TEDxUFRO – Hari Ravikumar – Spiritual Identity

TEDxUFRO – Hari Ravikumar – Spiritual Identity

Long time back I read a Bengali
science fiction story by Niranjan Sinha. And the story was about
human beings creating advanced robots, and they created
an eleventh generation robot, that was so powerful that it could understand the nature of politics and
make political strategies for the human beings. But as it turned out this is a very bad idea
because H-11, the political robot, rallied all the other robots and wanted
equal rights for humans and robots. So it took a charter of demands,
and walked into the parliament and said “We want equal rights”. And a very intense
meeting ensued between the political robot and all the social
and economic leaders of the country And throughout the morning
session of the meeting nobody had an answer to H-11’s questions. He was prevailing all through. And in sheer desperation, the home minister
calls up the robot psychologist and says, “We want you here!” And in the post-lunch session the robot psychologist starts off
with a simple question to the robot. He says “H-11, who are you?” For the first time in
the day the robot is a little unsettled. He says, “Well, I am… H-11, the eleventh generation of robots,
with all these capabilities” “OK, go on…” “What else do you want doctor?
I have, everything else is there” “in my, you know, design drawings.
All you have to do is look up!” “That is exactly the
difference between us, H-11.” “Even with our advanced
knowledge of human anatomy, physiology, cognition, neuroscience,
genetics, psychology, biology we cannot draw such a
design drawing for human beings!” “Why is that doctor?” “Because we don’t know
the nature of the individual “We have to take into consideration
so many factors, like for example, the soul” And then the robot starts laughing, he says
“Doctor, science doesn’t believe in the existence of soul neither do I”. “H11 here is a little book,
I want you to read it”. “I don’t think it’s a
part of your digital library” “Read it and tell me
what you feel about it”. And he gives him a
copy of the Bhagavad-Gita with a verse marked out which says, The soul is never born,
it never dies, it never came into being
and it will never cease to exist. Unborn eternal,
timeless and changeless, it is not killed
when the body is killed”. And then the story ends on a
very poignant note with H-11 unable to comprehend this complex
question of soul and identity and has a mechanical dead. And the author says in the end
“before its mechanical brain disintegrated, for a single moment enchanted by that eternal question, that robot
was elevated to the status of a human being” I love this story because it talks
to us about what constitutes spiritual identity, which is so
different from all other identities. Now for the last four years of my life
I’ve been spending all my free time working along with Dr. Sreekrishna coauthor a modern
translation of the Bhagavad-Gita and I want to build a case for
spiritual identity through the course of this talk drawing from the wisdom
of this ancient Indian text. What is “spiritual identity”? One way of looking at it could be “our innermost feelings”, or “the values that we hold dear”, or “the way we look at the world”, or “the essence of our unique qualities”. At this point I must
admit that “spiritual identity” is a rather weak title for my talk, but given the limitations of the English
language this is what I could come up with. The languages of the East, I mean it’s
funny because English has 500,000 words, where is the limitation? But the languages of the East
often have a richer vocabulary when it comes to
ideas of Eastern wisdom and that’s not very surprising. So, for example, in Sanskrit which is
the parent language of Indian languages, the closest term to identity is “asmita”, which means “a sense of I” or “I-ness”. Another related term would be “astitva”, which means “existence” or “a sense of being”. Now as you see, these terms
talk about identity with reference to oneself but in English, “Identity” by its etymology and definition, has a very strong
connection to the outside world connection to the outside world. Now the word “identity”
itself comes from the late Latin “identitatem” which means
“sameness” or “oneness”. We can immediately connect
this to our high school math, you know we had mathematical “identities” (a+b)(a-b)=a2-b2 So, whatever values of ‘a’ and ‘b’
the identity remains the same. We can see this in language for
example in words like “identical” or “identify” or “identification”, These have the same root as “identity”. So although we are talking about ourselves, we seem to identify ourselves, or point
out our identity through some external means. So it could be a name, it could be our race, sex, nationality, profession, religion and so on. But this is not us, we don’t need these
external parameters to know who we are, or to feel our existence. We just know it. And even if I were to change my name or my nationality, or my religion, nowadays
you can even change your sex. But the thing is ultimately
we are the same person. I can be in deep sleep
or I could lose my memory but I’m still the same person. So what is it really to know oneself? what is your identity? Let me give you a simple exercise.
You can close your eyes if it makes you think better Ask yourself: “who am I?”
“what makes me, me?” Just think about. I’ll give you 30 seconds and once you
have the answer please raise your hands. All of you are laughing because
you understand the gravity of this question. It’s a simple, elegant
question, but not an easy one. Because if you know the
answer to this question, if you know who you are really in the innermost sense, then you will be a teacher of the world
you will be an enlightened soul like Krishna or Buddha or somebody like that. So who are we?, what makes us what we are?,
how do we know ourselves? A concept in the Bhagavad-Gita and
many other texts of ancient India is the “atman”. A-T-M-A-N… “atman”. Which is defined as the inner, higher self and knowing oneself means knowing the “atman”. When we define “atman” as the inner, higher self, it implies that there is an outer, lower self. So what is the difference between this inner self and outer self? It is not an esoteric idea, it is a very practical one. We often hear phrases such as “you ought to control your anger” or “watch your words”. When you listen to such phrases,
such expressions suggest that
there are two people involved. One was getting angry, and one wants to control the anger. Or one was speaking, and one
was observing what it is been spoken. So who is this one controlling
and who is being controlled? We know it’s a the same person, so it is the inner, contemplative self that is controlling the outer, sensory self. The Bhagavad-Gita says that “through the sense organs and the mind the atman perceives the world and feels the sensations of pleasure and pain”. And a person excels when she disciplines the senses
and engages in work without getting
attached to these sensations”. So the inner self, experiences the joys
and sorrows of the world through the senses, which is the outer self and it is important for us to
discipline the senses if we want to excel. But is it possible to discipline the senses?
Is it possible to go beyond the senses? Is it possible to get detached from
these different sensations? Of course it is possible.
A simple, everyday example is deep sleep. When we are in a state of deep sleep we are not aware
of any of these sensations. But what does it mean to work
without getting attached to these sensations? When we are in deep sleep, we know of course
we lose track of space and time. we lose track of our senses, of our mind. But is such an experience
possible when we are awake? I think it’s possible. When we are completely immersed
in an activity that we enjoy doing. It could be painting, it could be singing, it could be
solving a challenging Chilean puzzle, or it could be climbing a mountain,
it could be dancing, it could be gardening,
or solving a complicated math problem. We have the same feeling. We lose track of space and time. We lose our sense of identity
because we become one with what we are doing We become perfectly ego-less. This is the state of bliss. But the funny thing is that this state of bliss can be easily faked. Material pleasures are also pleasures after all, and if they are intense enough,
they can give the feeling of bliss. We experience this “fake” bliss when we take drugs, when we watch television for too long. We experience this “fake” bliss
when we eat too much of ice-cream, or drink too much of wine. Basically when we “feed” our senses, we get duped into
thinking that we are in a state of bliss. But luckily for us,
we have a simple litmus test to know whether
the bliss is real or not. If what you experience is true bliss, like absolute
involvement in an activity that you are doing, then when you come
out of the state of bliss, you feel fulfilled, you feel refreshed, you feel energized. This I believe is the exact opposite of what we call a hangover. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing
against alcohol or television or ice-creams, I love ice-creams myself, but I want to make
a clear distinction between sensory pleasures and true happiness. I believe that more and more we engage with true happiness, the less and less we get
a kick out of the material world. Having said that, of course we
must acknowledge that when we are young we are growing up, as children, first we connected to the material world, We understand the
world through our senses. Then we understand
the nature of emotions, and then we understand intellect, and finally we go into a spiritual realm. This ultimate state of spirituality is not affected by the material world
or the emotional world or the intellectual world. It is free from instincts, from emotions, from thoughts. There is no fear, there is
no hatred, there is no cunning. Because at all times while a persons is seen and hearing and sleeping and walking
and eating and talking, in all times spiritual person experiences true joy. Now this is why I think there are no atheists. There are no theists. This is a useless distinction. The real thing is finding
ourselves and finding our bliss After all, who are theists
and who are atheists? A theist is one who believes in god
and an atheist is one who doesn’t believe in god, things like that. But But whatever your definition of god may be,
from whatever culture, tradition, religion and whatever your
perception of the universe is, irrespective of that definition of god
we find that god is only an excuse. The real thing is finding
your bliss, finding yourself. Of course some people connect
to their bliss through devotion or through respect to the
divine presence in the universe. Some others do it through meditation,
Some people do it through wisdom but the more straightforward path is of immersing oneself in an
activity that one loves to do. And when we spend more time
doing something we love to do there is a greater
chance that we find ourself. And I think it is very important that many of us in this room are trying to connect with ourselves
doing so many different things. And this process of self realization is very important and it is also very beneficial. Because whatever efforts
we put to understand ourself we will benefit because
we will understand the universe itself. Because the universe is nothing
but what we perceive it to be The universe is not out there, it is in here. And this is why I would argue
that knowing spiritual identity is so important that it can knowing it correctly can solve
all the problems in the world. All the problems. At least in theory it can solve
all the problems in the world. I see some sceptical faces,
some of you are smiling, some of you are confused, “have you gone nuts?”. The thing is I could be wrong. I could be very wrong, and even if I were right, it’s very boring to think about a world
without problems and without any difficulties. It will be very dull, I can assure you that. But I think it’s exciting just to
know of a method by which you can create positive change in the world
in one single step. We could have saved
a lot of time on the strategic planning. So the thing is there’s a simple way that I feel knowing spiritual identity can lead to solving all the problems. But before we
go to that, I just wanted to ask you a question. What would be the root cause of all
the problems in the world? Just think about it. This is not something new, ancient thinkers of India
knew this for thousands of years. Buddha made it popular of course, but long before even people knew this a “desire” is the cause
of all problems in the world. It is “desire”. But again I’m stuck because of the
English language. “Desire” can also be very very humbles
desire, like “I wanna drink coffee in the nearby coffee store”,
“I want to go to Peru for a vacation”, “I want to become a great scientist”. These are desires, very nice, they don’t cause problems. But design in the sense of of overindulgence,
of selfishness, of greed, of obsessive possessiveness,
towards one’s own ideas and unacceptance of
other people’s ideas. So desire is a problem because nobody wants
to be a sinful person, nobody wants to be a bad guy but desire makes people to do all sorts of things. So next time don’t
blame the bad guys, blame desire, which is the unquenchable
and corrupting enemy of humanity. Now we’ve to understand that desire,
when it’s not fulfilled it leads to frustration, it leads to anger, to confusion, and when somebody’s confused
they lose their power of discretion. They don’t discriminate between
what is good and what is bad and at any cost they
want to reach their selfish ends. When there’s a lack of discretion
then you lose the power of reasoning. When human beings lose
the power of reasoning they are doomed. So this is how desire leads to destruction, very beautifully explained
in the Bhagavad-Gita. And if we go a step back and ask what is the cause of desire? What are the conditions under which
desire prevails and thrives? Because if you are able
to answer this question then we can find a solution
for a larger problems. We find when we feed our senses, more and more
we get attached to these sensations. And when we get attached to these sensations
we desire for more and more. And we also realize
that if there is no ego, then there is no question of desire. When we are asleep we don’t have
any sensations of the outside world. We don’t have any sensations of time
and space, so there is no question of desire, the same applies to the state of bliss. When we are doing something that
we love to do there is no question of desire. Because you have become
one with what you’re doing. So when you are in
a state of ego, when you are very much conscious of the world then there is a greater chance of desire. So here is the one step solution
to positive change in the world because of your spiritual
identity, understanding it. When you work in harmony
with your natural abilities, doing what you love to do, and at the same time,
respecting the world around you be it your family, your local
community, the society at large or the natural environment then you not only become valuable to yourself
but you become valuable to the world. This is it, work in harmony with your natural abilities,
doing what you love to do, and taking care of the world around you. So this is your one step solution.
Because as more and more people find their bliss, they encourage other
people to find their bliss and as more and more people find their bliss
what happens is that there’s less of corruption, exploitation, fraud and deception. And by just making a small change in your attitude,
by doing what you love to do and helping other people
to do what they love to do you can make a big impact on the world. Each and every one of us in this room
has this power and let us never forget it! I’d like to conclude with a quote from
the Bhagavad-Gita, from the sixth chapter: “A person will never stray from the Truth once he gains infinite bliss
that transcends the senses. Upon gaining infinite bliss, he knows that there is no greater attainment. And once he is established thus, he is not moved by even the deepest sorrow”. Thank you very much.

14 thoughts on “TEDxUFRO – Hari Ravikumar – Spiritual Identity

  1. Sensory bliss is not permanent, it is temporary and also if sensory input is more than required, it becomes poison. (example if we eat too many sweets or drinks too much of wine, what happens) Where as the inner bliss is eternal, permanent it is called "SAT-CHIT-ANANDA" means Truth-Consciousness-Bliss. There are many ways of achieving it like KARMA YOGA which is "selfless duty". Just by involving too much in one's own work with selfishness does not result in "Bliss".

  2. Hari jee, I like your definition of spirituality. It is the explanation very useful for the general public or people unfamiliar with eastern philosophy. Thanks much.

  3. I feel like…finding your spiritual identity separates you from the people and the world around you. It can be a very lonely existence.

  4. Arjuna did what he loved and forgot time and space while practicing archery. One example is that he just saw the eye of the bird while aiming it. This is bliss as per the video and will help in finding oneself. Yet even after going through the bliss, Arjuna needed Shri Krishna and Geeta discourse to fine his true self.
    My question- given the above example, how is experiencing bliss beyond sensory perceptions equal to finding one self? Need help. Plz explain

  5. A spiritual identity is still a projection of thought. The self is a void around which all the content we've accumulated throughout our lives revolves. When we were very young, we were only observers of the world without a center, without a sense of self. That starts to go away as soon as we unconsciously realize we are living in a world without love, where we need a sense of self to survive

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