We human beings are embodied creatures defined by our birth in a particular physical body as indicating our real identity and the focus of our lives. Our minds are not only located in the body but ruled by an entire set of bodily needs, imperatives, appearances and actions and their daily functions. Our physical body is our personal image, starting with our face and form and the clothes we put around the body. We see ourselves as a bodily intelligence operating through the brain, senses and motor organs. This is the basis of our survival, development and happiness in life.
Obviously caring for the body, both at physical and social levels, is an important task, the most immediate and demanding necessity that we have to deal with in our lives and with our minds on a moment by moment level. Protecting, preserving and promoting our bodily needs is the modus operandi of all that we do and the foundation for all that we aspire to. It is the the basis of our vitality, health and longevity.
As children we learn to develop our minds to use, control and improve the functioning of our five senses and five motor organs rooted in the body. We must establish patterns of waking and sleep, action and rest, eating food and drinking beverages. We need to learn how walk, run, exercise and play various sports. We need to learn how to talk and what to say, how to interact with other persons, meaning other bodies, and how to learn and present ourselves in social circumstances.
Our mind is the guide and protector of the body and develops habits of working with the body and improving bodily functions. Yet it is also the reflection of the body, with the mind’s activity affected by the changes in our bodily vitality and movement and its internal hormones, chemistry and genetics.
Mind’s Potential Beyond the Body
However, the mind can also look at the body and use it as an instrument it can control, adapt, direct or even transform. We can be more focused in the mind than in the body, which sometimes seems alien to us. The mind can judge the body as deficient, unattractive or weak in various ways.
The mind has obvious potentials and interests beyond individual or collective physical concerns. We can learn about different creatures than human beings, different aspects of the natural world. We can expand our sense of time from our physical lives, to human history, to geological and cosmic time measurements that are vast.
We can create our own inner world of imagination, dream, art, or even silence and space. We can become mental beings with inner senses, logic and intuition, in which the body is nearly forgotten and we can look out upon the universe as a whole as our home.
Our mind is an independent awareness connected to a particular body but not necessarily limited to it. According to yogic teachings of karma and rebirth, our core mind has many embodiments and is not limited by death. There is a subtle body and a causal body (linga sharira) beyond the physical that has many incarnations and can ultimately transcend all embodiment to pure Consciousness like boundless space and light.
There are many different levels of the mind from the subconscious and physical to the purely rational, abstract and the transcendent beyond name, form and number. If we learn how to deeply meditate, we can experience higher levels of the mind, including those in which body consciousness may disappear but a Self-awareness continues without the need for a body to express it.
Atman, Self Beyond Body and Mind
Our human existence is a part of a greater evolution in consciousness in society, nature and the universe as a whole. This evolution of consciousness means a movement from embodied mind to a formless Consciousness beyond the body, and even beyond the mind, beyond time and space, name and form – the realm of higher meditative realization and Samadhi.
The ultimate question arises as to what is the true Self beyond body and the mind, the Atman of Vedanta. Beyond our changing physical and psychological selves is an immortal Self that is not limited to body or mind, time, space or action. That is the search for Brahman, the universal and transcendent reality as well.
Certainly we need to properly take care of our bodies for health and wellbeing, respecting its needs and intelligence, as Ayurveda teaches us. We also need to care for and develop the mind through right sensory impressions, education, language, logic and creativity. But for ultimate wellbeing, bliss and immortality, we must move beyond embodied mind to Transcendent Consciousness. That is the real goal of our lives, which alone can take us to the ultimate truth of the universe.
Let us take the magical internal journey from embodied mind to Transcendent Consciousness that is one with all. Our mental embodiment is just an early stage is this eonic process.
David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)