The purpose of life is to realize who we are
Part eight in a series of discourses on the Bhagavad Gita.
London, England, UK
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna told Arjuna that he should not grieve for what is inevitable in life. As we come into this world, our body undergoes disease, old age and death. These are natural things. But when a natural disaster takes many lives, we may wonder and think: "Why?" What then should we do? We cannot account for this. No illness or disease, no old age: death has struck while the victims were strong and healthy. But, as Lord Krishna said, when this happens we must remember that as death is certain, life, too, is certain: that after we die we take birth again in this world and, therefore, even when these things happen we should not grieve. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. Those who think that the Atma — the Soul — can slay or be slain are ignorant. Therefore, the wise do not grieve at all, as we should not grieve for those who should not be grieved for.
The Law of Decay
Many people rejoice when someone is born and cry when someone dies; others cry when someone is born and rejoice when someone dies. As Lord Krishna said, both of these reactions are natural when we do not understand, but a wise person — who really understands life — will not grieve, for there was never a time when we did not exist, nor will there be a time when we will cease to exist. This is not the first time that we have existed, and when we give up this physical form there will be a time when we will exist again. As this physical form, the Indweller, the Soul, experiences childhood, youth and old age in the body, It passes on to another body. The Supreme One, the Soul, is not affected by what happens to the physical form. The body has to undergo the process that leads to death. Everyone and everything has to experience the Law of Decay. The universe with its planets is following the same law. It is a natural law that governs the whole universe, a law that we cannot avoid. Since we cannot avoid it, the wise person does not feel disturbed by it.
The contact of the senses with objects creates feelings of heat and cold, pain and pleasure. They come and go, they are impermanent — therefore, we should bear them patiently. All these things we undergo, like pain and pleasure, suffering and happiness, are experiences of the senses. When we get something we like we feel happy and when we lose something we feel unhappy. It is a psychological process that is going on in the human mind all the time. As Lord Krishna said, we must understand that this is a natural part of life and therefore we should bear it bravely because it is transitory.
When we have the discipline of remaining undisturbed when there is pain, we will become steadfast, we will persevere. Then, nothing can persuade us from our particular path. We know immortality, because the world cannot affect us, the unreal has no existence and the real never ceases to be. This Truth is realized by the seers; ‘what is not’ cannot be, and ‘what is’ cannot fail to be. What is real will always be real. The physical body is relatively real, not truly real; it will have to change from time to time. The absolute real does not change. Our physical form came into existence made of different properties and thus, naturally, it has to return to these respective properties. In meditation, the great Rishis and Munis detached Themselves from the body and the world enabling Them to observe it, and so They were able to tell us what real life is all about.
Know That, by which all is pervaded, to be verily indestructible. Nothing can effect the destruction of the immutable. The whole universe is pervaded by that Divine Essence of the Soul. The Soul is the cause of all that exists. When all that exists stops existing, the Soul will not be affected. For the Soul does not depend on the Universe for Its existence, nor on the body — they depend on the Soul for their existence. It is eternal and indestructible.
In ignorance we think that when the body dies the existence of the individual is also finished. But That — who we really are — is not physical existence. We are really the Soul. When we realize that, fear disappears from our hearts. But as long as we do not experience the Soul within us we will have fear, because when we are threatened we feel it is a threat to our very existence.
When Alexander the Great travelled to India, one of his soldiers told him about a yogi. Alexander ordered the yogi to be brought before him but the yogi refused. So Alexander threatened to have him killed if he did not come. The yogi replied that what he had, the sword could not touch — that the physical body might be taken, but not the Soul. So Alexander went to the yogi and was astonished because in front of the yogi, although he, Alexander, was an emperor, he felt like a beggar. When one has the Atmic realization one wants nothing more. Alexander, in spite of all he had attained, was still craving for more, therefore he felt like a beggar in front of the yogi.
Nothing can kill the Soul. The Soul is neither born nor dies. For the Soul, coming into being and ceasing to be does not take place. The Soul is eternal, constant and ancient. When we have that realization of the all-pervasiveness of the Soul, we know that the Soul cannot be slain and that it cannot be the cause of another being slain. The Soul casts off the worn-out body and takes on a new one. Weapons cannot cleave It, fire cannot burn It, water cannot drench It, wind cannot dry It — the Self is uncleavable, indestructable. It is stable, immovable, and everlasting. As Lord Krishna said, the elements cannot affect the Soul for the Soul is subtler than earth, water, fire, air and ether — they depend on the Soul for their existence, not the Soul on them.
The Soul is said to be unmanifested, unthinkable, and, therefore, knowing It as such, we should not grieve. Death is certain for one who is born, as birth is certain for one who dies. Death is not the end of our existence. As a pilgrim we come empty-handed into this world, and when the time comes we have to leave empty-handed as well; we have to return from where we came, our Source.
People are fighting and killing each other over trivialities instead of wondering about the philosophy of life and death. We came into this world and while we are here we should realize who we are, because that is our purpose. And if we can realize who we are, we can have eternal life. The only way we can get that is to strive for knowledge because knowledge destroys ignorance. Then we will have peace of mind, then we will come near to God, then we will come near to our true Self — who we really are. However, in ignorance, we identify with the physical body, our feelings and thoughts. But the moment we identify with the Soul, our whole attitude to life changes: we become more detached, less possessive, we care more for others, because we feel that everything is part and parcel of ourselves.
Krishna advises us to strive for liberation from attachment to this physical world. When we strive for that, we will find that the pangs of death cannot affect us. We will live in constant fear of death if we forget who we really are, the Soul, the Sustenance of everything. Om Tat Sat Hari Om.
The Bhagavad Gita, or ‘Song of God’, one of the sacred Hindu texts, recounts the dialogue between Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, and Arjuna, His disciple.