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By Chaitanya Charan das
The soul is spiritual. The mind, intelligence and false ego are all part of the subtle body. In general, they are differentiated, based on function rather than structure. The gross elements namely the earth, water, fire, air and ether can be differentiated in terms of structure because they are made of different things. However, the subtle elements, as described in the third canto of the Bhagavatam, in the chapter titled, ‘Fundamental principles of material nature’, are differentiated in terms of their functions. In this regard, we can take the example of a computer. In a computer system, there is a hardware, software and then the user. The hardware is a physical structure that we can perceive with our eyes. The software is an interface between the user and the hardware. The software itself can be of different types – (i) the operating system (ii) the pre-installed apps inherent to the device (iii) the user installed apps. Using this as a rough example, we can say that basic software with which the soul exists in the world, is the ego. Then there is the intermediate software which is used for accessing and functioning. Intermediate software are the pre-installed apps that come with the device. These are like intelligence. Finally, the user installed apps are like the mind.
From the software’s perspective, whether it is an operating system or a user installed app, all of them are just codes. We cannot differentiate between codes by the structure. We differentiate them by their function. That is one of the reasons why in certain analysis Krishna does not talk about the false ego but in other analysis, Krishna talks about the false ego. For example, in the third chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna talks about a hierarchy in verse 3.42
indriyani paraṇy ahur
indriyebhyah param manah
manasas tu para buddhir
yo buddheh paratas tu saḥ
Krishna says here, that above the body are the senses, above the senses is the mind, above the mind is the intelligence and above the intelligence is the soul proper. Where is the mention of ego here? Here, Krishna does not have to talk about the ego as he is talking about how lust is situated in the senses, mind and intelligence and how we have to understand that as souls we are beyond that. In different frames of analysis, at times these three may be talked about analytically. We may be able to differentiate between them sometimes, but generally, there is no point in getting too analytical.
When I refer to ego here, ego is basically pride. At one level it could be said that ego is the basic tool with which the soul interacts with the body. That is ahankara. This subject is slightly technical. The Bhagavad-gita uses the word ahankara in two ways – (i) as a concept (ii) as an object. For example, the Bhagavad-gita says ahankara-vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate (3.27): Because of delusion the soul thinks, I alone am the doer. In 16.8, Krishna says, ahankaram balam darpam, ungodly, demoniac people are filled with ahankara. Krishna is talking about ahankara here as an emotion or as a conception that is present which makes me think that I am so great and I am so powerful. However, Krishna also talk about ahankara as one of the elements of the subtle body. In 7.4, Krishna says
bhumir aapo ’nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakrtir ashtadha
Ahankara, here, is described as an element of the subtle body.
When Krishna says, nirmamo nirahankarah sama-duhkha-sukhah kshami (12.3-4): Those who are free from possessiveness and those who are free from ego, they will attain peace. Does this mean that for those who are free from ego, the ahankara element from their subtle body will disappear? No, the ahankara element is a function. It’s a functional unit in the body and it is always required. As long as I am in the body, for functional purposes I need to identify with the body. I do not need to fully identify with the body. However, for functional purposes, I need to recognize what kind of bodily situation I am in. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, at one time when he heard someone singing the Geet Govinda, he started running towards that person to embrace them. Then, his servants stopped him saying that he was running towards a woman. Mahaprabhu then stopped. Therefore, despite being a soul purely devoted to Krishna, when I am in a particular body, I need to be aware of that and the ashram that I am in.
The ego itself is not bad. While we need to identify with the body for functioning in this world, we do not need to fully identify with the body and think that my identity is restricted only to the body. If the identification becomes excessive then it becomes a problem. Therefore, ego as a functional tool is required, but ego as a conception, where we think that we are so great and so powerful, that is not required. From the functional perspective, if I am working on a computer, what am I interacting with? Am I interacting with the operating system or am I interacting with a pre-installed app or the user installed app? I can try to find that out but the more important factor is whether with the machine, I am able to complete my work or not.
To get too much into the analysis of what ideas are originating from the ego, the mind or the intelligence is a sort of activity that will simply paralyse us. We do not have a torchlight to look inside us. The mind and the ego do not come with convenient labels that we can use to identify them. Therefore, we function based on phalena parichayate – if something takes us towards Krishna or the right action, then that is seen to be coming from the intelligence. If something takes us towards wrong actions, then that is seen as coming from the mind.
Coming back to the question, where are the intelligence, false ego and mind actually situated? The general understanding is that, because they are subtle elements, we cannot exactly talk about their location in precise physical terms. Sometimes we say that the soul is situated in the region of heart but in reality, the soul is transcendental. However, there are certain details given about the location of the soul. There are five airs called the prana, apana, samana, vyana, udana. These are five forces which move in five directions. If we consider these five airs to be like five vectors, the point where the resultant of the five vectors is neutral, that is where the soul is situated. For those who do ashtanga yoga that neutral point rises upwards continually. While the soul is normally situated in the region of the heart, the soul is not bound to the heart. That is why people can have heart transplant surgeries and the soul does not change. Similarly, trying to apply the framework which we use for dealing with physical reality on subtle or spiritual reality is itself an endeavor fraught with presumptions.
Where are the earth, water, fire, air and ether present in the body? Everywhere. They are distributed throughout the body. Similarly, we could say that the mind, intelligence and ego which comprise the subtle body, form the first covering around the soul, beyond which there is gross body covering. Since these elements are not physical elements, trying to pinpoint a precise physical location is hazardous. Therefore, wherever the soul is, these three elements are the first layer of covering around the soul and they act as the interface with the body. If we, for example, look to pinpoint the location of the software within the computer, we could identify and say that the RAM is here, primary memory is here, secondary memory is here, this is my software, and this is where my data is. We simply work based on their location in particular drives as seen on our monitor, though that location doesn’t necessarily correlate precisely with physical locations in the memory chips. Hence, it is best not to get caught up in technical analysis but focus on the principle that, if something takes us towards the Krishna, then we consider that, that particular software is working positively for us. A virus is a software and so is the anti-virus program. What we need to follow is the anti-virus program, not the virus. Whatever is pratikula or unfavorable, we avoid that when it comes from inside.
And finally, how do we decide what is favorable or unfavorable? Based on hearing from guru, sadhu and sastra and using our own God-given intelligence.