Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Britain & Hinduism 10: Soul Science

“The worlds to which a man goes by sacrificing barren cows are surely without blessings,” says the teenager at the sacrifice his father is conducting to win heavenly fortune.

Shamed and angered, the father commits all he has to the sacrifice.

The boy thinks himself included in that offering, and asks, “Dear Father, to whom are you giving me?”

Three times, he asks, until his enraged father bursts out, “I give you to Yama!”

Yama is not at home when the boy arrives in the underworld, and for three days he waits in the house of Death without the least hospitality, not even water.

When Yama returns, he apologizes for that treatment and offers a boon to compensate for each day of waiting.

The boy asks, first, that his father be no longer angry with him.

Then he asks to be taught the Fire Sacrifice that transports one to heaven where there is no fear of death.

For the third, he wants to know what happens to a person after death.

Yama grants the first two wishes but is reluctant with the third. “On this point even the gods are in doubt,” he says; “it is not easy to understand. That subject is subtle. Choose another boon!”

The boy insists. “Surely no other boon is like this, with you as the teacher on a matter the gods themselves doubt!”

“Choose sons and grandsons who live a hundred years, herds of cattle, elephants, gold, and horses,” pleads Death. “Live yourself as many harvests as you want. Be king of the wide earth, enjoy all you desire, fair maidens, chariots, music, anything ... but do not ask me about dying.”

The boy remains adamant. “All these things last till tomorrow, O Death, for they wear out the vigor of all the senses. Life is short. Keep thou thy horses, keep dance and song for thyself. No man can be made happy by wealth. What shall we possess when we see thee? Shall we live, as long as you rule? What mortal, slowly decaying here below would delight in a long life, after pondering the pleasures from beauty and love? O Death, I do not choose another boon but that which enters into the hidden world.”

Thus begins the Katha Upanishad (with some tweaking on my part to clarify the initial the father-son interaction.)

The story of Naciketas, the boy who pried out Death's secret, has gripped the Indian imagination for many millenniums; it continues with Yama acceding to the third boon.

He begins by praising Naciketas for so firmly rejecting all objects of desire.

The paths of knowledge and desire begin in the same human heart but diverge enormously, he says.

Those who pursue their desires have no escape from the endless cycle of births and deaths.

“The path to truth is as difficult to cross as a razor’s edge, but one who travels it discovers the Self within, the Soul that never dies.”

When death takes the body, the magical Self lives on, "smaller than small, greater than great, hidden in the heart of every creature." Those aware of it can sit still yet travel far, be lying down but go everywhere. "Knowing the Self to be bodiless within bodies, changeless amidst transformations, great and omnipresent,” they do not grieve at death

“Knowledge of the Self cannot be gained from the Veda, nor by understanding, nor by much learning; it comes only to to those who have turned away from wickedness, possess a tranquil mind, and are chosen by the Universal Self.”

The solemn reality Yama unfolds is the polar opposite of the mechanistic world of Science. It is a Universe imbued with divine will and moral purpose, actively supportive of the powers of regeneration, growth and good.

During the colonial era Europeans came to look down on that Indian sense of reality as irrational, other-worldly and superstitious. Many still do, for they have not adjusted to two sets of scientific advances in the 20th Century that quietly validated the greater part of the Hindu perspective.

If we take those advances into account the immortal soul and its governing concept of karma become entirely rational and undeniable.

The Two Advances

The first scientific advance began with the laboratory observation that light exists simultaneously as both wave and particle. It led to the conclusion that energy and matter meld into each other at the sub-atomic level and, more surprisingly, that neither can be destroyed: they can only be turned into each other. (Hence Einstein's E=MC2.)

The second advance led to the discovery of the genetic code, the blueprint imprinted on the nucleus of the first cell at the moment of conception that determines the mature person in physical detail and potential.

Put these discoveries in the same frame and we can define the soul as an indestructible piece of unique code that determines identity.

When a person dies, his or her material body deteriorates, but the indestructible energy version of the code – the soul – floats free.

Just as a radio wave carrying the human voice can reproduce it at an antenna tuned to the right frequency, so the “soul wave” carries the imprint of the whole being to a new body at the moment of conception.

The Implications

Scientists have not focused on any of this as yet. When they do, it is only a matter of time before they find out the logistics for the transmission of the soul; and once that happens, it will clarify how karma works.

We can surmise that Karma has the same role as radio frequency in determining which new body will be able to receive a particular incoming soul. It makes a moral match between the new and old life form.

It will not be easy to adjust to the idea of one’s immortal soul as a scientific fact rather than a religious concept. For one thing, it will extend each thinking person's time-horizon far beyond his/her individual life, shriveling many petty considerations that might now loom large. On the other hand, people will be forced to take themselves very seriously indeed when considering the ever present choice: to ascend morally, enjoy the ride down, or coast and be at the mercy of others.

If most people determine to be actively good, it will transform society.

Consider the impact if large numbers of Indians begin spontaneously to take care of problems around them.

This is what Gandhi meant when he said “Be the change,” and it offers the only sure and swift way out of the current Kali Yuga.

We are at a critical juncture in our national and global development, and the positive engagement of ordinary people will be decisive in shaping the future.

That will be the focus of Part 11.

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Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9

4 comments:

rk said...

With due respect Sir, I would appreciate if you would use the correct term" Atma" instead of the Abrahamic term soul. Of course, I do not have to point out to a scholar like yourself, that soul and Atma are not the same.

Bhaskar Menon said...

rk's comment needs explanation. The "soul" of the Semitic/Western tradition is essentially the same as the Hindu "atma" but as with the concept of God, is much less defined. The difference reflects the fact that both concepts originated in India during the period when the Upanishads (discussions) of the Vedas were taking place, and thus came to be explained, whereas, outside the country, they were borrowed and thus not intellectually dissected. In India, the atma is understood to be of the same essence as the Param Atma (Universal Soul), but clothed in a material body, it is caught in a fog of Maya (delusion). Those who see through the Maya progress spiritually towards Moksha, which is conceived as release from the cycle of material embodiments, freedom from Maya, and union with the Paramatma.

I used the word "soul" because it would be more broadly understood by an English speaking readership.

rk said...

Dear Shri Menon
I am a follower of Rajiv Malhotra and his works where he clearly says that certain Sanskrit terms are not translatable. Dharma is not same as being Right. Ishwara is not same as the God of Christianity or Allah of Islam. Atma is not Soul. Abrahamic religious Soul has a beginning and an end. It is not eternal nor all pervading. It is not Sat, Chit Ananda.
With due respect, using the word Soul instead of Atma, will bring an entirely different meaning to the article.
I hope you understand my anxieties in using these words for the benefit of English speaking readers. If they are seriously interested in knowing about Hinduism ( wrong word!) aka Santana Dharma(!!!)they should look into the differences between our faith and theirs.
Thank you Sir
Regards
rk

Bhaskar Menon said...

With all due respect, Rajiv Malhotra's view of the translatability of Sanskrit terms is not my primary concern. As a journalist, my primary focus is to communicate. If some subtleties do not get across, I leave it to Mr. Malhotra to clarify what they are.