What is the body?

“When we are established in Being, the mind, body and the senses are playthings.” – Deepak Chopra

Jill Bolte Taylor:

And then I lost my balance, and I’m propped up against the wall. And I look down at my arm and I realize that I can no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can’t define where I begin and where I end, because the atoms and the molecules of my arm blended with the atoms and molecules of the wall. And all I could detect was this energy—energy.

And I’m asking myself, “What is wrong with me? What is going on?” And in that moment, my left hemisphere brain chatter went totally silent. Just like someone took a remote control and pushed the mute button. Total silence. And at first I was shocked to find myself inside of a silent mind, but then I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me. And because I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there.  My Stroke of Insight

Lester Levenson: (1993)

Q: What happens to this body when that happens?
Lester: To really know that you should experience what you are. Otherwise the reality of the body can’t be understood. When you see what you are, only then do you know what the body is. It turns out to be a thought. A thought just like in a night dream when you dreamt about being a body in a situation. And when you awoke you said, “Oh, my gosh, that was all in my mind.” The same thing happens to this body when you wake up from this dream called the waking state. You see the body, but you know it to be the dream-nature that it is.


We skirted the shores of the Inland Sea at Maiko, over the beaches of Suma. We passed the burial mound of the poet Hitomaru and the grave of Atsumori. We walked through the fields of Koyano and beside the woods of Ikuta. But my eyes were not open to any of those famous sights. All the way home (eastward), it seemed as if I were not moving at all but standing in the road alone, and the people, houses, and trees that lined the way were all moving westward. (Waddell, 2001, p. 24)

Lester Levenson (1993):

When a person decides to die, no one is going to keep him alive. We can’t keep anyone here who has really decided to leave. And you’ve seen the opposite where the body has had very little chance of surviving, yet the person lived. See, it’s the individual who’s running the body who really makes the decision. We can only guide and support that.

Q: Is there a subconscious desire to leave?

Lester: Yes. Often we have preset the time when we’re going to leave.

Q: Oh, we’ve already preset it! Can we change that presetting?

Lester: No, but you can transcend it. Wen you transcend it, you do not die. You consciously and by choice leave the body in a manner that you choose. You can’t change the karma of the body: that’s a law we set up and it goes on and on. In trying to work out karma, we are creating karma. The only thing we can do is rise above it. When we get above it, if we want a body, we can make a hundred bodies. But when you get above it, you’re not so foolish as to confine yourself into a little physical body. The most extreme limitation that you can impose upon yourself is the state we call physical. And when you get above it, there’s no need for it. You’ve had your lesson. If you want a body, you’ll use an astral body, which moves around instantaneously, and if it is damaged you will instantly straighten it out.

When you get above the physical body, unless there’s a reason, and there could be, for you to maintain one, you won’t maintain a physical body. So, to answer your question, you can’t change a preset course, but you can get above it where the body becomes like a puppet to you.

Everything in the physical is cause-and-effect, action and reaction, and this is called karma, the law of compensation. When we know this, it makes life easy because we do not fight it. Now this can help you in your profession. Everything is going to be exactly as it has been predetermined by us. We can’t change anything in this life; we can only change our attitude toward it.

However, there is a free choice: it is to identify with this physical body or to identify with our real Self—that’s the free choice. When you identify with your real Self, everything is perfect. When you identify with the body, you necessarily subject yourself to untold body-misery. Worldly life entails pounds of misery for every ounce of pleasure; but we’re so steeped in the misery we don’t know really how much misery we’re in. We reach a tolerance point at which we can tolerate very much. I guess you know that from your experience.

So the thing to do is to properly identify with the infinite Beingness that you are. Try to accept the physical state as an illusion until you actually see it that way. When you see it that way, you see it as a game, and you play that game knowing that it’s only a game. (“Healing” pp. 186-187)

Lester Levenson: (Seretan, 2008)

There is life all over the universe, and goes on forever. After I went free, I parked my carcass on land outside of town and decided to take a look at space. What I found is that humans are the highest form of life. They only differ in three things: body size, body density, and spiritual awareness. There are some planets so large that the people living there are one mile tall; of course, they are relative in size to the world they live in. My body died a few times out there while I was out of it, and I had to start it up again. I maintained just a little identification with it I could re-inhabit it.


Paramhansa Yogananda:

One afternoon during my early months at the ashram, found Sri Yukteswar’s eyes fixed on me piercingly.

“You are too thin, Mukunda.” (Yogananda’s birth name)

His remark struck a sensitive point. That my sunken eyes and emaciated appearance were far from my liking was testified to by rows of tonics in my room at Calcutta. Nothing availed; chronic dyspepsia had pursued me since childhood. My despair reached an occasional zenith when I asked myself if it were worth-while to carry on this life with a body so unsound.

“Medicines have limitations; the creative life-force has none. Believe that: you shall be well and strong.”

Sri Yukteswar’s words aroused a conviction of personally-applicable truth which no other healer–and I had tried many!–had been able to summon within me.

Day by day, behold! I waxed. Two weeks after Master’s hidden blessing, I had accumulated the invigorating weight which eluded me in the past. My persistent stomach ailments vanished with a lifelong permanency. On later occasions I witnessed my guru’s instantaneous divine healings of persons suffering from ominous disease–tuberculosis, diabetes, epilepsy, or paralysis. Not one could have been more grateful for his cure than I was at sudden freedom from my cadaverous aspect.

“Years ago, I too was anxious to put on weight,” Sri Yukteswar told me. “During convalescence after a severe illness, I visited Lahiri Mahasaya in Benares.

“‘Sir, I have been very sick and lost many pounds.’

“‘I see, Yukteswar, you made yourself unwell, and now you think you are thin.’

“This reply was far from the one I had expected; my guru, however, added encouragingly:

“‘Let me see; I am sure you ought to feel better tomorrow.’

“Taking his words as a gesture of secret healing toward my receptive mind, I was not surprised the next morning at a welcome accession of strength. I sought out my master and exclaimed exultingly, ‘Sir, I feel much better today.’

“‘Indeed! Today you invigorate yourself.’

“‘No, master!’ I protested. ‘It was you who helped me; this is the first time in weeks that I have had any energy.’

“‘O yes! Your malady has been quite serious. Your body is frail yet; who can say how it will be tomorrow?’

“The thought of possible return of my weakness brought me a shudder of cold fear. The following morning I could hardly drag myself to Lahiri Mahasaya’s home.

“‘Sir, I am ailing again.’

“My guru’s glance was quizzical. ‘So! Once more you indispose yourself.’

“‘Gurudeva, I realize now that day by day you have been ridiculing me.’ My patience was exhausted. ‘I don’t understand why you disbelieve my truthful reports.’

“‘Really, it has been your thoughts that have made you feel alternately weak and strong.’ My master looked at me affectionately. ‘You have seen how your health has exactly followed your expectations. Thought is a force, even as electricity or gravitation. The human mind is a spark of the almighty consciousness of God. I could show you that whatever your powerful mind believes very intensely would instantly come to pass.’

“Knowing that Lahiri Mahasaya never spoke idly, I addressed him with great awe and gratitude: ‘Master, if I think: “I am well and have regained my former weight,” shall that happen?’

“‘It is so, even at this moment.’ My guru spoke gravely, his gaze concentrated on my eyes.

“Lo! I felt an increase not alone of strength but of weight. Lahiri Mahasaya retreated into silence. After a few hours at his feet, I returned to my mother’s home, where I stayed during my visits to Benares.

“‘My son! What is the matter? Are you swelling with dropsy (edema)?’ Mother could hardly believe her eyes. My body was now of the same robust dimensions it had possessed before my illness.

“I weighed myself and found that in one day I had gained fifty pounds; they remained with me permanently. Friends and acquaintances who had seen my thin figure were aghast with wonderment. A number of them changed their mode of life and became disciples of Lahiri Mahasaya as a result of this miracle.

“My guru, awake in God, knew this world to be nothing but an objectivized dream of the Creator. Because he was completely aware of his unity with the Divine Dreamer, Lahiri Mahasaya could materialize or dematerialize or make any change he wished in the cosmic vision.

Adi Shankara: “Self-Realization”

17. Atman is verily one and without parts, whereas the body consists of many parts, yet people see these two as one. What is this if not ignorance?

18. Atman is the ruler of the body and is within, the body is the ruled and is without, yet people see these two as one. What is this if not ignorance?

19. Atman is all consciousness and holy, the body is all flesh and impure, yet people see these two as one. What is this if not ignorance?

20. Atman is the illuminator and purity itself; the body is said to be of the nature of darkness, yet people see these two as one. What is this if not ignorance?

21. Atman is eternal, since it is Existence itself; the body is transient, as its essence is nonexistent, yet people see these two as one. What is this if not ignorance?

22. The luminosity of Atman consists in the manifestation of all things. Its luminosity is not like that of fire or any [worldly] thing, for darkness prevails at night (i.e., even sunlight has its limits)

23. Strange it is that a person ignorantly accepts the idea that he is the body, knowing it as a thing belonging to him even as a person possesses a pot.

24. I am verily Brahman, undifferentiated and quiescent by nature; absolute Being, Knowing, and Bliss. I am not the body, which is itself nonexistent. This is called true Knowing by the wise.

25. I am immutable, formless, free from all stain (of fault) and decay. I am not the body, which is itself nonexistent. This is called true Knowing by the wise.

26. I am not subject to any disease; I am beyond all comprehension, free of all dualisms and all-pervading. I am not the body, which is itself nonexistent. This is called true Knowing by the wise.

27. I am without any attribute or activity; I am eternal, ever free, and imperishable. I am not the body, which is itself nonexistent. This is called true Knowing by the wise.

28. I am free from all impurity; I am immutable, unlimited, holy, not subject to decay, immortal. I am not the body, which is itself nonexistent. This is called true Knowing by the wise.

29. O you ignorant one! Why do you assert that the blissful, ever-present Atman, which resides in your own body but is different from it, which is known as Consciousness and is established by the scripture as identical with Brahman, is nonexistent?

30. O you ignorant one! Try to know, with the help of the scriptures and reasoning, your own Self, Consciousness, which is being itself and very difficult for persons like you to realize.

31. The absolute known as “I” is but one, whereas the gross bodies are many. How can this body be Consciousness?

32. “I” is well established as the subject of perception whereas the body is the object. This is learnt from the fact that when we speak of the body we say, “This is mine.” So how can this body be Consciousness?

33. It is a fact of direct experience that the “I” is immutable, whereas the body is always undergoing changes. So how can this body be Consciousness?

34. Wise men have stated the nature of Consciousness in that scripture, “Nothing higher than He,” etc. So how can this body be Consciousness?

35. Furthermore, the Purusha Sukta states: “All this is verily from Consciousness”. So how can this body be Consciousness?

36. So also it is said in Brihadaranyaka: “Nothing attaches itself to Consciousness”. How can this body, with innumerable impurities attached to it, be Consciousness?

37. There again it is clearly stated that “Consciousness is self-illumined”. So how can the body, which is inert and illumined from without, be Consciousness?

38. Moreover, the Karma-kanda also declares that the Atman is different from the body and permanent, as it endures even after the demise of the body and reaps the fruits of karman. (i.e., karman are not lost when the body dies)

39. Even the subtle body consists of several parts and is impermanent. It is also an object of perception, is changeable, limited and non-existent by nature. So how can this be Consciousness?

40. The immutable Atman, the substratum of the ego, is thus different from these two bodies (gross and subtle), and is Consciousness, Ishwara (God), the Self of all. It is present in every form and yet transcends them all.

* * *

Adi Shankara. Aparokshanubhuti. Translated by Swami Vimuktananda
Published by Advaita Ashram, Kolkatta. https://www.shankaracharya.org/aparokshanubhuti.php

Deepak Chopra and Adam Plack (2011). “The Secret of Healing: Meditations for Transformation and Higher Consciousness.”

Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Phoenix, Arizona: Sedona Institute. (http://www.freespiritualebooks.com/keys-to-the-ultimate-freedom.html)

Levenson, Lester (1998). The Ultimate Truth. Sherman Oaks, Calif.: Lawrence Crane Enterprises, Inc.

Paramhansa Yogananda (1946). Autobiography of a Yogi. NY, The Philosophical Library.

Waddell, Norman (2001). Wild Ivy: The Spiritual Autobiography of Zen Master Hakuin. Shambhala Publications.

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