Based on a lecture given at the University of Johannesburg, 6 May 2011.

The Material Body

I recently saw a friend of mine wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘I am not who you think I am.’  This was interesting because we were always told in the Hare Krishna movement that, ‘You are not this body!’  Who are we, then, if we are not this bodies?

We were all born somewhere – in a hospital or maybe at home.  When we were born our parents thought: ‘Oh, what a beautiful baby boy!  What a beautiful baby girl!’  Our birth was registered at Home Affairs.  Our information was stored in a filing-cabinet or on a computer system.  We were classified according to sex, nationality and race.  This information appears as numbers on our Identification Document.  Birth, for most of us, meant that we were identified in terms of the material body.  Certain rites, based on race or gender, perpetuate this bodily identification until the moment of death.  The Sanskrit word for this phenomenon is upadhi or ‘bodily designation’:  ‘I am white’,  ‘I am black’, ‘I am male’, ‘I am female’, ‘I am young’,  ‘I am old’,  ‘I am South African’, ‘I am Zimbabwean’,  ‘I am Christian’, ‘I am Hindu’ and ‘I am Jew’.  These identifications, however, are temporary.  We are identifying with a body that will only last for 70 to 80 years – if we are lucky.  The environment that we identify ourselves with is also false, because it is temporary.

It is, therefore, stated in the beginning of Rupa Goswami’s devotional textbook Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.1.2 (quoted in Sri Caitanya-Caritamrita 19.170): sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam/tat-paratvena nirmalam/hrsikena hrsikesa-/sevanam bhaktir ucyate – Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses.  When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects.  One is freed from all material designations (sarva-upadhi-vinirmuktam), and, simply by being employed in the service of the Lord, one’s senses are purified’.

What Is Materialism?

Possessing wealth and material possessions is the stereotyped view of “materialism”.  Transcendentalists, however, consider materialism to be more something far subtler than owning a nice house or a sports car.  Material facility does not necessarily determine the level of one’s spiritual advancement.  A rich person may be surrounded by beautiful material objects and be detached; and a poor man lying in the street may kill another over a blanket.  To consider the material body to be our self, to identify with the temporary material world and to nurture material desires are more deeply rooted aspects of materialism.  The perpetuation of material existence depends on our desire.  If we are attached to this material world and to this material body, we will remain here. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami explains that if we desire even one ray of sunshine, we’ll have to come back to this world to experience it.

False Ego/ Real Ego

Buddhism teaches us that this world is a place of suffering.  Most of our suffering is experienced through our own egos or those of others.  The solution to suffering, according to Buddhism, is the negation of ego or personality.  The Vedas identify the problem of ego as false ego – false ego being the pure soul or atma’s false identification with matter.  The Vedic perspective is positive.  Rather than negate identity, our true spiritual identity is re-awakened through the process of yoga or self-realization.  The Bhagavad-gita explains that there is no loss or diminution on the spiritual path.  The slightest amount of spiritual progress made in this life carries over into our next life.  Whatever material progress we make in this life, however, is lost at the time of death.

Self Realization

The Vedas teach three levels of self-realization, namely: sambhanda, abhideya and prayojana.

Sambhanda is the development of our relationship with Krishna or the Divine.  Sambhanda begins with the first aphorism of the Vedanta (spiritual conclusions of the Vedas) – athato brahma jijnasa.  Athato brahma jijnasa means ‘now that you have achieved the rare human form of life enquire into the nature of the Absolute Truth.’  This human form of life is, therefore, meant for self-realization.  Our ultimate purpose is not meant to simply acquire wealth or to maintain this material body.  We are meant to understand our eternal spiritual identity.  Self-realization begins with self-interest – understanding our position in relation to the world around us, understanding our spiritual identity and understanding the nature of God.

The next stage of self-realization is called abhideya – the practice of spiritual life in this material world.  The most important abhideya, or spiritual practice, is the chanting of the Holy Names of God, the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.  The chanting of Hare Krishna is both the means and the end of spiritual practice.  You might think, ‘Why do I need to chant this mantra?  Surely self-realization is more complicated than reciting words?’  The cause of the problem is simple.  Material desire.  The solution, however, is also simple.  Spiritual application.

The final stage of self-realization is called prayojana.  At the stage of prayojana or spiritual perfection we are fully aware of our eternal, spiritual identity and are free from the temporary identification with matter.  This is called siddha-deha or svarupa-siddhi -realization of our spiritual form.  At the stage of spiritual perfection, we still chant – but in full awareness of our spiritual body and our spiritual purpose.

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