Who are we?
with Ravindra-svarupa dasa
Ravindra-svarupa dasa (William H. Deadwyler, Ph.D.) explains how the self is the experiencing center of the body, whose symptom is the presence of consciousness.
The statement in the Upanishads is aham brahmasmi, "I am Brahman;" that is to say, I am spirit. The corollary is that "I am not matter," and the meaning of that is, "I am not this body."
So, according to the Vedas, the real self is not the body. By "body," they mean the body and what we call the mind. According to the Vedas, we have a gross body made of earth and water and air and so on, and we have a subtle body, which we experience as mind – thinking, feeling and willing – this is the subtle body.
But beyond this is the soul. I am not the gross body nor am I my mind. And then people will say, "well, what's left?" and what's left, what is the soul, is consciousness. Consciousness is the symptom of the presence of soul. So we know of the existence of the self because of consciousness. Consciousness does not arise out of material interactions.
Take as our authorities material scientists, who want to claim that all of reality can be explained by simply expressing it in terms of numbers. This is "hard science." Ultimately, it's mathematics. And that all there is in the world are structures of matter, and these structures of matter can be completely explained in terms of numbers.
And then they tell a story – this is the "scientific myth" – that in the beginning there were very, very simple elementary structures of matter. How they got there, they don't talk about, but that's what they say. And then, over the course of time, for some inexplicable reason, these structures of matter become more complex.
Now, all of these structures of matter can be fully expressed in terms of numbers. You can exhaust the content of reality by a string of ones and zeros. They get more complicated, and then they present this picture of evolution – at first, there are subatomic particles, and then these subatomic particles — gluons, muons, quarks, charm quarks and everything — they come into contact with each other, and they form more complex entities, and then eventually you have atoms.
And then these atoms, they get more complex – larger, heavier atoms with larger nuclei and so on – and then the atoms start to join together with other atoms and you have molecules, even more complicated. And then these molecules get more and more complex, and then eventually you get carbon molecules that join with others and then you get benzene rings and then you have these big, huge molecules which we call "organic molecules."
So then, at a certain stage or level of complexity, something else pops into being, which is not just another structure of matter but the experience of structures of matter. That's what they want to say.
This "consciousness" is very hard for scientists to deal with because you cannot express it in terms of numbers. It's a different ontological category. If all you have is structures of matter getting more and more complex, that's all you should ever get. But this thing – "experience" – that has popped into being, the experience of structures of matter, is incongruous. It doesn't fit.
The Vedas say – or, as explained in the Bhagavad-gita in the seventh chapter, there's Krishna, who's the source of everything, and from Him come two energies the material energy – that makes up our gross and subtle bodies, and the conscious souls. And these two come from Him and come together and form the universe. So the conscious experience is not due to matter but to the spirit soul, which is described like a particle that takes up residence in bodies made of structures of matter.
That's the self – this eternal, conscious entity which transmigrates through all these different kinds of bodies.
And when we arrive at the human body, that consciousness can be more fully uncovered and manifest. And so, now we ask ourselves, "Who am I? What am I doing here? Why am I existing? What is it that is existing? Why should anything exist at all? Why is there something, rather than nothing?" These kinds of things occur to us because of our higher consciousness.
So, the first thing is to understand that that I am not this body and I am not this mind. I am a spirit soul. I have projected my identity onto this temporary material body and material mind, but I am eternal. And that, if I can establish my relation with another spiritual being, the Supersoul, then I can begin to experience myself as an eternal being, and not as a temporary material thing.
Right now, we falsely identify ourselves as material products. We think we are the body. This illusion, that "I am the body," we've imposed upon ourselves due to our desire to enjoy in this world. And I think, "I began at this time and I will end at this time. This is me – my existence," when really, it goes on eternally. I just change bodies. But that's how we think; "at this point I was born, and here I'll die, and here, somehow, inexplicably in the middle, I have few cheap thrills, and then I'm dead. All my life is just some kind of few spasms in the void, and then nothing more. That's all that we can see."
So we need self-realization. We don't know who we are. The activity of the soul is devotional service to the Supreme Soul, bhakti-yoga. By practicing this, we enter into relationships — with Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and then with all other beings — that are not based on the body.
That way, we discover our real self and our real life, and not what passes for it here in the material world.