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The Relationship Between the Body and the Self
(This was a taped conversation, not an email.)
Joseph: Can we go into this identification with the body some more? Again, I am not very sure whether I have a very clear sense about that. I don’t really identify anymore that this self is “in” the body, and that I am “in” the body. I have a sense more that the body is “in” me. This thing seems to surround this body.
Ram: That’s right; the body is encompassed by awareness.
Joseph: That’s how I would describe it.
Ram: The body is an object to the self. According to Vedanta, the body is five elements: Air, Fire, Water, Earth and Ether – it is not conscious and only appears to be conscious because the self permeates each and every atom. Shankara has a beautiful verse where he describes walking down the street and seeing a blacksmith using his bellows to intensify a fire in which an iron ball is sitting. The iron is inert, but while it is in the fire it is radiant. You can actually see through the ball! It has taken on the energy from the fire. In the same way, this body appears to be sentient because the fire of consciousness blazes within it. But in fact it is inert – it is just a collection of five material elements occupying a certain amount of space.
So I am the seer of the body. The body is an object to me. I know the sensations that are rising and falling in the body. I know when hunger arises and falls, when sex arises and falls, and I know all the different feelings and sensations depending on the various risings and fallings of energies in the body. But that is not me. It is within my awareness. And it doesn’t affect me.
Joseph: Let’s look at another verse in the Bhagavad Gita. This verse talks about how to keep the senses away from the sense objects. It says, “The objects of the senses turn away from the abstinent man…” (Chapter II, verse 59). What is the meaning of that?
Ram: When one knows the self, one’s longing for objects ceases – because when I know I am whole and complete, why would I believe any object or situation could add happiness to me?
Joseph: I can easily go with that. I had a situation this evening when I offered to buy a man’s video camera but he didn’t want to sell it to me. Although I did try to make it happen, I did not get upset that it did not work out. The important thing I want to say is that I was not particularly attached to any outcome.
Ram: That would be “Joseph.” Joseph wanted something and he didn’t get it, but he wasn’t that bothered about it; he let it go pretty quickly. The self doesn’t want a camera, because the self is the camera. To the self, that guy having the camera is the same as Joseph having the camera. So the self didn’t see why this camera should move from here to there. When you want something, the identification shifts off the self to the ego.
Joseph: That was a desire happening there?
Ram: Yes, that was a desire. You desired the camera and you tried to get it.
Joseph: I did definitely want to get it. But it just sort of turned up. There wasn’t that much attachment to it.
Ram: What happened to the “I” during that incident? Was the “I” the one who wanted the camera or was the “I” watching the one who wanted it?
Joseph: It was just like some kind of play happening. It was just a drama.
Ram: Who recorded the drama? There has to be somebody recording the drama or you couldn’t have recorded it with such clarity. In fact it was like a dream and “Joseph” was an object. Were you watching Joseph go through this drama?
Joseph: Yes, I was outside the theatre. There was a sense of self the whole time. There was the sense of the drama unfolding in which Joseph had a part.
Ram: Well, the context in which that was playing, the one that was watching, was you, the self. The stage on which the drama unfolded was you. And it was a temporary series of events that played on the screen of awareness and then it went off. And later another series of events came up and played.
Joseph: Looking at that, I can see Joseph had some longing for an object, but the self did not have that longing.
Ram: That’s right, the self didn’t have any longings. So when you say, “I had longing for an object,” that means that you think you are Joseph.
Joseph: It was clear through the whole thing that I was out of it.
Ram: At that moment, you identified the “I” with Joseph?
Joseph: Yes. The body and mind of Joseph were taking part in the drama.