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Journey to the Real Self

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Hayagriva dasa

Gross Body Defined

The spiritual body, which is our real identity, is covered by the gross body composed of earth, water, fire, air and ether, and by the subtle body composed of mind, intelligence and ego. Bones, flesh and muscle are composed mainly of water. Fire is the energy agent that aids in digestion and motivates the system to action. Air is the breath force supplying oxygen to the grosser elements, and ether is a more subtle form of air principally circulating in the brain to give vivacity to the mind functions. Combined, these comprise the gross body, which is the vehicle for action. The mind itself works the senses and makes them assert themselves in such and such a way. It also receives and retains impressions through the senses. The mind thinks, perceives and feels, and is the conjurer of desires. The intelligence is the controller of the mind and is the intellective force that can distinguish between matter and spirit. By the intelligence one has the ability to learn or understand from experience, reason, and discrimination. As one’s intelligence develops, he progresses up the evolutionary scale. In the body, the intelligence is the monarch, and the mind is the viceroy serving as intermediary between the intelligence and the phenomenal world. Intelligence is more subtle than mind (it is more difficult to perceive materially), and more subtle than intelligence is ego. Ego is the self identity by which the individual distinguishes himself from others. It is the subtle substance on which experience is superimposed. In introspection it recognizes a series of acts and mental states which the gross body experiences It is the web of individuality uniting all other components. This ego is not merely an intellectual conception. It can be directly perceived. For example, in large crowds of people we do not lose our sense of self identity and confuse our body with the bodies of others. Also, in dreams, for instance, we often feel ourselves present as an individual distinct from other individuals in the dream. In fact, in some dreams we may inhabit different bodies but still retain that singular sense of “I,” and yet in other dreams we may have no bodies at all but may simply be a presence witnessing action.

Transmigration Of The Subtle Body

As long as we do not attain liberation, we are covered by the gross body. At death the subtle body, composed of the mind, intelligence and ego, shuffles off the mortal coil composed of the grosser elements and carries impressions and proclivities into another gross body. “The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life, as the air carries aromas. Thus does he take one kind of body, and again quit it to take another.” (Bg. 15.8) Therefore this rebirth is like a change of dress. Consciously the subtle body may forget its previous life in that it may forget particular actions, but nonetheless these actions determine the next body that is being assumed. Actually the impressions are always there, and in some rare cases, by the will and grace of the Divine, one can remember certain actions of his previous life, and the desires experienced in that life are carried over from body to body by the mind, intelligence and ego.

All of us have practical experience of how the subtle body extends and travels beyond the gross body. When we are sleeping, the subtle body can travel to places far distant and to times past or future, and when we are awake we may think of a friend or place and their images appear. How often does the school boy frolic at the seashore while sitting at his desk! Such daydreams are examples of the ability of the subtle body to travel beyond the gross body. In recent years millions of Americans have been enjoying traveling in their subtle bodies through the use of LSD and other psychedelic drugs. These serve as a catalyst to sever the subtle body from the gross body. They are enjoyable for one who takes them because the experiences encountered by the liberated subtle body while traveling are much more vivid and bizarre than daydreams. In such states one can experience the mental bliss of freedom and can soar to great heights of intellectual exhilaration. But these states are temporary. Although they seem to be eternal while one is in them, the subtle body comes down and returns to its original abode of pain.

Preparation Of Future Bodies

We are now utilizing a gross body, and when it becomes useless we will transfer to another body. We are now preparing our next body by our actions. Such preparation is called karma. We also can prepare to transfer our bodies to other planets if we so desire. The Vedas and other scriptures recommend certain pious activities, penances, sacrifices, etc., as means for transferral to higher planets. However, after the results of these pious activities are exhausted, the subtle body must return to a middle planet like the earth and acquire a gross body in order to aggrandize more good karma to become re-elevated. And so this cycle goes on. “Those who study the Vedas and drink the soma juice worship Me indirectly, seeking the heavenly planets. They take birth on the Indraloka where they enjoy godly delights. When they have thus enjoyed heavenly sense pleasure, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus, through the Vedic principles, they achieve only flickering happiness.” (Bg. 9.20-21)

From the point of view of spiritual intelligence, such activities are useless. Like Indra, at one moment one may be a demigod, and at the next moment he may be a hog. This change of dress is very painful because in each case one has to endure the pains of birth, old age, disease and death. He has not only to bear the burdens of one body but of countless ones.

Transferral To The Spiritual Body

According to Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita, if one transfers himself to the planet where Krsna resides he does not have to take on another material body. “From the highest planet in the material world, down to the lowest, all are places of misery, where repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Bg. 8.16) It is the duty of the individual to learn how to transfer himself to that spiritual sky where he will not be subject to rebirth. The real identity of the individual is beyond both the gross and subtle bodies. It is beyond the material universe, beyond the mind, intelligence and ego. It exists eternally in the spiritual sky. When all material hankerings are severed, one is able to regain his original pure uncontaminated form of consciousness which is his spiritual body full of sac-cid-ananda, eternal bliss, being and knowledge. It is by cultivating one’s Krsna consciousness that the gross and subtle bodies can be transcended. Then one can enter the spiritual sky and there attain his true form.

Awakening From The Bondage Of Bodies

When the subtle body enters a gross body, he enters the abode of darkness. When we fall down a tunnel we can no longer see the light of day. So this gross body and the world perceived by it are considered to be darkness and ignorance by those who have Vedic knowledge, that is to say by those who remember their previous illuminated existence. The taking on of a gross body is also likened to falling asleep and dreaming. When one falls asleep he leaves his actual environment and travels to a land of make-believe which is full of insubstantialities. But when he awakes he is once again in his original environment. If his dream is pleasant he may yearn to dream again, but if it is horrible he may be glad to awake. In either case, the dreaming condition is temporary, and in no case would one want to permanently remain in that situation. Liberation is simply realizing that one is asleep and waking up.

One who wakes up enters the spiritual sky where there is no need for artificial illumination by sun or moon. There all the planets are self-luminous. The inhabitants are established in bliss and knowledge, and life is eternal.

Those who are caught in the dream of the gross body are suffering so many material miseries. Actually they don’t want to grow old. They don’t want to die. But all this is being forced upon them. They are not aware of their position outside of the dream. They institute universities in which they discuss phenomena within the dream, but in no way are they interested in a curriculum devoted to waking up.

Students study their dream subjects so hard and get very upset when they fail, but they are in no way concerned about a much more important subject which the university doesn’t even offer. And so there are dream universities and dream instructors and dream courses and dream students and not a speck of reality on campus. There are science faculties in chemistry, biology, physics, botany, geology, astronomy, zoology and so on, but no department is teaching the science of God. Theology departments may be teaching the science of religion, but they are not teaching anyone how to leave his gross material body and pierce the tenfold coverings of the material universe and enter the self-luminous sky.

If one judges man from the point of view of the gross material body, he is not superior to the animals. In fact most animals are stronger, faster, more self-reliant and more capable of surviving in nature. Man’s body may appear more aesthetic, but from the practical point of view it is not as useful as the gorilla’s. However, man is superior, and he dominates because he has a more highly developed mind and intelligence that distinguish him from animal life. And it is by his mind and intelligence that he can understand what he is and inquire into the meaning of his existence. It is not that he is superior because he can use these faculties to exploit material nature for the glorification of his gross body. Any animal more or less can do that. He is superior because he can understand the transcendental science by which he can transfer himself out of the gross body into the spiritual sky.

The most systematic presentation of this transcendental science is given concisely in Bhagavad-gita, which is a preliminary study for self-realization. What is self-realization? Self-realization is realizing oneself apart from the body in one’s constitutional nonmaterial position. One realizes this position by becoming conscious of the totality of existence and entering into a relationship with it. In the Bhagavad-gita this totality is called Krsna. In the Gita, Krsna is the ultimate person who contains everything and a lot more besides. “I am being and nonbeing and that which is beyond both,” Krsna asserts.

In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna sets forth a curriculum for the encaged soul. Three principal courses are offered: the course of action, the course of meditation and the course of devotion, respectively called karma-yoga, jnana-yoga and bhakti-yoga. These three sciences deal with the constitutional position of the self, and by studying them the student can learn how he is entangled in the material body, how he can become detached from the material body and where he can go after leaving it. These questions are asked by Arjuna, who is thinking in bodily terms, and answered by his professor Sri Krsna. In the very beginning of the course Sri Krsna teaches Arjuna that he is not that body. He informs him that the soul passes into another body at death just as it passes from boyhood to youth to old age while in the body. The man who knows his constitutional position apart from the body is not bewildered by such changes. Krsna then asserts the immutable eternality of the soul apart from the body, then exhorts Arjuna to perform action in a spirit of detachment and devotion. As the course progresses, Sri Krsna elaborates on the relationship between the individual finite soul and the Supersoul and sets forth various methods by which the finite can realize the Infinite. These methods of attainment involve action which is unattached, renunciation of material consciousness, cultivation of the knowledge of the soul and the Supersoul, meditation on the Supersoul through the control of bodily organs, realization of the opulence of the Absolute and of the nature of the Absolute, the function of the three modes of material nature, goodness, passion and ignorance, the qualities of men and their faiths, the perfection of renunciation and the transcendental process of devotional service. At the end of this discourse Arjuna is enlightened as to his position and course of action and decides to surrender to the will of that absolute person who instructed him.

Utopia Of The Materially Detached

If such a curriculum were offered in our universities, we would not have dream schools but real centers of knowledge. And our students would not emerge as automatons, hippies and fanatics, but as men like Arjuna, men who embody the highest qualities. Indeed they would emerge as demigods, for the Divine would be expressed through their thoughts and actions. They would be the bravest of men because they would know that the soul is there even after the destruction of the body, and knowing this, they would be magnanimous, for they would not be living under a bodily conception but a spiritual one. Because they would not identify with their bodies, they would not consider themselves Americans or Chinese or Germans or Russians. They would consider these as designations given to objects perceived in dreams, and they would feel compassionate toward those who are still dreaming and who are caught in the nightmare of duality. They would exist on the earth as the water lily on water. They would not be touched by one drop of material consciousness, and they would see all the men and women, all the towns and cities, all the nations and continents and planets and the vast universe itself as “solitude as egoless, as imageless, as the sky, as sunlight, as darkness, as a phantom, as a dream, as a flash of lightning, as a bubble.” (Lord Buddha, Discourse on Prajna-paramita) Seeing everything material in this way, they would factually be situated in Krsna consciousness.

Actual Education

Buddhi means intelligence. It is by intelligence that I can understand that this body is not me. I may say, “My hand, my head, my arm,” but the use of the possessive pronoun indicates that these are my possessions and that I am situated apart from them. In order to understand the difference between the possessions and the individual who possesses them, we have to understand the difference between matter and spirit. This understanding should be the function of education. The etymology of the word “education” is significant here. It stems from the Latin word educere; e means out, and ducere means to lead, draw or bring. So education means to lead, draw or bring out The purpose of education should be to lead one out of the darkness of material consciousness, to draw the very best thing, which is spirit soul, out of its bodily encagement, and to bring it to the light of knowledge which is Krsna consciousness. This is real education, and this is the greatest service that can be rendered to the individual and the society. Education which is concerned with the gross body does not deserve the name education. It is merely a kind of folklore which teaches people how to decorate cadavers, how to nourish cadavers, and how to serve and worship cadavers. No wonder then that the universities are dead.

The whole curriculum of mankind can be enlivened by the propagation of the message of Bhagavad-gita. This great science of the soul can emancipate the entire race if it is introduced on a wide scale. Sri Krsna invites us: “Listen to My supreme word, which I shall impart to you for your benefit and which will give you great joy.” Is there anyone who would refuse to listen?

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