I was looking into the mirror. All of a sudden … I became petrified with a strange thought. It has never happened to me before. I look into the mirror everyday. I shave my beard, comb my hair, fix the tie, and do so many other things. But now, for the first time, I happened to look deep into my own eyes and see a mysterious question blinking inside them: “Is this me?” At this point, you might wonder what a stupid question I was asking myself. Of course the person in the mirror was me! Who else could it be? Well, my question was not like that. I was pondering, “Am I really this body? This face, this chest, these hands, these legs – is that all that is there? Am I simply made of flesh, bone and blood? Or, at the very bottom, am I a mere collection of cells and tissues, genes and DNA.
I was so occupied with these questions that I started discussing them whoever I met with. Some of them speculated something which did not satisfy me, some discouraged me saying: “You are wasting your time onthis. Do your work.” But I was thinking, “Unless I know who I really am, how do I know what work I am supposed to do?”
One day, my friend Ram suggested me, “Why don’t you consult the Vedic scriptures? They are considered to be the storehouse of wisdom and knowledge by people from diverse disciplines all over the world, including many great scholars and scientists.” I followed his advice. And guess what happened. As if I was in a dark room, a window opened up, a bright sunlight came in and dissipated the darkness. I was overwhelmed to discover that all my questions have been answered in these texts. They do not contain mere statements which are to be accepted on blind faith. If that was the case, a skeptic like me would never be convinced. But to my surprise, the answers in them were all scientific and it made perfect sense. My dear reader, are you excited to know the answers? Then, let me just share them the way I have realized.
We are not just this tangible body made of chemicals. There is a subtler constituent of us, which is not tangible but which all of us can experience. Ancient Vedic texts tell us that there are three different subtle constituents: the mind, the intelligence and the consciousness. Someone may use these terms interchangeably and can argue that they are the same. But if we analyze carefully, they stand out to be distinct.
The grossest level of existence of a living being like human is the body which is composed of the sense organs. The mind is distinct and subtlerthan the body. For example, suppose a soccer player has got hurt and has a painful wound in his knee. But when he scores a goal, for some time he is in ecstasy and he completely forgets his bodily pain. So during that time, the pleasure in his mind is definitely more powerful than the pain in his body.
Mind is simply a repository of thoughts and feelings. However, the intelligence is subtler than the mind. Intelligence is that entity which has the power to discriminate between right and wrong actions. As an example, suppose a doctor has given some bitter syrup to you. Now, yourmind may be totally averse to taking such a medicine, the mind may say, “Oh! I do not want to take this medicine!” Whereas your intelligence may say, “Well, if I do not take the medicine, my disease won’t be cured.”
Consciousness is an entity which is the subtlest of all. It is beyond body, mind, and intelligence. For example, suppose a patient is under a coma. He or she does not think or feel anything, and so his or her mind is not active. He or she does not do any logical analysis and make any decision, and so his or her intelligence is not active either. But he or she is still alive, and so the life-force or the consciousness is fully present in him or her. Mind and intelligence may have some connection with the brain, as different types of living beings have different levels of intelligence. But consciousness does not seem to be merely a product of the nervous system or the brain. Trees do not have any nervous system or brain, but they have consciousness. Whether a single living cell has a mind or intelligence may raise disputes, but it undoubtedly possesses consciousness.
Consciousness can also be related to what is called one’s ego or identity. For example, a person may grow from c hildhood to old age, undergoing changes in his or her body, mind (in terms of thoughts, feelings), and intelligence (hopefully he or she would be more mature and more rational), but the identity of the person remains unchanged. Each one of us knows that it’s “Me” and nobody else, and the same “I” that existed ten years back is existing now. This “I” or “ego” can be viewed as consciousness.
We can also understand the different levels of subtlety of body, mind, intelligence, and consciousness by the way we fe el satisfaction about each of these entities. For example, sexual activity may satisfy one’s body (and perhaps partially satisfy one’s mind too, as the mind is just the next level above the body and is thus in direct touch with the body). But it does not satisfy the intelligence, what to speak of satisfying the consciousness. Similar things happen when we are hungry and eat some food. It satisfies the body and maybe partially the mind , but nothing beyond. On the other hand, when we see some beautiful scenery in nature or listen to melodious music, our mind is satisfied and moreover, our fatigued body may be relaxed and re-energized. The intelligence is satisfied when, for example, we solve a hard mathematical problem, or compose a poem, or win a debate. Since the intelligence is higher than the mind, when the intelligence is satisfied, the mind is also satisfied, but the consciousness which is higher than the intelligence is not satisfied. However, when we do sacrifice out of love, and when we feel for other’s sufferings and try to do service to others, our consciousness is satisfied. Since the consciousness is the highest of all, naturally the intelligence and the mind are also satisfied along with it.
Of these four levels, analyzing and understanding the body, the mind and the intelligence is relatively easy, but understanding the consciousness is most difficult. Many scientists are trying to understand consciousness by applying Logic. One interesting thing to note here is that the very source of Logic is consciousness itself. Thus, it is impossible to understand consciousness by applying only Logic. To understand consciousness, we need a particular kind of science called the spiritual science. Vedic texts are like the text books of this science. This science tells us that we are not this temporary body which is subject to birth, old age, disease and death. We are eternal spirit souls which cannot be burnt, wet, cut or killed, and the consciousness is a symptom of the soul. As the same embodied soul continuously passes in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, similarly, the soul also passes into another body at death.
At this point, you might challenge me saying: “You call this science! This is nothing but blind religious faith.” I understand your point, because I had also undergone the same feelings as you. But later I realized that the spiritual science also has the same four basic building blocks as our ordinary science, namely: axioms, hypothesis, experimentation and conclusion. Just like in ordinary science, if we want to get a perfect result, we need to perform the experiments as it is in accordance with the specifications, under certain laboratory conditions, and under the guidance of some supervisor, similarly, in spiritual science, before weconclude anything as right or wrong, we need to follow the spiritual processes and practices as it is as specified in the spiritual texts and under the guidance of some bona fide authority. Only then we can realize who we really are and the purpose of our existence.