In this talk we will explore an extremely important topic for anyone who wants to understand yoga and self-realization.
The subject is a bit esoteric and may be difficult for some to grasp as it deals with something that is completely beyond the very limited modern scientific view of what constitutes a person. The Vedas teach that there is a “real” identity/me and a “false” identity/me.
The entirety of living beings within the material world, with very few exceptions, are living out what could be described as dreamlike lives, totally engrossed in the world of the False Ego or the false self, totally unaware of their actual spiritual identity.
So, what is the mechanism that makes this possible? It is called the ahaṅkāra in Sanskrit, which is the subtle, yet powerful, covering of the soul/self, which distorts the consciousness of the pure soul.
The verses I quoted in this talk are as follows:
When the soul is under the spell of material nature and false ego, identifying one’s body as the self, the person becomes absorbed in material activities, and by the influence of false ego one thinks that they are the proprietor of everything. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.27.2
During the rainy season the moon was prevented from appearing directly by the covering of the clouds, which were themselves illumined by the moon’s rays. Similarly, the living being in material existence is prevented from appearing directly by the covering of the false ego, which is itself illumined by the consciousness of the pure soul. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.20.19
The mind, being able to perceive due to its reflecting both the atma (self) and objects of perception, appears to comprehend everything. Yoga-Sūtra 4.23
Even though the mind has accumulated various impressions (and desires) of various types it is always at the disposal of the atma (self). This is because the mind cannot function without the power of the perceiver. Yoga-Sūtra 4.24
The false ego of the living entity places him in bondage and awards him exactly the opposite of what he really desires. Therefore, an intelligent person should give up his constant anxiety to enjoy material life and remain situated in the Lord, who is beyond the functions of material consciousness. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.13.29
As long as the spirit soul is covered by the subtle body, consisting of the mind, intelligence and false ego, he is bound to the results of his fruitive activities. Because of this covering, the spirit soul is connected with the material energy and must accordingly suffer material conditions and reversals, continually, life after life. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 7.2.47
A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego—they alone can attain real peace. – Bhagavad gītā 2.71
Although the false ego has no factual basis, it is perceived in many forms—as the functions of the mind, speech, life air and bodily faculties. But with the sword of transcendental knowledge, sharpened by worship of a bona fide spiritual master, a sober sage will cut off this false identification and live in this world free from all material attachment. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.28.17
Lamentation, elation, fear, anger, greed, confusion and hankering, as well as birth and death, are experiences of the false ego and not of the pure soul. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.28.15
The false ego gives shape to illusory material existence and thus experiences material happiness and distress. The spirit soul, however, is transcendental to material nature; he can never actually be affected by material happiness and distress in any place, under any circumstance or by the agency of any person. A person who understands this has nothing whatsoever to fear from the material creation. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.23.56
Just as a person who is whirling around perceives the ground to be turning, one who is affected by false ego thinks himself the doer, when actually only his mind is acting. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 10.46.41
When, by mature understanding, one can realize his individuality, then the situation he accepts under false ego becomes manifest to him. – Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3.27.16
Bhakti, devotional service, dissolves the subtle body of the living entity without separate effort, just as fire in the stomach digests all that we eat. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 3:25:33
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
Haribol. So the talk that we’re going to do tonight, I’ve titled it The FALSE Me – The REAL Me and we are going to be discussing what is called the ahankara, or the false ego. So I’ve made quite a few notes. I’ll be quoting quite heavily from different spiritual texts.
This topic that we’re going to explore, it’s actually extremely important. If anyone wants to understand, actually understand, yoga, and want to tread the path of self-realization, then coming to know and understand this topic is of extreme importance. Having said that, it’s not something that we often and frequently visit.
Most of us are simple folk, kind of straightforward or reasonably straightforward. And the two things that we actively promote are: cultivating the knowledge of my identity as being spiritual, I am a spiritual personality; and the second thing is to engage in the process of the chanting of these sacred sounds, these holy names, as being the most effective and efficient means for self-realization.
If one sincerely engages in this practice, then within this lifetime both self-realization and God realization are inevitable, and so there is no actual requirement to separately engage in the deep philosophical pursuit of learning about the false ego. But having a basic understanding is actually really important.
So the topic is a bit on the esoteric side, and it is actually difficult for some people to grasp, because it deals with something that is actually completely beyond the very limited scope of so-called scientific understanding, of what constitutes a person. You won’t find any discussions on this subject.
The Vedas, they teach us that there is such a thing as a real identity, the real me, and there is also a false identity or the false me. The living beings within the material world, with actually very, very few exceptions, are living out what could be described as dreamlike lives, and I’ll explain what I mean by that a little later on. But generally, people are totally engrossed in the world of the false ego or the false self, and are almost totally unaware of our actual spiritual identity. This is a pretty shocking thing to discover.
So what is the mechanism that makes this adoption of a false self, and living in a dreamlike existence, what is the mechanism that makes this possible? Well, the mechanism is called, in Sanskrit, the ahankara or this false ego, which is very subtle, yet incredibly powerful; and it is a covering of the soul, or the atma, the self, which distorts the consciousness of the pure soul. So this is like a little bit of a summary, and what we’re going to do is to dive into some of the details. So hopefully I can share some understanding of this topic.
If I ask you the question, “When you—in observing another person, what is it that you see? What do you see when you look at another person?” The first thing that you notice, of course, it’s so evident, is the body, the nature of the body: the sex, the age, the racial or ethnic extraction, the build, the physical build, these are the kind of things that you look at first. And you either draw a conclusion that what you’re looking at is okay or even attractive, or it’s just kind of like no big deal, or there may be a sense of repulsion even. So, this is the first thing. But then when you begin to engage with that person, then quickly your perception begins to change. It actually deepens.
So you’ve looked at and observed that a gross physical body—in Sanskrit this is referred to as the sthula sarira, or the gross physical body. As you—and maybe I’ll just use an example: It’s like looking at a herd of sheep, and it’s like they’re all the same. They’re all exactly the same. But if you took two or three sheep from a herd, and you kept them in a little pen by your house, and every day you tended to them and observed them, you would quickly come to recognize that, wow, they’re different from each other. It’s like they’ve got different personalities, and over time it becomes like increasingly evident.
I’m using that as an example of actually what we go through when we look at other people as well. There is—although it happens at a much faster speed. you can look at a group of people, particularly if they’re from another country. We have a tendency to look at them and go, “Oh, they’re all Italian,” or, “They’re all Chinese,” or, “They’re all Indian,” or, “They’re all Russian,” or, “They’re all Australians,” or whatever. And there is this tendency to look at them in a sort of like, a monolithic, sort of like one kind of entity almost.
But then as you get to know people, and you’re introduced, then you start discovering personalities. And what’s going on in that process is that you are becoming aware that there is more than what you just see with your eyes. Just like they have an old saying that is incredibly important and valuable, “You don’t judge a book by its cover.” I think everybody’s aware of that, and we all know the truth to that also. You don’t judge a book by its cover. So there’s more to this person that I’m encountering than what just meets the eye.
As you get to know someone, there is a growing awareness that there is a personal presence which goes beyond the body. What do I mean by that? I’ll give you a couple of examples:
You see a couple of really old people, I mean like really old people, that have been married about maybe 60 years or something, and are trying to go out and get some exercise, and they may be somewhat hunched over, or one of them, and their skin is all wrinkled and flaky and scabby looking, as it gets–as it ages. And then they have different– they’ve developed different ailments, and it’s a bit of a struggle just to take a walk down the street. But they may be holding hands, or you may see them showing affection to each other. And it’s like, okay, what is this person seeing in the other person that I’m not seeing? Not knowing them, all I’m doing is looking at the body, and going, “Well, the body is not very attractive.” It can even be, I mean when I was a kid, I was sort of like a little bit, unnnm [mimes drawing back] it was like old people were another species. Now I am an old person. And it was like, wwfff, I didn’t like my grandmother cuddling me and kissing me very much. It was like, you know, nweeew [mimes withdrawing] I wished my Grandma—“Yeah, okay. I’m cool Granny. Let’s, let’s—I want to play.” You know!
So you become increasingly aware, though, that there is more to it than just this external package. And it’s kind of like–and this might gross some people out. I’ll give you a couple of examples. It’s kind of like, one of them I always use is you go, you’re visiting someone. You’re maybe at the beach or whatever and—or staying over, and you’re going to take a shower. And you go into their bathroom to take a shower, and you turn on the water, then all of a sudden you feel that there’s water coming up around your feet and ankles, and you look down and you notice that the drainage is full of hair. And so you kind of have to bend down and pick it up, and kind of get rid of it so the shower drains properly. And in touching that hair, and maybe people are going to be grossed out by this, for me it’s kind of like picking up a cockroach. It’s on the same sort of level. It’s kind of like yeuuh, [cringes] and you’re gonna get rid of it. It’s like yeeauuh! It gives you the heebie-jeebies. And it’s just extraordinary that when that hair is attached to somebody’s head, you can stroke the hair and be infatuated with the person, but as soon as it detaches it now takes on a different characteristic.
And we could use that same example when somebody shakes hands, or if they’re feeling very debonair, take a woman’s hand and kiss it, as the French do. And you feel that that’s a nice thing to do, the shaking hands. If there’s a feeling of some affection while shaking, you may even hold their hand with two hands, in a gentle and warm greeting. If the hand became amputated, you would suddenly feel incredibly different about it. The idea of touching it, or picking it up, or holding it, or kissing it, or caressing it would now—you would feel very averse to doing that.
So, I’m just using something probably a little bit gross, and probably a little bit strong examples, that there is something going on when we get to meet somebody, where we look, or we begin to perceive something beyond the body, and if you take any body part or anything, and separate it from the person, it becomes something that repulses us even.
Another example is kind of like when people talk to their pets, and they look into the eyes of the pet, and they’re talking, “Ooh, how you feeling? Oooh?”—whatever. They just go on and talk as–like the pet is their kid. And they’re not just looking at the body. They’re actually looking into the eyes, and there is this perception that there is a person within who is actually looking back at me and relating to me.
So this is a perception of the reality that within the body is the person, and this person is termed in Sanskrit as the atma, or the self. So I’m gonna try and –hopefully this works okay–I’m gonna put up a couple of slides which I’m using. They’re just graphic representations. Don’t get overly caught up in the forms that you see. But what we have is, in this picture, it represents what you see when you first meet someone. You look at them. You see the gross physical body, the sthula sarira, it is called in Sanskrit, but within the body there is actually a person. So this graphic that I’m using, it’s not really–don’t overly think it. I’m not showing you what the atma looks like. It has what appears to be a head on top of a form, just to give the understanding, or the impression, or the appreciation that we’re talking about something that is personal. So it indicates a personal existence within the body.
What we learn in the yoga system and in the Vedas, is that actually we have two bodies. You have the gross physical body, but you also have a subtle body. This subtle body is termed in Sanskrit as the linga sarira. The subtle body is the body, or the covering, that is closest to the soul. The subtle body is–I’ll use the terminology, it’s like it comes first. And based around that, you have a gross physical body. In the yoga texts, when they speak about reincarnation for example, they describe how particular types of desires and attractions form within the mind, and when one is locked into those attractions or attachments at the time of death, then they will receive a physical body in their next life experience, based around those desires. So it is this subtle body and what goes on there that causes or gives rise to the gross physical body.
Now this subtle body actually has three, I think a good term to use is like, layers. it’s not the best term, but I think it imparts a good way of understanding. So the subtle body is comprised of these three layers.
The very first layer, the one that is closest to and covering the soul itself, the spiritual being, is what is called the false ego, or the ahankara. So false ego is—this is a little bit of a challenging thing, because in English there is no spiritual concepts or understanding of these kind of things, and we’re taking a term that is Greek in origin, ego, but was used by psychiatrists, in the development of psychology, of this whole field of trying to understand the nature of the mind etc, has been utilized. So it’s not the best word, but it’s pretty much the only one that we’ve got to use, if we want to relate.
So what we’re going to be talking about is the fact that there is an actual real ego, a real person, in their personhood and their consciousness, and there is this false ego, or ahankara. What this covering does, this ahankara, this false ego, is that it distorts, or pollutes, the consciousness of the atma, The atma, or the soul, the self, it has consciousness. And this consciousness radiates, or emanates, from the soul itself. But this covering acts as a distorting covering.
So sometimes I’ll use an example of being like a filter. Sometimes you can use a colour filter over light, or if you like, just some cellophane. If I have a light bulb, and I cover it with a red cellophane, then the only light that is emitting from that light bulb through the cellophane is red light, light on the red spectrum. If I use a green filter, green cellophane, then the light that is being emitted is only light in the green spectrum. So in a similar manner the ahankara, the false ego that is covering the soul, distorts or changes the colour of the pure consciousness, of the soul itself. And we’ll talk a little bit about how it does that, and what is the result of that.
If we look at the meaning of the word ahankara, the foundational, or the base, or root Sanskrit word it’s coming from, derived from, is aham. Aham means I. When you say, “I am,” or, “I did this,” or I whatever, that I, is this word aham. When you add the term kara to the end of a word, then what it’s saying is the representation of the “I”. Just like we have the word Aumkara. So the pranav, this transcendental sound vibration that contains the highest spiritual truth, and contains everything, is this spiritual sound Aum. When you write the letter that represents that, this is called the Aumkara. So when people see the sign, like I have tattooed on my hand, this Aum, it is referred to as the Amkara. Kara sometimes means letter. But it’s the representation of Aum. So in a similar manner the ahankara is the false representation of me.
How does that play out? Well, we’ll get into that in a little bit of detail. But it’s kind of like—and I use this quite often—the example of the movie Matrix. Gods, when was that!? When did they come out with that? The 80’s? 90’s? 90’s? Huh? It’s quite a long time ago. Matrix—anyways, big movie. It’s got a bit of a cult following. And the big reveal in that movie was, you have this battle between, pretty much, good and evil going on. And there’s all this, what seems to be physical activity, and plotting and encounters, and all this fighting, and all this stuff going on. But at the end of the movie there’s this revelation that none of that stuff that is happening is real. The reality was that you, along with all these other people, are in a comatose state in a pod. And all the energy is—you are providing energy for some unknown entity or force, or whatever. You are the energy source. And all the stuff that you’ve been experiencing, and that was going on in the movie, was actually just happening in a dream-like state.
So I don’t know if you will recall, earlier on I mentioned that the effect of the ahankara, the false ego, is to make it so that we become utterly absorbed in a false concept of who we are, and live our entire lives, what we call our lives, in almost a dreamlike condition. And what do we mean by that?
What we mean by that is that a person will live almost their entire life with the false idea that this body which I am currently wearing, is me. This is who I am. And I build relationships and connections with others. I aspire for stuff, and I go through this whole process of being utterly absorbed. At the moment of death all of that is terminated. I leave it behind, and I move on to another life, and repeat the same thing over, utterly identifying with, now, the new body that I have, and the new relationships, and the new connections that come with that particular body. And everything that came before is utterly discarded.
And so the great yogis, they teach that it’s like people are living almost dream-like existences, meaning it is not completely real. There are a certain reality to it, but it is a temporary and changing and passing reality. There is an eternal reality, and that is you as an eternal spiritual being. And the purpose of human existence is to rediscover your actual true and eternal spiritual identity. So it is this false ego, this first covering of the atma, or the self, that is responsible for this massive, this monumental distortion of consciousness, and this incorrect way of seeing things, this huge illusion.
So as I mentioned, there are three layers to the subtle body. The first is the false ego. The second is called the buddhi. Buddhi is mostly translated as intelligence, but not intelligence in the same way that people normally think of intelligence. They’re equating it to like IQ, or how well you can learn things, or do things in this world. This is a different faculty, and I’ll explain it in a moment. The third covering that’s constituting the subtle body is the mind. So the mind is the third covering.
The second covering, the buddhi or intelligence, is considered higher than the mind. And it is by exercising this faculty—this is what a person does when they practice actual mindfulness, when they endeavour to take control of their emotions, and don’t live a life just based upon emotions and feelings, but consider that there is higher purpose.
So with this faculty of the buddhi, the intelligence, a person, for instance that’s overwhelmed by anger or fear, or desire or whatever, can—you can have this inner voice that says, “This is not good. I shouldn’t be behaving this way. I shouldn’t say this. I shouldn’t do this.” And you have this power to curb the mind. And you can make a choice, “Okay I’m not going to follow that. My mind’s flipping out. It’s going completely crazy. It’s off on a tangent. I’m losing the plot. But I’m choosing. I’m going to choose not to follow that.” So that this faculty of buddhi, or intelligence, makes it so we have a capacity to control the mind.
So this is a huge subject, and we just want to sort of like focus in now on the false ego, this first covering, the great distortion of the consciousness of the soul. If we look at what is the effect on the atma, or the self, of this false ego… I’ll read a verse from the Bhagavat Purana that explains this.
“When the soul is under the spell [interesting terminology,] under the spell of material nature and false ego, identifying one’s body as the self, the person becomes absorbed in materialistic activities, and by the influence of false ego one thinks they are the proprietor of everything.”
So a person may go—that’s not thought about this before—“What!? What does that mean?” Well, the concept of me and mine. I lay claim to everybody I’m connected to, my father, my mother, my grandparents, my partner, my husband, my wife, my children, my friends, I lay claim to everything in this haze of false ownership or proprietorship. And my whole life is built upon this false notion of the I, and the me, and the mind.
So one may question then—and we’ll just touch on that a little bit as we go forward, but one can ask, “So what’s the mechanics? How is it actually happening this way?” And it’s also explained in the same text—or the same book, this Bhagavat Purana, and they give this pretty amazing example that really helps us come to an understanding. It says,
“During the rainy season,”
—and this may be a concept that’s difficult for people. In Asia, in the equatorial part of the world, you generally have a rainy season and a dry season. During the dry season, the sky is always clear. During the rainy season it is frequently, the sky is full of clouds. So it says,
“During the rainy season the moon was prevented from appearing directly by the covering of the clouds, which were themselves illumined by the moon’s rays.”
So if you look up in the sky, when there’s a full moon, and it’s cloudy, you cannot see the actual moon, but sort of like in between the clouds you’re getting areas of some light, and you can actually begin to see the form and shape of the clouds because of the moonlight.
“Similarly, the living being in material existence is prevented from appearing directly by the covering of false ego, which is itself illumined by the consciousness of the pure soul.”
So wow, this is like really amazing! Before speaking to that point, I’ll just give another example from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, where he uses a similar type of example, not as a moon in clouds but in another way, in relation to the atma, or the soul, the self and the mind. And in these two verses it states,
“The mind, being able to perceive due to its reflecting both the atma (or the self) and objects of perception, appears to comprehend everything.”
So there is this principle that because of the presence of the atma, the atma lends consciousness, or awareness, to the mind. And the mind is used as the repository for all perception. Everything that you see, everything that you hear, you taste, smell, touch, it becomes reflected upon the mind. And so a person thinks, “Oh, I am seeing this. I am experiencing this. I’m touching. I’m tasting this.” And it’s like the mind has almost an independent existence. But the reality is, the only reason the mind can be like that, is because it is reflecting the consciousness of the soul itself. Then in the next verse it states,
“Even though the mind has accumulated various impressions (and desires) of various types it is always at the disposal of the atma (or the self). This is because the mind cannot function without the power of the perceiver.”
So the perceiver is the actual soul, the atma, the person, the spiritual being within, and it is lending the consciousness to the mind, and so the mind appears to be perceiving. And we’re going through this whole thing of chasing all of these fantasies and desires, and all kinds of things that are coming up within the mind, and it is happening because the soul itself is lending consciousness to the mind.
So I’m using that as an example; and it’s the same type of situation with the false ego. The false ego is matter. It is material energy. But it takes on what appears to be consciousness which is lent to it by the soul itself.
And so what is the effect that it has on the soul? What is the effect that it has on us? Another verse:
“The false ego of the living entity places him in bondage and awards him exactly the opposite of what he really desires.”
It’s just like, for example, I get these ideas in my mind, that if I can just have a permanent and long-term relationship with this person (they call it love), my life will be perfect and complete and whole. But our experience is when we get into that relationship, no, it doesn’t deliver. In fact it can deliver the opposite. I think if I can just acquire this skill, if I can just have this job, if I can just get this amount of money, if I can just get these things or experiences, I will find happiness, and my life will be perfect and wonderful. And it’s absolutely not true, and if we look at things quite analytically, we will find that quite often the opposite of what we desired is what we experience.
“So the false ego of the living entity places him in bondage and awards him exactly the opposite of what he really desires. Therefore, an intelligent person should give up his constant anxiety to enjoy material life and remain situated in the Lord, who is beyond the functions of material consciousness.”
Our idea that there is some great perfection to be had in this world, that this world is my home, that I can be fulfilled here, is wrong. It’s not true. And I chase things to try and achieve those ends, but what I experience is the opposite of what I am desiring.
“As long as the spirit soul is covered…”
—this is another verse:
“As long as the spirit soul is covered by the subtle body, consisting of the mind, intelligence and false ego, he is bound to the results of his fruitive activities. And because of this covering, the spirit soul is connected with the material energy and must accordingly suffer material conditions and reversals, continually, life after life.”
What’s been spoken to here is what is referenced in the ancient texts as the cycle of repeated birth and death, that until a person regains their original spiritual consciousness, if—we will be just living out the fantasies of the mind, under the direction of the false ego, the false concepts of who I am, and I will be forced or attracted to act in different ways that will produce karmic reactions and results which perpetually bind me to this world, in a state of constant unhappiness and dissatisfaction.
So as a result of these karmic fruits, and all of these false ideas that have been generated, I chase different things, and it means that I wander from one body to the next, utterly absorbed in these different so-called lives, thinking that they are all real and permanent, and will deliver what I actually desire within my heart of hearts. And of course, in this situation the living being cannot ever experience peace. We are constantly stressed and distressed. Even when we’ve got everything that we desired we will be in a state of anxiousness worrying that it will be taken away from me somehow or rather, this feeling of insecurity.
So addressing the subject, or this point about not experiencing peace, in the Bhagavad-gita, in the 2nd chapter, the 71st verse or shloka it states:
“A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, [and that’s just trying to satisfy the desire to taste, smell, touch, see, hear and all this] who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego—they alone can attain real peace.”
In the mindfulness that we teach in prisons and elsewhere, the focus is on taking control of your life. Rather than being simply enslaved by desire, and constantly chasing the mind and all the things that are going on there, and all this false information, “This will make you happy. This is what you need. This is where you will find perfection. Everything is going to be wonderful here”, we must learn to take charge of our life, and make really, really good choices that result in really good action, that brings about fantastic results. When we drill down to a deeper level, we have to examine the role that the false ego has been playing in misleading me.
So another verse:
“Although the false ego has no factual basis [meaning it is not an eternal, spiritual reality]—although it has no factual basis, it is perceived in many forms—as the functions of the mind, of speech, of life air and the bodily faculties. But with the sword of transcendental knowledge, sharpened by worship of a bona fide spiritual master, a sober sage will cut off his false identification and live in this world free from material attachment.”
So I’m not going to go any deeper on that one. If you want to look at this again in the video, and dwell on that one a little bit, it’s incredibly profound. In another verse,
“Lamentation, elation, fear, anger, greed, confusion and hankering, as well as birth and death, are experiences of the false ego and not of the pure soul.”
My God, this is such an elevated spiritual principle. And it’s speaking to the reality that almost everything that a person experiences in what’s considered the normal course of life are things that are influenced—directed by, and are affecting, and influencing the false ego, but actually do not touch the soul itself. Just like when you see something, and you think it’s delicious looking food, and you want to experience it, “Ah I’m such a foodie,” and, “Oh, this tastes so good!” And then it goes down, and you digest it, and you turn it into stool. It’s kind of like, that experience has come and gone. The soul was not touched by that experience. The soul achieved nothing. It was just an experience of the body, of the mind, but ultimately of the false ego.
“The false ego gives shape to illusory material existence and thus experiences material happiness and distress. The spirit soul, however, is transcendental to material nature; he can never actually be affected by material happiness and distress [yet] in any place, under any circumstance or by any agency of any person. A person who understands this has nothing whatsoever to fear from material creation.”
So I’m feeling like this is probably dragging on a little bit too much. Is this a bit too much? you think? No. Up to the individual.
Something that’s really interesting is whenever we get into any kind of situation, it’s good to think back at, “What was I talking about when I used pronouns, I, me, we, they. Am I referring to myself and others as eternal spiritual beings? Or am I just speaking about the temporary material body, the gross body or the subtle body, and what’s going on in this world?”
People get so caught up in it. They cannot really discern what is spiritual and real, and what is material and temporary, and fundamentally illusory, if not unreal. To sort of explain the way in which we get caught up, in the Bhagavata Purana they say:
“Just as a person who is whirling around perceives the ground to be turning…”
I don’t know, I mean, I can remember this from when I was a kid. But—especially my dad would hold me and swing me around, or if I just myself put my hands out and just spin around in a circle, as you get going it’s like, when you’re looking at the ground, your perception is that it is the ground that is moving around. So:
“Just as a person who is whirling around perceives the ground to be turning, one who is affected by false ego thinks himself the actual doer, when actually only his mind is acting. [And] when, by mature understanding, one can realize his individuality, then the situation he accepts under the false ego becomes manifest to him.”
Big subject. I’ll just talk about things which I think really summarises, or puts things in a context that you can understand. I can remember an example given by one of my spiritual teachers, and he was talking about the difficulty of the role of being guru or teacher. And we’re talking about gurus or teachers here in a really deep and authentic spiritual sense, not this flaky idea, “Oh, I got a guru.” [mimes spaceyness] You know, whatever. We’re talking about the idea of actually finding someone that is a fully self-realized and God-realized personality, and you approach them and bow at their feet, and offer your life and ask for them to direct you in your life, so that you can come to that position of full self and God realization—very serious business, not some emotional, sentimental thing.
So one of the jobs of the spiritual master is to correct, and to even discipline his disciples or students. That is heavy business. But what becomes incredibly difficult, is due to the false ego, a student or disciple doesn’t like being corrected, doesn’t like being told they were wrong in something, doesn’t like to hear the necessary information to become free from the influence of the false ego.
And he said it’s kind of like you’ve got a giant sea turtle that comes up out of the ocean. And these sea turtles are just monstrous. And it’s so old that it’s got this massive growth of barnacles on its shell. So it has this huge, huge lump of all these barnacles growing on its shell, and you feel compassion for this turtle, and so you come down to it (it’s on the beach), and you’ve got a hammer and a chisel, and you’re going to start chiselling away at the barnacles to remove them, so that the turtle is free from this burden. But what the turtle is thinking, “You are attacking me. You are hurting me. You are injuring me!” And you’re not at all. You’re just attacking the barnacles. This is all that you’re doing. You’re not damaging the shell. You’re not striking the turtle. You’re striking the barnacles. But the reaction of the turtle is like, “Ah, let me out of here. You’re attacking me. You’re hurting me.”
This is what is one of the tremendous austerities of a spiritual teacher in their effort and endeavour to help their students become free from the burden, the false concept of the self. If the student is chastised and corrected for something that they said, a type of consciousness they have, the action that resulted from that consciousness, then the person feels, “Oh my guru is attacking me,” that false concept of self, when, in reality, a spiritual teacher may be seeking to free this person from that which is trapping them, that which is actually causing them all of their suffering.
So I thought that would be a good example to use, and something to reflect on, when I’m thinking about, you know, is this—when I say, “I hate you. I don’t like this!” It’s kind of like, okay who’s that I? It’s the mind, and the emotions, but at the root of it, it is the false ego. It’s not the actual atma. And that is why the great transcendentalists, the great saints, that even in the face of tremendous provocation, of physical assault, they never felt, “I am being attacked.” They understood, this person is overwhelmed by a false sense of who they are. They’re overwhelmed by the mind and the false ego, which is inspiring them to act in a way that’s actually causing themself harm, and I feel pity for them. I don’t take to this position of, “You’re attacking me. You’re accusing me. You’re abusing me.” They don’t take that position at all. They see with this incredible clarity.
So in the yoga process, the astanga yoga process, most of the—jnana yoga, there was this monumental effort to try and become free from the influence of the false ego. But even through meditation, by this constant reflection upon my spiritual identity and everything, it does not utterly relieve me from the effects of the false ego. In the practice of bhakti yoga, which is founded upon—I mean there are nine processes in the path of bhakti yoga. The first two are the most important, sravanam kirtanam, the hearing and the chanting process. These activities are so utterly transformative. It describes how engaging in these activities, it will actually dissolve the subtle body of the living being, meaning the mind, the intelligence or buddhi, and the ahankara, the false ego, will gradually become dissolved, and the actual nature of the soul, true self-realization, will spontaneously begin and gradually begin to manifest.
So just closing out with this verse from the Bhagavata Purana where it says that:
“Bhakti, [or] devotional service, dissolves the subtle body of the living entity without separate effort, just as fire in the stomach digests all that we eat.”
So, if we actually attempted to undertake these ancient yogic processes, and we actually understood what we are up against, how to overcome the influence of the mind, how to overcome material consciousness, how to overcome the false ego, it’s just like, “Oh my God, that’s like mission impossible!” especially when you start trying to apply the different practices and things that they would do. But for us in this particular time, in this age, there is no need to be overly concerned about that. As it said in that verse, without any separate effort, this subtle body can be dissolved.
So, to that end, I would like to—firstly thank you very much for joining us tonight, and invite you to join with me in a kirtan. I’ll sing the Gopala Govinda Rama Madana-Mohana mantra, and may lead into the Maha mantra, or the Hare Krishna mantra. Thank you very much.