When we begin to discuss yoga, we must discuss our identity. This is the beginning of all knowledge of life; it is the foundation of all knowledge.
When you build a house, you must first build the foundation, it must be a good foundation. You can’t build the roof first, you can’t build the walls, you can’t build the interior – you must have the foundation. This is the most important part of the whole house.
In yoga the foundation is the knowledge of our identity. The Vedas, being the source of yogic knowledge, say that we should all ask our self the question, “Who am I?” But, unfortunately, we almost never ask this question, and the reason is: we think we already know the answer. Of course, we all have our identities, we’ve had them our whole life. We have them in our minds, we have them on our lips, and 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 even prove it with my passport and my documents. We accept this and so does everyone else, but is this our true identity?
Upon close examination we find this is only a compilation of many labels, and the labeling process begins at birth. 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 today, “I’m a man,” or, “I’m a woman.” At the same time we get another label according to our race: Caucasian, Negroid, whatever it may be. Our national identity can be very strong, “I am Norwegian,” “I am American” and our family identity: we belong to this family. 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, once again, at birth we’re also known as babies, then kids, we start school, now we’re students. A few more years go by and we become teenagers, and finally adults. We take up some profession in life and we’re known accordingly: doctors, lawyers, secretaries or nurses. Then we get married, immediately we become a husband or a wife. We have a child, now we’re parents: fathers or mothers. A few more years go by: grandfathers, grandmothers, this is how we see ourselves, when we think of our self, “This is me, this is who I am.” This continues on and on until we finally get the last label: dead.
But if we look closely, we find this is all in relation to our material bodies. It is true: the body is male or female, black or white, old or young, big or little. Whatever the body is, it is, that’s true. The question is: is this who we are? Every day we take our pilgrimage to the mirror to see how ‘we’ look. Sometimes we’re a little disappointed, but we always come back the next day, “Gee, maybe there’ll be some improvement?” But do we really see our self? So the question is: am I this material body?
If we want the most authoritative answer, we should go to the revealed scriptures of the world and there we will learn: no, you’re not the material body. But this is the modern world; very rarely does anyone go to scripture to find the truth in life. However, we do readily accept the conclusion of the scientist. 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 bodies. They have discovered that there is no cell in the human body that lives more than 5 years and some cells have a very short life. For instance, the lining of our stomachs, those cells live 5 days. Our skin cells – 1 month, liver cells – 6 weeks, etc., but in 5 years everything has changed. If I look at a photograph of myself taken 10 years ago, the eyes in the photograph are different than the eyes I am looking at the photograph with; they are not the same eyes.
According to this scientific formula, if I am 35 years old, I’ve had 7 bodies. But, of course, we all know we are not 7 different people. Everybody knows, “I’m still me”, so the changing factor is the material body, and the constant factor is our self. Yes, we’re not these material bodies.
At this point some people become meditative, or introspective. They begin to look inside to find out who they really are, and when we do look inside, what do we find? Well, there’s emotion, desire, sentiment, feeling, will. These are all very real and it’s easy to conclude, “Ah hah, this is who I really am!”, maybe we even have an experience to reinforce this. Let’s say, we are very emotionally upset, we recognize that when people look at us, they don’t see us, all they see is the outside cover. We may feel very lonely; sometimes we say, “Gee, nobody really knows me.”
But we must confirm this with scripture, and especially the Vedic scriptures, because they are very detailed in this knowledge. When we do, we find we have made another mistake – this is not who we are either, this is actually another material body. It’s called the subtle mental body; sometimes it’s called the astral body. I’m sure some of you have heard of the astral body. We actually have two bodies, we have our physical body and our mental body. Just like having on 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, and there we find that we are in a different category of energy. Everything is energy, and our bodies are material energy. But we learn that we are spiritual energy, we further learn that we are tiny little sparks of spiritual energy. We learn that material energy is temporary, and that is very easy to see, we know all too well that our bodies are very temporary, so much so that we don’t even want to talk about it, “Hey, hey, hey, don’t talk about that!” But even the more permanent things like this building; come back in 1,000 years, “Gee, where was that lecture again?” You see, temporary. But we learn that spirit is eternal, eternal means no beginning and no end, so we are eternal.
We also learn that material energy is non-living and, again, that’s easy to see: this table or 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 and as long as we are present in the body, the body is called alive. But actually that’s not true, the body is dead, we are alive. That becomes very obvious at the time of death. At the time of death we leave the body, and at that moment the body reveals its true nature; it cannot even sit in a chair, it falls on the floor. Yes, 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 the individual spiritual spark that we are eternally. We never become someone else and we never cease to exist. For some people this is very depressing news, “What? I’ll always be me? Gee… I thought it would 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.
We learn further that 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. The Supreme Soul is the Paramatma. Understanding our true identity, now we can begin to discuss and understand yoga in the truest sense.