Resting in Permanence Means I Can Live Fully Now
Recently, we participated in a Bhagavad Gita sharing circle in which we reflected on our takeaways from our ongoing text study with Acharya Shunya. It was powerful to witness deep insights and personal transformations in dedicated sadasyas (student members) from different backgrounds as well as length of studentship, ranging from a week to nearly ten years, proving a testimony to the depth of contemplation we are reaching as a kula (spiritual family) of the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program.
Having studied the Gita a few times during the last two decades, though only once before with a living teacher, the experience of receiving shruti (direct transmission through hearing) from an authentic Vedic teacher whom I call my guru is lighting new pathways in my consciousness, specifically answering my deepest questions and reorienting my daily life. While preparing for our study circle, I jotted down my thoughts, discovering significant themes about death, permanence, karma and svadharma (one’s personal duty), which are giving me glimpses about how to live in the present moment.
Who is permanent?
From the 12th to 25th slokas (verses) of the second chapter, Sri Krishna describes our real Self as immortal, and that birth and death are merely a change of clothes. In the 26th sloka, the term nitya – which we had studied earlier as an attribute of Brahman (the pure formless Reality on which everything we see is superimposed) – reappears to refer to the stream of birth and death. I found it fascinating that the principle of permanence, nityatva, transcends both perspectives – whether or not I believe in the immortality of the soul, something is permanent.
Going deeper, I reflected on Acharya Shunya’s statement: “You can’t remove a millimeter of water from this universe – it changes from water to steam and comes back as raindrops. How can you remove an entire being?” How can I disappear ever? So, what is permanent is me. I just go offstage, change costume, and come back as another character – gender, race, family, all can be different. This loosens deha vāsana, or attachment to the body.
So, if I am not the body, how do I manage it, and what is its purpose? In her commentary on the 27th sloka, Shunyaji said, “Karma itself takes on the body; you are nothing but your living, breathing karma...This body is karma cash; the moment the karma cash is done, the body goes.” Another tug at deha vāsana. This teaching doesn’t contradict my studies in the one-year Ayurveda course, since I need a healthy body to complete my allotted karma in this lifetime. If my poor health shortens my life this time around, I’ll have more to do in the next...
So, in meditation, I can focus on the nityatva of Brahman, and in the transactional – or vyavaharika – world, the 28th sloka gives me a clue: creatures are unmanifest in the beginning and end, and they are only manifest in the middle. We see this in our daily lives all the time: for example, before and after I go to the college, I still exist but am unmanifest there, and I appear in the classroom in between. Every being including me is eternally sliding in and out of perceptible and imperceptible realities. Permanence underlies everything.
On a practical note, when I received the news of the death of a friend a couple of weeks ago, I found myself unable to think of him as gone. Separately, as I was walking to my classroom one morning, I noticed a thought I’ve had before: “Oh well, I’m a little closer to the moment of my death and won’t need to worry about life anymore.” Almost immediately I sensed the response of my Atman ( the part of Brahman within me) – that when I die, I’ll still be around: the next birth and set of worries is just waiting around the corner! This insight enabled me to ‘perceive’ greater ‘aliveness’ in the supposedly empty air and space around me, as if invisible beings were swimming around, including my friend. Everything is a continuum with deeper connection than our senses can perceive. Ultimately, I am never alone in this pulsating dynamic universe brimming over with subtle (sūkshma) energy. Interesting that even modern physics talks about “dark energy,” or unseen energy all around us.
How freeing it is to release the notion of a future end to life’s challenges! Their end is in the present moment itself. In each moment, I (jīva, or embodied actor self) interact with my karmas and receive sukha (happiness) and dukha (sorrow), as does everyone around me. If the purpose of my life isn’t about attachment to the body (deha vāsana), nor about just getting by until it’s over, but instead to transcend these sukha-dukha experiences and exhaust my present karmas, how do I live each moment fully? First – as Achaya Shunyaji taught in her recent bhakti yoga series in the Vedic Spiritual Studies program – accept what is happening without resistance. This is a teaching unto itself, as a gurubehen (sister through the guru) shared during the circle. Accepting means there isn’t an ego reaction to fix (arising from rajas, the mental quality of agitation) or to resist (arising from tamas, the mental quality of inertia). Instead, a deeper knowledge reveals itself, rooted in sattva (the mental quality of harmony and balance), which can bring forth a new solution. The experience can be freeing and strengthening. For example, I recently told a student I was working with this semester that I could no longer help him, that I have no other ways of explaining to him. His persona was so wrapped up in victimhood and I could no longer assist in that story. As he continued to ask other teachers for help but not me, I was impressed that I did not feel the aggressor I would have in the past, and continued to work with other students. Each of us has the power and freedom to stay stuck in a story or to create something fresh, as well as to act in a pure way with others, based on our values instead of a need for approval.
From a higher perspective, the notion of svadharma, or our personal duty, signals how we can exhaust our karmas. Sri Krishna elaborates on this later in the second chapter, as well as in the eighteenth chapter. Our svadharma is unique to us based on our mental propensities and karmic gifts. Arjuna was a kshatriya (warrior) and duty-bound to fight. These terms brahmin (seeker of Truth or Brahman), kshatriya, vaishya (shopkeeper, entrepreneur), and shudra (one who seeks pleasure and to make the world more pleasurable for others) have become confused in modern-day Hinduism, but their meaning in the Vedas is simply that our fulfillment lies in aligning our outward actions with our inner tendencies. The Vedas are clear that all of these varnas (classes or castes) are equal and not hereditary; they should not be forced on anyone. It is up to us to discover our unique combination. This compassionate explanation has lifted much of my internal judgment for taking an apparently long time to discover my own vocation. Graduating from Stanford University with a prestigious graduate degree in computer science, I felt like I had gotten off at the wrong platform in Life; it was only years later that I could understand from this teaching that my fulfillment didn’t lie in making life more comfortable for others or myself. Rather, my deepest urge is to discover Truth, which is why becoming a teacher (even of mathematics, which I see as reflecting the harmony of the universe) and being a spiritual student come most naturally to me, even more than being a wife, stepmother, sister, or even friend, for which I seem to be missing the typical outward interaction that others expect. Spiritual communities, too, can display a predominance of these tendencies, and I feel blessed to have found an authentic Vedic path that emphasizes interior contemplation in a householder setting while providing avenues for outward engagement from that inner depth, such as these blogs and the sharing circle.
Acceptance brings compassion.
Aligning with my svadharma and doing my best in the present moment with what I am given brings deep self-acceptance and compassion for others. We’re all characters and props in each other’s stories. Can I play a character that stands for values, firstly for myself, and ultimately in others’ stories too? The student I mentioned earlier never lost my regard as a human being. No anger passed between us and he stayed in the classroom for the rest of my shift. I remember years ago coming home from the same job, exhausted by so many people interactions; now I feel refreshed with as many! The difference is that I’m no longer juggling so many scripts with each person; now, I’m just learning to play myself.
The author Niramaya Nalini Ramji is a student of Acharya Shunya in the Vedic Spiritual Studies Program. She volunteers in support to the organization with the AV team.
Learn more about how you can study Vedanta, Yoga and Ayurveda with Acharya Shunya in her