The Indian rishis enjoin five duties – pancha dharma on a householder. They are grihastha dharma (duty to the family), pitru dharma (duty to the ancestors), deva dharma (duty to God), daana dharma (performance of sacred deeds) and atma dharma (self-realization). The fulfillment of these duties helps to bring about a balance in personal life, ensures the well being of the family and contributes to the welfare of the society. The fulfillment of these duties through a householder’s life is considered as the basic value to be upheld in life. The society provides us with the space to grow and develop. Therefore, we have the duty to give back to our parents and the society much more what we have taken for our growth and development.
There are many questions with regard to our life. Invariably, the basic question revolves around the purpose of life. The rishis of India have defined these values for us, which are the guidelines for a successful life, here and hereafter. These guidelines are found outlined in the concept of dharma, artha, kama and moksha of Indian spirituality. Dharma is the ethical conduct which would sustain, nourish and develop our soul both materially and spiritually. Through such righteous conduct, one has to earn wealth (artha) and fulfill the desires (kama) in life. That is the meaning of artha and kama. Sri Buddha has defined dharmic conduct as that which opens the eyes and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the highest wisdom, to full enlightenment, to nirvana or moksha. He advised an eightfold path defining dharma - they are right view, right aspiration, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right contemplation.
Now, we come to the question of moksha. Everybody has a unique mission in life or a duty towards oneself. The rishis called it as Atma-Dharma. We have a soul which is like a software programmed according to the level of our spiritual growth, aspirations, actions and thoughts. As we know, there are various stages of development or evolution in nature. Even our earth and other planets were formed and evolved through a gradual process. There is the stage of infancy, adolescence, youth and old age for the planets, stars and galaxies too. We witness similar phenomena in our own life and in nature. Evolution is the law of nature. The concept of time itself is related to evolution. The nature and all souls inhabiting in it are in the process of evolution to a higher status. Therefore, our Atma dharma is related to the evolution of our soul to the supreme status of perfection, freedom and bliss. Every soul is in the track of that evolutionary journey back to the origin -that is God. A rational understanding of this evolutionary process of soul forms the basis of Indian spirituality and value system. It is the lack of such a value system and world view that produces intolerance, extremism, violence and disharmony elsewhere in the world.
The journey of evolution is a strenuous one because the soul has to transcend different layers of spiritual dimensions to complete the journey towards the Cosmic Light. The soul is like a launch vehicle. Once it reaches the destination, it losses its identity and utility because it becomes one with the Cosmic Truth. Our duty is to prepare the soul, the launch vehicle, strong enough to withstand and surpass the gravitational pulls of various spiritual dimensions or mandalas along the way inhabited by spiritual entities of various nature and evolution whose hobby is to pull down the ascending souls. The whole conflicts and sorrows in life are related to this spiritual process. Remember, Sri Ram had to confront a Ravana, Sri Krishna a Kamsa, Sri Buddha the Mara, Jesus Christ the Satan, Prophet Mohammad the Jinnies, to cite few examples.
Our aim should be the Supreme Light alone, to which we owe our origin and sustenance. Indian spirituality speaks about the only One God. The Taitireeya Upanishad says: ‘Seek to know that from which all these beings take birth, that by which they live after being born, that towards which they proceed, and into which they merge, that is Brahman (God Almighty)’.
The concept of one God forms part of our value system, despite the distortions over the ages that have arrested the evolutionary growth of the soul to higher dimensions of spiritual realization. Inculcating right spiritual values and beliefs is the basic need for spiritual evolution. However, we can observe serious distortions in our spiritual practices that have made Hinduism the subject of ridicule despite its great spiritual depth.
The Soul Class Rooms or Spiritual Stages
Like the physical body, the soul has also the stages of infancy, adolescence, youth and old age. The infant souls are those who are not yet aware of their spiritual status. They live according to natural instincts like birds and animals. After a few incarnations, these souls begin to evolve to feel the moral and aesthetic values in life and nature. They move around the concepts of beauty, pleasure, love, etc. These adolescent souls then progress to the more mature intellectual level, with the awareness of right and wrong, analyzing life through the prism of intellect and spiritual values. When these youthful souls progress further, after getting tired of the ever unstable and changing nature of emotions and futile intellectual exercises, they reach the class room of soul contemplation, where they experience the pure blissful nature of the soul. They become the yogis aspiring for God realization. These spiritual aspirants understand that soul is the real deity inhabiting the temple called body. An individual experiences peace and stability in this state of soul realization. Only after reaching this stage of soul development, the soul becomes ready for undertaking the final leg of its journey to the supreme Light.
These stages of soul-transformation are contained in the idea of pancha kosha - the five layers of the soul in Indian spirituality, viz. the annamaya kosha (food sheath), pranamaya kosha (energy sheath), monomaya kosha (mental sheath), vijnana maya kosha (knowledge sheath) and anandamaya kosha (bliss sheath). The soul has to evolve through these soul-class rooms in order to undertake the final leg of its journey to the higher truth, i.e. moksha. This process of soul transformation requires the effort of innumerable lives. When the thirsts of the embodied soul are satisfied, there begins the quest for spiritual solace. So, the Indian spirituality is based on a comprehensive view of life trying to fulfill the various stages of an individual’s spiritual growth as exemplified in the principle of dharma, artha, kama and moksha. It is a spiritual culture based on the guidance of an enlightened spiritual master, guiding the soul to fuller evolution through various stages of soul-evolution. Here lies the relevance of the Guru tradition of India.
The culture and value system of India is derived from the wisdom tradition of rishis, which the youth should inculcate in life. Indian spirituality is not mere philosophy, but is the science of transformation of the body and soul, starting from the very micro level to the omnipotent status. This science of evolution is known as Sanatana Dharma, which is the process of Guru-Disciple learning.
However, a distortion has happened to this spiritual culture, both ideologically and in practice over the ages through misinterpretations of these eternal spiritual truths embodied in the wisdom of rishis. It has resulted in meaningless rituals, socially disruptive institutions like caste system and other sectarian ideologies. The youth of India should inculcate in their lives the values of their ancient land knowing its strength as well as pitfalls in order to be truly enlightened. The Guru-Disciple based wisdom tradition of India was a path of knowledge related to life and its fulfillment. With the advent of Vedic ritualism, this pure life-culture was lost to the common man. The spiritual mission of Navajyotisree Karunakara Guru is to reinvigorate this pure and undiluted life-science of the rishis in a way suitable to the present age.