The Body Cannot Be the Self

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“Most people identify themselves with their body or some label that their body has—like male, female, black, white, and so forth. Yet, from our discussions, we can understand that, in fact, the body cannot be the self. We’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not logical to conclude that you are your body, that a person is his body. How have we come to that?” This is the query posed by Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda, a world-renowned yoga spiritual master, to his audience during a lecture on what truly makes up our essence.

In order to determine how we know the body is not the self, Jagad Guru explains that the body is constantly changing—more particularly, the molecules that make up our body (and brain) change so frequently that we do not have the same body for very long. As Jagad Guru states, “The body I have today is not the same body that I had a few years ago, and therefore I can conclude that since I still exist, yet my body that I had does not exist anymore, then I’m not my body.

Because if I was my body, I would no longer exist, because the body’s gone.” If we were to accept that the self is indeed the body, then we would need to accept that our lives would only last as short as a few days. But because we continue to live despite our changing bodies, we can know that this is simply not true.

On the other hand, because it appears that each of us contains a “perceiver” (meaning, “there’s someone looking out, there’s someone seeing” from inside your body to the outside world), many researchers have gone seeking for the “self” but have found no proof within the body. “There’s no molecule or cell,that they can say, ‘This is the person.This is the self, the person who is looking out into the world.’” As a result, they conclude that “there is no material self,” and in turn, they conclude that “the self is an illusion.”

Jagad Guru states in his lecture that “they are saying that there is no self… there is no ‘I’… If I don’t exist, obviously I cannot have any meaning. There can’t be any meaning to my existence if I don’t exist.” Because self-discovery is “based upon the self’s existence,” this can be quite a discouraging thought for those on the path to self-discovery. Jagad Guru asks, “What do I do if I conclude that I don’t exist and, if I don’t really exist, therefore my search for self-discovery is—what? It’s over, right? What do I do?”

This is a question many in this dilemma may ask, and an answer that may be considered is to just “give up” on that journey. But Jagad Guru says that we don’t have to give up. Instead, he tells us that what you can give up is“a view of reality which limits [your] self to a particular element.” We can give up the “materialistic world view.” He goes on to explain that “if a person holds to the materialist world view, they believe that there’s only one element—one fundamental element that exists, and that’s matter. That’s the only energy that exists. So, if that’s the only element that exists, then I, myself, must be made of that energy. If I exist, I am made of matter.”

But recall that scientists found no material self—there was no one “in the brain,” no matter that made up a “self.” So, to give up the materialistic world view is to give up the self, they believe. Jagad Guru says that there is another possible conclusion: “We don’t need to throw away our awareness of our own existence. Rather, we can throw away the idea that if we exist, we have to be made of matter.” He urges his audience to question, “Why can’t we be made of an element other than matter?” He proclaims that “if I can exist and I’m not made of matter, then that means that some other energy exists, some other element than matter.” This is the key to our essence.

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