This piece was published in the Huffington Post on February 11, 2013
This is the first in a series of essays called "Everything You Know is Wrong"
"If you wake up in the morning and see your face in the mirror, you know you've made a mistake." - Devamrita Swami
This is just like the experience of taking birth in this material world. We can't remember our past lives, or what we did to get here. This world is actually just a prison house for those who wanted to enjoy separately from God. He fulfills everyone's desires, so He creates this world, and kindly allows us to act out our fantasy in our own little playground, called the material world, where we can pretend to be God.
This material world is only ¼ of the creation of God. The other ¾ is the spiritual world, where everyone knows their eternal constitutional position as servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There, everyone lives an eternal life full of bliss and knowledge. This prison house, however, is temporary, miserable, and full of ignorance.
God doesn't leave us here to rot, however. He comes Himself, or sends His son or representative to bail us out. After we realize that we cannot enjoy separately, and begin to question why we are suffering, He sends a spiritual master to teach us how to get out of this material world.
What we are seeing in the mirror is a material body, and actually, we are not this body, we are spirit. Man is made in God's image, and therefore man's body appears to be like God's, but God's body is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss, whereas our bodies are temporary, full of ignorance and misery. Every material thing is a perverted reflection of the original spiritual reality.
Emerson described the spiritual reality as "the reverse side of the tapestry" in his lecture "The Transcendentalist", delivered at the Masonic Temple in Boston in January of 1842:
"The idealist, in speaking of events, sees them as spirits. He does not deny the sensuous fact: by no means; but he will not see that alone. He does not deny the presence of this table, this chair, and the walls of this room, but he looks at these things as the reverse side of the tapestry, as the other end, each being a sequel or completion of a spiritual fact which nearly concerns him. This manner of looking at things, transfers every object in nature from an independent and anomalous position without there, into the consciousness. Even the materialist Condillac, perhaps the most logical expounder of materialism, was constrained to say, 'Though we should soar into the heavens, though we should sink into the abyss, we never go out of ourselves; it is always our own thought that we perceive.' What more could an idealist say?"In the 15th chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, the analogy of the material world is described as a tree whose roots are upwards and branches are below. We have experience of a tree whose roots are upward: if one stands on the bank of a river or any reservoir of water, he can see that the trees reflected in the water are upside down. The branches go downward and the roots upward. Similarly, this material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. The material world is but a shadow of reality. In the shadow there is no reality or substantiality, but from the shadow we can understand that there are substance and reality. In the desert there is no water, but the mirage suggests that there is such a thing as water. In the material world there is no water, there is no happiness, but the real water of actual happiness is there in the spiritual world.
In the Bhagavad-gītā recognized as the most important scripture of India, Krishna gives knowledge to his dear friend Arjuna on a battlefield, 5000 years ago. He teaches, "You are not this body." This is the beginning of knowledge. But where is the university that teaches this knowledge? There is none. That is the position of education: there is no knowledge. They simply advertise ignorance as knowledge.
George Harrison wrote a song based on the knowledge of the Bhagavad-gītā entitled "I, Me, Mine." We think we are these bodies, and that everything in relation with these bodies is mine. We think are a member of this family and a member of this nation. Thus we are dancing around like monkeys. In the Bhagavad-gita (3.27) it is said that because the living entity has associated with a certain quality of nature, nature is making him dance according to that quality, and thus one is thinking, "I am this" or "I am that." The most essential education is that which enables one to become free from the bodily concept of life, but unfortunately scientists, philosophers, politicians, and other so-called leaders are misleading people so that they become more attached to the body. It is the human life that offers the opportunity to become "Krishna" or God conscious, but these rascals are stopping that opportunity by alluring people to bodily designations, and therefore they are the greatest enemies of human civilization.
As for actual advancement in spiritual science, one should have a test to see how far he is progressing. He can judge by these items. A human being is fit to inquire as to whether he is this body or something else. This can be understood very easily. I am not this body, because at the time of death the body remains--although everyone cries, "Oh, the poor man is gone!" The man is lying there. Why do you say he is gone? He is lying there!" At that time, we can come to our senses: the body is not the man. The real man is gone. The childhood body is changed to the youthful body, and the childhood body is gone.
Similarly, when the boyhood body is gone, you'll have to accept an old man's body. The body is changing. Not only year after year, but at every second the body is changing. Science tells us that very 7 years, all of the cells in your body will have changed, so the body you had 7 years ago is completely different from the one you have today. Still, you are situated there.
The Upanisads describe the relationship of the self and the Superself (Paramatma) is like two birds in a tree. The self is the bird that is enjoying the fruits of the tree, and the Superself if the bird's friend, who is simply witnessing. So if we stick to our determination and pray for the mercy of the director of intelligence sitting within the same bodily tree, certainly the purport of the revealed information in the Vedas becomes clear to our vision, and there is no difficulty in realizing the Paramatma. The intelligent man therefore, after many births of such use of intelligence, surrenders himself at the lotus feet of Paramatma, (Krishna), then he realizes that he is not the body, but rather a spirit soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit. That is the first lesson of spiritual knowledge. When one understands that knowledge, one is then qualified to be released from the material prison house, and set free to enjoy an eternal life of bliss and knowledge in loving service to our real friend, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And once one is released, one never again returns to this miserable prison.
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna." -- Bhagavad-gita 4.9