I am never the ego, mind, intellect and body. —Swami Tejomayananda, Living Vedanta
What if the actor who plays the part of the phantom in the musical, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ played his part so many times that he forgot his real identity? Imagine if he walked around wearing his iconic half-face mask and cape, singing words from the chorus of the theme song, “The phantom the opera is there, inside your mind!.”
We would think he has gone mad.
We are spiritual beings on an evolutionary journey spanning lifetimes. We have fully identified with the roles that we have played for so long, that we have totally forgotten who we really are. Like an actor who has forgotten his real identity, we have forgotten that we are essentially pure Spirit in human form.
Vedanta, the spiritual science of life, explains that as human beings, we each have a physical body, a mind that feels emotions, and an intellect that thinks, judges and reasons. The individual who identifies with the body, mind and intellect is called the ‘ego’. The ego is the ‘phantom’ inside our minds that thinks itself to be the body, mind and intellect.
To reclaim our spiritual identity, we have to keep reminding ourselves of who we really are. However, simply parroting “I am not the body, mind, intellect nor ego.” will not help us regain our true nature. Vedanta has marked out a three-step process by which we can come to recognize and live as pure Spirit.
At the very beginning, we have to first learn who we really are. We can only gain this knowledge from a spiritual master. In fact, without a spiritual master revealing this truth to us, we would never know that we are innately Spirit functioning in a human form. That is why knowledge of the Self (Spirit) is called the ‘Royal Secret’.
In ancient times, the early students of Vedanta learnt Self-knowledge from listening to their guru’s teachings. Thus, ‘listening’ is the very first step on the spiritual journey.
These days, if we don’t have contact with a spiritual master, then we can read books written by spiritual teachers, listen to their audio recordings or watch their videos.
Having heard the guru’s teachings, we have to personally reflect on what we have learnt. The head and the heart have to be involved in this. Think of it as revision of the lessons with feeling.
To absorb and make the ideas our own, we must slowly and carefully look over each point that was taught with full faith in the teacher’s words. My guru Swami Chinmayananda tells us to ‘feelingly-think and thinkingly-feel’.
The feelings of love for the teachings and for the goal of re-discovering our true nature, are integral in absorbing the knowledge firmly within ourselves. Without love, the knowledge that we learn doesn’t transform our lives.
Lastly, if we have listened carefully and reflected deeply, we will become convinced of the fact that we are Spirit. The only thing that is missing now is experiencing our true nature within ourselves. This can happen only in meditation.
In meditation, we withdraw our attention first from the body, and then from the feelings and the thoughts. This is done by asserting with firm conviction and determination, “I am not this body… I am not the mind… I am not the intellect… The ego is not me. I am blissful Spirit. ”
As we regularly and sincerely practice withdrawing from what we are not, there will come a time when our true essence will naturally reveal itself. We don’t need to ‘produce’ it or find it. It was always here, behind the body, mind, intellect and ego.
We can compare the Self to the sun that is shining, but hidden behind the clouds. The clouds can be compared to the body, mind, intellect and ego. The sun is present and shining, but from our limited perspective, we only see the clouds. When the clouds are removed, the sun that was always there shines forth.
The practices of listening, reflection and meditation are the tried and tested methods for rediscovering our true nature. With this gain comes total peace, happiness and fulfillment in life. The goal is well worth the efforts we put in.
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Dear Manisha – I love your straight-forward style and focus on the topic at hand. My own experience of reflection is that slowly, surely, often unwittingly I find myself changing. I still do flip out at my wife or colleague, as I have done many times, but now the awareness comes quicker, that I may have over-reacted. As that happens, I find myself expressing regret sooner and it is usually more genuine where in the past it may have been to “buy” peace. The path is long but I find I am maybe a step closer.
Thank you! I so appreciate your honest sharing. You have very accurately described the benefits of self-reflection. It turns our attention inwards and as that happens there is a heightened self-awareness. It’s as though we are being watched – by ourselves! it becomes harder to not do the right thing. You are obviously a “Conscious Evolver”! Good for you!