You are not the body, you are the essence, the Self, the Atman—the divine entity within. —Swami Chinmayananda
We are not who we think we are—mere human beings of flesh and blood, having a temporary existence filled with joys and sorrows. We are so much more. The Atman mentioned in the quote above is the Sanskrit word for the soul. This is our true nature.
Our possessions, skills, accomplishments and relationships will all be left behind when we leave our bodies. As the soul, we never die. We continue to live on after the death of the physical body.
The body is merely a tool that is meant to be used for a higher purpose that transcends our limited stay on earth. Vedanta explains that the individual soul journeys from lifetime to lifetime, taking on different bodies until it fulfills its ultimate purpose of realising its true spiritual nature. This has to be accomplished while living in a physical body.
According to the Ramayana of the Hindus, there are 8.4 million species of life that a soul is born in. They fall into four broad categories based on where they come from.
- Seeds—plants and trees.
- Wetness or humidity—insects and other creatures that appear in wet conditions such as after it rains. This category also includes lice that grow in the heat and humidity in fur and hair.
- Eggs—amphibians, reptiles, birds and fish.
- Wombs—humans and other mammals.
Being born as a human is a rare and precious gift that comes after having lived innumerable past lives in different life forms. There is no higher body that we can gain.
The next level in our evolution lies in putting in our own efforts to develop our psychological and intellectual personalities. What gives us this capability and sets us apart from the other species of life is our intellect.
Using our intellect, we can apply our self-effort to overcome our wrong identification with our body and mind. We can transcend our lower tendencies and regain our divine status. We will achieve this in deep meditation. Read Being a Human, the Greatest Gift
The auspicious desire
The real journey of the soul begins only when we are ready to turn toward spirituality. So long as we are happy gaining worldly goals, experiences, joys and relationships, we will not feel the need to seek out something more or different.
There comes a time when we experience a nagging dissatisfaction with life. We begin to question our priorities and pursuits. The things that we used to do and enjoy now seem hollow and pointless. We begin to wonder, “Is there something more to life? What could it be?”
We become acutely aware of our own faults, weaknesses, bad conduct, prejudices, and other negative thoughts and feelings. We feel an urgent need to transform ourselves. Instead of chasing worldly goals and joys which are temporary and unsatisfactory, we seek a higher purpose to our lives.
From the spiritual perspective, it is considered extremely good when we start to have these kinds of feelings. This readiness and desire for spirituality is called the “auspicious desire” in Vedanta.
The inner journey
Gradually, we turn our focus toward gaining a spiritual understanding of life. We read spiritual books and listen to talks on the internet. We discuss spirituality with like-minded friends and attend lectures and workshops given by spiritual teachers. We may take up serious spiritual studies and commit to a daily meditation practice.
This spiritual focus brings greater self-awareness. We start to take concrete steps to make inner changes to our personality. For example, one may resolve not to react in anger or frustration and to be more patient and understanding with others. Or, he or she may choose to forgive someone and be free of the burden of hatred and bitterness.
All this inner growth makes the mind more reflective, detached and peaceful.
Detachment from our usual worldly preoccupations makes it easier to gain discernment in life. Priorities shift and there is no regret in leaving the old ways behind. Late-night parties, bingeing on alcohol, buying goods that are not needed, and watching mindless movies and TV shows are easily dropped. One may feel the urge to give up meat and dairy and adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle. One may also feel the need to serve the community in some way.
Doing good and living a life of kindness, purity, service to others and integrity will become increasingly natural. Reflection, contemplation and meditation will become the central focus of our lives.
When meditation is continued regularly over a long period of time, we eventually come to the end of our journey. It is in meditation that we will transcend our erroneous identification with our human personality and come to realise our true spiritual nature.
This realisation will bring us the highest happiness and complete fulfillment in life because the Self or soul, is of the nature of pure bliss.
Journey through lifetimes
The journey spans many lifetimes, and if you’ve just begun, you may wonder what’ll happen if you don’t gain the rediscovery of your true Self in this life. Will you have to start from scratch all over again in your next life and re-learn the lessons from this life?
No, you will not have to re-learn your lessons. Your evolution continues and you pick up where you left off. So, if you’ve learned how to overcome jealousy and have greater patience and understanding of others, you will express this new learning in your next life.
Even the knowledge of spirituality that you acquire in this life is not lost forever. The universe will bring you the right people and circumstances in your future life which will take your learning to the next level. Learning the lessons will be quick and easy.
You can think of the inner growth that you accomplish similar to upgrading the software on your computer. The mind, (the software) carries over from life to life, changing and upgrading itself according to the experiences it goes through. Any conscious, higher response upgrades the software. Read more about this in, Your greatest asset for your next life.
No real loss or fall
Most people don’t begin their spiritual journey and find themselves seeking spiritual solutions only because of some loss, disappointment, or struggle. But the good news is that no matter what brings them there or when it happens, there is no real loss or fall—only a temporary delay. The journey of the soul continues through many bodies and ends only in the spectacular rediscovery of its own blissful nature.
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