Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Atman/Soul Realization

What is Atman:
The notion of Atman and its experience is not new, it is as old as human evolution. Especially coming from the land of grand old Vedic tradition which is thousands of years old, every sacred text (let it be Vedas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavad-Gita, Upanishads, Puranas) that have come from the giant Vedic tree is filled with one and only one thing, Atman Realization. 
Ancient Indian wisdom as well as other wisdom traditions have all acknowledged the existence of a third dimension other than the body and mind, Soul/Spirit/Atman. From Krishna to Jesus, everyone proclaimed that the ultimate essence of our existence is to realize Atman and eventually attain Moksha (Liberation from the entanglements of Mind, its vices and desires).
The great Yogic tradition is an outcome of these austere practices of tuning the mind and body to lead a balanced and fulfilled life while keeping an eye on the final goal of Moksha/Liberation.

Infact our true nature is Atman. And what we experience in the day to day rat race of life is Mind and Body.
Yes, the Physical body exists as we see and the thoughts come and go. But behind the scenes is the Atman.
To understand it, we can take the analogy of Movie and the Screen.
The blank screen without anything on it is ‘Atman’. The moment the film is projected on it, the white screen is filled with images, actions, emotions and so on.These changing images and emotions are the mind. 
The Screen was there, is there and will be there forever. The images and emotions change all the time.
Atman is permanent and is the underlying force for this body and mind to work.
The problem is that we identify with the images and emotions and not the screen. This false identification is the root cause of all our suffering in the world. Because we see the body, perceive the thoughts and experience sensations very easily, we think that we are the Mind and Body. But in reality our true nature is Atman. Unfortunately we have not been educated or given pointers to see in a different direction to realize the Atman.

The search of man from the ancient times has been to find the root cause of this existence/life and everything around. Humanity has spent enormous amount of time in this quest. They have searched outside and they could not find it. But when ancient sages and saints started to go within, they were slowly able to silence the mind and go beyond the desires and sensations of the bod. They were able to experience Atman, the Pure Bliss. 
If you look at the ancient texts starting from Vedic times, there has been so much of emphasis on the realization of Atman. All of the authentic scriptures discuss about how to experience and realize the Atman.

Where and How to find Atman:
But the problem is, where to find Atman and How to know that you found it?
Yes, it is not easy to experience the Atman, because from the time of the birth we have piled up images and experiences of mind and body.
These experiences have completely conditioned us to experience what the 5 senses perceive. No one has ever taught us about Atman.
It used to be taught in the ancient times. Life was infact built around Atman realisation.
Ancient wisdom has provided us a blueprint to lead a fulfilled life with 4 fundamental principles of life (Purusharthas):
Dharma (Righteous duty), Artha (earning enough wealth), Kama (fulfilling desires in limit), Moksha (ultimately attaining liberation from senses and vices to realize Atman).

But over a period of time the changing times have robbed away the Sanaanthana Dharma - the ancient way of leading a balanced and harmonious life from the Indian subcontinent.
The ancient system of education and transmission of knowledge was from Guru to Sishya (disciple) with the goal of Atman Realization. All other skills were built around the core aspect of Atman Realization.
But now we have adopted modern, scientific, rational educational methods of exploration of what is outside and that which is only perceived by senses.
Unfortunately Atman cannot be read in books, or memorized for an exam or it cannot be learnt using a few techniques and acquiring skill set.
It is an inner journey of self discovery guided by Living Masters who have realized the Atman themselves.

Infact even Lord Rama and Lord Krishna have gone through this journey with their Gurus who have helped them realize the Atman.
Sri Rama the person considered as a perfect Human being who walked on this Earth, who is an epitome of Dharma, Truth, Honesty and Purity was confused in his early stages of life. He was unhappy looking at the suffering of humanity and changes that happen in the world. He was sad and depressed. 
At that time, his father King Dhasaratha calls Sage Viswaamitra to pacify Rama.
Viswaamitra inturn realised the deeper problem of Rama and suggests that Sage Vasishta is the right person who can answer all the questions that are bothering Rama.
The outcome of the dialogue and realization between Guru Vasishta and Sri Rama is the most magnificent text of ancient times “Yoga Vasishta”.
So even the Supreme human being like Lord Rama for whom we have built temples and perform pujas and prayers, was no exception.
It is only through a Pure Divine Living Master, one can realize the Atman.
If we look at the most recent modern history you will find innumerable examples of this. Swami Vivekananda was purified, elevated and helped to realize the Atman by his Guru Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Similarly the author of “An Autobiography of Yogi”, Pramahansa Yogananda was given the experience of Atman by his Guru Lahiri Mahasaya and so on. 

We are Atman, but covered by the vices of mind and excess desires of the body. To reveal the Atman, one needs a Pure Master, unless one is born as a Self Realized master. Even then there is a certain level of guidance that is needed at some point to help one realise the true nature.

Role of a Master in Atman realization:
Now let’s jump into the role of Guru/Master in Atman realization. So what does a Guru or Master does in this business of Atman Realization.
As mentioned earlier we are conditioned beings filled with so many habits, thoughts and actions for a long time (possibly from previous births too).
So we have forgotten our true nature and are stuck in the vicious circle of senses, mind and body.
From the time of birth we are running this cinema of life in our mind, projecting images from past, creating new images and experiences, storing them, dwelling in them and riding the rollercoaster of emotions of happiness & sadness, pain & joy, attraction and repulsion, hatred and like, running between these polarities every moment.
A moment we like that person and the next moment we hate, a moment we like chocolate and another moment we don’t, a moment we want something and another moment we reject.
This is the drama of life we create, direct and be part of on a day to day basis, never even taking time to understand who we really are, what is the purpose of this drama and why are we really here in this world.
Hardly there are any moments of true silence in life. Even in sleep, the dreams don’t let us alone in peace, for dreams are unfulfilled desires and subconscious clutters.

Now someone talks suddenly out of the blue about Atman. What do we make of it? Nothing.
And someone advises us to do  Yoga and Pranayama because it is good for health, we try a few things, few times and again the drama of life sucks us back in, the chase for money, comfort, wife, children, jobs, name and fame begins.
So little bit of Yoga and Pranayama also vanished into the thin air.
Sometimes a few prayers here and there, visit to few pilgrimages, Babas and Swamijis for temporary relief. Once the problem is resolved, again run in the rat race of life. 
To summarize it all, Adi Shankaracharya says in the famous “Bhaja Govindam”

“Punarapi jananam, punarapi maranam
Punarapi janani jaTarae shayanam
Iha samsaarae bahudhusthaarae
Krupayaaparae paahi murarae”

“Again Birth, Again death and again lying in the mother’s womb, this samsaara process has no end. Save me, Murarae (Oh! Destroyer of Mura) through your Infinite Kindness”

I was no exception to this, until 9 years back when I met Master Sunita. I went for 4 sessions to her, and then quit, thinking that I can practice pranayama, yoga asanas/postures and meditation on my own.
But this time there was an experience that deeply got seeded and seated into my consciousness.
Even though I was practising them at home, I was unable to get that experience of deep, infinite bliss and relaxed and rejuvenated state that I was experiencing in her presence.
Then I realized that there is something going on her presence. Greatness of a Master like Sunita is that she does not say that she is a  great Guru, nor talks about Atman, nor explains anything. We just go do what she teaches and lie down for meditation and leave. That’s it. But we carry the experience of pure bliss with us. 

This time instead of getting drawn back into mundane life, I took a step back and went to Sunita again. I was curious & skeptical. I continued few more sessions in her presence. Some of the physical problems of stomach that I had disappeared, which is a small benefit of practising Yoga and Meditation under a such pure ancient master. I started to see lot of emotional changes in me. I was taking slow deep breaths and feel inner peace during my day to day activities no matter what kind of situation I am in. There is a sense of this bubble of pure bliss surrounding me all the time.
Within a few weeks I realized that there is something that I am experiencing that I have never had in my life. 

As many of us say, 'I only knew my thoughts and body'. But now there is this third dimension I was able to clearly experience. It’s almost like layers of onion being separated. I could witness, Body and Mind from a third person perspective. This third dimension is calm, serene, immovable, infinite, with no worries, no anxieties, no botheration at all. I could see this Pure Self of mine separated from the Mind & its conditioned vices and attitudes. I could easily separate those two.There was a feeling of transcendence beyond and above the physical and mental.

I could sit and observe that state for hours. I could reach states called ‘Samadhi’ an experience of transcendence in meditations under Master’s guidance. Initially it was a bit of a struggle to see the vices and attitudes come to the surface.
It was a war between the Dark and light, Vices and Virtues, Angles and Demons within. The greatness of a realized master is that during this struggle, with their pure vibrations, unconditional love and empathy, they navigate us in the direction of virtues and slowly wean us away from the vices. They go through the suffering that we go through because of their pure divine empathy.  But in that suffering they liberate us from the past and show us our true pure real self which is Atman.
It is like a surgery using laser like vibrations of the pure master to dissect into many layers of baggage that we carry, who knows for how many births. They cut through each layer and finally revealing the heart, the seat of Pure Self i.e. Atman.

Pure vibrations of ancient masters like Sunita bring a gush of energy into us, they implant the seeds of Bhakthi/Devotion in us, Our thoughts are purified and elevated. We slowly start to become those vibrations of Purity. Master's pure vibrations help us embrace all the 4 paths of liberation - Karma Yoga (performing duties with detachment to the outcomes), Jnana Yoga (Knowledge of Absolute Truth and contemplation on this highest knowledge), Bhakthi Yoga (deep sense of devotion and surrender to a higher power) and Raja Yoga (Ability to practice Yogas asanas, Meditation & Pranayama to purify the mind and realise the Atman). One becomes an embodiment of all these 4 paths at once. One need not make any effort from their side. We start to embrace them all naturally without any force or struggle. Such is the power of ancient pure masters like Sunita.

We start to see that we are always happy no matter what happens in our lives, Good Bad, Ugly do not bother us. We start to witness everything as events unfold in our lives and around. We are in eternal bliss and joy and. We start to realise an amazing Will Power to achieve anything we want. We feel that the entire universe is ours and that we are the universe (Ahum Bramhasmi state- I am the Pure Universal Consciousness). A Pure master also ensures that the Ego does not flare up and engulf the slowly sprouting Atman. Master slowly elevates us to highest states of consciousness with different tests to check the vices and pull us out from deep slumber.
As we purge out the conditioned self of past baggage and all the vices, we attain a new Avatar of Self Purified Person which is Atman.
We become more compassionate to everyone, more receptive to others pain. We become very good listeners and use wisdom to resolve any issues that come up in our lives.
We accept everything as it is and do not worry about changing anything outside, but use the newly found inner power to refine the self and Be the Change.

So it is the pure vibrations of a Master that help us experience the subtle Atman that we are. As we move away from false identification with Mind and Body, we start to identify with Atman, the Pure Self all the time.

Even though there are innumerable texts that describe Atman and explain many aspects of the experience, it is impossible to realize that by reading books and rational analysis.
For example, "Yoga Sutras of Sage Patanjali" is a great step by step manual of attaining Atman realization and Samadhi.
But reading it and trying to practice it on our own is like reading a surgery book directly and wanting to practice surgery without going through all the basics of anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and the guidance of an expert surgeon.
And even after going through training in Surgery, one can see a little bit of what you are cutting through the body. There is a visual element helping the process.
But the journey through Mind is the most difficult as one cannot see the Mind. To be able to identify the subtle changes in the inner journey is like searching for a needle in hay stack in darkness.
So imagine the kind of training and Master needed in accomplishing this daunting task.

Infact intellectualization of the knowledge of Atman works against the journey. It creates pseudo-intellectuals and ego filled minds of theoretical knowledge.
Only a Pure Master who has embarked and successfully gone through the journey can help a student go through this very treacherous journey filled with inner demons & vices in darkest corners of mind.
Infact once we make some progress in the journey, reading these ancients texts helps a lot as we can start to relate our experiences with the ones who have gone through the similar phases.

How does Atman feel like?
It is indeed very difficult to describe Atman. It is the observer and in-dweller of all beings. Its nature cannot be communicated in any language because it is beyond the mind and senses. Even as I am typing this, I am recollecting the experience of Atman using my Buddhi (Discretionary Intelligence). But because of continued experience of Atman, it renders through words and actions to some extent, but not fully.

The state of Atman realization is absolute, no relative states of Yes or No, True or False. It Is. That's it.
Mind is still, no thoughts, but only Pure Awareness exists. As mentioned the person is in eternal joy with no worries of past, anxieties of future, just being and working through this present moment always. In this state, a person is always smiling and in a state of surrender, humble and selfless.
This state of Pure awareness which is a witnessing state is Atman.

It is not that easy to be this state, as the mind wants to run here and there. But with practice and with guidance of Master, the mind starts to stay in that stillness.
So, a still mind without wavering states, devoid of 6 vices (shadgunas) is Atman. This state is also called 'Ananda', It is not Happiness, and it is not Sadness, It's right in the middle. It is a state of Bliss. It draws you deep into it.
As one starts to taste the sweetness of it, it is very difficult to come back into the mundane world of action.
That is the reason many of realized souls stay back in tapas/deep meditations for life times. But sometimes a fully realised sage will continue to live in the world always embedded in Atman realization for the purpose of elevating others to realize their true nature, Atman.

Why does one need to realize Atman?
Without realising Atman, we struggle through life with the vices and limitless desires. We become victims to the vices of mind.
We ride the wave of ego and roller coaster ride of emotions and get stuck in the suffering. We seek temporary joys of money, power, kith and kin, name and fame. We get excited when we gain these, and depressed when we lose them. We seek the impermanent, birth after birth and go through this cycle. This leads to immense stress, chaos, confusion and trauma in our life at all level levels.

Mind and Senses have limited intelligence. But Atman is all powerful creative force that is behind the scenes. Atman is the Pure Self that came down into the world through self projection and participates itself in the self-induced illusion of senses. Once bound by senses and their limited knowledge, we forget the truth. We get involved and buried in the day to day actions of sustaining life and forget our true nature and where we originally came from.
We keep looking at the external world through these senses and never take time to look back within to find our real source. Going back to the real source is like going back to the Mother for support and solace. Our real mother is Atman. Infact the experience of Atman can also be compared to the bliss & contentment an infant experiences after drinking the mother's milk. The bliss in the experience of our Pure Self is very similar to this. Only Atman can ultimately provide the true solace to the wounds of life.

It is more and more essential that we all experience and realize Atman, with the chaos and disease that we see in the modern world. 
There are many health benefits from realising the Atman. Most of the life style diseases and autoimmune diseases we see in the modern world are all psychosomatic problems. The root cause is in the Mind. Hypertension, Diabetes, Obesity, Arthritis, Crohn’s, Anxiety, Depression and many more are outcomes of a person stuck in the vicious cycle of stress and emotional baggage of anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, pride, excess desire and so on. There is tremendous amount of modern scientific research documenting the importance of Meditation in healing all these diseases.

Experience of Atman on a day to day basis helps us rejuvenate our physical system, it eliminates stress from the mind as we start to see that changing emotions and thoughts are just like passing clouds masking the bright, shining, eternal Atman. We shift from reactive lifestyle to responsive life. 

We see the seamless benefits in all aspects of our life from the relationship with parents, siblings, life partner, children, colleagues and superiors.

In the modern hectic life it may not be easy to maintain this state in day to day duties because of the pressures from various sides, but with practice, discipline and guidance of Master one can easily navigate the world of samsara with least burden and sail towards Moksha/liberation from the clutches of senses and vices of mind. The practices towards Atman realization builds Self confidence, Self respect, Self Control and Self Love which are very important to lead a flawless life filled with endless inner Peace and Ananda.

Spending enormous amounts of time in Meditation, and experiencing the pure bliss of Atman, helps us carry that bliss with us wherever we go.
Being aware of this state, no matter what the situations are, builds a state of Equanimity (Sthithapragnatha) in us. This state of consciousness helps us handle the challenges of life with grace and ease.

Atman is the Microcosm behind the Macrocosm. No wonder Master Sunita calls her ancient innovative path of Self Realization “Sookshma Yoga” i.e. Microcosmic Yoga.

The fundamental question that we need to ask ourselves at some point in life is “Who am I”. This question is the foundation of teachings of the greatest saint who lived in the modern times, Bhagawan Ramana Maharshi. Seeking the answer for this question will trigger the journey of Self Realization. Many times suffering in life helps one search for the truth. As Ramana Maharishi says ‘Suffering is essential for us to remind us to go back to the source, Atman/Self’.

A person who is Atman realized becomes inspiration for generations to come. A single lamp is enough to light infinite lamps to spread the light and remove the darkness of ignorance. The greatest service we can ever do to humanity is to Realise the Atman. When I came to Master Sunita in 2006 I was doing quite a bit of philanthropic work.  At that time Master suggested that it would be of more use to humanity if I realise my real nature, because the potential that one would reach with Atman realization has the capacity to do selfless and endless service to humanity beyond the vices and limitations of Mind. We have many examples of such people in our history.

Atman realization is the journey of Self Purification, Self Reflection, Self Awareness, Self Discipline and Self Realization. It is a non-stop journey of life time till the last breath, not a state that one achieves and forgets about it.  It is not a trophy that is attained or an honor that is bestowed upon, but a journey of moment to moment self introspection and merging back to our real source.