The purpose of human birth
This is a lofty topic, on which we are only supposed to hear what 'seers' and 'sages' have said, as these great men are supposed to have 'seen' and 'known' reality which is supposed to be revealed only to, perhaps, one in one hundred million people, if not more.
We are not supposed to have our own opinions on such subjects. But we are forgetting that what the seers and sages tell us are also their opinions. If a man who is supposed to know something keeps it to himself, others would not know about it, and knowledge does not spread.
As for the knowledge obtained by seers and sages, let us realise that their knowledge did not drop into their heads in a ready-to-use form from above, like manna from heaven, for retail distribution to the ignorant masses around. With the greatest respect to these persons, we should understand that they were also just thinkers. Even the highest concept of Advaita was, according to Swami Vivekananda, the product of some thinkers. No concept is a flash injected into somebody's brain by Divinity sitting above the clouds. Some great nuggets of truth were conceived by these thinkers, and also a good deal of trash. As hills look green from far away, so too old practices and sayings become sanctified and sacred over time.
But respect alone cannot be a factor in valuing an opinion, but also its truth content.
If some speculation is flaunted as a gospel truth in ancient books, by expressing it in lofty words or in poetry, we need not necessarily adore it. Where the poetry rocks, often the meaning mocks.
As someone said,
Great ideas are said by small words,
Like life, love, good and kind
When you dont know what you mean
Use big words
They fool small men.
Like the ancient men, we too have a right to our thoughts. If not, our thinking capacity will vanish by and by. The capacity to think is gifted by evolution to man out of all creatures, and not to use it is unwise. Human brain thinks constantly even during a man's sleep. To strive to reach a 'thoughtless' state, whatever it may mean, is nothing but to throw away a valued tool.
We have a right to our opinions. Thinkers of yore expressed their opinions. The lesson is that we should also express our opinions freely. We better not avoid dealing with them as if they were some untouchables. Ninetynine percent of the listeners may not agree with what we say, but there is a chance that one person may like it and may even improve upon it.
Coming to the notion that one reaps what one sows, ie Karma theory, we notice all around that this really is not the case in the actual world. Karma theory is a beautiful theory, but unfortunately does not work fully in practice.
This world is a multi-cause, multi-effect world. The actions of human beings, other beings and things have their results affecting human beings, other beings and things. No strict apportioning of causes or effects exclusively among human beings alone, which is the basic thesis of the Karma theory, is
Men are punished for sins not committed by them, and enjoy benefits not earned by them. So, a concomitant theory has also been developed, that if a man is suffering for no apparent reason, it is because of sins committed in a previous birth (praarabda), and that his enjoyment now for no good done by him is the result of some worthy deeds done by him in his previous birth. Similarly if a man goes on a spree of misdeeds but is not punished, others are told that he will be punished in the next birth. If a good man does not enjoy the benefit of his goodness, he is assured that this will be taken care of in his next birth, as some strict account is being maintained somewhere. So the concept of Poorvajanma and Punarjanma is developed just in the interests of good book-keeping and accounts, even though there is not an iota of evidence that a rebirth actually takes place. Even if it takes places, there is no proof that a given man is the successor of another identifiable dead man. We are told in solemn words that death is like casting off one's shirt, and rebirth - which is assured - is like wearing another shirt. What we see in front of our eyes is that everything born must die. What we do not see is that everything dead is born again: but here we have only a guarantee
from the highest authority. We are just asked to accept the guarantee without questioning.
So far, not even one in a billion has seen a dead man being born again. Some Babas and Swamijis, who also cannot escape death, have assured us during their life that they will be born again. But after their death, their whereabouts are not known even to their most ardent disciples.They just vanished and are never heard from again.
Dead men, after dropping their bodies (or after being deprived of their bodies by Mother Nature), are supposed to carry some 'Vasanas' in a fine form. The vasanas are ready to enter into the body of some suitable baby about to be born somewhere in this wide world. The baby is supposed to work off the acquired vasanas. And with his death later, the story repeats, or so the story goes.
To assure this continuity, each man is supposed to have a soul or self, which 'never dies, never gets wet, never catches fire' and so on and so forth.
However plausible it may appear that a newborn brings forward the vasanas of some previous birth, all that happens, according to me, is only a genetic inheritance from the father and mother. By going backwards, also the genetic legacy from all the forefathers. I am of the opinion that the characteristics of all the forebears of the baby are somehow coded into the genes of the baby in a suitable combination. The baby's nature is determined by its 'DNAture'.
Science is yet to establish how children born to the same parents may have different characteristics. Nature seems to pick up different combinations of features depending on so many factors. But the easy way for philosophers, who are not scientists, seems to be to theorise that a baby's nature is determined by its brought-forward 'vasanas'. This matter has been dealt with incisively in the chapter titled 'Infirmities in Karma Theory' in the book 'Religion Demystified', written by Dr Vemuri Ramesam.
It is not that the characteristics of a man acquired at birth remain constant throughout his life. If that were so, there would be no evolution. The ways in which he is influenced during later life are by experience, observation and instruction. That is, by going through all kinds of sensory experiences, by his observing everything around him and absorbing the contents, and by hearing what others say.
And he can do this from Conception to Death only. He constantly acts on, and is acted upon by, HOT (Human beings, Other beings and Things).
In the chapter titled "What you think, that you will be", in his book mentioned above, Dr Ramesam tells us that Dr Kandel, Nobel Laureate, says that environmental stimuli turn the genes on and off. So the genes of a man are affected by the way he interacts with HOT from his conception to death, and is in a position to pass on the modified genes to his own offspring. There is no way he can interact before his own conception or after his death. In other words, his death is the final end of the man, and the only way of passing on his characteristics is through his children, and the only way of his influencing others during his life and after hiis own demise is by way of what he leaves as a legacy ie his books, sayings and other recordings. There is no way a dead man can influence others in any direct manner ie through spirit or the like.
In the light of these observations, what can be the purpose of human life? Let us keep in mind the constraints that a man's life is a limited, once-and-for-all occurrence, and is available for any kind of direct interaction only during the short span between his birth and death.
To quote Dr Ramesam again (p 124), to achieve "A Happy Individual and a Harmonious Society" can be the purpose.
An individual can turn into a happy individual by conquering the "Arishadvarga" as wisely propounded by our ancients. That is, by doing his best to fight and vanquish Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada, Matsarya in himself. These are the real foes of a man, of every man, and he can make himself happy by getting rid of these undesirable and negative qualities, and not wasting life by striving for some imaginary Moksha.
Just take the detrimental quality of 'envy'. Bertrand Russell, the famous philosopher and Nobel Laureate, has this to say about 'envy': " The ordinary beggar in the street envies the more successful beggar, the more successful beggar envied the King of England, the King of England envied Napoleon, Napoleon envied the Czar of Russia, the Czar envied Alexander the Great, Alexander the Great envied Hercules who never existed!"
The other qualities in the Arishadvarga equally stand in the way of happiness of the individual. If even one of these destructive qualities can be eliminated in life, an individual can call himself successful. But this is the task of a lifetime!
How can an individual contribute to a harmonious society? By eliminating, each person from his side, the evils of dishonesty, intolerance, violence and exploitation. (Let us leave the task of eliminating illiteracy, poverty, disease, pestilence, etc to governments).
And how can he eliminate these interpersonal and social evils? By realising that the Life Force which is working in him is the one and the same Life Force which is also working in everyone else and making him tick, that his own life and that of everyone else are a non-recurring, non-repeatable one-time events in the history of the universe, that life is a beautiful experience bestowed on everybody by Nature in the course of evolution, and that his identification with all humanity of which he is but a part, and with animal and plant life also where possible, is the real purpose of human birth. This is Turiya.
Seeking Nirvana for oneself is a selfish act, apart from being an impossible act. Trying to escape from another birth - which in any case does not exist - is a purposeless activity. Persons who crave for Moksha for themselves, under the misguided faith that they are uniting with God, bear no concern for others. They do not understand true Advaita.(In fact, along with Shri VV Raman, I have not really been able to understand what Moksha means).
Comparing various ancient writings, giving different interpretations, and commentaries on commentaries, is a kind of "text-torturing". It is an intellectual pastime, not a spiritual effort.
To repeat, the purpose of human life is self-advancement and societal betterment, and leaving a legacy with the help of which future generations can achieve their own self-advancement and societal betterment.
- Dr K Srinivasa Rao, from Fremont, California.