Medical and legal definitions of life and death vary. These definitions are important for purposes like maintaining life in pregnancy or for organ transplants. But philosophical distinctions matter for understanding and peace of mind.
According to Hindu belief, death occurs when the spirit leaves the body.
Chapter 13 of The Gita explains that the body and the mind are one. The body consists of five subtle elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. It also consists of the mind and of the five senses of hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling. Consequently our emotions are also connected to our bodies.
In contrast, the soul is part of the unfathomable, eternal and boundless spirit we call God.
Karma is the concept that activity bears fruit. In Sanskrit, karma means activity. This idea is not too difficult to embrace. On the other hand, it is a challenge to grasp the vast interactions between the karma of an individual or a group and karma’s consequences which can be global or beyond global in magnitude. I believe that a person, a movement, a nation, our planet and perhaps the universe all have their karma.
There is no doubt that our karma is intertwined with billions of other karmas. Yet to understand how this reality works is truly mind boggling. The best image I can make in my mind is of karma as a multidimensional fluid network that dances while it intertwines and unleashes itself.
My father was a seeker of answers to spiritual mysteries. He was religiously eclectic and particularly believed in Zen Buddhist philosophy and in the Quaker worldview. He was a passionate admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. However he could not quite wrap his arms around Hinduism. It was too much; it offered too many options and alternatives. The answers he found in the translations of the Gita he read confused him.
I wish my father could have seen that Hinduism is as integrated as it is adaptable to personal interpretation, views, to changing society and to spirituality; it is inclusive yet not intrusive.
One of my life’s missions has been to reveal Hinduism to the world in all its simplicity and richness. My works, The Gita, A New Translation of Hindu Sacred Scripture and On Hinduism make it clear that that Hinduism is straightforward if you accept yourself as interpreter.
Like believers, skeptics come in many stripes and all those who genuinely seek to understand that which is beyond the capacity of our minds to grasp engage in a noble endeavor. The author of the Introduction to On Hinduism, Ravi is a skeptic. He is logical, but his premises differ from mine. Here is an excerpt from his writing:
“I have faith, that I do not inhabit my body, but I am because of my body. The establishment of a blueprint of life by science will exile the soul and the assumption of the existence of the soul will prove itself to be invalid. Thereafter, the soul will solely serve as a potent synonym for human identity.”
Ravi does not explain what the soul is. But whatever he thinks it is, he claims it cannot exist without the body. Thus, he could be right but only if he can define the soul that does not exist independently of the body.
There are many words implicit in the notion of freedom. The term means liberty or self-determination. It means freedom of conscience, independence from others, the chance to choose.
But circumstances, destiny, opportunity and our own choices restrict freedom. Actually none of us is completely free. We certainly wouldn’t like it if those around us were entirely free. We would be baffled if we were completely free, with no boundaries, no safety nets and no standards or values by which to abide.
At the same time we cannot live or pursue happiness if our freedom is arbitrarily restricted by others for purposes of their own.
Ganesh, fondly known as Ganpati, is one of the most popular figures in Hinduism’s pantheon representing God’s manifestations as well as divinities, heroes and demons. The characters symbolize qualities we admire, or fear or love while the personifications arise from a collective consciousness brought to life. There are several versions of stories about how Ganpati, the elephant god, got his head. One of the favorites is this:
One day Ganpati was guarding the bathroom while his mother was taking a bath. His father, Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, came home after a long trip. Ganpati didn’t recognize him and wouldn’t let him in the bathroom. Lord Shiva got so angry at being kept out that he cut off Ganpati’s head.
When Parvati, his mother, saw what happened, she cried and cried. But her husband said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get him a new head,” and Lord Shiva ended up giving His son an elephant head.
Ganesh’s Mother was still very sad and upset. She said that no one would like her son with an elephant head. But Lord Shiva fixed it so everyone would love and worship him. He made sure that all Hindus pray to Ganpati before they pray to God and before they embark upon any important endeavor.
A computer decides whether we are human by or not on the basis of whether or not we can copy weirdly drawn letters and numbers.
Beyond that, those who know inform us that Homo sapiens -meaning knowing men or wise men- are the only surviving species of humans. Of course the species includes women, although no one has felt the need to mention them and we woman have permitted ourselves to be subsumed in the term man.
Neanderthals were also man but, not presumed wise, perhaps because they did not survive. However they are believed by some to have had instinctive knowledge in the sense of knowledge that they were born with rather than knowledge they learned about things like flora and fauna. Fans of Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series think this is true.
Authorities have explained that we human beings are distinguished from other forms of life by our ability to communicate with words, to manipulate symbolism, to become educated and/or to appreciate what was or is or will be beyond our immediate perception.
In my view, a better explanation of a human being is someone characterized by term humanity. I think people who are filled with and exercise kindness, compassion and empathy are human.
Are we our brothers’ keepers? People have always been searching for answers to this question. To what extent do we have to help others? When, under what circumstances and to what extent should we or must we share our resources with those who need them. And how should we give help, as human beings or as taxpayers of a nation?
To many of us the answers are obvious, even if complex. Unfortunately we often disagree on the answers that we consider so obvious. But then again, if we live in a democracy, we will eventually get it right if we remember that we are accountable to our conscience and that our government is accountable to us.
Yoga is an ancient discipline. It is far more than mind and body exercise. It is a way to perfect yourself. Yoga teaches us to achieve release from all unhappiness and thereby to obtain ultimate joy. The beauty of Yoga is that its practice helps us become calmer, happier and more balanced.
Yogis are persons who progress on one of the three main pathways to liberation. Hinduism calls them Bhakti Yoga, the path of actively loving worship, Jnana Yoga, the path of learning and Karma Yoga, the path of good action.
The following yoga poses should be done in a warm room, and it helps to have a place where you know you won’t be interrupted. Focus on your breathing throughout each pose. It often helps to visualize breathing in the blue sky and breathing out the gray, helping rid your body of stress.
Points to remember:
- Move slowly in and out of the yoga poses
- Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
- Never strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.
This simple breathing exercise brings your attention to the present moment, as well as calms your mind.
- Sit down in a comfortable position on the floor, in a chair, or on a bed, placing one hand on your belly and one hand on your rib cage.
- Close your eyes as you take deep breaths and focus on the movements of your body as you breath in and out. Feel the lift of your belly and the expansion of your ribs on your inhalations. Notice the slight compression of your ribs and the drop of your belly as you exhale.
- Release your arms and focus your mind on your breath for 5-10 minutes, inhaling and exhaling fully.
Corpse Pose, also called, Savasana, is one of the most relaxing poses in yoga.
- Lie flat on your back with your feet hip-width apart and your arms slightly away from your sides, so air can circulate around your body.
- Roll your shoulders down and back as you lengthen your neck.
- Take a mental note of areas in your body that are holding tension as you take deep breaths and focus on relaxing your muscles.
Child’s pose is a kneeling pose that is done in many different types of classes to cool down and relax.
- Kneel on your mat with the tops of your feet flat on the floor.
- Sit back on your heels, and slowly lean forward resting your chest on your legs and your forehead on the floor.
- You can place your arms on the floor by your sides so your palms are facing up., or extend the arms overhead for an added upper back stretch. If Child’s Pose is difficult for you, place a pillow on your thighs to support your upper body.
Standing Forward Bend
The standing forward bend uses the force of gravity to gently stretch your back, legs and shoulders.
- Stand with your feet together and your hands by your sides.
- Bend your knees slightly and distribute your weight evenly between your feet.
- Pull your abdominal muscles in as you bend forward at your hips and waist. Allow gravity to pull your upper body and arms toward the floor.
- Taking deep breaths, hold this position for 30 seconds to two minutes.
- Return to standing by bending your knees, and placing your hands above your knees to support your lower back as you stand up.
The soul is defined and denied in many ways. It is defined as spirit. It is explained as the immaterial essence of a being or as the core or character of a thing. It is denied as non existent because it cannot be measured or seen or because it only survives as long as the body it inhabits survives.
Believers think the soul is eternal. Some believe it is reincarnated time and time again until it becomes part of an absolute called God. Others think a soul can inhabit an atom. Many believe the soul can be saved or damned. Skeptics think it is an erroneous concept held by mankind.
Perhaps the soul is more than all it is alleged to be. Perhaps it is less. If it more, than it can arise in anything that exists, living or not. If it is less, than perhaps it is the greatness of nothing.