Best History Lesson

Many of you have heard the often-quoted maxim, “Those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it.” Now, what is the yogi’s take on history? Consider your stay in a body as an event in history. The precise Sanskrit term “puranjana,” given in the advanced yoga text Srimad Bhagavatam, means “the one who enjoys within a body.” If you can track your history as the enjoyer within the body, how long is that history? Where does it start? Where does it end?

Repeated lifetimes

Although it is said that those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it, material existence is a process of repeated lifetimes. Somehow, because we are so tiny, we’ve forgotten about our birth. You don’t remember your birth, but if someone forgets your birthday you get really mad, right? Have you ever experienced that—someone dear to you forgets your birthday? We don’t remember our birth. But we want others to celebrate our birthday. In other words, what we remember or do not remember is not crucial to the way we live our life. What about our previous death? We certainly don’t remember that. But if we don’t remember our previous death, what does that mean?It means it never happened—that’s the difference. This is our bias.

Let’s consider our stay within the body from a different angle: the changes in our lifetime. Our body is always changing. Those of you who are familiar with Bhagavad Gita, the prime bhakti-yoga text, know that Krishna gives us this real-life example: a real entity—a real person within the body remains constant, while the body is always changing from infancy to youth to middle age to old age then death. But Krishna says, “Wait!” Why consider death the end? We didn’t consider birth the end, we didn’t consider infancy the end or the teenage years the end. So why arbitrarily do we have this bias to consider death to be the end?

Vision upgrade

At the very beginning of Bhagavad Gita, Krishna wants to establish the essential knowledge of how we are different from our body and mind. Without understanding that, we can’t make a clear, cohesive plan for our present or future. If we think we are something we are not, the rest of our life is going to be mistaken. We’ll be pursuing life in the wrong direction.Now, we might say, I can see someone changing from infancy to the teenage years to young adulthood to middle age, to old age and to death. I can see all that, but I don’t see anyone going from death to birth. That nails it. We do not see this transition. Therefore, it doesn’t occur. We don’t remember our birth but we see babies born all the time. Just because we don’t see something, directly or indirectly, does that mean it never happened? What if there is a way to develop higher vision so that we indeed can see the whole history of our changing from one body to another, one lifetime to another? In other words, our vision may not be educated enough. We may have to upgrade our seeing capacities in order to perceive what is most important. So much of the genuine yoga system involves purifying our consciousness. I speak at many universities and often mention the word “purification.”Even among the yoga crowd, the word can sound unattractive, like something very painful. But the bhakti-yoga texts introduce you to the bliss–the joy of purification. As we become more purified, meaning our consciousness becomes more distilled and free from pollutants, we can then experience the natural spiritual joy of the spiritual self. But right now, something blocks our system, something clogs up the works. It is the misunderstanding that we are matter, that we are the body and the mind. Now, many persons will say, “Wait a minute! I know that I’m not just biochemicals. I know that there’s something more to me. I know I’m kind of spiritual.” But we lack the profound, precise knowledge of that spiritual identity. And because we lack that, we end up just endeavoring materially. We end up basically doing what everyone else does, whether they think they are their body or not. That’s because we lack precise knowledge of the spiritual self and how to satisfy the spiritual self.

Lacking the knowledge of the spiritual science in the name of saying, “I am spiritual,” we end up just doing the material. In this way, ople become confused—confused about who they are and what they should be doing, and that confusion spreads to others. No one really knows what being“spiritual” is.Therefore Krishna begins Bhagavad Gita by making a  distinction between spiritual and material so we can then make further progress. How do we verify our nonmaterial identity? That requires a different kind of science. Just because that science is different from what we ordinarily consider science does not mean such a spiritual science doesn’t exist nor has no truth to it.

To verify the spiritual reality, the nonmaterial dimension, we have to qualify ourselves. Even to accomplish ordinary things, some qualification is often required. Many of you are attending or have studied atuniversity. The aim, ideally, is to gain a qualification that will impress an employer, who will want to employ you. But what about the qualification for understanding our history as the entity in the body who is trying to enjoy from one lifetime to another? In that sense, we’re all likekings and queens, because when we are inhabiting a body, we feel like the body is at our command. It is meant to fulfill our desires. The reality is like being a solitary swimmer in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. No matter how much of a gold medal swimmer you are, you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You’re helpless. So here we are, in these bodies. We don’t know when their history started and when their history will end. We assume that because we don’t see beyond our birth, we don’t see past death. Therefore, that’s all there is to this history. But suppose we could access a process for refining our vision, for purifying our vision, so we can see all these things?In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna wants to provide us with the eyes—the different kind of eyes to see what’s actually going on.

Real spiritual experience

It’s amazing how little we know in this so-called information age. We are drowning in information yet we do not know the most essential things. We don’t even understand our circumstances and what’s happening around us. How many of us understand what goes on in our political system or the economic system? How many really know what the militaries of the world are actually up to? We don’t even know what the small New Zealand military are up to!If we don’t even know what’s going on around us materially, how are we going to get the knowledge to understand our nonmaterial identity? Is it just a belief, a wish, or hope? “Oh, I’m nonmaterial, yeah. I am spiritual. Yeah, that sounds good.” We will never get beyond that! Or is there a process for purification and transformation, so that indeed we can verify the spiritual reality and its source? This is whatKrishna wants to give us, not theory, not a religious belief, not theology, but, laboratory experience of the spiritual self, the Supreme Spiritual Self and the relationship between them. Once we get into all that, then we can start talking about pleasure. The yogis know that any talk about material pleasure is just wishful thinking. We wish it so much that it will come into being and you know how quickly material pleasure comes and goes. But we resign ourselves to that because “Hey, I don’t see anything better, you know. You’ve got to do something. You have to enjoy in some kind of way. Do the best you can.” But are we doing the best we can? Are there higher levels of pleasure available beyond the temporary thrills of the material cosmos? We should think about that.

Is there a process we can follow that will purify our consciousness so that we can actually see what is real pleasure, beyond the stuff that has a beginning and an end? These are the issues that the bhakti-yogis deal with and they are not just struggling in the Pacific Ocean. This knowledge comes directly from the source of all pleasure. “Krishna” literally means the “source of all pleasure,” the unlimitedly attractive source of all pleasure. The yogis want to connect with that ultimate source of pleasure. In that way, our quest in life becomes successful and therefore we can actually end the history of going from one body to another. We may feel like kings and queens of our body, but how long does the reign last? We’re actually quite insecure and we’ve been going from one body to another for countless lifetimes. Is that what we are meant to be doing? The question is, how do we live a life? What kind of lifestyle will allow us to see what our real mission is? You may have wondered from time to time – what is my mission in my life? What am I all about? You try to create something for yourself—someniche for yourself. “My mission is to make others happy,” you may say. But how many persons do you know? A few? How will you do that? “I’ll make them happy, some kind of way.”These motivations are good as far as they go, but they don’t go far enough. Therefore, Krishna tries to impress upon us in Bhagavad Gitathat before we can help, before we can enliven others, love others, or care for others, we need precise knowledge of the spiritual science. Then we can actually uplift the real person, the one who has been making all that history, going from one body to another.

Breaking the cycle of birth and death

What happens to you when you stop changing bodies? If you can put a stop to what’s called the cycle of repeated birth and death, what do you do? You have an eternal spiritual form and Krishna has an eternal spiritual form. Beyond all the changing of material forms exist eternal spiritual forms. Experiencing this is the topmost realm on the yoga ladder.Spiritual forms, spiritual personality, and spiritual individuality—all in a relationship of pure love, love unhampered by any material considerations or material circumstances. We can do that with our life right now, if we understand applied spiritual technology. Your lifestyle can be one way, but through purification of consciousness, your lifestyle can be another way. This is who we are. This is real science. This is real culture.

So please consider the history that shouldn’t be repeated: our identifying with one body of matter after another, changing from one body of matter to another. As long as we make that mistake of thinking I am this body of mind and matter, we cannot be happy and we can’t make others happy. That’s always the wish, the hope, the attempt. For those of you who are serious about happiness and pleasure, we invite you to the world of bhakti-yoga.