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To take the body seriously is to allow the world to control you || Acharya Prashant on Ashtavakra
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
11 min
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नाहं देहो न मे देहो बोधोऽहमिति निश्चयी।

कैवल्यं इव संप्राप्तो न स्मरत्यकृतं कृतम्॥ ११.६ ॥

nāhaṃ deho na me deho bodho'hamiti niścayī

kaivalyamiva saṃprāpto na smaratyakṛtaṃ kṛtam

Neither I am this body, nor this body is mine. I am pure knowledge. One who knows it with definiteness gets liberated in this life. He neither remembers (acts done in) past nor (worries of) future.

~ Ashtavakra Gita, Chapter 11, Verse 6

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Questioner (Q): Ashtavakra says, "Neither I am this body, nor this body is mine."

How is the statement, “Neither I am this body” different from the statement, “Nor is the body mine”?

Acharya Prashant (AP): It only means that the sage wants to attack your illusions from both sides. On one hand, he is saying that, "The body cannot be my identity"; on the other hand, he is saying that, "I do not need to possess the body." Both of these are related. Both are like looking at the issue from different directions.

The relationship between who you are and what the body is, is of tremendous significance. It deserves to be understood.

One starts by looking at the ways of the body. One starts by seeing what the body is, where does the body come from, what does the body survive on. And these are not questions that will usually come naturally to you.

We are so terribly identified with the body that to question the body looks like questioning one's own existence. But when you look at the body, you see that its founding cells did not come from the body itself. The body was not founded by something that was of the body; the body was founded by something outside of itself: one cell from the father, one cell from the mother. And whatever the body feeds on, too is not of the body. Food, water, air, sunlight—all of that comes from outside the body.

So, the body that appears so much like yourself is actually composed totally of the world. Not only is it composed totally of the world, it also does not follow any principle that is non-material. All the laws of material, of physics apply upon the body. The body is full of chemicals that have their own way of operating. The body is very much a machine with its own movements, with its own programming, with its own limitations, and own ways of functioning.

This is the point at which the wise man asks, "Is there any way I can take this body seriously? Is there any way I can devote myself to fulfilling the body's demands?"

The more you look at the body, the more stupid it feels to take the body seriously, because the one who is looking at the body is not the body itself. Material cannot look at material. The material can record the material but never really understand it. There has to be a conscious entity that looks at and understands the body. And there is simply no commonality between this consciousness and the material body.

You, who are conscious, have hardly anything in common with the programmed material body. You understand, the body does not understand. Simple. One need not say anything further. You understand, and the body does not understand. And the moment you come to this realization that the body simply does not understand, it goes by its own methods and mechanics, its own methods and mechanics that are not not very advanced, that have only one end. What is the end of the body? What does the body feel happy with? Comfort, physical relaxation, food, air, water, sex, procreation.

So, food, comfort, air, water, all of them come in sustenance, and sex and procreation come in furtherance. All that the body wants is: "Right now, let me be in comfort. And let me also have a comfortable tomorrow, so let me produce babies." That is all that the stupid body wants. "May I not be harmed today, and tomorrow when I will be no more, then some kids should be there through which I will assume that I am continuing to live."

Now, when the wise man looks at this, he finds it impossible to have any commonality between the consciousness that understands and the body that has these limited objectives. It is almost, then, an insult to say that, "I am the body," because to say, "I am the body," would mean that food is my priority.

Now, food is hardly a priority with the wise man. There are many many other things for which he will be able to or prepared to sacrifice his life. There would be five other nobler causes for which he will be prepared to give up on food and give up on life. How can he say that, "I am the body"? He will say, "Let the body die. For me, Love and Truth are more important. I can give up on the body, but never give up on Love and Truth." The body will never say that you must get the Truth; the body will say, "Get food!"

So, for the wise man, it is almost an insult to say that— "I am the body." He is actually not the body. The body may keep saying what it wants to say. That man will not listen. He will say, "I have my other priorities. You keep asking only for two things. I know what you want. You want food—which means security—and you want sex, and I am not prepared to give you either of these. If these come easily, naturally, alright, but these cannot be my priority. These cannot dominate my vision."

Why the wise men have always said, "I am not the body"? Because the objectives of the body are not at all the objectives of the man. Will you remember this, that the body has only two objectives? What are they?

Q: Sustenance and furtherance.

AP: Sustenance and furtherance. And when we say sustenance and furtherance, it is meant only in the material and the physical sense: sustenance of this form, and furtherance of this form. "May I live healthily, and may I produce healthy babies" — that is all that the body wants. That is all that your hormones want. Mother Nature wants nothing else from you except babies. “You be healthy and your baby be healthy”—that is all that nature wants from you.

The wise one does not accept this. He says, “What is this? This thing that has come from the world, this thing that is composed totally of worldly influences in the form of evolution, this thing that has its own mechanics and ends—how can I identify with this, this thing that is so prone to diseases? Now, internally I might be so healthy, but outside I have diseases. How can I say I am the body?"

Even the Buddha was diseased. At the time of his death, he was severely diseased. So was Mahavira at the time of his death. Now, internally they are so healthy, but what to do with this body? Now, how can a Buddha say, "I am the body"? He is a Buddha, and his body is sick. Can a Buddha be sick? But his body is sick. So obviously he has to say, "I am not the body. I am so healthy, but the body is dying." And the body dies.

Ramakrishna died of cancer, Krishnamurti died of cancer. That is impossible. How can Ramakrishna have cancer? But the body has cancer. It is not even imaginable that Ramakrishna has cancer! Is it imaginable? And you have put Jesus on the cross, and he is bleeding. Now, can Jesus bleed? But the body is bleeding, and Jesus has fainted. Now, Jesus has fainted. ‘Fainting’ means going unconscious. Can Jesus go unconscious? Jesus is consciousness itself! But the body has gone unconscious. That only shows one simple thing: these people are not their body. These people are, in that sense, not people at all.

So, ‘I am not the body’ is a very wise and a bold statement at the same time. It is a wise statement because you are stating the obvious, the fact. It is a bold statement because you are saying that, "No more will I tolerate the dictatorship of the body." It is a rebellion against the tyranny of this mechanical system. You will say, "What is this? You take me where you want to take me. You take me only towards food and sex and all kinds of other attractions. Why should I follow you? Who are you?”

You are not even what you are in the sense that your sexual urges are not even your sexual urges. If I just perform a small operation upon you, you will not have any sexual urges. Even the body will not have any sexual urges! Obviously, I cannot have any sexual urges, the body has sexual urges, but not even the body will have sexual urges if I just cut one particular vessel. Now, what happened to the great urges of the body? Nothing! They were just chemicals.

It is like changing a few lines of a program; the entire output of the program changes. The body is just a program. If two or three vessels are cut, if two or three extra hormones are injected or squeezed out, then the entire code changes. Instead of running after women, you may start running after men. The one who was always feeling bad about himself may keep laughing till he dies. That is the kind of stupid system the body is, is it not? Now, how can the wise man say, "I am the body"?

The body is so damn stupid, and the wise man is not stupid at all. The wise man's relationship with the body is of aloofness. He looks at the body, he says, "What stupid game is this child playing?"

Then Ashtavakra says, "Nor is the body mine." He is very right because he doesn't control the body. The body will die one day whether the wise man wants it or not. He says, “Nor is the body mine, na me deho.” Yes, the body is not his. His nature is immortality, and the body will die. No wise man can predict when his body will fall sick. And if a stone hits him, even a Buddha is going to bleed. How can he claim that he owns the body? Did he ask his body to bleed? The body has its own dynamics, so he doesn't control the body.

So, he is right in saying, “ Na me deho . It is not mine; it is an independent system of its own. If it is independent, let it remain independent. Why should I cling to it? It keeps doing such stupid things.”

And the body is stupid, you see. Sometimes it bloats up for no reason, and all kinds of mosquitoes and insects and viruses and bacteria are around; primitive evolution. As your body has evolved, so have all the bacteria, and they are with you. How can you take the body seriously? And they are evolving all the time, do you know that? Newer kinds of viruses are coming. Your body contains many bacteria that were not there in the body of the primitive man.

This game is going on. How can you take it seriously?

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