Before I begin my presentation, I always offer my respects to the great spiritual teachers, our masters, who’ve brought this knowledge to us. All the information I will be presenting comes from the authorized Vedic scriptures. And these scriptures are very ancient, they were written down 5 000 years ago. However the knowledge is eternal. So prior to being written down, it was passed down orally from one perfect master to the next. And such a line of perfect teachers is known as a disciplic succession, or a parampara. A parampara is necessary for the truth to descend in its pure form. We are in the parampara known as the Brahma Sampradaya. We feel very fortunate to receive our knowledge through this lineage. So this is not my opinion, I’m just passing on this eternal science.
Yoga is becoming more and more popular in the world today. You can’t go anywhere where people have not heard of yoga, and many people are actually to some degree practicing yoga. In America it’s basically main stream. Every little town and village has yoga classes. It’s a good thing because yoga is very beneficial for everybody.
And there are, as I said, different yoga systems, but all these yoga systems start with one basic philosophical foundation. And this is the understanding of one’s identity. So we are going to discuss that now. If you learn one thing in your life, this is the most important thing you can learn.
The Vedas say we should all ask ourself a question, «Who am I?» Very logical. If you don’t know who you are, you’ve got a big problem.
A trouble experience one may have in life is amnesia. When all of a sudden they don’t know who they are. They’re basically lost: they don’t know who they are, they don’t know where they live, they don’t know who their parents are, they have no contact, no memory, no connections. They don’t know what to do, they are lost. Reality is: we are like that.
You can say, «I have my identity. I know who I am.» Yes, that’s why we don’t ask ourselves the question «Who am I?» We do have our identities. We’ve had them our whole lives. We have them in our minds, we have them on our lips, we even have them in our pockets, meaning this is who I think I am, this is who I tell others I am, and I can prove it, here is my passport, documents. We accept it, so does everyone else. But is this our true identity?
Upon close examination we will find this is only a compilation of many labels. And the labeling process begins at birth. So all of us here now, as soon as we took birth, received one of two labels: male or female. And we still identify like that: I‘m a man or I’m a woman. At the same time we get another label according to our race: Caucasian, Negroid. Our national identity can be very strong: I am Russian, I am British. And of course, our family identity: we belong to this family. Actually this identity is so strong that every day on this planet one person kills another person simply because they have a different label.
And this is just the beginning. Many, many labels come and go throughout our entire life. So at birth we also are known as babies, then kids. We start school, now we are students. A few years go by, we are teenagers and finally adults. We take up some profession in life and we are known accordingly: doctors, lawyers, secretaries, nurses. We get married, immediately we are: a husband or a wife. Then we have a child, now we’re parents: fathers, mothers. A few more years go by: grandfathers, grandmothers. This is how we see ourself, «This is me. This is who I am.» And this continues on and on until we finally get the last label: dead.
But if we look closely, we see this is all in relation to our material body. It is true that the body is male or female, black or white, old or young. Whatever the body is, it is. That’s true. But the question is, «Is this who we are?» Every day we all take our pilgrimage to the mirror to see how «we» look. Sometimes we’re a little disappointed. We always come back the next day, «Gee, maybe there’s been some improvement?» But the question is, «Do I really see myself? Am I this material body?»
If we want the most authoritative answer, we should go to the revealed scriptures of the world. There we will learn: no, you are not the material body. But this is the modern world. Very rarely there’s anyone who goes to scripture to find out the truth in life. But we do readily accept the conclusions of the scientists. We like the scientists because they prove things. And uniquely enough, in this case the scientists have proven in their laboratories that we’re not our material body.
They discovered there’s no cell in the human body that lives more than five years. Some cells have a very short life. The lining of our stomach, those cells live five days. Our skin cells – one month. Liver cells – six weeks, etc. But in five years everything has changed. So if I am looking at a photograph of myself taken ten years ago, the eyes in the photograph are different than the eyes I’m looking at the photograph with. They’re not the same eyes. According to the scientific formula, if I am 35 years old, I’ve had seven bodies. But of course, we all know we are not seven different people. Everybody knows: I am still me. So the changing factor’s the material body, and the constant factor is ourself. We’re not this material body.
Now at this point some people become introspective. They begin to look inside to find out who they really are. And when we look inside, what do we find? Emotion, desire, feeling, will, it’s all very real. This is easy to conclude, «This is who I really am.» Maybe we even have an experience that reinforces this, let’s say we are very emotionally upset. We recognize when people look at us, they don’t see us. All they see is the outside cover. And we might feel very lonely. Sometimes we even say, «Nobody really knows me.»
But we must confirm this with scripture, especially the Vedic scriptures because they’re very detailed in this knowledge. When we do, we find we’ve made another mistake. This is not who we are either. This is another material body. It’s called the subtle mental body, sometimes called the austral body. I’m sure some of you’ve heard of the austral body. So really we have two bodies: the physical body and the mental body, like two layers of clothing: an outer layer and an under layer.
But the question remains, «Who am I?» So once again we go to the Vedas. There we learn we are in a different category of energy. Everything is energy. Our bodies are material energy. But we learn that we are spiritual energy. We further learn we’re tiny spark of spiritual energy.
We learn that material energy is temporary, and that’s very easy to see. We all know too well that our bodies are very temporary; so much so we don’t even want to talk about that, «Hey, don’t talk about that!» But even a more permanent things like this building… Come back here in 1 000 years, «Where was that lecture, again?» Temporary. But we learn that spirit is eternal. Eternal means no beginning and no end. So we’re eternal.
We also learn that material energy is non-living, and again that’s easy to see. In this table, in this microphone there’s no life. But we learn that spirit is life itself. There’s no such thing as live matter. There’s no such thing as dead spirit. We are the life force in the body. As long as we’re present in the body, the body’s called alive. But actually this is not true. The body’s dead. We are alive. It becomes obvious at the time of death. At the time of death we leave the body and at that moment the body shows its true nature: it can’t even sit in a chair, falls on the floor. So we are the life force in the body.
Therefore our true identity is spirit soul. Spirit meaning that we are spiritual in essence, and soul meaning this individual spiritual spark that we eternally are. We never become someone else. We never cease to exist. For some people this is very depressing news, «What? I’ll always be me? Gee, I thought it will be over soon!» Sorry, it’s never over. But when we learn the truth in life, this becomes very wonderful news. So once again, we are spirit soul.
And we further learn we are part and parcel of the Supreme Soul. There is a Supreme Soul from which we all come. We are known as the atma, and the Supreme Soul is the Paramatma. Now understanding our true identity, we can begin to discuss yoga in a very logical way.