Swami could clearly see the scenes of her vision, viz. that she was watching Jesus as carrying the timbers of the Cross amid the jeering multitude. The Swami could also see though her vision that the Lord had fallen under the cruel weight. From the above instance it would transpire that a yogi can extend his consciousness to another person to experience what that person has been going through.


Our studies from philosophical, scientific and yogic perspectives strongly suggest that consciousness as a phenomenon is distinctive from brain inasmuch as brain necessarily co-exists with a living body while dis-embodied consciousness as a phenomenon is now accepted by eminent bio-scientists after intensive researches (refer to our discussion above, under the caption ‘Neuro-biological explanation’). However, several questions as have been briefly stated in the Introduction still need to be answered in our concluding remarks. In this context, readers may refer to the concluding remarks of our earlier post on ‘Spirit World’ (Feb. 7, 2014) wherein anecdotal references have been made to establish that consciousness survives death. For the sake of brevity, we are avoiding reiteration. Let us now address the posers made in the Introduction.

1) Whether consciousness is a natural or spiritual phenomenon?

Consciousness in the sense we understand the term in association with human brain is a natural phenomenon. Whether it is philosophical tradition of Sankhya, Vedanta, Buddhists, the Greeks, or the Gnostics, or the views of quantum physicists, bio-scientists or the great yogis of present time, we find a general agreement on the point that consciousness is caused by a conglomeration of particles that form the two hemispheres of our brain, irrespective of whether constituent particles causing consciousness leave the brain temporarily or permanently (when a person is dead).

2) What is the difference between consciousness and super-consciousness?

Once our conclusion is that consciousness is a natural phenomenon, it logically leads to the inference that nature being the source of consciousness is potentially conscious. Indian philosophical traditions of both Sankhya and Vedanta, however, make a distinction between the terms sentiency (consciousness) and sentient (conscious), or in other words, between ‘potentially conscious’ and ‘actually conscious’. Briefly stated, traditional philosophical view is that though nature is the source of sentiency (consciousness) it is not sentient (conscious) all by itself, till it comes in contact with the Purusha (soul). On the other hand, Purusha (soul) is sentient without possessing sentiency which comes from Prakriti (nature). It will thus be seen that Purusha (the soul) and Prakriti (nature) are inter-dependent and complementary to each other for manifestation of this sentient world of particles, the highest manifestation of which is man. Thus neither the Purusha, nor the Prakriti is self-sufficient for the creation of this sentient universe. This being the case, the Vedanta, unlike Sankhya, says that both Purusha and Prakriti ought to be sourced to an ultimate powerhouse who is Brahman or God, described as Existence Absolute, Knowledge Absolute and Bliss Absolute (Sat-Chit-Ananda). Super-consciousness conceptually provides the all-important link to sentient souls to reach or perceive Brahman (God). Super-consciousness thus is not an attribute of either the nature (Pakriti) or the soul (Purusha) but flows from Brahman or God to pervade the universe.
As God is not subject of research by scientists, whether quantum physicists or bio-scientists, super-consciousness is looked upon as dis-embodied consciousness only and nothing beyond.

3) Whether any relationship exists between phenomenal & spiritual worlds?

According to yogic tradition prevailing all over the world, there is a link between the phenomenal and spiritual worlds through the medium of consciousness. Current findings of bio-scientists like Sir John Eccles, Robert Lanza etc., heart surgeons like Dr. Raymond Moody and psychotherapists like Dr. Brian Weiss tend to validate the yogic postulates as have been expounded in Life Divine by Sri Aurobindo and in Autobiography of a Yogi by Swami Yogananda.

4) Whether 3 dimensional consciousness is real or illusory?

Just as a single or a 2-dimensional creature cannot appreciate or envision the 3-dimensional world, our consciousness bound by our dimensional limits is not expected to lead us to the reality of multi-dimensional universes (according to M-theory, there are 12 dimensions and 10 to the power of 500 universes in all). Thus what we see or experience with our sense organs is in all likelihood fractured or distorted. As Swami Vivekananda observed, if we humans had one more sense organ, the whole world would have looked different.

According to the Advaita (non-dualist) Vedanta, the entire world is a Maya or illusion. There is no existence except Brahman (God). It is God that evolves and involves. When IT evolves, Big Bang like expansion with the primordial sound ‘Aum’ happens. At the time of ITS involution/dissolution, Big Crunch will result and all the creations will shrink back into their ultimate source. This evolution and involution go on cyclically. This, according to Vedantic tradition, is the ultimate reality, and the rest illusory. A logical corollary deduced from the above postulate is that the consciousness that helps in uniting souls is real and the one that divides is unreal. Love unites. Therefore, love helps in perception of the reality. Hatred divides. Therefore, hatred drifts us from the reality.

5) Whether consciousness is caused by nature or super-conscious?

We have answered this poser substantially in response to the very first poser itself. Super-conscious is the ultimate and not the immediate cause of our consciousness. Immediate cause of our consciousness is nature (Prakriti) as our 3-dimensional consciousness, whether embodied or dis-embodied, is made up of particles. As nature itself is caused by super-consciousness, we may term it philosophically as the ultimate cause of the universe, not the proximate one. The yoga is all about finding and uniting individual soul with the super-conscious through austerity and meditation.

6) Whether we are controlled by our consciousness, nature, or the super-conscious?

Do we make our own destiny or it is governed by the super-conscious? It is not easy to find an answer to this. Stephen Hawking would have us believe that we are no better than robot, controlled entirely by laws of nature. Sri Krishna in verse 27, chapter 3 of the Bhagvat Gita had conveyed to us almost the same message:

“All action is universally engendered by the attributes (Gunas) of primordial nature (Prakriti). A man whose self is deluded by ego thinks, ‘I am the doer’.”

Now the question is, to what extent our destiny is pre-determined. According to the Vedanta, Upanishads as also Buddhism, our destiny is substantially pre-determined by our past karma (action). In other words, our life is virtually programmed. The question is, whether our destiny is programmed by laws of nature randomly as proposed by Stephen Hawking, or judgmentally with reference to our past action/deeds by the mandate of the super-conscious. More importantly, whether there is any scope for discretion in our action or whether our action like our destiny is also programmed.

As for random programming of our destiny, it simply does not appeal to our rational mind, even while accepting for argument’s sake that we are no better than robots. Robots are pre-programmed, and there is a rational mind behind every programming. As a matter of fact, every natural phenomenon such as rain, earthquake, drought or volcanic eruption has a causal connection and, therefore, each such phenomenon can be logically explained and is also predictable. There is no reason why the same logic would not apply to the destiny of human beings. It would stand to logic to think, therefore, that whatever happens to an individual has a causal connection to his Karma or past deed. There is no wonder, therefore, that the destiny of a man should also be predictable, subject to our proficiency to know and decode the causal link.

Let us now turn to the last follow-up poser, viz. whether our action is also pre-determined. The answer is an emphatic NO. If our action is pre-determined, surely we cannot suffer its consequence logically. If a man is programmed to rob or steal, obviously he does not deserve punishment for robbery or theft. This would lead us to the inference that our action is not pre-determined though our fate or destiny is. The above inference finds support from the pronouncement of Sri Krishna in verse 47, chapter 2 of the Bhagvat Gita:

“Your right is for the action alone, not for the results.”

A question may arise whether there is any contradiction between the verse 27 of chapter 3 of the Bhagvat Gita, that says “I am the doer” concept is a self-delusion, and verse 47 of chapter 2 ibid that says that we have a right for action. As a matter of fact, the perspectives of the above two statements were entirely different. While verse 27 of chapter 3 was essentially a statement made in the cosmic perspective of the Sankhya philosophy delineating the role of the Purusha and the Prakriti, the verse 47 of chapter 2 was in the worldly perspective explaining the role of destiny vis-a-vis Karma (action). We, therefore, do not see any contradiction between the above two statements.
In sum, therefore, our action determines our destiny by the law of the super-conscious. Hence, our action is not programmed, though it may be influenced by several constraints or compulsions caused by our past action or deeds.

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