The body and the mind are interconnected and interdependent. The mind cannot do things alone; it needs the help of the body. The body expresses the thoughts of the mind. If you have a happy mind your face and body will reflect that happiness. If the body is disturbed you will find it very difficult to keep the mind steady. There are cases where people have trained their bodies and minds always to be very peaceful. Once they had trained themselves, even if their bodies went through some problems, they didn’t lose their peace. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is one example. Who got crucified? We say Lord Jesus got crucified. But it was the body that was crucified. That is why he was able to be unaffected by that. He was even able to say, “Oh the poor people, they don’t know what they are doing. They are ignorant.” He was sympathetic toward their ignorant deeds. Because he trained the mind to remain unaffected under any situation or condition.
In the twentieth century there were several sages who demonstrated this ability to be a witness to the ills that afflicted their bodies. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, the great teacher of Swami Vivekananda, had cancer. He would address his body in the following way about this condition: “Oh, the poor body must have done a lot of terrible things to go through this. That’s your karma, you did it, you have to face it; I am sorry, but what can I do?” Sage Ramana Maharshi of South India, also had cancer. He was another great example of this accomplishment. His cancer was particularly painful and yet when people asked him if he was in pain, he would simply note that his body was going through some discomfort. When his devotees convinced him to finally have some surgery, he allowed the doctors to do it, but refused any anesthesia. During the surgery, as his body was feeling the pain, it would go through small jerking motions. These movements seemed to catch his attention and throughout the surgery, he himself was comforting his own body. I was there with him and witnessed all these things firsthand.
Sometimes people ask, “Why do saints and sages have cancer?” I would say, they never had cancer, their bodies had cancer. These great saints were not affected by what happened to their bodies. They treated the body as a separate entity. It is something like the roof of your house leaking. Do you say, “Oh, my goodness, I am so upset; what is wrong with me, how did I get all leaky? How could this have happened?” No, of course not. You recognize that your house has a leaky roof—not you—and you get the roof repaired. Likewise, these sages allowed their bodies to go through the illnesses and get repaired. But they were not perturbed by the diseases their bodies were undergoing.
The body and mind have an interrelationship. Suppose I take a small packet, open it, and remark, “What I have here is some very delicious candy.” You may salivate without my even showing you the candy. What does that mean? The mind hears the word, “candy” and the body reacts. Suppose somebody shouts at you: “Hey, you stupid fool!” You will get angry, right? When you are angry, the blood boils and your face becomes red. You only heard a sound, but your mind got angry and made your body react. Here’s a different example. Suppose a mother who is always happy and joyful falls sick. She has a high fever and is lying in bed. One day she feels thirsty and asks her daughter to get her a drink of water. The child is delayed and returns half-an-hour later with the water. Now, normally, this mother would smile at her child and forgive her. But because the mother is weak and ill, she gets irritated and starts shouting at the child. A sick person gets irritated quickly because the body is weak. When the body and mind are weak, you don’t have the capacity to avoid bad habits. All kinds of things will bother you that would not ordinarily.
What you need to recognize is that you are not your body nor your mind. Rather, you are the owner of this body and mind—you are living in the body and making use of it. I like to refer to the body as a type of recreation vehicle—an “RV.” Wherever you go you travel in that RV; you take it with you. You can’t leave it at home because you live in this RV. You have everything in there: kitchen, office, bathrooms, radios, televisions, stereo, cameras, and so on. You have everything built into this RV. It’s like having a big, super, personal home computer.
Let’s say that someone backs into the car you are driving and the car gets a dent in its body. Would you feel that you had a dent in you? Would you identify yourself with a dent in your car or RV? No, you would just take it to the garage and get it repaired. We should always remember this point: “I am not the body. I am not even the mind. They are my instruments. They are the vehicles that I am using. When they have some problems, I take care of that. If I can’t fix the problem myself, I take it to the garage.” And in the case of our own body we would take it to the doctor’s office or hospital.
That is why we practice Yoga, why we meditate, and why we believe in preventive medicine. The body and mind often get a little tired or may get a bit worn out. They need occasional tuning. Even if there is nothing terribly wrong, once in awhile you have to take it for a little tuning. Yoga means to maintain the body and mind; to keep the body and mind well-tuned. Don’t you take your car for regular tune-ups? When you realize that it is an ongoing process to look after the health and well-being of the body and mind, then you will not be surprised to see a few nuts become loose, some screws overtightened. Don’t we often use the expression, “Did you see how he went nuts; she seems to have a screw loose?” We have these expressions because they convey a meaning.
Sometimes the body needs a more serious overhaul. Parts may wear out and if we are fortunate, there may be some spare parts available. But maybe it is not possible to keep the vehicle going. If we identify too much with the body, we may want to cling to it or preserve it forever. The worst fear is the fear of death of the body. When your old clothes wear out, you throw them away and put on new ones. How much space is taken up by the dead when there is not enough place for the living? And what is there anyhow? It is something like keeping the useless parts of a car after it has broken done and can no longer be fixed. Isn’t it a better idea if we take any good spare parts from a banged-up car and use it to help another car? The body of the car got damaged, but perhaps the engine is in very good shape, the axle will be in good shape, or the interior panel might be in good shape. So you reclaim whatever good parts you can from the unusable car. This is just what happens with bodily parts—we call it organ transplants. You can help someone else by having signed on the back of your driver’s license. Then, if you suddenly collapse, your organs can be donated to someone in need. What a wonderful offering that is. We should all have that generosity of spirit.
Many people are afraid of death. Death means a change of form, that’s all. It is inevitable and it is happening every minute. You are not the same person you were a minute ago. A part of you is already dead and a part is being born. Death of the body simply means that the soul is changing vehicles. When a tree dies, you get planks. When the planks die, you get a chair. When the chair dies, you get firewood. When the firewood dies, you get ash. Don’t we say, “Dust to dust…?”
Nothing can really be destroyed; it just change names and forms. The body may die but there is no death for the eternal soul. What is, is always. What is not, is not, and will never be. What you call the world is nothing but ever-changing names and forms. We may take a piece of cloth and think it is a nice, expensive dress. But is it really a dress? Is it a piece of cloth? What you see is cotton twisted into threads and woven and arranged in a particular way. So, you call it cloth. If we disperse the arrangement and heap the threads into one pile, the cloth vanishes. We didn’t destroy anything. We changed the arrangement of the threads, that is all.
You should recognize that you are not the body and you are not the mind. You are owner of the body and mind. You use these two instruments to function in the world. The mind is like an engine in a car. The body is like the body of the car. Without the engine, the body won’t function. When the mind completely sleeps the car will just sit there. You have to start the engine to make the car get moving. Likewise, in deep sleep you turn the engine switch off. The mind is not functioning. That is why during sleep, the body also simply lies quietly. But when the mind awakens, then it begins to move the body. We often make the mistake of identifying with the body and the mind. But remember, they are yours and not you.
You are more than a body-mind complex. You are the image of God, a spark of the Divine, the higher Self. That is your essence. But often we hear people saying, “I really don’t feel well today. I ache all over.” Or if they are upset they may say, “I’m just a mess today. I am so depressed.” This shows a lack of understanding. Your body may feel achy. Your mind might be depressed. But you are fine. You are always fine. You are always a knower. Otherwise, how do you know that you are happy? How do you know that you are unhappy? If you say, “I am sick?” Who is sick and who knows that you are sick?
Don’t we hear people sometimes say, “I spaced out. I know my mind was off somewhere else.” See, “I know that my mind was somewhere else.” That “I know” means that you are that knower. There is something in you that knows and is witnessing the various changes going on within the body and the mind. You are always the knower.
An example I can give is to look at nature. The weather is constantly changing. In the same way, the body and mind go through changes because they are also part of nature. It is natural. Nature is a combination of elements and organs. The organs include the intellect, mind, senses, and the body. Normally, we think of nature as being something other than our bodies. But, when we feel we are the true Self, even the body becomes part of the nature. Because the body is merely a composition of the elements. If we don’t eat, there will be no body. A baby, when born, is six or seven pounds of flesh, and even that weight is built up in the womb by the mother’s food. The food materials which create the body are just part of nature. Even the mind, senses, and intellect are part of nature, although a subtle part. They are matter, and that’s why they change.
Anything that is matter or part of the nature changes. But we make a mistake even in our understanding of the weather. For example, people might say, “Yeah, no sun today. It’s just cloudy and rainy.” That is incorrect. The sun is always shining but sometimes it is obscured by clouds. It is the same with the body. Just like changes in the weather, the body may go through illnesses. The mind also goes through changes like when clouds block us from seeing the sun. But like the real Self, the sun is always there despite any changes in weather. It is the one constant in our life. That is why I say that we should not identify with that which is always changing but rather with that which is eternal and unchanging—the Self, the image of God in you.
As you progress on the spiritual path, the understanding that you are made in the image of God, will become more permanent. Then if someone asks you the question, “How are you?” You will always be able to answer, “I am fine.” Because you will understand that your pure spirit is always fine, ever fine. If the body is unwell, you can say, “Well, I am fine, but the body has a touch of the flu.” Or the mind may get occasionally disturbed. You can still say, “Yes, I am fine, it’s just the mind seems to be a bit moody today; it will pass.” We can say these things with confidence because we know that the weather will always be changing, and the sun is always shining.
All these changing conditions are not the real you. They belong to the body and mind. What is it that is young or old? It is the body. You were never born and you are never going to die. You are ageless; only the body has an age. The soul knows itself to be unlimited and immortal. It is that immortality that we should realize. When you put yourself in that position—when you identify yourself as that supreme witness—you will have no problem. But the problem here is even though that is the truth, we don’t always live in that truth. That’s why the truth doesn’t seem to help us much. We constantly identify ourselves as the mind and the body. You seem to have fallen down from your beautiful, divine state and you identify yourself as the body and mind.
Some people will misunderstand this idea. They will think, “Well, since I am not the body or mind, I can just ignore them and focus on Self-realization.” They will withdraw from the world, go into a cave, and throw themselves into their spiritual practices, neglecting the body and mind. This is not going to help you make any spiritual progress. Because if you do not take good care of the body and mind you cannot realize anything.
You need cooperation between the body, mind, and spirit. That is why we recommend that you practice Yoga postures and breathing practices. Then when you sit to meditate, you can meditate with ease. Because the body and the
breath—which are both linked to the mind—will become more calm and relaxed. This enables the mind to be more at peace when you sit to meditate.
Don’t think that just because you are not your body that you can do anything to it. You must take care of it. Just like you insure your car, you insure this body also. You care for your body, because just like your car, you depend on it to get around. How do you insure your body and keep it in good working order? Physical ease of the body should be maintained through proper diet, exercise, and clean air. It is not enough to put on some nice, pretty dress, makeup, and fix your hair etc. You also have to take care of what you put into the body. If a vehicle is given to you take good care of it; use the proper fuel. If it is made for high octane gas don’t use regular gas. That is why I recommend a vegetarian diet.
The human body is a temple. Keep it strong and supple. Take care of the health of the physical body. Avoid a diet that contains toxins or that unnecessarily stimulates your body—try to eliminate alcohol, tobacco, and any nonprescription drugs. Think of your body as your country that has many ports of entry. You should put immigration officers everywhere to scrutinize anything that would pass into it. Before anything goes in, ask, “Who are you, friend or foe? What are you doing here and are you here for a good purpose or to cause any problems? Show us your passport. If you are good, be our guest. If not, please go away.” Without purity of the body it’s very difficult to purify the mind.
Whatever you eat is Mother Nature in the form of food. The fruits are your mother, the grains are your mother, the whole earth is your mother. Through nourishing the body we hope to have the strength to cultivate wisdom, dispassion, and health. There are three conditions that food should meet: it should help your mind maintain its tranquillity; it should not stiffen the body with toxins; and it should be able to be digested quickly without wasting a lot of energy.
When you have health and strength you can be a useful person. Without the body you cannot do anything. But you shouldn’t get upset if something goes wrong with it. That understanding will help you to maintain your peace under all conditions. Whether you are sick or well, rich or poor; whether you profit or lose, you are praised or blamed—none of these things should affect your mind, your peace. You should remain peaceful. And in that peace you experience God