(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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                                                       (Interactive session on 17.05.2014)

Keynote address by MS. Anuradha Banerjee Sarkar

(Other speakers: Mr. Paritosh Banopadhyay, Mr. Sujit Chatterjee, Mr. A.K.                   Sengupta, Dr.Kalyan Chakravarty, Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Ms. Sharmila Bhawal,                          Mr. P.C. Jha, Mr. Subhajyoti Roy, Dr. Madhumita Sarkar, Mr Jogendra singh)

[Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha]



The proposition that “we are connected” implies that our connection with our present life relations and friends is not limited to the life we are presently living, but go back to several lives in the past, possibly in varying relationship. Apart from person-to-person relationship, the proposition also suggests a causal connection between our past deeds of previous lives, to our present state of being or events. Currently, the above concept, accepted as gospel truth by believers of re-incarnation for millenniums, has been popularized by some well renowned past life regression therapists like Dr. Brian Weiss and Dr. Hans W. Tendam (Ms Anuradha banerjee Sarkar, the speaker, has received training from Dr. Hans).

The above proposition has taken the form of a postulate or axiomatic truth in Hindu and Buddhist traditions that subscribe to re-incarnation. Even in Abrahamic tradition that generally does not believe in re-incarnation, causal connection between our deeds in this mortal world and our fate in the next world of Heaven and Hell is accepted. Those who do not subscribe to the theory that the soul survives death, will obviously find the subject proposition as questionable ab initio and may demand harder evidence than what can be ordinarily offered by regression therapists in form of standard validation checks. However, those who are open to conviction will be inclined to subject the above proposition to standard scrutiny with following posers:

a)    If consciousness/mind is a by-product of brain, how can it survive brain? In other words, when a man dies and is either cremated or buried, doesn’t his/her brain cease to exist or become dead? In that state how the consciousness/mind can operate?

b)    Given the limitation of distinctive environment and circumstances, how the action in one life can have causal connection to another?

c)    When the subject is not aware of his past Karma as the cause of his present sufferings, what purpose is achieved by such causal connection?

d)    Can the effect of a man’s past life deeds be neutralized wholly or partially in present life by regression therapy?

Before we address the above posers, let us analyse the proposition and look into the findings of the speaker (in her own words).



 “We are connected to everyone and everything in this universe.” writes Serge Kahili King, the greatest living exponent of ‘Huna’ or Polynesian philosophy of effective living with love and peace for which Hawaiian Islands are well known. “Therefore”, continues King, “everything one does as an individual affects the whole. All thoughts, words, images, prayers, blessings and deeds are listened to by all that is.” (Ref. ‘Mastering your Hidden Self – A Guide to the Huna Way’)

Science is demonstrating that everything and everyone is connected as part of a continuous energy field. As a result, every thought, feeling and action of ours exert an influence on the whole — the people around us, the circumstances of our lives, the world. The material microcosm is as such linked to the larger macrocosm in a temporal and spiritual manifestation.

Now scientific and other innovative findings are corroborating what many ancient texts, philosophies, and even religions have been stating for thousands of years ….that there is a measurable yet unseen and pantheistic connection between human beings and all life. How is this possible if we can’t detect it with our five senses? We’d all agree that we can’t see radio and TV waves, yet we hear the sounds or see the images when these signals reach the receiving devices in our homes. Most of us have experienced synchronicity …we think of someone out of the blue, and then the phone rings.  In that moment, we become the receiver of that “wave” of information. These ideas of us all “being one” and being able to transmit and receive messages or energies from one another can influence situations, relationships, our health, and more.

We’ve all been in the situation where we’ve met someone for the first time but have this immediate and deep connection – sometimes to the point of being able to anticipate what they are going to say next – or feeling as if they’ve been in our life forever. We have also in this context at some point of our lives experienced a sense of déjà vu.

These kind of past-life connections are easy to spot but what about others that may also stretch across several lifetimes and involve soul promises, but which may not be quite so obvious? How do we recognise them?

First of all, we need to understand that often the souls with whom we have the deepest connection and with whom we have chosen to learn and grow with, are the ones who are there to teach us the most profound lessons. And sometimes these lessons are not easy. Just because you have known one another in a past life does not mean it will all be love and happy endings in this one.

We often have themes we have chosen to work through in this life and we may have several ‘soul mates’ – and we use that term in the broadest possible sense as a ‘soul mate’ is not necessarily a romantic partner but someone with whom we have chosen to form a connection with over several lifetimes; who have chosen to appear at various times in our life in order to help us learn a particular lesson. So, with all this in mind, what are the signs we should look for in even our most challenging relationships that may have a strong past life connection with someone?

01. Look for the lesson. Are we learning something about ourselves – either in relationship to other people or our own behaviour?



Let me cite a few illustrations from my case studies that would establish beyond doubt our interconnectivity with one another as also causal connection of our present with our past Karma.

At times we think that why on earth am I suffering so much from this particular problem… when my other family members & friends are not facing any problem on this count. According to Bhagavat Purana amd Srimad Bhagavat Gita, the answer is – we are reborn and get a life in accordance with our past karmas or deeds. Let us run a validation check on that proposition through some of my case studies. 

Case Study 1:

Subject: 55 years old Ashwin (name changed), a successful businessman, born in a very poor family, with 6 siblings. He had studied till class VI. His father died when he was only 16 years old. After his father’s death, he had to take the responsibility of the entire family and struggled a lot to earn livelihood for the entire family.  He joined an institution to become an actor, failed there, and then joined the technical line and through a process of great hardship became ultimately very famous as a stage lighting professional. However, the responsibility of the whole family still continues to be with him. His Brothers & sisters, though married and settled, are still very much dependent on him.

Problem: Why he is suffering with so much responsibility till date?

Session: On being regressed, he saw himself as a small child in London. His mother (a Punjabi lady from India) abandoned near a river bank while he was crying his heart out. A kind-hearted Britisher took him to his house, nurtured him with his other children, who were very small. He started going to school. Though he used to get lot of love and affection from this family, he used to feel very lonely, depressed and unhappy. When he was about to get a job, his foster father died entrusting the responsibility of his entire family (wife and other children) to the young man.

On the person’s death, this boy left the house as he felt very scared to shoulder the responsibility of so many people.

He got married afterwards with his wife becoming pregnant a few months later. When he came to know that he would become a father, he walked out from that relationship without even informing his wife. Years later, living the life of a virtual vagabond, he died forlorn.

Through regression, when he was taken to spirit realm after his death in his previous incarnation, he met his master. When he asked his master about his present life problem and solution, the answer was that he had not done his duty towards the British family, when they really needed him. He was unfaithful to: a) his foster father and his family and also to: b) his wife and child. So, in his present lifetime he is fastened with the responsibility of so many people, most of them being his past- life relatives.

Lesson learnt: The law of Karma, as it is traditionally taught, says that our thoughts, words & deeds – positive and negative – create a chain of cause and effect, and that we will personally experience the effect of every cause that we have set in motion. This goes for negative experiences as well as positive ones because often we learn more from failures than we do from our successes.

02. Is anything owed or left over after the relationship is over? You owe them something or they owe you. Or they’ve left something with you. This can be anything from a book, to money, a child or even a horse. Remember, past life unfulfilled soul promises, or intention to meet someone dear, or to come back to someone, provide a connecting thread to present life, though not easy to detect, but nevertheless detectable through key signs or clues. One such key sign may be your intense feeling that you have deep connection with persons you wouldn’t have dreamed were that important in your life!

Case Study 2:

Subject: 32 years old Kalpana (name changed), lost her younger brother who died of blood cancer, when 15 years old. Kalpana was very much attached to her brother. Since his demise, Kalpana was in a state of grief.  According to her, her brother used to come in her dreams regularly.

Problem: She came for a regression session to know whether she shared any relationship with this brother in any of her past lives.

Session: Kalpana was regressed to another life, where she was from a very poor family. Both the husband (present life husband) & wife used to work as labourers. She had a four- year old son, (who in her present life was her  brother who passed away) who was very close to her. This couple used to share a very strange type of relationship. While they did love and care for each other, at the same time both of them were so headstrong that they ended up fighting with each other on most trivial issues and at the slightest provocation. The husband was an alcoholic, and she used to oppose it, and slowly it became a regular feature. The baby boy never used to like this, and used to tell his mother that if she would continue to fight with his father, he would go out of the house & never return.

One day the couple had a big fight at night. Thereafter, when Kalpana was sleeping; her husband left her with their son. His intention was to teach Kalpana a lesson – how it feels like to live all alone for some time, without husband and son. But tragically, both of them died of an accident after being hit by a truck on the same night while crossing the road.

Kalpana had searched for them from pillar to post but could not trace them, and eventually she died an early death because of extreme starvation and acute depression. Before dying, her last thought was “I don’t have anyone by my side excepting my loneliness”…

Kalpana was brought to the spirit realm and, with the help of her spirit guide, her child was reunited with her. She was allowed to hold her son physically with a cushion serving as a virtual child. She was encouraged to ask her son all those things that she could not ask him in the past as well as in present lives. The son answered that he had an unfinished job to come back to her in the present life, as neither he nor his father had any intention to desert her in the past life. In the present life, he had come as a brother and spent some happy times with her, but as he did not like the burden of life, he left the world early. He is very happy now in his present state. He also wanted to convey to Kalpana not to get scared of loneliness.

For Kalpana, this session helped her get over the fear of loneliness. She learnt a lesson that she is still connected with her near and dear ones. She went back home on a very happy note as she got the opportunity to talk to her beloved brother, whom she lost at a very early age.

03. Past life work is a beautiful way to take inter personal connections right back to their sources. It also validates and explains the way one feels about someone in any kind of relationship. 

Case Study-3

Subject: Nandini (name changed), a young lady who had been suffering from severe depression, came to me for cure through regression therapy.  Nandini had lost both her parents at a very early age. She was married to a person who was extremely caring and understanding.  They have a daughter, who was diagnosed as autistic when she was barely five. Incidentally, till she came for therapy, her daughter was not able to speak. But because of her depression, Nandini never used to give enough love, care and attention to her daughter, though she would from time to time blame her destiny for saddling her with an autistic daughter. At the same time, she used to feel perennially guilty for neglecting the child.

Problem: Nandini wanted to know whether her daughter was related to her in any of her earlier lives and whether her daughter had any past life connection with her current life autism.

Session: When regressed, she immediately went to a past life, where she saw herself in some place in Uttarakhand (India), as a housewife with a very cute daughter (her present life daughter). The year was 1953.  Nandini’s husband was a calm, quiet and caring husband. They were having a very peaceful life.

She was then asked to go to the next significant event of that life. She saw that all three of them were going on a journey to another hill station by car, her husband was driving, it was night, and they were driving up the hills. A huge tree trunk had got uprooted and was lying across the road, which her husband had been unable to notice, resulting in the car colliding with it. In the process, the car veered off the road and directly banged on the trunk and started rolling down. The husband and  wife were screaming by now; the car lost its control & suddenly a feeling prevailed in her that they were no more. All 3 of them were spot dead. After death, when her spirit came out of body, she saw her daughter’s body lying at the back seat; very badly injured on the head.

In the spirit realm, she met her daughter, who told her that she had forgiven her father for the accident. She had chosen Nandini as her mother in this life also as that was her last wish before her death in her past life. She told Nandini not to feel guilty for not performing her duty and that she was happy to be her child again in the current life time.

Nandini then met her Master, who told her that her daughter’s autism was due to the accident in her last birth, which had severely damaged her brain. Nandini was asked to give a lot of love and affection to her daughter and to get her treated from a speech therapist. The Master assured her that as soon as the daughter would start speaking, she would gradually show a marked improvement and then, Nandini would feel much better, and start enjoying her motherhood. Subsequent verification from Nandini confirmed that with the help of a speech therapist, simultaneously with adequate motherly affection, her autistic daughter started speaking slowly and showing marked improvement.

04. Coming back to the theme of ‘Karmic connection’ in individual’s lives or incarnations, we have come across several instances of ‘group Karma’ or ‘collective action’. Entire families, town, states and nation can share what is called Group Karma. When groups of people commit acts together as one body, or fail to act what they should, they re-embody together to mend or alternately suffer for their past lapses for which they were jointly accountable for the harm they caused to another person(s). So not only we are connected to people known to us as family or friends, but also to a large group, which might be a nation also. 

Case Study- 4

Client: Sachin (name changed), 41 years old, stationed in Saudi Arabia, came to India to undergo regression therapy. He had lost his father when he was 4 years old. He had felt very bad about it but did not cry. He never cried since then. Sachin was married, fulfilled his responsibility towards his wife and family perfectly, but he had never expressed his true feelings to anyone. He had no social interest, no emotional feelings; his only love was his job. So people generally misunderstood him from his childhood.

Problem: Sachin wanted to know why he was not able to express himself in front of anyone.

Session: When regressed, he saw himself as a young female dancer (Parvati) in a South Indian temple in Andhra Pradesh. Parvati’s parents were very poor; so they sold her to the priests at this temple when she was only 7 years old. This was a big Nataraja temple. She described that there were many girls like her there. At the beginning, a marriage ceremony took place where they all got married to Lord Nataraja. She learnt music & dance, and became a “Devadasi”. Gradually, she started to hate this forced dancing in front of God and Brahmin priests.

The devadasis used to stay in a house located inside the temple compound. The Brahmin priests who used to visit them whenever they felt like, would sexually abuse them. These were the same priests who used to feed them too.  All devadasis used to live a prisoners’ life there. Parvati started hating the environment here and the people around. There was only one close friend of her’s (present life wife) among the devadasis.

Once, a big festival took place at the temple. After their dance performance at the festival, the devdasis came back to their abode. Suddenly, an angry mob entered their residence and started beating the devdasis. They protested that if devadasis could satisfy God & Brahmins with their music and dance then the general public also had the right to enjoy the same. They were forcing the devadasis to dance in front of them. No priest or religious leader came to protect the Devdasis from the wrath of the mob that had gone berserk. The mob then kidnapped some of the Devdasis and fled. Parvati’s friend was one of the kidnapped girls. Shocked completely, Parvati could not take this huge blow in her traumatic life anymore. This was the final straw and she felt, as if her life had lost all meaning. She was disgusted with everyone. She committed suicide by jumping from the roof top of the building they were housed in. Before death, the last thought that crossed her mind was-“no one loves me, I don’t have any near & dear one…I don’t trust anyone & I hate everyone as all are corrupt”.

In the spirit realm, Parvati met per parents, the priests and the people who tortured her. They all had understood their mistake. Parvati forgave them & sent them unconditional love.

At the time of integrating the last life with the present life, Sachin discovered the same pattern of no social interest, no emotional feelings and general mistrust that had come back to haunt his current life without any apparent reason. Many of the past life characters came back to his present life, with whom he shared a very strange and difficult relationship. 

Case Study-5

Client: Mona (name changed), a middle aged lady, came with an emotional issue. She came from a very happy & close knit family. They were a small family of parents with two sisters. The parents were very loving.  However, she noticed that her mother, although very loving and caring, never used to hug or pick them up on her lap or kiss them. In fact, she did not show any kind of physical attachment towards the kids. Mona and her sister used to feel jealous by seeing how their other friends were attached physically with their parents.

Problem: What had made her mother not showing any physical mother-child attachment towards them?

Session: Mona was regressed to a past life in 17th century, in a village in one of the cities in Europe. She saw herself as a 2 year old cute child playing in a small garden, running to catch the butterflies; she was a very happy child. Her house was nearby. Whenever this child used to see that her mother (present life mother only) was busy with some work, she used to quickly come to this garden. Her mother was apprehensive about allowing this small girl to go to the garden on her own as there was a small deep pond on the way. One particular day, her mother did not notice that the child was not at home as she was doing the household chores. All of a sudden, she noticed that her daughter wasn’t at home. It was already dark outside, so she hurriedly ran to get the child from the garden. The mother spotted and picked up the child as soon as she reached the garden. The child was, however, unwilling to come back home. There was a physical scuffle between the two, while crossing the pond on the walk back home. In the struggle that ensued, the child slipped off from the mother’s hands, fell into th pond and got drowned instantly.

At this unfortunate incident and the loss of her child, the mother went mad holding herself to be responsible for the death of the child.

The child met the mother at the spirit realm. The child told her that she did not hold her mother responsible for her death, as she knew that it was an accidental death. Unconditional love and forgiveness was sent to the mother. A healing was given to the mother by masters to wash all her guilt and shame about the past life issue.

Mona used to live in Bangalore, while her mother was in Mysore. After the therapy, when Mona met her mother after around 6 months, she was surprised to see her mother hugging both the sisters, unaware that a therapy was done on her by her daughter.

The first karmic connection we encounter in life and, therefore, often the most crucial to deal with, is the one with our parents and siblings. There is a reason why we come together as a family. There is something we must give to one another, we may have a common mission to achieve together or -something we are meant to do together to help, inspire or to uplift each other.



The theory that we are connected with one another through several lives including the present one through our mental attachments/detachments and also through the chain of Karma has understandably and quite logically been subjected to strictest scrutiny on several counts. Four such critical posers have been included in the Introduction itself which we are going to address herein. Further, following two queries have also cropped up during the interaction:

i)              With reference to the procedure to access the Master or Spirit Guide for necessary guidance in the course of regression, what is the certainty that an evil spirit does not impersonate as the Master and misguides the subject?

ii)             How the concept of re-incarnation can be reconciled to the theory of evolution from the time of Big Bang to the present day?

Before we address the above two queries, let us first dwell upon the initial four posers made in the Introduction.

a)    How does consciousness/mind survive brain, being its by-product?

Even though quantum physicists like Stephen Hawking are inclined to take consciousness as nothing more than an accidental by-product of brain, which has no possibility of survival after the brain ceases to function, Sir John Eccles, a Nobel Laureate Neuro-biologist, holds a contra view. According to the latter, the scope of consciousness may not remain limited within the confines of the human skull and at times can remain completely dis-embodied (refer: ‘How the Self Controls Its Brain’ by John Eccles).

It is pertinent to mention here that Quantum Physicists are in agreement 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 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 theperson 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.

The neuro-biological concept of dis-embodied consciousness was well known to Indian yogis several millenniums ago. It finds specific mention in the Bhagavat Gita which goes to the extent of distinguishing mind from consciousness. In verses 4 and 5 of Chapter 7 of the Gita Sri Krishna proclaims as follows:

“My manifested nature (Prakriti), or lower nature, has an eight-fold differentiation: earth, water, fire, air, ether, sensory mind, intelligence, and egoism. My higher nature is the Jiva or the consciousness that sustains the cosmos.”

In verse 8, chapter 15 of the Gita, Sri Krishna reveals: “When the Jiva acquires a body, it brings with it the mind and the senses. When it leaves the body, it takes them and goes, even as the wind wafts away scents from flowers.”

The fundamental concept of past life regression is in harmony with the ancient concept of yoga as also neuro-biological concept of out-of-body consciousness.

b)    Given the limitation of distinctive environment and circumstances, how the action in one life can have causal connection to another? 

The fundamental principle underlying past life regression is that every individual is connected with another, physically or mentally and his/her relationship is largely governed or pre-destined by past Karma or action committed or even omitted not only in present life but also in past lives. What is important for causal connection between two or more lives of an individual is his/her mental condition underlying the commission or omission for which the individual is accountable. Varying environment and circumstances may provoke or induce such commission or omission, but do not influence significantly the causal connectivity between two or more lives of the same soul. The case studies in preceding paragraphs will adequately explain the validity of above observation.

c)    When the subject is not aware of his past Karma as the cause of his present sufferings, what purpose is achieved by such causal connection?   

It is true that when a person takes birth in this three dimensional mortal world, he/she does not remember his/her past lives or deeds that may have causal connection to his/her present life. But the therapists have found that in the course of regression the subject is able to recount the past life deeds or action that has caused the present life sufferings. This memory is hidden or suppressed in unconscious mind which can be dug out by regression. Besides, it is also found out by therapists that the subject, when taken to out-of-body state, mostly after death in a previous life, is able to contact the Spiritual Master or Spirit Guide who explains the causal connection of the sufferings as also the remedy to get over it. The fact that such revelation leads to the cure in vast majority of cases if not in all, is in itself the validation of the concept as also the procedure of the treatment. As to the question why must there be such causal connection between lives and what is achieved by such connection, it is not for the therapist to answer that. As a matter of fact, even a physicist will not be able to answer why there was a Big Bang and why the universes were created following it. The therapist, just as the physicist, can only explain how it happens and not why it does.

d)    Can the effect of a man’s past life deeds be neutralized wholly or partially in present life by regression therapy? 

The therapy can certainly help the subject to get over the effects of his past commissions or omissions substantially by taking necessary corrective action, often with the guidance of the Master, as has been explained in the case studies above.

e)    With reference to the procedure to access the Master or Spirit Guide for necessary guidance in the course of regression, what is the certainty that an evil spirit does not impersonate the Master and misguides the subject?

The possibility of impersonation in the spirit world cannot be ruled out. It is for the therapist to take adequate precaution to guard against such possibility, for which the therapist needs to be properly trained.

f)     How the concept of re-incarnation can be reconciled to the theory of evolution from the time of Big Bang to the present day? 

To re-frame the question, life on planet earth and for that matter in other stars or planets as well, may have originated from a vacuum, long after the Big Bang. Evolution of Human on the earth is only a recent phenomenon, going by Darwin’s theory. Their number has been ever increasing. In the above backdrop, how the theory of causal connectivity of first time human or first creature or first life can be explained?

As per Darwin’s theory of evolution, species evolve from genus in this physical world. Following the same law of nature man has evolved from monkey through multiple intermediate stages. It is quite possible that a man in the course of regression is found to have been born as an animal or bird in previous life. The question is whether there will be any causal connection between his present life and past deeds as an animal or bird, as the case may be. The therapists have in fact come across many such instances where the subject has described his/her past life experiences as sub-human species, and causal connection between the two births has been found to exist.

As to the question whether the first species on earth will have any causal connection with its past, if any, such question is purely academic. Be that as it may, the fact remains that recent scientific researches have revealed that even the tiniest particle has life and in all likelihood consciousness as well. These are able to interact with one another faster than the speed of light and get entangled irrespective of the distance which could measure several light years. There is a distinct possibility that the particles that constitute neurons in the brain are conscious and intelligent, as has been explained above in response to the first poser. Therefore, there is no reason to think that only human species are intelligent and have free will and, therefore, have causal connection with their past lives and the rest are governed solely by the laws of nature with no free will.





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Secularism and Spirituality


(Interactive session on 18.04.2014)

Keynote address by Mr. Amitava Tripathi

(Devotional song by Ms. Sikha Majumdar, Ratna Chatterjee, Sharmila Bhawal)

(Other speakers: Mr. Ramesh C. Chanda, Mr. Sujit Chatterjee, Mr. Sumit Dutt Majumder, Mr. A.K. Sengupta, Dr.Kalyan Chakravarty, Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Ms. Sikha Majumdar, Ms. Sharmila Bhawal, Mr. S. R. Das & Ms. Manimala Das)

[Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha]



No single English word has perhaps created more controversy over its meaning, interpretation and application, particularly in Indian context, than the term ‘secular’. No less enigmatic is the oft used term ‘spiritual’.

First used by the British writer George Jacob Holyoake in 1851, the word ‘secularism’ connoted in the beginning a social order separate from religion. In course of time, secularism in Europe suggested a movement toward separation of religion and government or, in other words, separation of state from the church. A logical sequel to that was replacement of scriptural laws with civil laws and elimination of discrimination based on religion. Automatically, it ensured protection of religious minorities.

In Indian context, ‘secularism’, instead of suggesting ‘Dharma-nirapekshata’ (neutrality toward all religions) is interpreted to imply ‘Sarva-Dharma-Samabhava’ or equal feeling (respect) toward all religions. By the 42nd amendment of the Constitution passed in 1976, the word ‘secular’ had been added to the Preamble. Prior to that, the word ‘secular’ was used in the Constitution only once in reference to secular activities of groups as opposed to religious or ecclesiastical activities. No definition of the said term has been provided in Indian Constitution. In the absence of any clear definition or delimitation of the term ‘secular’ the concept of ‘samabhava’ or equal feeling (or respect) to all religions has become the bone of contention in all spheres of life, religious, political, administrative and social, so much so that Hon’ble Delhi High Court in a recent Public Interest Petition seeking withdrawal of commemorative coins of the denomination of Rs. 5 and Rs. 10 with the image of Vaishno Devi on the ground of being un-secular has directed the State to submit what in its opinion is secular in next hearing on April 23, 2014. Similarly, continuation of Shariat laws for Muslims in contrast to uniform civil code for all other religions is often questioned on the ground of being un-secular, on the touchstone of ‘Samabhava’. The term pseudo-secular has come into currency in political arena in recent time.

The English word ‘spirituality’ meaning thought concerning spirit or the vital essence in living beings, originated from Latin ‘spiritualis’. In 5th century A.D its use was restricted to Biblical sense of being animated by God, driven by Holy Spirit. In 11th century the term was used to signify mental aspect as opposed to material and sensual aspects of life. In 13th century, it acquired social and psychological dimensions in the sense of identifying the clergy for the social and the realm of inner life for the psychological. In 17th and 18 centuries the term came to be associated with mysticism or occult power.

Viewed in traditional Indian context, as opposed to Abrahamic tradition, spirituality means the process of self-realization which culminates in the identification of not only self, but all souls as God (Tat Tvam Asi or Thou art That) as the Ultimate Truth, and elimination of all distinctive identities as unreal.

Now the questions are: can we synergize secularism with spirituality in our mundane lives? Is there any symbiotic relationship between the two? Are these two concepts antagonistic? Is it possible at all to integrate spirituality and secularism in India? If so, what are the pre-requisites?

Before we deal with those posers, let us dwell upon the above two concepts at a reasonable length.


SECULARISM – as Western concept

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the Latin origin of the word “secularism” is “secularis” meaning not religious or spiritual. According to Roget’s Thesaurus the synonyms for secularism are lay, temporal, worldly, earthly, banal etc.

The term “secularism” was first used by the British writer George Jacob Holyoake in 1851 An agnostic himself, Holyoake argued that “Secularism is not an argument against Christianity, it is one independent of it. It does not question the pretensions of Christianity; it advances others. Secularism does not say there is no light or guidance elsewhere, but maintains that there is light and guidance in secular truth.

Holyoake‘s 1896 publication English Secularism defines secularism as a code of duty pertaining to this life, founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology to be unreliable or unbelievable. Its three essential principles are : (1)  improvement of human life is possible through purely material means; (2) science is the right path to seek  the answers  of human condition and (3) that it is good to do good,i.e. doing good is its own reward and there should be no further expectations from such acts.

Holyoake held that secularism and secular ethics should take no interest at all in religious questions (as they were unprovable and hence irrelevant), and were thus to be distinguished from free thought and atheism. In this he disagreed with Charles Bradlaugh, and the disagreement divided the secularist movement between those who argued that anti-religious movements and activism were necessary or desirable and those who argued that such measures were not required.

Barry Kosmin of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture classified modern secularism into two types: hard and soft secularism. According to Kosmin, “the hard secularist considers religious propositions to be epistemologically illegitimate, warranted by neither reason nor experience.” However, in the view of soft secularism, “the attainment of absolute truth was impossible and therefore scepticism and tolerance should be the principle and overriding values in the discussion of science and religion.”[7]


WESTERN SECULARISM – Separation of State and Church 

Secularism is essentially the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons representing the State from religious institutions and personalities. One manifestation of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings or, in a State declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by the government of religion or religious practices upon its people.  Another manifestation of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs and/or practices.

In the first decade of the sixteenth century, the doctrines and rituals of the Roman Catholic Church came under severe attack from Reformists like Martin Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. Around this period, another Catholic cleric, Erasmus of Rotterdam, became the chief spokesman of a system of thought known as humanism which held that people were capable of using their intelligence to lead their lives rather than relying on religious belief. Although Erasmus himself refused to espouse the Lutheran cause against the established Catholic Church, his humanist beliefs have increasingly come to inform public thinking in most modern democratic states.

Secularism is often associated with the Age of Enlightenment in Europe and has ever since played a major role in Western society. Due in part to the belief in the separation of church and state, secularists tend to prefer that politicians make decisions for secular rather than religious reasons.  In this respect, policy decisions pertaining to topics like abortioncontraceptionembryonic stem cell research, same-sex marriage, and sex education are prominently focused upon by western, especially American, secularist organizations.

Most major religions accept the primacy of the rules of secular, democratic society but may still seek to influence political decisions or achieve specific privileges or influence through church-state agreements such as a concordat. However, some Christian fundamentalists (notably in the United States) oppose secularism, viewing it as a threat to “Christian rights” and even national security. The most significant forces of religious fundamentalism in the contemporary world are Fundamentalist Christianity and Fundamentalist Islam. At the same time, one significant stream of secularism has come from religious minorities who see governmental and political secularism as integral to preserving equal rights. 



Secularism in India claims equal treatment of all religions by the state. Unlike the Western concept of secularism which envisions a separation of religion and state, the concept of secularism in India envisions acceptance of religious laws as binding on the state, and equal participation of state in different religions.

With the 42nd Amendment of the Constitution of India enacted in 1976, the Preamble to the Constitution asserted that India is a secular nation. However, neither India’s constitution nor its laws define the relationship between religion and state. The laws implicitly require the state and its institutions to recognize and accept all religions, enforce religious laws instead of parliamentary laws, and respect pluralism. India does not have an official state religion. The people of India have freedom of religion, and the state treats all individuals as equal citizens regardless of their religion. In matters of law in modern India, however, the applicable code of law is unequal, and India’s personal laws – on matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony – varies with an individual’s religion. Muslim Indians have Sharia-based Muslim Personal Law, while Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and other non-Muslim Indians live under common law.

Secularism as practiced in India, with its marked differences with Western practice of secularism, is a controversial topic in India. Supporters of the Indian concept of secularism claim it respects Muslim men’s religious rights and recognizes that they are culturally different from Indians of other religions. Supporters of this form of secularism claim that any attempt to introduce a uniform civil code, that is equal laws for every citizen irrespective of his or her religion, would impose majoritarian Hindu sensibilities and ideals, something that is unacceptable to Muslim Indians. Opponents argue that India’s acceptance of Sharia and religious laws violates the principle of equal human rights, discriminates against Muslim women, allows unelected religious personalities to interpret religious laws, and creates plurality of unequal citizenship; they suggest India should move towards separating religion and state.

In the first half of 20th century, the British Raj faced a rising tide of social activism for self-rule by a disparate groups such as those led by the Indian National Congress and the Indian Muslim League; the colonial administration, under pressure, enacted a number of laws before India’s independence in 1947, that continue to be the laws of India in 2013. One such law enacted during the colonial era was the 1937 Indian Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, which instead of separating state and religion for Western secularism, did the reverse.

This law along with additional laws such as Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act of 1939 that followed established the principle that religious laws of Indian Muslims can be their personal laws. It also set the precedent that religious law, such as Sharia, can overlap and supersede common and civil laws.

The 7th schedule of Indian constitution places religious institutions, charities and trusts into Concurrent List, which means that both the central government of India and various state governments in India can make their own laws about religious institutions, charities and trusts. If there is a conflict between central government law and state government law, then the central government law prevails. This principle of overlap, rather than separation of religion and state in India was further recognized in a series of constitutional amendments starting with Article 290 in 1956, to the addition of word ‘secular’ to the Preamble of Indian Constitution in 1976.

The overlap of religion and state, through Concurrent List structure, has given various religions in India, state support to religious schools and personal laws. This state intervention while resonant with the dictates of each religion, are unequal and conflicting. For example, a 1951 Religious and Charitable Endowment Indian law allows state governments to forcibly take over, own and operate Hindu temples, and collect revenue from offerings and redistribute that revenue to any non-temple purposes including maintenance of religious institutions opposed to the temple;[ Indian law also allows Islamic religious schools to receive partial financial support from state and central government of India, to offer religious indoctrination, if the school agrees that the student has an option to opt out from religious indoctrination if he or she so asks, and that the school will not discriminate any student based on religion, race or other grounds. Educational institutions wholly owned and operated by government may not impart religious indoctrination, but religious sects and endowments may open their own school, impart religious indoctrination and have a right to partial state financial assistance.

Secularism in India, thus, does not mean separation of religion from state. Instead, secularism in India means a state that is neutral to all religious groups. Religious laws in personal domain, particularly for Muslim Indians, supersede parliamentary laws in India; and currently, in some situations such as religious indoctrination schools the state partially finances certain religious schools. These differences have led a number of scholars to declare that India is not a secular state, as the word secularism is widely understood in the West and elsewhere; rather it is a strategy for political goals in a nation with a complex history, and one that achieves the opposite of its stated intent.

In the West, the word secular implies three things: freedom of religion, equal citizenship to each citizen regardless of his or her religion, and the separation of religion and state. One of the core principles in the constitution of Western democracies has been this separation, with the state asserting its political authority in matters of law, while accepting every individual’s right to pursue his or her own religion and the right of religion to shape its own concepts of spirituality. Everyone is equal under law, and subject to the same laws irrespective or his or her religion, in the West.

In contrast, in India, the word secular does not imply separation of religion and state. It means equal treatment of all religions. Religion in India continues to assert its political authority in matters of personal law. The applicable personal law differ if an individual’s religion is Islam, Christianity, or Hindu. For example, the minimum age of marriage for girls is 18 for Hindu and Christian Indians, while the personal law according to Sharia allows Muslim Indians to marry a girl less than 12 years old. In Western secular countries, age of consent and age of marriage are derived from secular laws, not religious laws.

The term secularism in India also differs from the French concept for secularity, namely laïcité. While the French concept demands absence of governmental institutions in religion, as well as absence of religion in governmental institutions and schools; the Indian concept, in contrast, provides financial support to religious schools and accepts religious law over governmental institutions. The Indian structure has created incentives for various religious denominations to start and maintain schools, impart religious education, and receive partial but significant financial support from the Indian government. Similarly, Indian government financially supports, regulates and administers the Wakf Council (Islam), historic Hindu temples, Buddhist monasteries, and certain Christian religious institutions; this direct Indian government involvement in various religions is markedly different from Western secularism.



The disgraceful surrender of the Indian government to retrogressive pressure in the infamous Shah Bano case is a permanent blot on India’s secular credentials. The controversy is not limited to Hindu versus Muslim populations in India. Islamic feminists movement in India, for example claim, that the issue with Muslim Personal Law in India is a historic and ongoing misinterpretation of Quran. The feminists claim Quran grants Muslim women rights that in practice are routinely denied to them by male Muslim Ulema in India. The ‘patriarchal’ interpretations of the Quran on the illiterate Muslim Indian masses are abusive, and they demand that they have a right to read the Quran for themselves and interpret it in a woman-friendly way. India has no legal mechanism to accept or enforce the demands of these Islamic feminists over religious law.

Writing in the Wall Street JournalSadanand Dhume criticised Indian “Secularism” as a fraud and a failure, since it isn’t really “secularism” as it is understood in the western world (as separation of religion and state) but more along the lines of religious appeasement. He writes that the flawed understanding of secularism among India’s left wing intelligentsia has led Indian politicians to pander to religious leaders and preachers, and has led India to take a soft stand against Islamic terrorism, religious militancy and communal disharmony in general.

Others, particularly historian Ronald Inden, have also observed that the Indian government is not really “secular”, but one that selectively discriminates against Hindu communities while superficially appeasing Muslim leaders (without actually providing any community or theological benefits to regular Muslims in India). In fact, left-leaning governments in India (such as in the Indian states of UP, Bihar, West Bengal, etc.) covertly support Madrassa curricula for Muslims, helping traditional Islamic scholarship and teaching fundamentalist beliefs. 


Spirituality – as Western concept

‘Spirituality’ like secularism has no universal or uniform definition. In Abrahamic tradition ‘spirituality’ was understood in the beginning as the search for the sacred – ‘a transcendent dimension within human experience’.

According to Waaijman, traditionally spirituality meant a process of re-formation which aimed “to recover the original shape of man, the image of God,” (one may recall the revelation in Old Testament that God created man in His own image). In course of time, the meaning of the term kept on changing, from internal experience of the individual to “Hasidism, contemplation, kabbala, asceticism, mysticism, perfection, devotion and piety”.

Etymologically, the English word ‘spirituality’ is a derivative of the word ‘spirit’ which means “animating or vital principle in man and animals”. The term ‘spiritual’ means “concerning the spirit”, which is derived from Latin spiritualis, which comes from “spiritus” or “spirit”.

The word ‘spirituality’ came to be commonly used toward the end of the Middle Ages. By that time, the earlier Biblical meaning i.e. recovery of the original shape of man, no longer sounded convincing.  Spirituality was meant to imply the mental aspect of life, as opposed to the material and sensual aspects. In Social context, spirituality denoted the domain of the clergy while Psychologically, it denoted the realm of the inner life. In the 17th and 18th century a distinction was made between higher and lower forms of spirituality (a spiritual man was taken to represent higher form of Christianity).

In early 19th-century, intuitive and experiential approach of religion rooted in Protestant movement, brought about a significant change in the concept of spirituality with endorsement of universalist and Unitarianist ideas suggesting that loving God shall redeem all living beings, not just Christians, and that there must be truth in other religions as well.


Vedantic Spirituality

Vedantic universalism lies at the core of Hindu spirituality from the hoary past down to present time. According to this spiritual tradition, entire cosmos including all matters and spirits are nothing but God or Brahman in evolved form. In the state of dissolution all that are evolved get involved into Brahman. This ongoing cycle is the axiomatic Truth in Vedanta. Spirituality, according to this tradition, is the process of realization of this axiomatic Truth. The obvious corollary is that one who has realized this Truth does not make any distinction between the man and any sub-human species and also does not discriminate one man from another, given the fact that God is at the core of every evolved form including human. At the height of spiritual realization one experiences identity with God (Sohaham or I am He) and at the summit of spiritual experience the Ultimate Truth reveals itself as ‘all that exists is God’ (Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma) or ‘Thou art That’ (Tat Tvam Asi).

It is this rich spiritual tradition of non-discrimination handed down to posterity by great spiritual leaders, prophets, sages and saints, great secular emperors and ministers, belonging to different ages and faiths,  that forms the core of Indian secularism,  notwithstanding the deviation like hereditary and highly discriminatory caste system, untouchablity, discriminatory evangelical preaching and forcible conversion from one faith to another. The spirit of Sarva-dharma-samabhava imbibed by Indian Constitution owes its origin to this non-discriminatory spiritual tradition.


Secular spirituality

Secular spirituality is a recent phenomenon, though well known in olden days. It suggests adherence to spiritual ideals and tenets such as love, compassion, acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness, harmony, non-violence and concern for others outside religious framework. Some of the ancient religions like Buddhism, Jainism etc. did not dwell upon God or even mention It. Even Samkhya philosophy, arguably the oldest Indian philosophy, did not mention God. In content and substance, these philosophies can be held as secular. Yet there is no denying that for reason of its supreme emphasis on the spiritual growth of all adherents through meditation, and noble deeds and thoughts, thrust of all those religions has been essentially spiritual.

Secular spirituality of recent time is, however, distinctive from traditional religions and philosophies including even those that did not mention God. The emphasis of Secular spirituality is on secular practices such as Yoga or psychotherapy for mental cure through past life regression.

As for Yoga that essentially belonged to Hindu tradition is not relatable to any religion in particular and has been universalized since last century, world over. Although it has been adopted internationally as a secular exercise to integrate the mind and the body rendering them uni-directional to achieve higher goal in life, the said higher goal so targeted can be termed as spiritual in essence.

The other example of regression therapy to cure patients is essentially a secular procedure, having no bearing whatsoever on spiritual realization. However, with past life regression popularized by psychiatrists like Dr. Brian Weiss, emphasis has shifted entirely to developing spiritual qualities such as love, compassion, forgiveness, non-violence, concern for others etc. in order to get over mental fixation or baggage from past lives that are at the root of present life sufferings.

The above two examples of secular spirituality are merely illustrative and not exhaustive. 



Every civilization or culture, according to Swami Vivekananda, has a particular life-centre, and the life-centre of Indian culture is spirituality.  Indian spirituality is deeply rooted in philosophy. Philosophical enquiries in ancient India were carried out in the inner world and not in the external world like it were done by contemporary Greek philosophers. The emphasis of Vivekananda, the great Vedantist, was, however, more on man-making than on God-realization. In his series of lecture on Practical Vedanta, the Swami summed up his views on faith as follows:The old religions said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is the atheist who does not believe in himself”. This practical approach made the Swami known as neo-Vedantist of the present era, whose views showed perfect blend of spirituality and secularism.


Let us now revert to our first poser in the Introduction, i.e. can we synergize secularism with spirituality in our mundane lives. If we care to study the messages of all spiritual leaders irrespective of their nationality, tradition or faith, their emphasis has always been on service to the poor, apart from faith in God. As for India, in Vivekananda’s words: “the national ideals of India are RENUNCIATION and SERVICE”. The underlying motivation for both is essentially spiritual, though the action toward fulfilment of above two ideals par se is secular. Likewise, Buddha’s concept of Nirvana is spiritual but his prescription of eight-fold path to prepare one for Nirvana is secular. Sage Vashishtha’s lessons to Rama, compiled in Yoga-Vashishtha were apparently secular with a clear undertone of spirituality. Our answer to above poser, therefore, is that synergy between secularism and spirituality in our mundane lives is quite possible.


As to our second poser whether there is any symbiotic relationship between secularism and spirituality, we have come to the conclusion that since a spiritual person does not believe in discrimination between any two persons based on religion, he/she is essentially secular. But the contrary proposition that all secular persons are essentially spiritual is not true, even though some secular persons may also be spiritual. Therefore, we have no reason to conclude that secularism and spirituality have symbiotic relationship.


As regards our third poser whether the above two concepts are antagonistic, we have already concluded that there is no apparent conflict or contradiction between secularism and spirituality and that all spiritual persons are necessarily secular going by the fact that spiritually presupposes non-discrimination.


Let us now come to our last two posers, viz. whether it is possible to integrate spirituality and secularism in India? If so, what are the pre-requisites? The answer is clearly in the affirmative for the former, while for the latter the only pre-requisite that comes to mind is self-less service without discrimination going by our national cum spiritual ideals, delineated by Swami Vivekananda.

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                                                           (Interactive session on 22.03.2014)

                                                            Keynote address by Mr. R. K. Gupta

(Other participant speakers: Mr. A. K. Sengupta, Asim K. Banerjee, Ms. Sharmila Bhawal, Mr. Amitava Tripathi, Dr.Santosh Ganguly, Dr. Santosh Ganguly, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay, Mr. Ramesh Chanda, Mr. Sarada Ranjan Das, Mr. P. C. Jha, Mr.Jogendra Singh)

                                             [Devotional song by Ms. Sikha Majumdar & Ms. Kavita Chanda]

                                                   Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha




Love and detachment in mundane sense are self-contradictory as love implies a sense of attachment while detachment suggests lack of it. Therefore, it is difficult to conceive that a person can be both a lover and yet detached at the same time in relation to another person. To be more precise, the question is if I love a person, can I be detached from that person.

In spiritual domain, detachment from material comforts, objects as also any living being is often mandated and prescribed with a view to enable the seeker to attain the Highest Truth viz. God-realization. The purpose underlying such mandate is to render the mind singularly devoted to or concentrated upon God. With that objective in view, it is customary to treat any attachment to mundane world as a distraction. True love, to protagonists of renunciation or detachment, is love for God only and nothing else.

In the above perspective, the question that logically arises is how God is to be defined. Definition surely means limitation and how do we define the Infinite. According to Abrahamic tradition, God as the Creator of universes is distinctive from His creation, and can be defined as Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent, the qualification that none else can possess. By this exclusive definition of God we suggest that God is Infinite, and none of us can become God.  Thus when we say we love God, our love is meant to be directed to external God who is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent. Obviously if we love God, we at the same time cannot be detached from God. Thus the concept of detached love appears to be self-contradictory and irreconcilable.

If it is suggested that the person who truly loves someone, be it God or human, would be naturally detached from everyone / everything else, it may amount to propagating selfish love, thereby belittling love’s all-encompassing positive effect. Christ’s dictum – “Love thy neighbour” or Mohammed’s teaching for brotherhood surely do not speak of detachment. How then love can be reconciled to detachment?

Hindu Vedantic tradition contrary to Abrahamic tradition, however, offers an inclusive definition of God (Brahman). More precisely, when Vedanta says ‘God is One,’ the suggestion is that there is no other existence except God (Ekamevadvitiyam). In that sense, all of us are God in reality (Sohaham or aham Brahmasmi) sans realization. That being the Truth, there is no difficulty in taking selfless love for a fellow human as divine. In other words, love per se is divine. The difficulty lies in simultaneously accepting the prescription for detachment. If we find divinity in everything that exists, why should we detach our mind from this mundane world and why should we make a distinction between spiritual and mundane worlds. Vedanta says that mundane world is transient, and anything that is transient is not real. Corollary to above premise in present context is that true love is not transient but ever-lasting. But, how can love become ever-lasting unless both the subject and the object are permanent? This problem of transient love can also be overcome by attributing divinity to the subject and the object, entangled in true love. But the problem still persists at the core. If everything that exists is divine, why should we detach ourselves from it? Our subject today is all about this perplexing question, with specific reference to Sufism. 


Love –  the force of attraction 

Love is the most fundamental force with the characteristic quality of attraction existing in all living and non-living beings. While the love in the gross matter manifests as the gravitational force and is governed by the Law of Gravity, in the living beings love manifests in various forms. Today’s topic, however, relates to love in spiritual sense i.e., the love of a devotee for the Divine. This force of love keeps on constantly exerting its pressure on things to move towards and merge with the beloved. The gross matter is continuously attracted towards other material bodies be it the tiniest particles or the celestial bodies and the soul inherently urges to merge with the Supreme Soul. Big or small, living or non-living, this fundamental force of love exists universally.

This force of love would have had its way and everything would have merged with the Origin, the Creator, if there were no movement. The universe would have collapsed because of the gravitational force if the tiny particles and the celestial bodies were not revolving in their orbits. Similarly the soul also would have merged with the Supreme Soul, if it were not for the fulfillment of Almighty’s desire that the soul through movement should gain experience, feel the pain and sufferings of others, acquire compassion and thereby shed the feeling of separate existence (ego) and ultimately realise the Truth of the unity of existence. The universe exists because of His desire; it is His ‘leela’ (the divine play) in which every living creature is rejoicing, oblivious of the true nature of things and the real purpose of life. It is only a few to whom He reveals the secret of His love and takes them to their Original State of Love.

Mahatma Radha Mohan Lalji, a great Sufi saint (1900-1960) has said, ‘love is quenching the thirst on the physical plane, but thirst is not love. The human being is love, and Love loves the human being. To realize Love is to realize the God. If one sits before the open fire, it warms him. There is no effort on his part. Those who have realized the Truth are like this fire and their company ignites the warmth of love in the hearts of seekers. God realized Himself in the heart of Hearts of the human being. It is like the ocean and waves; they disappear and are here. When we realize, Love disappears. We cannot give shape or name to Love. The deeper one goes, the more it disappears. It radiates from every part of the body.’  


The desire to become perfect

Love can be expressed as the desire to become perfect, to remove all imperfection. This is true of the love at the physical plane as well as at the spiritual plane. At the physical plane, eyes love to see a beautiful thing, ears love to listen melodious songs, nose loves to smell flowers and so on. It is this lacking in the sensual perceptions, which is desired to be fulfilled and is called love for that thing.

At the spiritual plane, one desires to remove imperfection of one’s conduct. The love for the saints of God is explained because of their perfection in conduct and, therefore, people are attracted towards them. The love for God is also explained similarly, God being the most Perfect. He has created the universe and He runs it perfectly. One, who does not understand it, lives in the world with anguish, pain, suffering and sorrow; he lives miserably. One, who has this knowledge, also lives like an ordinary person in the world, but he lives with the understanding that the world has been created by the God, the Lord of the universe, who is running it perfectly. This understanding makes him live happily in the world in accordance with His desire and it results in love for God, reflecting in universal love.  


Love for God 

All the religions lay stress on love for God, but it is difficult to understand what is really meant by love for God. For most religions the love for God is expressed in obedience and worship. The true nature of love, however, needs to be understood. One loves oneself the most; it is a fact of life experienced by everyone some time or the other. One loves oneself the most because of his identification with one’s own self. If one loves somebody else, it is because of the reason that he starts identifying himself with that other person. For example, the mother loves her child because she identifies herself with the child, so much so that she feels the child as a part of her own existence. On the contrary, the child has no identity of its own, for its ego has not yet grown; the child knows nothing except the mother, being completely dependent on her, which explains its love for the mother. As they both grow, the child starts acquiring his own individuality and the mother also starts recognizing child’s independent existence. The degree of love starts getting affected.

 When one talks of love for God this sequence is reversed. One could consider God as the mother of all mothers and the seeker as the child, who has to traverse the path from a state of grown up ego to the state of complete dependence on God i.e. surrender unto Him. With the complete surrender of the ego one acquires the spiritual knowledge that his essence is the essence of God i.e. the duality starts disappearing and one starts realizing that his reality is nothing but the Reflection of God. With this realization one reaches the state of Unity i.e. the state of Oneness. In this state there is no difference between the love, faith and enlightenment. This is the true knowledge. When this realization dawns one’s self exists no more.


Love for the spiritual Master 

The love for God has, therefore, to be understood as the complete Unity with the God. But then the God is Absolute and for most people it is difficult to surrender, to love something so abstract. Most people, therefore, need the help of a spiritual Master. The Master has a physical body and is like them. The disciple can perceive Master’s existence through his own senses. It is easy for him to surrender his ego at the feet of his Master. The love for the Master gradually leads the disciple to the realization that there is no duality between the Master and the God. The face of the Master is only a mask behind which lies the Reality.

One can consider the Master like the river that is continuously flowing towards and merging with the ocean. At the point of merger there is no difference between the river and the ocean. On merger with the ocean the river loses its identity, its independent existence. It becomes one with the ocean. The disciples who are like small watercourses by merging themselves with this river i.e. the Master can reach the ocean i.e. the God. On their own it is not only difficult but almost impossible for the small watercourses to travel through all this distance without the fear of being lost on the way. Their merger with the river paves the way for them to merge with the ocean. This is the easiest and the nearest path for the seekers to reach their destination. It is for this reason that the Sufis lay stress on the love for their Master.

The great Sufi Master Bayazid (8th Century AD) also said that ‘love for the friends of Allah results in their love for you. The Almighty looks at the hearts of His saints and if He will see your name engraved in their hearts, He will forgive you.’ It is for this reason that the Sufis love their Master the most.  Their love for the Master lifts them to a state of bliss and presence in the heart of their beloved. Muhammad az-Zahid, a great Naqshbandi Sufi Master narrated an incidence concerning his Master Sheikh Ubaidullah al-Ahrar. Once his Sheikh fell sick and asked him to get a doctor from Herat.  One of his co-disciples Maulana Qassim requested him to fetch the doctor fast, as he could not withstand the suffering of his Sheikh. It took him thirty-five days to return with a doctor.  On return, however, he found that his Sheikh was well and Maulana Qassim had died.  He asked his Sheikh about the sudden demise of Maulana Qassim, who was so young. Ubaidullah al-Ahrar said, ‘When you left, Maulana Qassim came to me and said, ‘I am giving my life for your life.’ I asked him not to do that but he said, ‘O My Sheikh! I didn’t come here to consult you. I have made the decision and Allah has accepted it from me.’ Ubaidullah al-Ahrar said that he couldn’t change his mind. The next day he became sick with the ailment of his Master, which was reflected on him. He died and Ubaidullah al-Ahrar got well without the help of a doctor.


Love for all creatures 

In unity with the God what exists is only the Reality of the God and one sees the existence of the God alone in all beings. His love takes the form of Divine love for all beings. The love for God does not mean hatred towards the world; rather it results in the understanding that the others need to be treated in the same manner as one would himself like to be treated. One cannot be saying that he loves God by neglecting his duty towards the others. The mother cannot be justified in neglecting her child for the sake of performing her pooja and similarly a king cannot be said to love God if he spends all his time in worship and refuses to protect his people from the enemy. The real love for God is to do one’s duty with utmost care and attention, while at the same time remaining in His Presence i.e. taking it to be a Divine order to discharge his obligations most faithfully. 


Supremacy of love 

The great Sufi Master Bayazid established supremacy of love by saying that ‘the Almighty can be approached only through love.’ The love for the beloved reveals his secrets in the heart of the lover and conversely the knowledge of the beloved produces in his heart the love for the beloved. The knowledge of the true beloved i.e. the God is a source of tremendous happiness. As in the case of worldly knowledge, the more complicated an issue is, the more pleasure one gets in understanding and resolving it. Similarly in the spiritual world, the knowledge of the God being the highest, one, who seeks to acquire His knowledge moves on the path of bliss.

In regard to supremacy of love, the great Sufi Master Mahatma Ramchandraji (1873-1931) has also said that ‘love is such a thing which crosses the limits of the Seven Skies.’  His disciple Thakur Ram Singhji (1898-1971) also used to say, ‘Love is all encompassing.  The Almighty can be realized only through love.  The illiterate Gopis had won the love of Lord Sri Krishna only through their unfettered love.’ The true love brings in enlightenment.  In fact there is no difference between Love and Enlightenment.  Love is God and the purpose of acquiring knowledge is to know the God. Love is the culmination of knowledge and it is the height of enlightenment. 


Ekatmata, faith and surrender 

The true meaning of love thus is ‘ekatmata’ (oneness) i.e. complete merger with the beloved and cessation of the duality.  There is no scope in love for the separate existence of the lover and the beloved. As soon as the feeling of duality between the Master and the disciple vanishes, one starts seeing His manifestation everywhere in the entire universe.  Selfless love gradually turns into devotion, which makes one identical to one’s beloved.  The disciple (the lover), however, is imperfect, and, therefore, it is the Master (the beloved), who being perfect, merges with the disciple and takes him on the path of love. We have references in the mystic literature:

‘Jab mein tha tab Hari nahi, abHari hai mein nay

Prem gali ati saankri, ya mein do na samay’

(Till I existed, God was not there.  Now only He exists and I am not there. The path of love is so narrow that it has no place for the two.)

In the satsang (spiritual assemblies) of Hajrat Baqi Billah (16th Century AD), a renowned Sufi Sheikh (Delhi), Masters of other Silsila (Sufi Orders) together with their followers also used to participate. Once when all of them were engrossed in deep meditation, all of a sudden Hajrat Baqi Billah stood up. His body was trembling and it appeared that he might fall. One of the persons got up and gave him support. After a little while when he was somewhat composed, one of the Masters present in the assembly very politely enquired ‘Hajrat Qiblah (your honour) – what blessing have you received from the Almighty today that you are prepared even to sacrifice your life for it.’ Hajrat Baqi Billah replied, ‘Brother, what can I say. When all were deeply engrossed in remembering the Almighty, my eyes opened for a while. I saw a dog passing in front of the door. This dog resembled the one, which used to visit the abode of this slave’s Master. My Master used to feed the dog with the food left over from his own dish. This slave used to feel jealous of that dog and used to think that dog to be more fortunate than him. Seeing this dog, I was reminded of my Master and that dog and I was overpowered by the flux of love. I, therefore, could not control myself.’ On listening to this explanation, the Master who had asked this question himself got into such a state of ecstasy that he remarked, ‘Hajrat Khwaja Sahab, only you can be a Sheikh (Master).’ He then loudly uttered ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ and abandoned his life in that state of ecstasy.  

The essence of love lies in complete faith and surrender to the beloved. Rabia of Basra, the first and the most famous of the women Sufi saints, followed the path of tawakkul i.e. complete dependence on God. When asked if she loved Prophet Muhammad, she is stated to have said that the love for God in her heart has left no room for anything else. She struck down the Ayat relating to hatred towards Saitan from the Holy Qur’an, since there was no place left for any hatred in her heart. She also regarded all rituals as meaningless, including visitation to Kaaba. One of her greatest contributions to Sufism was her conception of prayer, which she considered as a free and intimate supplication to God. 

Hazrat Rabia was born in a poor family.  She became orphan at a very young age. Her family was scattered by a famine and she was sold as a slave for a sum of only six Dirhams.  Her master had put her on to the job of looking after the household affairs, which kept her busy throughout the day. She performed her duties with utmost sincerity and in the night when she retired to her room, she used to engage in offering prayers to her Lord. One night her master happened to see her absorbed in prayers through a window of his house. He saw Rabia grossly engrossed in prayer and a beam of divine light engulfing her. Deeply impressed by it and a little bit frightened, her master set her free the next morning. Rabia then devoted herself to the love of God, living a life of extreme poverty.

Prayer for Rabia was a free and intimate communion with the God. For her the ritual of offering the prescribed prayers (Namaz) and other religious observances were of no merit. The true prayer for her was to be in the presence of God. She did not offer prayer in expectation of any reward or for avoiding punishment. She used to pray: ‘O my Lord, if I worship You from fear of Hell, burn me in the Hell, and if I worship You with the hope of paradise, exclude me from it; but if I worship You for Your own sake then withhold not from me Your Eternal Beauty.’

Rabia’s dependence on God was complete. She is considered to be a great exponent of complete trust (tawakkul) in God. She refused to accept any assistance or help from any one. She considered it to be a shame to ask for worldly things from the God to whom this world belongs. There was, therefore, no question for her to ask for anything from them to whom it did not belong. She had the firm faith that how He, who provides for those who envy him, could be expected not to take care of those who love Him?  He does not refuse sustenance to one who abuses Him. How then shall He refuse sustenance to one whose heart is overflowing with Love for Him? She had, therefore, turned her attention completely away from the world. Rabia also did not allow people to visit her as she considered that they might relate to her what she did not say or do.  She did not approve of any miracles to be related to her. People used to say that she finds money at her place of worship and that she cooks her food without fire and so on. She, however, refuted all such attributions made to her and said that she felt happy in living in the condition in which the Almighty kept her. Thus her existence itself had become a living prayer to the Almighty.


Love knows no barriers 

The story of Sheikh Sanan in the book Mantiqu’t Tayr (Conference of Birds) written by the great Sufi Master Fariduddin Attar, of whom Maulana Rumi said; ‘Attar traversed the seven worlds of Love while we are standing only at the corner of one street’, reflects the idea of the supremacy of love in a very touching manner.

Sheikh Sanan had devoted his life to serving God and His creation. He had four hundred faithful disciples living with him. One night, Sanan had a dream in which he saw himself bowing to an idol in the city of Rum. He ignored the dream initially but when it recurred, he decided to visit Rum. His disciples also insisted on accompanying him. All of them left for Rum and after some days they arrived at the outskirts of Rum, near a temple. At the temple Sheikh Sanan heard a heart-touching female voice singing a sad love song. On following the voice, Sheikh Sanan saw a young beautiful Christian girl singing that sad song. Her charming beauty overpowered Sheikh Sanan’s heart. In a moment his heart slipped away from his hands. He was dumbfounded and felt as if he had no existence of his own left any more. He could stand on his feet no longer. He sat down with tremors rocking his body. The fire of love made him forget all about himself.

The fire of love incapacitated Sheikh Sanan so much that he forgot that he was a Sheikh of so many disciples, who were witnessing his strange condition. Nothing was important to him anymore except seeing the face of that young girl again. The young girl had left the temple without noticing the Sheikh but Sheikh Sanan decided to stay there through the night in the hope of seeing her again the next morning. His disciples tried to persuade him to go to the city with them but it was of no avail. The pain of love was growing stronger and stronger in Sanan’s heart. He was crying in this agony. His disciples were confused, unable to understand how their Sheikh could behave like that. 

Sheikh Sanan was possessed by the love for the Christian girl. Nothing existed for him except his beloved. The next day came and then the night, the Sheikh could not have a glimpse of the girl again. He became exceedingly restless. His disciples tried to take him out of this obsession. They asked him to perform ablution for clearing his soul, offer prayers (Namaz), and to repent for his sin. The Sheikh answered that they knew nothing of his condition and that he had done his ablution with the blood of his heart for his beloved.  He was repentant not of his love but of his Sheikhood.  He regretted that he did not fall in love earlier and said that his prayer now was only for her.

Not understanding what their Sheikh had said the disciples requested him to forget everything that had happened and to go back with them to Mecca and its Kaaba.  Sanan replied that his Mecca now was that temple where he found his love and its Kaaba was his beloved, the Christian girl. His disciples asked him whether he had no shame uttering these words and what face would he show to the God?  The Sheikh replied, ‘The God himself has made me to fall in love. How can I act against His will?’

The helpless disciples left their Sheikh at the temple in the hope that time will heal the heart of their Sheikh and they found a nearby place for themselves. They thought that perhaps their Master might change his mind and return back to Mecca with them. Days passed in waiting both for the Sheikh and the disciples. Sanan started living on the path opposite the temple from where he could see the girl crossing him in the hope that one day she would notice him. He started addressing her with an imaginary name in his poetry, which he started composing as a result of pain of love in his heart and he would sing the same in sad melodies.

At last, one day the girl noticed him and asked him why he was living there on a street, without home, in the company of dogs. Sanan replied that he had fallen in love with her and would stay there until she responded. The girl was astonished looking to his old age enough to be her grandfather and asked him retortingly whether he was not ashamed of himself to fall in love with a young girl.

Sheikh Sanan was unperturbed. He replied eloquently that love knows no age.  Whether young or old, love pierces the heart of the lover the same way. Not knowing what to say, the girl asked him to abandon his Shakhhood, convert to Christianity, drink wine and renounce his faith in his holy book and all obligations hereunder to be eligible to deserve her favour.

For Sanan, his only faith was his love. He did what the girl had demanded of him gladly. He sang and danced with rejoice proclaiming that he had become nothing for love; he had lost his honour in love and asked the young girl what more he could do for her? She was more than amused. She asked him to buy her gold and ornaments and if he had no money, not to waste his time on her. The Sheikh replied that he had nothing left with him except his heart that too he had already given away to her. He could not live in separation and would do anything she desired of him. The girl put her condition to be his wife that he should look after her pigs for one year. If he tends the pigs to her satisfaction, she would be ready to become his wife on completion of one year. The Sheikh gladly accepted her wish and took up his residence in the pigsty and started tending the pigs with love and care.

Sheikh Sanan’s disciples were utterly disappointed. Their faith in their Sheikh was completely shattered and their hearts were broken. They were confused and they did not know what should they do now? Should they stay in Rum or should they return to Mecca. They asked Sheikh Sanan what should they do? Did he want them also to convert to Christianity as well? They will stay with him, if he asked them to do so. Sheikh Sanan, however, told them to do whatever they wanted and that he wanted nothing from them.  If any one asked them about him, they should tell the truth.

The disciples returned to Mecca. They had no courage to tell anything about their Sheikh to anyone. However, one of their colleagues who could not go to Rum, being on journey, on return to Mecca and not seeing their Master, asked his colleagues about him.  They told him the entire story from the beginning to the end.

On listening to what had transpired, he asked his colleagues how dare they judge their Sheikh as having done something wrong? He cried for his Sheikh from the depth of his heart. He told his colleagues that they did not know the etiquettes of the path of love. If they truly loved their Sheikh, they should have remained with him and followed him.  If the Sheikh had torn off his Sufi robe and put on a cincture, they should have done the same. They should have stayed with him in the pigsty. He said this is what the true love demands.

This faithful disciple remembered and cried inconsolably for his Sheikh day and night. On the fortieth day he had a vision.  He saw his Master Sheikh Sanan standing in the presence of God with a dark cloud of dust from the temple hanging between Sheikh Sanan and God. Suddenly, the dust blew off and the Divine Light embraced the Sheikh. Then he heard an eternal voice saying: ‘When the fire of Love burns one of all his possessions, only then he becomes worthy of seeing the Eternal Beloved. Nothing has any value in the creed of Love except the selfless love. Until the mirror of the soul is cleared of the dust of existence one cannot see the reflection of the True Beloved in it.’

When he told of his vision to his colleagues, all of them decided to proceed to Rum, where they found their Sheikh with his forehead on the ground in salutation to the God. Sheikh Sanan had travelled beyond religion and was liberated from all bondage. He had truly become nothing in the love of his True Beloved. The Sheikh had become one with his true Beloved. He was silent but filled with bliss. The disciples gathered around him and all of them started back for Mecca.

Meanwhile, the young girl also had a dream. She saw a glimpse of the Almighty in her dream. She had realised that it was He who was the true Lover. It aroused an intense desire in her heart to be united with that Eternal Beauty. The pain of love and separation had also captured her heart. It was now revealed to her that it was only the Sheikh, who could show her the way to the Eternal Beloved.

She rushed to meet the Sheikh and on learning that he had left for Mecca, ran into the desert in order to catch up with the Master. The pain of love had melted her heart, which was pouring down in the form of tears from her eyes.  For days together she ran barefooted in the desert, calling to her Master with love and devotion. The fire of love had reduced everything in her to ashes leaving nothing behind.

Sheikh Sanan had known in his heart that she was running in the desert to see him. He sent his disciples to look for her. On seeing the great Master, the young woman threw herself at his feet. Holding his feet firmly, she said, ‘My Master, I am burning with love. I am dying to see my Beloved, who has disappeared after showing a glimpse and arousing this fire of love in my heart. I cannot see Him anymore. Help me to see my Beloved again.’  The Sheikh took her hands gently and looked into her eyes deeply as if he was peeping into her soul, conducting it to her Beloved through his own soul. The young girl met her destiny. She screamed, ‘O Beloved, I cannot bear Your separation any more’ and with these words she united with her Beloved leaving her mortal remains behind.

Sheikh Sanan stood still for a while and then said, ‘They are fortunate, who reach their destiny and meet with their Beloved. They live eternally in union with Him.’ He then paused for a moment and added, ‘But those who are left behind to guide others to their goal must sacrifice their bliss of communion for the sake of His pleasure!’

A disciple on whom this secret is revealed that the God loves his Master is definitely the recipient of God’s grace. A story is related. A King had ten wives who wanted to know whom did the King love the most. They asked the King. The King showed them a ring and said that next day, whoever of them has the ring, is his most beloved wife. In the night the King got ten similar rings made and sent one each to each of his wives. Now, if someone else other than the wives of the King knows this secret definitely he is the dearest to the King. So is the disciple to whom it is revealed that the God loves his Master.

Love of God is given to all since it is He who has given birth to all. Existence itself is the manifestation of His love. The Sufis consider human beings to have the highest place in His creation.  But the perfection of human beings lies in becoming a ‘complete man’ (Insanu’lkamil).  The Qualities and Attributes of the Almighty reflect prominently in a complete man. All creatures endeavor to evolve as complete man, as one could realize the Supreme Being only after that. The journey of all creatures started from the Supreme Being and will end with reaching back to Him. The period spent in the process is the ‘period of being’ (DauraneWajood). It is, therefore, not possible that His highest creation, the man is devoid of love. This love, however, does not surface till the heart is cleaned and it reflects that love like a mirror reflects the light of the sun.

Initially the Sufi wayfarers considered it necessary to live a life of ascetics and hermits, with immense fear of God. They, therefore, spent their time in meditation and in the remembrance of God to overcome their ego. Gradually, however, they realized that ego could be sacrificed only through love. Without love one cannot stand firmly for long. History is full of such examples where ascetics have fallen to their ego. Famous Sufi Jami has said, ‘you can adopt any method to shelve your ego but love is the only way which definitely protects you from ego.’ Sufis believe that Love is God. It is the gift of the God. It cannot be learnt from the human beings. It can be acquired only through His grace. For the Sufis love is the only way to realize the God. They consider the entire creation to be His manifestation and, therefore, unless one has love for all the creatures, one cannot claim true love for God. Someone has said, ‘there can be as many ways to realize the God as are there the number of atoms. But the simplest and the fastest way to realize Him is to serve His creation.’ Thus, the Sufi, on the one hand endeavors to clear his inner-self, and on the other he renders selfless service and derives happiness in comforting others.


Selfless love           

Sufis consider Uns (selfless love) for God as the shortest way to reach Him. The mother loves her son with no self-interest; she does not look at his vices or his goodness, nor does she live on any hopes from him. Even if she has any expectations, which are belied, her love for the son does not become any less. It is possible that at times the mother may get annoyed with the son but it does not mean that her heart would not melt seeing him in any difficulty. If one loves God in the same manner then there is no veil left in between. The only veil is that of self-interest, if that is not there, all the distance is travelled and one reaches his destiny immediately. Mahatma Ram Chandraji has stated in his book ‘Mazhab Aur Tahqiqat’ on the basis of his personal experience that there have been such great persons, who in their lives never engaged themselves in any spiritual practices, no jikr, no meditation, no contemplation, no worry about crossing spiritual stages, no desire of achieving salvation, peace or any such thing nor even to realize the Truth, but because of their intense love for their Master in their hearts and following his order to the hilt without caring for the result or their own interest in it, they have become one with their Master. Mahatma Ram Chandraji has further stated that he would not have believed it if in his own case his experience was not something similar. He, however, has cautioned against exhibition of superficial love to cover up for ones lethargy, which would lead him nowhere. 

Prophet Muhammad was asked once to which religion did he belong and it is said that Jesus Christ was also asked the same question. The fact is that all saints, all prophets belong to the same Religion, the Religion of the Lovers of God.


Adab in love 

It is also important to mention that Sufis attach a lot of importance on proper ‘Adab’ (respect or etiquettes), particularly till the duality does not cease to exist, as reflected in this couplet:

Khamosh a dil bhari mahfil me chillana nahi achcha,

Adab pahla karina hai mohabbat ke karino me

            (Be quite o! my heart, it is not proper to cry in the presence of others; for the lovers observing proper etiquettes is the first necessity)

            (The story of Bulleh Shah and Hazrat Inayat Shah is related)

            Of course when this feeling of duality ceases to exist, there remains no veil between the lover and the beloved. We have known the examples of the great saints like Andal Rangnayaki (who used to wear the garland herself before offering it to the Lord), Shabri (who tasted the berries before offering to Lord Ram) and Vidur’s wife (who forgot to cover herself and ran to receive Lord Krishna, Who threw His shawl to cover her up). Till such a state of mind is achieved it is important to observe proper etiquettes.

            It may thus be said that the root of love lies in duality but it flourishes and blooms in unity or absorption in the beloved.


Detachment – a state of mind 

As regards detachment, ordinarily detachment is taken to mean no attachment with anything or anyone. For Sufis, however, detachment is a state of universal attachment, where one acquires the state of love for all, nothing pulling him towards any particular thing or being. In fact attachment exists when one is pulled particularly towards something or someone. When there is no special attachment and one acquires the state of universal attachment, it could be said to be the state of real detachment. Detachment for Sufis does not mean being unconcerned or unmoved. Sufis consider detachment as the state of ‘Istagna’ i.e., a state of such affluence, such abundance that one completely becomes oblivious of that thing. For example, if one acquires multitude of money, would one be mindful of losing or acquiring a few coins? He would be in the real state of detachment from money. 

            Thakur Ram Singhji in this regard used to say that the true detachment is a state of mind. It is not the renunciation of the world. Whether one lives in one’s home or in the jungle, the real objective is self-realization. When all the faculties are diverted towards the Almighty, the true feeling of detachment also develops. If, however, something, live or material, induces a reaction, one may either try to detach himself from that thing or the easier method of achieving the objective is seeing the reflection of the Almighty in that thing. In this context, Thakur Ram Singhji used to narrate a story:

Once a King got attracted towards a beautiful girl. He insisted upon meeting with her. The girl asked the King to see her after a week. When the King reached her house after a week, what he saw was that the girl had become very weak and her beauty had lost the charm. The King enquired what had happened to her and how had she lost her charm. The girl indicated the King to go to the next room. The King went to the next room, but could not enter it, as the room smelled badly with human excreta filled in pots. When the King tried to cover his nose and mouth, a maid standing nearby asked him “why are you condemning the very thing which you wanted. The beauty of the body is only on the outside. Inside the body, it was this excretion only but as the body is covered with the skin, it neither smells nor does it attract flies.” The King was shaken completely. He understood the message and developed a feeling of detachment. Through this story Thakur Ram Singhji used to explain that the King neither renounced his Kingdom, nor did he withdraw from his duty but what he renounced was his ill thoughts and his attachment with the girl. 


Everything belongs to God 

In simple words garnering a firm belief that everything belongs to the God is true detachment in the real sense. The story related to Shams Tabrez, the spiritual Master of Maulana Rumi is related. Once Mahatma Shams Tabrez was passing through a place where a young boy had died and his mother was crying inconsolably. Some people who knew Mahatma Shams Tabrez spotted him and requested him to give life to the dead body. Seeing the pathetic condition of the mother, Mahatma Shams Tabrez ’s heart got filled with compassion. He asked the dead body “Kum-be-Ijnillah” (get up by the order of the Almighty), but the dead body did not respond. Mahatma Shams Tabrez then kicked the dead body ordering him “Kum-be-Ijni” i.e. if you do not get up by the order of the Almighty, get up by my order. The dead body immediately got up. This matter reached the ears of the Emperor of Multan who held Mahatma Shams Tabrez to be a Kafir and ordered his skin to be peeled off. The Emperor’s servants were afraid of Mahatma Shams Tabrez and could not dare touch him. Seeing their condition Mahatma Shams Tabrez himself caught hold of his skin by the hair on the head and ordered his skin to leave his body. The skin of his body from toe to head came into his hand which he handed over to them and went away.

On hearing this incidence another Fakir came to Multan and asked a goldsmith to make a ring for the finger of the Almighty. On being asked by the goldsmith he showed his own finger for the measurement. The goldsmith was stunned. He told the Fakir that a few days ago another ‘God’ has lost his skin and now it is you who want to lose life by showing your finger as the finger of the God. The Fakir, however, started shouting more loudly as he had deliberately entered into this discussion. Listening to this dialogue many people gathered there and the Emperor also was informed of this new incidence. The Emperor called the Fakir and told him “look, I am prepared to give to you whatever you want, but do not utter these words like a Kafir.” The Fakir told the Emperor that before asking for anything he wanted some of his questions to be answered by the Emperor. The Emperor agreed to answer him. The Fakir asked the Emperor, what are those things which the Emperor was authorised to give him.

Emperor: All the land, treasure, animals, servants, army, the palace etc. everything is mine, which I can give to you.

Fakir: Who owned all these things before you were born.

Emperor: These were owned by my father and prior to him by my grandfather and so on.

Fakir: When these were with your father, he would also be claiming them to be his and similarly your grandfather must also be claiming them to his.

Emperor: Yes. They must be claiming so and after me my son or who-so-over will be the Emperor will claim them to be belonging to him.

Fakir: Then think over and tell me from where have these things originated and where shall these end.

Emperor: What is there to think about? All the things, the entire world has originated from the Almighty and these shall end also in the Almighty. I am fully convinced of it and this is also, the truth.

Fakir: Ok, then be alert and be firm on your words. If what you have said is true, then whose skin was it which was peeled off and whose finger is this for which I was asking the goldsmith to make a ring?

The Emperor was speechless. He bowed his head down and started thinking. If he admitted that the skin belonged to the Almighty, he will be charged of the offence of getting the skin belonging to the Almighty peeled off. Besides, the claim of the Fakir to make a ring for the finger of the Almighty also was right as everything belonged to the Almighty. The Emperor fell at the feet of the Fakir begging him to be pardoned. He requested the Fakir to explain him the difference between a devotee and a Kafir. The Fakir explained that a Kafir claims everything to be his own or belonging to others, forgetting the Almighty; whereas a devotee takes everything to be belonging to the Almighty and acts accordingly. The Emperor had understood his mistake.


Renunciation- subtle ego 

Renunciation also involves exercising subtle ego. Shams Tabrez used to roam about bare headed. On being asked why his head was not covered, Shams Tabrez is stated to have said:

            “Sar barhana, nestam daram, kulhi char tark’

Tark-e-duniya, tark-e-ukva, tark-e-Maula, tark-e-tark”

(This means – my head is covered with four crowns. First, renunciation of the world (tark-e- duniya); second, renunciation of the heaven (tark-e-ukwa); third, renunciation of the God (tark-e-Maula); and fourth, renunciation of the will power (tark-e-tark) through which the first three renunciations were made).

In regard to ‘renunciation of the God’, Thakur Ram Singh ji explained that ‘tark-e-Maula’ does not mean to forget the God or to be an atheist. It really means to stop searching for the Almighty since the Almighty always lives in the heart of the devotee and is so close that it is difficult to differentiate between ‘Him’ and oneself. When one experiences that he and the Almighty are one and the same, then what is left to be searched? Who is to be searched? The desire to find ‘Him’ then vanishes. By ‘tark-e-tark’ one should understand renunciation even of the sense of renouncing. Such a person is the greatest and an absolutely contended person.

My Master Thakur Ram Singhji also used to say:

“Jab se miti hai chahat, fulon ko sunghane ki,

Sare jahan ke gulshan, mere hi ho gaye’

(Ever since I have given up the desire to smell the flowers, all the gardens of the world have become mine)


No conflict between love and detachment           

Thus, there is no conflict between love and detachment. A true lover loves the Almighty and, therefore, the entire creation, no space left in his heart for hatred towards anyone. Similarly, one who is truly detached considers everything belonging to the God and, therefore, sheds the feeling of ‘me and mine, you and yours’, which is the root- cause of all evils and hatred.



The questions we raised in Introduction regarding compatibility of love with detachment stand resolved. There is indeed no conflict between the two when we construe true love as self-effacing and non-possessive. It is this self-effacement and non-possessiveness that makes the lover detached, even from self, and unites the lover with the beloved in spirit. Bhakti (devotion) movement of Sri Chaitanya in 15th century epitomized this selfless and detached love for the divine (Sri Krishna). When the mind gets fully absorbed with the thought of the beloved, even to the exclusion of self, the love gets transformed into detached love. We need not get into the debate whether mundane love can become selfless or divine. Suffice it to say, love is mundane when it is self-centric, and divine when it is selfless. Obviously when love is selfless, the question of possessing the beloved as one’s own does not arise. When self is effaced, sense of attachment disappears and the perfect unity between the lover and the beloved is established. 

An anecdote of how passionate love of a queen of Magadha, named Ahalya, wife of king Indradyumna, for an ordinary subject called Indra, transcended physical limits and pains has been depicted in yoga Vasishtha by sage Vasishtha to Rama. When their love was exposed, the king punished them severely in various ways, first by throwing them into ice-cold water in winter, then into a large frying pan, under the feet of an elephant, and lastly lashing them with rods, straps and hammers. But each time they came out smiling as if in blissful merriment. When asked to explain how they survived such punishments, this is how they explained the phenomenon:

 “O King, no torture can separate us. The world is full with the form of the other. We view the whole world as full of ourselves. We see our beloved in every shape and form. We are in the enjoyment of bliss and so we are entirely unconscious of our body. We do not experience any pain. We will not feel the slightest pain even if the body is cut to pieces. When the mind is intensely attached to an object, it will not experience any pain. No power on earth will be able to divert this mind from its beloved object. All these bodies originate from the mind only. Mind does everything. It is the highest body. Even if this body perishes, the mind will take fresh bodies quickly according to its liking. If this mind is destroyed beyond resurrection through Atma Jnana (wisdom of soul), then only will bodies stop cropping up.”

The king realised the truth of their statement and banished them from his kingdom so that they might live together elsewhere. Sage Vasishtha concluded his story with following annotation:

“The body with various organs is no other than the mind. This universe also is nothing but the mind. If the mind perishes, both body and the universe will vanish.” [The above anecdote is taken from ‘Stories from Yoga Vasishtha’ by Swami Sivananda]

The above anecdote from Yoga Vasishtha helps us in understanding how in all-absorbing love two souls transcend physical barriers and sensation, and become one, and why Mansoor Al-Hallaj, a great Sufi saint, did not exhibit any sign of pain when he was executed by the orthodoxy in the gallows for blasphemy for shouting Anal Haq (I am the Truth). Mansoor Al-Hallaj was no exception. Several Sufi saints even to this date have been and are being persecuted by the orthodoxy for their all-encompassing love for humanity and divine ecstasy, often misunderstood and mis-construed as blasphemy. 

Absorption in love with the beloved is not a unique Sufi concept. Nor is the concept of detachment or of detached love peculiar to Sufism. On a spiritual plane, these concepts were well known to all ancient religions. Bhagavad Gita, in verse 10, chapter 5, compares a detached mind with a lotus leaf. Just as a lotus leaf does not get wet even while immersed in water, a detached mind does not get affected even while engaged in action. At the same time, in verse 32, chapter 6 of Gita Sri Krishna pronounces to Arjuna as follows:

            Atma-aupamyena sarvatra samam pashyati yah Arjuna I

            Sukham va yadi va duhkham sa yogi paramah matah II

            [O Arjuna, that Yogi is the greatest who identifies self with others in their grief or pleasure]

Uniqueness of Sufism lies in their pursuit of love to attain the Truth. It is not a religion in a normative or ritualistic sense. Even though some well known Sufi saints have engaged in converting their followers to Islam, Sufi philosophy in general does not believe in conversion or discrimination on grounds of religion, sex, race, caste or creed while pursuing the path of love for uniting with the Divine.   



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                                                                           Spirit World


(Interactive session on 07.02.2014)

Keynote address by Asish Kumar Raha

(Other participant speakers: Mr. Asim K. Banerjee, Ms. Madhulika Chatterjee, Mr. Ranjan Chatterjee, Mr. P.C.Jha, Ms. Shikha Majumdar, Mr. R.K.Gupta, Dr.Kalyan K.Chakravarty, Ms. Krishna Lahiri, Dr. Suhas Majumdar, Mr. Sarada Ranjan Das)                                      .

     [Devotional song – chorus led by Ms. Jayanti Dasgupta]                         ]



Man’s curiosity to know, explore and discover self is as old as human civilization. Are we the body, or the mind or brain or consciousness or the soul, or a combination of all these are the questions we have been struggling to resolve from time immemorial. The question that arises is whether we exist beyond life / death. In other words, the question which we are going to address today is whether there is any Spirit World of higher consciousness, distinctive from our three dimensional phenomenal world.

All established and organized religions subscribe to the belief in the existence of soul even though the concept of soul may not be uniform. While the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Greeks and the Romans believe in re-incarnation of souls, religions belonging to the Abrahamic tradition do not generally subscribe to such phenomenon. As for belief in God’s existence, most of the organized religions, barring a few ones like Buddhism, take it as axiomatic and the very basis of the religion. Philosophical treatises like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita have elaborately dwelt upon the Spirit World as the domain belonging essentially to higher dimensional consciousness. Science, on the other hand is inclined to reject above phenomena in the absence of hard evidence.

The question is why we should delve into a subject that has engaged our mind and intellect from time immemorial with no fruitful resolution.

The reason why we consider this subject as relevant still, is the dimensional leap in our knowledge of outer space and particle worlds and the realization of our very limited understanding of the law of nature that prevails in our own universe, let alone distinctive laws of nature prevailing in 10500 universes that the physicists like Stephen Hawking claim as existing. It is, however, an admitted fact that scientific researches into consciousness have remained more or less neglected. Our approach to this metaphysical subject in 21st century, therefore, needs to be scientific, though primarily empirical.

The questions that we need to address in our interaction are as follows:

  1. Is there a phenomenon called consciousness which is independent of mind or brain? If the answer is yes, following questions will crop up to be logically addressed.
  2. Does consciousness survive death?
  3. Is there any evidence of Spirit World of higher consciousness that lies beyond 3-dimensional phenomenal world?
  4. How are the Spirit World and the Phenomenal World inter-related?
  5. Is there any empirical proof of re-incarnation?
  6. Can the Spirit World be accessed with our 3-dimensional sense-organs?
  7. Is the Spirit World subject to a different Law of Nature? If so, can it be described? Is there hierarchy in Spirit World? 


Consciousness – Views of Sri Krishna and Stephen Hawking – Comparative study


The multi-dimensional Spirit World, as we understand it to be, is the domain of higher consciousness, as compared to our material three-dimensional world of Five Elements. Before we take up the subject in right earnest, let us first dwell upon the theme of consciousness which is the pith and core of our subject.

While on the theme of consciousness, the concept of a scientist is apparently at variance with that of a philosopher. To remain within our focus, let us examine/analyze the views of Stephen Hawking, arguably the greatest physicist of modern time, and that of Sri Krishna, arguably the greatest thinker of olden times. 

Stephen Hawking in chapter two, captioned ‘The Rule of Law’, in his ‘The Grand Design’ has raised serious doubt as to whether man possesses consciousness or is a biological robot having no free will, based on recent experiments in neuroscience. In support, he has referred 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. 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 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. Since an alien the size of a human would contain about a thousand trillion trillion particles even if the alien were a robot, it would be impossible to solve the equations and predict what it would do.” Therefore, owing to our inability to do the calculations so as to predict its actions, 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 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.

Strikingly similar to the above view of the renowned physicist is the revelation made by Sri Krishna in verse 27, chapter 3 of the Gita a few millenniums before the physicists like Hawking have come to the finding that man has no free will, which is 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’.”

Sri Krishna reiterated the above truth in verse 33, chapter 11, Gita, when he said:

“These (enemies) stand killed by me already. Be you merely an instrument, O Savyascahin (Atjuna).”

Again in verses 4 & 5 of chapter 7 of the Gita, Sri Krishna pronounces to Arjuna as follows:

“My un-manifested nature (Prakriti) has an eightfold differentiation: earth, water, fire, air, ether/space, sensory mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and egoism (ahamkara).”

“The above is my lower nature (apara prakriti). But understand, O mighty armed (Arjuna)! That my different and higher nature (para prakriti) is the soul (jiva), the self-consciousness and life-principle that sustains the cosmos.”

It is noticeable that Sri Krishna while holding that the Jiva (soul) as a doer was just an illusion, made a clear distinction between the mind, intelligence and egoism on one hand (which is clearly governed by the brain that comprises trillions of molecules) and the consciousness on the other hand, the latter being the sole attribute of the soul (Jiva). It is also stated that it is this consciousness that sustains the cosmos. Obviously, the all-sustaining consciousness is independent of the body or the brain. And the whole game in this phenomenal world is to get over this illusion by awakening one’s consciousness to the realization that the Jiva is neither the body, nor the mind, nor the brain, but pure consciousness, independent of all these.

Now the question is whether the mind, intelligence and egoism are also independent of the body or the brain, like consciousness per se. Apparently, going by verse 27, chapter 3 of the Gita cited above, one will be inclined to think that those attributes are body-centric. When the body goes, those attributes also cease to exist. But Sri Krishna had another take on that. He explains in verse 8 of chapter 15 ibid as follows:

“When the Jiva (soul) acquires a body, he brings with him the mind and the senses. When he leaves that body, he takes them and goes, just as the wind wafts away scents from flowers.”

From the above pronouncement of Sri Krishna, it would appear that the above three attributes of the soul viz. mind, intelligence and egoism, though originated from the Nature (Prakriti) and distinct from consciousness, are not body-centric.

The next important question that falls for determination is whether Jiva has free will or choice while living in a mortal body. While Hawking has serious doubt whether a man has free will or choice in the absence of conclusive mathematical proof, Sri Krishna answers in the affirmative in verse 47, chapter 2, Gita when he said:

“Karmenyavadhikaraste ma faleshu kadachana’

(Your right is for action alone, never for the results).

What logically follows from the above dictum of Sri Krishna is that man has the discretion whether to do a thing or not while the result of his action is not in his hands. Holistically viewed, life of a man is programmed by Prakriti (Nature) just as a computer game is programmed. The discretion rests with the player with various options while the result linked to each option is pre-determined and predictable by the one who has designed the game as also the one who has gone through it successfully.

Viewed from a physicist’s standpoint, Hawking, while conceding that human behaviour is indeed determined by the laws of nature, observed that “the outcome is determined in such a complicated way and with so many variables as to make it impossible in practice to predict. For that one would need a knowledge of the initial state of each of the thousand trillion trillion molecules in the human body and to solve something like that number of equations. That would take a few billion years….” (ref. chapter 2 of The Grand Design). Einstein strived, without success, to find the equation of ‘The Theory of Everything’ that would explain and resolve all the mysteries of the Nature. According to Hawking, “M- theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find” that may eventually lead to the discovery and predictability of The Grand Design’ of the nature by human beings who are mere collections of fundamental particles of nature. However, Hawking admits that as of now M-theory has no answer to the puzzle how amidst 10500 varying laws of nature, we humans ended up in this universe, and what about those other possible worlds (ref. conclusive para in chapter 5 of The Grand Design, captioned ‘The Theory of Everything’).

The key to ‘The Theory of Everything’ that has eluded scientists so far lies, according to Sri Krishna, in the inner consciousness of the man and that key can be retrieved by way of self-awakening or God-realization only. Once a man acquires the ultimate wisdom or realization that he is the Brahman or God, all worldly knowledge acquired through study, research or austerity would be as futile as a well when entire area is flooded (refer verse 46, chapter 2, Gita).

The fundamental difference in the approach of the physicists like Stephen Hawking vis-a-vis that of Sri Krishna was that the former totally denied the role or existence of consciousness in fact-finding or in search for the truth while for the latter, consciousness independent of the mind, brain or egoism is the key to the realization of the ultimate Truth whereupon all the mysteries of this phenomenal as also spirit worlds get unfolded. By denying the existence of consciousness, Stephen Hawking has fallen into the trap of self-contradiction, of which he may not be unaware, in that he has denied free will to the man as also to the nature, or in other words to the biological robot as also to its programmer. Such contradiction is not to be found in Sri Krishna’s concept of lower consciousness of his Apara Prakriti that pervades the phenomenal world of mind and matter, and higher consciousness of his Para Prakriti that prevails in the Spirit World.


Sources of information


Our sources of information for the subject are frontline religions, spiritual treatises, scientific researches, direct experiences and experiments.

As for well-known religious texts, we may refer to Abrahamic religions, viz. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, ancient Egyptian religion, ancient Greek and Roman religions, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism and Buddhism. As regards spiritual treatises we may rely upon Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads as also Buddhist writings. Besides, some modern thoughts on the subject as have been penned down by Sri Aurobindo, Swami Abhedananda, Swami Yogananda, Swami Sivananda, Sogyal Rinpoche etc. shall be kept in view. As for scientific studies and researches, reliance may be placed on the findings of past-life regression therapists, notably Dr. Brian Weiss, and the documentation of out of body experiences of several heart surgery patients by Dr. Raymond Moody. So far as direct experiences are concerned, the speaker has had the opportunity to gather considerable and substantial information regarding Spirit World through seance.

The commonality that runs through all established religions is the concept of heaven and hell, i.e. heaven for good deeds and hell for bad deeds, as also the existence of soul. However, religions differ on the point as to whether a man who has committed both good and bad deeds should go to heaven or hell or both, and whether after they have finished their term of reward or punishment, as the case may be, should be re-born.

Abrahamic religions subscribe to the concept of eternal heaven following the Judgment Day for the ones whose good deeds have outweighed bad deeds and eternal hell for the ones whose bad deeds have outweighed good deeds. In course of time, the concepts of limbo for un-baptized and innocent souls and purgatory for purification of souls before the Judgment Day have come in currency. After the Judgment Day, it is said that old heavens and the earth will disappear and new heavens and new earth will be created by God for pious souls to live eternally with God, while evil doers will perish in hell fire. In other words, heaven on earth has been conceptualized, post-Judgment Day.

On the question of re-incarnation, opinions vary in Abrahamic religions. Although there is no mention of re-incarnation in the Talmud, the Zohar written by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai around the time of Jesus, mentions re-incarnation repeatedly. Jewish mystics in general including Kabbalistic Judaism, accept re-incarnation as a divine reality. Notwithstanding some references in Bible to re-incarnation, the Christians and the Islam, however, do not subscribe to the concept of re-incarnation on the ground that it cannot be reconciled to the concept of the Judgment Day when God will pronounce final judgment in respect of every individual with reference to their deeds on earth. The souls, according to both the religions, await the Judgment Day in their grave.

Islamic theology, however, speaks of seven levels each for heaven (Jannah) and hell (Jahannam), thus making a gradation of good and bad deeds. Barzakh in Sufi tradition conceives an intermediate region called Isthmus, which is described by the Sufi scholar Ibn Arabi as simple and luminous, and like a dream world between the phenomenal world and the spirit world, from which contact can be established with both the worlds. While Islam does not subscribe to re-incarnation, the Sufi sect in Islam believes in re-incarnation.

The Egyptian concept of heaven and hell as also souls pre-date Abrahamic tradition as is evident from the inscriptions on the walls of the royal tombs and also on papyrus. While the concept of hell in ancient Egyptian religion is quite similar to that of Abrahamic and other religions, the unique feature of heaven in Egypt was that even the pious ones were to pass through the Netherworld (hell) and spells were required to enable them to cross the Netherworld to enter heaven. As for the existence of soul, it was believed that the soul was a double of the physical body and would remain as long as the body would remain. Hence the mummification of the dead. Central to the religious belief in after-life by ancient Egyptians was the concept of Ba, Ka and Akh, Ba implying the unique personality of the dead, Ka meaning the vital essence of the dead (soul) and Akh suggesting a ritual that makes the dead into a living person by uniting Ba and Ka. In Egyptian theology, it is possible for the soul to die a second death, which is permanent, and the rituals and spells are used to prevent such permanent death of the soul in after-life. Egyptians believe in re-incarnation not in the sense of re-birth but by way of revival of the dead.

The Zoroastrians believe that Urvan or the departed soul stays on earth for three days after death sitting either at the head of the body, if pious, or at the feet of the body, if wicked. Thereafter they are taken by the messengers of Yima (Yama for the Hindus), the king of death, to Chinvat bridge for final judgment. For the wicked ones the bridge narrows down to the width of a blade-edge so that they fall into the hell of darkness while the pious ones are taken to heaven. Misvan Gatu is the place for those who are neither pious nor wicked, which lacks both joy and sufferings, somewhat like limbo.

The Greek god Hades and the Roman god Pluto are called the king of the underworld. It is believed that souls after death are ferried across the river to the king of the underworld for judgment as to whether they should be sent to Elysium for the pious, Tartarus for the evil, the Asphodel Fields for those whose sins and good deeds equalled, or the Fields of Punishment for those whose sins were not as serious as to deserve burning in lava in Tartarus. Both the Greek and the Roman religions believed in re-incarnation of souls, according to one’s karma-cum-option.

Hindu and Buddhist belief in hell and heaven are not on the same page as Abrahamic traditions. First, there is no singular Judgment Day for the souls in these two religions which believe that souls are consigned to heaven and hell based on on-going judgments by the Lord of Death, according to their Karma and get re-born after their term of reward or punishment is over. Second, there is no concept of permanent heaven or hell based on the principle of pre-dominance. According to Hindu and Buddhist traditions, for part good and part bad deeds, the soul will have proportionate reward and sufferings in heaven and hell respectively. Both the religions firmly believe in re-incarnation. Pertinently, both the religions have done elaborate research on after-life and re-birth. Garuda Purana for the Hindus and Tibetan Book of the Dead for the Buddhists extensively deal with after-life existence of souls in subtle bodies.

Past life regression and next life progression therapy pioneered by Dr. Brian Weiss and popularized world over, can be reasonably taken as having established inter-relation of souls through numerous incarnations, accountability for the Karma and the significance of love that survives death. To a large extent, his findings stand corroborated by the findings of Dr. Raymond Moody who has recorded the experiences of some of his patients who had out of body experience during heart surgeries. Dr. Eben Alexander, an American neuro-surgeon, has recounted in his book ‘Proof of Heaven’ (2012) his experience in Spirit World during the period of seven days when he was brain-dead and in coma owing to a rare type of meningitis. The well documented case of Shanti Devi, born in 1926, with memory of her previous life which was verifiable and got verified is often cited as a testimony of re-incarnation.


Death – an illusion!


Is death real or an illusion? To find an answer to this apparently simple question, we have to first determine whether it is the body that dies or the life in the body that is terminated with death. To think that the body lives and dies would mean that the body is co-terminus, if not identical with life, i.e. when the life ends the body ends or vice versa. But is life identical with the body? Is the body self-conscious? Science has no categorical answer to these questions as physicists like Stephen Hawking are inclined to hold, in the absence of any conclusive evidence in support or to the contrary, that consciousness and life are accidental products of non-conscious nature. This, as a proposition, is paradoxical and hence unacceptable.

Let us look to the contra view of Bio-scientists as also the pronouncements of Sri Krishna in the Gita on the subject of death. First, the relevant citations from the Gita.

In verse 20 of chapter 2, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna as follows:

“The self is never born nor does it ever perish; nor having come into existence will it again cease to be. It is birth-less, eternal, change-less, ever-same. It is not slain when body is killed.”

In verse 22 ibid, Sri Krishna goes on explaining as follows:

“Just as an individual forsaking old garments dons new clothes, so the soul relinquishing decayed body enters a new body.”

In the very next verse Sri Krishna describes the inherent qualities of the soul as follows:

“No weapon can pierce the soul; no fire can burn it; no water can moisten it; nor can any wind wither it.”

In sum and substance, it is pronounced by Sri Krishna quite categorically that the soul does not die with the body and that it is clearly distinctive from the body. What follows logically from those assertions is that death is an illusion, given the fact that man’s real identity is the soul or consciousness and not the body.

Robert Lanza, Chief Scientific Officer of Advanced Cell Technology, in his scholarly work titled ‘Biocentrism’ has held out an alternative model of ‘The Theory of Everything’ that questions the very basis of the M- theory expounded by physicists like Stephen Hawking. It is contended by Lanza that life or consciousness is not an accidental by-product of the laws of physics, not merely the activity of an admixture of carbon and a few other elements, but it is fundamentally immortal. Life/consciousness creates the universe instead of the other way round. He has thus switched the perspective of our study of universes from physics to biology, by arguing that our consciousness plays a central role in creating the cosmos. ‘By treating space and time as physical things, science picks a completely wrong starting point for understanding the world,’ Lanza points out. Death, according to Lanza, is nothing but an illusion.

It is pertinent to mention here that Lanza’s bio-concept of death is not different from the concept of a physicist in that both consider human body as a collection of thousand trillion trillion molecules that do not die when the body dies. The only difference in Lanza’s approach lies in his emphasis on consciousness as the creator of the universe which physicists do not seem to agree with.

However, when we consider how a man would look like to one-dimensional and two-dimensional creatures, the role of consciousness in our perception of the universes becomes patently clear. To be precise, a man would look no more than a dot to one-dimensional creatures and no more than lines and circles to two-dimensional creatures. As to the question how a four-dimensional creature with additional time-space dimension, would look like to a man of three dimensions, scientists are not too sure. According to some, four-dimensional creatures will be visible only at the curves and not as a whole, and that too not at all time, its image constantly expanding and receding, vanishing and re-manifesting in a number of places almost in no time. Scientists generally agree that fourth dimensional creatures are beyond our perception just as three dimensional creatures cannot be perceived by lower dimensional creatures. In the above scenario, the universes that we perceive with our three dimensional consciousness cannot understandably be the same at a higher dimension. M-theorists have so far conceived as many as eleven dimensions while our perception stumbles at the fourth dimension itself. Thus our three dimensional perception of death may change altogether at a higher dimension that may make us perceive with a higher sense that our real self does not die when it leaves the body made up of trillions of molecules.

We find a corroboration of the said higher perception in verses 10, 16 and 17, chapter15 of the Gita:

“The deluded do not perceive Him staying or departing or experiencing the world of the gunas (qualities). Only those whose eyes of wisdom are open can see Him.” -10

“There are two beings in the cosmos, the destructible and the indestructible. The creatures are the destructible, while subtle existence within (Kutastha) is the indestructible.” – 16

“But there exists another, the Highest Being, designated the ‘Supreme Spirit’ – the Eternal Lord who, permeating the three worlds, upholds them.” – 17

It is this subtle existence within each creature that cannot be perceived with three dimensional consciousnesses and to perceive that one needs to arouse one’s higher consciousness. But that subtle existence is also not the ultimate truth viz. the Highest Being, to perceive Whom one needs the grace of the Supreme Spirit by utmost devotion. This is the sum and substance of the above verses from the Gita which suggest that our limitation of three dimensional perceptions can be transcended in the realm of consciousness only. Hawking’s emphasis on physical laws and Lanza’s emphasis on consciousness highlights our dimensional limitation but not its resolution.


After the soul departs from body


So far we have referred to and cited various authorities, both spiritual as also scientific, while on theoretical plane. From now on, we will shift our focus entirely to the Spirit World, primarily relying upon Hindu, Buddhist and Egyptian texts as also direct experiences and scientific studies.

The question is in which form the soul departs from the body and what does it do immediately thereafter.

It is generally believed in all three traditions mentioned above, that the soul departs in ‘etheric double’, meaning the subtle body of ether resembling the physical body, being of the size of a thumb or even less than that, but invisible to the naked eye. It takes away all five sense organs, all three Gunas, and the mind from the physical body when it departs. Every such etheric double is connected with the physical body with a silver cord which provides the psychic link. At death the said link is snapped. There are occasions when a person being clinically dead for some time is said to revive or return to life, as is mentioned in ‘Life after Life’ by Dr. Moody. There are also instances when a yogi transmigrates his soul leaving his mortal body behind for considerable time and re-enters his body at will, like it is believed to have happened with Shankaracharya. In all these cases, the connection of the silver cord between the subtle body and the gross body remains intact. Once the connection is snapped it is not possible for the subtle body to return to the gross body. The stretch of the silver cord is limitless and it is capable of stretching to any distance depending on the psychic strength of the person concerned.

While in etheric double, the soul remains near its forsaken body and keeps trying to re-enter the body without success, once the silver cord is snapped. In this state the attachment to the body continues together with thirst, hunger, desire, anger, greed, delusion, addiction etc. with no means or medium to satisfy the same except through smell and smoke of the offerings that contain the essence of food. All these earthly attachments prevent the soul from ascending to a higher state, viz. the astral world, by shedding off the etheric double. This is precisely the reason why the Hindus cremate the body upon death and pray for liberation of the soul from earthly bondage during the Shradh ceremony whereupon the soul is believed to shed off its etheric double. Similar rituals in other religions have been prescribed for spiritual elevation of the departed soul.

Now the question is, for how many days the soul remains in etheric double. According to Hindu belief, it remains in such state till Shradh ceremony is performed according to the prescription of Lord Vishnu as provided in Garuda Purana. It is, however, not necessary that every soul upon death gets into etheric double. Spiritually advanced souls pierce through etheric double to reach the astral world with speed of light.

In Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) etheric double is called mental body which has a form similar to the body just lived, sans defects of any kind. By the force of constant thoughts the mental body is unable to remain still even for a moment and is always on the move. It can pass through solid barriers, wall or mountain and can see through three dimensional objects. It is invisible to living beings except to advanced souls. In that state all five elements are present in the make-up of the mental body with hunger and thirst and it derives nourishment from burnt offerings and the offerings dedicated in its name. This state has an average duration of forty nine days and a minimum length of one week. The Lord of Death after considering the Karma of the departed soul in totality makes his judgment, as a result of which the soul may take immediate re-birth or is given opportunities for liberation in the next higher state called astral world.

The ancient Egyptians like the Hindus and the Buddhists also believed in etheric double. However, according to Egyptian faith, any injury or harm to the dead would cause instant harm to its double. They further claimed to know the spell by which they could unite the dead with its double as also how to elevate the soul from the netherworld to a higher realm/level viz. heaven. It is believed that the art of mummification of the dead was developed to ensure a long life to the etheric double so as to enable it to unite with its earthly body.

The concept of hell is common to all three religions discussed above. The souls suffer punishment for bad deeds while in etheric double or in mental body with all their sense organs alive and alert.


Journey to the astral world


Persons exceedingly attached to material life linger in etheric double with all five elements and the six enemies viz. passion, anger, greed, delusion, addiction and jealousy, with no means of satisfaction. Those who have broken through the etheric double fall into a deep sleep to awaken in the astral world. This, however, does not apply to an advanced soul who pierces through the barrier of etheric double to be taken to the astral world with speed of light immediately upon death. In the astral world attachment to the material world is a taboo, and the process of detachment from material desires or entanglement is undergone slowly by the soul. The astral world has seven levels, the highest being known as the heaven. Each level has sub-levels. Departed soul is sent to the level adjudged apt for it going by its past Karma, by the Lord of Death called Yama. There is no Karma in the astral world, and hence there is hardly any scope for promotion to a higher level except through re-birth, by the grace of a spiritual master or deity from a higher level in answer to prayer of the departed soul or fellow living beings.

The astral world can be depicted as the world of light and wish-fulfilment. In this world the souls meet their acquaintances of several past lives and realize that their immutable souls are deathless, nameless, without beginning or end. Nonetheless, they are not liberated yet, as they continue to be tied by the three Gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas and their derivative qualities. The astral world is infinite in its expanse and creative in the sense that souls can create fancy worlds by their thought. Higher the level greater is their power and vibration.

Vibration, according to M theorists in Physics, is the cause of creation of universes, gravity, time and matters. In spiritual science also it is recognized that every soul has a vibration. Higher the soul at spiritual level, stronger is its vibration. This explains why a soul placed at a lower level cannot ascend to a higher level as it cannot withstand the strong vibration and the dazzling light. However, a higher soul can descend at will to a lower level.

There is no hell in astral world.

It is believed that in astral world souls enjoy the fruit of their good deeds for a fixed term, determined on the basis of their respective Karma, and they are re-born, not necessarily on the earth, or as human, at the end of their term. The soul’s placement in a high dimension is directly relatable to its subtleness, more subtle it becomes higher it rises. The soul becomes more subtle when it sheds off the elements, first the earth, then water, fire and air in that order, together with corresponding qualities which stick to those elements.

According to Buddhist tradition, as has been elaborately dealt with in The Tibetan Book of the Dead and also The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, the whole of our existence can be divided into four Bardos which are as follows: 1) the ‘natural’ Bardo of this life, 2) the ‘painful’ Bardo of dying, 3) the ‘luminous’ Bardo of dharmata (Sanskrit word, meaning essence of soul) and 4) the ‘Karmic’ Bardo of becoming. The natural Bardo is the best time to prepare for death by following the teachings of the Tathagata, while the painful Bardo lasts from the beginning of the process of dying until the end of ‘inner respiration’ which in turn culminates in the dawning of the ‘Ground Luminosity’. The luminous Bardo of Dharmata encompasses after death experience of the nature of mind or luminosity/clear light which manifests sound, colour and light. The karmic Bardo of becoming lasts right up to the new birth. The vast majority of people do not recognize Ground Luminosity owing to their ignorance and plunge into a state of unconsciousness which can last up to three and a half days when they are clinically dead. This is why as per the custom in Tibet, dead bodies are not touched for three days after death. Thereafter only cremation takes place. The Bardo of Dharmata has following four phases, each one offering an opportunity of liberation. The first phase is called luminosity when space dissolves into luminosity and the departed soul takes on a body of light. If this phase of luminosity is not recognised by the ignorant, the rays and colours then coalesce into balls of light of different sizes and within them peaceful and wrathful deities appear and enormous spherical concentration of light seems to occupy the whole space. This is called the second phase of Dharmata when luminosity dissolves into union to manifest in form of Buddhas or deities of various form, colour and size. There are forty two peaceful and fifty eight wrathful deities depicted in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. If the soul fails to gain stability, the next phase unfolds as ‘union dissolving into wisdom’ in form of brilliant display of light to manifest five wisdoms of space, mirror-like reflection, equanimity, discernment and accomplishment. If the soul does not yet attain liberation, wisdom dissolves into spontaneous presence in one tremendous display. The limitlessness of this vision is beyond our imagination. Every possibility is presented from wisdom and liberation to confusion and rebirth.

From the above, it will be seen that in Buddism, light plays an important role in identification of the path of Dharma, Nirvana or re-birth. While on re-birth, the Tibetan Book of the Dead speaks of various options going by the colour of light and guides the initiates how to choose a worthy birth by opting for the right colour of light, if re-birth is unavoidable, even though departed souls are advised to pray to the Buddha to get rid of re-birth.


Ascent to the Spiritual World


Like the astral world, spiritual world has seven levels, starting from 8th to 14th level. This world is pervaded by love and respect as souls at a spiritual level experience Brahman/God as all pervasive light that vibrates in every living being that includes particles as well.

The 14th level happens to be the highest dimension where liberated souls reside as Pure Consciousness, shedding off all four elements, viz. earth (body of particles), water (fluid), fire and air and exist with the last element called Akasha or space. Those who have shed off this last element as well are said to be merged with Brahman/God and lose their identity. All three Gunas, viz. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are also non-existent in 14th level. It is the discretion of a liberated soul to take re-birth for the good of the deluded souls. When they take re-birth, they willingly accept the bondage of Prakriti (nature) and get their souls tied by the three Gunas with all other additives and elements, and go through the process of liberation once again from the three dimensional world as a natural corollary to their mortal existence, with the purpose of guiding the mortals into the right path and also to restore the balance in the phenomenal worlds, when absolutely necessary. They also have the power and discretion to lift their disciples to the highest level by their grace provided they are fit otherwise for such elevation. Though liberated, the souls in 14th level stay with their individual identity. They have clairvoyance but not the power of Brahman for reason of their separate limiting identity and do not interfere with the events or happenings in the phenomenal worlds except at the level of consciousness. The prophets, messiahs and avatars belong to the highest spiritual domain.


Concluding remarks


In conclusion, we are inclined toward the view, based on empirical as also psychic evidence, that consciousness as a phenomenon is distinctive from mind or brain and not co-relatable to mortal existence as it survives death. Past life Regression Therapy pioneered by Dr. Brian Weiss, documentation of out of body experiences of the patients of Dr. Raymond Moody, communication with the dead through séance, and advanced yogis, instances of transmigration of souls and recorded instances of past life reminiscences are clear pointers to the finding that consciousness is not co-terminus with the body, which acts no more than a medium to contain it for a limited period in our three dimensional world. As a case in support, the anecdote of Shanti Devi is worth mention.

Shanti Devi, born as a little girl in Delhi on 12th October, 1926, carried a vivid memory of her past life at Mathura spanning from 1902 till 1925. Ever since she started speaking, she narrated in great detail the incidents and experiences associated with her husband of previous life at Mathura, naming him as Pundit Kedar Nath Chaubey. Her parents at first were dismissive of her reminiscences as meaningless jabber of a kid. When the situation went out of hand, and her memory showed no sign of effacing, her grand uncle was called for assistance. The address of her husband of previous birth was taken by said grand uncle from the little girl to carry out necessary verification at Mathura. Surprisingly Kedar Nath replied to the letter suggesting that the relations of little Shanti may contact one of his relations in Delhi, named Pundit Kanji Mal, for further inquiry in the matter. As soon as Shanti saw Kanji Mal she identified him as the younger cousin of her husband and responded to all his queries with such intimate details that only a close family member could have known. Kedar Nath was called to Delhi by Kanji Mal and he came with his ten year old son and his present wife. Shanti recognized her husband at the very first sight and was in tears seeing her son who was older than her. After the drill of verification, Pundit Kedar Nath confirmed that Shanti was the soul of his first wife who died at Mathura. Of the things Shanti revealed was that a hundred rupees were hidden underground in the upper storey room of the house at Mathura, which she vowed to donate to the temple of Dwarakadhish. A committee of inquiry was formed to investigate the whole episode. Shanti was taken to Mathura by train by her parents and the investigation team. As the train steamed into the Mathura station, she identified an old man in the crowd as the elder brother of her husband named Babu Ram Chaubey. She led the team to her house of previous birth and passed every test. Going upstairs she dug up the hole in search of the hidden money but did not find it there. Pundit Kedar Nath confessed that he had taken it from there after his wife died. When she was taken to the house of her past life parents she recognized them and wept a lot. The above recorded anecdote, apart from many other instances of similar nature, conclusively establishes two phenomena. First, memory does not die with the body but is carried forward by the soul as receptacle. In other words, consciousness survives death. Second, there is re-incarnation.

Our second finding is that scientific studies of past life regression and documentation of out of body experiences by an eminent surgeon, apart from the anecdote of Shanti Devi provide us with enough empirical evidence to smack of the Spirit World, dealt with elaborately in all well-known religious and spiritual texts.

Third, the Spirit World and the phenomenal world are inter-related at spiritual level, the former being at a higher dimension. These two domains have no direct interface, even though the soul migrates from one to the other alternately. Succinctly put, phenomenal world is the place for Karma or action while the Spirit World is for reaping the fruit of karma or action.

Fourth, as to the question whether Spirit World can be accessed with our three dimensional sense organs, the answer is – NO. Given the fact that Spirit World belongs to a higher dimension, we, the three dimensional creatures, cannot surely comprehend a higher dimensional being with our five sense organs. Swami Vivekananda very aptly explained this phenomenon in the following way. If we had an extra sense organ, the whole universe would have looked differently. With yet another sense organ, the earlier look also would have completely changed into something else. Sri Aurobindo thought it possible to bring down the Supramental to our three dimensional phenomenal world through some yogic process, whereby every human cell could be supramentalized. However, his concept still remains as a hypothesis.

Lastly, we have come to the finding based on recorded experiences and rational explanation that Spirit World is also subject to law of nature, except for the highest level of consciousness which is not subject to the control of Prakriti or nature or, to be more precise, under the yoke of the three Gunas namely Sattva, rajas and Tamas. We have also reasons to believe that there is hierarchy in Spirit World and souls are placed at the level they fit into according to their Karma.

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Sanskrit & Sanskriti (Culture)


                                                                  (Interactive session on 12.01.2014)

                                                           Keynote address by Dr. Kalyan Chakravarty

                        (Other participant speakers: Mr. Ashok Kumar Sengupta, Dr. Santosh Ganguly, Mr. Paritosh Bandopadhyay,                                         Mr.Sanjay Dasgupta, Mr. Somnath Sarkar, Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Ms. Mitali Ghosh & Ms. Anjoo B. Chaudhury.

                                                             [Devotional song by Ms. Jayanti Das Gupta]

                                                  Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha



Sanskrit happens to be one of the ancient living languages in the world today, even though the number of Sanskrit speaking persons is on the decline. Many even in India wherein it is believed to have originated are inclined to dub it as a dead language. On the other hand, space scientists like Rick Briggs of NASA Research Center is of the view that Sanskrit is most suited among all known languages to be adopted for artificial intelligence or computer, particularly for use in space science, for reason of its brevity, simplicity, grammatical and phonetical superiority over other languages. Understandably NASA has taken initiatives in that direction.

Antiquity of Sanskrit is still an unresolved puzzle for various reasons. Scholars are widely divergent in their view about its origin. For reason of its strong affinity with Greek, Latin, or for that matter with Gothick and Celtick languages, and even Persian, though blended with a different idiom, many scholars are inclined to ascribe same origin to all these languages. Some others, considering the wonderful structure, grammar and refineness of Sanskrit vis-a-vis Gothick, Celtick and Persian languages are of the opinion that Sanskrit was the Mother of those ancient languages, which was transmitted or spread to other regions from India through maritime commerce or/and cultural exchanges. The prevalent view, which was given currency by Philologists like Sir William Jones in his book ‘The Sanskrit Language’ (1786), however, is that Sanskrit and other ancient languages mentioned above were Proto-Indo-European (PIE) languages. Even Persian language was added to the same family. Some researchers have even ascribed common source of origin to this PIE to a more ancient language, since extinct. Sri Aurobindo subscribed to this theory.

According to popular belief, two large highly civilized continents, named Atlantis and Lemuria were inundated by the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific/Indian Ocean respectively around 10,000 B.C. The said common origin of PIE could have been the spoken language of those two continents which had gone under the oceans. Some orthodox scholars of Sanskrit in India believe that Sanskrit was the language of the Devas that was inherited by humans with all its purity and splendour, which in course of time got distorted and smirched.

Be that as it may, while the need for further research into the origin, growth and utility of Sanskrit as a language cannot be gainsaid, its fitness or suitability for adaption as the computer language or the language for Artificial Intelligence has added a welcome dimension to justify its revival as the language of the future.

‘Sanskriti’ means culture or value system. Even though language ordinarily happens to be one of the ingredients or components of culture, in this instance, the word ‘sanskriti’ is clearly a derivative of Sanskrit, the language. This suggests an extra-ordinary relationship between the two. The reason why culture of ancient Indians, called Aryans, got identified with a language they spoke was that they called this language a Divine language or ‘Deva Bhasha’ and the script when it came into currency subsequently as ‘Deva nagari’. The Vedas which they believed to have fallen from God’s mouth, and from which their entire civilization had originated, were composed in Sanskrit. Therefore, Sanskrit being the medium of the Vedas to which the Aryan civilization was sourced was obviously the source of ‘sanskriti’ or culture as well, in the early Vedic age. In other words, all those who knew Sanskrit and spoke that language were known as Aryans who alone were held as cultured persons in the early Vedic age.

Let us now look back to the achievements of Sanskrit in the fields of art, literature and philosophy, which, taken together, epitomized ‘sanskriti’ in India, since the time of the Vedas.


Erosion of Sanskritic tradition:

The Sanskritic traditions provide a beacon to benighted humanity, to regain homologic in place of hegemonic values, to realize that human being is only a part, not the weaver of the web of nature, to promote coexistence rather than co-annihilation. These enable us  to see the phenomena of accelerated species extinction, climate change, ethnic strife, genocide, destruction of the co-evolutionary interdependence of organic and inorganic communities, marginalization and impoverishment of the majority of humanity as consequences of substitution of power centric philosophies for Sanskritic and analogous traditions of companionate and cooperative living. Symptoms of the malaise resulting from erosion of the Sanskritic traditions are many. Life is being lost in living, wisdom in knowledge, knowledge in information, and exchange value is being placed over use value. All sacred and ecological values are being reduced to production categories. Contextual, oral, intangible, ecology wisdom traditions, held trans-generationally by custodial communities, are being textualized and commoditized into a procession of simulacra in electronic media in a society of spectacle, driven by a consciousness industry. Community values of guardianship of natural resources, obligations to ancestors, posterity and spirit are being steadily eroded.  The variety and complexity of biological and cultural forms which provide sustenance to human and non human communities are being superseded by radical simplification. Signs are being divorced from referents, shape from meaning, stage from habitat, arts from life. The non extractive covenant with nature and the sustainable materials economy based on intrinsic, ultimate and transcendental values, celebrated in Sanskritic traditions, are being superseded by a philosophy of utilization, objectification and appropriation, based on instrumental, proximate and existential values.  It is possible, from the standpoint of the traditions, to question the particularistic roots of the teleology of technological progress which claims to fulfill its telos, after Hegel, to sublate, absorb and supersede cultures, nourished by the Sanskritic traditions, as inadequate symbols found in oscillation and fermentation rather than in reconciliation and identity with the itinerary of spirit.

This is a time when human beings have started making use of nature, instead of holding it sacred and inviolable. The diversity and interdependence of species and integrity of planetary ecosystems are being destroyed by the profligate human approach of mining nature’s capital. The more educated and developed the country, the higher its human development index, the more unsustainable its style of production and consumption, the higher its carbon foot print. There is an unprotected and unequal flow of knowledge and resources from gene rich countries to capital rich countries, from rural to urban regions, from the unconnected poor to the connected rich, across the Infobahn. Genetic uniformity is being promoted through hybrid and mono cultural crops, ignoring the danger of such overdependence in case of blight or an epidemic. One quarter of the human population consumes four fifths of the world’s resources, two fifths of its food resources, 40% of its annual net photosynthesis production. The collective right to unfixed ideas, held by majority of humanity in rural hinterland is being replaced by individual, intellectual property right to fixed expressions. In consequence of the consequent erosion of human knowledge, skill, memories and natural resources, humanity is hastening its own destruction, without the benefit of a comet shower, nuclear winter or a geological cataclysm. In Swami Vivekananda’s words, addressed to sister Nivedita, ‘we are like cattle, driven to the slaughter house under the whip, hastily nibbling a bit of grass on roadside’. 


Identity and Difference:

The idea of the human subject as the bearer of telos to control rest of the world has been expressed by many ways as the Absolute Spirit of Hegel, Ego Cogito of Descartes, the Monad of Leibniz or Historical Materialism of Marx. Depredation of the earth, standardization of humanity, conflagrations of war, genocide and violence, the curse of social injustice and economic inequality are consequences of such attempts to guide the world by monolithic systems or absolute ideas. The traditions pronounce that, from death to death one goes, who sees disunity here (Mṛtyoh sa mṛtyumāpnotiya iha nāneva paśyati. Bṛhadāranyakopaniṣad 4.19). The traditions conceive the world as a theophany and seek cultivation rather than domination of nature, in all its diverse differences, for advancing health and well being of all. It hails one, the supreme poet, hero, father, mother (Kavitama, vīratama, śāntatama, pitṛtama, matṛtama, vipratama), in whom the universe is united as in a nest (yatra viśvam bhavatyekanīḍaṃ. Yajurveda 32.8) The world bears people of diverse languages, religious rites (Janaṁ vibhṛtī Bahudhā vivācasam nānādharmāṇam pṛthivī yathaukāśam. Atharvaveda 12.1.45). The one presiding over the universe is invoked at once as the friend, the stranger, the divine, the human (saṁdeśyah, videśyah, daiva, mānuṣah. Atharvaveda 4.16.8). Its unity is not violated by diverse descriptions (ekam sadviprāḥ Bahudhāḥ vadanti. Ṛgveda 1.164.46. That one who, though of one color, assumes many colors, pregnant with meaning, by virtue of manifest powers. Yaḥ ekovarṇo Bahudhā śaktiyogādvrarṇānanekānnihitārtho dadhāti. Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 1.1). The universal brotherhood of humanity is established in the maternal womb, and by shared divinity (bhrātṛtvam… maturgarbhe bharāmahe. Ṛgveda 8.83.8; Gṛhaṁ Kṛtvā martyam devāh puruṣamāvi Īśan. Artharvaveda 11.8.18). Hence, all humanity, of all ages, are addressed as friends. Love and yearning are transmitted to all regions. Long life, happiness, freedom and plenty are desired for all in āyuṣyāni and pauṣṭikāni sūktāni. Unity of mind, heart and action, sahṛdayam, sāmānasyam, avidveṣam, is desired in moving, speaking and thinking together (Ṛgveda 2.21.6; 6.12.5; 8.68; 10.18.3;; Yajurveda 32.8). King Aśoka assumes the responsibility to promote compassion, truth, human relations, according to time hallowed traditions. yarisā porānāpakiti, welfare and happiness for all, sarvalokahitam, growth of essentials of all sects, sala-badi siyati sarva-pāṣaḍanam and declares the entire humankind as his children, save munise pajā mama (Erraguḍi Minor Edict 2, Shāhbāzgarhi Rock Edict 7,12, Girṇār Rock Edict 6, Dhauli Rock Edict).


Concord in place of Discord:

The Sanskritic tradition provides a consensual platform for intercultural dialogue on the strength of its inclusive content of ethical conduct.  The Buddhist saṁgha of sharesmen was set up as an antidote to the misery, anomie of insular, exclusive individualism.  Its message of all embracing compassion, karuṇā, interconnectedness of all phenomena in pratītyasumutpāda, heroic, rightful exertion, majjhimapanthā, moderation, provided a way out of the morass of meaningless ritualism.  In anekāntavāda, syādvāda and aparigraha, Jainism came up with relativist, rationally critical, possibilistic, non exploitative alternatives to absolutist pursuits of power, pelf and ideology.  The adherence to abstractions in orthodox Brahminical philosophy and the heterodox Buddhist and Jaina philosophies was gradually leavened by surging devotionalism, to yield the Bhāgavata dhvajas, pillars of devotion, like the 2nd century Heliodorus pillar at Vidiśā. The word of Buddha, ātmadipoh bhava, be a lamp unto yourself, or the statement in Mahāpurāṇa 4.65, which identifies vāni, daiva, Iśvara and karman, putting action on top of all, find response in Yogavāśiṣṭha, which prizes puruṣakāra over niyati. Na daivam na ca karmāni, na dhanāni, na bāndhavāh, śaranam bhavabhītānām svaprayatnād nṛṇām.  Nothing, apart from their own efforts, neither fate, nor physical movement, wealth nor relations can help people, who are afraid of this world. Yogavāśiṣṭha 5.13.8.  Further, a bad deed done yesterday can be converted into a good one by pauruṣa, hyah kukarmādya yatnena prāyati hi sukarmatām. Yogavāśiṣṭha 6. (i) 51.47.  The clarion call attributed to Dhanvantari, the master physician: na tu aham kāmaye rājyam na bhogān na sukhāni ca, kāmāye duhkhārtānām prāṇinām ārtināśanam.  I covet no kingdom, enjoyment, pleasure.  I want to remove the pain of suffering humanity (Satyavrat Shastri 2006.  Discovery of Sanskrit Treasures, Vol 5. Yash Publications 134p).  The principle of mutuality and coexistence is established in the words ātmanah pratikulāni pareṣām na samācaret(Vyāsasubhāṣitasaṅgraha, verse 1.7). The essence of human relations and dharma has been announced again and again as ācāra, śīla, vṛtta, good conduct, which holds society together.  The essence of dharma has been elucidated as fortitude, forgiveness, self control, non appropriation, purity, regulation of senses, wisdom, knowledge, avoidance of anger, dhṛti, kṣamā, dama, steyam, śaucam, indrīyanigraha, dhiḥ, vidyā, satyam, akrodha (Manusmṛtī 6.9), ahiṃsā, bhūtapṛyahitehā, nonviolence, urge to do good to all beings (Bhāgavatapurāṇa 11.17.21).  In practice, these qualities are translated as dayā, dāne, sace, socave, mādave, sādhave (Delhi / Topra pillar inscription of Aśoka, line 12). The attribute of dāna is explained in the words, Kevalāgho bhavati kevalādi. One who eats alone, eats sin alone (Ṛgveda 10.117.6).  Life of such quality and activity is based on character, the loss of which leads to loss of everything else. 

Even royal conduct is based on these principles of mutuality.  Rājan is so called because of his responsibility to please his subjects, prakṛtirañjanāt.  Ācāra, śīila, vṛtta are foundational precepts of Aśokan edicts, as they were in epics, to govern relations of human beings.  The goal of right thinking and action is defined as welfare of others. Paropakārāya satām vibhūtaya (Nītiśataka 71). Vipadi dhairyam athābhyudaye kṣamā, sadasi vākpaṭutā, yudhi vikramaḥ  Fortitude in adversity, forbearance in prosperity, eloquence in assembly, valour in battlefield are the hallmark of leaders of humanity (Rāmāyaṇa 2 18.91). The Aśokan inscriptions stress good conduct as dharma, including care for parents, compassion for creatures, non violence, self introspection, truthfulness and purity. Thus, his Girṇār rock edict in prākṛt directly translates into Sanskrit as anālambhah prāṇinām, abhihiṁsā bhūtānām, jñātinām sampratipatti. Abstention from killing of living beings, nonviolence, consideration for with and kin.  His Topra (Delhi) pillar edict speaks of all pasṇavan, bahukalyāṇam, the pursuit of the least sinfulness, and the maximum welfare of people as his goal. His Rāmpurvā pillar edict says jivena jive no pusitaviye. Living beings must not be fed with living beings. In another Rampurvā pillar edict, he says ‘I think of how best I may bring happiness to all the people, relatives and neighbours, far or near. The Garuḍa pillar inscription of Heliodorus at Vidiśā speaks of three essential ingredients of good conduct as self control, sacrifice and vigilance.


Nature – Culture Harmony:

It is necessary, for averting the day of reckoning, to go back to the Sanskritic tradition of sacramental contracts between human, non human and divine families that epitomize natural elements and forces. It is necessary to recall and replenish this tradition to maintain the world as a self regulating biological holon, an ecohouse which sustains and equilibrates itself like a heating unit with a thermostat, through a cybernetic flow, exchange and biogeochemical cycling and recycling of energy and materials. We have to reaffirm the affective world view, enshrined by the Sanskritic tradition, in which the universe is not indifferent but sympathetic to humanity, in which the idea of ṛta, shivān, satya, dharma, good law and regularity, controls capricious or aleatory interests, and, may be adopted to changes in time and space (Ṛta navya jayatam, Ṛgveda 1.105,15. Ṛtumarṣanti sindhavah satyam tatāna sūrya. Ṛgveda 1.105,12. Satyam vṛhad ṛtam ugram tapo brahma yajñaḥ pṛthivīm dhārayanti. Atharvaveda 12.1.1). A hymn to mother earth says, ‘may Pṛthivī make ample space and room for us. What I dig from thee, earth, may rapidly spring and grow again. Let me not pierce through the vitals of thy heart (Atharvaveda 12.1.1). The cycle of creation is described as proceeding from the sun, through the cloudburst, to the growth of medicinal plants, food crops and lifebreath (Mahānārāyaṇopaniṣad, Jñānasādhanānirūpaṇm); or, from the waters to the fire, waters being designated as medicinal (Taittirīyāraṇyakam, Aruṇapraśna 26,111). Paśupati is worshipped as residing in all animals, plants and topographical features (Taittirīya Saṁhitā, Śrī Rudrapraśna). In life and death, the plants, waters and elements become the names of all creatures (Ṛgveda 3, 55.5; 10, 16.1-6). All rulers have followed Aśoka’s example of planting trees, creating water bodies and upgrading the environment as part of this dharma of sustenance of the environment.

Indian arts speak from the Sanskritic traditions to address the nutritive, therapeutic, generative forces of the universe. Raudrīgāyatrī in Śatarūdrīya offers a vāgyajña to the myriad forms from all quarters of earth, air and sky that reside in Paśupati.  The equinoctical and solstitial movements in the solar universe, cloud burst, rivers, mountains, oceans play a role as dramatis personae in the vast theatre of the universe.  Śatarūdrīya 16.31 worships Śiva in waves, floods, clouds, lightning, storm, grass, foam, trees, herbs and shoots (C. Śivaramamūrti 1975. Śatarūdrīya: Vibhūti of Śiva’s Iconography, Delhi, Abhinav) Ṛgveda 10.16.6. beseeches Agni and Soma to restore the limbs of ancestors, gnawed by beasts. Lakṣmī resides in oṣadhis, vanaspatis, kalpavṛkṣas, medicinal plants, trees, wishfulfilling creepers, as pūṇyagandhā, of sacred fragrance, as araṇyānī, a sylvan deity (C. Śivaramamūrti 1982. Sri Lakṣmī in Indian Art and Thought, Delhi, Karan Publications: 34-35, 61, 80-81).  Varuṇa, Agni, Soma are addressed as ṛtasya gopa, guardian of order, and dhṛtavrata, of fixed ordinances (A.A. Macdonnel 1897. Vedic Mythology Repint, Varanasi, Indological Book House 1963: 26) Ṛgveda 7.33, requires every Naciketas, organism, to appease the God of death, atop the sahasraudumbara, to which each paśu is bound as to a stake.  Atharvaveda 10.8.9. identifies the Droṇa kalaśa, when full, as Viśvarūpa.  Sixty thousand Sagaraputras are connected with the diurnal movement of the earth.  Tripathagā Gaṅgā represents the yogic granthis and tīrtha, and offers symbolic ablution to cleanse and transform the bhaktas, before they enter garbhagṛha. Baudhāyana Śrauta sūtra 10.13 propitiates Agni in the plants to cure diseased limbs.  A sarvauṣadhapātra, bowl with all medicinal herbs, is offered to the adhvarya, while preparing the field for Agni.  The temple is conceived as śyenaciti, an eagle with outspread wings, and, as a sacrificial altar, a funeral cairn, to hold the ashes from psychophysical combustion. The altar, known as svayamatṛṇṇa, is the site for immolation of the little self of the puppet to the great self of the puppeteer.  Entire nature cries as Śakuntalā leaves the forest for her husband’s home in Abhijñāna Śākuntalam of Kalīdāsa.

The Sanskritic traditions govern the saṁskāras, the deśa, kāla and jatyācāras, territorial, familial and sectarian customs in the ceremonies, accompanying the rites of passage from life to death, conceived as sacramental contracts between human and divine families for metrical self integration, chandobhiratmānāmsaṁskaraṇa, by imitation, anukaraṇa, of divine forms, daivyāni śilpāni (Aitareya Brāhmaṇa VI 27).  In these rites, all elements in nature are invited to participate at garbhādhāna, the pre natal rite of conception, and all gods are invited to ready the womb and set the embryo (Ṛgveda 10, 184). In Prājāpatya ceremony for puṁsavana, heavenly plants are invoked for quickening a male child as father, the earth as the mother and the ocean as the root (Atharvaveda 3. 23. 6). The four cardinal quarters of the earth and the sky are requested to assist in the jātakarma, birth ceremony.  Nāmakaraṇa, naming, is done after stars, deities and elements of order, goodness and beauty in nature.  The Gāyatrī mantra accompanies upanayana, conferral of the sacred thread, for initiation into a new personality, a second birth, along with the utterance, Thou, O Agni, are inflamed by wood, I am inflamed by life, insight, vigour, cattle, holy lustre (Pārāsara Gṛhyasūtra 11.4). Vedic ślokas place marriage on rock girt foundations; gṛbhṇāmi saubhagatvāya hastaṁ mayā patyā Jaradaṣṭir yathāsa Goddess, I hold your right hand in my right one for all time to come (Ṛgveda, X. 85.36). Amoham asmi sā tvam asmy sāmāham asmhiṛk tvam, dyaur aham pṛthvī tvam. If I am the breath, you are the speech, but if you are the speech, I am the breath. If I am Sāmaveda, you are Ṛgveda. I am heaven and you are the earth (Atharvaveda, 14.2.71). In Antyeṣṭi, or funeral ceremony, the body is purified by fire and water, to facilitate its passage beyond. The bamboo staff is used in samāvartana, the end of studentship. Udumbara, fig branch, is applied to the neck of the wife in sīmantonnayana, parting of hair, and a stone is mounted to make the marriage firm. In Aitareya Upaniṣad II. 1-4, fire enters the mouth of Puruṣa as speech, wind enters his nostrils as breath, sun enters eyes as sight, heavenly quarters enter ears as hearing, plants and trees enter the skin as hairs, the moon enters heart as mind, death enters the navel as out breath, water enters the virile member as semen.  All living beings are conceived as agnīṣomīya paśus, that combine fire and water principles through the systalic and diastolic process. The sap in the trees, honey in the flower, blood and semen in the body, milk in the cow, rain in the sky epitomize a rotary cycle of waters between earth and heaven.  In the Upanishadic chant, the divine couple is seen as congeneric:  Rudra Sūrya, Umā chāyā; Rudra yajña, Umā vedi, Rudra vahni, Umā svāhā; Rudra vṛkṣa, Umā valli, Rudra puṣpa, Umā gandha. The sun and shadow, sacrifice and altar, flame and oblation, tree and creeper, flower and the fruit become one in Urnāsahita Śiva.


Body as Bridge to Universe:

This indelible connection between nature and culture in the family of human and nonhuman communities is captured in Indian arts through a process of transformation of nature through culture, to harmonize with the rhythm, patterns and designs in nature, celebrated in Sanskritic traditions. Once every sense partakes of the supreme being, Arts, having to cater to senses, have to commune with him. As Chāndogya Upaniṣad 3. 14 says sarvam khalvidam Brahma manomayaḥ, prāṇaśarīro ākāśātamā sarvakāmah, sarvagandhah, sarvarasah. Everything is Brahman. Pervaded by mind, breath, and pervading all action, all desire, all smell, all flavour. In the best and finest expressions in arts, there is a balance of serenity and energy, contemplative fervor and arrested action. This balance is achieved through a participation, a communion with the essence of natural processes rather than through a pinch beck imitation of their expressions in concrete physical shapes.  Hence, Indian art is understood through lakṣaṇas or canons of beauty and accuracy of form and function, in fidelity to archetypes, rather than in conformity with anatomical attributes of physical prototypes (Figs.   ).  It is this unity of sign and signifier that makes for the simultaneous articulation of the sensual and spiritual elements in arts. Indian art is not meant for mere entertainment, alleviation of anxiety or utility, utkaṇṭhā vinodana, vyutpatti mātra or vyāpāramātra, but for rectification of personality, to make it fit for tasting of ideal beauty, rasāsvādāna, akin to the tasting of godliness, Brahmāsvādasahodara (Sāhitya Darpaṇa 3. 2-3).  This is why art in the Sanskritic tradition is a means for dispensing with art, through identification of the subject with the object of devotion through a graduation from sālokya and sāmīpya to sāyujya. In order to worship God, one must become God, na Deva Devam arcayet.  Śivo bhutvā Śivam yajet.  The tālamāna or canons of proportion are dedicated to a search for a principle of order, ṛta, underlying the universe, which animates the body of the artist or the temple, as the body and house of God, through prāṇa or the vibrant breath of life (Greek pneuma or Chinese Ch’i).  Indian art, inspired by the Sanskritic tradition, does not try, like Graeco Roman ‘classical’ art, to attract attention of the spectator to its outer surfaces. Instead, it invites the bhakta, the devotee, fragmented in personality and alienated from universal consciousness by phenomenal forces, to become avibhakta, integrated with the noumenal, through a rectification of consciousness.  The suggestion, tat tvam asi, Śvetaketo, thou art that, Śvetaketu, in the Upaniṣad, is a suggestion for uniting micro nuclear personal consciousness with universal consciousness. Which is why, it is said of Indian art, raṅge na vidyate citram, tattvam hyakṣaravarjitam (Laṅkāvatāra sūtra 2.17-18). The picture is not in colours, the supreme element being beyond physical description.

In the permeation and transformation of nature through culture, the Sanskritic tradition is articulated through the yogic images of Buddha, Jina, Śiva (Figs.  ), and provides a bridge between this world and the world invisible, pratyakṣa and parokṣa.  The transient saṁsāra provides access to mokṣa, liberation, whereby saṁsāra mokṣāyate.  Kulārṇavatantra defines the way of the yogīs as invisible like the bird track in the high sky or the course of the fish in the deep sea.  It adds that to act not, akriyā, is the highest worship or pūjā; to observe silence the noblest recitation; not to think the supreme meditation, dhyāna; not to desire, the supreme fulfillment (Heinrich Zimmer 1926/ 1984 (trans). Artistic Form and Yoga in the Sacred Images of India.  Princeton University Press, 225, note 46, IX, 232-33).  The Yogic form of arrested breath is not to be explained through internal relationship of organic parts or a visual catalogue of grammatical and syntactical features.  It has to be understood as a workshop for intense activity of celebration and concentration, as symbolic of dynamic repose, or withdrawal of senses from the world, prior to world affirmative action. The Yogaśarīra is assumed for lokasaṃgraha, collective welfare. It is described variously as praṇava tanu, kāraṇa or vaindava deha in tantra, prasāda, prema or rasadeha in Vaiṣṇavism, videha kaivalya in sāṅkhya, dharmakāya in Buddhism, the body being retained by the Yogī out of compassion for benighted, unredeemed humanity, even after he/she has broken fetters of ignorance or attachment to the body.  The yogī is an āntarika agnihoṭr, ātmayāji, who has given up retas, passions, in penance, tapas, in an internal sacrificial fire. He illustrates the principle, havirvaih dikṣitah. The initiate is the oblation. He has attained ānanda, the joy of release, from the thraldom of desire, autonomy, for acting with an everliving, ever throbbing fire of creative exaltation.  He illustrates the Upanishadic principle, ānandam Brāhmanaḥ vidvān na vibheti kutaścana. (Taittirīya Upaniṣad 4). One suffused with the joy of living in Brahman is not afraid of anything  Rāma, Kṛṣṇa, Buddha, Mahāvīra, Śiva Dakṣiṇamūrti are seen in the traditions as yogis, guides, redeemers, benefactors, advancing on chaos and darkness, and not as cowards fleeing before a revolution, or solitaries cloistered in sanctuaries. They embody samatvam, equanimity, in adversity or prosperity, samadarśinatvam, impartiality for the small or tall, freedom from affections of rāga, dveṣa, moha, passion, malice, delusion, and, in Buddhism, from rati, pṛti, tṛṣṇa, the three daughters of Māra.  They see and act after nature, in its own manner of operation, to enforce a sympathetic compulsion, a desirable consummation of its forces, for the good of all.  Yoga being a process of psychic transformation and sacrifice of eros in thanatos, the Buddha image demonstrates the formula, yah kleśaḥ sā bodhi, yah saṁsāraḥ tannirvāṇam.  The world flux and extinction, the void and plenum, dharma cakra and bhava cakra are one.  The cakra, in the procession and recession of the spokes, hub and felly, denotes both pravṛtti and nivṛtti(Figs.   ).

The Jina, in kāyotsarga mudrā(Figs.   ), enjoyment as road to renunciation has attained dementation of discriminative consciousness. Buddha in Māradharṣaṇa (Figs.) exemplifies not conquest but transfiguration of Māra into Buddha.  Similarly, Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata offers lessons in renunciation, transcending the din and turbulence of battles and victories, failures and hatreds.  Sītā is won to be given up.  Pāṇḍavas win a pyrrhic victory to start off on mahāprasthāna. Goethe, in an appreciation of Abhijñāna Śākuntalam explains this yogabhogātmaka philosophy in the words,” wouldst thou, the young year’s blossom and the fruit of its decline, wouldst thou, the earth and the heaven, in one sole single name combine, I name thee Śakuntalā and all at once is said. In Kumārasambhavam, Pārvatī transforms herself from a resplendent beauty bedecked in glittering ornament and garment, into an ascetic, wasted in penance, to win Śiva niyamakṣāmamukhī dḥrtaikaveṇi. Iyeṣa sā kartrumavandhyarūpatām samādhimāsthāya vapubhiratmani. (Emaciated by penance, wearing a single braid, she wished to ensure, through penance, that her beauty was not barren.) In Meghadūtam, the cloud passes from the temporal world of ephemeral beauty to the Alakāpuri of eternal beauty. Buddhist vaipulyasūtras like Saddharmapuṇḍarīkasūtra or Suvarṇaprabhāsottamasūtra address the theme of the ultimate fulfillment of kingship in the sacrifice of life, limb, flesh, wealth, kingdom, kith and kin for the redemption of humanity. The goal is transformation of the body corporeal into body spiritual, of nirmāṇakāya into dharmakāya, after the model of Cakravartī Dharmarāja Buddha, who preaches śūnyatā, but practices karuṇā, who stays on to teach people of the world even after attaining enlightenment.  He pulls his mind from the body like a reed from its sheath, to use the words of Dighanikāya, and becomes the transcendent victor in gambhirebuddhagocare.

The artistic endeavor in Sanskritic traditions is a graduation from a state of wretchedness to a state of blessedness.  In this endeavor, parts of the body are not organically related, to function biologically, but ideally related, to function as meditative vessels. Hence, Yaśodhara, in his 12-13th C. A.D. commentary on the 2nd C. A.D. text of Kāmasūtra on six limbs of painting, does not mention rūpa bheda as fragmentation of forms, as misunderstood by Bachhofer, but as differentiation of types, as explained by Coomaraswamy. His śloka goes like this: rūpabhedah pramāṇāni, bhāvalāvaṇyayojanam, sādṛśyam, varṇikabhaṅga, iti citram ṣaḍāngakam.  The six canons of proportions embody sentiment and charm, correspondence of formal and pictorial elements.  It is only when the art is close to its source of inspiration and retains the exaltation of the direct, Intuitive apprehension of reality, conveyed by great masters of the law, like Buddha, Christ, Mahāvīra or Saṅkara, that the art is successful in expressing an intimation of the joy of such vision partially, through its tantras, mantras and yantras.  The unity of figures of speech and figures of thought is directed towards effecting a metamorphosis, from the unfree state of Jīva to the free state of Śiva.  The worshipper accesses and unites with pratimās, cakras, maṇḍalas, the temple as the meru, axis mundi, mantra mūrti, through abhigamana, pradakṣiṇa, bhūtaśuddhi, tattvanyāsa, vyāpakanyāsa. (Figs.  )

The Indian arts are but so many means prescribed in the traditions for the person to go out of himself/herself to come back to himself/herself, from a divided to a fullness of consciousness.  They provide bridges for experiencing unity through duality, a hermeneutic, circular and homeward journey of the human being for becoming what he/she already is, human. Humanity, unlike that of a flower being a flower or a creeper being a creeper, is not its birth right, but the highest attainment of its civilization, its culture.  Therefore, when scholars like Fergusson, Marshall, Foucher or Bachhofer have tried to interpret Indian art in terms of its formal features, it has been misunderstood, against the Sanskritic tradition, that has inspired it.  This is why we have statements like that of George Birdwood describing the Sarnath Yogi Buddha as “an uninspired, brazen image, vacuously squinting down its nose.  A boiled suet pudding would serve equally well as a symbol of passionate purity and serenity of God”.  This is why Bachhofer, in his Early Indian sculpture, explains the movement of form from Bharhut through Sanchi to Amaravati in terms of formal Wӧlfflinian polarities or Dilthy’s theory of consciousness as a movement from unconsciously unclear, through consciously clear, to consciously unclear.  There is in Birdwood a failure to understand the idea of Buddha in which the body was depicted in loyalty to the concept of pāramitās, the plenitude of heroic ascesis, compassion, fervid love for all creation.  It is a failure in Bachhofer to appreciate the change in visual perception, from Bharhut, keyed to ascetic abstraction, to the suffusing, melting flavor of devotion in Amaravati (Figs.  ).  In the same formulation, the gradual flattening or desiccation of art in India cannot be explained in terms of stylistic changes in external motifs, but, in terms of what Coomaraswamy explains as śithilā samādhitvam or slackening of attention to the inner essence of nature and reality.


Multiplicity and Unity:

In its textual dimension, Sanskritic manuscripts have been written in a diversity of regional scripts, a variety of shapes and materials to experts the seminal ideas of the tradition on all arts and science. The manuscripts have been illustrated with narratives, auspicious symbols, and introduced with svastiracana and worshipped (Fig.   ).

There is a constant movement, in Sanskritic tradition, from multiplicity to unity. Recital of music has been compared by the great dancer Bālasarasvatī with a temple in terms of the tradition, as follows: Recital is like a temple. Its outer tower is Alārippu, half way hall jātisvaram, great hall, śabdam; holy sanctum, varṇam, self fulfillment in padam. There, cascading lights are withdrawn, drum beats die down. In tillānā, the final burst of sound takes place and one is alone with God. First, we have metre and melody, and then melody and metre, then music, meaning and metre. Finally, music, meaning without metre. In music itself, there is see saw movement, ascent and descent, from the tonic heart of unstruck, anāhata sound, through primary notes or śrutis, to the crescendo of struck or āhata music. This music widens out and rolls back to sama. The images in the temples explore the circumscribed space around them in a circle, vertically, horizontally, moving from minimum to maximum deviation, searching for the moment of the most dynamic, rapturous balance. The dancers station themselves in the centre, describing a triangle in Bharatanāṭyam, a square in Kathākali, a spiral in Maṇipurī, axial in Kathak. The temple in its ūrdhva and talacchanda, in its praveśas and nirgamas, recesses and processes, rotates around the imaginary, vertical plumbline or brahmasūtra, connecting the centre of the temple with its oculus and crown (Figs.   ). The world appears to be an ever widening circle of hurtling galaxies, held in gravitational balance. Atoms are seen to contain vast regions with electrons moving around nucleus.  This is analogous to the perception of the relation between the human and the divine, in the Sanskritic tradition. As Swami Vivekananda says, “man is an infinite circle, whose circumference is everywhere, centre is in one place. God is an infinite circle, whose circumference is nowhere, centre everywhere. Man becomes God, if he multiplies infinitely his centre of consciousness”. This is why we have the words, Ātmā sarvāntarah. The soul is inside everyone.


Union of opposites: Wisdom and Method:

The Apsarās, Nāyikās, Mithunas, Yakṣas, Nāgas are intertwined with other flora and fauna to celebrate the indissoluble union between forces of creation and procreation.  They adorn the body and house of God as alaṁkāra, to incite marriage and fruition between earth and heaven, enacted in the temple after laying of the gnomon in the vāstupuruṣamaṇḍala, through garbhādhānam, prāṇapratiṣṭhā, cakṣurunmīlanam, laying of the womb, lighting of breath, opening of the eye. Agni and Soma, Śiva and Śakti, aham and idam, puruṣa and prakṛti come together in images like Aradhanārīśvara (Figs.  ). Atharvaveda 10.8.27 addresses Brahman: Thou art man, thou art woman, thou art boy, thou maiden (tvam strī tvam pumānasi). As the Ṛgveda has it, in the beginning, there was neither aught nor nought, neither death nor immortality, neither light nor darkness, only chaos indiscrete, in which God lay shrouded.  Then, turning inward, he grew by force of inner fervor and intense abstraction.  First, in his mind, grew desire, the primal germ productive, the first subtle bond connecting entity and nullity. Also, in the Chāndogya Upaniṣad, the one existent, being unhappy alone, created the external world, becoming duplex.  Unhappy divided, like two halves of a split pea, he reintegrated himself.

The regaining of the primordial unity of the person and his nature is expressed in many ways in the Sanskritic tradition as one and many, emanation and resolution, static and kinetic, integration and disintegration, rest and movement, wisdom and method, prajñā and upāya. Cult syncreatic images of Siva and Buddha, Harirara, Martanda Bhairava, Trideva, on the transformation of Siva into Avalokitesvara, its feminization into Kuan-yin in central Asia, into Bhatārā Guru in Southeast Asia articulate the consensual approach of the tradition.  The forms, carved on the body of the temple (Figs.  ), are so many ornamental patterns to make for the sufficiency and adequacy of the temple body for inciting and celebrating union of the male and the female principles.  These forms are differentiated, tactile and plastic, when viewed from proximity (Figs.), but optically integrated into an undifferentiated visual mass, in a distant view (Figs.).  In formal terms of Riegl, the haptic is transformed into optic, with a change in perspective. The best of Indian art has been conceived as differentiated but integrated in yoga, in the intense concentration of a mind, to visualize the iconic symbols in fusion, like a sword blade flickering with the light of distant towers, to feel the thought animating them as immediately as the odour of the rose.  About this process of conception and execution, combining utsāhaśakti with mantraśakti, it is said in Abhilāṣitārthacintāmaṇi 1.3.158: cintayet pramāṇam, taddhyātm bhittau niveśayet. Conceive the attributes in meditation, and then introduce them in a construction.


Love and Devotion: Women as Uniting Principle:

The Vedic ṛṣikās study Vedas, compose mantras, make chariots and perform yajñas. Women play a central role in Sanskrit traditions as mother goddesses, sisters, virgins or guardian deities (Figs.  ) for bringing progeny, health and prosperity. She presides over birth and speech of living beings, foundation of temples and their thresholds, cardinal directions and metres, auspicious occasions like kalyāṇotsavas, as saptamatṛkās, adhiṣṭhāna matṛkās, devara devīs, caturbhaginīs, Girijā, Mīnākṣī, Dākṣāyanī, She plays an ambivalent role to punish as also to provide bounty. She dispenses śasya and oṣadhipātras, pots of herbs and medicines, as bhūdevī. As Cāmuṇḍā, she sports in lakes of blood. She has been the patron goddess for initiation in devadāsi cult and dacoity, for marginalized bāul singers, fishermen and boatmen. She protects the village as grāmadevatā, in her āmmān or maternal mutations. Mother goddesses are worshiped throughout rural India to sanctify rites of passage, and illustrate seasonal and work rhythms through vrata diagrams (Figs.  ) or bhūmiśobhā floor paintings, kohbar wall drawings, nāgamaṇḍalas and kathās. She undergoes metamorphosis in Buddhism as Ugra, Ekajatā, Mahācīna, Nīlasarasvatī, Tārā in Tibet and East Asia. Martial arts, hymns, spirit dances are dedicated to her. Lakṣmī adorns saughāgyapaṭṭa, the auspicious, luminous forehead of the temple door. In Madhubanī art in Bihar, the lotus, joined by a bamboo shaft, symbolizes union of Haragaurī. Śiva and Śakti coexist in the androgenous Ardhanārīśvara (Figs.  ) form.

Women appear as Nayikās, Apsarās, Yakṣīs (Figs.  ), to adorn the temple body. They are shown applying vermilion and collyrium, rinsing hair, throwing ball, tying belt, extracting thorn. In rāgamālā paintings, the woman is shown in different stages of union or separation, in agony or ecstasy. In the poetic conceit of dohada or pregnancy longing, trees release their pent up flowering at the quick glance or touch of a lovely girl, while her nubile form expands in adolescence or passion. (Figs.     ) In Kṛṣṇalīlā paintings, Kṛṣṇa is shown wrapped in fine silk cloth, like a dark lotus root, swathed in yellow pollen, while Rādhā is shown as a smouldering beauty with dark eyes. Fair Rādhā and dark Kṛṣṇa together look like lightning on storm cloud, sable night, streaked with clusters of light. Gopīs seemingly become harlots, to leave their husbands, to meet Kṛṣṇa, who multiplies himself and dances with one and all in Lakṣmī temple, Orchhā in Central India. This tryst of the soul with the unconditioned, at the call of the infinite, transcends time and necessity. It has been celebrated in some of the most delicate compositions, illustrating Jayadeva’s Gītagovinda, or Keśavadāsa’s Rasikapriyā.

The multiplicity of names and roles given to the women in the Sanskritic tradititon provides a corrective backdrop to their marginalisation, commoditization and harassment in modern society.  As developing countries are being domesticated into a global knowledge society, women are being reduced to backroom functions for servicing it, at paltry wages, as primary workers in sweat shops. Their continuing role as defenders, collectors and propagators of food, fodder, greens, tubers, arts and bio cultural diversity needs to recognised in the light of their all encompassing role as personified principles of wisdom and compassion in the Sanskritic traditions.  These traditions can help create a more gender inclusive approach to enlarge the space of women’s rights. This will help correct the patriarchal, hegemonic language used by a technifying, occidental civilzation vis a vis the Orient. One recalls the language of insemination and supersession used by Hegel, who compared Indian art with the wan beauty of a woman after child birth. One also remembers Paul Hacker’s suggestion about the logos seed being barren in Indian soil, which can bear fruit only when transplanted to soil, fertilized by Judeo Christian streams of thought.  The idea of woman as the Magna Mater, as a pervasive principle of creation and procreation, can help exorcise the negative approach towards women as objects of entertainment and marketing strategies.


Cultural Landscapes: Convergence of Sacred and Profane:

The sacred and profane, the physical and mental landscapes (Figs.  ), the amphitheatre of the earth and the heaven converge in Sanskrit tradition through rites of exorcism, propitiation, sympathetic or apotropaic magic, benediction and regeneration, sacrifice and renewal. India is united by the myriad oral and written versions of the Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa which are enacted, recited, painted and carved across languages, castes, creeds, cults and ethnic groups. The idea of anṛśaṅsya, non violence and tṛṣṇākṣayasukha, the bliss of desiressness, integrates the diverse differences of the tradition in its vernacular expressions. The laukika, gārhastya, kula and varṇāsrama dharmas distinguished by Rāmāyaṇa, pervade its regional versions in the entire country.  Names of places, cultural heroes, men and women, water bodies, rivers and mountains are named after the epic nomenclatures. Epic landscapes are further narrativized in the complex orality of local dramas, dance and music. All human and natural resource strategies of the country, including sacred groves and water harvesting structures, are governed by terms of management, equity, efficiency and economy, which are culturally rooted in the Sanskritic tradition. The water harvesting structures are governed by principles like minimum interference, maximum impounding. There are mss. like Viśvavallabha in Ballav maṭh library, Nathdwārā, Jalabindu, Jalavāhana, Jaladīpikā, in city library,  Amsterdam, which provide principles for regulating direction, flow, volume of waters. Atharvaveda 12 invokes mother earth to yield water to those of pure conduct and to punish water polluters. Sacred groves house shrines and location specific approaches of preserving the gene pool of rare and vanishing plants. They are protected by taboos and prescriptions, sanctioned by ceremonials and rituals, derived from a blend of Sanskritic and local traditions.

The Himalayan range is seen in this perception of the sacred nature of earth, as an umbilical cord connecting the earth and the heaven. Mount Everest, Nandā devī are seen as mother goddesses. Demajong in Sikkim is seen as a land of sacred treasures, hidden by Padmasambhava, who carried the massage of Buddha across the Himalaya. Kārttikeya is reputed to have split open the Himalayan pass, krauñcadwara, the magnum foramen in the divine body, at Kailāśa.  The mahāsiddhas, dhyānībuddhas, pañcarakṣā goddesses, arhats, jātakas, gandharvas, nāgas, the peregrinations of gods and goddesses and their exploits in Sanskrit lore, are associated with the Himalayas. Itinerant story tellers, śoubhikas, have carried narrative paṭṭas and scrolls, while lotsavās or intercultural translators like Kumārajīva, Atīśa Dīpaṅkara, Bodhidharma, Sāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla have travelled across the Himalayas, explaining Sanskritic traditions of unity of humanity and compassion.

In Central India, the Sānci stūpa is surrounded by ruins of hundreds of stūpas. The stūpas provide, in their voluted architraves, toraṇas, prototypes of pictorial scrolls, unfolded earlier in yakkha, caitya, stūpa, chuḍā, sāgara, Indra mahas, festivals of guardian deities, tumuli, hairlocks, sea etc.  The entire landscape was permeated by the idea of Buddha. The city of Ujjayini witnessed the simultaneous creation of works on enjoyment and renunciation like Śṛṅgāraśatakā and Vairāgyaśataka, Caturbhāṇī texts like Padmaprābhṛtakam, Pādatāḍitakam. It is conceived as a sacred landscape, traversed by Śiprā. Sipra is seen as a companion of Mṛtyuñjaya Śiva and as Gaṅgā or ambumayī mūrtī of Śiva in the Mahākālakṣetra. The land of Mahākāla is pregnant with the idea of the therapeutic self release, inundation and cleansing of waters, of which bhasmārati or worship of Mahākāla, by lustration of ashes, is a symbol. The city is conceived as amṛtasya nābhi, equivalent to the maṇipura cakra in the piṇḍaśarīra, the human body and the solar meridian of the Brahmāṇda, the body of the universe. River Narmadā is hailed by Saṅkarācārya as Jīvajantutantubhukti- muktidāyakam, narmade, dharmade, śarmade, marmade, nirmade, niṣkarmade. The river is dotted with piligrimage sites, temples and houses of meditation, and prehistoric habitats which have witnessed spiritual excursions, efflorescence of civilizations and a ceaseless surge of creative activity. The hill at Oṁkāreśwar is compared with the Jyotirliṅga, Aum or Praṇavaliṅga, rimmed by jalahari, formed by the twin sacred rivers, Narmadā and Kāverī. 

In Central India, in Tattvaprakāśa and Śṛṅgāraprakāśa, King Bhoja Paramāra explains his ideas on the need for aligning architectural knowledge and knowledge of śāstras, by incorporating abhimāna, self esteem, as the only rasa. He engages himself in a creative pursuit for uniting sound and meaning and demonstrating the release of paśu from pāśas by union with Śiva as Pati. Bhoja tries to realize the idea of paśupāśavimokṣaṇa by constructing sacred precincts of the Bhojpur temple, surrounded by an embankment on an immense waterbody, created along Kaliāsot river in Betwā source region. Seen by some as a svargārohaṇa prāsāda or a commemorative shrine, Bhojpur temple is surrounded by a rocky terrain with hundreds of mason marks and preliminary drawings or hastalekhās. Adjacent to the temple is also the atiśayakṣetra with śaśvatacaityas, dedicated to Jaina Tīrthaṅkaras. The ideas of self negation and detachment, harmony and comprehension, brought about this organic linkage between the physical landscape and mindscape. The Jaina diagrammatic representations of Śrī siddhe, Bṛhad siddhe cakras, Nandiśvara on Jambudvīpa, sammet Śikhara, Samavasarana embody sacred landscape. (Figs.  )  Like many sacred cities of the country, Puri in Orissa is celebrated in several Purāṇas and Sthalapurāṇas, as Puruṣottamakṣetra. It is connected with the spiritual journey of the devotee to meet God in udvāsanam. The surrounding landscape is ideally traversed through 12 main yātrās. The king ruled as the vice regent of the lord and the Jagannatha triad has been acknowledged as their own in Buddhist, Jaina, Brāhmin and tribal Śabara persuasions.  The influence of the Jagannātha cetanā cult has been pervasive, so much so that the 16th century Muslim poet Sālabega hailed the Lord as katiādhana, the dark darling. Texts like Śāradātilaka, Spandakārikā, Kramadīpikā, Gopālārcanavidhi provide a background to theory and practice that animate this cultural landscape. The sacred vibrations in the landscape are renewed from time to time by providing navakalevara, a new body, to the dārubrahma, the wooden image of God. The mādlāpañjis have preserved, in the local dialect, a history of this landscape and its custodians. 

The so called tribal belt of Dakṣiṇakośala in the present states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa is pervaded by stories of Naṅgābaigā, Barādev, Mahādeva, Aṅgādev, Liṅgodev, who are analogous forms of Śiva and Paśupati. Naṅgābaigā and Naṅgābaigin are akin to Mahādeva and Pārvatī. The folklore is closely connected with the legends of Lakulīśa and his four disciples, with Śiva as the primal hero of music, fertility and cultivation, presiding over ancestral and impregnation rites for the earth. The Somasiddhāntin or Pāśupata concepts comprise traditions of heterodoxy, dissidence and nature worship. These are closely connected with tribal cults of Sāmant, Kādā, Mahādevī sarnās or sacred Tutelary gods of crops, household hearths, pastoralism, hills and hunting preside over the sacred landscape. All local animals figure not only in forests, totemic designs in tribal houses and rituals, but also in Brahminical deities, temples and inscriptions of Deepadih, Tala. Folk and tribal vrata diagrams, nagamandalas represent sacred, impregnable precincts as apotropaic mental altose. (Figs.  ), Sirpur, Maheshpur. The pristine orality and prescriptive texts converge to create a cultural landscape in which there is no boundary and no sense of priority, superiority or anteriority in folk, tribal or classical arts or pantheon.

In South India, the Tamil land is divided into eco cultural provinces according to their geological situations, flora, fauna and deities since saṅgam days and earlier. The eco cultured demarcation of the landscape links with the traditional division in poetry, in akam and puram, love and war, secular and sacred. Thoniāppār, the lord of Siyāli, presides over Kumbhakoṇam, and provides an equivalent of Noah’s Ark, to protect flora, fauna, surviving from a deluge, in the sacred, inviolable boat, Thom. 


Co-existence as alternative to Co-annihilation:

The Sanskritic tradition offers, in this manner, a theory of restitutio integrum, to enable us to recover the shared life, vibration and purpose of discrete phenomena. This longing to commune with nature is not, as suggested by Hegel, an attempt to finitize the divine or divinize the finite, nor to force nature and humanity to assume each other’s forms.  Nor is this, as seen by Marx, a perverse, fetishistic exchange to drain humanity of its life and lend it to objects.  Nor, for that matter, as Freud would have it, is this a dream image emerging from para normal, psychic states.  This is part of a philosophy, carefully constructed after the manner of nature’s operation, to help humanity to define itself, as not what it is actually, but what it is potentially, and to exchange its role of lord of beings for that of shepherd and sounding board of the Being.  All organic and inorganic communities come together in Indian arts, in a process of eugenics, hygiene and proliferation in the universe, conceived as a family of nāmas and rūpas, names and forms, which are united in friendly commerce with gods.  To quote Heidegger, who questioned the dissociation of nature and culture within the western tradition and looked at the eastern tradition for its renewal, “mortals dwell in the unified fourfold play of the earth and heaven, gods and mortals, to save and not master the earth or wear it out.  They receive sky as sky and do not turn night into day, nor day into harassed unrest; they wait for the intimations of the coming of the divinity and do not mistake the signs of their absence.  They initiate their own nature, being capable of death as death.  Dwelling in this manner, Heidegger says, quoting Hӧlderlin, man dwells poetically (Martin Heidegger 1950-51, Poetry, Language and Thought, Harper and Row, New York, 227-229).


The Discourse:

The first segment addresses this discourse by presenting the validity, continuity and sustainability of the Sanskrit tradition as an alternative to an unsustainable human approach to civilization. It explores Sanskrit as the basis of a universal language, a fulcrum of a multi cultural society and polity, acceptance of the life enhancing truths of diverse belief systems, for India as well as the world (Indra Nath Choudhary). Based on caring and sharing, mutual sustenance and regard, the inclusive, humanistic tradition of Sanskrit provides an antidote to the malice of greed and violence, besetting the contemporary world (Gaya Charan Tripathi). It provides an ecological conspectus for sustainable development, respectful of thresholds of nature (Anand Burdhan). It is based on the dialogical tradition of Śāstrārtha variously designated as Vāda, Brahmodya, through which clash of tradition and modernity can be resolved, permitting the society to evolve and adopt itself to changing contexts. It provides a fine honed instrument for dispute resolution and reconciliation in a world riven by differences. It exemplifies Francis Bacon’s statement, “out of clash of errors truth emerges” (Radhavallabh Tripathi).  In terms of Nyāyaśāstra, it is rational, willing to subject knowledge to the test of falsifiability, eudemonistic rather than pessimistic, being directed to alleviation of misery caused by nescience (Ajay Mishra).  The structural analysis of Pāṇini and the metaphysical, semantic analysis by Bhratṛhari are part of a continuous grammatical tradition, which opens the door to development of language universals for bridging word and meaning and for resolving dichotomies in human psyche (Dipti S. Tripathi). It provides an easily negotiable bridge to the use of multimedia tools, with enhanced retention levels, in its inclusive, interdisciplinary, inter generational, reiterative, transmission modes of teaching and learning (Pratapanand Jha). It questions the theocentric, monistic, anthropocentric, Abrahamic postulates of dichotomy of science and religion, man and universe, subject and object of knowledge, and absolutist teleology of linear progress. It provides a cyclic view of evolution, a theory of co evolutionary interdependence of nature and culture, mutual involvement of the human and divine, identity and difference, a normative order of duty for collective good rather than a formal order of individual legal rights (Kapil Kapoor).

The second segment of the volume explores the various ways in which the alternative theory and practice of the Sanskrit tradition have evolved in India.The tradition is both rational and intuitive, conservative and radically interpretative, with ramifications through a succession of ācāryas and textual recensions, and manifold dissemination of Nigamas from Āgamas. This convergence of centripetal and centrifugal elements of cognition and application continue till this day (Vijay Shankar Shukla). It has avoided fragmentation, objectification, instrumentalisation and commodification of knowledge by uniting śāstra and prayoga, arts and sciences (via contemplativa and via affirmativa) (Sudhir Lall). It provides an encompassing philosophy of language in which time and motion, past, future and present are related both integrally and differentially. Together, they conceal and reveal the same principle in diverse manifestations. The Kāla and Śabdatattva provide an approach for acknowledging the diverse differences in the same person or the cyclic changes in its manifestations (Ganesh Prasad Panda). It celebrates Yajña as a uniquely constructive way of living in the world by sacrificing destructive passions and obsessions with senses and sense objects, attachment to fruits of action and ignorance about the true end of life (Narayan Dutt Sharma).  It enshrines the concept of Tīrthas for fording the sacred and profane by sanctifying cities, mountains and rivers as Kṣetras or holy abodes of the supreme principle in its diverse manifestations. It provides a corrective to the attitude responsible for pollution and desecration of environment today (Sushma Jatoo). Continuity of identity and ancestral memory is maintained through records preserved in several tīrthas all over India including Mithila (Kumar Sanjay Jha). A number of such Tīrthas in Kashmir are listed in the Nīlamata Purāṇa and Bhṛṅgīśa saṁhitā. Valuable literary, mystic, spiritual and historical traditions preserved in Vedic, Pāñcarātra saṁhitās, Śaiva and Śākta texts, versions of Rājataraṅgiṇī, Mokṣopāya/Yogavāsiṣṭha, Buddhist Vibhāsas, Śilpaśāstras await regeneration. They are symptomatic of the many streams of learning and research in the Sanskrit tradition, which have dried up and need to be revitalized for re animating cultural and mental landscapes, which transcend political or administrative boundaries (Advaitavadini Kaul).  The tradition is also unique in glorifying the human body as the Madhyamaṇḍala, Mukhyacakra, the Liṅga, the main seat, sign and prototype of the supreme being, which can be adorned by Mudrā for inciting Bimba Pratibimba bhāva and Pratibimbodaya, i.e., for inciting the sense of identity between the body and the universe. Mudrā is articulated through hastas, sthānakas, piṇḍibandhas codified in the Nāṭyaśāstra and analogous traditions in a semiology and ontology of gestures. It evokes the joy of faith and communion through integration of the fragmented self in a process of blissful self fulfillment. The Cinmaya, symbolic nature of Mudrā is fundamental to Āgamic, Tāntric rituals and iconology (Kamalesh Dutt Tripathi). The comprehensive nature of Rājadharma or kingly obligation based on the respect for trivarga, commitment to the maintenance of maryādā or discipline, protection and welfare of the people has been discussed in detail in the Śānti, Sabhā and Vanaparvans of the Mahābhārata. This obligation limits royal sovereignty, as the symbol of state authority, encompassing all walks of life (Sujatha Reddy). An ancient precursor of the nexus between the king, state and the people is provided in the Indradhavjamaha or festival of the banner of Indra described in Vedic Saṁhitās and sutras, Brāhmaṇas, Mahābhārata, Nāṭyaśāstra and Purāṇas, Buddhist texts and dramas in different religious traditions. Worshipped in the form of a bamboo pole or a Jarjara, the staff of Indra represents the victory of the Suras over Asuras, good over evil, essential to royal obligation and sovereignty (R. Sathyanarayana).

The third segment of the volume charts the diaspora of the alternative, syncretistic approaches developed by the Sanskrit tradition from India to South, Southeast, East and Central Asia. this diaspora has been steered by Brahmin Gurus, Asoka’s emissaries, Buddhist and Jaina monks. It has been articulated in propagation of Dharma as per Paurāṇi prakṛti, syncretism of orthodox and heterodox cults, epic devotionalism, blend of theory and practice, achieved in local variant of Āgamas and Nigamas, and in deification of ancestors in memorial shrines The Bangkok manuscript used by the Rajaguru of Thailand during the Swing festival, the Jaina Pratiṣṭhātilaka used for consecrating the South Indian temple, it through a succession of teachers, the Buddhacarita, amplified by Āgamic and Puranic acknowledgement of Buddha as an avatāra of Viṣṇu, have provided several planks for active cross fertilization of the Indian and South Asian traditions (R Nagaswamy). In the Perso Islamic and Turko Mongol world of Central Asia, Indian learning, transmitted in Sanskrit, became part of the Ilm, the acquisition of which was laid down in the Quranic injunction. The tradition was transmitted through translations done by great scholars like Al-Biruni. Indian medical sciences, political and moral catechisms, astronomy and mathematics shaped Central Asian thought in a manner which remains to be properly acknowledged (Mansura Haidar).  The silk route became an artery for a flow of commerce and for Sanskrit traditions through Chinese, Tibetan, Uigur, Turkic, Sogdian, Khotanese, Tokharian and Kuchean translations.  Great monastic libraries buried under sand have yielded Sanskrit texts and translations done by Lotsavās or inter cultural translators like Xuan Zang, Itsing, Pao Chang, Kumārajīva, Bodhidharma. The northern Brāhmī gave rise to the Siddhamatṛkā script in Central Asia. The southern Brāhmī was transmitted through Pallava Grantha script to South East Asia. Sanskritic lore became part of the code of conduct of sage kings of Central and East Asia. Sanskrit traditions shaped rituals for royal consecration, theory of state and administration, cultural geography, educational and social organization of Asia with appropriate ethnic inputs (Shashibala).  The Khmer Sdok Kak Thom inscription in Cambodia illustrates the way the ritual of Śivaliṅga Mahābhiṣeka was transmitted from India to South East Asia and used by Devarāja cult for anointment of Śiva and king, and for legitimation of royal authority (Bachchan Kumar).


An Exhibition of Ideas:

The exhibition offers a display of the Vedic theory and practice of sacrifice through ritual objects. The Vedic altar, the human body, the temple, the cakra, maṇḍala, sacred landscapes are theatres for the symbolic reenactment of the primordial drama of interaction of fire and water, food and feeder, birth and death, masculine and feminine, nature and culture, emanation and resolution. They embody the idea of a coincidentum oppositorum, the polymorphous monotheism of a singular, universal essence, the convergence of gati, motion, centrifugal, pravṛtta initially, nivṛtta, centripetal, finally. They are sites for the sacrifice of the little self of the puppet to the great self of the proffeteer the Apthoryāma samayāga, Mahāmastakābhiṣekam of Bāhubali, the Mahākumbha, the journey of Gaṅgā from Mukhbā to Gaṅgotri are dedicated to the ceremonies of sacrifice, consecration and water cosmology.  The Sanskritic tradition which animates the idea of the exhibition is a continuing project of lending efficacy to the pristine natural operations for ensuring their effective future recurrence, as against the project to violate, degrade and exploit nature.


To step back to step forward:

Sanskrit studies the world over have enormously enriched indology through comparative philology, through translations, interpretations, concordances, surveys, investigations of authorship, textual ramifications and etymology. Study of the Sanskritic traditions from within has to, however, go on simultaneously for it to grow and contribute to global thought. There is a need, in terms of Rājaśekhara’s Kāvyamīmāṁsā, to unite bhāvayitrī and kārayitrī pratibhās, and reread knowledge and ecology wisdom traditions, preserved in these traditions, for contemporary adaptation and application.  It is inappropriate that a tradition which bred all streams of thought and replenished all branches of learning and applications through āgamas and nigamas, should now dry up in a desert of speculative interpretation and laborious reconstruction, without any practical objective of equilibrating, correcting and bringing the traditions forward for acknowledging and questioning premises in modern disciplines. The pāṭhas, prātiśākhyas, the paraphernalia of textual criticism have often been harnessed in search of an authentic core, in what are regarded as palimpsestual Sanskrit textual traditions.  This ignores the layers of history which have accumulated through time and reflect historical changes in the understanding of the tradition. It also excludes the vast orality based on Sanskritic traditions but available today only in local scripts and unscripted oral narratives.  It is necessary to enrich the plurality that takes off from the essential core of the traditions, moving beyond logocentrism, and correcting the amnesia and aphasia, loss of memory and speech, which have overtaken the oral and local variations of the Sanskritic tradition. It is necessary to remember that the sahṛdaya and sāmājika temperament is not confined to classicising discourses.  The sthalipulakanyāya of judging by a few specimens is not the approach to be adopted with regard to the Sanskritic traditions, which must be retrieved and renewed from nontextual as well as local, ‘subaltern’ sources, which may be as ancient or older than the classical core. The taphonomic logic suggests that absence of evidence is not evidence of vital elements in tradition. These elements can be retrieved, regenerated and retold for future by correcting the research bias.

It is time that we work together the world over is to recover the life enhancing elements of the Sanskritic tradition, by going through and beyond the dṛṣṭa, śruta, kṛta and prokta paths for their comprehension. We have to acknowledge and transcend the obsession with genealogy of codices, the pursuit of hyper archetypal copies or the bio phylogenetic, digital, philological analysis of texts, on an interactive global platform. We have to step back, to recover the luminous understanding in this tradition, about the interdependence of all beings. We can then step forward, from paranoia to metanoia, from intransigent, belligerent, tribe conscious solitarism to a species conscious world, with multiple cores and peripheries. Open minded, multivocal, polyphonic at a conscious, critical level, the Sanskritic traditions constitute a single serial structure with defined boundaries on an inspirational and intuitive level. We may act like bees, to collect juices from diverse trees, to assemble them in unity (Uddālaka Āruṇi dialogue, Chāndogya Upanisad 6.1 ff). Tasyai tapo damaḥ karmeti pratiṣṭhā vedāh sarvāṅgāni satyamāyatanam. Penance discipline, work, knowledge, truth are the essence of such a project for understanding. We have to move out of an immersive engagement with the manipulation of allegory, trope, metaphor or heterotopic inflation of contentious discourse, to recover the unity of mythos and logos, conceptual and perceptual, representational and nonrepresentational action and contemplation, implicit in the language of the tradition (Brahma dṛṅha, kṣatram dṛnha, Yajurveda 6.3). It will help us move out of an exclusively cognitive world view in which the human being inhabits a universe, empty of personality and considers himself/herself competent to construct himself/herself and the society by deliberate design. It will unite us in vibhūtiyoga, to bind humanity in friendship (Ṛgveda, and promote happiness, health, wide room for all in this beloved world, here and now (Atharvaveda 30.17, Ṛgveda 9.84.1).

The Sanskritic tradition should be read in the unfolding backdrop of non linear mathematics, fluid mechanics, high energy physics, isomorphism of verbal and genetic codes. It should be renewed in the light of the growing perception of the world as a web of relationships, in which the Newtonian theory of simple location and individuality of bits of matter, independent of external relation, is giving way to the concept of what physical entities throughout the universe mean for those regions (Alfred North Whitehead 1960, Adventures of Ideas, New York, Mentor). It should be celebrated and read forward into the future in the light of the belated realization in science, that hidden worlds connect to the things that hide them, tide pools connect with unfathomable seas, which connect with our chromosomes (Roger Rosenblalt, Time Magazine, May 2000). Theory has come to the fore when it has become necessary to ask of this Sanskritic tradition what it said, because on has forgotten what it did. Theory has to reinvent itself to road the sophire perennis, the universal dialect of this tradition. It has to attempt a homoisis to return the intuitin understanding of reality in this tradition from repetitive formulae and from the grip of sacerdotal semioticians, divining authorial intention, on behalf of a lay congregation, in a temple of entelechy. It has to read the tradition to recover its meaning, salvage it as a constitutive and corrective element in contemporary civilisation.


A Self Renewal:

In a hermeneutic, circular movement from the past to the whole, from present to the past, from one tradition to another, the Sanskritic tradition will be completed rather than depleted. It will be based on cross cultural, trans disciplinary dialogue, based on understanding and realization rather than mere argument and ratiocination. With a mutual fecundation of horizons, ‘the same line will no longer be the same. What is to come will not be a future present. And, yesterday will not be a past present (Jacques Derrida, 1978, Writing and Difference: Trans. from French – University of Chicago Press: 1978:26, 28, 292-3, 296,300). We reiterate the Vedic message which accepts change and experiments for harnessing themis to dike, the social to the natural order (navyam jāyatām ṛtam, let the new truth grows. Ṛgveda 1.105.15.). The announcement sā saṁskṛti prathamā Viśvavārā is a call to go back to the beginnings of the Sanskritic tradition, for unlocking it as the source of untold blessings and bounty.



Over last two decades, space scientists, notably Rick Briggs of NASA Research Center, working on Artificial Intelligence have expended time and energy on designing an unambiguous representation of natural languages to make them accessible to computer processing. They almost came to a finding that natural languages were unsuitable for the transmission of many ideas that artificial languages could render with great precision and mathematical rigour, till they discovered that there was at least one language, namely Sanskrit, that had an inbuilt method of paraphrasing in a manner that was identical not only in essence but in form with current work in Artificial Intelligence. Rick Briggs in his article ‘Sanskrit & Artificial Intelligence – NASA’ demonstrates that “a natural language can serve as an artificial language also, and that much work in AI has been reinventing a wheel millennia old.”

In the backdrop of hypothetic common origin of proto-Indo-European-Persian languages, the question that defies any satisfactory explanation is how Sanskrit language developed in ancient India as more perfect, copious and more exquisitely refined than other contemporary languages, even though it cannot be said with authority that Greek, Roman and Persian civilizations lacked in vigour, cultural resources or talent as compared to their Indian counterparts. There is also no evidence in support of the conjecture that Vedic Sanskrit was the offshoot of the cultural and linguistic inter-mixing among the Greeks, Roman and the Persians who might have migrated in large number from their climatically hostile territories to more hospitable land in India in search of a better pasture, all the more so when those western as also the Persian civilizations reached their height during the early and late Vedic periods. There ought to be a better explanation as to why space scientists of NASA along with those involved in researches in artificial intelligence find Sanskrit, an ancient and practically a dead language, as the most suited for science for its grammatical and phonetical superiority over other current natural languages. 

Thus, given the fact that Sanskrit in India was evidently much more developed than the Gothick, Celtick and Persian languages, when all those civilizations were in their primacy, it may be permissible to infer that Sanskrit may not have shared a common origin with all those languages even though it was distinctly possible that those contemporary civilizations came in close contact with one another as a result of which some Sanskrit words may have been added to their vocabulary. It is also possible that Gothick, Celtick and Persian languages were considerably influenced by Sanskrit. By way of illustration, some Greek, Latin, Arabic, Persian and Proto-Germanic words along with corresponding English words with Sanskrit root are given below.

Illustration of English/Greek/Latin/Arabic/Persian/Proto-Germanic words with Sanskrit Roots:

Root Sanskrit Word

Median Word in Latin(L) / Greek(G) / Arabic(A)

Derived English Word

Gau (meaning Cow)

Bous (G)


Matr (meaning Mother)

Mater (L)


Jan (meaning Generation)

Genea (G)


Aksha (meaning Axis)

Axon (G)


Navagatha (meaning Navigation)

Navigationem (L)


Sarpa (meaning Snake)

Serpentem (L)


Naas (means Nose)

Nasus (L)


Anamika (means Anonymous)

Anonymos (G)


Naama (means Name)

Nomen (L)



Ashta (meaning Eight)

Octo (L)


Barbara (meaning Foreign)

Barbaria (L)


Dhama (meaning House)

Domus (L)


Danta (meaning Teeth)

Dentis (L)


Dwar (meaning Door)



Dasha (meaning Ten)

Deca (G)


Madhyam (meaning Medium)

Medium (L)


Kaal (meaning Time)

Kalendae (L)


Kri (meaning To Do)

Creatus (L)


Mishra (meaning Mix)

Mixtus (L)


Ma (meaning Me/My)

Me (L)


Pithr (meaning Father)

Pater (L)


Bhrathr (meaning Brother)

Phrater (G)


Loka (meaning Place)

Locus (L)


Maha (meaning Great)

Magnus (L)



Makshikaa (meaning Bee)

Musca (L) (Meaning Fly)


Mrta (meaning Dead)

Mortis (L)


Na (meaning No)



Nakta (meaning Night)

Nocturnalis (L)


Paad (meaning Foot)

Pedis (L)

Ped as in Pedestrial, Pedal etc

Pancha (meaning Five)

Pente (G)

Penta, Five

Parah (meaning Remote)

Pera (G)


Patha (meaning Path)

Pathes (G)


Raja / Raya (meaning King)

Regalis (L)


Sama (meaning Similar)

Similis (L)


Sapta (meaning Seven)

Septum (L)


Sharkara (meaning Sugar)


Sugar / Sucrose

Smi (meaning Smile)

Smilen (L)


SthaH (meaning Situated)

Stare (L) (meaning To Stand)


Svaad (meaning Tasty)

Suavis (L)


Tha (meaning That)

Talis (L)


Tva (meaning Thee)



Vachas (meaning Speech)

Vocem (L)


Vahaami (meaning Carry)

Vehere (L)


Vama / Vamati (meaning Vomit)

Vomere (L)


Vastr (meaning Cloth)

Vestire (L)


Yauvana (meaning Youth)

Juvenilis (L)


Narangi (meaning Orange)



Pippali (meaning Pepper)

Piperi (G)


Chandana (meaning Sandalwood)

Santalon (G)


Chandra (meaning Moon)

Candela (L) (meaning light / torch)


Chatur (meaning Four)

Quartus (L)


Shunya (meaning Zero)

Cipher (A)


a (prefix meaning “not” ex: gochara – agochara)

a (L)(G) (prefix meaning “not”)

a (prefix meaning “not” ex: theiest-atheist

an (prefix meaning “not” ex: avashya – anavashya)

un (L)(G) (prefix meaning “not”)

un (prefix meaning “not” ex: do-undo

Arjuna (meaning Charm of Silver)

Argentinum (L)

Argentinum – Scientific Name of Silver

Nava (meaning New)

Novus (L)

Nova – New

Kafa (meaning Mucus)



Mithya (meaning Lie)

Mythos (G)


Thri (meaning Three)

Treis (G)


Mush (meaning Mouse)

Mus (L)


Maragadum (meaning Emerald)

Smaragdus (L)


Ghritam (meaning Ghee)



Srgalah (meaning Jackal)

Shagal (Persian)


Nila (meaning Dark Blue)

Nilak (Persian)



Shagal (Persian)



Upalah (meaning Precious Stone)

Opalus (L)



Upalah (meaning Precious Stone)

Opalus (L)


Barbar (meaning stammering)

Barbaros (G)


Jaanu (meaning knee)

Genu (L)


Sunu (meaning Son or Offspring)

Sunu (German)


Ghas (meaning eat)

Grasa (German)


Samiti (meaning Committee)

committere (L)


Sama (meaning Same)

Samaz (Proto Germanic)


Lubh (meaning Desire)


Lubo (Latin and Proto Germanic)


Agni (meaning Fire)

Ignis (L)


Hrt (meaning Heart)

Herto (Proto Germanic)


Yaana (meaning journey, wagon)

Wagen (German)

Van, Wagon

Nara (meaning Nerve)

Nervus (L)

Nerve, Nervous

They (th pronounced as in thunder, meaning they)

Dei (Germanic)



As for the pronounced suitability of Sanskrit to pass for the language of science, scholars refer to the concept of zero prevailing in Sanskrit which was absent in other contemporary languages. To be precise, in Roman script the number 1000 was written as M (Millennium), 2000 as MM, 10,000 as ten times M, and so on. In Sanskrit, 1000 was written as such and known as Sahasra, ten thousand as 1 Ajut, 1 lakh as laksha, 10 lakhs as 1Nijut, 1 crore as Koti, 100 crores as 1 Arab, 100 Arabs as 1 Kharab, 100 Kharabs as 1 Neel, 100 Neels as 1 Padma, 100 Padmas as 1 Shankh, 100 Shankhs as 1 Mahashankh and 100 Mahashankhs as 1 followed by 19 zeros. Such concept of zero as also description of number with 19 zeros was absent in other contemporary languages.

Another advantage of Sanskrit over other ancient and modern scripts/languages was its precision by way combining two or multiple words into a single word having the effect of substituting a sentence with a single word. The use of Visarga or cologne at the end of a word changing its meaning is another feature that contributes to precision, and is absent in other languages. As for example, let us take the single word –  सूर्यकोटिसमप्रभः (Suryakotisamaprabhah) which combines 4 words, viz. Surya (Sun), Koti (Crore), Sama (Equivalent to) and Prabhah (Effulgence), meaning in totality “one whose effulgence is equivalent to that of a crore suns”. Thus it can be seen that what takes 11 words in English has been described in just one single word in Sanskrit in the given example. It is also noteworthy that by using a Visarga (:) at the end of the Sanskrit word:  सूर्यकोटिसमप्रभ, the properties have been changed into an object. In other words, in the absence of the Visarga, the meaning of the word would have been suggestive of a property, i.e. –‘effulgence equivalent to that of a crore suns’. By putting the Visarga ( : ) at the end of the word, the meaning of the word is changed to an object/subject, i.e. “one whose effulgence is equivalent to that of a crore suns”.  The Visarga in the given example has substituted following three English words: “One whose” and “is”. It is thus demonstrated how Sanskrit would ensure precision.

The other advantage of Sanskrit vis-a-vis English, currently the most popular computer language, is that sentences in Sanskrit do not necessitate vowels like in English.

There was a time when under British rule Sanskrit together with sanskriti were made to give way for English education under economic compulsion artificially created by the British Raj, as no job was on offer for a Sanskrit-literate person except handful teaching jobs, while knowledge of English was made a pre-condition for employment even to clerical posts. India bade good bye to Sanskrit as its hidden strength was yet to be unfolded. The day may not be far off when advancement of Information Technology and artificial intelligence may compel reinstatement of Sanskrit, the language of the past, as the language of the future replacing English.

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Shankaracharya & Swami Vivekananda


                                                    (Interactive session on 14.12.2013)

Keynote address by Mr. Asim Banerjee

(Other participant speakers: Mr. Amitava Tripathi, Ashok Kumar Sengupta, Mr R. K. Gupta, Mr. N. N. Sarkar, Mr. S. K. Ganguly, Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Mr. Ramesh Chandra Chanda, Dr. Bhawal & Ms. Sharmila Bhawal)

[Devotional song by Ms. Jayanti Das Gupta

Anchor, Introduction & Conclusive Remarks: Asish K.Raha



Adi Shankaracharya, the great exponent of Advaita Vedanta and a reformer of Hindu religion who is also credited with reviving and restoring the Vedic religion to its pristine purity can possibly be compared only with Swami Vivekananda, considering the enormous contribution of the both in the fields of religion, philosophy and spirituality. A. L. Basham, the reputed British historian and Indologist, while dwelling on Vivekananda’s contribution observed that “in centuries to come he will be remembered as one of the main moulders of the modern world, especially as far as Asia is concerned, and as one of the most significant figures in the whole history of Indian religion, comparable in importance to such great teachers as Sankara and Ràmànuja.” Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, while on the contribution of Vivekananda, observed: “If you really believe in the divine spark in man, do not for a moment hesitate to accept the great tradition which has come to us, of which Swami Vivekananda was the greatest exponent.”

There were striking similarities between the two spiritual titans of India. Both had profound respect and sense of duty to their mother, so much so that they did not care for the traditional monastic norm of complete separation of tie with her. They both travelled through the length and breadth of the country after Sannyas (monkhood). Both of them were exponents of Advaita Vedanta. Both were against the rigours of caste system. Both revolted against ritualistic religion, exploitation, and superstitions and both were out and out non-conformists. Both gave their own interpretation about Brahman and the Vedanta and both gave a new direction to the contemporary society. Last but not the least, both are remembered and revered as the saviour of Hindu religion in the face of grave crisis and threat of near extinction.

The above similarities in thought and action notwithstanding, there were some striking differences in the understanding, approach and interpretation of the Vedanta by Swami Viveananda vis-à-vis Adi Shankaracharya. Before we dwell upon those differences, we will first present a life sketch of both the luminaries. 

Life sketch of Adi Shankara:

Adi Shankara was a Hindu philosopher from Kaladi in present day Ernakulam district, Kerala, who consolidated the doctrine of advaita vedānta.

His works in Sanskrit established the doctrine of advaita, the unity of the ātman and nirguna Brahman (brahman without attributes). His works dwell on ideas found in the Upanishads. He wrote copious commentaries on the Vedic canon (Brahma Sutra, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita) in support of his thesis.

The main opponent in his work is the ‘Mimamsa’ school of thought, though he also offered arguments against the views of some other schools like ‘Samkhya’ and certain schools of ‘Buddhism’.

Shankara travelled across the Indian subcontinent to propagate his philosophy through discourses and debates with other thinkers. He established the importance of monastic life as sanctioned in the Upanishads and Brahma Sutra, in a time when the Mimamsa school established strict ritualism and ridiculed monasticism. He is reputed to have founded four mathas (“monasteries”), which helped in the historical development, revival and spread of Advaita Vedanta of which he is known as the greatest revivalist. Adi Shankara is believed to be the organiser of the Dashanami monastic order and the founder of the Shanmata tradition of worship.

Traditional accounts of Adi Shankara’s life can be found in the Śankara Vijaya, which are poetic works that contain a mix of biographical and legendary material, written in the epic style. The most important among these biographies are the Mādhavīya Śaṅkara Vijayaṃ (of Mādhava, c. 14th century), the Cidvilāsīya Śaṅkara Vijayaṃ (of Cidvilāsa, c. between the 15th and 17th centuries), and the Keraļīya Śaṅkara Vijayaṃ (of the Kerala region, extant from c. the 17th century).

Shankara’s miraculous birth:

788–820 CE: This is the mainstream scholarly opinion, placing Shankara in mid to late 8th century CE. These dates are based on records at the Śṛṅgeri Śāradā Pīṭha, which is believed to be the only matha to have maintained a relatively unbroken record of its Acharya. However, other Mathas such as Kancheepuram, Dwaraka, and Govardhana Matha (Puri) are inclined to place him between 509 BC and 477 BC, based on their records. However, historians are more inclined toward the Sringeri records, according to which Shankara was born in 788, in a Nampurdi– Brahmin family at  Kaladi, (Kerala). According to lore, it was after his parents (Father: Shivaguru and Mother: Bishishtha/ /Aryamba ), who had been childless for many years, prayed at the Vadakkunnathan temple, Thrissur, ( another book says Chandramouliswar Shiba temple near to their house), that Shiva appeared to both husband and wife in their dreams, and offered them a choice: a mediocre son who would live a long life, or an extraordinary son who would not live long. Both the parents chose the later; thus a son was born to them. He was named Shankara (Sanskrit, “bestower of happiness”), in honour of Shiva. His father died while Shankara was very young. His upanayanam (sacred thread ceremony, the initiation into Brhamchari life, had to be delayed due to the death of his father, and was then performed by his mother. As a child, he showed remarkable scholarship, mastering the four Vedas by the age of eight. 

Sannyasa (renunciation of the worldly life):

At the age of 8, Shankara decided to lead a life of sannyasa, but it was only after much persuasion that his mother finally gave her consent. According to legend, he received her consent in a very interesting manner too. While bathing in the river Poorna ( river Alwai) one day, a crocodile caught hold of his leg and appeared to be about to devour him. Shankara appealed to his mother, who had arrived at Poorna (Alwai), asking for permission to become a sanyasi at least in these last moments of his life. His mother finally gave consent, only to have the crocodile let go of young Shankara. After Shankara was saved from the jaws of crocodile, his mother was reluctant to permit her son to renounce the world and follow a Sannaysa life. She was particularly feeling insecure, in the event of her son after becoming sannyasi might move away to distant places leaving her alone in the ancestral home. Understanding the predicament of his mother, he assured her that the God who saved him from the jaws of crocodile will also take care of her during his absence. He also assured her that after her death, he will perform the last rites. On the assurance of her son, finally she gave her consent.

While studying in the Gurukul, his teacher was astonished to see his scholastic caliber, and here he had told him about the location and name of his Guru who was in linage of Patanjali Rishi, for pursuing his advance studies in religious scriptures. After his Mother’s consent, he was free from family bondage, and then left Kerala and travelled towards North India in search of his guru. Finally, he arrived at the banks of the Narmada River, a pilgrimage place Omkareswar, he met Govinda Bhagavatpada (Givindapadacharya) the disciple of Gaudapada. His Guru was inside a cave and he was in deep meditation since last several years. When Shakara met Govindapada, he asked his identity, and he replied with an extempore verse that brought out the Advaita Vedanta philosophy.

“I am neither the earth, nor water— but one change less Shiva”.

Govindapada was impressed and took Shankara as his disciple. The Master instructed Shankara to write a commentary on the ‘Brahma Sutras’ and propagate the Advaita philosophy. Shankara travelled to Kashi,  an importamt pilgrimage place of Hindu’s.  According to legend, while on his way to the Vishwanath Temple, an untouchable accompanied by four dogs came in the way of Sankara. When asked to move aside by Shankara, the untouchable replied: “Do you wish that I move my everlasting Ātman (“the Self”), or this body made of flesh?” Realizing that the untouchable was none other than god Shiva himself, and his dogs the four Vedas, Shankara prostrated himself before him, composing five shlokas known as Manisha Panchakam. At Badari he wrote his famous Bhashyas (“commentaries”) and Prakarana granthas (“philosophical treatises”).

Debate with Mandana Mishra

One of the most famous debates of Adi Shankara was with the ritualist Maṇḍana Miśra. He held the view that the life of a householder was far superior to that of a monk. This view was widely shared and respected throughout India at that time. Thus it would have been important for Shankara to debate with him. It took place in Mahishmati (present name Mandla) on the banks of river – Narmada, in M. P.

Shankara, after debating for over fifteen days, Madana Misra accepted  defeat. In this debate, Maṇḍana Miśra’s wife Ubhaya Bhāratī acted as referee. She then challenged Adi Shankara to have a debate with her in order to ‘complete’ the victory. She asked him questions related to sexual congress between man and woman – a subject in which Shankaracharya had no knowledge, since he was a true celibate and sannyasi. Sri Shankracharya asked for a “recess” of 15 days. As per legend, he used the art of “para-kaya pravesa” (the spirit leaving one’s own body and entering another’s) and exited his own body, which he asked his disciples to look after, and psychically entered the dead body of a king. The story goes that from the King’s two wives, he acquired all knowledge of “art of love”. Thereafter, Shankara entered his own body and regained consciousness. Finally, he answered all questions put to him, related sexual congress between man and woman by Ubhaya Bhāratī; and she allowed his husband Maṇḍana Miśra to accept sannyasa with the monastic name Sureśvarācārya, as per the agreed-upon rules of the debate.

Philosophical tour: 

Adi Shankara then travelled with his disciples to Maharashtra and Srisailam. In Srisailam, he composed Shivanandalahari, a devotional hymn in praise of Shiva. The Madhaviya Shankaravijayam says that when Shankara was about to be sacrificed by a Kapalika, the god Narasimha appeared to save Shankara in response to Padmapadacharya’s prayer to him. As a result, Adi Shankara composed the Laksmi-Narasimha stotra. 

He then travelled to Gokarṇa, the temple of Hari-Shankara and the Mūkambika temple at Kollur. At Kollur, he accepted as his disciple a boy believed to be dumb by his parents. He gave him the name, Hastāmalakācārya (“one with the amalaki (Awla) fruit on his palm”, i.e., one who has clearly realised the Self). Next, he visited Sringeri to establish the Śārada Pīṭham- Sarada Temple and made Sureśvarācārya his disciple. After this, Adi Shankara began a Dig-vijaya “tour of conquest” for the propagation of the Advaita philosophy by controverting all philosophies opposed to it. He travelled throughout India, from South India to Kashmir and Nepal, preaching to the local populace and debating philosophy with Hindu, Buddhist and other scholars and monks along the way.

Proceeding to Saurashtra (the ancient Kambhoja) and having visited the shrines of Girnar, Somnath and Prabhasa and explaining the superiority of Vedanta in all these places, he arrived at Dwarka. Bhaṭṭa Bhāskara of Ujjayini, the proponent of Bhedābeda philosophy, was humbled. All the scholars of Ujjayini (also known as Avanti) accepted Adi Shankara’s philosophy.

He then defeated the Jainas in philosophical debates at a place called Bahlika. Thereafter, the Acharya established his victory over several philosophers and ascetics in Kamboja (region of North Kashmir), Darada and many regions situated in the desert and crossing mighty peaks, entered Kashmir. Later, he had an encounter with a tantrik, Navagupta at Kamarupa. 

Adi Shankara visited Sarvajñapīṭha (Sharada Peeth) in Kashmir (now in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). The Madhaviya Shankaravijayam states this temple had four doors for scholars from the four cardinal directions. The southern door (representing South India) had never been opened, indicating that no scholar from South India had entered the Sarvajna Pitha. Adi Shankara opened the southern door by defeating in debate all the scholars there in all the various scholastic disciplines such as Mimamsa, Vedanta and other branches of Hindu philosophy; he ascended the throne of Transcendent wisdom of that temple. 

Shankara’s Mahasamadhi:

Towards the end of his life, Adi Shankara travelled to the Himalayan area of Kedarnath-Badrinath and attained videha mukti (“freedom from embodiment”)

He passed away in the year of 820 when he was just 32 year old. There is a samadhi mandir dedicated to Adi Shankara behind the Kedarnath temple.                           

Sources of information:

The advent of a religious leader Shankarachary was in the 8th century, and after a gap of almost 1000 years, another religious leader descended on this earth, Swami Vivekananda. There are some controversies about Shankaracharya’s birth period and his philosophical tour too, since in those days no proper records were maintained, particularly about great saints and sears, since they lead a very secluded life. Whatever we have known, was only through their established Mutts, and from the recordings of their teachings by the disciples and some from their manuscripts.. In the course of time, some of these manuscripts were worn out and hence became unreadable. In the present age, with the development of science and technology, there was no problem to maintain records about the life of this class of people such as Swami Vivekananda, and thus we are able to know in greater details about him in comparison to Shankarcharya.

Birth of Vivekananda:

Like Shankara his birth was too with the blessings of Siva. His mother Bhubaneswari Devi’s first two children died at an early age, and later she had three daughters. She was very eager to have a son and she through one of her family members in Varanasi, asked her to make offerings to Vireswara Shiva Temple for His blessings to bear a male child. Simultaneously, she herself practiced on every Monday’s special austerities, devotedly worshipped Shiva in her home shrine. (If one visit Swami Vivekananda’s renovated ancestral home in Kolkata, will see a replica of Shiva Lingam in the shrine room). One night she saw in a dream that Lord Shiva appeared before her and took the form of a child. She awoke, and was excited remembering her dream, and now onward she was sure that she would have a son with the blessings of Shiva. In the wee hour of the morning, the much expected son (future Swami Vivekananda) was born to her on Monday, January 1863 on the day of Makara Sankranti, an auspicious day according to Hindu calendar. She named him ‘Vireswara’, remembering her son was born only due to blessings of ‘Vireswara Shiva’. Later, his name was changed to Narendranath Dutta (Naren), son of Viswanath Dutta who was an attorney in the Kolkata High Court.  His family belonged to the second highest cast, Khatriyas while Shankara was a Brahmin, considered to be the highest cast in the Hindu society. We notice a lot of similarities between Naren and Shankara right from their childhood. Shankara was a gifted divine soul so was Naren. This can be further amplified from some of his childhood incidences.


From childhood, he used to see a marvelous point of light between his eye brows no sooner he shut down his eyes to go to sleep. He used to amazingly

watch this light changing colours and getting bigger and bigger until it took the form of a ball and there after burst and covered his entire body. No sooner this happened, he lost outer consciousness and fallen into sleep.

Another phenomenon was noticed by his family members that Naren used to sit for meditation along with his friends for long hours. He had to be shaken to bring back to normalcy. One incidence is quoted here to illustrate what a great concentration power he possessed right from his early age:

“One evening when they were seated for meditation, suddenly one boy noticed a Cobra snake slowly crawling on the floor. Seeing the snake, one of them alerted their friends, but Naren was unmoved and remain totally absorbed in meditation.   Hearing the noise, Naren’s parents came, and seeing the cobra, they were nervous, but preferred to remain silent, lest the snake is disturbed and provoked to bite. Fortunately, the snake moved away without harming Naren. After this, his parents enquired, as why he didn’t run away from the scene. He quietly replied that he was not at all aware about the presence of snake or any other thing, since he was in inexpressible bliss.

All these incidences showed that he was born with special power of controlling his mind, which usually takes years for sages/yogis to attain to such a level of concentration. In due course Naren showed his exceptional memory, intelligence, and leadership qualities, and he excelled in singing. On the whole, he revealed his capabilities in all spheres of life. With growing age his personality was very attractive, particularly his glowing face with bulging eyes, and all these were essentially came out from his within solemnity and inner peace.

College days:

While he was a college student, he studied both, Indian philosophy (Vedas, Upanishads, Gita etc.) as well as Western philosophy written by philosopher like John Stuart and Herbert Spencer etc. He came in contact with Devendra Nath Thakur (Father of Rabindra Nath Thakur) and Keshab Chandra Sen, and they were the leaders of Brhamo Samaj. Right from college days, the monastic tendency was natural to him, and he decided to remain celibate and lead the life of a sage.  

Meeting Ramkrishana:

One question was haunting his mind, whether anybody had actually seen God face to face?  He enquired from many learned scholars and teachers, but he didn’t get a clear answer. Ultimately, on the recommendation of his maternal uncle, around the year 1982, Ramchandra Datta, who took him to Ramkrishna at Dakshineswar when he was just 19 years old. To his great surprise here he found a man who could confidently say that not only he has seen God but he can show him too.   Ramakrishna further told him, who wants to see God? The worldly people are attached to ‘Kamini and Kanchan’ (women and gold), and they have no interest to see God.

This meeting with Ramkrishna was a turning point in his life. Subsequently, Naren started visiting Him at Dakhineswar, but initially he didn’t accept him, rather opposed him on His several beliefs like worshipping the idol of ‘Goddess Kali’ in the Dakshineswar temple as a living God. He also didn’t accept Ramakrishna’s often going into trance (Samadhi), loosing outer consciousness. He felt, it was nothing but some kind of mental disease. Ramkrishna was least perturbed since knew who he was. He in his vision had seen that Naren was not an ordinary mortal, but actually he was a ‘Nara’, the ancient age, the incarnation of Narayana, and one day he will be forbearer of his mission.. Without feeling least disturbed, He very patiently tried to convince him that form and formless are one and the same, like Ice and water.  As regards His going into trance, He said that when the mind is totally absorbed in God, there is no more body consciousness. On attaining Samadhi, the body falls off like a dry leaf falls off from the tree.  But, the Awatar’s (Incarnation), can only return from Samadhi to a normal state for the welfare of the people such as Narada and Sukhdeva. 

Father’s demise:

His father’s sudden death in 1884, was the biggest blow in Naren’s life. He left the family bankrupt; creditors began demanding the repayment of loans, and relatives thrown them out from their ancestral home. Naren, once a son of a well-to-do family, suddenly became poor. Being the eldest of the family, he realized that he has to take care of the family burden. He tried for a job but miserably failed. Under such a distress situation, he requested Ramakrishna to pray to goddess Kali for their family’s financial welfare. Ramakrishna suggested him to go to the temple and pray for himself. Following Ramakrishna’s advice, he went to the temple thrice, but failed to pray for any kind of worldly necessities after visualizing a living Kali, instead he prayed for knowledge and devotion. That day on word he realized Idols are only a means to realize truth and hence it cannot be rejected. Ramakrishna was very happy to see that Naren has at last accepted His mother Kali, and surrendered himself at the feet of Ramakrishna as his Guru.  His association with Ramakrishna was for around six years and that was enough to transform him as future Vivekananda to lead monastic life initially along with 12, and later another 4 of His direct disciples.

Ramkrishna’s Mahasamadhi:

Sri Ramakrishna developed throat cancer, and was transferred from Dakhinesewar to Kolkata and later to a garden house in Cossipore. Narendra and other disciples took care of him during his last days, simultaneously their spiritual training continued under His guidance. During his stay at Cossipur, doubt arose in his mind, “Is really Ramakrishana an incarnation of Rama and Krishna”? Just at that time, Ramkrishna called him in his room, and told him, “Do you have still doubt about Me”?. Ramakrishna said, “Yes I am the incarnation of Rama and Krishna, but not according to your Vedanta philosophy”. He knew Naren is a follower of Advaita Vedanta, does not believe in the existence of God in any form. There is another incidence took place, which was life’s lesson for him. One day Ramakrishna asked Naren, about his goal of life. He replied that he wants to remain absorbed in “Nirvikalpa Samadhi”. Hearing this, Master rebuked him, and said that how could you be so selfish? You want only your personal liberation (Mukti)? He further said, “I had expected you to be like a Banyan tree, where people from all walks of life will shelter under you to free themselves from their mental worries.”. Naren realized his mistake. There after a day came, when Master passed off his inner spiritual power to Naren to carry forward his message to the people. He also entrusted the responsibility to him, to take care of His direct disciples, and to ensure that they lead a monastic life. The final Samadhi was at Cossipore on 16 August 1886.

Establishment of first Monastic center at Baranagar, October, 1886

After the passing away of Ramakrishna, Naren’s main task was to establish a Centre, where all the direct disciples of Master could reside and continue spiritual practices as taught by Him lest they should not return to their home, and become a householder. If this happens, all the effort of the Master to spread his messages will be lost.

Leaving aside this, he was quite worried about the lack of any financial support for the survival of his family members (Widow Mother, brothers and sisters). What will happen to them, if he joins the monastic order? If he neglects the family, they are bound to die. He felt, no matter, even if they die, he will not give up the responsibility entrusted to him by his Master. There is no harm, if I sacrifice my family for the sake of a greater cause.

With the financial help of one the Master’s house hold devotees, Surendra Nath Mitra, Narendra established first center in a dilapidated house at Baranagar. Here they kept the ashes of Ramakrishna and daily offered prayer and practiced meditation. They lead a very hard monastic life, since they had very little fund at their disposal to meet expenditure on food and other daily needs. All these hardships didn’t deter them and they continued to practice prayer and meditation with all the sincerity and made a very good spiritual progress.

Ramkrishna, during his last days at Cossipore had already given ochre colored clothes to His disciples, but none of them had formally taken Sannysa as per Hindu rites. Therefore in 1887 on an auspicious day, Naren and his brother disciples performed ‘Biraja Hom’ (a formal monastic vows) in Baranagar and had  taken ‘Sannyasa names’ as per guidance of Naren. Naren,  himself had taken the name ‘Bibidishananda’. At a later period, at the request of Ajit Singh (Raja of Khetri), his  sannyasa name was changed to Vivekananda, before his departure to America. (There are controversies about his taking this name).

Parivrajaka (Wandering in India) (1888–1893):

(His wandering was not continuous, but often there were breaks, and he returned to Kolkata to meet his mother for whom he had great weakness, and also to meet his brother disciplse at Baranagar.)

In 1888, Swamiji left the Baranagar monastery, as a Parivrâjaka, without any fixed travel plan. His only possessions were a kamandalu (water pot), staff and three books: the Bhagavad Gita, Vivek Chudamani, and The Imitation of Christ. He travelled extensively from North to south and East to West, particularly in Himalaya, Tarai regions and places, of pilgrimage. During his journey he lived on alms, or as guest of Temples in holy places, householders, and occasionally as guest of state officials, as well as rich people like Maharajas.  His main purpose of this tour was to know more about this country, people, their customs, cultures, religious faith of various sects, and the living condition of the poor and down trodden. His Parivrajka days and have been well complied by several authors. Most authentic book has been written in Bengali language by Shri Shankari Prasad Bosu, in six volumes: Vivekananda and Samakalin Bharat Barsha’ (Vivekananda and contemporary India).

Visit to Kanykumari Rock:

Kanyakumari, is located at the southern tip of India, where Bay of Bengal meets Arabian Sea. This place is well known for the temple of Kanyakumari. Here, Swamiji swam across the sea and sat on the rock for meditation at a stretch for three days. Later, this place is known as ‘Vivekananda Memorial Rock’ where a temple has been constructed, and a statue of ‘Vivekananda’ has been installed.

Sitting on the rock, he passed into a deep meditation. He had the vision of the present and future of India. He could understand the reasons for downfall of India from its past glory. He realized, “India shall rise only through a renewal and restoration of that highest spiritual consciousness that has made her, at all times, the cradle of the nations and cradle of Faith”.  He saw her greatness: he saw her weaknesses as well- the central one of which was that the nation has lost its individuality. There is only hope lay in a restoration of the culture of Rishis. Religion was not the cause of India’s downfall; but the fact that true religion was nowhere followed: for religion, when lived, was the most potent force.

(This paragraph is taken from the book, ‘Life of Swami Vivekananda by His

Eastern and Western disciples, page 341’.) 

Meeting Shankar Rao Panduramga at Porbunder:

He was the Dewan of the Porbunder state, located in the western part of Gujarat.  He was a great scholar of Sanskrit and Hindu philosophy, besides he knew French language very well. He had visited several European countries along with the maharaja.  Swamiji was his personal guest for about nine months. Swamiji took lessons from him on Panini Byakaran (grammar) of Sanskrit language.   Moreover, he learnt French language too from him. He was very much impressed finding his in-depth knowledge of Hindu philosophy, and his capacity of expression in English language. Panduranga was the first person to advise him to visit Western countries and deliver talk about Hindu religion, since during his couple of visits to those countries he felt that they have very poor impression about our religion. Swamiji smilingly said, I am a wanderer, and as such I have no Plan, even then I will keep in mind your suggestion.

Meeting of Raja of Ramnad Bhaskara Sethupathi at Madurai:

Swamiji had a meeting with the Raja of Ramnad Bhaskara Sethupathi The raja was a graduate of Madras Pesidency college. He used to read over- seas news- papers to keep himself well informed about the happenings in those countries.

He had read that there would be a ‘World Parliament of Religion in Chicago’. After meeting Swamiji, he felt that he will be an ideal representative of Hindu religion in the forthcoming conference. He requested him to participate in the conference and was willing to bear his expenditure. Swamji, here too said he will think over his proposal.

Meeting Alasinga Perumal at Madras:

He meet Alsinga Perumal at Madras. He was a teacher in a college but he was very popular amongst the students. Alasinga meet Swamii, during his stay at Madras. He was very much impressed after attending his public lectures. He persuaded Swamij to attend Parliament of religion at Chicago.  For His foreign trip, he started collecting fund from the public, with the help of his students.  Swamiji conceded to their request after he had a vision of his master, who gave order to proceed for this conference.

Meeting Ajit Singh, Raja of khetri:

During his parivrajak days, he was at Mount Abu, where he first meet the Raja. He became his disciple and later he had taken him to his state khetri. Swamiji had spent long time with him, and both of them had developed a great liking for each other. Raja had persuaded him to change his name from Swami Bibidishananda to Swami Vivekananda. He fully supported his visit to Chicago. He purchased a first class ticket for his sea voyage. Not only this, he sent his dewan Jagmohan to see him off at Mumbai sea port.

Swami Vivkananda’s Visit to America:

First visit to the West (1893–1897)

With the help of Alasinga Perumal, and Raja Ajit Singh, Vivekananda ailed from Mumbai to America on 31 May 1893 for America, via Ceylon, Japan, China, Canada and finally arrived at Chicago on 30 July 1893. On arrival, he was disappointed since organizers of the Parliament of Religion refused to accept him as delegate without proper credentials. Vivekananda came in contact with Professor John Henry Wright of Harvard University, who recommended his participation in the conference by writing a letter to the Chairman of the conference, Mr. Barrows. Prof. Wright in his letter wrote “To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens”. Finally with the help of the professor, he could participate in the conference as representative of Hindu religion.

Parliament of the World’s Religions:

The Parliament of the World’s Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition. On this day, Vivekananda delivered a brief speech addressing the audience, “Sisters and brothers of America”. On uttering these words, Vivekananda received a two-minutes standing ovation from the crowd of seven thousand.

 Selective extracts from the Swami’s speech:

“When silence was restored he began his address, greeting the youngest of the nations on behalf of “the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sanyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance”.

“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both the tolerance and Universal acceptance. We believe not only universal toleration, but we accept as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religion and all nations of the earth”.

“As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!”

“Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me.” (Gita)

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth.——- But their time is come: and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning honor of this convention may be death knell of this fanaticism, of all persecution with the sword or with the pen, and all uncharitable feelings between persons wending to the same goal”.

His lecture was non-sectarian, broad based. Obviously, this had very much impressed the guests present in the conference. Here some of the quotes given below from the reports as appeared in the newspapers:

The New York Herald noted, “Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation”. American newspapers reported Vivekananda as “the greatest figure in the parliament of religions” and “the most popular and influential man in the parliament”.

He spoke several times at the Parliament of Religions on topics related to Hinduism, Buddhism and harmony among religions until the parliament ended on 27 September 1893. Vivekananda’s speeches at the Parliament had the common theme of universality, emphasizing religious tolerance.

Thereafter he went on a lecture tour to several states of America and later to England. During his lecture tour, there was great appreciation as well as criticism from the Christian missionary groups. After the lecture, one lady asked him, “Is it true that in India, Mother throw their first child to the river in order to feed crocodiles”? Swami Vivekananda replied, ‘Yes Madam’. My mother had thrown me to the river, but I was so fatty that the crocodile could not gulp me. So madam, I am here to answer your question. On hearing this, the audience gave a big laugh.

One person told Swamiji that ‘I consider that this world is like a school, and here we are all students’. Swamiji said, “I consider the world is like a circus, where we are all jokers, and trying to entertain people with the expectation to receive applause”.

Vivekananda spent nearly two years lecturing in USA. Later he realized that lectures alone would not help to establish Vedanta thoughts in this country. He founded the Vedanta Society of New York and started taking classes from his residence, It had good effect. This helped to establish permanent Vedanta centers in New York. He invited two of his brothers monks from India to continue his works from these centers. By now, America has almost 29 centers. Beginning in June 1895, Vivekananda gave private lectures to a dozen of his disciples at Thousand Island Park in New York state, and his lectures were compiled and a book was published ‘Spiritual Talks’. During his stay in USA he had attracted several men and women, and some of them became very close to him. One of them was Josephine MacLeod (claimed herself as friend), and she said that it was my second spiritual birth. Besides her, Sara Bull, Christine and many others became his disciples. Miss Margret Nobel, later Sister Nivedita from England was one of his  most devoted disciple who spent her life in India offering her services to educate women and in relief works.

During his stay in USA, Miss Macleod had engaged a stenographer, Mr. J. J. Goodwin, who used to take dictation of his lectures and classes. Today, we are able to read his Complete works (initially it was in 7 volumes) in 9 volumes only due to Goodwin who served his Master without taking any remuneration, and later he became his disciple.

After his triumphant visit to the West, he returned to India in 1997. On return, he delivered lectures at several parts of the country, and those were compiled into a book, named, ‘Lectures from Colombo to Almora”. 

He remembered his problem to participate in the World parliament of religion due to lack of any credential. He had also seen how well Christian Missionaries have established institutions through which they are able to Influence people. Therefore on his return, the first job he had taken up was the establishment of Ramakrishna Mission and Math at Belur. (For more information about his institution building see the Chapter on: “Comparison between Shankara and Swami Vivekananda”.)

Second visit to the West: 

His second visit to the West was in 1899-1900, along with his brother disciple Swami Turiyananda and Sister Nivedita. His purpose of visit was to install Swami Turiyananda in Sanfrancisco, (California), where he had already established a Vedanta Center, and he wanted to reinforce the two centers established in New York and at Green peace.

By the time he returned, he was not in good health. He started distancing himself from all the activities of the Mission. He started telling, “I will not cross 40 years”.

Some believe, his detachment from all activities came after his visit to the temple of ‘Khir Bhawani’ at Srinagar (Kashmir). While at Srinagar, he went to this temple, and was disgusted looking at the dilapidated condition of the temple which was damaged by the fanatic Muslims. He questioned to himself, “Was there no one to protect Her? If I were there—”. Then he heard a voice coming from the Mother,  “Do you protect me or I protect you? If I want, I can construct a seven story temple building”. On hearing this he started saying, “Who am I? It is the ‘Mother’, She knows all. No more planning, no more work”. After this unexpected incidence, one could see the kind of disenchantment in the later part of his life. This can be made out from the extract of his letter written to Miss Macleod around this time. 

“I am glad I was born, glad I suffered so and glad I did make great blunders, glad to enter peace. Whether this body will fall and release me or I enter into freedom in the body, the old man has gone, gone forever, never to come back again! Behind my work was ambition, behind my love was personality, behind my purity was fear. Now they are all vanishing and I drift.” 

Vivekananda passed away while meditating in his room at the Belur Math on

the night of July 4th, 1902, At that time, he was 39 years five months old.

Vivekananda was not only a great teacher, a great saint patriot, and an inspirer of people down to the present generation. His mortal body has gone, but he will always remain alive in the heart of people. He dedicated his life to his Master, Ramkrishna. His mission was spiritual combined with effort to revitalize the society.

A Comparison of Life and works of Swami Vivekananda and Shankara’ 

Respect and duty to Mother even after Sannayasa: 

Shankaracharya promised to his mother that he will meet him at the time of his death. He did it. When he arrived at his mother’s house, she was in death bed. After her passing away, he wanted to perform last rites. But the neighbors strongly opposed him. Without any help from the neighbors, he alone performed her last rites and thus he kept his words.

Similar was the love of Vivekananda for his mother. He loved his mother very much. On return from the West, he had taken his mother for a pilgrimage to some of the notable places in Bengal and Assam.  Besides, he tried to arrange financial help through some of his contacts. But he was not very successful. He very much dependent on Ajit Singh, Raja of Khetri, who initially helped her, but within a short period he met with an accident and passed away. This shows, even after accepting monastic life he tried to do his best to help his mother but his mother continued to live under financial distress. 

Rejuvenation of Hindu religion or Santana Dharma: 

Several Leaders have periodically appeared to preserve and further Indian’s ancient culture, one of the foremost was Shankara in eighth century and Swami Vivekananda in the nineteenth century, and they revealed essence of Vedas and propounded the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.

What is Advaita Vedanta? Advaita Vedanta is the one which that deals with the identity of the jiva and Brhaman. In this respect, Ramakrishna explained all the three Vedantic- philosophy with a very simple example quoting a conversation between Rama and Hanuman:

Rama asked Hanuman, “What do you think of me”?

Hanuman replied in the following lines:

Sometimes, I see you as my Master and I am your servant. (Dvaita Vedanta)

Sometimes, I see myself as part of you. (Vishishta-Advaita, propounded by Ramanujam)

Sometimes, I see you and me as one and the same. (Advaita Vedanta)

During the eighth century, under the influence of Buddhism and Jainism, and numerous other Hindu sects, Hinduism was on the decline.  Hinduism was divided into innumerable sects, each quarrelling with the others. The followers of Mimamsa and Sankhya philosophy were atheists, inasmuch as  they did not believe in God as a unified being. Besides, there were numerous theistic sects. There were also those who rejected the Vedas, like the Charvakas. During this period Tantrik cult was adopted by several Buddhist sects, and in turn they too attracted many Hindus in their fold. Due to the influence of Buddha religion, the prominent temples in Gaya, Ayodha, Kamykha (Kamrup) and Pashupatinath in Nepal, were practically closed, and there was no more regular worship of the Idols. Shankara re-instated the deities in these temples, removed many religious and social superstitions, and formulated the essentials of formal worship, which is even followed to day.

Shankara held discourses and debates with the leading scholars of all these sects and schools of philosophy to controvert their doctrines. In his works, Shankara stressed the importance of the Vedas, and his efforts helped Hinduism regain strength and popularity. He reintroduced a purer form of Vedic thoughts.

Shankara, followed by Madhava and Ramanuja, was instrumental in the revival of Hinduism. These three teachers formed the doctrines that are followed by their respective sects even today.

However, by the nineteenth century, India was first ruled by the Islamic rulers followed by the British, and as a result a substantial number of Hindus were converted to Islam and Christian religions. Leaving aside conversion, the base of Hindu religion was weakened due to caste system. The upper castes and priests exploited the lower caste.  Moreover, a large percentage of lower caste people were treated as untouchable. That apart, there was infighting among various sects of Hindus, such as Vaishnavas, Saivas, Tantrik etc. The rituals and dogmatism were prevalent in the society. All these had weakened the base of Hinduism. To break away from this caste-ridden, superstitious and divisive society, Raja Ramomohan Roy introduced a new sect known as Brhamo Samaj, following path of original Vedic teachings. The Brahmos were against caste system and idol worship. This had influenced the educated classes in Bengal. Initially Swami Vivekananda joined this sect, but later he came in contact with Ramakrishana and accepted his opinion about religions, ‘Jato Mat tato path’ (Various are the ways to God).

Vivekananda,  an Advaita Vedantist, followed his Mater’s foot step, and re-oriented the traditional Hindu religion on the line of Sanatana Dharma in order to free the contemporary society from the overwhelming problems of casteism, superstition and sectarian fights. The emphasis was laid on devotion rather than rituals, and Monks of the order took active part in serving people on the principle of ‘Shiv Gyane Jeeb Seva’ (Offering service to the people as Shiva). This new approach to the religion had gradually attracted people and in due course there were increasing number of followers of Ramkrishna.

Vivekananda’s visit to the West:

Though Shankara as well as Swami Vivekananda travelled through the length and breadth of the country, Swami Vivekananda was the first Monk to visit Western countries, to spread the message of Vedanta and to remove misconception about Hindu religion. He was also the first Monk to establish Vedanta centers in the Western countries and could influence a large number of intellectual, and people from high society which helped him to receive donation from them to establish first Ramakrishna Math and Mission at Belur (Kolkata).

Building Religious Institutions:


Buddha was the pioneer to build religious Institution, to spread His message to the people. This considerably helped to establish Buddhist religion in India as well as in other countries. After him, it was Adi Shankara who established four Maths and Dashnami Sampradayas solely to spread the message of the Vedanta and to revive Sanatan Dharma in the face of the Buddhist influence.

The Dashanami Sampradaya, a section of the Ekadandi monks under an umbrella grouping of ten names. Several other Hindu monastic and Ekadandi traditions remained outside the organisation of the Dasanāmis.

Adi Sankara organised the Hindu monks of these ten sects or names under four Maṭhas (monasteries). Each math was headed by one of his four main disciples, where each continues the Vedanta Sampradaya. All these Maths are independent in their belief and practices. Besides, the advaita sampradaya is not a Saiva sect, despite the historical links with Saivaism. The names of the four Maths, location, follower of particular Veda out of four Vedas and designated Sampradayas out of the ‘Dashnami Sampradyas’ are given below:

*(Reproduced from the book, ‘Shakaracharya’ written by Swami Apurbananda of Ramakrishna Mission.)

-On the western part of India at Dwraka, ‘Sarada Math’: follower of Shambeda-

“Tattomasi”  Sampradyas: Tirtha, Ashram

-On the Eastern part, at Puri, ‘Govardhan Math’: follower of Rigveda- “Pragyanam Braham” Sampradayas:  Jana and Aryanay.

– On the northern part at Jyotirdham, ‘Jyotir Math’ or Joshi Math on the way to Badrinath, follower of Athrbaveda- “Ayang Atma Brhama”

Sampradayas: Giri, Parbat, and Sagar

-On the Southern part at Chikmagaluru district in Karnataka ‘Sringeri Math’ follower of Yajurveda – “Aham Brhamsmi” Sampradaya: Saraswati, Bharati, Puri.

Swami Vivekananda:

While in the West, Vivekananda spoke about India’s great spiritual heritage; in India, he repeatedly addressed social issues: uplifting the people, service to the poor and the downtrodden, education to all especially to girls, eliminating the caste system, promotion of science and technology to uplift the economic condition of the mass.

In this respect he had written a letter from Chicago on March 19, 1894 to one of his brother disciples in India, a part of it is reproduced here:

“We are so many Sannayasis wandering about, and teaching the people metaphysics – it is all madness. Did not our Master say, “An empty stomach is no good for religion”. Therefore, the foremost need of the hour is to remove hunger, upgrade people to lead a moderate life, before teaching them about religion.

He realized that there are needs to build institutions also to attract youths to carry forward his message. On 1st May, 1987, he called a meeting at the house of Ramakrshna’s household disciple Balaram Bose, and there he proposed to establish Ramakrishna Mission, and Ramakrishna Math or Monastery.  The role of Math was limited to spiritual activities. But the Mission was designated to offer services to the people, such as relief work, establishment of dispensaries and hospitals for medical aid, schools and colleges for education. He entrusted the responsibility to Sister Nivedita to start girl’s school. He felt that the India cannot progress unless women are educated. He said it’s like a bird, which cannot fly only with one wing. He was very much interested in setting up Monastery for women too. But during his life time he could not do that. Later, women Monasteries were established after the name of Holy Mother Sarada Devi. In India they are addressed as Sarada Mission/Math and in the West, Sarada Convents.

Ramakrishna Math was consecrated later at Belur on the bank of river Ganga. The Belur Math is the headquarter of all the Maths, and Missions along with their sub-centers totaling around 70 numbers in India, and around 50 numbers in Asia, and Western countries. Swamiji firmly believed such centers should be near the locality to serve as a role model to the house holders and also to attract youths to join the mission. Of course with the help of Captain Savier, Advaita Ashram was established at Mayavati, in the Uttrakhand, at the foothills of Himalaya Mountain. This center is located in a very isolated place, exclusively for spiritual retreat.

Not only this, these Mission centers are essential to train new generation in accordance to the teachings of Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, and of His Master’s teachings. He gave a clarion call to the youths of India, ‘Arise Awake and Stop not, till the Goal is reached.” He told the youths, ‘Why are you worried about death? You are destined to die one day or the other. Be strong, Have a goal in life, Strive for it and don’t give it up, till you achieve it’.   He also said that ‘What country needs, is Muscles of Iron and Nerves of Steel’? His powerful statements had great impact, on the youths, particularly amongst the freedom fighters, and several of them later joined Ramkrishna Mission.  He also firmly believed, the youths should be a blend of good points exists in other faith,s such as Hindu’s spirituality, Buddhist karuna (unselfish love for humanity), Christian Missionary spirit of serving the society, and Muslim’s spirit of brotherhood.

Universal Religion:

As already stated above,  Swami Vivekananda’s outlook of religion was non- sectarian and broad based, which appealed to the people of the East and the West.  He introduced in all the Ramkrishna Math and Mission the traditional pujas such as Durga puja, kali puja, Saraswati puja,  Janmastami, Sivratri,  and birth days – tithi pujas of great saints and prophets including Jesus and Buddha.. He was very much interested in establish Universal religion or Sanatana Dharma, to stop infighting between different sects and religion.

Some of his concepts about Universal Religion are quoted from the book, “What religion is’ by John Yale, (Later Swami Vidyatatmananda) This book is a compilation of the Swamis books on Yogas and lectures.

The Ideal of Universal Religion: 

“Each soul is potentially divine

The goal is to manifest this divinity within

Controlling nature external and internal.

Do this either by work or worship or psychic

Control or philosophy- by one or more

Or all of these- and be free.

This is the whole of religion. Doctrines or dogmas

Or rituals or books or temples are but

Secondary details.”


Vivekananda felt the need to publish journals in English and other Indian languages to spread the taechings of Ramakrishna’s as wel as teachings from other religious scriptures and books. In this respect, first publication was made from Chennai math, monthly. Journal, ‘Brhamabadin’, later name was changed to ‘Vedanta Kesari’.

From Belur math, ‘Udbodhan’, a Bengali monthly journal, and from Advaita Ashram, Myavati, another English monthly journal ‘Prabuddha Bahrat’ were published. Subsequently, all these journals along with many other journals in English as well as in other vernacular languages are published these days, having a wide circulation.

Literary works:

Shankarcharya was a great composer of Verses and Bhashyas.

His Bhashyas and commentaries on the Prasthana –traya three fundamental scriptures – Upanishad, Brhmasutra and Bhagbat Gita are the basis of Hinduism.

He also wrote prakarana grathas , primars on Advaita philosophy, and numerous  strotas, hymns, to Gods and Goddesses.

Shankarcharyas Bhashyas on the ten Upanishads  had great impact on the people.

The mantra in Katha Upanishad, ‘Arise, Awake, and learn by approaching the excellent ones’ was frequently quoted by Swami Viveananda. Shankara  commented

On this Mantra, ‘ You creatures who are sleeping in ignorance that has no beginning, arise, turn towards the knowledge  of the self; awake, put an end to the sleep of ignorance which is terrible by nature  and is the seed of all evil”

Other Upanishadic statements, have in Indian traditional values and worship are:

“Matri devo bhava/ pitri devo bhavo/ acharaya devo bhavo/athithi devo bhavo’.

Shankara composed several verses which are very popular amongst the spiritual seekers and devotees. Through these verses, he conceptualized the dictum – ‘Brahama Satya and Jagat Mithya’ (Brahman is the only Truth, this world is unreal). Here we quote few verses from two of his well- known books: ‘Bhaja Govindam’  (which contains-32 verses) and ‘Vivekcudamani’: (which contains 500 verses). Another book in verses, ‘Shivananda lahari’ is also quite popular amongst the devotees.

Bhaja Govindam:

Verse No. 1.

Renounce, O fool, your ceaseless thirst

For hoarding gold and precious gems;

Through deeds performed in earlier lives;

Devote your mind to righteousness

And dispassion be your law.

Verse no. 3

Uncertain is the life of man

As rain drops on a lotus leaf ;

The whole of human kind is prey

To grief and ego and disease.


Verse no. 5

For what greater fool can there be than

The man who has obtained this rare human birth

Together with bodily and mental strength and yet

Fails, through delusion, to realize his own highest good?

Verse no 7.

The scriptures declares that immortality cannot

Be gained through work or progeny or riches,

but by renunciation alone. Hence it is clear that

work cannot bring us liberation.

Swami Vivkanannda has composed 50 numbers of songs, poetries, and Sanskrit verses. 

Barring songs and verses,, most of the poems were written by the Swami in English language. In his pre-monastic days, he had written a book along with another musician on Classical Music. He was himself a great singer. He always delivered lectures extemporary, but thanks to the free service of J. J. Goodwin, a professional and highly proficient stenographer,  we could read his complete works (9 Volumes) which also includes his personal correspondence.   Another book titled ‘Inspired talk’, was a compilation of his teachings during his stay for about six months along with his 12 disciples, at Thousand Island Park, USA. The influence of his teachings turned two of his disciples to monks, and five of them to Brhamacharya life.

His writings on Yoga’s:

There are 18 chapters in Gita on Yoga’s, but Swamiji compiled them into four Yoga’s namely: (1) Bhakti Yoga, (2) Gyan Yoga, (3)Karma Yoga, and (4)Raj Yoga.

Of all these Yoga’s; Raj yoga is most popular in the Western countries. Surprisingly, Beijing University in China has translated and published ‘Raj Yoga’, which is now a very popular book amongst the University students.

Karma Yoga:

It means, “ Self realization  Through Selfless Work” . Some of his sayings on Karma Yoga arecited below.

“The Karma Yogi is the man who understands that the highest ideal non-resistance. Before reaching the highest ideal, man’s duty is to resist evil. Let him work, let him fight; let him strike straight from the shoulder. Then only, when he has gained the power to resist, will non-resistance will be a virtue”.

“The whole gist of the teaching is you should work like a master and not as a slave; work incessantly but do not do slave’s work. Work through freedom! Work through love!”

“The main effect of work done for others is to purify ourselves. By means of constant effort to do good to others we are trying to forget ourselves; this forgetfulness of self is the great lesson we have to learn in life. Every set of Charity, every thought of sympathy, every action of help, every good deed, take so much of self- importance away from our little selves and makes us think ourselves as the lowest and the least; and, therefore, they are all good”.

“The world’s wheel within a wheel is a terrible mechanism. There are only two ways out of it. One is to give up all concern about the machine, to let it go and stand aside – to give up our desires. That is very easy to say, but almost impossible to do. The other way is to plunge into the world and learn the secret of work. Do not fly away from the wheel of the world machine, but stand inside it and learn the secret of work. Through proper work done inside, it is also possible to come out”.

Concluding remarks:

Just as in physical science, the researchers from the time of Einstein have been striving, though without success, to crack the mystery of ‘the Theory of Everything’, by knowing which nothing would be left to know in science, the pursuers of spiritual science from the days of Upanishad have strived to resolve the same mystery underlying the creation, expressed in following words:  “Kasmintu vagvo vignate sarva midam vignatam Bhavati” or “What is that knowing which we know everything”? To the Vedantists, THAT by knowing whom everything is known is BRAHMAN, the Supreme Consciousness, WHO is immanent in every being and in every particle.

Just as physicists have by now explored the mystery of creation of universes from the microscopic Cosmic Egg through Big Bang and have also concluded that this process of expansion/creation continues as long as vibration in the cosmic strings/membrane continues, the Vedantists had come to the same finding a few millenniums ago in spiritual cum phenomenal domain.

The Vedanta have defined Prana (life), the source of life in phenomenal world, as Spandan or vibration, which pervades entire cosmos (Akasha). According to the Vedanta, Brahman evolves into Purusha (Hiranyagarbha or golden egg) and Prakriti which are at the root of entire creation of the phenomenal as also noumenal (spiritual) world. At the time of dissolution, entire creation gets involved in Brahman. This evolution and involution are a continuing process in cyclical order. In the dissolved state, all three Gunas, viz. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas remain in perfect equilibrium. When Brahman chooses to get into creative mode, the said equilibrium is upset with the pre-eminence of one of the Gunas. This leads to spandan (prana) or vibration and the said vibration leads to the creation of the Prakriti and the Purusha. The first manifestation of the Prakriti is known as Mahat or Intelligence, followed by Aham or universal egoism, Panchendriyas or five organs, Pancha Tanmatra or five subtle elements, Pancha Mahabhoota or five prime elements viz. land, water, fire, air and sky/ether. The Purusha is known as the Hiranyagarbha, from which all souls/lives sprout and pervade the entire creation. All souls are endowed with the three Gunas (viz. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) of the Prakriti. This in sum is the mystery of evolution and involution of Brahman, according to the Vedanta.

While the above Vedantic postulate, spelt out in the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras and Srimad Bhagavat Gita, is accepted by our great spiritual Masters such as  Shankaracharya, Sri Ramanuja, swami Vivekananda etc. their approach, interpretations, teachings and preaching have not been quite the same. As for instance, according to Shankara, Brahman is the ultimate and the only Truth and all else is just Maya or illusion, and untrue. Since the world is in a flux and hence, impermanent, the transient world is illusory and untrue. Thus this mortal world that we actually see and experience is in reality nothing but Brahman. It is like seeing the rope as snake. From the above postulate what logically follows is: all is Brahman (Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma) and there is nothing outside of Brahman. This being the basis of Advaita (non-dualist) philosophy of Shankara, he is inclined to dismiss entire phenomenal world as unreal and illusory and suggest that the ultimate pursuit of a Truth seeker ought to be to know and realize self as Brahman (Aham Brahmashmi or I am Brahman). In this philosophy there is no scope for reconciling the actual to the ideal. True, that Shankara had composed verses to glorify Lord Shiva, Sri Krishna, Goddess Saraswati, Ganga, Durga etc. and had also been instrumental in restoring several Hindu temples to encourage commoners to pursue their devotion to their respective Gods and Goddesses. But the fact remains that through his commentaries on the Gita and the Brahma Sutras and numerous debates with the most reputed scholars of his time what he tried to establish was that Brahman was the sole reality and the only Truth, while the rest was all delusion or illusion. He, however, did not oppose idol worship or caste system even though the same were strictly not in conformity with his Vedantic philosophy.

Swami Vivekananda, on the other hand was a firm believer in the reconciliation of the actual to the ideal. Thus while Shankara was dismissive of the world as illusion on the ground that the world being transient could not be real and the only reality was Brahman, Vivekananda was of the view that reality was subjective, depending on the level of the perceiver. Thus when a person sees the rope as snake, to him the snake is the reality, not the rope. When his vision gets clearer, the rope surfaces and the snake vanishes. Similarly, if a man sees the world as world and not as Brahman, to him the world is the reality, and not the Brahman. However, to a Vedantist everything that exists is Brahman in varied impermanent forms. If that be so, the question that arises is why should not the Vedantist serve Brahman in various forms, ignoring the form or its impermanence. This, according to the Swami, would be in consonance with the Vedantic concept of Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That). Since it is the poor, the downtrodden and the sufferers who need our service the most, the Swami urged his followers to render selfless service to those people as if they were serving God. He even went to the extent of suggesting that serving those hapless people was more important than studying the Gita or the Vedanta. The Swami’s empathy toward the suffering multitude emanated from the Vedantic concept of Tat Tvam Asi and not out of pity or compassion. This explains why he proclaimed that he was prepared to die several times in this world so as to be able to serve the poor and the sufferers.

In sum, therefore, despite ex-facie similarities in the philosophy, belief, sense of duty to mother, extra-ordinary talent as also contribution toward revival of the Vedanta and the saving of the Hindu religion in the face of a threat of near-extinction, their difference lies in their perception of the same TRUTH in different perspectives. While Shankara’s perspective was entirely intellectual, Vivekananda listened primarily to his heart. It was, therefore, not difficult for Vivekananda to reconcile the actual to the ideal so as to make the present lives coincide with life eternal. To Shankara such reconciliation was patently impossible.























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