The ancient Greek word “psyche” meant soul, life-force or spirit. The Greek name for a butterfly was also psyche, as the butterfly was seen as a symbol of the soul’s journey from a lowly grub to a beautiful flying creature. It thus represented the immortality of the enlightened soul. In more modern times “psyche” became synonymous with the mind, as in the study of psychology. In the post-Darwinist world of modern psychiatry, “psyche” has been reduced to largely deal with the chemical reactions of the brain.
Modern science espouses the theory that we are the material body, simply a complex combination of chemicals. Most modern psychiatrists therefore see all feelings and emotions such as love, hatred, happiness, sadness and anxiety etc. as resulting from different chemical reactions in the brain. Therefore, they conclude that if someone is not happy, then the problem is chemical and the solution should also be chemical. They often prescribe a cocktail of psycho-active and “mood altering” drugs to their patients. Though these medications may help to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety or depression to some degree, I have never seen anyone actually made joyful through prescribed or un-prescribed medication, and this is because we are more than just the collection of chemicals making up our body and brain. In our attempt to find real happiness, we must first understand who we are.
What is the difference between a live cat and a dead cat? Provided it hasn’t been hit by a truck or something, all of the same body parts are still there, all of the same molecules are present. The dead cat is still entirely there, but even a young child can sense that something is missing. And what is that missing element? It is the life force, the conscious living being that gives the cat its personality.
So there is a distinct difference between matter in the presence of life – when the living soul is present – and matter without the presence of life. Matter in the presence of life has certain observable characteristics. It moves; grows through the process of metabolism – takes in food and water from the environment and eliminates wastes; reacts to stimuli or shows irritability; reproduces; dwindles and eventually it dies. It is alive and displays symptoms of consciousness. These are all symptoms of the presence of the living force or soul within the body. These symptoms of the presence of the soul within a body are found even in the tiniest single-celled organisms. The following article about the reaction to stimuli of bacterium was found in the Cornell Chronicle:
How does the lowly bacterium sense its environment? Cornell University researchers have discovered a lattice of supersensitive receptors in bacterium. When humans taste or smell, receptors unique to each nerve cell detect the chemical and send signals to the brain, where many cells process the message to understand what we are smelling or tasting. But a bacterium is just a single cell, and it must use many different receptors to sense and interpret everything around it. Bacteria can sense in their environments changes in molecular concentrations as small as 0.1 percent, the equivalent of one drop diluted in a pool of a 1,000 drops. How do they do it? New Cornell research, highlighted on the cover of the May issue of “Nature Structural and Molecular Biology,” reveals that receptors assemble into a kind of cooperative lattice on a bacterium’s surface to amplify infinitesimal changes in the environment and kick off processes that lead to specific responses within the cell. “Bacteria sense a lot of different things. But assume it’s a sugar molecule that a bacterium needs as a nutrient – even a 0.1 percent change in concentration can be detected, and this sensitivity is maintained over five orders of magnitude in nutrient concentration,” said Brian Crane, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology and corresponding author of the paper. “Biologically, I know of no other system that is so sensitive over such a large range.”
[Cornell Chronicle May 17, 2006 – Krishna Ramanujan]
While the soul is present in the body, extremely complex processes are going on. There is consciousness. Respiration, metabolism and reproduction take place in all living entities, whether they are animals, plants or minute micro-organisms. The lungs extract oxygen from the air, the heart pumps blood and oxygen to feed millions of living cells and nervous impulses send a myriad of messages from the senses to the brain and to the various organs and limbs. All of these processes occur due to the influence of the soul within the body. But once the soul leaves, the body soon deteriorates, becomes a rotting stinking mess, and returns to earth. At this time we know that the person we loved has gone. Only an insane person wants to keep a rotting corpse on the lounge and relate to it as if it were a real person – the person has already moved on. There is no longer a conscious living being within.
Some people may say, “Well, I can’t see the soul, so how do I know it exists?” One way we know it exists is by its symptoms, how it influences its environment. In a similar way, who has seen the wind? We are unable to see the wind, but we observe its presence by its symptoms. We feel it blowing on our skin. We look out the window and see the ripples on the water and the trees swaying slightly and we know there is a gentle breeze. Or perhaps we see the trees bowing down, leaves flying and the tiles blowing off the roofs of houses – and then we know it’s blowing a gale.
Similarly, any scientist will attest to the existence of the atom, but no one has ever seen one. Even with an electron microscope, we are simply able to deduce the presence of the atom by its effects or influence on its environment. The following is an excerpt from an article on the Jefferson Lab Science Education website:
How do people really know that atoms exist even though they can’t see them? No one has ever really seen an atom. Humans like to see something before they believe in it. I am sure there are some people who object to that since there have been claims that electron microscopes have imaged atoms. I believe that illuminating an object with electrons, capturing those electrons and recreating an image is also indirect evidence. … No one has seen an atom, but we have seen so much evidence of their existence that most of us believe in them. …
[Brian Kross, Chief Detector Engineer, Jefferson Lab]
Anyway, the point is that although we cannot see the soul while in the conditioned state, it is not difficult to perceive the presence of the soul by its symptoms within the body, and it is similarly not difficult to perceive the absence of the soul in a dead body, when the personality, consciousness and living symptoms have disappeared.
The Body is Constantly Changing
Understanding that I am not the physical body is the beginning of spiritual wisdom. Jagad guru Siddhaswarupananda has given irrefutable proof in his lectures that we are not the physical body. It is not at all unscientific, and can be backed up by scientific observation and logic. The physical body is made up of millions of molecules and atoms. These minute particles are constantly being replaced by particles from outside the body – in food, water and air etc. Over a period of about five years, this process, called metabolism, brings about a complete change of the matter making up your body.
Dr. Paul C. Aebersold of the Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center has reported that his radioisotope tracings of the numerous chemicals continuously entering and leaving the body have convinced him that about 98 percent of all the atoms in the average human are replaced annually. ‘Bones are quite dynamic,’ he declared, their crystals continually dissolving and reforming. The stomach’s lining replaces itself every five days, skin wear and tear is completely retreaded in about a month, and you get a new liver every six weeks.
As for how long it takes to replace every last neuron, the toughest sinew of collagen, and the most stubborn atom of iron in hemoglobin, all of which are notoriously reluctant to yield their places to substitutes, it may well take years. But there ought to be some limit to this stalling of the final few holdouts and … Donald Hatch Andrews, professor of chemistry at Johns Hopkins University, who seems to have given the matter long consideration, put it at about five years, after which one can presumably consider one’s physical body completely new down to the very last atom.
[Guy Murchie: “The Seven Mysteries of Life”]
Recent studies on the turnover of the molecular population within a given nerve [brain] cell have indicated that, although the cells themselves retain their individuality, their macromolecular contingent is renewed about ten thousand times in a lifetime [in other words, the matter making up each cell is completely renewed every three days.]
[Paul Weiss: “The Living System: Determinism Stratified,” in “Beyond Reductionism” – Koestler and Smythies]
If you can imagine a brick wall that has one brick removed and replaced every day, over a period of time there would be an entirely new wall. But someone passing by would not be aware of the change, and would think it was just the same wall that’s always been there. In a similar fashion, the constant turnover of molecular particles within the body, though not obviously perceptible, point to the fact that the material body is not the constant factor in our existence. In fact, every five years we have an entirely new physical body.
So, if you look at a photograph of ‘yourself’ taken five or so years ago, that body in the photo no longer exists. Every single molecule that was in the body in the photo has since gone. Yet you are not gone. You still still exist. And since the body you had five or so years ago no longer exists, yet you still exist, you must logically conclude that you were not the body you had on five years ago. And you must also conclude that you are not the body you have on today. You are the spiritual self – the constant, unchanging principle amongst all of these physical, material changes. You know that you existed five years ago because you were there. You also know you exist right now. The same you – the same self – who existed then also exists now. And this same self will exist after the present body is gone.
This is one point that all of the world’s religions, all of their holy scriptures, and all of the great thinkers and philosophers throughout time have agreed upon. We are not this material body but the atma, the spiritual self or soul within the material body:
Where there is a material body there is also a spiritual body.
[1 Corinthians 15:44]
The first body is from the earth, earthly. The second body is from heaven.
[1 Corinthians 15:47]
Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; that the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable.
[1 Corinthians 15:50]
All men’s souls are immortal, but the souls of the righteous are immortal and divine.
The soul takes flight to the world that is invisible but there arriving she is sure of bliss and forever dwells in paradise.
I am a soul. I know well that what I shall render up to the grave is not myself. That which is myself will go elsewhere. Earth, thou art not my abyss!
One who always sees all living entities as spiritual sparks, in quality one with the Lord, becomes a true knower of things. What, then, can be illusion or anxiety for him?
[Sri Isopanisad, Text 7]
This same message, that we are not the material body but the spirit soul who dwells within the body, is most clearly elaborated in the Bhagavad-gita, perhaps the most important of all the ancient Vedic literatures:
Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul. Only the material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is subject to destruction; therefore fight, O descendent of Bharata.
For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.
The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind. This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can neither be burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.
If a person understands this one point, then he can be saved from spending all of his life and effort looking for happiness in the wrong place. If I understand I am the soul only temporarily residing within the body, then I realise that just as I need to look after the body, keep it fit and healthy, I also need to look after myself, the person within the body. Say I am renting an apartment for a few weeks, perhaps I’m on a business trip in a foreign city, I don’t spend all my time and money renovating and decorating this place which is only a very temporary accommodation and doesn’t really belong to me. That would be foolish. I keep it clean and tidy, and use it as a base to do the other more important things I need to do.
Factually, if I misidentify myself as being the body, this will often lead to over-endeavouring to find happiness in matter. If I think I am matter, then it only follows that matter will satisfy me. So I keep consuming matter, looking for that elusive inner happiness which actually comes from the soul. Perhaps I overeat, or become addicted to drugs and alcohol, or I work my butt off to get money to buy lots of expensive trinkets and toys or the latest techno gadgets. All forms of over-consumption spring from the futile attempt to satisfy the soul with matter. But somehow the emptiness – the inner longing – remains, because I am soul, I am spirit, and matter doesn’t satisfy me.
What should it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, but lose his soul in the process.
The Greek philosopher Democritus said:
Happiness resides not in possessions and not in gold. Happiness dwells in the soul.
The yoga scriptures and great self realized teachers don’t recommend that we give up our loved ones, abandon our jobs and homes and go and live in a cave in the Himalayas. Nor do they recommend that we give up all our possessions and eat leaves and grass every second day or live on air, performing severe austerities in the heat of the sun or freezing cold. These are all practises performed by renounced yogis in bygone ages, but the yoga texts do not recommend such austere practices in the modern age. What they recommend is that we add some inner happiness to our lives – that we nurture our inner spiritual being – our self. How do we do this? We feed the person within through the chanting of sacred mantras.
We need to take care of our physical needs, we need exercise, fresh air and good healthy food, clothes and a roof over our heads – we do not neglect our physical needs. But we can only be truly happy, truly alive, if we satisfy our inner spiritual needs, because we are all spiritual beings. This body is only very temporary, we will shed it like a cicada sheds his shell, but we are eternal spiritual beings, and so spirit is where our happiness lies and also where our future lies. We live for eternity. We need eternal happiness. Not flickering happiness that is limited and temporary. The names of God are so powerful that they completely cleanse our hearts and minds and gradually enable us to perceive our eternal spiritual identities through direct perception. And they enable us to taste the ananda or blissfulness that is the natural state of the spirit soul in union with the Supreme Soul. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita:
This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.