A Piece of Life
The following exchange happened between an unidentified questioner, and an Indian yogi and mystic called Jaggi Vasudev, who is more commonly known as Sadhguru.
The questioner asks, “We have light and dark, we have hot and cold, do we have also good and bad?”
Sadhguru answers, “Good and bad is not in terms of your belief or your idea. Anything that sustains and enhances life is what life should be looking for. So don’t look at yourself as a person. Don’t look at yourself as a man. Don’t look at yourself as an American. Don’t look at yourself from any identity. You just look at yourself as a piece of life, which is the reality. Right? You’re just a piece of life. So what is life looking for? Always seeking how to enhance it. If somebody because of his ideas or his nonsense is going against this basic happening of life, and enhancement of life, we generally term it negative. Or maybe we can call it “bad” or “evil”. But it’s just a word. Fundamentally you’re going against your own life. That is the negativity. In that context yes, but not as a morality. Because moralities keep changing. From society to society it’s different. From generation to generation it’s different. Isn’t it so?”
A friend recently told me about Sadhguru, who also happens to be a New York Times best-selling author. He has become very popular for his spiritual wisdom and regularly conducts meetings called Mahasathsangs in which he gives talks, teaches meditation, and holds question and answer sessions with the audience. When I first learned about him I became very curious and watched a number of his talks online. I am aware of the idea that in the West we supposedly have a rigid, logic-driven “either/or” way of thinking, and in the East, it’s more of a fluid “both/and” style of thought. So I began listening to Sadhguru with that in mind. But as Ravi Zacharias, a brilliant Indian author, speaker and Apologist once said, “Even in India we look both ways when we cross the street. Because it’s either the bus or me.” In other words, at the end of the day, logic applies to all cultures and ideas.
I found Mr. Vasudev to be a likable and intelligent man. I know nothing of his personal character or his sincerity and I have no issue with him personally. But his teachings are another matter. I have a number of Hindu friends that I love so I say this with the utmost respect for them, but I found many of Sadhguru’s ideas irrational. For example, his statement that we are all just “pieces of life”. If this is all we are, and we are not to look at ourselves as a human, or a man, or a woman, why do we find such a wide variety of life forms in the world? Humans, lettuce, and bacteria are all living things, but they are not the same life or even the same kind of life. So what does it mean to say that we are just a “piece of life” with no identity? If I deny my humanness, my maleness, and my personhood am I not denying the very essence of who I am?
Mr. Vasudev’s worldview says that everything in the universe is part of an all-encompassing, immanent god, or reality called Brahman; we are one with everything and therefore all things are divine. In that sense, we are not distinct human beings with identities, but rather tiny pieces of a larger divine life. But if I am ultimately just a drop of water to be absorbed back into the ocean of life, why do I find myself unique from every other human being? Why is every life form unique from every other life form, even within its own kind? Why are there boundaries and differences and unique entities in the universe if everything is really one?
Many Eastern religions explain this conundrum by claiming that human perceptions of differentiation are illusively projected on reality. This is an interesting idea, but it is inherently irrational for two reasons. Firstly because it is humans who are making the claim. How can a human being perceive reality and come to this truth except through human perceptions? And if human perceptions are an illusion, then the claim that human perceptions are illusory would, itself, be an illusion. (Suddenly I feel like I’m in the movie Inception!) Secondly is the matter of perspective. In a stage show, only the magician is in a position to know which parts of his act are real and which are an illusion because the magician stands outside the illusion, while the audience is part of it. Likewise, one would have to somehow stand outside of both reality and human perception in order to know that our human perceptions of differentiation are illusively projected on reality. Even if one were to claim they came to know this “truth” about reality through divine revelation or by attaining a higher level of consciousness, the truth itself is still self-defeating. Regardless of the level of consciousness or the source of the revelation, the truth is still being perceived by a human being whose perceptions are illusory.
In that sense, the claim is on par with the assertion that you are just a brain in a jar and everything you know about reality—including this article, the chair you’re sitting in, your name, everyone you know, etc.—is merely a hallucination. While this theory may be logically possible, it is far from plausible. And ultimately there is no way to know if the claim is true or not because any evidence one might present against it is easily dismissed as part of the hallucination itself.
But let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that it’s true; that we are all one with the universe and any differences we perceive between “pieces of life” are merely human illusions. What would we do with this knowledge? What would life look like if that were true? At first blush, it may sound lovely because if everyone and everything is sacred, then people have a reason to treat all forms of life with dignity and respect. That certainly sounds like a noble and beautiful position to take. However, on closer inspection, the idea that “everything is sacred” actually undermines the dignity of life and robs the concept of sacredness of any meaning.
If we are one with everything and everything is sacred it would mean that whatever anyone does is a divine action. There is no such thing as separate persons doing individual things from distinct motivations, we are all divine. Thus, one person’s actions or thoughts cannot be more sacred than the next person’s because the two are not actually separate; they are both parts of the same divine life. So every person’s actions are sacred as part of that one universal essence, including actions of love, revenge, forgiveness, hatred, kindness, and cruelty. Rather than a divine law outside ourselves that tells us how sacred objects ought to be treated, we are a divine law unto ourselves and therefore we can each decide with impunity how we want to treat our fellow sacred objects. There is no distinction between a “right” and “wrong” treatment because all action is being performed by sacred pieces of life and is, therefore, divine.
If everything is sacred than nothing is sacred. Imagine if every single thing in the entire universe was the exact same shade of blue with no distinctions. In that universe, the concept of “color” would have no meaning. Likewise, without distinctions, concepts like divinity, sacredness, and dignity would have no meaning either. It’s only by recognizing that some things are not divine, or not sacred, or not dignified that those concepts even become possible.
When teaching about evil Mr. Vasudev says, “If somebody because of his ideas or his nonsense is going against this basic…enhancement of life, we generally term it negative”. Yet, in order for there to be a “somebody” who can “go against” life, there needs to be a differentiation between the somebody and the life they are going against. In the end, I believe the idea that “the universe is one” is irrational. It is not supported by personal experience, observation, empirical evidence, science, or logic. And it does not explain reality as we experience it.
In contrast to that view, what we experience and observe and understand about reality is perfectly explained by the teachings of Jesus. Jesus teaches that there are such things as right and wrong, love and hate, good and evil. These are not opposite sides of the same coin, but rather distinct concepts at odds with each other. And that is what we find in the real world. When a human being commits an act of evil against another person, they are not acting as a divine piece of life. Rather they are acting as what Christianity calls a “fallen” person. When you look at human history it’s clear humans are not pieces of a divine life. Rather mankind is prone to selfishness, violence, dishonesty, tribalism, and hatred. We need to fight against our own nature in order to rise above those things. Who among us can honestly say that they have never told a lie in their entire life? Even inside our own hearts, there is a struggle. Why is it that so often we do not do the things we want to do, and instead find ourselves doing what we hate? This is because we are fallen creatures and sin has entered human nature (Rom 7:15-20).
Yet, even though humans are fallen and not divine, Jesus taught that we still have dignity and our lives have value. Why? Because we were created in the image of God (Gen 1:27). There is one true God and we are loved by Him (Rom 8:37-39) and He calls those who believe in Him His children (Gal 3:23-29, John 1:9-13). God loves us so much that He provided a way to save us from our sin and falleness. Even while we were still hostile toward God (Rom 5:8) He sent His son from Heaven into the world to save us from our sins (John 3:16-17). This is the Gospel of Jesus, which is called the Good News because it’s an invitation to freedom that is extended to all people (Mark 16:15-16). And unlike the teachings of Sadhguru, the teachings of Jesus make sense of both the world we see around us and the world we find inside us.