Real knowledge begins with freedom from identification with the body
the source of all our suffering.

A lecture in London, England, on August 20, 1973

matra-sparsas tu kaunteya
agamapayino 'nityas
tams titiksasva bharata

Srila Prabhupada

"O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed." (Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)

This is a very important verse. In the previous verse Krsna said, dehino 'smin yatha dehe: "The living entity, the soul, is within the body." So the bodily pains and pleasures are not the pains and pleasures of the soul within. And when we think the bodily pain and pleasures are ours, this is simply due to our misidentification with the body.

For example, suppose you are sitting in a nice motorcar, and a man in front of you is pulling a ricksha. I have seen this in India. So, the ricksha has come in front of the nice motorcar, and the driver of the car is shouting to the man drawing the ricksha, "O ricksha, make way!" The man sitting in the motorcar is thinking that he has become a motorcar and that the man drawing the ricksha has become a ricksha. Actually, the man drawing the ricksha is a human being, and the man sitting in the nice Rolls Royce car is also a human being. But because the rascal is sitting in a Rolls Royce car, he is thinking, "I am a Rolls Royce, and he is a ricksha." This is the material conception of life to adopt a designation according to the body instead of the soul.

So, when we get out of this bodily conception of life, that is real knowledge. Then we become a pandita, or brahmana. As Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [5.18], vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini/ suni caiva sva-pake ca panditah sama-darsinah: "One who is actually a pandita, a learned man, sees a brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater equally, because he sees that each of them is a spirit soul, not the body."

An actually learned man knows, aham brahmasmi "I am Brahman, spirit." And he also knows that the individual Brahman, the spirit soul, is part and parcel of the Supreme Brahman. One must come to know, "I am not this body; I am spirit soul." Knowledge begins from there. If one does not reach that point aham brahmasmi then he is an animal. The animals think, "I am a cat," "I am a dog," "I am this," I am that." And an animallike man thinks, "I am a ricksha," "I am a motorcar." That is animalistic thinking.

But a learned person thinks, "I am not this body; I am part and parcel of the Supreme Brahman." And when you are further advanced, you can understand, "I am an eternal servant of Krsna." This is perfect knowledge.

But the beginning is to know, "I am not this body; I am spirit soul." In this modern world many rascals are passing as spiritual leaders, but they do not know the very first lesson of spiritual knowledge that I am not this body. These so-called leaders are doing so many sinful acts for the satisfaction of the body, and still they are passing as religious or spiritual. Nobody can be spiritual or religious unless he understands his spiritual identification.

In the Bhagavad-gita the last instruction of Krsna is sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "You rascals and fools have created so many religious systems simply on the basis of bodily differences. That is not religion. Real religion is to know that I, Krsna, am the Supreme Soul, Parabrahman, and that you are My parts and parcels. So we have an intimate relationship, like that between a father and son. It is the son's duty to obey the father; therefore you should surrender to Me, and I will protect you. That is the perfection of life."

The bodily concept of life is so strong that even big, big learned so-called religionists say that the animal has no soul. Because the human body is very much advanced and has the power to kill animals, these so-called religionists speak this nonsense that the animals have no soul. Why do animals have no soul? What is the symptom of possession a soul? Consciousness. So if I am a conscious spirit soul within this body, why does the poor animal have no soul? He also has consciousness. So what is the essential difference between the human being and the animal that makes you say the animals has no soul?

It is very easy to understand the existence of the soul within the body. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, yena sarvam idam tatam: "The soul spreads its influence all over the body." Just as the sun spreads sunshine all over the universe, so God, the Supreme Soul, spreads His consciousness all over the creation. Similarly, since I am part and parcel of God, I am also soul, and like the sun I spread my "shining," my consciousness, all over the body (yena sarvam idam tatam).

Therefore, the proof of the soul's existence is that consciousness is spread all over my body. As soon as I pinch any part of my body, I feel pain. Therefore it is to be understood that the soul is there. When a man is going to die, the doctor examines the pulse or the heart, and if he finds that they are still beating, that is the sign the man is still living. Similarly, the proof that the soul is within my body is that I can feel pain and pleasure in my body.

So, the body in touch with consciousness feels pain and pleasure. Otherwise, what is this body? It is simply a lump of matter. Earth, water, fire, air a combination of material elements. Suppose you make a doll out of earth and water and then dry it in the sunshine. That is fore. So, the doll is made of earth, water, and fire, but there is not soul. That is the difference between the doll and my body. You can prepare a doll with earth, water, air, fire all kinds of material elements but you cannot give it a soul. That is not possible. Only Krsna can provide the soul: aham bija-pradah pita.

The same principle is there when a man and woman engage in sex. The man gives the seed, and the woman gives the ingredients for developing the body of the child. Could a woman produce a child without the aid of a man? No, that is not possible, because with his seed comes the soul. And when the soul is situated in the womb of the mother, she can assist by supplying the ingredients to develop the body.

By nature's process, when one gives up this gross material body, the subtle body of mind, intelligence, and ego remains. The subtle body carries the soul to his next gross body. But where will the soul go? That is explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam [3.31.1]: karmana daiva-netrena jantur dehopapattaye. The calculation is made by superior judgment to determine the soul's assets and liabilities, and according to this judgment he receives his next body. It is just like when a man in a business concern for some time has his record reviewed. Then his superiors judge, "Yes, this man has done nicely, so give him a promotion." But if he has not done nicely, they will say, "Oh, no, don't give him a promotion. He should be fired."

Similarly, we are getting different types of bodies according to our karma. Otherwise, why don't all living entities have the same bodily features? Why are there differences? This is common sense. Varieties of body, varieties of position, are due to one's previous activities, or karma. Again the example of the ricksha and the Rolls Royce: The poor man has only a ricksha because that is all he could purchase, but the rich man has a Rolls Royce because he has paid more. Similarly, if your activities are nice, you will be promoted to a higher standard of life, perhaps to the heavenly planets or even to Brahmaloka, the highest place in this universe. But if your activities are sinful and abominable, you will be degraded to the cats and dogs.

Our situation is based on the qualities of our body. With a first-class body you can live in the higher planetary system. With a second-class body you have to remain in the middle planetary system. And with a third-class body, you go down. In other words, you become and animal, a tree, an insect, a bird, or a beast.

All these situations of enjoyment or suffering are due to our misidentification with the body. But the soul is different from the body, and on that basis Krsna is trying to convince Arjuna to fight: "Do your duty. Your so-called grandfather and so-called guru are not their bodies. So if their bodies are killed, why should you lament? Their souls are eternal. They existed in the past, they exist at present, and they will continue to exist. Simply their bodies will change. So why are you lamenting? Because it is My desire that you fight, you will not commit any sin by killing them, and in the end you will come to Me in My spiritual abode."

So, on the whole one has to understand that we are not this body, and that when we feel bodily pains and pleasures, they are not the pains and pleasures of the soul. It is because the soul ignorantly misidentifies with the body that it feels pains and pleasures. Otherwise, the soul has no pain or pleasure in connection with the body.

In the Vedas it is said, asango hy ayam purusah: "The soul has nothing to do with the body." Still, out of ignorance the soul identifies himself with the body. Again the example of the Rolls Royce: Out of ignorance, the rascal is thinking he has become a Rolls Royce, and if the Rolls Royce is broken in some accident, he becomes overwhelmed: "O, I am lost!" This is going on.

When one becomes brahma-bhuta, actually self-realised, there is no more lamenting, no more hankering (na socati na kanksati). Since I am not this body, why should I hanker after bodily comfort? Whatever Krsna has given, that's all right. But because people are absorbed in the bodily concept, they are simply seeking bodily, sensuous enjoyment. That's all. This is the material world.

All materialists are fools and rascals, mudhas. And because they are fools rascals, they are committing sins, becoming entangled in the transmigration of the soul in different types of bodies, and perpetually suffering. As soon as you get a material body, you suffer. Whether you have a white body, a black body, or a yellow body, a man's or an animal's body, it doesn't matter: as soon as you get a material body, you must suffer. This is the punishment of nature.

At least four suffering must be there: birth, old age, disease, and death. Whether you become a king or a dog or a cat, it doesn't matter. Even if you become Lord Brahma, you must suffer these four miseries.

Therefore, our problem is how to get out of this bodily entanglement. I am a spirit soul, but somehow or other I have fallen into this entanglement of bodily transformations. Bhaktivinoda Thakura says, anadi karama-phale padi' bhavarnava-jale taribare na dekhi upaya: "Somehow or other I have fallen into this ocean of birth and death, an I do not know how to get out of it." Suppose you are thrown into the middle of the ocean. However expert a swimmer you may be, you cannot be comfortable. You have to swim all day long; otherwise, you will immediately drown. Similarly, as soon as you get yourself into this material world, you have to struggle for existence. You have to. So if you want to stop this struggle for existence, you must get out of material world. That is the problem of life.

Therefore Caitanya Mahaprabhu teaches us, ayi nanda-tanuja kinkaram patitam mam visame bhavambudhau: "My dear Lord Krsna, son of Nanda Maharaja, I am Your eternal servant, but somehow or other I have now fallen into this material ocean." (Visame means "very ferocious danger." This ocean of material existence is very dangerous.) "Although I am Your servant, somehow or other I have forgotten You and have fallen down." Then, krpaya tava pada-pankaja sthita-dhuli-sadrsam vicintaya: "Now I am seeking Your mercy. Please pick Me up and make Me a particle of dust at Your lotus feet." This should be our prayer, and we should have no other prayer.

Caitanya Mahaprabhu also teaches, na dhanam na janam na sundarim kavitam va jagad-isa kamaye: "O Lord, I don't want wealth, followers, or women." People generally pray for material benefits: "O God, give us our daily bread. Give me a nice position. Give me a nice wife." So on and so on praying simply of material enjoyment. My Guru Maharaja [Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura] used to say that if we pray to God for all these nonsense things, we are just like a man who goes to a king for some benediction but doesn't know what to ask for. The king says, "Whatever you want, you can ask from me," and the man says, "Kindly give me a pinch of ashes." The man could have said, "Please give me half your kingdom." Why should he ask for a pinch of ashes?

So, praying to God for material things is foolishness. You may pray, "O God, give us our daily bread," but the bread is already there. Why just for you? For everyone. For all living entities the "bread," or food, is already provided by God: eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman. "The Lord provides all creatures with the necessities of life." The elephant does not go to church to pray "Give me food," yet it is supplied food in the jungle. Similarly the tiger is supplied food, and the ant is supplied food within his hole. How are they all eating, how are they living, how are they begetting offspring? God is providing everything.

So, getting our material necessities is not the real problem. But these rascals are simply perplexed with this problem how to eat, how to sleep, how to defend, how to mate. These things are already fixed up according to your karma. You should simply use your time to advance in Krsna consciousness. That is your only business. Otherwise, your life is spoiled.

You cannot improve your material situation. That is already fixed up: prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah. According to your lot, according to your karma, it has been fixed up that you will eat like this, you will sleep like this, your sex life will be like this, and you will be able to defend like this. That is destiny. By destiny these are already fixed, so don't spoil your life trying to improve these things.

As the sastra [scripture] says, tasyaiva hetoh prayateta kovido na labhyate yad bhramatam upary adhah: "You have transmigrated from so many bodies this body to that body, this body to that body. Now that you have a human body, you can read Bhagavad-gita, you can learn from Krsna what the real problem of life is. Utilise your life for that purpose. Don't be perplexed with these problems of the body."

As Krsna says in the present verse from Bhagavad-gita, tams titiksasva: "Just try to tolerate the bodily pains and pleasures." For example, the summer season comes, and it will go away. Similarly, the winter season comes, and it will go away. So just try to protect yourself as far as possible, but don't be affected by the summer season or winter season. In India the temperature is sometimes 120 degrees during the summer. Does that mean people will stop all their work? No. Or, in the Western countries, the winter is so strong that sometimes the temperature falls below zero. Does that mean everything will be stopped? No, you have to do your duty.

Similarly, Krsna advises Arjuna, "You are afraid of the little pain that will come because you have to kill your own men. That pain is coming, and it will go, but still you have to do your duty and fight. This fight is taking place under My guidance. So you must fight. That is your duty."

Krsna says in the present verse that we should not be bothered by this matra-sparsah. Matra means "skin," and sparsah means "touch." We should not be too much concerned with bodily pains and pleasures. But ignorant people are mad after this "skin disease," headed by sex. What is sex? Simply an itching of the skin. There is an itching of the skin, and you become satisfied by scratching it. That's all. Therefore the sastraadvises, visaheta dhirah: "Be sober and tolerate the itching of sex."

But these rascals who are very much attached to so-called family life are completely absorbed in this itching. They are known as grhamedhis. grhastha is different. The grhastha knows the science of Krsna consciousness, but he is not so advanced. Therefore he lives with a wife and children, but for Krsna consciousness. And those who are not Krsna conscious, who simply live like animals with their children and wife they are grhamedhis. The grhastha makes the best use of a bad bargain, while the grhamedhi lives like an animal, for material happiness.

And what is the happiness of the grhamedhi? Sex pleasure, that's all. Otherwise, he has no other impetus to work day and night like an ass. His only hope is that at night he will enjoy sex. That's all.

The sastra advises us to tolerate the itching of sex and in this way avoid implication in the repetition of birth and death. The best thing is to be brahmacari no sex. Tolerate this itching. You will avoid so much displeasure, so much unhappiness in life. Otherwise, if you try to satisfy the itching sensation, you may attain a little happiness, but what is that happiness? Suppose there is some itching in your body. If you scratch it, you feel some pleasure but then again the itching becomes even stronger. Sex is like that. So, one who is sober, advanced, will tolerate that itching sensation and be happy. He will think, "Sex is not my necessity. It is only something of the skin my 'skin disease.' But I am not this skin; I am a soul, and my duty is to serve Krsna."

Thank you very much.