Knowing who you truly are is essential to realizing what it is that will actually make you happy, and bring meaning and fulfillment to your life. There are volumes of books and countless self-improvement and self-help magazines and websites dedicated to the subject of making changes to the self in an attempt to affect some kind of benefit. But without correct knowledge of the self – of “who” it is that you are trying to improve or help – you will have only temporary or shallow results at best.
So who are you? If you ask a person to answer this question, to write down a paragraph describing who you are, most people will immediately begin to describe their body. They may say I am a woman, 23 years old, Italian, five and a half feet tall, with a light complexion, brown hair and green eyes. Or, I am a 30-year old Portuguese man with a muscular build, six feet tall, with black hair and brown eyes. Perhaps they will describe their occupation. I am a teacher. I am a scientist. Or family relationships. I am a mother, a father, the middle child of three. All these descriptions are descriptions of a person’s body, but is this really who they are?
Is this who you are? Are you your body? How can we tell if we are?
According to the Vedic scriptures, you are not the body, but rather the person who is temporarily wearing the body, in the same way a person temporarily wears a set of clothes. When a person is finished using a particular body and/or if the body is damaged beyond usability, the person inside leaves that body and obtains a new one. Again, very much like a person discards a worn out, damaged, or undesirable garment.
A practical way to think about the question of are you the body is to think about each of your different body parts and ask yourself, am I this body part? If I were to lose this body part, would I still be me? Am I the hand? If I was to lose my hand, would I still be me? And of course, it is obvious that without your hand, you would still be the same person, just without one of your hands. Some people have actually lost hands, legs, ears, eyes, all different body parts and if you ask them are you still the same person, they will say, yes, I am still me. I don’t have my hand anymore, but it is still me inside this body.
And, in fact, if you are to look at the question from a molecular or atomic perspective, you will see that the body you have now is completely different from the body you had just five years ago. Dr. Paul C. Aebersold of Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center discusses in the Annual Report for the Smithsonian Institution that scientific studies have revealed that about 98 percent of all the atoms in a human body are replaced every year. You get a new suit of skin every month and a new liver every six weeks. The lining of your stomach lasts only five days before it’s replaced. Even your bones are undergoing constant change. The bones you have today are different from the bones you had a year ago. Experts in this area of research have concluded that there is a complete, 100 percent turnover of atoms in the body at least every five years. In other words, not one single atom present in your body today was there five years ago.
According to these studies, the atoms in your current body are completely different from those in the body of five years ago, yet you are the same person. You are the person who was wearing the body five years ago and it is you who is wearing a completely different body now. Same person, different bodies. If you were the body, then you would also be a completely different person. You would have no memory of experiences five years ago if you were that body because you would be gone now with that body, scattered about in innumerable different places and reabsorbed by other bodies. But you are still here, wearing a body made up completely different atoms. So you can see from a scientific perspective that you are not the body.
So, if you are not the body, are you the mind?
To be continued in Part 2 of What Is My Essence?