The Complexity of our Physical Existence
If you carefully examine your life, you can easily observe that our human existence is complicated, many sided, with numerous subtle connections both within us and around us.
We spend most of our time trying to manage the bewildering challenges of our lives in terms of health, work, relationship, creativity or spirituality, and our interaction with different changing environments and shifting social circumstances. The new information technology adds yet more demands and expectations. Sometimes we fail and end up in disease, suffering, conflict or illusion. Some people lose control of their lives altogether and come under the domination of others.
We are not simply homogenous entities, but a network of forces and actions, reaching ultimately to the entire universe. Just think of our human body with its array of sense organs, motor organs, internal organs, physiological systems, tissues and fluids, extending to billions of cells. The body has its own organic nature, unique energy pattern, and complex biological needs like food, drink, exercise, security and reproduction such as Ayurveda addresses.
The body forms a community, realm or world of its own, as microscopic analysis clearly indicates. Most of our bodily functions occur by their own impulses, whether sensation, breathing, digestion or elimination. Our self-awareness exists mainly at the surface and periphery of the body through our skin, sense organs and motor organs. What is happening inside the body we know only by its consequences not by any direct cognition.
We as individuals have limited control over our body and must work carefully to maintain it. Often the body functions against our desires, or we act in such a way to damage the body, abusing it for our personal enjoyment.
It is difficult to truly say that we are the body, though our idea of self is usually our bodily self, as if we were the body. The fact is that the body resembles an unknown continent, and most of its functions are beyond our direct control, though under our influence.
Our Mental World
Similarly, our minds form a complex energy network with interrelated functions occurring rapidly from moment to moment. Our minds are connected to the body and its numerous processes, but have their own activities that take us far beyond our physical circumstances. Our minds can contemplate history, envision the future, examine the cosmos, or conceive of something divine, infinite or eternal – far beyond our personal physical existence.
Our minds have diverse functions as sensation, emotion, reason, memory, imagination, motivation and intuition, spanning the states of waking, dream and deep sleep. Many of these mental functions occur at a subconscious level, like the automatic responses of our emotions, or our entire sleep state. We are not in control of our minds, which function automatically and erratically, even against our interests, according to various impulses, fears and desires we do not entirely understand.
The mind forms its own community, realm or world, much as the body. The mind is a complex creation of different competing forces and tendencies, far more intricate than the most complicated computer. We frequently change our minds, though seldom by our own conscious intention. Our minds compel us to act or react in ways that prove detrimental to us long term. Other people can influence or control our minds, as is the case with advertising or even politics.
The Real Person: Consciousness Beyond Body and Mind, the Purusha
Behind this enormous complexity of body and mind, who is the real person? Is there any real person at all?
Is the human person, as current biology teaches us, just a reflection of the chemical activity of the brain, with no higher awareness or independent judgment? Some scientists think that we human beings would be better off ruled or replaced by artificial intelligence, which is free of the emotional chaos of our minds and the biological compulsions of the body. Science seems compelling us in this direction.
Yet we do recognize the existence of a person behind body and mind, endowed with human rights, dignity and a value of his or her own. Our legal, political and religious systems reflect this, along with their sense of rights, duties and responsibilities. This idea of a real person implies something more than chemistry or brain waves, something within us that is unitary, continuous and responsible for what it is.
Behind the mind there is a deeper self, consciousness and being, but we are seldom directly aware of it, as we are caught in the outer mind and its externally motivated activities through the body.
Yoga speaks of the Purusha, which literally means “Person” – an independent awareness behind body and mind that are its instruments in the natural world that is called the realm of Prakriti. Realization of the Purusha, also called Self or Atman, is the goal of traditional Yoga in the Yoga Sutras as well as Vedanta overall. That Purusha is the true Self we must seek to know.
Your body is your outer instrument of action in the material world, much like your automobile. Your mind is your inner instrument of memory and expression, like your computer. But you are the “real person” who has the power to guide and operate these instruments if your truly understand yourself. The goal of Yoga practice, as taught in the Yoga Sutras, is to detach us from body and mind, moving beyond their compulsions and limitations. This occurs when we learn to transcend body and mind through meditation and samadhi.
Claiming the Real Person Within You
Yes, you should be your own person, have your own views and be empowered to shape your own destiny. But that true person is not the ego based on bodily compulsions, mental conditioning or environmental influences. It is your deeper core awareness behind waking, dream and deep sleep, the Purusha within.
Be who you really are. Be a real person, the immortal Purusha, your inner being and Self-awareness. This being your true Self is not just a matter of wearing the clothes you like, having the job you want, or the ideal partner, however desirable these may have. It requires reclaiming your inner wholeness as Pure Consciousness, the master of body and mind, which are but your instruments of expression but not your true nature. This inner Purusha realization takes you beyond time, space and karma, birth and death, to the enduring bliss or Ananda.
Yes, please assert yourself, against the entire world if necessary. But assert your true Self that is pure awareness beyond all physical and mental compulsions and conditioning. For this you must know your true Self, for which Yoga, meditation and Self-inquiry are the way.