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May 23, 2014

Reality Check

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By Dr Divyang Patel, BAYVP

Today, in the Era of Google Glass and increasing wearable technology the line of real life human experience is truly being blurred. It brings about an interesting discussion among philosophers and psychologists about the meaning of human feeling, emotions and experience. While certainly there will be mostly valuable uses for these technologies, how will they affect our innate potential for human progress, development and experience of life? Will it change our own definition of what it means to be human? The recent provocative movie “Transcendence” (2014) poses an interesting question. “Should one tinker with the work of creation – either by evolution or Creator?” Or does anyone really care?

I am sure different people have different meanings of what it means to be human based on their physical, cultural, religious or agnostic, or other personal experiences. However, most people have intimations that they are more than the everyday self-intimations of immortality as poet William Wordsworth called it. With each one of us there is a core, an eternal spark, the “atman” or Self that makes us realize since “I think I am”. So does that limit the meaning of human to the Self only or does it encompass the physical, mental and intellectual part of the actuality of Being Human?

This debate is age old and has been deliberated for thousands of years. On one side are those who are firm that Being Human means only about recognizing the Self and neglecting the physical and mental aspects here on earth while on the other side are those that, along with the Self, welcome the physical and mental aspects of human being as contributors to the wholeness of human experience of reality!

In fact Lord Krishna’s beloved friend Arjun faced this same dilemma – becoming confused about his own perception of reality and hence momentarily losing his true purpose. Arjun seriously considers “to live in this world by begging” rather than facing the reality (Chapter 2 verse 5 of Bhagvad Gita). Lord Krishna then clarifies to Arjun that Arjun needs to face up to the reality of the situation – of his identity, his experiences and his duty and use his judgment (Vivek) to decide what he ought to do and not to do. Escapism is not the solution to life He stresses!

Lord Krishna’s teachings infer that using your own motor and sense organs as instruments for the mind to experience, and the intellect to bring about a proper decision, is vital to recognizing what is “good vs bad” or “what is unreal and what is real”. In other words Lord Krishna summarizes the famous Kena-Upanishad verse that says: “That which indeed is the ear of the ear, the mind of the mind, speech of the speech, the praana ( Vital air) of the praana and the eye of the eye. Know it to be the Brahman (Self / Atman), realize it and become immortal.” The dialogue in the Upanishad further clarifies that “as the subject within enables the various equipments to experience their respective objects of the world as the Godhead (Self/Atman) – en living the eye to see color and form, the speech to express itself, the mind to feel emotions and the intellect to conceive itself.”

But various major world religions and schools of philosophy in Hinduism also today debate whether this world is real and stress all their philosophical goals for life after, discounting this world in which they currently exist as unreal. Their emphasis is laid on the world after – heaven / paradise / Brahma-Loka / Nirvana etc. As a result experiences of the moment or current are always disregarded as unreal.

Within Hinduism the school of Adi Shankaracharya propounds “Brahma Satyam, Jagad Mithya” as the main principle to live life upon – meaning Brahman / God is real and world is unreal. This is referred to as the Kevaladvaita or Mayavada. However, the 15th century Bhakti Acharya, Jagadguru Srimad Vallabhacharya, propounded the philosophy of Suddhadvaita or Brahmavada alluding to “Brahma Satyam, Jagad Satyam” meaning God is real and the world is real! Truth-seekers note that in their framework both these great Advait philosophers are correct based on the context of the emphasis of their respective teachings.

However, it can be inferred that in the philosophy of Srimad Vallabhacharyaji the human body, mind and intellect should be utilized in experiencing the full reality of Brahman / Self and not to repudiate the objects and emotions perceived by the body or mind. It is obvious then that desires might arise from this experience as the world or objects within it are not wholly discounted based on this thinking (“Jagad Satyam”! It is often assumed that a “traditional” (Shankarite) sannyasi would pay no heed to these and recommend suppressing those “worldly” and possibly even natural desires so that one can instead focus on the Brahman (Self) or God!

However the tradition of Srimad Vallabhacharya sharply differs from that thinking. In fact an incident in the life of Shri Vitthalnathji (also known as Gusaiji), who happens to be the son of Srimad Vallabhacharya, acknowledges the human impulse of desire. The event occurred when Shri Gusaiji’s, fame had spread and many would flock to be his disciples.

At one such occasion two men came to Gusaiji. The first said: “I am a renunciate who has given up all desires and seek you as my Guru.”

The second man mentioned, “I am a worldly person with a wife and family, plagued with desires. Yet I seek to become your disciple.”

Gusaiji did not accept the first man – the renunciate as without yearning, he would have no desire to please Lord Krishna – the Supreme Brahman. The other man he made his follower, for his desires and wishes, however worldly, could be transformed through Seva (Selfless Service of God), the sacrifice of Love and made enjoyable when offered to Lord Krishna. Once used in Lord Krishna’s Seva, these objects or instruments take on divine attributes. Hence, in pleasing God everything is enhanced. Thus you saw developed a tradition within this Path of Grace of Shrimad Vallabhacharyaji and Gusaiji that body, mind, all wealth are totally offered to the Lord, and all of which was given to Lord Krishna is used in His service is maximally and most creatively used in Lord Krishna service. This has brought forth a most beautiful expression and usage of these items in Raag, Bhog and Shringaar eliciting and enhancing the desire to be more near to the Lord and experiencing His sportive interaction with the devotee.

However, having said this I do not mean to infer that one should have an unlimited pass for desires in God’s name! Sense happiness is not the goal of humanity. In actuality the life and teachings of Lord Krishna reveal that balance is always essential to sustain one’s vibrant, meaningful, healthy and happy life. Lord Krishna also mentions this in the Bhagvat Gita in numerous places – including the Sthitapragna qualities in Chapter 2 as well as in chapters 12 and 17. One should have equanimity – balance! Avoid extremes, and not be perturbed or attached by pain or loss, heat or cold etc. For getting to these extremes or beyond there would be no meaning or joy nor life worth living to sustain. Interestingly, astronomers often look for the “Goldilocks zone”– a zone that is not too hot and not too cold with just the right balance to sustain life! Indeed, Lord Krishna repeatedly advises in the Gita that for humans to experience this state and potential of being Human, and reaching the potential for perfection its best to be in perfect balance of Self and the External World!

Our world of senses and intellect is hedged at both ends by the illimitable and the unknowable. Man has always felt a pressing need to know something about the facts beyond and about his relationship with the unknowable beyond. In that journey man has become increasingly reliable on tools that will give rapid, immediate and personal experience and now seems to have become slavish to these new computerized tools whence once man was slavish to body, mind, world, good word, bad word, passion, everything else! But as Lord Krishna and Srimad Vallabhacharya teach – this type of extreme thinking and dependence will cause us to play dangerous games with reality – with the external nature and internal nature. Even in the early stages of this digitized world man has already witnessed incidents of individuals or groups who are willing to be pulled in this unreal world sometimes with fatal consequences due to distractions from there real world surroundings. Yet we want to plug our children sooner and sooner into this unreal world!

Instead our human experience and progress can only be realized by being grounded to reality – an awareness of the power both internal and external. That awareness would require us to fully utilize all our given tools – senses, mind and intellect – to enable us to LIVE within that “Goldilocks zone”, to zone that will sustain human life! When we consciously abide in this we will come to discern (Atman / Self) is the same reality that is present in the Universal Being i.e. the human brain or consciousness is already connected to the larger world brain or consciousness! As we search for this illimitable and unknowable zone, let’s let us not forget that technology should be working for us and not the other way around. So as we journey into this new era of technology let us not forget that inner Goldilocks zone – that zone of conscious awareness – to sustain our humanity to experience Ultimate Reality!

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