By Mansa Devaki, High School Student in Hawaii
The world contains numerous religions with various approaches to addressing the problem of human suffering. Hinduism’s idea of the Atman, or soul, its karma cycle, and Moksha, which is the path out of suffering beautifully exemplify some Hindu ideals and beliefs.
In Hinduism, the Atman, or soul, is one’s eternal Self. The Atman resides in all living creatures, the Atman itself gives the materialistic body life. The Atman is all-knowing; it comes from the supreme God, Brahman. Thus, it is essentially a part of the supreme soul, God. One can say that God resides in oneself because all souls converge with Him, the supreme soul, and power. The soul is the basis of every living creature, everything will cease to exist if there are no souls. The Atman travels through different forms or bodies after death, the removal of the soul from the body. The soul learns and matures after each life; it provides knowledge to the body. A person finds it hard to feel the essence of the soul in the body due to the hindrance of bodily desires, emotions, and ego. Finding the soul in oneself is very difficult, especially in today’s age, the Kali Yuga, which is the Dark Age. It is the last stage of the four stages of the world, the Satya Yuga, the Treta Yuga, the Dvapara Yuga, and the Kali Yuga. The Kali Yuga is the stage where evil is extremely prominent, and the only way to have a pure soul is by becoming a dharmic, or righteous, person.
The soul’s journey throughout numerous bodies is called Samsara, the process of reincarnation. The base of the process is the karma cycle, the principle of cause and effect, performing good and evil deeds. The simple sayings are “ what goes around comes around” and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” A soul enters a new body after each death; the new body is decided based on the soul’s karma of its past lives. The Karma cycle is like a “point system” with negative and positive points. After death, the points are totaled, and the right life is decided and given to the soul. Hindus believe that evil karma will lead a soul to a worse life and body, and good karma will lead it to a better life and body. Whatever life a soul lives in the present is entirely dependent on its many previous lives and previous karma. A soul has to repay its evil karma in the same life or future lives; there is no escaping the punishment for evil deeds. Similarly, any good deed will bring soul rewards either in the same life or future life. Any suffering throughout life is entirely based on one’s own doing.
Hindus believe that living a human life is a boon; this is because humans can do whatever is needed to attain Moksha, enlightenment. Hinduism says that a soul enters a human body after 8,400,000 births in previous bodies. Hindu’s believe that enchanting the holy name of God is one of the few practices needed to be recited by all humans in order to attain Moksha. The holy name of God can be anyone out of the three hundred thirty million. The greatest Hindu God, Brahman, has three primary forms: Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the sustainer), and Shiva (the destroyer). Most Hindus pray to these three Gods or to the numerous forms of these three Gods themselves. Since Hindus are inclusivists, they say that any other person can achieve enlightenment by chanting the name of their God or practicing an ethical belief. Another practice necessary to attain Moksha is being dharmic, righteous: helping the needy and the unfortunate is an integral part of a Hindu’s life and restricting unethical physical, verbal, and mental practices. Another vital part of Hinduism is performing duties. A soul should perform all of its duties before its removal from the body. For example, if a soul enters the body of a female, then her duties would include taking care of her family. Souls in the body of a male would also take care of its family. Both the souls would have to raise their children and get them educated and then married. In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that performing obligatory duties are vital in having a better next life and attaining Moksha.
नियतं कुरु कर्म त्वं कर्म ज्यायो ह्यकर्मणः।
शरीरयात्रापि च ते न प्रसिद्ध्येदकर्मणः॥ ८॥
“Perform your obligatory duty, because action is indeed better than inaction. Even the maintenance of your body would not be possible by inaction” (Vyasa 3.08).
Performing essential duties is crucial for the present life and future lives. Letting go of worldly desires is also crucial for becoming one with the supreme God; this is the most difficult of all essential practices, especially in today’s materialistic desire-driven world. Having these qualities and performing these practices are essential for attaining Moksha.
Hinduism’s idea of suffering is straightforward; evil deeds will cause suffering in the present life and future lives. Good deeds will get us rewards, usually worldly desires. Many practices are needed to be performed to attain Moksha, enlightenment. Chanting the name of God, being mindful, ethical, generous, and dutiful are all the practices needed to get out of the cycle of suffering. Brahman is the supreme God, and the Atman is his soul, and the source of the soul each living creature contains. The karma cycle is based on the deeds performed; these deeds, ethical, or unethical influence what one faces in this life or the future ones. Attaining Moksha is the end of suffering and becoming one with the supreme divinity, Brahman.
Duneja, Prabha. The Holy Geetā. Trans. Prabha Duneja. New Delhi: New Age Books, 2014. Print.
Kreeft, Peter. Between One Faith and Another. Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2017. Print.
Mukundananda, Swami. “Bhagavad Gita, The Song of God — Swami Mukundananda.” Bhagavad Gita The Song of God Commentary by Swami Mukundananda, https://www.holy-bhagavad-gita.org/. Accessed 13 Oct. 2019.