We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955)
If you have arrived at this site and are reading this article, chances are you may have heard this phrase. So, you’re probably wondering—which is it, am I a human being or a spiritual being?
There are two perspectives. From the perspective of our bodies, we are human beings, the species called homo sapiens that is distinguished by our superior intellect and upright stance. So, science says that we are human beings.
But the spiritual perspective looks at us beyond our bodies to our true, essential nature. From this view, we are said to be spiritual beings.
Let’s explore this further by first looking at what makes up the human personality and why this cannot be who we really are.
Four aspects to the human personality
The human personality has four aspects— the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.
The physical body is made up of matter that can be experienced by our five senses—the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. Because of this, the spiritual science called Vedanta refers to the physical body as “gross matter.”
The mind is made up of two types of thoughts—feeling thoughts and rational, thinking thoughts. Thoughts are said to be “subtle matter” because they cannot be perceived by the gross physical senses.
Please note that the mind is not the brain, which is a physical organ made up of gross matter. The brain is understood to be the physical locus of the thoughts.
Spirit is the unseen aspect of the human personality that is not matter. Here’s how matter and spirit are different…
Characteristics of Matter and Spirit
Matter, whether gross or subtle is:
- Not able to function on its own. (It is inert)
- Does not have the capacity to know itself.
- Ever changing and perishable.
Spirit, on the other hand is totally opposite to matter. It is:
- Ever alive and dynamic.
- Pure consciousness – it knows itself and everything else.
- Never changes and is in fact, eternal.
Matter cannot function, feel or know
So, how do the body and mind function, feel and know things, given that they are made up of inert matter?
You may protest and say “But my mind is not dull matter – it is conscious. It can feel and know things!!”
Notice that you called it, “My mind”. In other words, you’ve instinctively recognized yourself as being separate and different from the mind.
You are the knower of the condition of your body and the state of your mind.
The problem is that you’ve identified with your body and mind and taken it to be you.
What is identification?
Identification is to take on the qualities of something or someone else on yourself.
We have identified with the qualities and characteristics of the body and mind so completely that we have begun to think that this is who we really are.
Identifying with the body, you look at your appearance in the mirror, and say, “I’m short or tall with long hair, brown eyes,” and so on.
Identified with the state of your emotions, you might say, “I’m feeling happy, sad, mad or frustrated” or any other feelings.
Identified with your intellectual personality, you may say,” I understand that,” ” I’m sure about it,” “I’m confused.” Or “I doubt.”
The body and mind are not you
You are something different from your body and mind. The real you is Spirit which is pure consciousness. Consciousness expresses as life when it comes into contact with matter.
In other words, inert matter appears to be alive and conscious because of the presence of Spirit enlivening it.*
The only reason why we are alive and functioning as human beings is because of the presence of Spirit.
What do you think?
So, having read all this, what do you think? Did de Chardin hit upon a deep truth? Are we spiritual beings having a human experience? Or mere human beings?
I would love to hear from you. Please share your comments below.
*To understand more, please read, What is Spirit?
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