“When I say ‘my book,’ this, indicates that the book is different from me. Similarly, it is ‘my table,’ ‘my eye,’ ‘my leg’, ‘my this,’ ‘my that’ — but where am I? Searching out the answer to this question is meditation.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Reservoir of Pleasure)
“Looking in the mirror right now, what do I see? Is this person really me? How do I know for sure? I look so weird in this mirror. I move my mouth and suddenly the image changes. I raise my arm, and the image changes again. If I saved this image right now and looked at it again a year from now, I would think a little differently. I would say, ‘Who was that guy? Why did he wear his hair that way? What was he thinking about at that precise moment?’ And yet right now I’m not thinking any of those things. I’m wondering if the mirror is telling me the truth.
“Does the mirror reveal my true identity? Does it give insight into why there are changes? Is the image a reality or just an illusion? I know that my body has changed since the time of birth. I am different today than I was when I emerged from the womb, and yet I am still the same person. The mirror gave a different reading on the child. It showed something completely different. Was that not me back then? Does my reality only begin right now?”
From this worthwhile and sober comparison, we see that the body parts cannot identify us. It’s strange if you really think about it. Your hand is not you. The eyes that are viewing these words are not you either. The ears that hear the sounds outside don’t represent you. You know that this is true based on the changing vision in the mirror. You know that right now your hair looks a certain way, but if you get a haircut, the mirror will give a different image. But you haven’t really changed at all; only your appearance has.
The question then remains, “Who are we?” The Vedas give the answer: aham brahmasmi. This is a Sanskrit phrase that means “I am Brahman.” Translating further, Brahman means “spirit.” It is not matter. Matter comes from spirit. In that sense, matter too is Brahman, but it is more of an expansion. Matter is what constantly changes, like clay that is shaped and molded. The clay has no life of its own. Its destiny is shaped by the guiding hand of spirit, though that spirit may be encased in its own manipulation of matter.
Why is it even important to know that I am Brahman? What is the relevance? So what if I take the person in the mirror to be who I am? What’s the harm?
In any situation, if you can properly identify yourself and others, you will be better situated. The stoplight signals whether or not it’s relatively safe to go through the intersection. If you misidentified a green light to mean “stop” and a red light to mean “go,” you would be in a lot of trouble. The same trouble is there when we mistake our temporary body to be the source of our identity. The ignorance is so strong that we fail to even realize that it is the mistaken identity which yields so many negative results.
What are some of the negative results?
They can be grouped into four categories: birth, old age, disease and death. Birth doesn’t seem like a negative, so we’ll review the other three first. Who wants to get old? Maybe when you’re younger you want to become old enough to drive a car or vote, but after reaching the desired age the body starts to deteriorate. No one prefers to have something important to them lose potency.
Disease also is very unwanted. Do we like getting sick? Do we like having to deal with a runny nose, a nagging cough, or a crippling fever? Such things are not desired, and yet they arrive nevertheless. The same goes for death, which represents the ultimate end to everything. It is the permanent removal of the temporary life situation. Once death arrives, everything relating to the temporary body is erased.
“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)
Birth is subsequent to death, though we tend to think the opposite. Birth is the renewal of a body, a fresh change of clothes. It is considered a negative consequence because birth automatically leads to old age, disease and death, which are already known to be unwanted. All four defects are due to misidentification only. One who is truly Brahman realized no longer has to take birth.
Brahman is reality, and it is sourced in Parabrahman. While the mirror gives an illusory version of yourself, Brahman makes everything real. Without Brahman, there would be nothing. And without Parabrahman, there would be no Brahman. In Sanskrit, another name for Parabrahman, or the Supreme Spirit, is Krishna, which means all-attractive. Krishna is what makes this dreamlike existence a reality. The dream is temporary, but the experiences within it are real in their effect. If I get scared during a nightmare, the situation may have been false, but the fright was real. In a similar manner, the experiences in the temporary world are here one second and gone the next, but their impact on the living entity is real.
While Brahman is an apparently attributeless energy, Krishna is a personality with form. This means that one can visualize Him. You can hear Him as well through His name alone. For this reason, those who are looking for true reality, both in terms of personal identification and meaningful activity, always chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Krishna is tasted through the remnants of foodstuff offered to Him, and He is felt through His divine presence found in those who are devoted to Him.
One who is devoted to Him has found the real meaning to their existence. Krishna’s position is not based on someone’s mental speculation or their personal desire. He is the universal Lord, who can be found and understood by any person. When linked in service to Him, the man in the mirror becomes easily identified as a servant of God, someone who will never be bereft of the Supreme Spirit’s association.
“Mirror mirror, what is this I see?
Is the person standing here really me?
Image changes if I move up or down,
Face contorted then shows a frown.
That this isn’t my identity I feel,
Changing image shows what is not real.”
When to Vedic scriptures go,
Identity as Brahman know.
Beyond Brahman there is more,
Shri Krishna, of charming face to adore.
Create link to Him and from ignorance be free,
Then servant of the Lord in mirror you’ll see.