At Herat Richard (now Radhanath Swami) was shaken by the culture shock. All at once, he found it impossible to connect with anything. The sights, smells, and sounds were foreign to his sense and he felt he was alone in a culture where nothing existed that he could relate to. He was bewildered as he grappled to answer the question, ‘Who am I?’ His prayers transported him into a state where a silent inner presence predominated over the phenomenal world. There he discovered a precious realization, ‘I am the soul, distinct from the world of externals, a child of God’. He felt liberated and flooded with gratitude. Richard knew that Herat would forever remain a sacred place on the map of his heart; this realization had given a new purpose and meaning to his life.
Radhanath Swami says on the basis of Vedic scriptures that the first and most fundamental knowledge that a disciple learns from his guru, spiritual master is, “You are not the body; you are a spirit soul.” This knowledge is the one of the first instructions that Lord Krishna gave Arjuna, when Arjuna surrendered to Him at the battlefield of Kurukshetra where the legendary Bhagavad Gita was spoken. Bhagavad Gita is the principal book of knowledge in the pan Hindu culture of the Indian sub-continent.
Radhanath Swami asks a simple question; doctors dissect and study a dead body. What makes a living body possess emotions and feelings like pain, pleasure, happiness, and distress? He answers that the soul is the spark of life that makes the body appear alive and when the soul leaves the body, we say the person is dead.
According to the Vedic knowledge, the body is always dead. For example, a microphone is made of metal. When electric energy passes through the microphone, the sound is broadcast over loudspeakers. But when there is no electricity in the system, nothing happens. Whether the microphone is working or not, it remains nothing more than an assembly of metal, plastic, etc. Similarly, the human body works because of the living force within. When this living force leaves the body, it is said that the body is dead. But actually it is always dead. The living force is the important element; its presence alone makes the body appear to be alive. But “alive” or “dead,” the physical body is nothing more than a collection of dead matter.
Radhanath Swami reasons that direct experience, inference, logic, empiric observation and religious faith all concur: some sort of conscious self-energy exists within the body. The body is an instrument; the conscious energy, soul is the user of that instrument. I once heard one student of Radhanath Swami give an interesting analogy; Say, I use a bicycle to travel from one place to another. If my cycle is destroyed, I will have to get another one. But I exist apart from the bicycle. Analogically, if my body is destroyed, I, the soul, am not destroyed with it. I continue to exist as much as the bicycle driver continues to exist after the destruction of the bicycle. One bicycle may breakdown, but I can get a new one. One body may grow from childhood to youth to old age and die one day; but I can get another body. If one has a desire to drive a motorbike, then one might change from a bicycle to a motorbike. If one can pay a higher price and wants to drive a car to save himself from the chasing dogs, then one may give up a motorbike and buy a car, etc. The vehicles may change, but the driver is the same. Similarly, the soul, in order to satisfy his unfulfilled desires, leaves the material body at death and acquires a new material body.
Radhanath Swami and his students explain subtle subject matters like ‘soul’ through lucid examples; after all even a spiritual novice like me finds the subject fascinating and easy to understand.