His Story

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Vedic Lever : Exposing the illusion of choices and setting the priorities where they ought to be.

Much of print and electronic media has been devoted to delineate the positive as well as negative effects of modern civilization and the scientific revolution of the previous century. We have endless discussions and debates in our living rooms, schools, colleges, corporate circles, social bodies and the like, about the radical change that is taking place around us. Proponents of scientific progress and super-industrialization claim that the average man’s standard of living has improved dramatically and having sufficient means to satisfy his needs; he is, in general, happier in today’s age. With the policy of economic liberalization and capitalistic expansion being adopted by all major countries of the world, what we are experiencing is a proliferation of choices in practically every aspect of our life. There is also a firm conviction that everyone has in the scientific approach, the underlying assumption being that it is being guided by rational thought and foresight. Our intention at this point is to objectively analyze this assumption and agree upon a conclusive answer to the very pressing question staring us in our collective conscience: Is the power of choice presented by scientific advancement really a boon? And is our progress really guided by a rational thought process and prudent foresight?

To answer the question about choice let us first consider the hierarchy of needs, as the primary function of a choice is to satisfy a need; at a personal, familial, or societal level. Everyone has the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter and having satisfied them thus we have a longing for other higher things. We have an urge to get good education, good status, and a secure source of income. Ultimately the end purpose of all these needs is manifested as engagement (and consequently encagement ) in sensual pleasures and then having satisfied that, occasionally (or never in modern times) a quest for higher truth and purpose. This is just a subset of the hierarchy mentioned in the system of Vedic culture where the human life is divided into four stages, passing through which and adhering to the rules at each stage, each person can satisfy his bodily requirements and gradually become engaged in a quest for the actual meaning of life : “Athato Brahma Jignasa” meaning : “Now that you have this human form of life, you must inquire about the absolute truth”. Thus we see that the ultimate aim of human life according to these ancient texts of timeless wisdom is to develop curiosity about our actual purpose in life, so that we inquire about philosophical truths of our origin, destination and the supreme absolute truth. In order that a person may reach that stage of consciousness, they prescribe regulations (a limit on choices) for the needs that come lower in the hierarchy (food, clothing, lifestyle, sensual pleasure etc) and provide a wide variety of choices for needs that come higher in the hierarchy (Philosophical treatises in the form of Eighteen Upanishads, Four Vedas, the histories of Ramayana, Mahabharata, and ultimately the crown jewel of Vedic philosophy: The Bhagavad Gita), which conclusively and exhaustively describe the subjects about:

  • The existence and symptoms of the soul (defined as a minute spark of spiritual energy which is indestructible and continues to be in existence even after the death of material body).
  • The supreme absolute truth (the super-soul), the source of everything including us and our universe.
  • Our real identity as eternal spiritual beings full of knowledge and happiness but trapped in the temporary and fleeting illusory material energy due to ignorance
  • Nature and its laws, our relationship with the supreme absolute truth and nature.
  • Laws for creating and governing a spiritually enlightened civilization, and all other fields of human knowledge.

Nobel-prize-winning chemist Albert Szent Gyorgyi remarked, "In my search for the secret of life, I ended up with atoms and electrons, which have no life at all. Somewhere along the line, life ran out through my fingers. So, in my old age, I am now retracing my steps."

Biologist Francis Hitching goes even further, "To put it at its mildest, one may question an evolutionary theory so beset by doubts among even those who teach it? It fails to explain some of the most basic questions of all: how lifeless chemicals came alive?"

So at this point for the sake of argument we can accept this definition of the Soul from the Vedic literatures and continue our march towards the truth. At least we now know from the experience of an eminent scientist that, not believing it in the first place, forced him to retrace his steps in old age and hence we can take a more informed decision. A principle that we can keep in mind is this: The existence of the soul can be substantiated based more on intuitive understanding of consciousness rather than direct perception, because by definition the soul is beyond our limited sense perception. Henceforth the term “Spiritual” will be used in relation to this accepted definition of the Soul from Vedic literature.

Physical Needs >>> Emotional Needs >>> Spiritual Needs

(Basic needs) (Love,Respect,Acceptance) (Answers to questions about God)

From left to right the importance and gravity of these needs increases.

This illustration can be compared to a lever mechanism which puts appropriate stress on different needs according to their importance so that the all important function of human existence is successful. In a nutshell, the entire process is: From the outside(temporary worldly pleasure, material acquisition, illusory sensory pleasure) to the inside (meditation on the soul, withdrawing senses, finding eternal contentment in the self without external aid). Seeing the futility of the inside-out scientific approach, the west is slowly turning to the east for this outside-in spiritual wisdom. Great physicists like Fritjof Capra have established striking parallels between the spiritual insights of the east and the insights provided by modern physics in his book “The Tao of Physics” after spending nearly a decade in researching the philosophies of the east.

A positive side effect of this Vedic lever is that the entire population is engaged in spiritual goals. Hence they reduce their material desires, and automatically learn to live in harmony with nature, being completely free from the exploitative and capitalistic mindset.

As rightly observed by His Holiness Radhanath Swami :

The basis of all problems of economics, according to the greatest authorities in the subject, is — unlimited people with unlimited desires to enjoy limited resources.

Thus we see that equipped with an attitude of frugality in the material sphere, spiritual seekers approach Nature only for maintaining a minimum level of bodily comfort, while a major portion of time and effort is put into spiritual propensities (Chanting, meditation, discourses and discussions about spiritual literature, astanga yoga practice which helps in the nine processes of devotional service etc). This subsequently results in knowledge of self-realization and a radiant peaceful health for the seeker along with balanced ecology characterized by peace and harmony. The possibility of conflicts and war is thus minimized and the civilization is evidently enriched in spiritual values having a common goal to strive for (Lord Sri Krishna). We have evidences and historical records of many such periods in our history when rulers governed their kingdoms based on these eternal and unchanging principles and consequently erected virtuous and prosperous empires (For example, the Gupta Empire and Vijayanagara Empire of Krishnadevraya. Their prosperity can be deduced from the fact that merchants and traders sold large quantities of rubies and diamonds openly on the street as they were available in plenty. This attracted people from every nook and corner of the world).

At this point, would it not be apt and rational to conclude that, if the general population is engaged in higher (spiritual) propensities then the lower propensities are taken care of automatically due to the balance with Nature, which in itself is bountiful and resourceful? Choices are a boon if given with the appropriate end in mind (spiritual elevation), for the appropriate needs (needs of the soul rather than the body.)

Co operate








It’s a win-win deal for each and every component of the entire ecosystem, comparable to the optimum solution as proposed by the Game theory of the Nobel laureate professor John Nash, as illustrated in matrix above. When all the components in an interconnected and interdependent system choose to voluntarily cooperate, the result is a win-win situation for each one. Finally this creates a self-sustaining, balanced system which very effortlessly maintains its equilibrium over a long period of time. This is the prudent foresight with which the ancient Vedic texts have put forth the timeless principles to govern civilization.

Now compare this with the situation we have around us today.

When top scientific brains in top universities and top managerial brains in large corporations sit in front of their drawing boards, what is driving their thought process? All their intellect, all their energy, all their resources (which most of the time come from our hard-earned money in the form of taxes) are directed in which direction, to what end, for which purpose? Broadly it can be classified under material advancement only (Better missiles, more destructive weapons, greater reserves of oil, more profit, more acquisitions and mergers, greater GDP growth, greater and more sophisticated facilities for physical comfort and sensual pleasures) with little or no consideration for exploring the higher truths about life and the universe. The few enlightened scientists who do inquire into these superior topics are few and far in between (Albert Einstein, Fritjof Capra and some others). And most often their exalted insights into the nature of reality and truth fail to reach or connect to the masses in general, who are grossly engaged in material, and sensual existence. The superior science and philosophy about life is dismissed as an arm-chair philosophy, to be adopted only at the sag end of life. Little do we realize that it is a way of life (called “Tao”, or “the way” in Chinese philosophy or “Adhyatma” or “science of the self” in Vedic tradition) to be practised as much as possible on a daily basis to achieve the highest perfection and everlasting peace. As wisely observed by M.K Gandhi :

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed.”

The proliferation of advertising in the form of print and electronic media, especially internet has given further impetus to this imprudent attitude which is completely devoid of rational foresight. Short term goals of excessive physical comfort and sense pleasure have assumed greater importance over long term sustainability and ecological balance. Nearly all messages portrayed in advertisements, movies, TV shows and the like, fuel this propensity for greater physical satisfaction, completely overshadowing our real spiritual needs. The psychological effects of such irresponsible acts have their greatest effect on growing children whose minds are most impressionable. They grow with the same hedonistic and exploitative outlook which measures success purely based on material acquisitions and creates unhealthy competition. Drugs, suicides, violence among the youths: isn’t our whole materialistically centered social set-up responsible for these anomalies directly or indirectly? In this fast-paced mad race towards an unworthy goal, we must stop for a while to ask ourselves and each other some simple but important questions: Where are we all as a people heading? Are the choices presented by modern civilization really as useful as they seem or are made to seem? Are we as rational and thoughtful as we think we are? Isn’t this a lose- lose situation for the entire ecosystem including ourselves if we keep feeding our irrational and unwarranted lower propensities and completely forget our higher goal in life as a human? Which is the correct approach: Hankering after illusory and fleeting happiness outside or turning inside and finding the true eternal treasure of happiness, bliss and knowledge?

We have thrived on materialism for long and seen its effects clearly. May be we all are victims of commitment bias to materialism. Despite experiencing the futility of material enjoyment, we keep committing ourselves to it again and again, chewing what has already been chewed many times over. Maybe now is the time to turn the lever towards spirituality and find the right balance in life!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Facing a Catastrophe, Silently?

Why should be a story of an individual cancer patient be of particular interest to anyone, and especially in a nation like India? After all, individuals are mere statistics. However the case we have here is instructive, as it represents the life threatening and destructive processes that we have set up on our self, in our quest to achieve material comforts and ape the West.

This cancer is closely linked with environmental pollution. There are numerous articles, movies and media which we may have seen or read about at some point in our lives – and yet public awareness about these issues remains limited and often ineffective in order to “get things moving”.

The poor, often more than the rich are the ones who suffer the most from rising environmental degradation. The elite of our nation have failed to internalize the ecological principle that for every small amount of poison we put back in environment, comes back to us, to the rich and the poor alike – into our air, our water and the food we eat. In our quest for increasing the rate of economic growth through rampant industrialization and consumerism, we are failing to recognize that it would be “us” who will have the foot the bill of environmental degradation. Ironically, while consumer durables like mobile phones, laptops, and other synthetic and artificial needs are easily available now, we cannot find clean air to breathe, clean water to drink or good, nutritive food to eat.

These poisons slowly seep into our bodies and take years to show up as cancer, as immune system disorders, or a hormonal or reproductive system disorders – affecting even the foetus. Is it not, therefore, imperative, for the society and the humanity as a whole to find a way to ensure that our urges for economic growth and material comforts are in consonant with the needs for natural and human health? For our lopsided “growth” and “development” is ruining the planet, our ecosystems, and in turn the very habitats we reside on – and the sources of our survival. In short, while we have advanced technologically and invented many devices for human comfort, we have failed to achieve a balance with nature – both inner and outer. A situation which is ripe for ever decreasing quality of human life in all fronts. Isn’t this something which we own to ourselves, our fellow creatures and to all our children? How is that we don’t have foresight to see the trap that we have set our self in, albeit with the co-operation and direction of all our “experts” and “commissions”?

To give an idea to the reader about the intensity of the relationship that the planet’s habitats share with each other, this example will be instructive. In 1995, researchers found that all the way upto North Pole, Arctic lakes were teeming with fishes highly contaminated with fishes Dangerous levels of pesticide Toxaphene were found in the lakes by these Canadian researchers – who were looking for the causes for pollution in surface sea water. They were baffled first by the presence of Toxaphene – for it had been banned in Canada more than a decade back. How did it make it way back into the Arctic Ocean?

Answer: The above scenario is the result of a process called “global distillation process” in which chemicals are vaporized from soils and transported back by wind to Cold Latitudes – chemicals sprayed in Asian and African countries were carried back to the North Pole! These chemicals later condense out, and through food chains enter the bodies of plants and animals alike.

Coming back to the issue of pollution: Cumulative effects of pollutants accumulating in water and air for years can result in reduced immunity, according to Industrial Toxicology Research Centre(ITRC).Thus environmental contamination can show up in the diseases afflicting population. Yet, there is no real concern in Indian mass or elite about clear air, water or naturally grown food – all of which are not just bacteriologically but also chemically contaminated now - and more so in our cities and industrial clusters

And the reason for “no – concern”? Our short sightedness, and our emphasis on short terms fixes and results than on long term implications. While bacteriological contamination shows up in acute epidemics and hence leads to “Breaking News” on our publicity –savvy news channels and public, chemical contamination takes years and years to show up in form of hormonal and reproductive disorders. But is this a good reason for ignoring this issue completely?

Unless we have very solid and strong campaign against pollution at all levels, and make efforts to inform the public about the health threats that it faces, there will be no pressure on anyone to do anything – neither on the regulatory authorities nor on the public to do something to protect the environment. But our inaction cannot be and will not be a reason for environmental disasters not to befall us.

Tailpiece – Mumbai, the financial centre of India, and teeming with a population of 1.2 crore is a classic example of lopsided growth Setting apart the fact that it teems with number of our "experts", and has number of “lakhpatis” and “crorepatis” – the air is so polluted that inhaling it is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigar everyday!

According to Maharashtra Pollution Control Board(MPCB), 75 percent of rivers in Maharashtra are polluted by industry. A good example is that of Pimpri, which has taken its toll on the river Mulla near Pune. The river is so polluted that it is not even suitable for survival of crabs, considered some of the toughest creatures when it comes to surviving water pollution. A 1997 study by University of Pune observed that the water of the river just before it entered Pimpri was potable, while at the point it left Pimpri, it was highly polluted. Yet there seems to be hardly any notable movement or protest against industrial pollution. And if there is any resistance, it either fizzles out in face of an insensitive government, or people involved in it abandon it halfway.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Redefining progress

Let’s make things people better
“To hear the India’s space mission – the crowning glory of India’s scientific accomplishments – being called a waste of time is intolerable to me,” Amit poured out, as soon as we sat down for our meeting “I had also felt like that a dozen years ago,” I smiled reassuringly. “Amit, I too loved space research since my childhood. In fact, when I was studying engineering,I decided to change my career, do a post-graduation in astrophysics and pursue scientifically my childhood fascination.”

Amit’s eyes opened wide: “What happened then?” As I contemplated on how to answer, my mind spontaneously went back to a fateful meeting some thirteen years ago, a meeting that had changed my life’s direction.


One of my classmates told me about his brother, Rabi,who was a double PhD, working as a scientist at University of Astronomical Research*. I was excited, almost awed, to meet him. He had achieved what I was dreaming of: a grad degree from IIT,two doctorate degrees from eminent American universities, and a respectable position in a leading research institute.

Rabi was a tall, fair, bearded, bespectacled young man in his thirties. He introduced me to his wife Razi, a scholarly-looking, fair young lady with thick glasses: “We met in America during our college days. She’s done her PhD in Mathematics and we are working together at UAR.” (Rabi and Razi, I later learnt, were ‘cool’ versions of their traditional names, Rabindranath and Raashi).

Rabi lighted a cigarette nonchalantly as we walked. I was taken aback, but I put aside my emotion. Over snacks, we talked for hours about their work and their life. I was pleasantly surprised to see how friendly they were. Perhaps my classmate had told them that I had bagged the top rank in GRE in Maharashtra that year and so they saw me as a promising future colleague.But one thing spoiled the relish;the cigar never left Rabi’s hand--he seemed a chain smoker. Razi said casually, “You know, he smokes too much. I have told him to decrease, but he just can’t.”Her facetious tone and the mischievous look in her eyes puzzled me, but it didn’t prepare me for what came next.

Razi opened her purse, took out a thin cigar and started puffing. Our meeting soon ended.I couldn’t sleep that night. No, I was not gazing at stars in the sky. I was trying to make sense of the stars that had fallen in the sky of my heart.


Since early childhood, I had seen science as an ennobling, uplifting search for the higher truths of life. The pleasures of the scientific quest would raise me far above the petty desires and demands of the body and the mind.

During my college days. my dream was attacked by seeing the self-destructive indulgences of my co-students; even the brightest among them were slave to bad habits, but somehow I had held on to the dream. But this particular meeting had dealt a fatal blow to that dream. I was appalled. How could those who saw through the enigmas of science not see through the illusions of bad habits? Rabi and Razi were nice, clever people. They were not the typical foolhardy street smokers and drunkards that I had encountered in my childhood town. Why could those who were relishing the intellectual pleasure of space research (which, to me, represented the highest of all scientific pleasures) not give up the self-destructive pleasure of smoking?

As we returned to the discussion, Amit added soberly, “From my life in IIT, I know that students use their net connections far more to download porn than to do academic research.”

I then qualified our observations: “Of course, both of us know scientists and intellectuals who lead sensible, regulated lives. But the number of intellectually brilliant people leading reckless lives is distressingly high. This contradiction – brilliance in professional life and recklessness in personal life – bewildered me for years till philosophy revealed the answer.”

“What was that answer?” Amit asked eagerly.

“Our modern society operates on a fundam entally flawed notion of progress,” I began. “This notion of progress is distilled in Phillips’ slogan: Let’s make things better.

The Vedic notion of progress can be expressed as: Let’s make "people" better. Or, more pragmatically, let’s make "ourselves" better. Today, a society is considered progressive when it helps develop things, facilities, gadgets, for its people. In this paradigm, a society is considered progressive when it helps develops qualities, virtues, in its people.”

“That’s an interesting way to put the difference,” Amit remarked.

“This difference leads to imbalanced, lop-sided development,” I explained. “Let’s consider America, the country thought as the most developed according to the modern paradigm. There, a major cause of health disorders is obesity. Now, obesity does not need any hi-tech gadgetry for detection; a simple weighing machine is enough. Nor does it demand any ultra-sophisticated technology to be cured; regulation of diet is enough. With the current one-sided idea of progress, the machines for measuring weight are becoming smaller and smaller, but the people who are measuring their weights on these machines are becoming "bigger and bigger". The AIDS menace – aggravated doubly technological progress that makes sexually agitating material easily available and absence of any training in sexual restraint – is a glaring example of misdirected progress. Another tragic example is the series of American school shootouts. Children get easy access to guns due to technological progress, but get no training to value other's lives and so indiscriminately shoot others when frustrated.”

I summarized, “Albert Einstein put the problem well: ‘It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity’.”


I paused as Amit pondered on our discussion. He asked thoughtfully, “Science helps develop our technology, but how do we develop our humanity?”

“Your question brings us to the topic of what constitutes real progress,” I replied. “All of us have a higher self and a lower self - and sometimes, there is a tug of war between the two. The higher self inspires us to be selfless, broad-minded, principled, whereas the lower self incites us to be selfish, mean-minded, opportunistic. The higher self is who we actually are: pure and divine, whereas the lower self is who we think we are:our ego,bodies and minds, which cover and pervert our true nature. Among all the species of life, the human form alone offers us the opportunity to conquer the lower self with the higher self. The victors in this inner battle attain the ultimate goal of life: a life of eternal, enlightened, ecstatic loving harmony, with our own self and ever increasing pleasure. Therefore, a truly progressive society facilitates its people to nourish the higher self and starve the lower self.”

“But modern society deems the facilities that feed the lower self as signs of progress,” said Amit, catching on.

“Exactly,” I replied, delighted to see his perspicacity. “With this notion of progress, our society directs all human energy, even scientific energy, principally for catering to the desires of the lower self. But the lower self, filled as it is with insatiable desires for selfish enjoyment, causes people to act in ways that harm them individually, socially, and globally.

Normally the lower self is regulated by the higher self. But nowadays, people, being preoccupied with ‘progress’, spare little, if any time, to nourish their higher self, resulting in the deterioration of whatever little good qualities they have. And we end up with the contradiction that we discussed earlier, of people who are walking encyclopedias, but living failures. Thus, the modern notion of progress, by pandering to our lower self and distracting us from our higher self, perpetuates our suffering.”

Let us conclude with a quote by the British scholar C S Lewis: ‘We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.’India, with its profound philosophical wisdom and ancient spiritual culture, has the unique opportunity to lead the world in turning back from the road of unbalanced materialistic progress. Turning back doesn’t mean giving up all material progress, but giving up the undue emphasis on material progress and focusing on holistic progress.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nice Little Story:Indra and the Ants

Story from the Brahma Vaivarata Purana

In this story, Indra defeats Vrtrasura and releases the waters from bondage. Elevated to the rank of King of the gods, Indra orders the heavenly craftsman, Vishvakarma, to build him a grand. celestial palace. Full of pride, Indra continues to demand more and more improvements for the palace.As his vision unfold. He requires additional terraces and pavilions, more ponds, groves, and pleasure grounds. Whenever Indra arrived to appraise the work of Vishvakarma, he developed vision beyond vision of marvels remaining to be contrived.

Vishwakarma goes on making the improvement, and in the end he is not able to take in any more. Exhausted, Vishvakarma requests Lord Brahma the Creator, for help. Lord Brahma in turn appeals to Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Being, for assistance.

Early next morning,Lord Vishnu sets to visit Indra's palace in the form of a young brahmana boy. The boy is about ten years old,dwarfish, smiling, and radiant with the luster of wisdom. Indra discovers the boy amidst a cluster of enraptured, staring children. Indra welcomes him in and respectfully recieves him. Vishnu begins the conversation by praising Indra's palace, and then casually adds that no former Indra had succeeded in building such a palace. At first, Indra amused by the young boy's claim to know of former Indras. But the amusement turns to horror as the boy starts telling Indra about his former ancestors, about the great cycles of creation and destruction, and even about the infinite number of worlds scattered through the void, each with its own Indra. The boy claims to have seen them all.

During the course of the boy's talk, a long procession of Ants enters the palace and catches his attention. On seeing the procession of the Ants, the boy laughs loudly. Astonished and equally humbled, Indra asks the boy the reason for his amusement. To Indra's horror, the boy reveals that the ants were once Indras in their previous lifetimes! For all his celestial splendor, Indra comes to see his own insignificance in the creation when he sees the ants.

Another visitor then enters the hall. He is Lord Shiva, in the form of a hermit Lomasa, and Indra receives him and then sees another strange sight. On the chest of hermit, lie a circular cluster of hairs, which are intact at the circumference, but with a gap in the middle - the center is devoid of hairs. Indra worships him respectfully, and the anxiously asks him the reason for the disappearance of hair from the center of his chest.

Stating that he knows about his own short lifetime, Lord Shiva reveals that each of these chest hairs corresponds to the life of one Indra. Each time a hair falls, one Indra dies and another replaces him. He further adds that his own lifetime will be over by the period of Brahma!With this revelation, the Muni abruptly disappears and so does the young boy.Indra was startled and amazed to behold this sight, it seemed to him as if it was a dream.

No longer interested in wealth and honor, Indra rewards Vishvakarma and releases him from any further work on the palace. Indra having acquired wisdom, himself decides to leave his life of luxury to become a hermit and seek wisdom!

Horrified, Indra's wife Sachi asks Indra's spiritual guide Brihaspati to intervene and change her husband's mind and resolve. Brihaspati then teaches Indra to see the virtues of both the spiritual life and the worldly life. Thus, at the end of the story, Indra learns how to pursue wisdom while still fulfilling his kingly duties. And thus the pride of Indra is vanquished, and wisdom awakens in the end!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Consciousness Paradigm : To rise or fall is our choice!

A paradigm shift is usually associated to a dramatic change in the way we view things around us, and how we relate to them. Such a significant change occurs when we find that a socially or scientifically accepted theory is insufficient to describe certain phenomena we experience. In order to explain them, we come up with newer, more refined theories in an attempt to rationalize these anomalies. In this regard, the mystery of consciousness and its origin have always eluded a complete, rational, socially accepted scientific theory .The intention of this article is to bring this fundamental subject into focus and analyze it in the light of ancient Vedic scriptures which provide us a wealth of knowledge about this elusive subject. They provide us a framework where we can categorize different states and levels of consciousness along with their symptoms, and hence we can attempt to explain the existing phenomena using this information. This approach is a top to bottom deductive method as opposed to the bottom to top inductive method usually adopted in modern scientific undertakings. It will also help us map our position in the multitude of life forms in nature, so that we understand our real potential. Equipped with this awareness, we can effectively chart out a plan to practice a way of life which channelizes our mental and spiritual energies, to raise our collective consciousness to the next level and beyond.

What is consciousness? In the simplest terms, it is the indispensable component that differentiates an inert lump of earth from a living, breathing and procreating living being. It can also be thought in terms of awareness of the surroundings where you live, or an acknowledgement of your relationship with the environment and other living beings, or being cognizant of the changes that you go through and the changes that you cause to take place. It may not be limited to these basic symptoms of life, but as we carefully analyze all forms of life around us including ourselves, gradually we find some common features across all of them, and some features which differentiate them from each other. In fact, it may be an infinite iterative process, because in this case the end and means both are the same: consciousness. To fully understand your current level of consciousness, you need to reach a higher level of consciousness. Then again to fathom your new level, you need to keep pushing yourself to higher and higher levels. Does this have an end? Is there an absolute level of consciousness, to which everything else is relative?

A problem cannot be solved from the same level consciousness, which created it in the first place.

Dr. Albert Einstein

So let us try to solve this question, by attempting to reach the next level. The most fundamental axiom of Vedic knowledge is the awareness that an individual is not the body but a spirit soul. He is an entity who has no birth or death, because he always existed and will always exist.

na tv evāhaḿ jātu nāsaḿ

na tvaḿ neme janādhipāḥ

na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ

sarve vayam ataḥ param

(Bhagavad Gita 2.12)

Never was there a time when I (Lord Krishna) did not exist, nor you (Arjuna), nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.”

dehino 'smin yathā dehe

kaumāraḿ yauvanaḿ jarā

tathā dehāntara-prāptir

dhīras tatra na muhyati

(Bhagavad Gita 2.13)

As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.”

So we see that the first shift in consciousness occurs when we understand that our existence is not limited to the short lifespan between a single birth and death, but it is a series of births and deaths of the material body, whereas the soul in all these bodies is the same entity. Seen from the point of view of eternity, this awareness has very deep implications on the way we lead our current life and the decisions that we make before committing ourselves to a particular course of action. It also has a deep impact on the value system that guides our everyday interactions and choices.

Development of our consciousness and our destiny depend on the values that we hold sacred in our lives.”

- HH Radhanath Swami

If we think that this is the only lifetime we have, then we might compromise on some moral codes for the sake of enjoyment, without worrying for the reactions of such actions. This new paradigm also to some extent explains why certain people are born with certain traits, talents and inclinations. It may explain the prodigious children who start showing their genius at a very early stage, and also the phenomenon of people being born with disability. According to the new paradigm, these anomalies can be attributed to a “carry over” effect from the previous life. It can be explained in terms of an action-reaction duality of not just this present lifetime, but a complex web of actions and reactions accrued over many previous lifetimes including the current one.

yaḿ yaḿ vāpi smaran bhāvaḿ

tyajaty ante kalevaram

taḿ tam evaiti kaunteya

sadā tad-bhāva-bhāvitaḥ

(Bhagavad Gita 8.6)

Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kuntī, that state he will attain without fail.”

The next shift in paradigm occurs when we realize that all living beings have the same underlying essence of life in them, despite external variations in their bodies. What is this underlying essence which unites all living entities? To understand this, let us analyze the activities that are common to both humans and other forms of life.

· Eating (source of energy, may vary from something as simple as sunlight, to as complex as 100 varieties of cooked food)

· Sleeping (the biological activity where the living being rejuvenates the entire body. Even and plants and lower forms of animals do sleep! )

· Mating (procreating to produce offspring)

· Defending (The basic survival instinct of a living entity to protect itself and its dependants, may vary from a simple cell wall in bacteria to sophisticated guided missiles and atomic weapons of mass destruction).

This analysis has been mentioned in one of the most widely read histories of the ancient world, The Mahabharata :

Ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca

samanyam etat pasubhir naranam

“Among humans and all other life forms: Eating, sleeping, mating and defending are common activities”.

Further, all living entities undergo the same cycle of birth, old age, disease and death. According to the Bhagavad Gita, All living entities from the highest planet to the lowest planet in the universe have to undergo this cycle and no one is exempt from it.

ā-brahma-bhuvanāl lokāḥ

punar āvartino 'rjuna

mām upetya tu kaunteya

punar janma na vidyate

(Bhagavad Gita 8.16)

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kuntī, never takes birth again.”

The essence in all these living entities is the imperishable soul, which does not undergo mutation or change even when the body changes. The essential characteristic of this soul is truth, knowledge, and bliss. This is codified as Sat-Chit-Ananda in Vedic teachings, meaning the real, enduring fundamental essence of all life. In the ancient Brahmanical teachings the terms sat, chit, ananda, were used to signify the state of what one may call the Absolute: sat meaning "pure being"; chit, "pure thought"; ananda, "bliss," and these three words were compounded as sachchidananda. Now the next question arises: if all living entities have the same underlying essence and they undergo the same cycle of birth and death then what differentiates us from the other species? What is our special place in the myriad variety of life forms which thrive on this planet?

The answer to this leads us to the next paradigm : The human form of life is a connecting bridge between the lower forms of consciousness (plants and animals) towards the higher forms of super-consciousness and beyond, towards the supreme absolute truth. The Vedantic philosophy urges our intellect with the aphorism: Athato Brahma Jignyasa. “Now that you have this human form, you must inquire about the absolute truth”. If we accept this statement as it is, then we must also accept the simple truth that the goal of our life is to inquire about the absolute truth and lead our lives in a way which enhances our consciousness towards this supreme goal. What differentiates us from the other forms of life is the ability to reason, the ability to intelligently analyze our surroundings and ascertain our position in the infinite creation. The Vedic classification of consciousness puts us at the center of the hierarchy. Interestingly, evolution is also implied in vedic teachings, but not the evolution of material bodies (from animal to human), but an evolution in consciousness. This implies that the material bodies of all species are already present on the shelf of Mother nature, and based on the level of consciousness (self-awareness) of the individual soul, he is "awarded" the appropriate body (outer covering) by superior authorities (who are individual souls, but with higher degree of self awareness). A soul whose consciousness has degraded to the level of enjoying the taste of blood may be awarded the body of a tiger. On the other hand, a soul who has elevated himself to the level of inquiring about the absolute truth, would be given a body among higher denizens of heavenly planets, where he can enjoy heavenly delights and use the comfortable facilities to practice his inquiry further. This further implies that the soul in a tiger's body and the soul in the heavenly denizen's body is qualitatively same : both have the inherent potential for self-awareness.

Avrit (The covered consciousness of plants and lower forms of life)

Sancucit (The shrunken consciousness of animals)

· Mukulit (The budding consciousness of humans)

· Vikasit (The mature consciousness of higher forms of living entities and demi-gods which control the universe)

· Purna Vikasit (The completely mature and pure form of consciousness which is the basis of the entire creation, which is changeless and immutable.)

It is important to note that despite all our scientific knowledge and all our technological advancement, we have still not been able to move from the budding stage to the mature stage of consciousness. This flaw in our civilization is basically because we have given undue importance to material advancement and totally neglected our higher duty as humans, which is to cultivate our consciousness and move to the next level in evolution. We have made progress, but unfortunately in the wrong direction. We have guided missiles, but misguided men driving them. As a result of this fundamental flaw in our collective conscience, what we are experiencing is a large scale discord between man and nature and an ecological tipping point of disaster. It is almost as if we are sitting on a time bomb, which is ticking away furiously, and which may explode anytime without any prior notice.

The entire system of Vedic civilization is designed so that gradually the human being can develop his consciousness and connect himself to the absolute through this revealed knowledge of scriptures. Through this endeavor he can slowly free himself from the duality of birth and death and the misery of old age and disease. The ultimate goal in this system is to attain a position which is non-mutable, which is eternal and which is beyond all duality. Having attained such a state the person becomes fully satisfied and blissful. On the other hand if we use our intelligence and reasoning power only to carry out the less important propensities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending, then we are wasting the human potential, which can lead us to higher states of existence, beyond duality and misery. The path has been enunciated for us very clearly and unambiguously. To rise up the ladder of spiritual evolution or fall down is completely our own choice. And we may not be as lucky next time to get this human form again, so it is better to make hay while the sun shines!