Understanding Ourselves, Who Am I?
A Simple Test for Thoughtful People. Am I my head or my face? No, it is my face. Am I my chest ? No, it is my chest. Am I my arm or my hand ? Am I my leg ? No, it is my leg. All the parts of my body—indeed, my entire body—is mine. But who am I, the owner of the body?
Am I my head or my face ? No, it is my face. Am I my chest ? No, it is my chest. Am I my arm or my hand ? Am I my leg ? No, it is my leg. All the parts of my body—indeed, my entire body—is mine. But who am I, the owner of the body ?
If we perform the experiment as above, we can immediately come to the very first understanding in spiritual life: we are not our bodies; rather we are conscious of them. Under the influence of illusion, however, we falsely identify ourselves with our bodies and think we belong to a certain family, nation, race, religion, political party, and so on. The goal of human life is to awaken from this illusion and become reinstated in our real identities as fully conscious spiritual beings.
Our daily lives can be compared to acting in a play. We have become so absorbed with our temporary roles in this play that we have completely forgotten our true offstage identities. Someone is taking the part of our parent, another person is acting as our lover, another as our friend or foe, but actually it is all simply a performance; our real identities are something else. Our very bodies are nothing more than costumes, but out of illusion we identify ourselves with them and try to relate to others on the basis of these costumes. The resulting relationships are not false; they are real, but they are temporary and therefore illusory. When the curtain falls on our play—when death comes—all the different relationships we have cultivated during our lives will be finished, and our real self, an individually conscious spirit soul, will be transferred to a new situation.
The Nature of Consciousness
Modern scientists have touched upon the properties of the spirit soul in their research into anti-material particles. A fundamental assumption of their theory is that there may exist another world, an anti-material world, composed of anti- particles. They conjecture that this anti-material world might consist of atomic and sub-atomic particles spinning in reverse orbits to those of the world we know.
But if we really want to find out about the nature of consciousness and its source, the anti-material spirit soul, we must go beyond the tentative gropings of mundane scientists. We must search out the revealed knowledge contained in the Vedas, the most ancient and widely recognized source of transcendental science in the world. Since the soul is imperceptible by our gross senses, the authoritative Vedic wisdom is the only means for understanding it. We must accept many things solely on the basis of superior authority. For example, if I want to know who my father is, I must accept the authority of my mother. I cannot experimentally find out his identity; I must simply use intelligent discrimination to find the right source of knowledge. Similarly, to understand the science of the soul, we must turn to the Vedic literature, and specifically to the Bhagavad-gita. Bhagavad-gita contains the essence of the Vedas, for it is spoken by Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme All-knowing Personality of Godhead.
In the Bhagavad-gita (13.34), Lord Krishna says, “As the sun, situated in one place, illuminates the entire universe, so a small particle of spirit [the soul situated within the heart] illuminates the entire body with consciousness.” Just as sunshine proves the sun is present in the sky, consciousness proves the soul is present in the body. When the soul leaves the body, consciousness disappears and the body dies. Thus consciousness is the symptom of the soul’s presence in the body.
The Anti-material World
The material scientists misconceive the soul, a particle of anti-matter, to be only another variety of material energy. But real anti-matter must be anti-material, or spiritual. If matter is subject to annihilation, then anti-matter must be indestructible. Lord Krishna explains this quality of the soul in the following excerpts from the Bhagavad-gita (2.18, 16, 20):
“An immeasurable particle of anti-material energy is engaged within the material body (which includes the mind and intelligence). The material body is destructible, and as such it is changeable and temporary, as is the material world. But the anti-material force is indestructible and therefore permanent. For the anti-material particle, which is the vital force, there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does it ever cease to be. It is unborn, eternal, ever- existing, undying and primeval. When the material body is annihilated, the anti-material particle is never affected.” The Lord further explains how the soul transmigrates from one body to another. “The material body progressively changes from childhood to boyhood, from boyhood to youth, and from youth to old age, after which the anti-material particle leaves the old, unworkable body and enters another material body.” (Bg. 2.13)
Thus, with some reflection we can understand a few of the characteristics of the material and the anti-material energies. The material energy is unconscious, lifeless, and temporary, being subject to the influence of time. Referred to in the Bhagavad-gita as the inferior or external energy, the material energy has eight divisions: earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego. All mundane knowledge is limited to these eight material principles. On the other hand, the anti-material energy stands in opposition to all the material qualities. The anti-material particle of energy is the living force, described in the Bhagavad-gita as the superior or internal energy. The material body is animated by this living force, and when it is separated from the body, the body becomes useless and dies. The nature of the anti-material particle (the soul) is sat-cid-ananda—eternal, full of knowledge, and blissful—and as such it is undoubtedly superior to the material energy.
Uncovering Our Real Identity
Because we belong to the superior, spiritual energy, we cannot understand our true identity or achieve eternal happiness in full knowledge if we continue to act on the false platform of the inferior, material energy. But if all our relationships in this material world are temporary and illusory, then with whom can we establish a meaningful and lasting relationship? Lord Krishna answers this question in the Bhagavad-gita (9.17-18); “I am the father of this universe, the mother .. .and the most dear friend.” Thus we do not have to give up personal relationships, but rather re-establish our real, eternal relationship with our most dear friend, Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The Lord explains elsewhere in the Bhagavad-gita how this material world is actually a perverted reflection of the spiritual world: everything in this material world is there in Lord Krishna’s abode, but in its ideal, perfect form, for that is the world of anti-matter or spirit. In the eternal kingdom of God, there are trees, animals, flowers, people and so on, but unlike the material world, they all exist in intimate loving relationships with Krishna.
Each of us has a place in the spiritual world, for that is our eternal home. As spiritual beings, we are not meant for this temporary world of matter. We are like a fish out of water: Just as a fish can never be happy with any number of comforts outside of the water, we can never be truly happy outside of the spiritual atmosphere of Krishna’s abode. If we persist in trying to find pleasure in this material world, only repeated frustration and suffering await us. But if we make it our only business to cultivate our eternal relationship with Krishna. we can gain re-entry into that transcendental realm of Vaikuntha, the world without anxiety, and attain a life of complete knowledge and endless bliss.