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Kathamriter Aloke Bhagavad Gita-1
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Editorial : The Lessons of Life
Life is beautiful, wonderful, and full of blessedness. It is also mysterious, strange, disastrous, fleeting; it is a struggle, a discovery, an opportunity, at times dreamlike, and much more. These ideas about life, including most definitions and conceptions found in every literature, are incomplete and partial. But how can we live properly if what is so dear and the basis of our existence is not clearly known? Philosophers and many wise people have sought answers to this problem for ages. Psychologists, geneticists, neurologists, biologists, and other scientists are trying, with renewed vigour and knowledge, to understand what life is. For ages the answers about life were given through mythology. But these myths fail to pacify modern generations, who think them immature and puerile. Humankind has laboured under such raw conceptions for a long time, and the same is true about most things in the universe. Life is prana; it is a force that enlivens the body, senses, mind, intelligence, and ego. It is not mere breath or the pumping heart. This is the reason why, depending on the state of our bodies and minds, we speak about our conceptions of life. Most of these so-called ordinary or even poetic definitions of life are pretty much low-grade. As our minds become purer, so our conceptions of life change. The highest conceptions of life dawn when we experience life as cosmic—pulsating in the living and non-living.
In the past we thought life to be special only to humans and a few animals, birds, and reptiles. But nowadays this conception has expanded to include all living beings down to plants, trees, and microscopic bacterial life forms. We have seen that what is called non-living things like foodstuffs, water, and air, considered inert and dead, become part of life and start pulsating in living beings. This brings insentient matter into the ambit of sentience. Life in matter may be asleep, but awakens into life at the touch of prana; besides, what we call food was once living beings. Thus the boundary between life and nonlife is slowly being broken.
If the forces that guide inert matter become living, then the forces of life and matter cannot be dissimilar, or they cannot combine. This means that the life force also includes all material forces. This is what Swami Vivekananda taught when he said that all the forces found in nature—from electromagnetism and nuclear forces right up to human thoughts—are different manifestations of prana. And now we know that matter is nothing but energy in a different form, or vice versa. Hence, all matter also obeys the laws of life. It is only when this universal force is combined within the body, mind, and senses, that it becomes unique; it becomes life as we know it.
We also know that the earth teems with life. Living beings thrive in their millions and undergo their life cycles everywhere—in a drop of water, in a handful of earth, in the deepest part of the ocean, in the earth’s atmosphere. This grand plan of nature is mind-boggling: at the end of a life cycle, life dies to give rise to new life. We also have life merging into life to give rise todifferent forms of life, and thus the whole chain of evolution and involution is kept going.
In old mythologies we find gods creating or begetting humankind. Prana manifests as life wherever there is name and form. The gods and demi-gods and all the celestial beings spoken of in various scriptures also have prana. This proves that prana is confined not just to the earth and material bodies but extends into divine and semi-divine realms.
The main aspect of life is its dynamism. Equipped with senses, body, and mind, prana expresses itself in various ways and forms. People generally say ‘my life is my work’, or ‘my work is my life’, and so on, implying thereby that life expresses itself through karma, and that karma modifies or expresses life accordingly. Karma is a powerful factor that goes together with the life force. This is the reason why there is so much dynamism, variety, and difference in lives.
Another important aspect of the variety of life is due to the action of the gunas, qualities, of sattva, rajas, and tamas, with their distinctive characteristics of calmness, activity, and lassitude, respectively. According to Indian philosophy, these gunas are the three constituents of Prakriti, nature, which is found in every subtle and gross object in different degrees of permutations and combinations.
It is true that old conceptions of life seem puerile, and that is because we learn as we live— the longer we live, the more we learn. We often hear people say that life is the greatest teacher: ‘what life has taught me’. Yet many believe this process stops at death, and that all the lessons that we have learnt are lost forever. But this is not the case, because death cannot stop this process. Life continues in a new body and in a new place. This is what is called rebirth. The world has now almost endless knowledge, and since we cannot learn without actual experiences, we go through the knowledge process gradually, travelling to higher and lower planes of existence till we gain perfect knowledge and attain moksha, liberation. Life is too powerful to be cut down by death or by an interval before birth.
Another important aspect of life is love. This aspect does not need elaboration, for we all feel it intensely. Love for others is actually love for life, which drives us in innumerable ways. Love also nurtures and safeguards life, and is one of the best reasons to live. Another great quality of life is that it can detect falsehood—life immediately knows what is true and false, right and wrong. We may err because of our attachments and expectations, but not for long; that is why the basis of life is truth. Life also inspires life, and when it comes to spirituality, a guru’s life is most important for a disciple. Such a pure life will infuse, as it were, a new life in a disciple and change his or her orientation permanently.
The more individual and narrow life is, the more selfish and miserable it becomes. We must make our life cosmic; that is the whole scope and goal of life. All the ethics and morality preached by every culture down the ages, without telling us clearly, were trying to fashion for humankind a universal life. All that goes into making life is ancient, and thus prana is also ancient. In the Upanishads prana is praised as ‘the oldest and greatest’ among the aggregate of bodies, senses, mind, and sense objects. Prana has always existed, and when we realize its essence, we go beyond death, for we find ourselves ancient, universal, and pulsating in all life. There is no absolute death for life, and all the fear of death we believed to be life’s counterpart, and which we felt shadowing us, was a delusion and ultimately false. Death and its fear always rise when life is selfish and narrow. In reality there is no death for universal life, for universal life is God. This is the way to bring meaning and worth to our lives and make it divine.