A Guru and his disciple are walking side by side. Guru is wearing a pant and a shirt and so is the disciple. Disciple seeks certain clarifications from Guru and Guru is patiently clarifying the doubts of his disciple.

Disciple: What is Self-realization?

Guru: Self refers to God. Realizing Him is Self-realization.

Disciple: Why God is called Self?

Guru: God has several names such as Brahman, Lord, Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, etc. God can be called by any name and can be contemplated in whatever form you like. Since you have not yet entered into spiritual path, I am saying this. If you begin to pursue spiritual path, my answer would be different. The concept of God is different for ritualistic practices and spiritual practices. Religious practices accompanied by rituals give different forms to God. God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. He is both good and bad. Coming back to your question, God is called Self because, you have to realize that He is within your own self. Realizing Him within your self is known as Self-realization.

Disciple: Then what is soul? Is there any difference between Self and soul?

Guru: No, there is no difference between Self and a soul. In other words, Brahman or God is in no way different from individual souls. I will explain this to you by an example. Keep pots filled with water under the sun. If you look into the water, you will be able to see the sun. You can see the sun inside the pot filled with water, but you cannot see the sun directly. If you see the sun directly, you will be blinded. Can you distinguish between the sun reflected in the pot filled with water and the sun shining in the sky? You cannot differentiate. Similarly, the soul within is the reflection of the Self or Brahman and individual soul is in no way different from Brahman. If the Self and souls are different, God cannot be called as omnipresent. Therefore, souls are nothing but reflections of the Self.

Disciple: I am not able to understand this. You talk about a pot with water. Suppose the pot is broken, we will not be able to see the reflection of the sun inside the pot, as pot itself is not there.

Guru: Yes, when the pot is broken, the reflection of the sun cannot be seen inside the pot. Pot is like our physical or gross body. When the body is dead, the soul leaves the body and when the soul leaves the body, it is called corpse. The body becomes motionless as the vital air (prāṇa) that keeps the body alive also goes away with the soul. However, you must understand that existence of vital air in a body is not possible without the presence of the soul. The whole life revolves around the soul, but at the same time, soul never makes you to act in a particular manner. It remains only as a witness. It is only the cause and not the effect.

Disciple: When soul is Brahman, we are able to see the reflection of the sun but we are not able to see the sun directly? Thus, there exists difference between the sun in the sky and the sun that is reflected in the pot. Obviously, both are not the same.

Guru: Yes, there is difference between the sun in the sky and the sun reflected in the water. Original brightness of the sun is reduced because of water. Similarly, the original Light of God is reduced due to māyā. If you are able to transcend māyā, then you can see the original Light of God. You must understand that God is in the form of Light and this Light is the source of entire creation. Everything originates from this Light and dissolves into this Light. This Light is known as Brahman or God or you can call this Light in whatever name you like. Your effort to transcend the effects of māyā is Self-realization.

Disciple: How do you say that God is Light? Why can’t He be vital breath or any such thing?

Guru: I am surprised that you have not asked me about māyā. However, I will discuss this with you later. All Upaniṣad-s try to explain God only through negations. Typically speaking, God cannot be explained. How can you describe the shores of an ocean by standing in a place? You do not know what is in the shore a hundred feet away from you. When the greatness of the ocean cannot be described, how can we describe God, who is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient? It is just not possible. That is why it is said that Self can only be realized and cannot be seen. Let us take an example of a rock. Rock does not breathe and hence, it does not require vital breath. Vital breath is only for living organisms. You take a television set. It does not breathe. Therefore, vital breath is not essential for all the objects, where as Light is essential for all the objects. Without light, how can you identify an object? I will explain this in detail with more examples as we progress.

Disciple: What should I do to enter spiritual path? How spiritual path is different from ritualistic path?

Guru: Ritualistic path is always accompanied by various sacrificial rites. For example, in your daily worship, you offer food, flowers, water, etc to God’s photos or idols as the case may be. Thus, you are making God different from you and in the process you lose both the basic principle of omnipresence nature of God and non-dualism (Advaita). I am not saying that these types of rituals are wrong. Certainly they are not wrong. Such rituals lay a strong foundation for your spiritual path. Buy you cannot continue with rituals all through your life. Obviously, you cannot continue to study in a high school all through your life. You have to make progress to a university, get an employment, etc. Thus in your life you want to progress. Similarly, you have to progress in spiritual life.

Disciple: What is the difference between ritualism and spiritualism and which is better?

Guru: There are three stages in one’s life to attain liberation. First, you have to believe in God. When your belief becomes unshakable, you commence your journey to God. Faith and belief is the starting point of one’s ritualistic life. Again ritualistic life consists of different stages. First you worship different gods such as nine planets, you believe in astrology, you visit temples, you take bath in holy rivers, you perform pūjā at home, you perform sacrificial rites in fire rituals, you celebrate festivals for different gods and goddesses, etc. You believe that by doing so, you can wash off your sins. By following these rituals, you are becoming devoted to different gods. Among many gods, one or more forms of gods impress you and you spend more time in worshipping that form of god. You are not satisfied with this. Then you learn about japa mantras. You go to a guru and he initiates you with a mantra. He teaches you several rituals and you learn all these rituals over a period of time and attain perfection in these rituals. The attainment of perfection is the end of your ritualistic life and commencement of your spiritual life. This is called transition point, transition from ritualism to spiritualism. This point is the most important milestone in Self-realization. Many people do not reach this transition point at all. All through their lives, they remain ritualistic without attempting to realize the Self. Ritualism leads you to spiritualism and spiritualism leads to liberation. But remember, there are several stages in spiritual path as well. Spiritual path is a long one and you have to walk through this path very carefully to attain liberation, which could happen either in this birth or in later births.

Disciple: What if I do not move from ritualistic life to spiritual life?

Guru: Simple, you do not attain liberation. You continue to suffer from the pains of transmigration.

Disciple: How to move from ritualistic life to spiritual life? If I move, do I have to stop my daily worship? Have I to stop visiting temples? Have I to stop taking bath in holy waters? Have I to stop doing ceremonies to my ancestors? Your explanation is not acceptable to me. Even if I accept, society will condemn me for not practicing rituals. People will then call me atheist. I don’t want to be called an atheist.

Guru: You have not matured enough to pursue spiritual path and that is why you are not able to accept what I say. Transition from ritualism to spiritualism can happen only through knowledge. You have to study a lot. Without acquiring knowledge, you cannot enter this transition point. Even if you enter without equipping yourself, your entry into spiritual life will only be deceptive. You need to enter your spiritual life with complete knowledge about Brahman and with a strong foundation. If foundation is not strong, your further advancement will not be effective. What is the use in reciting various hymns and verses without knowing the meaning? I know you are reciting Lalitā Sahasranāma daily. Do you know the meaning of all the one thousand names? If you happen to know the meaning of all the names, you will enter your spiritual path with a steady mind. Without acquiring knowledge, you cannot begin your spiritual journey. You should first read Bhagavad Gita. In those 700 verses, Krishna has beautifully explained about Self-realization.

In the initial stages of spiritual life, you continue to do all your ritualistic practices. You need not stop those rituals. You cannot move from kindergarten to a university. You can continue to perform daily chores, but you have to learn to contemplate God within your body. I mean do not seek Him outside your body and instead try to explore Him within. Spend some time in contemplating the God within. This is the first step in your spiritual path. In the infant stage of your spiritual life you can continue to visit temples, visit holy places, repeat japa mantras, etc. Your initial entry into your spiritual life does not necessarily mean that you should only contemplate Him all the time. There are several stages in your spiritual life. For example, you have to stop giving various shapes and forms to God. At the midpoint of your spiritual life you should know that God does not have different forms. Why should you worry about the society? Not everyone is distained to enter into spiritual life. When you live happily with all comforts, society will envy you and when you are in distress, the same society will laugh at you. I am saying this in general. There will be hardly a few who remain with you during your bad times. Society is a broad term which consists of both good and bad. As I said earlier, God is both good and bad. If God is full of good qualities, then where from bad qualities come from? The source of creation is always the same. It is only the karma that differs from person to person. You asked me about ancestral rites. When you have not taken care of your parents during their old age, what is the purpose in doing ceremonial rites to them? When soul is God, to whom you are going to perform ceremonial rites? This is a complicated subject and requires a lot of mental maturity to understand this. Hence, I will discuss about this later.

(to be continued)