“The material body has no factual existence in relation to the eternal soul. It is something like a dream. In a dream we may think of flying in the sky, or sitting on a chariot as a king, but when we wake up we can see that we are neither in the sky nor seated on the chariot. The Vedic wisdom encourages self-realization on the basis of the nonexistence of the material body. Therefore, in either case, whether one believes in the existence of the soul, or one does not believe in the existence of the soul, there is no cause for lamentation for loss of the body.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.28 Purport)
Imagine, for a moment, that you are not who you think you are. That home is not your permanent residence. That place of employment has moved to some other location. There is no more relationship with friends, family, spouse, and the like.
You are somewhere else entirely. In fact, you can’t properly identify where that place is. It is kind of an abstract. You no longer have anything with which you can identify, yet identity remains. What would you do with yourself?
What would be the objective moving forward? What would be the short and long term goals? What would you want to do on a daily basis? What would make you happy and what would make you sad?
As described by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Vedic wisdom arrives on this basis. At the foundation is the nonexistence of the material body. We see it. We know it is there. It has substance. No sane man would deny that it exists.
Yet, it is temporary in nature, almost equivalent to what we experience in a dream. In this way, we can confidently assert that the body has no existence, as it relates to the individual. There is a factual basis to the claim. Perceived in a certain way, the body is actually nothing.
We are still something, though. There is a meaning to “I am.” Vedic wisdom explains both the “I am” and what to do in the hypothetical situation described above. If we only identified with the permanent, what would our occupation be?
Bhagavad-gita is the book of reference for the explanation. The true definition of “I am” is aham brahmasmi. I am part of the spiritual energy known as Brahman. I am a fragment of that energy. I am always Brahman. Never was there a time that I was not spirit soul and never will there be a time in the future when my identity changes to something else.
न त्व् एवाहं जातु नासं
न त्वं नेमे जनाधिपाः
न चैव न भविष्यामः
सर्वे वयम् अतः परम्
na tv evāhaṁ jātu nāsaṁ
na tvaṁ neme janādhipāḥ
na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ
sarve vayam ataḥ param
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)
In any period of time, in any condition of life, Brahman has a link to Parabrahman. This is the ultimate purpose of religion, which is known as dharma within the Vedic culture. Dharma is for reestablishing the link between Brahman and Parabrahman.
The type of body has no bearing on the relationship. Whether I am sleeping or awake, I am the same person to others. Whether I wear a shirt and tie to the office or adhere to the Casual Friday theme, I am the same individual to my respective colleagues.
In the same way, no matter where I take birth, I am linked to the source of Brahman. I am always similar in quality, but inferior in the quantitative analysis. This creates the natural relationship of servant-proprietor. I should worship the object of worship. The worship does not have to be forced in a particular mood, but the sentiment should be the same.
Having established the meaning of dharma, we return to the circumstances at present. We can contemplate the situation of separation in theory, but right now we are attached. We have a material body. We have temporary identifications. We have relationships. We have a place of residence.
The Vedic wisdom of Bhagavad-gita says to utilize the temporary body in a way that there is acknowledgment of both the temporary existence and the long-term nonexistence. The case study is the bow-warrior Arjuna. He is a military man by occupation.
If he wanted, he could argue that since the material body has no existence, there is no purpose to war. There is no reason to fight against the rival party assembled on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. There is no substance to establishing dharma, to protecting the innocent, or to maintaining a culture of religiosity into the future.
Shri Krishna presents the other side. Using the temporary body for the purpose of linking with Parabrahman automatically recognizes the nonexistence. There is the external appearance of interest in the temporary, but at the foundation is the desire to link in what is known as yoga.
Krishna establishes the truth that His servants never perish. This is in relation to their service. Arjuna has the same occupation whether as a military man or a retired leader. In a future birth, he will follow the same dharma, and he has been Krishna’s companion before.
बहूनि मे व्यतीतानि
जन्मानि तव चार्जुन
तान्य् अहं वेद सर्वाणि
न त्वं वेत्थ परन्तप
bahūni me vyatītāni
janmāni tava cārjuna
tāny ahaṁ veda sarvāṇi
na tvaṁ vettha parantapa
“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)
Working in such a way, the exact outcome is immaterial. The link in yoga remains. The individual is in dharma, and they have reached the meaning to an existence. Per their own desire, they can remain in that dharma for as far as the eye can see.
As far as the eye can see,
A spirit soul is he.
Body with no existence real,
Despite with senses to feel.
Since like something in dream,
Gone though right now seen.
Soul for service to Krishna meant,
No need occupation to invent.