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If you cannot conquer the body, the body will conquer you || On Advait Vedanta (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
29 min
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देहाभिमानपाशेन चिरं बद्धोऽसि पुत्रक । बोधोऽहं ज्ञानखंगेन तन्निष्कृत्य सुखी भव ॥

dehābhimānapāśena ciraṃ baddho'si putraka bodho'haṃ jñānakhaḍgena tanniṣkṛtya sukhī bhava

O son, you have become habitual of thinking ‘I am body’ since long. Experience the Self and by this sword of Knowledge cut that bondage and be happy.

~ Ashtavakra Gita, Chapter 1, Verse 14

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Questioner: Acharya Ji, in the verse above, it is mentioned that one is constantly identified with the body. I feel I am deeply identified with the body most of the time. How do I start detaching myself from this body-identification? Being a woman, I find it more difficult because of the social and physical conditioning. But listening to you, I now feel that there is some way to go beyond it, and you are pointing at that. I am unable to see it clearly, but I don’t know why I still have faith that surely there is a way. Kindly guide.

Acharya Prashant: The question is, how do I start detaching myself from the body? How to get rid of body-identification?

You can have a small vessel which contains small pieces of many metals—iron, aluminum, nickel, copper—and happily they go together. They are all kept in the same vessel, they have been coexisting since long, and being in the company of each other they have all started appearing as one, very, very similar. But what happens when you just bring a strong magnet near that vessel? It is then that the iron pieces just lose their old company and rise towards the magnet, and now the difference between iron and the others is very clear; there is no similarity at all. One has a love for magnet, the others do not have.

But this difference becomes clear only when a magnet is around. Otherwise, iron and copper and zinc will all hang around as if they belong to the same fraternity. You require a strong magnetic pull to disrupt their bonhomie. Unless that magnetic pull is there, iron will keep feeling that “aluminum is my best friend”. The moment the magnetic field engulfs the iron piece and others, the iron piece comes to know that aluminum, copper, zinc—they are all nothing. The destiny of iron is to be with the magnet, be with the magnet and turn magnetic in due course.

So, you see, as long as your intentions and the body’s intentions are one, you will have no way to clearly see that you and body are not one. Understand this. As long as your intentions and the body’s intentions are one, how will you see that you are not the body? What the body is asking for, you too are asking for. The direction that the body is going towards, you too are moving in that direction. There is no way to figure out that no, these two entities, the body and the self, are not one. It is only in the presence of something, somebody who appeals to the body but not to the self, or the presence of something or somebody who appeals greatly to the self but not at all to the body, that you will come to see the distinction. Otherwise, there is no way.

If you’re not close to a magnet, you will keep feeling that copper is your brother. The magnet is the test. The magnet’s is the disruptive presence. The magnet clears all doubts in the copper’s mind. The magnet pulls, and the copper feels no pull at all. Iron says, “This bugger, he has been with me as my friend, as my family since so long”—he’s referring to aluminum and copper and all these others—“and he feels no attraction towards the one I feel inexorably pulled towards. How can he be my friend or family? The magnetic field beckons, I find myself helpless in front of it; but all these similar-looking ones surrounding me behave as if nothing has happened. They know no love.” It is then that the distinction is established beyond doubt.

You have to enter situations that test the two of you, the body and the ‘I’-sense, the self. Yesterday, we were talking of the iron statue and the wax statue, and the two can look exactly the same and the two can keep going around merrily: “Oh, we belong to the same class.” It is in the presence of heat that the two will learn how dissimilar they are. Unless you turn up the heat, how will you know the difference? You have to turn up the heat.

You see, you can have, again, an iron piece and a nickel piece somehow joined together through welding or some other technique. A little iron cuboid and a copper or aluminum or nickel cuboid of the same shape, same dimensions, and you can put them together, and the two will stay together; it will appear that they are now happily joined. But raise the temperature. The coefficient of expansion of iron is very different from that of aluminum. The moment you raise the temperature, this joined block starts getting distorted because one expands more than the other. The two have been put together, but the moment you raise the heat, you find that one of them is behaving differently compared to the other. So, this joined piece starts getting distorted, it starts getting bent. Now you know that the two are a mismatch; the two cannot go together.

You have to bring in extraordinary situations; you have to bring in uncomfortable situations. Unless you bring in uncomfortable situations, the Truth is not exposed. It is only when you bring in situations that are a little out of the ordinary that you come to know of the essence of an entity.

So, as long as the body wants food and you say “I too want food”, there would be good peace, nice camaraderie. Body says “I want sleep” and you say “I too want sleep”; all would be gung ho. No strains, no tensions, because the two of you are acquiescing with each other; there is no divergence in objectives. But let the body say “I want food” and you utter, in the same moment, “I want freedom” and then you see what happens. That is the moment when you will realize you and the body are not one. The body will suddenly become your enemy.

And that is the way to assess the quality of company you are keeping. You start asking for something that is a little extraordinary and then you will realize how your partner, your friend, immediately refuses to keep pace with you. Body says “food”, you say “I too want food”—happy friendship. Your partner says “sex”, you say “I too want sex”—happy friendship. But body says “I want food”, you say “I want freedom”, and then you see how there is a breakup, and then you will realize you are not the body. For that to happen, I said, you have to first of all put yourself in a strong magnetic field.

You have to start asking for freedom. You have to put yourself in a situation where love calls you, and then you will realize that that which you love—this associate of yours called the body—does not love at all. You love freedom, the body does not. In fact, the more you move towards freedom, the more the body cringes. The reason is simple: the more you are attached to the body, the better it is for the body’s welfare. The more you move towards freedom, the more the body starts feeling neglected.

You know, it is a great misconception that the spiritual man, the God-loving man, will have a long life with good health. It is not so at all. In fact, the one who is very, very body-centric will have a long life with good health.

Look at all the men and women who live absolutely body-identified lives. See how their skin glows. They are the ones who are going to live till hundred and ten. All the time they are doing nothing but caring for the body. They are taking care of every single vitamin, nutrient, mineral; every two months they are going and getting a full body checkup, and all the time they are just busy thinking about what to eat, what not to eat, and at what hour to eat, when to sleep, when to wake up, what kind of soap to use. They are the ones who will live till hundred and ten.

The God-loving man will actually not live for too long. Well, some exceptions are there, that’s okay. But because this misconception, this superstition is there that the jñānī (sage) or yogi will have a strong and able body, therefore people start feeling impressed by godmen who move around with black hair even at the age of sixty or seventy. They say, “This one must be very real. Look at the glow on his face. And his hair are all black even at sixty-five!” If you take good care of hair, the hair will remain black. If you do nothing all day but take care of oils and lotions and conditioners and all the toiletries and cosmetic stuff that is there in the market, obviously your skin will heavily glow, like radium.

That’s what the body wants: you stay identified with it and you keep doing what it wants you to do. And the body strongly reacts when you start doing what the body is not conditioned to do. No body is conditioned to go for love. No body has any intention to attain freedom. The body is not born to attain freedom, please. The body is not born to revel in love. The body is not born to understand. You know what the body is for. You know what the body likes.

Have you ever gone to a doctor, and the doctor’s diagnosis has said that, you know, your body is sick because you do not have bodha (realization, wisdom) or understanding? Please. Does the body ever fall sick because of lack of understanding? Does the body ever fall sick because you do not have spiritual freedom? Which means that the body does not feel bad at all if there is no understanding or illumination or freedom. If there is no freedom, the body does not feel bad at all. Had the body felt bad over lack of understanding, then all the 99% people in the world who do not understand anything at all would have remained chronically sick. Do you find them sick? No. In fact, they are bodily the most healthy and happy. This will tell you that the body has no intention at all to understand.

The body has no intention at all to dive into love. The body does not want to be free. The body does not care for the Truth. In medical science, in hospitals, do they teach you that if you want to stay physically healthy, then you must have the Truth? Is that what they teach you? No, to stay physically healthy you do not need the Truth, you need a lot of body-centricity.

Unfortunately, even spirituality today has become so body-centric that all that is being taught in the name of spiritual welfare is bodily welfare. They are teaching you how to keep this organ fit, that organ fit, this kind of exercise, that kind of āsana (posture)—that’s all just body-centered activity.

The body, I repeat, will live very happily till hundred and ten even if you do not have the Truth at all. And the body will react and resist vigorously when you start diverting your energies towards the Truth rather than physical upkeep. Now, the body will say, “What the hell is going on? Earlier you used to care so much for me, but now all your attention and energy is going towards something called Truth or freedom.” Now, the body will strongly react. The body will say, “Nothing doing. We cannot move along like this. Breakup! You used to give me so much attention; now you are giving me no attention. You don’t give me any time. All your time is going towards the scriptures; all your time is going towards sādhana (spiritual practice). I just don’t like this. Please, please, pamper me!”

The moment you start moving towards the Truth, there develops a strain between your relationship with the body, and then you know that you are not the body. That strain has to come. Unless that strain comes, you and body will be bedfellows.

It is only the presence of Truth that separates the real from the unreal. Therefore, you will see that if somehow you are determined to stay with the body as a body-identified one, then you will distance yourself from the Truth. There is you, there is the body—or the one who gives you bodily company, a bodily friend—and then there is the Truth. If you want to maintain this relationship with the bodily one, then you will have no option but to snap your relationship with the Truth. You cannot have both, because if you have both, then there will be an incredible strain in your relationship both ways.

You really want to test your company—and the body is your first company, you know that, right? If you want to really test your company, then I say put yourself in an environment where the interests of the two of you diverge. That’s when you receive surprises, rather shocks. And it’s often what you call as a heartbreaking surprise, because you used to think the two of us are so alike, the two of us are made of the same clay, the two of us were to live and die together. Now, what is this that happened? Suddenly there is a parting of ways.

And I say, therefore, when you do not want the ways to part, often you try to not enter the field at all, because if you enter the field, the true would be separated from the false. If you do not want to be separated, then the best way is to avoid the field itself.

The body is a very happy companion as long as you do what it wants you to do, but the body is a very, very irate co-passenger when you have your own real and genuine agenda to follow. The body just does not like it. The body says, “You better follow my agenda”—and your agenda is not merely different from that of the body, it is at odds. If you do what you must do, then you cannot do what the body wants you to do. So, there cannot even be a peaceful coexistence. You cannot even say, “Well, we appreciate our differences, but we still live together.” It is not possible, because the two of you are not merely different, the two of you are, in some way, dangerous to each other.

And now you know why historically, traditionally, the world has both revered and reviled sannyāsa (renunciation) and spirituality. On one hand, the sannyasi (ascetic) has been given a lot of respect; on the other hand, the sannyasi has been an object of rebuke. He has been reviled as being impotent, unproductive, a mere burden. Householders respect monks and seers, but the moment one from within the house seems drifting in the direction of spirituality, the entire house starts shaking, because the houses we have are built on bodily foundations: man and woman come together, and the house is raised. And the body and the self cannot go together; their priorities, their aims are very, very different.

If it’s just about taxiing on the runway, then the airplane and the pantry car can be very good friends. Both are moving side by side. So, there is just difference in their size—you know, the pantry car is small, the jumbo jet is big—but they both are taxiing on the same plane, same level, same ground. They can even get married. After all, she feeds him, no? She’s the pantry car, or the fuel car, whatever. And he’s big, he can take care of her. That’s how marriages happen.

But the entire love affair is abruptly and cruelly jolted and shattered when the plane takes off. Now, the pantry car is abusing and accusing him of being disloyal: “You were supposed to remain on the ground along with me! If you wanted to move, the two of us could have happily moved together on the ground. You have wheels, I too have wheels.” But as far as you are concerned, you not only have wheels, you also have wings. The body has just wheels.

If you want to sacrifice your wings, then marry the pantry car. She will be very happy. The body is the pantry car—full of food. And because she cannot fly, so she demands that you too do not fly. If you want to learn the difference between yourself and her, then take off. Take off, and then you will see how the relationship snaps.

Try going towards the food plaza. The body will say, “Yo, I’m with you!” Try going towards a real temple, and see how the body starts aching and feeling drowsy, and all kinds of things start happening in the body. She does not want you to go there. What will she get if you come to know the Truth? She will only get neglect from you, and the body knows that. The body knows that if you go to the real temple, she will earn neglect. The moment you start going towards the real temple, something will happen.

In all our camps, there definitely are cases when people do not turn up even after making all due preparations. They book their tickets, they take their leaves, they come and contribute in advance; they have done all that was needed to be done. They have even booked their stay and food and accommodation, all those things. On the eve of the camp, they suddenly develop diarrhea. Happens every time. The body has sensed something: “Something very disastrous is going to happen. Please, let’s stop it!” And your entire system gets activated to prevent you from doing what you must.

So, there will be diarrhea, there will be strange waves and thoughts in the brain. The intestines and the brain are one right? Both are parts of the body. The intestines will stop you by running diarrhea and the brain will stop you by running thoughts, and you will have all kinds of nonsense. You will come up with fantastic arguments: “You know, am I qualified enough to go to the camp? I have not even done my post-graduation!” “Am I qualified to go to the camp? My name starts with ‘B’. ‘B’ is such a funny letter—’B’! I don’t deserve to go to the camp!” Or you will have some other fantastic argument of your own. “You know, once upon a time I used to have the right reasons to go to the camp, but now situations have changed, you see, so I will not come.”

It is not you, it is the body—and you don’t even realize that. It is the intestines, it is the brain, it is the ovary and the testicles—it is they who is talking so loudly. It is not your argument, it is coming from there. The eggs are dancing and bouncing. The hare and the tortoise can stay happily married till it comes to a point where it is seen that running is needed, running is urgent.

So, if you want to stay body-identified, do what the body wants you to do. There will be no problem. If you want to test whether you really are the body, then do what you must do and face a lot of problems.

In some sense, spirituality is not the art of getting rid of problems; it is the art of unearthing problems. And when problems are unearthed, it almost feels like problems have been created where there were none. Because if the problems are all lying hidden below the surface, how does that bother you? In spirituality, you unearth the problems, you dig them out, which means that the spiritual man actually faces many more problems than the ordinary mortal. The ordinary mortal lives happily with his body—a relationship of pleasure and gratification. The spiritual man is for a very long period at odds with his body. He has a very uncomfortable relationship with the body.

I know what I’m saying is squarely opposite of what you have heard about the spiritual man, that he is well-settled with the body and such things, and, you know, the yogi moves around in total harmony of mind, body and soul. All that is just romantic experientialism. Create an image of the yogi where he is the personification of harmony, advertising a blissful smile on his face and, obviously, the hair is silky smooth, the skin is baby soft, and he is full of all kinds of energies even at the age of seventy-five. You ask him to father five kids at one go—he still can! Let him be seventy-five or eighty-five. That’s the yogi, you know— vīryavān (powerful and strong in body).

Sorry sir, it doesn’t quite happen that way. If you really want a stout body and long life and baby-soft skin, then you should stay very, very far away from any kind of spirituality. Instead of going to satsang, take membership of a spa or a beauty salon, or go to some commercial yoga shop.

Spirituality is not about leading a happy life, it is about leading a real life. And there’s a great difference there. Please understand that. Reality and happiness are very rarely coincidental. That does not mean that reality corresponds with sadness—not with sadness, but definitely not with happiness.

Does the spiritual man’s body have to be definitely sick and frail? No, not that. By chance it can be healthy and strong as well, but just by chance. He won’t be aiming to have a healthy body. His aim is different. He is aiming to go beyond the stars. If the body remains healthy in the process, wonderful. If the healthy body is needed to go beyond the stars, he will give some attention to the body just because it is needed to fulfill his goal. But the body as such will not be his concern. He will use the body like a vehicle. The vehicle is important as long as it serves to take you to the destination, only to that extent.

Use this method to test all your relationships, anybody and everybody. There would be people who would be coming over to you to talk a lot. As long as you talk to them about things that they prefer, they’ll stay put. Now, if you want to test the relationship, if you want to test the quality of your company, start talking real stuff with them, or just block the body-centric stuff with them. Because sometimes people can tolerate spiritual stuff if it promises to bring you the body; the man can happily talk scriptures to the woman if he knows that after two hours of scripture talk, he will get her in bed. So, two hours of good, knowledgeable stuff is alright if that would help me inch closer to her body.

So, do two things. One, start talking real stuff; secondly, start blocking the nonsense. And then you will see who stays with you and who does not. Do both of these things, concurrently. Start talking the real things with all those who you consider close to yourself, and start blocking all the unreal gossip, don’t participate in it. And then you will see who keeps sitting and who walks away.

But we don’t apply this test. Somewhere we have a notion that in certain relationships the real things need not be talked of. So, when it comes to people you are intimate with, you just don’t talk the real stuff. For example, you can talk about spirituality with some friend who is not very, very close to you, but you won’t want to talk spirituality to your mother or to your father or to your wife.

It is very strange. Even deeply spiritual people do not talk spirituality to their wives or to their husbands, because you know very well that the moment you bring that up in the conversation, the relationship will snap. She will say, “If this is what you have to talk about, then we can’t go together. You talk to me on my terms. I want you to talk stuff that I prefer to listen to. I will decide the topics.”

Why don’t you apply this test, all of you? Start talking real things with people who are in your vicinity, and simultaneously start blocking all the nonsense. The moment the fellow addresses you in a bodily way, block him.

And there are many ways in which to provoke body-sense in you. Nobody needs to formally say, “I look at you as a body.” You need not formally say that. You just need to tell the girl, “Hey fatty. Hey fatty, fatty moti!” Now, what are you referring to? Is the Ātman (Self) fatty moti? You are constantly reminding her that, “I look at you as a body.” This relationship is evil. And you are quite smart: even without directly saying that “I am the body and I want to feast upon your body”, you are constantly developing a body-sense in the other by referring to the other in a bodily way.

Just see who all refer to you in a bodily way, avoid them. Avoid them, or test them. Say, “Fine, I don’t want to avoid you. But can we discuss Chapter 3 of Avadhuta Gita tonight, darling?” And darling is all hot and up and loaded, and then you say, Avadhuta Gita ! That’s such a big letdown. Darling is saying, “Cutie, what happened to you?”

Somebody says, “You are my doll.” What is he saying? And it is so widespread and so accepted and so subtle that it just passes below your radar. You don’t even detect it—how will you stop it?

You don’t need to chase the party animals away; you only need to change the track. Bring on Kabir Sahib or some Rabindra Sangeet. You need not be actively shouting at them, “Go away, go away! You are drunk and you are dancing to all the wrong numbers!” You don’t need to do all this. Let the party continue. Just bring on the right kind of music; the party animals will disappear on their own. That’s spirituality—bringing on the right music.

Spirituality does not mean that the music will vanish. It means now you are man enough to bring on the right music. And then, after all the animals have disappeared, if one or two beings still stay back, then they are worth it. They are the ones who deserve your company. Be with them. And if you don’t find anybody who stays back, it’s okay. You have the company of the music.

Treat the body as a companion, and see how this companion behaves when you fulfill its demands and how it behaves when you do something that is for your own welfare. This companion is very, very selfish, very greedy. It cares only about itself. It has no respect for what you want to do and attain. The body is a really bad life partner. You have been saddled with someone who has no empathy, no understanding of who you are. It only knows its own interests and it just won’t compromise on them.

You have an exam tomorrow morning, and right now the body wants to sleep. The body has no empathy at all for your objectives. You very well know that you have an urgent task at hand, but the body is yelling for food. You very well know that the fellow in front of you is a teacher, but the body cannot stop looking at her as a sex object. And you are telling the body, “She’s not a sex object, she’s my teacher.” The body says, “No, she has a great figure.”

The body has no respect for who you are. That’s why I keep saying that the first tragedy is birth itself. You are not born alone; you are born welded to the body. The two of you are born together, and the two of you cannot go together. Born together but can’t live together, but have to live together—live together not in the sense of reaching a compromise. The two of you have to live together, and one of you will rule.

It cannot be, I repeat, a peaceful coexistence; it cannot be a harmonious thing. One of you has to prevail. Either you will live as the body, or the body will have to surrender to your power. You will have to display your might to the body. You will have to conquer the body. If you cannot conquer the body, the body will conquer you. I repeat, if you cannot conquer the body, you will have to be enslaved.

Forget all your notions of divine harmony between mind, body and soul. It’s a war, and one, and only one, will win—either you or the body. That which you call as the mind is not much more than the body. There’s you, the conscious entity, and body, the conditioned one. It’s a battle between consciousness and compulsive conditioning. One of them has to prevail—either your consciousness, or the conditioning of the body.

Spirituality is war. You are being trained to fight and win. Neither can you abandon this battle nor can you make peace with the enemy. The war has to be fought. But if you can fight the war and win it, then, I tell you, the body is a useful slave, a very good slave, if it starts obeying your commands. But you will have to domesticate it. Till the point you have not domesticated it, it’s a wild threat. You will have to turn the wild wolf into a pet dog; you will have to render it useful, and that is Yoga.

Yoga is about domesticating the body. That is the only way there can be harmony. Harmony cannot come by shaking hands with the enemy. In your case, in the case that is human life, harmony can come only by prevailing upon the enemy. Prevail upon the enemy, and then the enemy becomes a very useful and obedient servant. That is Yoga.

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