You’re Not the Body!
The beginning of spiritual life is to realize “Your not the body.” It’s very easy to say. And fairly easy to understand from an intellectual point of view. But, because we have been so conditioned to accept our bodies as ourselves and our whole existence in the material world is based on this misconception of thinking that I am the body, it is very difficult for us to give up this bodily concept of life and realize in truth that “I am not this body — I am the spirit soul trapped in this body.”
Firstly let us try to understand this concept in theory. According to the Bhagavad-gita we have three bodies. We have the material body, the physical body, made of earth, water, air, fire and ether. Then we have the subtle body which is also material but composed of the more subtle elements: mind, intelligence and false ego [ego means identity]. Both the subtle and material bodies are coverings over our real spiritual body. The Bhagavad-gita likens the gross and subtle bodies to clothing that is put on and which is covering the real spiritual body underneath:
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.22)
Therefore our material bodies are just like clothing the soul is wearing. Today I am wearing an orange shirt, but tomorrow I may wear a blue shirt. So because I am going to wear a different shirt tomorrow does that mean I will be a different person. No, of course not. I can change my clothes unlimited times but still I remain the same person. So now my body is an Australian man’s body, but soon I will be forced to change to a different body but, just like when I change my shirt, I will remain the same person.
We can directly perceive that our bodies are changing while our identity remains constant. I can remember what I did when I was a child, but if I look at the photos of me when I was a child the child’s body I had then has gone now, it does not exist. Now I am in an old man’s body. My current body has no similarity whatsoever to the body I had when I was a child. Still I know that was me. I remember having that body of a child. So I know that I am the same person who was in that child’s body. But that child’s body is completely gone now. Even the scientists estimate that within 7 years all of the cells within the body are replaced. So even from a scientific point of view I must have changed my body completely about eight times since I had that child’s body. So we can perceive that we are changing bodies, yet remaining the same person, even in this life.
Since every living entity is an individual soul, each is changing his body every moment, manifesting sometimes as a child, sometimes as a youth, and sometimes as an old man. Yet the same spirit soul is there and does not undergo any change. This individual soul finally changes the body at death and transmigrates to another body. As I have explained we can actually perceive that we are accepting different bodies in this life yet we know that we remain the same person. So this is absolute proof that we are not the material body. We are something distinct from the material body. And the Bhagavad-gita clearly identifies us as ‘the embodied soul’. So we are a spirit soul trapped in a material body.
An good way of understanding the material body is that it is a machine made of the material energy. The body itself is not alive. The body only appears alive because of the presence of the spirit soul. As soon as the spirit soul leaves the body it is just a lifeless pile of flesh, bones, blood, etc. So the body is a machine made of the material energy and this machine of the material body can be utilized by us, the occupier of the bodies. So we can utilize this material body in the same way we can utilize any other machine. For example a motor car. That is also a machine made of the material energy and we can use the car to carry us to the places we want to visit. The motor car has some needs. We need to supply it with fuel, we need to get it serviced and put air in the tires, etc. With the motor car we understand that we are not the motor car, but that the car is a machine and we can use it for our benefit. The material body is also a machine and we can also use the material body for our benefit. But the problem is we misidentify ourselves with the body.
Like the car, the material body also has some needs. It needs some food, it needs some sleep, to reproduce sex is needed and it needs to be defended from dangerous things. But these are not our needs, they are not the needs of the spirit soul. They are the needs of the material body which is just a machine like the motor car. Our needs, the needs of the spirit soul, are quite different.
We are the driver of the body in the same way as we can be the driver in the car. So if someone misidentifies the car as himself and thinks that simply by satisfying the needs of the car he will be happy, that will not be a very successful program. He can supply any amount of fuel and oil to the car, but that will never satisfy his hunger. Because he is not the car, he is the driver of the car. His needs are different from the needs of the car.
So as we maintain the car nicely and keep it clean and supply it with fuel and oil, similarly we have to supply our material bodies with the things they require for maintenance and keep our bodies clean, etc. But as the fuel and oil are not the food of the driver of the car, the needs of the body are not the needs of the spirit soul, the driver of the body.
The whole world is going on under the misconception of the bodily concept of life. Practically everyone is misidentifying himself with his body and is thinking that if he can satisfy the senses of the body he will be happy. But this is not successful for anyone. All our attempts to become happy by satisfying the senses of our bodies are doomed to failure because we are not the material bodies. The soul needs spiritual food, spiritual satisfaction.
By intelligence only one can understand things as they are. By intelligence only can one understand whether or not he is the body. The study to determine whether one’s identity is spiritual or material begins in doubt. When one is able to analyze his actual position, the false identification with the body is detected. When false identification is detected, then real identification can be understood. Real understanding is proved experimental knowledge. This experimental knowledge can be achieved when one has understood the false knowledge. By experimental or proved knowledge, one can understand that he is not the body but spirit soul.
A devotee has no more bodily interest. He knows that he is not the body. From the very beginning, therefore, without wasting time, a devotee searches out a pure devotee and simply by his association becomes advanced in spiritual consciousness. Because a devotee knows that he is not the body, he is never affected by bodily happiness or distress. He is not interested in bodily relationships with wife, children, home, bank balance, etc., or in the distress and happiness which come from these things. This is the special advantage of being a devotee. This status of life is possible only when a person is interested in associating with a pure devotee, who always enjoys the fragrance of the lotus feet of the Lord.