Ask a Monk – Deep questions. Deep answers

Ask a Monk – Deep questions. Deep answers


You may have heard the often-quoted maxim: “Those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it.” 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?

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? But 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.

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? 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.


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 is up to. If we don’t even know what is 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.” To get beyond mere affirmation, we need a process for purification and transformation, so that indeed we can verify the spiritual reality and its source.

Krishna wants to give us, not theory, not religious belief, not theology, but, laboratory experience of the spiritual self, the Supreme Spiritual Self and the relationship between them. Then we can start talking about pleasure. The yogis know that any talk about material pleasure is just wishful thinking. We wish for it so much, knowing how material pleasure comes and goes so quickly. But we resign ourselves to that because we don’t see anything better. “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.


Bhakti-yogis deal with a process that purifies our consciousness so that we can actually see what is real pleasure, beyond the stuff that has a beginning and an end. 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, or when our consciousness becomes more distilled and free from pollutants, we can then experience the natural spiritual joy of 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 people 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. Krishna, therefore, begins Bhagavad Gita by distinguishing between spiritual and material so we can then progress further. Verifying our nonmaterial identity 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 does not exist nor has no truth to it.


You may have wondered from time to time – what is my mission in my life? You try to create something for yourself—some niche for yourself. “My mission is to make others happy,” you may say. 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 Gita, that 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.

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 are 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?


If you can put a stop to 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.


Identifying with one body of matter after another, changing from one body of matter to another, is a history that should not be repeated. 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. For those of you who are serious about happiness and pleasure, we invite you to the world of bhakti-yoga.

About Author

Devamrita Swami

Devamrita Swami

Devamrita Swami is an international speaker, author, Yale graduate, and monk. Travelling extensively on every continent of the planet, he has been sharing the path of bhakti-yoga with others for over 40 years. He advocates spiritually based economics, sustainability, and environmentalism. When he is not travelling, he calls New Zealand home.

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