Ancient Wisdom: YOU ARE ETERNAL.
I exist. . . I will always exist
I am the eternal spark of life
Only temporarily in this mortal frame
The body will die
But I will never die.
If you erroneously identify yourself with your body, you will conclude that your existence will end with the destruction of your body. But if you know that you are the eternal self within the body, you know that your existence will not end when your body dies.
In ancient Greece, the sage Socrates was condemned to death for teaching "strange doctrines." Shortly before Socrates drank the poisonous brew that would bring about the destruction of his body, one of his students asked him how he wanted to be buried:
"Then," said Crito, "we shall strive to do as you bid us. But how are we to bury you?"
"However you like," said Socrates, "provided you can catch me and prevent my escaping you." Then with a quiet laugh and a look in our direction he remarked, "You know, I can't persuade Crito that I am the Socrates here present, the person who is now talking to you and arranging the topics of our conversation; he imagines that I am the dead body which he will shortly be looking at, and so he asks how he is to bury me."
Because Socrates understood perfectly that he was not the body, but was the spark of life only temporarily inhabiting the body, he was not interested in what would happen to his body after he left it behind. This is wisdom. An enlightened person sees the body as a garment that he is only wearing and using temporarily. An enlightened person fully understands his identity as an eternal particle of life, unborn and undying.
Accurate and beautiful descriptions of the self can be found in the Bhagavad-gita:
That which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable self.
Only the material body of the indestructible, immeasurable, and eternal living entity is subject to destruction; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharata.
For the self there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does the self ever cease to exist. The self is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval. The self is not slain when the body is slain.
It is said that the self is invisible, inconceivable, immutable and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.
BHAGAVAD-GITA 2: 25
Your body has a beginning and an end; your body is subject to birth and death, but you, the spark of life within the body, are eternal. You have no beginning, nor will you have an end. The material body will cease existing, but you will never cease existing.
Why me? I'm only 25 years old! I have my whole life ahead of me!" This was the reaction of a woman who had just been told she suffered from leukemia and had one year to live.
Why was this woman so distraught upon hearing that she would soon die? The answer is obvious: she wanted to exist, and she believed she would soon cease existing. Because she falsely identified her body as herself, she thought that her existence began 25 years earlier, and that it would end in one year. Since most bodies last at least 60 to 70 years, she felt that she was being cheated out of 40 or 50 years of existence.
But if this woman had known the truth--that her existence didn't depend on the existence of her body, and that she would exist not only for another 50 years but for eternity--then she would not have been so angry and afraid. The realization that "I am eternal; I will not die when my body dies" is truly liberating.
There is nothing in the world more inevitable than death; and there is nothing that causes nearly as much misery. The dying person suffers, and those who are attached to the dying person suffer. Yet all this suffering is unnecessary; it is due to ignorance.
Our bodies are dying – from the moment of birth. As our bodies grow, we gradually realize that death is inevitable, but we try to keep the thought out of our minds. We carry on as if we will be in this world forever – in this body forever. We diligently and conscientiously build our little kingdoms; then, as middle age sets in, most of us experience a crisis, realizing that our age of youth is gone forever – that time is moving, and moving fast. We become increasingly aware of our mortality, but we try hard to forget it. We continue to live here as if we will always live here. We want to exist.
In other words, when our false identification of the body as the self and our knowledge that the body will ultimately cease to exist is combined with our desire to exist, this cause us to try to put the body’s imminent destruction out of our minds. For a person who falsely identifies the body as the self to remember that the body will one day be finished is for him to remember that he will one day be finished. Such remembrance causes great anxiety, anger, and confusion over the "purpose of it all."
So we try to keep death out of our minds. We try to think that only other people die--that only other people have fatal accidents, get cancer, and so on. We try to live a happy life, free from anxiety, but fear of death is always in the back of our consciousness. Thus, we are always in anxiety, usually without even knowing why.
This anxiety may come to the surface when you go to the doctor for some unknown ailment. Between the time the doctor does his tests and the time he tells you the results, you worry about how serious your ailment is. And you are never quite ready to hear the doctor say, "I'm going to be honest with you--you've got a fatal disease."
If you are ever told that you have some fatal disease, you will likely respond with surprise. "What? Me? I'm going to die? No, it can't be true!" But what's the big surprise? Why should you be surprised if a doctor tells you that you are going to die? Don't you know that everybody dies? You do--but you've stuck that fact in the back of your mind.
Clinging to the Body
If you are ignorant, you will cling to your body. You won't want to give it up. Even when the body is wracked by cancer or some other disease, you will cling to it as if it were the most precious thing.
Right at this moment, millions of people are in hospitals all over the world, trying to cling to their fatally diseased bodies--clinging to the deceptively encouraging words of the doctors, who themselves are unable to understand or accept the body's dissolution.
Not long ago, a friend of mine whose body was only 28 years old was diagnosed as having one of the most serious forms of leukemia. Her doctors told her she would only live for another six or eight weeks if she didn't undergo chemotherapy treatment. They told her, however, that if she did take the treatment, she would probably live for one or two years. Wanting to cling to her body for as long as she could, she took the chemotherapy treatment. The chemotherapy treatment, however, destroyed her body's ability to fight infections, and she "died" after only two weeks in the hospital. Even during her last sixteen hours, while her fever was very high and her pulse was very weak and getting weaker, the doctors kept encouraging her to cling to her body. The last words she heard the doctor say were, "Don't you worry. We'll have you bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in no time."
Even if we want to hold on to the body, we will never succeed. Have you ever tried to stop yourself midway in a descent down a very steep, slippery slide? It's almost impossible to cling to the slide. Attempts to cling to the body are infinitely more futile. Once you're on the downward slope of death (which begins at conception), there's no way you can stop it. Scientists know this. The best they can hope for is a slight extension of the length of the slide. They call this "life extension.”
The "life extension" industry, as well as the "positive thinking" movement, has become so vast because so many of us want so badly to keep our bodies forever. And the reason we cling to our bodies so frantically is because we want to exist--and we foolishly believe that we cannot exist without our bodies.
While living in the body, we become attached to people and things. At the time of death, we experience great suffering because we are ripped away from everyone and everything we love. The cessation of existence also means the cessation of all relationships. After all, a relationship can only exist where the relating entities exist. So when we are on our deathbed, we feel great sorrow that all relationships will soon be over.
But our suffering is not limited to our anxiety throughout life and our sorrow on our deathbed. It continues even after we have been pronounced "dead." We get kicked out of the body just like a tenant gets kicked out of an apartment by a cruel landlord. This makes us totally bewildered, confused, and afraid. We don't know who we are (since the body we identified with is gone), where we are, why we are, or where we are going. Since we did not prepare for the journey--indeed, since we didn't even know that we would still exist--we are like an orphan lost in the wilderness. And just as, while "alive," we were pushed around by the forces of material nature on the gross physical level, so after "death" we continue to be pushed around by the subtle material forces.
If we are attached to a dying person and identify that person with his body, we also suffer greatly. Thinking that the person we love will soon cease existing, we feel great sorrow. Macho men, conservative women, friends, relatives--we all cry unrestrainedly at the beds of our dying loved ones. I once read of a young mother who wept bitter, angry tears over the "death" of her 15-year-old son. She lamented, "His life's up before it had hardly even begun!" Since she thought that her son's existence began at his birth and ended at his death, she was very angry that his life had been "cut short." She didn't know that the existence of the person or self who temporarily played the role of her son did not begin at birth, nor did it end at death. In fact, it wasn't her "son's" life that had been "cut short", but the self's particular role as her son. Life--the self--is without beginning or end. The self--the life particle--always exists, so how can its existence be "cut short"? Ignorance causes us to suffer great anguish unnecessarily.
The suffering of those who identify the bodies of their loved ones as being their loved ones is beyond description. Those who have experienced such suffering know it. Those who haven't experienced it don't know it. It's as simple as that.
So much suffering is connected with death; yet death is not the real cause of the suffering. The real cause is ignorance-the false identification of the body as the self.
But just as great as the suffering caused by this ignorance is the joy that naturally arises when the shackles of ignorance are removed. The heavier the burden, the greater the feeling of relief when that burden is removed. The removal of fear and anguish from the heart creates the experience of real freedom, real liberation. Just as the suffering caused by ignorance can never be described adequately, neither can the joy born out of wisdom.
He who knows that a person or self is actually an eternal, indestructible particle of the element life, which is only temporarily in the material body, cannot be conquered by either his own "death" or the "death" of loved ones.
QUESTIONER #1: I don't feel the need to achieve that which you call liberation because I'm already pretty much fearless of death. I believe that I am the body and when my body dies, I’ll no longer exist--but I'm not afraid of not existing. In fact, I kind of look forward to it.
JAGAD GURU: Why?
QUESTIONER #1: It'll be a relief. I've enjoyed life, and at death I can have a long rest.
JAGAD GURU: Like most materialists, you're completely deluded by your wishful thinking. You want to see death as a long sleep. You want to believe that you will cease existing. But one day you will be unpleasantly surprised. When your body dies and you continue to exist--but without the body you considered to be yourself--you will be lost and confused. You say you don't need to become liberated or enlightened, but the truth is you don't want to be liberated. You don't want to know who you really are, what your essence really is.
You don't want to know the truth because it would shatter your false hopes and dreams, You hope that one day you will cease existing because your life of sense gratification has burdened you with all kinds of troubles. You're miserable and you want to believe that at death your misery will end. You're simply an annihilationist.
Materialists always swing back and forth between the desire for sensual enjoyment and the desire to forget their existence. So it is natural for such materialists like you to look forward to death as a long sleep. You see life as one giant party and death as the peaceful sleep that follows.
QUESTIONER #1: Not really. I see life as a mixture of lots of enjoyment, but also lots of work.
JAGAD GURU: All right. And still other materialists see life as lots of work and a little enjoyment, but in any case, you and other materialists hope that at death you'll become free from it all by slipping into a deep sleep. You hope that you will become nothing—zero. Because if you are nothing, if you don't exist, you can't suffer anymore.
A friend of mine who now teaches the science of identity once told me, "I didn't welcome the idea that my existence would continue after death. I dreaded the very thought. I had looked forward to the day when I would become nothing. Mortality was my hope. I fought the idea of immortality with every fiber of my being and every mental maneuver that I was capable of." That's exactly what you're doing right now. You are fighting the truth as hard as you can. You want to believe that you will cease to exist-but you're just engaged in wishful thinking.
QUESTIONER #2: It seems to me that a, materialist denies his spiritual essence and eternality so that he can continue with his hedonistic lifestyle.
JAGAD GURU: Yes. The entire premise of hedonism--that sense gratification can satisfy a person--is based on false bodily identification. Once that foundation is removed, once you realize that you aren't your body, then your hedonistic lifestyle has no practical basis. So if you are a hedonist and realize your true identity, your realization would pressure you to change your lifestyle. You would feel the need to change the focus of your present activities and goals from the transitory to the eternal. You would be faced with the very real challenge of having to change your behavior.
If you believe that your existence is temporary, that after your body is finished, the show is over, then your only interest will be how much sense enjoyment you can get here and now. But if you realize you're eternal, you will become concerned about your future. And this will make it harder for you to focus on your immediate interest of sense enjoyment, it will distract you from your hedonistic lifestyle. So it is lust that keeps you from really pursuing and accepting the truth of your identity.
QUESTIONER #2: For us to really enjoy something sensually, for example, taste, we have to dive into it. We can't remain a detached witness to the event. But if I accept that I'm not the body, I'll see myself as separate or apart from the body, and this will lessen the enjoyment. My question is, isn’t it true that a hedonist needs to identify with the body in order to fully enjoy his sensual experiences?
JAGAD GURU: Yes, that's a good point. Yogis, for example, have a meditation technique that helps them realize that they are not the body. All day long they say to themselves, "I am aware that I am doing such-and-such." By doing this they experience a type of detachment from their body and its activities. While a yogi is eating, for example, he'll say to himself, “I am aware that I am eating... I am aware that I am tasting something sweet." He doesn't dive into the taste, rather, he is a little apart from it. He gradually becomes detached from all the body's activities, sensations, feelings, and so on. He is aware that things are happening, but he's untouched or unmoved by them. He's in the world, but he's not touched by it. He's free from the movement of the waves of sensations, thoughts, and so on that pass over him. He's the calm center of the storm that rages all around him. Such a yogi and a hedonist are exact opposites in consciousness. The yogi stands apart from the body and the hedonist dives into it, trying to savor every pleasant sensual tingle. And by diving into the sensual gratification, he is diving into the material senses, that is, he is becoming more deeply immersed in false bodily identification.
QUESTIONER #2: So can a person ever really realize that he's not the body if he’s a hedonist?
JAGAD GURU: Not really. He doesn't want to. The very idea is so completely opposed to how he wants things to be that he is highly unlikely to see things as they are. And even if he glimpses the truth of his identity, he loses that glimpse if he doesn't act on that truth.
QUESTIONER #3: One time in my life I was really a heavy materialist—or, as you say, hedonist. Now when I look back, I can see why I was so reluctant to accept that I would con-tinue to live after death: I didn't like the idea that in the future, even after death, I would be held responsible for my present activities.
JAGAD GURU: What, you hoped that death would automatically free you from responsibility?
QUESTIONER #3: Yes. I didn’t like the feeling that I might he held responsible.
JAGAD GURU: That's because you didn't want to behave responsibly. You didn't want to have your "free" lifestyle hampered. Compassion, guilt, right, wrong; all these things which hedonists see as hang-ups are inseparable from the concept of responsibility. And, of course, responsibility implies free will—and no real materialist wants to accept that he or others have free will.
QUESTIONER #3: Then it could be said that a hedonist doesn't want to be liberated—he doesn't want to know the truth of his eternal spiritual identity because he doesn't want to be free.
JAGAD GURU: Yes. The hedonist is afraid of real freedom because with real freedom comes responsibility.
So although realizing one's eternal spiritual nature is liberating, many people don't want this realization. In fact, to most people, ignorance is bliss. If you accept that you are an eternal spiritual spark, you will have to remold your whole pattern of life, your false lordship over others, your pride in your life's accomplishments, your view of yourself as greatly learned. You have to give up all of this. And what for? For an eternal but uncertain future. To know that you are not going to die solves many problems, but it opens the door to new questions. For example: Since I am eternal, what is my eternal function? Since I am not material in essence and therefore cannot find happiness in material sense gratification, where and how can I find satisfaction?
QUESTIONER #4: I have always wanted to believe that at death I would cease to exist because I never wanted to face the pain of separation from my loved ones. I still haven't overcome this desire.
JAGAD GURU: I understand. It's certainly not pleasurable to be ripped away and kept apart from your loved ones. So it is natural for you to want to escape from that. If you believe you will become nonexistent at death, you can live your life with less apprehension about the impending separation--after all, if you don't exist after death, you won't experience the pain of separation from your loved ones. You won't experience the loneliness, fear, or anything else because you won't exist. It's not hard to understand why you are so afraid that you will continue to exist and experience various emotions, thoughts, pain and pleasure, and so on, while dying and even after death.
You're also afraid of your continued existence after death because you don't know what it will be like. You don't know the nature of your future existence, so you fear it.
But no matter how much you want to cease existing you never will. And the sooner you give up your wishful thinking, the sooner you can start working on the questions regarding the reality of your eternality.
QUESTIONER #1: Couldn't it just be possible that you and the others who believe that your existence will continue after death are the wishful thinkers? Couldn't it be that your belief is just an offspring of your desire to exist?
JAGAD GURU: It is a fact that I want to exist. But my desire to exist is based on the reality of my existence. I want to exist because I do exist. I want to be what I already am and already know myself to be: existent. I could not want to exist if I did not exist, and you and other materialists could not want to not exist if you did not exist.
Existence is the only reality for the self. As water cannot be separated from wetness, so you, the self, cannot be separated from existence. Existence is an integral aspect of your essence.
QUESTIONER #1: But if my nonexistence were not possible, how come I can want it?
JAGAD GURU: In the truest sense, you cannot want to not exist, you can only desire your speculative concept of non-existence. You want to cease existing not because you have experienced nonexistence, but because you are tired or afraid of some aspect of existence. You desire what you imagine to be nonexistence because you are in a suffering condition. But actually, you can't really desire nonexistence because you have never known and can never know nonexistence. You, the self, can desire only that which you have experienced.
What is nonexistence? You can never know, because existence is your essence. Besides, knowing is based upon the existent knower-you, the self. So at best, you can only speculate on nonexistence.
You materialists, therefore, are simply caught in a maze of annihilationistic speculation. You try your best to conceive of and achieve so-called nonexistence. But since you don't really know what it is, you are forced to see it as simply the negation of existence. You try to imagine nonexistence by mentally negating the existence of everything. You try to imagine emptiness--zero--no love, hate, colors, life, objects, sun, moon, tastes--nothing. You're forced to try to imagine nothing. So you attempt to take these images, forms, and so on out of your mind, one by one. You speculate that nothingness must be whatever is left after everything is gone. But you are stuck with the fact that you, the existent speculator, still exist. After all, you can't imagine the nonexistence of yourself. You impersonalist/voidist philosophers engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics in the attempt to run away from your existence. But you can never succeed.
The indisputable fact is that even the various speculative concepts of nonexistence (they differ from one annihilationist to another) are based on the reality of the self's existence. So the concept of nonexistence or future nonexistence does not even indirectly point to the reality of nonexistence, but simply points to the reality of that particular concept of nonexistence which is the speculative creation of an existent self reacting against the reality of his existence.
In other words, it isn't your possible nonexistence that is real; what's real is merely your speculative concept of your possible nonexistence (erroneous as it is). Since that concept is the speculative creation of a real, existent self, the reality of the concept not only disproves your possible future non-existence but it is actually further evidence of the reality of you—the conceiver.
QUESTIONER #3: I accept that I am nonmaterial in essence and that I will exist eternally. But you have hinted that this is just the beginning of self-realization. Is that correct?
JAGAD GURU: Yes, it is important to know that you are not material in essence but rather an eternal spark of life. But such knowledge is just the beginning of a long and arduous journey toward a perfect understanding of your identity.
As a liberated person, you are faced with many questions and challenges, most of which arise precisely because of your new understanding of your identity. You are faced with questions about the nature of your continued existence: "Where will I exist? What will I do? Will I be alone? Will I again be subjected to birth and death? Will I be in a 'heavenly' condition or in a 'hellish' condition? Can I influence or control my destiny?" And so on.
You may know the essence of your identity, but you must still discover your position and function.
Concerning your position: You are not matter, but you are dominated by material nature. You are bound up in a gross body as well as the subtle body composed of material desires. Why is this? If you are not matter, what are you doing in the world of matter? Why are you, who are eternal in nature, suffering in the temporary dimension? Furthermore, is matter supreme? Or is there a supreme nonmaterial entity who is the dominator and controller of material nature? Is there a Supreme Self? And if so, would this Supreme Self help you in your attempt to be free of the chains of matter?
Concerning your natural function: When you thought you were matter, you sought enjoyment in matter; but now that you know you are nonmaterial in essence, you know you must find satisfaction in the nonmaterial. The question is; how do you do this? Also, when you were immersed in false bodily identification, you foolishly directed your love toward the temporary forms of this world, and thus suffered time and again. But now that you know you're not the body, nor are others their bodies, upon whom are you to direct your love? And how can this be done?
If you realize you are an eternal atma within a temporary body, you are in an awkward position. You feel like a stranger in a strange land. You no longer see this world as your home; but you don't really know where your real home is. You know your essence is spirit, but you are bound up in matter. You know you are eternal, but you suffer in the temporary.
If you realize your eternal nature, you must seek out your eternal interests. You naturally begin to concern yourself with the eternal purpose of your eternal life. And you seek to relate this world in which you temporarily reside to your as yet unknown eternal purpose. You begin to consider the need for an eternal home, and even more important, the need for an eternal friend and beloved.
If, in this world of temporary names and forms, you try to act upon your knowledge of your eternality, you'll inevitably run up against many seemingly immovable obstacles. Since you are embodied in matter, are covered by material desires, and live in a thoroughly hedonistic society, it isn't exactly easy for you to remember or care about your eternal interests. If you realize your eternal nonmaterial nature, you must decide whether or not you want to (or have the courage to) wage what is essentially a war against extremely powerful forces.
If you know that you are not your body or your mind, you know that to be the servant of your senses and desires is to be a slave. So you wonder: "Will I give in to the demands of my senses and be a slave? Or will I make the arduous attempt to be the master of my senses? Surely, it is easier to 'go with the flow' of sensuous desires than to try controlling the senses. So do I take the easy path or the hard one?"
The attempt to lead a life of sense control is especially difficult in this materialistic society, where sensual gratification (the quicker the better) is seen as the purpose of existence. It's like a fish trying to swim upstream. A materialist goes with the flow of his desires, of his senses, and of society; a transcendentalist does not have that "luxury." So in one way it is much easier for you to live according to the false materialistic premise that the body is the self.
Of course, if you choose to be a materialist, you must live with your fear of death. But you often can cover it up temporarily with sense enjoyment, drugs, frivolous conversation, and the pursuit of meaningless goals. And you can continue to imagine that death is like a long, deep sleep--a sleep that is basically undesirable (because it means the separation from everything and everyone you are attached to), but that nevertheless will bring relief from all problems, burdens, and responsibilities. As a materialist, you'll see the world as a source of both pleasure and pain: It offers some pleasure, but it also causes bitterness, anxiety, frustration, and anger. So you'll "cope" with your fear of death by looking on its "bright side." You may say to yourself, "If I look at it in one way, I'm losing so much. I'm losing all the things I love—my family, my home, my car, my enjoyment of all kinds; but if I look at it from another angle, I'm losing all my problems and miseries too. Even now I like to escape into sleep. By the time death comes around, I'll have lived a life so full of pleasure that I'll be ready for a long, long rest... no problems, no hassles no responsibility." Your ignorance may be bliss for a while, but of course not for eternity. And the bliss isn't even real.
Yet despite the emptiness of a life dedicated to sensual pleasure and the unreality of the "bliss" born of ignorance, you may still prefer a life of ignorance spent in search of transitory sensual flashes to a life of wisdom spent in search of spiritual perfection. You may not want to accept that you are not your body, even though you have no evidence to support your feelings. As I've said, if you are attached to a hedonistic life or just too lazy to live a life based on the truth, you won't want to know the truth.
QUESTIONER #3: There is a saying: “A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
JAGAD GURU: That's true. Whether you accept and try to live by the truth, no matter how difficult that may be, or whether you reject the truth, this decision is ultimately your personal decision. If you conclude that you are the body--that you are matter--then you can spend your life pursuing happiness in matter. Such a life may seem pleasurable; but in fact it will be filled with suffering, both now and in the future. Or if you accept that your true identity is nonmaterial and eternal, this realization will bring relief from suffering. Yet it will also lead you into a difficult struggle—a struggle to free yourself from the control of your mind, your senses, and the pressures of a materialistic society.
QUESTIONER #3: So the search for wisdom is a tremendous challenge.
JAGAD GURU: The search for wisdom is a great challenge; to act on wisdom is an even greater challenge. To accept that you are spiritual in essence, that you are an eternal spark of life force, is to open the door on a whole new life. There are many questions now, and there will be many more questions ahead. There are many internal and external pressures against accepting and acting on this truth, and there will be even greater pressures in the future. So yes, it is challenging—just like running the Boston marathon is challenging, or trying to climb Mt. Everest is challenging. But unlike such "sporting," "part-time" challenges, the search for perfect wisdom and the attempt to live by such wisdom is an ongoing eternal challenge--and it is real. Thus, only the most courageous people will actually accept this challenge. The ignorant, the fearful, and the lazy will remain as they are.