from Back to Godhead, Vol 13, # 11, 1978
“Thanks to inflation,” says a recent release from the Associated Press, “you are now worth 5½ times more than you were just a few years ago.
“The calcium, magnesium, iron and other chemicals in an adult’s body were worth 98 cents in the early part of this decade; now they’re worth $5.60, according to Dr. Harry Monsen, a professor of anatomy at Illinois College of Medicine. ‘And the price will keep going up, just like it’s doing with cadavers and skeletons,’ he said. ‘We are caught in the inflation spiral.’ ”
What we are caught in is more than just the inflation spiral. We are caught in what the Vedic literature points to as the very essence of illusion—the failure to understand clearly who we are.
“Most of the human body,” the article continues, “is water. In a 60-pound person, Dr. Monsen said, there are about five pounds of calcium, 1½ pounds of phosphate, about nine ounces of potassium, a little more than six ounces each of sulfur and sodium, a little more than an ounce of magnesium, and less than an ounce each of iron, copper, and iodine.”
Now, does that sound like you?
Meditate on this for a moment. The body is mostly water, Dr. Monsen says. But when you think about who you are—when you think about your self, your identity—do you think of yourself as watery? In the course of your life you’ve drunk so much water in and passed so much of it out. The water has come and gone—but you are still here. Who is that you?
Calcium, phosphate, potassium, sulfur—is this the essential stuff of our identity? Sodium, magnesium, iron, copper. . . ?
The point is simple. If we analyze our bodies we’ll find nothing more than a barrelful of water and five or six dollars’ worth of chemicals. Yet if we meditate on our selves—who we really are—we intuitively know that each of us is something more. Conclusion? We are not these material bodies.
By intelligent discrimination, we should try to understand the difference between the body and the self. The body is made of chemicals—sulfur, iodine, and so on—but the self, the real identity of the living being, is consciousness. The body with consciousness is a person; the body without it, a cadaver.
Cadavers, notes AP, are “more expensive than ever.” Dr. Monsen predicts that the price will soon reach $200.
Consciousness, however, is priceless. Intellect, ambition, kindness, love—these are all symptoms of consciousness. So, in one word, it is consciousness that is the essential, invaluable element in the body.
AP has sent out an interesting release about the value of the body, but how much more interested we should be in understanding the self within the body. What is it makes us attach so much value to our bodies while we’re in them? If we inquire in this way, we ultimately come to see the importance of consciousness. It is consciousness that gives life to the body and makes it temporarily so precious.
This consciousness is also known as atma, the soul, or the spirit. The Vedic literature therefore tells if we want to understand the value of life, we should inquire about our spiritual identity, beyond our material bodies.
The body is what most of us think ourselves to be. When we think of ourselves as American, Indian, Japanese, or German, white or black, man or woman, what are these but more detailed descriptions of our bodies? We give so much attention to the body—which is worth practically nothing—and we ignore invaluable soul, or consciousness, within the body.
“When people were told they were worth only 98 cents they were shocked,” Dr. Monsen said. “They feel better knowing they are $5.60.” But if we can free ourselves from bodily designations, understand that we’re not these bodies at all, and recognize who we really are there’s no limit to how much better we shall feel.