You are the eternal, blissful Self. You have forgotten your true nature and are now functioning as a limited human being constantly striving for happiness.
Rediscovering your identity as the Self while you are in your body is the ultimate purpose of life. Until you do, you will keep taking on new bodies and be bound to an endless cycle of birth and death.
How can you free yourself from this cycle of birth and death?
Your true Self is not far away. It is right here with you in every moment and experience of your life. In fact, it is what gives you life and the ability to think, feel and act.
Your very existence depends on the Self. And yet, you don’t experience it. Why?
Vedanta explains that the Self is hidden behind a veil of thoughts. It can be experienced only in deep meditation when you quiet your thoughts and transcend your mind.
The problem is that it is very difficult to sustain peace in the mind long enough to go beyond the thoughts and rediscover the Self. Enduring peace can only come after many long years and even lifetimes of regular spiritual practice.
Right now the mind contains many impurities which are negative thoughts, emotions and habits. Some examples of these impurities are selfish desires, anger, greed, jealousy, pride, impatience, being insensitive and judgemental of others, laziness, carelessness and the tendency to procrastinate.
To gain freedom from the cycle of birth and death and the realization of the infinite bliss of the Self, it is absolutely necessary that these impurities be purged.
How your actions keep you in the cycle of birth and death
The type of actions that you perform and the attitude with which you perform them play a crucial role in your inner journey to the Self.
Actions done with the wrong attitude add impurities to the mind, while the right actions done with the right attitude help to purge them.
Let’s look at how improperly done actions add impurities to the mind and keep you in a never-ending cycle of birth and death. This will help to make sense of the solutions presented later in this article.
The first thing to note is that you perform actions to gain specific results that you hope will make you happy.
But the truth is, results of actions are uncertain. Sometimes you get what you want, and sometimes you don’t. And sometimes, you gain results that may be good in one way and not-so-good in another.
When you don’t get exactly what you expected, you try to gain happiness either by repeating the action or by doing different actions.
Even if you do get exactly what you were hoping for, the results are impermanent and do not bring you complete fulfilment. Things keep changing and there will always be more desires to fulfil. No action will make you completely happy for all time.
Looking for fulfillment by performing actions for happiness keeps you constantly on the edge, anxiously wanting and doing more and more. This is how actions can bind you.
The second way actions can bind you is if they are motivated by your likes and dislikes—your strong personal preferences.
Actions driven by your likes and dislikes leave subtle impressions in your psyche that are a hidden danger. They perpetuate the erroneous notion of being a limited human and makes your happiness hang precariously on things being just the way you want them to be.
Such actions keep you constantly busy running after what you like and running away from what you don’t like. Where can there be any hope for inner peace then?
The third and last point to note is that actions always bring results at some point in the future.
As you are unable to experience the results of all your actions in this lifetime (there are too many), your soul must take on another body to experience them.
In that future body, you not only experience the results of this lifetime, you continue to perform more actions that generate more results that necessitate you taking on another body. The number of results piles up from life to life and you keep having to take on new bodies. This mechanism continues endlessly and keeps you in the cycle of birth and death.
How right actions done with the right attitude free you from the cycle of birth and death
Doing actions to gain happiness through the results of your actions; always doing something prompted by your personal likes and dislikes, and having results carry over to future lifetimes— the three factors mentioned above all add impurities that create a thick veil over the Self. What is the way out of this endless cycle of birth and death?
All actions motivated by the ego and selfishness keep the cycle going. The solution is to focus more energy on performing actions that are not done solely for self-fulfillment and to do them with the right attitude.
The actions that fall into this category are your duties. By doing your duties, you take the focus off yourself and your self-directed concerns and place it on doing what will benefit others.
We all have duties to fulfil in life based on our roles at home and at work. Most of our duties have to be done daily while there are some duties that we do occasionally such as visiting a friend in hospital, volunteering in our community or attending a funeral.
Does this mean you have to live a dry, dull and unhappy life, never nurturing your own needs, wants and desires? No.
It means finding joy in every action (not just your duties) by infusing an awareness of gratitude while doing it.
Gratitude comes only when you are fully aware of what you have received from the Universe or God.
You are alive because of some divine higher power. Your life, abilities and talents are all gifts from the divine. How is your body functioning? How are you able to feel, think and solve problems?
You may know that your heart pumps blood and oxygen throughout your body and keeps you alive. But what enables the heart to function in the first place? How are you breathing, eating, walking and performing actions?
We are not aware of the complex systems that have to go into action when we do the simplest of things. A person who has suffered a stroke and is in physiotherapy trying to regain the use of a hand knows very clearly how even the simple act of grasping a pen is a gift.
What will happen when you start feeling gratitude for your life? You will become aware of the blessings in your life and be humbled by the beauty and intelligence in and around you. Your ego will get diluted as you become less selfish. You will form a closer connection to the source of your blessings—the Universe or God.
All these things will reduce the impurities in your mind and you will begin to feel greater peace in your life.
When you feel grateful for the blessings in your life, you will naturally want to do something to express that gratitude.
As you bring in the remembrance of the divine in your actions, your work itself will become worship. You will be less driven to do actions based on your personal likes and dislikes. You will be motivated on doing what is right and good instead.
Instinctively, you will want to do your actions to the best of your ability. You will become more efficient and find fulfillment in doing your actions without waiting for happiness to come in some uncertain future results.
As you divinize your mind while doing your actions, you will have greater faith in the infinite intelligence of the Universe. When the results of actions come, you will be better able accept the good, bad and mixed results with equanimity and gratitude.
All these inner changes in attitude while doing your actions will greatly reduce the impurities in your mind. You will gradually reduce the mountains of pending results waiting to be experienced in future lifetimes.
The path to freedom from the cycle of birth and death
The path to freedom from the cycle of birth and death begins with living in awareness of the great blessings in your life.
This will give rise to feelings of gratitude in your mind and you will want to do something in return to express that gratitude.
You begin to focus on performing your everyday duties and actions as an offering back to the Universe.
Negative thoughts, feelings and habits which used to pollute your mind will now start to lessen. Your longing for selfish gains will begin to die away.
Your faith in the benevolence and infinite intelligence of the Universe will increase. You will be able to accept the results of your actions, no matter what they may be, with greater acceptance and peace.
All these will significantly reduce the impurities in the mind. The path to spiritual study, contemplation and meditation will become clearer.
Then through these latter advanced practices, you will eventually be able to quieten your mind, transcend your thoughts and attain the great goal of life—the rediscovery of your own blissful Self.
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