To feel that your body is not “you” is natural because after all, you are an eternal spiritual being inhabiting a temporary material body. But if I “misread” this natural occurrence and wrongly conclude that what I need to do to find the true me, to be happy, is to re-engineer my body so that it aligns with the desires of my mind, then an artificial “reality” is produced. This can only result in further unhappiness.
Today, there is a growing movement that proposes the false idea that if I can “actualize my desires” I will be finally happy, I’ll live happily ever after. This is untrue.
The Vedas teach that identifying the material body and mind as the ‘self’ is ignorance/avidya. This results in a huge variety of pain and suffering. In this state, the tendency is to then confuse spiritual needs with material desires. The quest for happiness is driven by a spiritual need, but if I wrongly assume the body and mind is “me” then I limit the search for true happiness to just stimulating my material body and mind with pleasurable experiences, none of which gives me lasting happiness.
The yogic texts I quote in this talk follow:
Persons who identify with this body, which is simply the product of the material mind, are blinded in their intelligence, thinking in terms of “I” and “mine.” Because of their illusion of “this is I, but that is someone else,” they wander in endless darkness. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 11.23.49
In his bewildered state, the living entity, accepting the body and mind to be the self, considers some people to be his kinsmen and others to be outsiders. Because of this misconception, he suffers. Indeed, the accumulation of such concocted material ideas is the cause of suffering and so-called happiness in the material world. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 7.2.25
The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas. Thus he takes one kind of body and again quits it to take another. Bg 15.8
Namaste and welcome.
So I was thinking that I would like to share something with you. My perception is that humanity at large, more so in the developed world, is actually facing an existential crisis. It is a great crisis. It is the crisis of identity. We’ve mentioned this many, many times before, but what I’d like to do is bring it into a little bit of focus on things that are currently going on in the world.
There is a fundamental formula that has been accepted by all dharmic religions, or dharmic paths, and is completely embraced and understood within the world of yoga, and yogic teaching as well, and this is the basic idea that ignorance equals suffering or pain, meaning the more we act and make decisions and choices, and go down paths that are not true, that are not actually completely real and true in the highest sense of this word, then we will be acting in an ignorant way, in an uninformed way, and it will always lead to our unhappiness.
And something that just springs to mind, I mean this whole phenomena that’s taken over the world, the selfie persona, this idea of constantly taking pictures of your body and other people’s bodies, and referring to it as your “self”, that this is the selfie. And of course, we all know how plastic it is. Not that many people are going to put candid shots up. Everybody likes to pose and look their best and everything. And this—I mean 15, 20 years ago this would have been considered really weird, like a person, there’s something wrong with them if every few minutes they’re asking somebody to take their picture, pre-smartphone days: you had a camera, and you’d be giving it to someone, and give it to someone else, and do a smile, and somebody else and, “Can you take my picture please?” People would be going, “Whoa, that person’s got a problem.” Now that’s completely embraced.
So, in many ways we are unaware. We’ve kind of slid into this situation where we’re embracing and accepting things that are—a lot of them are fundamentally untrue and will lead to unhappiness.
Before we get into the subject I just wanted to make the point that from the perspective of the yogic teaching there was a profound understanding that you and I, we are eternal spiritual beings. This body that you can see, this is not me. This is a vehicle that I am occupying. I may refer to it, or other people may refer to it, as being, me, but in reality and truly, it is not me.
The living being, the spiritual being, the soul itself actually is covered by two bodies. One is called the stula sarira, which means the gross physical body, and the other one, the linga sarira, is a subtle covering. It is mostly the mental body.
And the understanding was that when a person becomes materially conditioned, they become blind to the reality of their actual spiritual identity, and they entirely adopt the body that they have on as being themself. And so all the labels of being young, old, brown, white, black, whatever, thin, fat, whatever, it’s all assumed that that is who I am.
This idea is responsible for more unhappiness than we can calculate. It is an underlying problem with all of the mental health issues. And we’ve seen over the last 10 years, and more so over the last five years, catastrophic rises in depression, in attempted suicide, particularly amongst the young. There’s a reason for this. It has to do with our value system and things that we are holding to be true.
So, it’s really considered a very serious problem when somebody misidentifies and falsely thinks that the body is the self. What happens as a result of that, is then I seek to fulfill what are actually spiritual desires through the agency of the body. Spiritual desires are the desire for happiness, to be in a state of happiness, to not be fearful of death, of impermanence, of things coming to an end, the desire to love and to be loved. These are actually spiritual needs that arise from the soul itself.
But if I am unaware of my actual spiritual identity and assume the body to be the self then I spend all my time simply trying to fulfill those desires through the agency of the body. I use the example of Russell Brand a lot. He’s a very intelligent man, and he’s talking about his dealing with addiction and doing large amounts of cocaine and heroin every day and great volumes of alcohol and unlimited amounts of sex if required, and how, even though there was this constant stimulation of the senses and pleasurable experience in the body, you can still feel completely unfulfilled. You can feel desperately unhappy and even suicidal, even in the midst of a great frenzy of stimulation of the senses.
So, I’m going to read a couple of verses to you. If you can consider this: the idea that the body is the self was considered ignorance and it lay at the heart of all suffering. This is a really big subject, but we’re not going to go into any detail on that, but just an idea for you to contemplate and consider. So the verse I have is from the Bhagavat Purana. It says, a person–or “Persons who identify with this body, which is simply a product of the material mind [and I’ll explain that in a little bit] are blinded in their intelligence and they think in terms of “I” and “mine.” Because of their illusion of, ‘this is I, but that is someone else’ they wander in endless darkness.”
Another quotation also from the Bhagavat Purana:
“In his bewildered state, the living entity, accepting the body and mind to be the self considers some people to be their kinsmen and others to be outsiders. Because of this misconception, he suffers. Indeed, the accumulation of such concocted material ideas is the cause of suffering and so-called happiness in the material world.”
So in all spiritual teachings there was this really practical approach to living in the embodied state in the material world. It’s to try and see the reality of things, accept things for what they are and get on with something that is actually of a higher purpose or higher meaning, so that your life is a journey of great spiritual awakening.
And of course the result of that is you will manifest compassion and kindness to others. There will be a deep sense of empathy for the suffering of others, and one will always be seeking to help relieve the suffering condition.
Some time back, early part of this year I did a little bit—a talk. It’s called Identity Versus Identifying, and what we talked about was a guy from England who, his life had been particularly painful and difficult. He was going through relationship problems and everything, and he was walking somebody’s dog and taking care of it, and he looked at it and he thought, “Why is this animal allowed to be so happy, and I’m so utterly miserable? Wouldn’t it be better if I was actually an animal?” And he actually started contemplating on that idea rather seriously, and wondered what would it be like to identify as a dog.
And in his explorations of these things he encountered some shaman from one of the Nordic countries who advised him that he was probably more of a goat person. And so he embraced this, and studied the life of goats. He had prosthetics developed so he could walk around on all fours like a goat, and after a couple of years of preparation—I mean he was really serious, and a huge amount of money spent—he went and spent time in a herd of goats on somebody’s farm in Switzerland, eating grass with them. And he had this little contraption where he’d chew up the grass, and he’d spit it down into this little bladder that was strapped to his chest, and then in the evening he would cook it up in a pressure cooker and actually eat it. That’s all he ate, so that he would have the full goat experience.
And of course, this idea that if only I could change my body, if only I could be someone else, then somehow or other I would become more happy, well this idea has become so pronounced in the world, and we have all of this—these political movements that are overly focused on the temporary reality of the body and wanting everybody to embrace the bodily identities, thinking that they will find some form of liberation or happiness or fulfillment in this idea.
So the thing that really caught my eye here was a news story. It was a man in England who spent $200,000 to become a Korean, and it was referred to in the media as a trans Korean person. So I’ll just read you a little bit from the news stories. His name was Oli, Oli London. So, “Oli London amassed thousands of followers with his flamboyant reviews of songs by Korean pop boy band BTS, but the thrill of TikTok fame soon wore off. He struggled to find ways to sate his obsession with K-pop culture. [So on June of last year]… the white British influencer announced to the world that he now identifies as Korean. London’s announcement of his new identity and the dramatic surgeries he underwent in an effort to actualize it drew attacks on social media. His story has also raised serious questions as to the ethics of cosmetic surgery and consumer-driven medicine in the Western world.”
Of course referring to this as medicine is, to me, ridiculous. So, in his own words he says,
“I identify as Korean. That’s just my culture, that’s my home country…. I also identify as Jimin, that’s my Korean name,” London said in a video posted on Twitter, which has already been viewed more than four million times. “This is something that you guys know if you’ve followed my journey for the last eight years. I’ve really struggled with identity issues, with who I am.”
When I read that, it’s like, it is heartbreaking, because everybody, at one point or other in their life, will ask these questions. Everybody will feel an element of discomfort with the body they have and think, “Oh, if only it was different. If only something was like this, or that, that somehow things would be better or different or more wonderful for me.
“I started to learn about Korea and love Korea when in 2013, I went there to teach English for a year,” London said. “Korea was so warm and welcoming; it was almost like a paradise. For me it was an ideal world. I just felt I wanted to be part of that.”
Of course, for the millions of Koreans, very few of them will tell you that their world is a paradise. This is not a very informed view.
“Not content to merely join the millions of foreigners living in South Korea, London became convinced that he was born in the wrong body. “I do identify as Korean. I don’t identify as British. I feel like I should have been born in Korea because in that culture everything from the mannerism to the way that they look is what I identify with.”
So this has now become—it is growing. And the fact that he’s got four million people listening to that, this messaging, and now his new persona, pronouncing how happy and fulfilled and content he is, which is not true. Social media is just filled with all of these exaggerations. It’s absolutely not true whatsoever.
But the idea that I should entirely identify with my physical body as being who I am is considered ignorance in Vedic teachings. But to consider or to deeply identify with the desires that manifest in my mind is also considered very problematic.
Actually there is a very natural system that’s talked about in the yoga process, or yoga teachings, that deal with this. It’s the subject of the transmigration of the soul in yogic teachings: you being an eternal spiritual being but entangled in the material world. Your state of consciousness at death, the nature of your desires at death, will determine what will happen to you beyond the life of this body, when you move on.
So there is a verse in the Bhagavad-gita that addresses this. It says:
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another just as the air carries aromas, and thus he takes one kind of body and again quits it to take another.”
So this is explained as actually being a natural process that does occur. And it’s considered a undesirable process, because when one is caught up in this process we are subjected to a cycle of perpetual unhappiness, with a few moments of levity and so-called happiness, but actually an ongoing suffering condition, because we are alienated from our true spiritual identity, and the experience of who we truly are, in the state of perfect spiritual realization, self-realization and God realization, the experience of actual spiritual love.
So increasingly people are being led to believe that if I can actualize my desires, meaning if I have some desire, and I cling to it, and I cultivate it—this is also a process that’s explained in the Bhagavad-gita, that by contemplating the objects of the senses one develops attachment, and further contemplation in that state of attachment, it now grows and develops to what is called lust or kama, intense desire, intense hankering for something.
So it’s only natural if people are spending all their time contemplating different situations and thinking, “Oh if only I had this… If only I had that… If only my—I looked like this… If only I looked like that… If I had these kind of decorations on my body I would find happiness.” I’m sorry, no, you won’t. You can receive a certain amount of pleasurable experience but you cannot experience true happiness.
And so we have this saying—or this idea that if I can just actualize my desires, if I can make them come true then I will be happy, and I will be live happily ever after. I’m sorry, that’s rather childish and immature to think that way. That’s not the reality of things.
So that’s about as far as I was just going to go with the subject today. And I ask you to really do give it keen consideration. I mean it’s almost like somebody—have you seen these venetian masks, they call them, they go to these balls or these celebrations and things, and people wear different masks and costumes? And it’s like somebody going looking at something in the store and going, “Oh that’s magnificent. That’s just going to look so good on me.” And then they put it on [picture on screen of 2 people in masks] and they go, “Wow, I look amazing.” Hey, that’s not you! It’s a mask and a costume. “Oh I look so amazing!”
And then I go off to this party dressed in this manner, and everybody’s having this time drinking and becoming intoxicated and music playing, and I’m living out the fantasy of being someone other than who I truly am (and I’m talking about that just in the material sense.) And then I decide, “Wow, that was such a fantastic experience. That’s who I’m going to be,” and so then I show up for work the next day in my new costume. And I declare to everybody, ‘My name is now Count Philippe. I’m Count Philippe,” and now everybody must address me as this, and this is my new identity. And when I do this I will be happy, and you should change the way that you’re looking at me and go along with my desire and hope that I will be fulfilled with this new identity. And it’s just not true.
These ideas are growing at such a pace that it can only result in increased and serious unhappiness. And our desire is that people actually become truly happy, truly fulfilled by actually connecting with their real and permanent identity. No temporary identity can fulfill you and make you perfectly happy. It can’t. It will come, and it will go, but you will continue. You will remain. So this is a very serious situation when these ideas are becoming more widely embraced.
So I hope that that has been of interest to you. And taking it into consideration and actually applying these principles in your life will make it so that you can come to the platform of actual enlightenment and self-realization.
So I would like to invite you to, as I close out this talk, just spend a few moments, either listening meditatively or singing along with an Aum Hari Aum kirtan. Thank you very much.
25:33 – 33:47 Kirtan
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