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You’re Not in a Body, the Body Is in You
Neil: Okay, I’ve got lots of illusory time. I’m at least as time-rich as Bill Gates is money-rich. I honestly don’t do anything important at all. I’ve been lounging around here by the pool, reading The New Yorker and The New York Times, chatting with Rami, one of my friends from Sri Lanka, sleeping whenever the whim strikes, surfing the internet at my leisure and writing email satsangs, which I enjoy. I particularly enjoy yours and I feel quite in touch with what is happening with you. So here goes on your latest.
Ram: God is just an explanation given to people who find themselves caught up in a body to explain their origins and the origins of the world in which they find themselves. You are eternal awareness.
Neil: If I am this, why am I in a body with a mind?
Ram: This is a very important but tricky and subtle topic. If you can sort this out, you’re finished spiritually. I will try to approach it in a number of ways to help you understand.
Krishna, speaking as the self, in the Gita says, “They (meaning all the bodies and minds) are in me. I am not in them.” What does this mean?
Perhaps it will help to think about it this way. The body is known to you. But you are not known to the body. The body and mind appear as objects in your awareness. You see them, you experience them, but they do not experience you. So who is in who?
Of course this all hinges on the meaning of “in.” I’m sorry to bring in semantics, but semantics is perhaps the main issue at this level of understanding (I’m sorry if this sounds frightfully intellectual) because we need to be clear what terms mean if the teaching is going to be useful. When we say something is in something else we are basically speaking of the relationship between one thing and another. In the physical world object A may be in with reference to object B, but out with reference to object C. In the ontological world in means “within the scope of.” So it has to do with the pervasiveness of objects. The principle is that a gross from of consciousness (and remember, we are dealing with, as scripture says, a non-dual reality composed only of consciousness); a grosser form of consciousness cannot perceive or know a subtler form. If a level or form of consciousness is subtler than another it is said to contain them within it.
If the body is the sentient principle then the mind and the self would be in the body. But the body lacks sentiency. It is the grossest form of consciousness and as such it lacks consciousness. How this happens can only be explained by the theory of maya, which in Vedanta is said to be that which isn’t, meaning the self somehow has the power to appear to be something that it is not. The body then is consciousness, but it is not aware. It exists (sat), but lacks awareness (chit). Awareness is all-powerful. It can (apparently) become something that it is not. So it can apparently become insentient. Still, it does not become matter, as a worm, for example, becomes a butterfly. In this case the worm disappears completely and a butterfly, something different, comes into being. But it remains as chit, consciousness, and appears as the cosmos, the five elements, like an image in a mirror. This power is called maya, the power to make something that isn’t seem to be something that is.
Vedic spiritual science explains maya as a series of levels or layers in (and of) consciousness. It is like one of those Russian toys, a doll within a doll within a doll. The outer doll does not know that another small (read: subtler) doll is hidden within it. So while the mind seems to be hidden in the body and the self seems to be hidden in the mind, it is actually the other way around. The self knows the mind, but the mind does not know the self. The mind knows the body, but the body does no know the mind. So the body is in the mind, not the other way around.
This may seem like semantics, but it is crucial to anyone striving to free themselves of limitation because as long as you have it backwards about your relationship to the body you are imprisoned in it. As soon as you see that the body (and indeed the whole world, since the body is just the five elements) is in you, you are free of it and all the karma that attaches to it. The body and mind depend on the self, but the self does not depend on the body and mind.
Here’s another way to think about it: If you are in the body, then how do you get out of the body when you go to sleep? Who is watching you in a dream when you are living your dream life? The dream body and mind, which you take to be real in the dream and appear as objects, are known to whom? If you are caught up in them, how do you know them? You can only know them if they are objects. To know something you need an (grosser) object and a (subtler) subject.
What happens when you, Neil, sleeps? There is no body or mind there. In fact there is no Neil there. How did you get out of body and mind and get rid of Neil too? You did not get out of them, because you were never in them. They appear in you in the waking and dream states. Because of maya in the waking state you were tricked into thinking of yourself as caught within the body. But you can get out of the body in the waking state too by inquiring into who you are. When you investigate consciousness you see that it is limitless, that everything is contained it in, but nothing contains it.
Or look at it this way: Where do you experience the body? Is it out there in physical reality, like a mountain or a tree? It seems to be. But is it actually out there or do you experience it in here in your mind? Yes, I experience it in my mind. Okay. Where do you experience your mind? Well, like the body, I experience it in here, in my consciousness. Fine. How far are you from your body and mind? Is there a gap, a tunnel down which I must journey to contact my body and mind? No, there is no tunnel. So your body and mind are you? Yes. They have to be me. Okay. But are you the body and mind? No. I cannot be the body and mind. Why not? Because they are known to me, but they do not know me. Can you do without them? Oh, yes, very nicely. I spend eight hours a day without them. They do not limit me in any way. What about the waking state? Are you in them? No, they appear in me as objects and do not limit me in any way.
Neil: How and when did we get pressed into prakriti, into maya? For what reason?
Ram: It depends on who “we” is. Non-dual Vedanta does not admit the existence of a bunch of “we”s. Qualified non-dual Vedanta does admit the existence of individuals, but it says that they are not actually real. They have an apparent, temporal existence, but no absolute existence. Actually, maya, prakriti, is in you, not the other way around. This is something that needs to be realized. Shakti appears in you. Your visions appear in you. Even in the case where you seem to appear in a dream, a vision or even in the waking state, for that matter, actually the you that appears is only an insentient image, like a film projection. Everything that is known is only known by you, by consciousness. “Neil” is just a concept in consciousness that makes it possible for a body-mind to function in a world of appearances.
The issue of when is not an issue, because a non-dual reality is eternal. It is not in time. Time is in it. If you examine your life carefully you will see that there is a part of you that has never changed. All the events, emotions, thoughts, etc. appeared before it and then disappeared. Yet you remain, ever the same, the unblinking eye of awareness.
Finally, there is no reason why we as body-minds are here. There are explanations (to suffer, to realize the self, to get what we want, to play, etc.) which can act as reasons, but when you realize your nature as non-dual awareness the why disappears. This is so because the why comes from an intellect that has not understood the nature of reality. This does not mean, as most imagine, that the quest for the why is not valid. In fact I argue that ultimately the only valid spiritual path is inquiry, although the experience-based sadhanas are useful in preparing the mind for inquiry. Life is a problem because we do not understand what it is, not because it is not understandable. By inquiring into the why, understanding comes and one’s problems disappear. This whole spiritual business is just about ridding oneself of the need to know why.
Or put it this way: from the self’s point of view, the bodies and minds are not here, meaning they have not come from somewhere else. They appear in awareness by a wonderful magic and they disappear when you see from awareness, not from ideas.
Neil: You said you cannot be in everyone’s heart, because you are everyone’s heart. If this is true, why do I not know what is in your heart, while the self knows what is in every heart (viz. not a blade of grass moves without the knowledge of the self).
Ram: You know what my heart is when you know what your heart is, i.e. consciousness, awareness. There is a difference between the self as self and the self as mind. From the self’s point of view there is no mind, no moving blades of grass. Or if there are then they are known because awareness, the sentient principle, illumines them.
But awareness does not have memory, so what it knows has no meaning. As they appear within the panoramic scope of awareness, the apparently moving blades of grass are known as self. That is all – because they can only be self.
Neil, the individual, by definition cannot know everything, because his intellect is limited. Only Isvara, the cosmic intellect, can know everything. But Isvara is as indifferent to the meaning of what is happening as the self, since Isvara is just an explanation, not an actual being. Knowledge is only important to embodied beings – plants, animals and humans – because they need to negotiate their way through this dream called the world. And because knowledge is power and human beings feel powerless, they try to accumulate it, they seek the edge. To the self, you, it does not matter what is known and what isn’t. It is only interested (a bit of personification here) in enjoying itself. With the world it enjoys, without the world it enjoys.
The Upanishad asks, “What is it, knowing which everything is known?” Do you need to drink the seven seas to know what salt water is – when a simple sip will do? The Western view is that one continues to explore material and psychological reality (maya) to accumulate ever greater and greater knowledge. But the problem with this approach – as I mentioned – is meaning. What does it mean? This is so because knowledge is relative to the ignorance it removes. And since ignorance is beginingless, it continually demands more knowledge. The more you know the more you realize how much you don’t know. You do not get to total or absolute knowledge by gaining knowledge of things in maya, what is in my heart, for example. What is in my heart is not my heart. If you know my heart you know everything in it because everything in it is just the heart, i.e. consciousness. The body and mind are just consciousness.
How can I be happy if I don’t care about my body and mind? How can I function in society if I don’t care about my body and mind? I say it is only when you are free of body and mind consciousness are you happy. As long as I’m in it, I’m in trouble. You don’t get out by physically leaving the world. You get out by seeing that you are already out. As what? As pure awareness.
I hope that covers it. Things here are just fine. I hope your karmic situation improves.
~ Love, Ram