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Am I in the Body or Is the Body in Me?
Inquirer: Hi, Arlindo. I have a question. I never feel I am my body, but what I feel is I am inside my body, specifically behind my forehead.
Arlindo: If we take our sense perceptions to be law, we may end up with such erroneous conclusions. Our sense perception says that the sky is blue – that space is nothing rather than a substance; that the sun turns around the earth – that the surface of our planet is flat, since we can travel by ship from the South Pole to the North Pole without noticing any curves or roundness.
Sense perceptions can be very deceptive, and for that reason Isvara has developed intellect for the human jivas so that we can correct and convert sense perception into knowledge.
You feel that your Self is located in the body and specifically behind your forehead because below the forehead you have your most important sense organ: your vision – the window by which you can know all colors and forms, and with the help of the mind attach names and properties to them.
This all due to Maya; it produces all sorts of misapprehensions in jiva’s mind that binds us to self-ignorance, which results as an attachment to the body and the inevitable sense of imprisonment and limitation.
The only way to correct your misconception is by submitting your mind to the entire teachings of Vedanta, and that with the help of an honest and competent teacher. This process is known as: (1) shravana, (2) manana, (3) nididhyasana, a process that can be very long – lifetimes long, as well relatively short, depending on one’s qualifications. The primary and most important qualifications are: (1) trust in the teachings/teacher, (2) humility, the ability to put aside ego’s vanities – one’s great ideas about oneself that prevent the student from coming to the openness of mind to say please teach me, just like Arjuna said to Krishna at the end of chapter two [of the Bhagavad Gita] after some reluctance and resistance.
This is a blessed moment in one’s spiritual evolution, without which there is little or no hope for the jiva. Without the help of scriptural knowledge and a teacher with the skills to unfold the teachings systematically and consistently – not sporadically – almost invariably jiva makes little or no progress, with rare exceptions of course. But those rare exceptions are not the rule. To be safe, it is better not to include ourselves in the category of the spiritually advanced genius, and go through the entire program as presented by Vedanta.
Inquirer: But I apply the Vedanta practices, such as “I am awareness; I am the one aware of the entity in my head, etc.” But this identification does not change. I feel trapped and stuck in this body and that my limits are the boundaries of the body and its functions.
Arlindo: As mentioned above, you need to earnestly, patiently and dedicatedly submit your mind to the entire body of knowledge of Vedanta, not to its small fragments as we find people doing in the Neo-Advaita movement. Mere pointers, or mahavakyas (the declarations of the absolute truth of the Upanishads), only work for highly qualified students. One hears it, one gets it and never doubts it – the end of the search, the end of one’s misidentification with the body-mind complex. One remains permanently established as limitless, changeless, pure awareness.
The fact that you still fell trapped and stuck is a clear indication that those isolated statements of the scriptures did not convince you of your real free nature never trapped or stuck in anybody. The truth is that you are never in the body, but the other way around: the body is in you. You are not the body-mind experiencing awareness. You are limitless awareness experiencing the object known as the body-mind.
But I am not here to discuss or argue with you about that. I am here to inspire and encourage you to humbly and patiently do the work, do your consistent and systematic self-inquiry.
Inquirer: I also feel that awareness is tied to the body-mind and without a body-mind there is no awareness as such; for example, when the body dies there is nothing left. So again the one who claims to be awareness-existence-bliss can only claim so because of the body-mind. I do not believe that the mind survives death, because I do not know what happens upon death.
Arlindo: In chapter two Lord Krishna clearly declares: consciousness is not part, product or property of the body; (2) consciousness is an independent entity which pervades and enlivens the body; (3) consciousness is not limited by the boundaries of the body – it extends out of the body infinitely in all directions; (4) when the body dies the consciousness does not die, for it belongs to another order of reality (“beyond” the paradigm of space-time superimposed by Maya; (5) when the body dies consciousness remains, but it cannot be expressed and experienced, due to the absence of the vehicle or instrument. It ever exists, but cannot be perceived without its sentient instruments. Therefore we need the body-mind in order to realize the presence of consciousness and claim our identity as such.
The fact that you reject the statements of the Upanishads disqualifies you for Vedanta, my friend. And please note that Vedanta does not encourage blind faith.
Inquirer: I do not know if there is reincarnation or just total dissolution. I know that my mind is active because there is a body and not the other way around. How to resolve all of this and become free?
Arlindo: It is not relevant to know. Much of what is stated in the Vedic scriptures cannot be verified by our senses and the mind. But once we develop enough shraddha (trust) in the scriptures, we can hear or read certain statements with the confidence of its truth – and I am not talking of blind trust, but a trust based on the results of several other statements which have been contemplated, verified and known for good.
The fact is that you were given a blessed opportunity of birth with an intelligent body-mind. It is happening right now. You are the union between spirit and matter, and in this mixture you are said to be incarnated as a jiva. Make the best possible use of this opportunity and analyze, inquire and progressively contemplate the “entire” teachings of Vedanta with the help of a competent teacher.
Only then you will develop shraddha in the scriptures and will be motivated do your work hard and persistently until you no longer feel stuck or bound to the body and all other objects in the field. Attachment is dependence, slavery – it is the cause of samsara, a condition responsible for the psychological suffering experienced by all humans under the spell of avidya/ignorance. Good luck, my friend. I hope this helps.
Inquirer: Hi, Arlindo, this is me again. You say: “Trust is the first and foremost qualification, and please note that Vedanta does not encourage blind faith.” But I do not see the difference between trust and blind faith. They both seem the same to me. Trust for me is something that is built by time through an honest, true relation with someone or something that displays truth, honesty and other qualifications. What do you think?
Arlindo: I agree with you, Fausto. Vedanta does not encourage blind faith, but an open and flexible mind, especially during the stage called shravana (listening to the teachings). If the mind is closed, prejudiced and attached to its old notions of reality, Vedanta will be of no help. The faith in the scriptures we suggest is a trust, pending the result of your own analysis, contemplation and investigation.
For example, we have now a large Vedanta sangha in Brazil. New people join us every day. Of course I do not ask them to trust the scriptures right way. I usually tell them to stay with it, follow the system, the program, and after a few months you will know if you got real benefit or not. You will know if the scripture makes sense or not. If you do understand Vedanta you will inevitably develop trust in the teachings. I have these days a student who after few months of struggle and many daily questions finally wrote to me that he finally developed trust in the teacher/teachings. You see, Vedanta is a teacher/teaching package. The most difficult part of the work is to help people to come to the point of developing a trust in the teacher/teachings, a value for the Vedanta scriptural knowledge. After all, the student is the one to remove their own ignorance. The teacher only helps to explain the meaning of the verses – the meaning of the declarations of the Upanishads.
Inquirer: I understand – so the whole point now is to find a qualified teacher who I can have access to, who lives the teachings and can help others to remove their auto-ignorance – I think it all goes back to the teacher and how he/she delivers the teachings and how it honestly reflects in his/her Vedantic life.
Arlindo: It all goes back to the student. If he/she is ready to be taught, a proper Vedanta teacher will show up. It is all Isvara; Isvara will choose the teacher for you according to your qualifications. Namaste, and good luck.