The Vedic sages say that although one may have abundant wisdom, one is bewildered and illusioned, because he does not know who he is – or, rather, because he thinks he is something he is not. The question of who we are is a question we have to ask. It is fundamental.
Krishna says that the seers of truth who have turned their minds to the question of who we are, have seen two categories in existence – that which changes and that which endures. That which changes comes and goes, that which endures stays the same. Our bodies constantly change but our consciousness – not the content of our consciousness, but the fact of our consciousness – remains the same. My body changes, my mind changes, but the same conscious “I”, the same conscious self keeps living on. Therefore the sages conclude that I am not my body, not my mind, but the conscious self within. This self is joy itself and this joy does not come and go like vapour but endures, the way sunlight forever stays with the sun. One who realises this self, who identifies with this self, at once becomes joyful. He has nothing to desire and nothing to lament about. He is equal in all circumstances, and so he dedicates himself not to pursuing material enjoyment but to reviving his relationship with the Supreme Self, or God, the complete eternal whole of whom he realises to be a small eternal part. Thus he enters the world of bhakti, the world of eternal happiness and knowledge in the service of the Supreme.
One who laments over the body, whether it be alive or dead, ” grieves for what is not worthy of grief.”
The self is eternal and can never be destroyed. The body is always destroyed. So the Bhagavatam says: Of what use is a long life that is wasted, with years in this world, but no power to understand what one sees? Better a moment of full awareness, because that gives one a start in searching for one’s supreme interest.
The Srimad Bhagavatam says:
yan maithunādi-gṛhamedhi-sukhaṁ hi tucchaṁ
kaṇḍūyanena karayor iva duḥkha-duḥkham
tṛpyanti neha kṛpaṇā bahu-duḥkha-bhājaḥ
kaṇḍūtivan manasijaṁ viṣaheta dhīraḥ
Meager is the happiness of those who hope to enjoy a happy life at home through pleasures of which the leading one is sex. Worse than meager, such happiness is like that of scratching an itch, in which the more one scratches the more the itch grows and the more the trouble. Instead of becoming satisfied, the miserable soul just multiplies his miseries. And so the thoughtful, serious person, having learned what itching is, tolerates the itch, knowing that the supposed happiness of scratching is merely a figment of the mind.
The Bhagavad Gita advises that rather than work hard our whole lives to satisfy ever-growing desires that can never be fulfilled, better to treat the demands of the senses with thoughtful indifference and be content with whatever comes to us by nature’s own way. The Gita says: A person undisturbed by the incessant flow of desires – that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still – can alone achieve peace, and not one who tries to satisfy such desires. Therefore one should be satisfied with whatever moderate happiness that comes of its own accord. This is possible, when one experiences a higher taste in relationship with the Supreme. Therefore, rather than pursuing material enjoyment, one should pursue spiritual realisation, by which one can find unlimited enjoyment, in touch with the Supreme.
The Bhagavatam says:
yasya yad daiva-vihitaṁ sa tena sukha-duḥkhayoḥ
ātmānaṁ toṣayan dehī tamasaḥ pāram ṛcchati
One who is satisfied with that which comes by destiny, by the will of the Divine, whether it be happiness or distress, can cross beyond the darkness of nescience.
Krishna says: For one who has been born, death is certain. And in between, practically everything in our life, great and small is controlled by the workings of nature, although we may egotistically think, ” I am the one who makes it happen.”
Our independence is tiny. The Supreme is absolutely independent. All living beings are part of the Supreme. So we have the same qualities of the Supreme. Hence we also have some independence, but this independence is infinitesimal. What does this tiny independence consist of? It consists of the freedom to turn toward the Supreme or away from the Supreme, toward the Divinity or away, toward spirit or toward matter, toward reality or toward illusion. When we turn away from the Supreme, we place ourselves in the illusion that we are free and independent, that we can do whatever we set our minds on, that we can control and enjoy what the world has to offer. And in this way, we become bewildered. We come into contact with the three modes of nature-goodness, passion and ignorance and we get entangled in the material world, forgetting our relationship with the Supreme. Seeking freedom, we are enslaved…this is what the Gita calls as maya.
We need to turn away from the illusion of enjoying matter and toward our original connection with the Supreme to be restored to our natural condition. Krishna says in the Gita, that the forces of nature are divinely empowered and are His power and insurmountable. But one who surrenders to him, Krishna says, crosses beyond them. By surrendering to the Divine, we use our independence rightly and become free.