According to the World Health Organization, one person dies every 40 seconds by committing suicide. For each such suicide, there are at least 20 more suicide attempts. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 years olds. Anxiety, depression, and other mental conditions that are a primary contributor to the global burden of diseases, often lead to suicide. According to WHO, more than 264 million people across the world are suffering from depression. And the number continues to grow every year. It is high time we take a close look at these pressing problems and find out a robust and effective solution. We believe that spirituality can play a pivotal role in this regard and come to the rescue of humanity.
Root cause of Anxiety and Depression – Mistaken identity of the Self
The ancient texts of Bhagavad Gita (verse 7.5) teach us that human beings, and in fact all living entities are not products of dead matter. In reality, they are constituted of a divine energy that is far superior to dull matter. The living entities are essentially spirit souls that are unborn, eternal, and ever-existing. The soul is unchangeable and indestructible. The gross body and the subtle mind are simply the coverings of the soul. Just as the material body of a living being grows from boyhood to youth to old age, similarly the soul passes onto another body at the time of death (verse 2.13). So despite the fact that our body changes continuously, or evolves with time, the soul however remains the same eternally.
Man, constitutionally being a spirit soul, only finds himself in his natural element, when he focuses upon his spiritual objectives. However, if he deviates from his spiritual consciousness, he struggles to correlate with life. Forgetful of his actual spiritual identity, such a person becomes overwhelmed with the world of dead matter. His natural spiritual tendencies then get superseded by the desire to indulge in material sense gratification. Accumulating material riches or enjoying his senses grow into the primary objectives of his life.
It must be understood at this point, that material things, no matter how promising, can never satisfy or provide lasting bliss to Man, who is essentially a spirit soul. Spirit and Matter are incompatible and conflicting by nature. Hence a person, suffering from a material conception of life, encircles himself with objects and objectives that can never present him with what he is truly seeking for.
Falsely identifying himself with his body and mind, such a deceived person develops an intricate web of what he labels as ‘I’ and ‘Mine’. The world of matter is impermanent and ever-changing. Man’s illusory attachments to this world of matter make him suffer a myriad of mundane happiness and distresses. Material possessions frustrate him while lack of it, makes him greedy and crave for more. The flickering sensual pleasures obtained from coming in touch with matter or material objects can never satisfy Man who is essentially seeking eternal spiritual bliss. This can only be attained, however, when Man comes to acknowledge his eternal spiritual reality and acts on that understanding to realize his spiritual goals. Therefore, we believe that the root cause of all anxieties, depressions, etc rests firmly upon this mistaken identity of the self.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny as compared to what lies within us”
The Bhagavad Gita teaches that the impermanent happiness and distress that characterizes this material world are just like the various seasons that arrive and depart. They are an outcome of our sensory perceptions. And these sensations should be endured by an individual (matra sparsas tu kaunteya sitoshna-sukha dukha dah, agamapayino nityas tams titiksasva bharata). We should know that just like every other thing in this world, even our sorrows are not permanent in nature. Both happiness and our distress are transitory phases of life that shall eventually pass.
But more importantly, we should recognize that the genuine cause of our sufferings is due to our false comprehension of the self. Most of us view ourselves to be nothing more than a lump of flesh and blood. If we are of material origin, then material aspirations naturally become the sole purpose of our lives. Thinking thus, we madly pursue material objectives. As a consequence, our senses seek to enjoy the impermanent material objects of this world that can only provide us with momentary flickering pleasures at best. These flickering sensual pleasures degrade our consciousness and drag us further away from our actual spiritual reality. As spirit and matter are fundamentally opposed to each other, we can either be situated in spiritual consciousness or else in material consciousness. Our illusory perceptions of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ make us enjoy and suffer as per the changing material conditions, depending on how our senses are affected by them. So though we are eternal unchangeable spiritual beings and far superior to dull matter, yet the world of the impermanent can adversely affect us, if we choose to live in this illusion.
The True Nature of the Self :
A spirit soul is always in love. Constitutionally, it is meant to love and be loved. This loving propensity of the soul is completely satisfied when it is directed towards God, the Supreme Spirit. Katha Upanishad states that the Supreme Lord is the Supreme eternal amongst all the other eternal beings. He is the fundamental conscious being among all the other conscious beings (Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam). A spirit soul is a part and parcel of the Supreme Lord and is bound to Him by love.
However, when a living entity or a spirit soul, grows forgetful of this eternal loving relationship with the supreme, he gets overwhelmed with this temporary world of matter. As the soul always seeks love, therefore when it loses touch with the divine, it turns attached to inferior material objects. However, a loving relationship with the Supreme Lord that bestows ecstatic spiritual bliss can never be substituted by love for dull matter, which only renders flickering sensual pleasures. As self-satisfaction grows far-fetched, one begins indulging in more and more sense gratification. Greater the extent of one’s material entanglement, further is one’s alienation from his eternal spiritual reality. Absence of divine love frustrates the soul that only hankers for eternal spiritual bliss.
Just like the Supreme Lord, a living entity is also eternal (sat), cognizant (cid), and full of bliss (ananda). The Supreme Lord is like the sun while the living entities are like sunlight. Living entities are like sparks emanating from the blazing fire of the Supreme Lord. So though the living entities are qualitatively the same with the Lord, the difference lies in their quantity. When this living entity disregards God and forgets Him, he at once comes under the influence of material nature. At that time, he develops several temporary characteristics that eclipse his eternal inclination to love the Supreme Lord. Consequently, this temporary nature of the living being overshadows his eternal blissful nature, and may even manifest itself in the form of greed, lust, envy, depression, anxiety, etc. However, it must be remembered that the original eternal nature of the living entity is never lost. It unveils itself at the appropriate time, as soon as the living being rejects his degraded material consciousness. Just as ice transforms itself into its original form of water, as soon as the freezing conditions are eliminated, similarly the living entity regains his original blissful nature as soon as he awakens his eternal relationship with the Supreme Lord.
Does spirituality imply rejection of Matter ?
Now one may ask whether treading a spiritual path implies the rejection of anything that is material. One may also wonder if he/she ought to give up their dwelling in the city, let go of their phones/gadgets, and take up a residence in the forests or the mountains instead. Well, the precise answer is ‘No’. When we say that one needs to give up matter, what we propose is that one abandons his/her illusory perception of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’ that originates from a material identification of the self. In other words, one needs to renounce his false material ego. Matter is not inherently harmful unless one perceives it as the very objective of his/her life.
When one realizes his/her spiritual identity and acts on that knowledge to accomplish their spiritual objectives, then one can utilize matter to achieve those ends. For example, one can use the internet to read this website article. One can buy spiritual books online, to enhance his/her spiritual understanding. One can even write books/articles, compose songs/music, etc in order to help others in their spiritual journey. When matter is utilized for spiritual goals, then it no longer remains a part of the material energy. As long as one lives in this material world, and possesses a material body, he/she requires to interact with matter. But if the purpose of that interaction is simply to derive sensual pleasures, then the particular person acts on a material platform. Instead, if one interacts with matter in order to pursue one’s spiritual objectives, then one no longer entangles himself in this material predicament. So though a spiritualist interacts with matter, just like a materialist, yet there prevails a stark difference when it comes to their consciousness. A materialist puts himself at the center of his world while a spiritualist places the Supreme Lord at the center of all his actions.
One who recognizes his spiritual self will always endeavor to revive his/her eternal relationship with God. He no longer identifies with matter and possesses no interest in petty sense gratification. Instead, matter becomes a means to engage in loving devotional service of the Supreme. Such a man’s involvement with this world is no longer based upon a false conception of the self and is no more motivated by sensual pleasures. He no longer traps himself in an illusory web of ‘I’ and ‘Mine’. Engaging in selfless loving devotional service unto the Supreme, he successfully revives his eternal, blissful, and cognizant nature.
Reviving one’s spiritual consciousness
The Bhagavad Gita teaches how this material complication is exceedingly difficult for a living entity to overcome (mama maya duratyaya). But this incredibly challenging objective is easily accomplished by those who surrender unto the Supreme Lord and seek His divine shelter (mam eva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te). Such a person can control his mind, transcend material nature, and even his material desires. Such a perfect devotee rejoices in boundless spiritual bliss and is not shaken even amidst the greatest of difficulties. This certainly is actual independence – freedom from all miseries (anxiety, depression, fear, etc) arising out of material contact.
Such a person identifies everything as part and parcel of the Supreme and tries to engage them in the service of the Supreme Lord. Now, one might question as to how one can take shelter of the Supreme Lord practically and revive this state of spiritual consciousness. Does it only demand an adjustment of intellectual perception or does it also require certain spiritual practices? The ancient Vedic scriptures proclaim that chanting the holy Name of the Supreme Lord is the only practical and effective means of cultivating spiritual realization (devotion) in this present day and age (Harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam kalau nasthyeva nasthyeva nasthyeva gathir anyatha – Brhan Naradiya Purana). Nothing else is as powerful. Love of the Supreme Lord is not something that can be achieved artificially from an external source. It is eternally existing within the hearts of all living entities. When the heart is purified by the process of regular hearing and chanting the holy names, glories of the Supreme Lord, this eternal love awakens and reveals itself once more (nitya-siddha Krishna-prema ‘sadhya’ kabhu naya, sravanadi suddha chitte karaye udaya- Chaitanya Charitamrta).
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