From a young age, we are taught to identify as our bodies. We fill out forms for school, work and hospitals that are filled with bodily identification questions (gender, ethnicity, hair color, etc). As we grow, social norms/stereotypes for our bodies guide our lives. Boys are supposed to be tough and strong, athletic success or physical gains are desired and good grades in school will lead you to happiness. The media also reinforces how our bodies are tied to happiness. From magazines touting easy body slimming/building exercise routines and celebrities who defy aging to television commercials showing young, successful, beautiful people enjoying life on a beach with their favorite beverage, we are constantly bombarded with depictions of the perfect body. The message is simple, if your body is beautiful then you’ll be happy. Follow a few simple exercises or take the new revolutionary health supplement or makeup product and you too can enjoy life like your favorite celebrity.
An issue with tying happiness to your body or bodily enjoyment is that it is temporary. The happiness you received from these sense enjoyments will either fade away or will make you want more. Think about it, was there an item you really wanted? What happened once you obtained that item? It may have provided happiness for a while but it doesn’t solve your problems and can even become a source of stress, if you begin to worry about losing it. Or exercising with the hope that a more physically attractive body will bring you happiness through increased relationships with the opposite sex. While the increased attention from others may bring more confidence or positive feelings, it can also lead to insecurities about what will happen if you don’t maintain your physical gains. And this in turn will cause you to focus more time on your body and reinforce in your mind that your body equals happiness.
The idea that bodily happiness is temporary never crossed my mind growing up.
I idolized sports figures and tried to emulate them. I exercised and practiced in an attempt to gain the success and perceived happiness that athletes enjoyed. On a few occasions, I was persuaded by crafty infomercials into purchasing fad exercise equipment that promised earth shattering results with minimal time and effort. I really believed that if I could get in great physical shape, my life would be better and I would be happy.
Things changed when I learned about the Science of Identity Foundation and the teachings of Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa. In his book, “Who Are You?“, Jagad Guru talks about bodily identification and why sense gratification will never bring you true happiness. He explains that we are not our body or mind, rather we are spirit souls and our bodies are merely “vehicles” we use to maneuver in this world. It is the spirit soul or life force that is necessary for the material body to survive and not vice versa.
Take a look at your body, the body you had as a baby looked much different than your teenage or adult body. It makes sense that you are not your body when you know your baby body is gone, yet you still exist. In fact, your body is constantly changing and in “Who Are You?”, it’s stated every 7 years all your cells will be replaced and you will in essence, get a new body! This fact is truly amazing, every cell will be replaced! That’s not saying that those cells will be removed, rather its contents or molecules will be replaced so it can continue to function. Another example given by Jagad Guru deals with people who have lost limbs. Although the individual has lost part of their body, they still feel that they remain a complete person. If we were our body, losing part of it would make us feel incomplete. Knowing these examples, it’s clear that we are not our body.
Therefore, since we’re not our body, there’s no need to strive for a life of bodily or sense gratification because it won’t satisfy our true self. As a spirit soul and part and parcel of God, we must strive for a life connected to God. The simplest way to have a connection with God is by hearing and saying his Holy Names. Gauranga breathing or repeating mantras such as “Madana Mohana Murari” throughout the day are a good way to remember God and satisfy your true self!
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