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What is liberation from the cycle of birth and death? || Acharya Prashant, on Nitnem Sahib (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
7 min
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ਕਰਮੀ ਆਵੈ ਕਪੜਾ ਨਦਰੀ ਮੋਖੁ ਦੁਆਰੁ ॥

karmee aavai kaprhaa nadree mokh du-aar

By good karma, the Saropa, which is this body, the robe of honor, is obtained, and by His kindness, the door to salvation opens.

~ Guru Granth Sahib 2-5 (Japji Sahib, Nitnem)

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Questioner (Q): Looks like this verse is indicating a mechanism of reincarnation and a way to get out of it. Is there a process to it? What is meant by liberation and freedom from the cycle of birth and death?

Acharya Prashant (AP): ' Karmee aavai kaprhaa nadree mokh du-aar . It is by His grace that the human body is obtained, and by His kindness, the door to salvation opens.'

The human body, the human birth, the human life is an opportunity. It’s a great opportunity to be thankful for. However, it is merely an opportunity. Human birth does not guarantee salvation. As a human being, you have a definite and a great chance to look at yourself, to detect your patterns, to put a finger on your weaknesses and bondages, and thereby know them, falsify them, fight them, eliminate them.

You are saying, 'Is there a process? What is liberation from the cycle of birth and death?'

The process is honest self-observation. The process is to not deceive oneself. A process can obviously help only those who want to take the process to its end. It is the end that makes the process not only tolerable but actually enjoyable. Freedom is our nature. When you love freedom so much that you cannot tolerate living in foolish confinements, then the process has begun.

What does it mean to be liberated from birth and death? The meaning holds relevance only for a human being. If you look at an animal, it has no consciousness of bondage, or very little consciousness; therefore, it has very little incentive to rise in consciousness or gain freedom from consciousness. In some sense, the animal is blessed: it feels alright just as it is. It does not really have to attain anything; it does not feel an inner dissatisfaction. Therefore, you do not find animals ponderous or ruminating.

But man stays dissatisfied, and being dissatisfied, man keeps trying one thing after the other. This endless sequence of trials and errors is called the sequence of birth and death. So, there is birth of a new hope, and then the hope got smashed. Death! And then another hope, another journey, and the journey again ends blindly; and then you invest yourself in some other opportunity, and that attempt, too, fails. Death!

Attempt, failure; attempt, failure; attempt, failure. Freedom from these endless attempts and endless failures is success, and that success is the object of all spiritual process. If there is something that you so keenly want that you are endlessly trying for it, why don’t you actually attain it? That actual attainment, that actual success is spiritual liberation. You are now liberated from trying again and again.

Every successive trial is a new birth. Every successive failure is a new death. Why keep trying and failing? Why not try rightly and succeed? You are anyway investing so much time, so much energy, so much of yourself in all these daily struggles. You are anyway not living very peacefully or comfortably. You are anyway embattled and besieged. If you are indeed fighting a war, why not fight rightly? If you are indeed getting so tired, why not invest your energy rightly?

So, spiritual practice is not about making additional effort; it is about acting wisely, not acting additionally. Actors we already are. There is hardly anybody who is having a paid holiday here. We all are laborers; life is making each one of us toil. And if toiling we indeed are, then we better toil with some discretion.

Q: There are these three lines from the Guru Granth Sahib that I will quote.

'Nanak says: the answer is to stay in the will of God.'

Then, 'What should we say that on hearing it, He starts loving us?'

And then, 'Early in the morning, think about and recite the greatness of the True Name. Waheguru (God)—recite His name.'

In the verses above, Nanak Sahib says that to attain God, one needs to stay in God’s will. In another verse, Nanak Sahib emphasizes the importance of reciting God’s name and His greatness. What is the importance of recitation? Is it one of the ways to stay in God’s will? What does he mean when he says, 'What should we say that on hearing it, He starts loving us?'

AP: Recitation, here, refers to constancy in remembrance. Recitation could either be mental or physical, depending on what kind of personality you are. If you are thought-identified, mind-identified, then you may recite within. But if you live on a gross plane and are more body-identified, then you better recite physically, verbally. It is important to commit yourself to the act; the commitment and the constancy is important.

You are investing yourself. You are saying, 'I could have thought of a thousand things, but in my thoughts is His name, and therefore I am displaying how much I value Him.' You are saying, 'I could have uttered a thousand things. There are a thousand words and a thousand topics keen to be spoken of, but of all these, I chose the name of God, and that is a proof of my commitment towards Him. This throat, this tongue, these lips, they could have been used in the service of anybody. But here, look—I am committing them to the service of the one Truth.' And that commitment is what makes Him love you—because that’s the next part of your question.

You are asking, 'What do we say that can make Him start loving us?' Do not say anything that does not include Him; that’s all. Say whatever you want to, but let Him be present in all your utterances. Think of whatever you want to, but let Him be present in the stream of your thought, like scented water. Where is scent in the scented water? Everywhere. And water is water; it would serve its ordinary purposes: you can use it to quench your thirst, you can use it to take bath. So, all the ordinary functions of water are there to be performed, but nevertheless, the water is scented.

Let your thoughts and actions be like scented water. Let them fulfill their perfunctory duties; let them meet their usual purpose, but even as they meet their usual purpose, they should continuously carry the scent of the Beyond.

So, this (raises a cup) is just tea. But in the process of making the tea and sipping the tea, there still can be the scent of the Beyond. You meet a friend; obviously there is going to be a conversation. Friends converse. The conversation is there, like any two usual friends chit-chatting. But can that conversation carry the scent of the Beyond? So, there is the conversation, as usual, and there is the fragrance of heaven. The husband and the wife, they will eat, meet, and fight; let them fight. But can the fight have the scent of the Beyond?

That’s recitation—a continuous presence of the holy, within which everything is happening. And because everything is happening within the continuous presence of the holy, everything is rendered holy by the presence.

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