“Are You the Boss of Your Body”
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Srila Prabhupada (to Disciple 1): So, you are the boss of your body?
Disciple 2 (also to Disciple 1): Are you telling the stomach how to digest, the hair how to grow, and so on?
Srila Prabhupada: No, you are not.
Disciple 1: No. But, I’m still thinking that there must be some relationship between me—the spirit soul—and all these innumerable other souls living within my body’s cells.
Srila Prabhupada: Wherever you look there is some relationship with other souls. That relationship is already there. For instance, I am walking on this sand, so I have some relationship with it. If the sand were not firm enough, then I could not very easily walk on it. So the relationship with others is there already; you are already intermingled in it. But within this vast cosmic situation, with so many trillions of souls, what is each soul’s most important relationship? That knowledge is wanted. Most important to each of these innumerable souls is his relationship with God.
Disciple 1: But, Srila Prabhupada, it seems that if the cells within my current material body were not working, I, the soul, would go away. So this particular relationship also appears quite important.
Srila Prabhupada: That is merely your theory: that because the cells are working, the soul is living. That is your theory. But our “theory,” the Vedic conception, is that because the soul is living there, the cells are working. That is our “theory”: The soul is there, and because of the soul’s presence, the cells are working. All this I have already explained.
I say to the scientists, “You take the effect, the material body, as the cause. And you take the cause, the soul’s presence, as the effect. All this is because you have insufficient knowledge. Because you are in illusion.”
Disciple 2: But, Srila Prabhupada, experts in medical science don’t appear to be totally without knowledge. They can point and say, for instance, “Oh, this man has this particular disease of the blood. He will die in six months.”
Srila Prabhupada: That is not actual knowledge. That is merely experience. We are now walking parallel to the shoreline. Suppose I say, “If you turn ninety degrees and walk perpendicular to the shoreline, and then go a hundred feet, you’ll be swallowed up by the water.” Is that very wonderful scientific knowledge? [Laughter.]
That so-called knowledge is merely a question of experience. Why do you take it as wonderful? “Oh! This person said that if you walk perpendicular to the shoreline and go a hundred feet, you’ll be swallowed up by the water, and now I have been swallowed up by the water!”
That is your foolishness. Any fool can make pronouncements like this. He must have a little experience; that’s all. This “knowledge” is not a very wonderful thing. The fool has not created anything. He just has a little experience.
Disciple 2: O.K. But then the scientists can say, “Well, you may laugh that we have no thorough understanding of anything—all we have is experience: If we try this thing, we get this result; if we try that thing, we get that result. Laugh all you like. But when we give a person something that cures his blood disease, then you won’t be laughing.”
Srila Prabhupada: One morning many years ago, a physician in Dacca noticed that a man passing by was coughing. So he asked the man, “Come over here. Where you are going?”
The man was a cultivator. He said, “I am going to the field.”
The physician said, “Better go home. Don’t go to the field.”
Since the physician was widely respected, the cultivator went back.
Then the physician’s students asked him, “Why did you ask the man to go home?”
The physician chided his students. “You did not notice that this man is producing this particular coughing sound? This sound means that he will die after eight hours.”
Actually, the physician’s so-called knowledge was merely experience. The students had not noticed the telltale cough. But he had noticed. Coughing with this kind of sound, he told them, means death after so much time.
Yes. This is the kind of thing that a kaviraja, an expert in medical science, is good at. When my father was ill, the kaviraja said, “Now you can do the rituals, because he will die before morning.” He said that. And actually, it so happened. He told me this news about ten, eleven o’clock, and he said specifically, “Before tomorrow morning he’ll die.”
But again, that is merely experience. If you say, “Today is the thirteenth of December; after eighteen more days have passed, we will be in the month of January,” a little child may not understand how you can say this—how you can foretell the future. “How can father say that exactly after eighteen days, January is coming?” But simply because of more extensive experience, you can say, “After eighteen days the first of January will come.”
Everything we know is really experience. And the supreme experience is Krishna. Therefore, if we receive our experience from Him, then our experience is perfect. This is our proposal.
Disciple 1: In any event, Srila Prabhupada, experience seems to say that in some sense I am the boss of my body.
Srila Prabhupada: You are the boss of your body in this sense—that to a degree, you can use your body as you like. But there are conditions that are beyond your control. For instance, as long as you are living in your current body, you can use it to understand the ultimate goal of life. But you cannot use your body in such a way that you will never die. That is not possible.
Disciple 1: So to a large degree I am not the boss. I am controlled.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Why don’t you understand that? You are controlled always. For instance, you are walking—this is also controlled. At any moment your body can be paralyzed. At any moment.
Disciple 1: So, then, it isn’t very realistic to think I am the boss of my body.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. That is stated in Bhagavad-gita. Why don’t the rascal scientists read it? Prakriteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvashah/ ahankara-vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate: “The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.” Factually, this material nature is pulling everyone by the ear, but the rascal is thinking, “I am the boss.”
All this is explained in Bhagavad-gita. Prakriteh kriyamanani. Have the rascal scientists not read this? Prakriteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvashah/ ahankara- vimudhatma … Puffed up by false egotism, false identification with the material body, everyone here is thinking he is the boss. That is illusion. He is not the boss. But he is thinking he is the boss.
Ahankara-vimudhatma: One who, through this false egotism, is thinking, “I am the boss”—he is a first-class ass, a rascal.
And because everyone in this material world is under that false impression—”I am this body,” “I am the boss”—therefore we say, generally, “rascal.” People may be amazed: “Why does this gentleman call everyone a rascal?” But in Bhagavad-gita the Lord Himself says, prakriteh kriyamanani … vimudhatma: “Anyone who is thinking that he is the boss—he’s a rascal.”
The so-called scientist’s struggle is that he wants to stop the action of prakriti, the material nature. That is his foolishness. You cannot become the boss of prakriti. That is not possible. You are under prakriti. The boss of prakriti—Mayadhisha—is Krishna. Purushah prakriti-stho hi bhunkte prakriti-jan gunan/ karanam guna-sango ’sya sad-asad-yoni-janmasu: You are forced to accept various types of bodies because of your association with the modes of material nature. Why has one soul got a dog’s body while another soul has a human body? Everything is being controlled by prakriti, by nature.
Now, having received the human form of body, you have also received the chance to discriminate: “What should I do?” But if in the human life you act like cats and dogs, then you are missing this priceless chance. If you do not take advantage of your special gift, the power of discrimination, then as Bhagavad-gita says, dehantara—in your next life you get another material body. And in your next life you can get a dog body. In the human form of life, you have the discriminating power not to get a dog body but rather to get the body of a god.