Finding The True Self: The Science of Identity - Part 1 Essence


ACHARYA DAS: Namaste and welcome. So this will be the beginning of a 3-part series entitled “Finding the True Self”. In order to really discover what is the truth about anything we learn that we should analyse things by asking three particular questions. What is something’s essence or what is it actually made of or constituted by? What is its natural position? Meaning where does it fit in relation to other things, its environment? And of course what is its natural function? And so we will be attempting to answer these 3 questions in relation to the topic of finding the true self.

So today’s topic is the answer to the first part of the question: what is my essence or who am I at the core of my being? So this subject of who am I is far greater than what we can cover in this very short talk that we are going to be giving. So for people that will be looking for more information, I encourage you to check the link at the bottom of the screen under this video and follow it. It leads to a website that will give you more information.

So we, in fact, rarely think of or actually seek the answer to this question of who I am or what I am in essence.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words so today we will be showing you a short video clip. Some very dear friends of mine went out into the streets of London and they asked a variety of people this question. And I think that we will all be able to identify with the people and their attempts to answer these things. So please let’s take a look at this question right now.

INTERVIEWER: We are doing a research study on identity and we just have one question.

MALE: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Can you please tell me who are you?

KRISTY: My name is Kristy. I am an American student. I am from Colorado.

ZOE: My name is Zoe. I am from Cyprus.

KATHLEEN: Kathleen.

AMY: Amy. (laughs)

TORRES: I’m Torres from Spain.

MARK: My name is Mark.

NATALIE: Natalie.

GEMMA: Who am I? Well my name is Gemma; that’s who I am.

MALE: I’m successful, handsome French guy.

MALE: I’m 82 years of age but I feel I’m 18.

NATALIE: Alright what else do you want to know?

INTERVIEWER: I want to know more than just your name.

NATALIE: My job? Where I live?

INTERVIEWER: No. I want to know your essence. Who you are in essence.

NATALIE: My essence.


FEMALE: Happy person. I’m a happy girl.

FEMALE: Someone who is trying to go through life as happy as I can.

MALE: A sassy, fun kind of guy who likes to have fun and yeah.

FEMALE: I, I see myself as quite unique. Different. I’m quite energetic.

INTERVIEWER: Your core essence. Who are you? Not so much. Take away the traits, the culture, the family, the boyfriend, where you live, you know, where you are from. Take all that away and tell me who are you?

FEMALE: To be honest sometimes I don’t even know who I am.

NATALIE: That is a really hard question. It is.

MALE: Who am I? Oh.


MALE: I have no idea.

INTERVIEWER: You have no idea?

MALE: No idea whatsoever.

MALE: Don’t know myself.

INTERVIEWER: You don’t know?


MALE: I’m a bit lost.

MALE: A very small piece of the universe. That’s who I am.

FEMALE: My essence is a person in the midst of a very fast technological world that is gone crazy and lost all sight of the real, of the self.

INTERVIEWER: Your core. Your core being. Who are you?

MALE: I have no idea. Actually, that’s a tough one. I’ve no idea what to say.

KRISTY: The essence of myself?


KRISTY: I don’t know.

MALE: I wasn’t prepared for such a deep question. I never really think of myself too much in that way. I get on with it. What is my essence? I don’t know how to answer you. I really don’t know. I’ve never considered it.

FEMALE: I think that’s a difficult question.

FEMALE: Yes it is.

FEMALE: Does anyone have a ready answer?

FEMALE: Not me. I don’t know. No. To be honest I don’t know. No.

MALE: I don’t think you ever really know who you are. I think you just go through life as a journey to find out who you are but you never really know who you are.

MALE: No, I realize I don’t know who I am. Really who I am. Yes, that’s a good question.

FEMALE: Yes, it’s a very good question.

FEMALE: What do you mean? Like who am I?

INTERVIEWER: Yes, who are you in essence?

FEMALE: In essence?


FEMALE: Oh no that’s hard.

MALE: That’s a little bit philosophical for me, to be honest. I’ve never thought of it like that. Who am I? To be honest, I don’t know.

INTERVIEWER: Your core. Who are you?

FEMALE: That’s such a difficult question.

FEMALE: It’s a very difficult question. Yes.

FEMALE: In essence?


MALE: I don’t know.

MALE: It’s really complicated. I mean, if you ask me all these stuff when I’ve had a drink I will probably answer it better. I don’t know if I can say anymore about it. I mean, you kind of caught me out on that one.

FEMALE: It’s really hard.

FEMALE: It is.

FEMALE: It’s really hard to know.


FEMALE: Yeah and it’s really interesting to be asked such questions so you will have an idea and think about it.


ACHARYA DAS: So it’s actually quite refreshing to see people speak about something in such an honest way. Previously we have spoken on this subject of how you are not the body or you are not the mind. But this does not actually tell us who we are in our essence. But just as a little recap the body, the nature of the body, is that it’s constantly changing. And even though our body is changing, our identity - who we are - does not change. For example, at one time I had a little tiny body; a baby’s body. And that some time, a few years later, I had a body the size of your, your son. As a young boy. Then I had a teenager’s body. I had a young man’s body. I had a middle-aged man’s body. And now I’m in the elder part, the end of life area or getting into that region. And if you line photos up of these different stages of growth, the bodies are actually completely different bodies. Not only do they look different but they are constituted by different matter.

The Oakridge Scientific Institute or Atomic Research Institute, rather, have demonstrated that within 5 years every single atom within your body is replaced. And in spite of that change I remain the constant person. My identity, it’s not like I have a different identity for the baby’s body and a different identity for the, you know, middle-aged or older man’s body. It’s the same identity all the way through. So that clearly demonstrates that we are not the body otherwise our identity would change.

Similarly with the mind, the fact that we can exercise control over our mind or we may attempt to, for instance trying to remember something, trying to forget something, trying to bring our mind into focus on some particular subject, we can only do this if we exist separately from our mind. We have to be separate from it to exercise control over it. So these are proofs.

But as I mentioned they don’t answer the actual question of who we are. Before attempting to answer the actual question of, “Who am I? What is my essence?” I would just like to draw attention to the question - what is the relevance of knowing some such thing? What is the relevance? Actually there is a tremendous relevance. It’s tied to our purpose in life and whether we will succeed in finding love, in seeking protection and finding happiness. This will be all intrinsically tied to this question. And in order to, to maybe demonstrate that I’ll give you a couple of examples.

The first one is about a young woman; her name was Stephanie. She is from the United States. And she was 29 years old and a mother of 3; very young children at the time that she was involved in a plane crash. Her and her husband and one other friend, they had stopped for a refuelling. And the plane was just attempting to take off when it crashed on take-off. And of course with all the fuel there, there was this intensely hot fire. And finally when she was able to make it out of the plane both her and her husband were very badly burnt. She was severely burnt. 80% of her body had third degree burns. And the part of the body that was most severely burnt was her face. She said she could smell the hair burning and the flesh burning, you know. It was a real, real horrific experience.

So she was helicoptered to a trauma of burns unit and doctors put her in a medically induced coma where for three months she was kept in this comatose state because her wounds were so severe, in order to be able to try and treat her. Then two more months after that, she was undergoing reconstructive surgery and skin grafts and you can only get a skin graft from your own body. And the fact that most of her body was burnt, limited the, you know—it was a very lengthy and difficult process. During this time she asked for all mirrors to be removed from her room. She couldn’t stand the idea of looking in the mirror. And her three young children were not able to see her because it would be too traumatic for them. So they lived with her sister and she felt heartbroken at her youngest child, a boy, would now refer to her sister as Mummy. So, you know, she was really into the mother thing and she really enjoyed motherhood. And so she wanted more than anything to be able to be reunited with her children again.

And finally on the day that it was organized, they let the eldest daughter , who was still very young, into the room first. And when the daughter came in and saw her mother, she instantly recoiled from it. She had this really heavy reaction. And immediately left the room and told her younger sister, “Don’t g in, don’t go in.” And for the woman, the experience was particularly painful being rejected by your children. And of course, inside she is screaming out, “It is me. It’s still me, Mummy.” But of course the children are not seeing that.

This great pain of being rejected by her children, it springs from the inability on our part to be able to actually “see”, if I can use that term, see the person within. We become very conditioned to consider that the body is actually the person. So eventually the kids came around and now they are living happily together. And when one of the, the elder daughter was interviewed, you know, “How was it that you’re able to recognize your mummy?” and she referred to being able to see into her eyes. And that indicated, you know, they sometimes say the eyes are windows to the soul, meaning that you get a more intense feeling that somebody is home by looking at their eyes rather than looking up their nostril (laughs) or into the ear or looking at the elbow. You get the idea of a person and somebody being there. If I remember correctly this woman later did a blog where she said something to the effect that mothers, the most important thing you can teach your daughter is that she is not her body. And that’s actually a very profound statement and there’s a lot of things connected with that and more particularly from a spiritual perspective.

So the second example is not quite so dramatic. It involves a young, very beautiful woman who was a model. Her name was Kate Upton. And she is a rather curvy, voluptuous blonde, very beautiful young woman. She achieved—she burst on to the scene when she was actually asked to be a swimsuit model on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and I think it was 2012. And just prior to that she had been interviewed. And she made reference to the fact of how since she was a small girl she had prayed every night for this body. (laughs) She prayed to have these beautiful breasts and curvy hips and the slender waist. She desired very intently and so it’s understandable that somebody that spends that much time meditating, contemplating and praying about it, you’re going to feel very attached to the idea and then she’s feeling that this is me and you’ve attained some level of happiness and perfection being recognized for what you desired to be.

But the reaction that she got from coming out on the cover of this swimsuit, you know, edition of Sports Illustrated was that all the guys were going crazy over her. And she said in another interview later that she felt actually completely terrible. She said she felt terrible, “I felt terrible about myself for a solid month after that came out.” And when asked to explain, she was saying that—then how people were relating to her, particularly men. And she stated, you know, “I’m not a toy. I’m human. I’m not here just to be used.” And so you can see the inherent conflict in desiring to have a very beautiful and attractive body and then people reacting to that. (laughs) And then you’re feeling like, you know, “They are not actually valuing me. They’re not paying attention to me. They’re just interested in my body.” And this is something that I’ve heard over, over and over.

So these two examples give us some, you know, indication of the relevance and importance of not just perceiving or seeing the body as being me; that there’re all types of things that will be connected with that. When we accept the body and mind as the self or we accept other labels that we’ve adopted as being who we are then we will experience an almost countless number of different types of miserable conditions. Examples would be, you know, the issues of self-worth or worthiness.

You know, everybody struggles with these and there’s a big focus on body image and so now what they do is try to prepare, particularly women, but even young guys, you know. You’ve got to be comfortable with whatever kind of body that you have. And you know, that’s not a solution. The problem is that when you identify the body as being you, you are always then going to become plagued with issues connected with that - issues of self-worth and worthiness and how acceptable you are or aren’t. And it’s a huge problem.

Another area is in relation to relationships. You know, how people are relating and dealing with each other. In fact, like the bullying thing or marriage breakdowns. So there’s worry that people have in a committed relationship is my partner going to go and look for somebody else because I’m no longer attractive enough. I’m not providing what they “need”. It is actually not what you need; it’s actually what you want. But we can examine this even on the level of societies and families and everything. There are so many huge issues that cause great misery and suffering in the world because of this.

Then probably a third area, you know, where people become deeply affected and being miserable because of these fundamentally erroneous ideas has to do with lack of empathy that we feel for others. Or, you know, people will not feel empathy to someone that they see necessarily as being different and particularly in a different in a way that I don’t like. And that may even descend into the realm of hatred towards someone. So it can go from just not caring about someone all the way through to the other end of scale which is hatred and all the things that come from it.

So, you know, the idea, this sectarian or party spirit, it arises from the idea of having sexual identities or racial identities or ethnic identities. It even extends to labels such as political identification and a myriad of other false identities. So the unfortunate thing is that when a person is actually very much absorbed in this idea that the body is me or the mind is me, in that state of consciousness it is going to be impossible to actually know and experience peace. We will automatically find ourselves in some form of conflict with others that we see as being different and will always, due to these perceived differences. And the solution is not learning to feel comfortable with differences although that is one workaround. The actual core of the problems lies in being able to see commonality. To see an actual connectedness and that is actually going to be on a spiritual level.

I'd like to share with you a verse from the Bhagavad-gita and in this verse it speaks to the issue of needing a compassionate vision where all living entities are seen as actually being equal. So the verse reads,

"The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, they see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and the lowest of people."
Bhagavad-gita 5:18

So, I mean it's pretty extreme. We're going through a whole range of different life forms here and even with—amongst human beings, somebody that is considered very cultured and intelligent, and a very good person down to someone that is very base individual that a humble sage describes by the virtue of true knowledge, they see this commonality, they see all living beings with this equal vision.

So this equality, it resides in our spiritual identity. It doesn’t reside within bodily false identity and to make the point a little clearer there's also another wonderful verse in the Bhagavad-gita where Lord Krishna is describing the top most yogi. He says:

"He is a perfect yogī who, by comparison to his own self, he sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna!
Bhagavad-gita 6:32

So this vision, of being able to see from the spiritual platform, it immediately makes it so that all of the divisions in society evaporate; automatically makes it so a person wil feel compassion and care for and towards all the living beings.

So all of the deeply conditioned ideas that we hold - and there are many of them - and they are all factually untrue. But amongst all of these ideas, or wrong ways of thinking, the most significant one is this idea that I am my body. And so people answered just like we saw in the clip, I am young. I am old. I am a male or I am a female. I am black, I am white, I am brown. I am beautiful or I am rather plain or I am even ugly. All of these ideas and assumptions are based on bodily labels and are factually untrue.

Now perhaps a good—something that will help us to become probably quite thoughtful. I’m going to show you a series of pictures. There is a German man, his name is Gunther von Hagens, he is an anatomist and he has exhibitions at museums all over the world. And these exhibitions actually can help to throw a spotlight on what we are discussing. So I’ll just give you a warning that some of the pictures, some people may find disturbing. You shouldn’t find them disturbing. There’s nothing really disturbing about them but they become disturbing when we live in a certain type of mentality and now suddenly that’s going to be shattered. These exhibits are visited by families and children so there’s not an issue with it.

So in this very first picture, we can see Gunther with one of his subjects. So Gunther’s developed a process of impregnating bodies with plasticizers and this permanently preserves them. And what it does is allows the stripping away of skin and other tissue so that you can actually see what is underneath. As I stated, these pictures that I am showing you are actually from museums and galleries.

In this next slide, it reveals actually the true nature of the body as a highly complex and sophisticated vehicle, which we mostly are completely forgetful of in our daily life. What we can see here is a, somebody—something that we are familiar with, the idea of performing CPR but it’s two corpses. So it’s kind of like a little bit shocking and we have to think a little bit more deeply about out life.

In this next slide, if you look at the child’s face and then you look at the skeleton of the child in the exhibit. We can see in both cases you’ve got a child with an adult and we can realize how unaware we are about the nature of the body. When we look at the little girl, we do not see her skeletal structure. We don’t see all of the tissue, we simply look at her and think, “Oh that’s a person,“ and what this tells us is that the presence of the spiritual spark, the atma or the self, it is so powerful, it has such a profound and powerful influence on the body that we no longer see the body for what it really is. When we look at the exhibits of Gunther and when we look at the people beside them, you know, we don’t see this, you know, in our daily life.

Of course in this next slide, this picture allows us to see that there is a stark difference between a body, which is showing the presence of life and one that is not. When there is the symptom of life in the body, the body actually appears attractive and when the person leaves, you are just left with a body which not only no longer attracts you, but in most cases will repulse you.

I’d like to share something that was written by my spiritual master Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda, where he provides an answer or insight into the question of what is our essence? It is quite obvious we’re not that grotesque body. Then who exactly are we? He states,

“The individual soul, or atma, can be compared to a diamond whose value is not appreciated because it’s covered over. A beautiful diamond may lie deep underground, covered by layers of dirt and rock. And although it exists in darkness, it is still a diamond. But because it is so covered up, its intrinsic beauty and value go unrealized.”
Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda

To speak to that subject from the Vedas, in the Mundaka Upanishad, there is also a very wonderful verse and it states that:

“The atma or the self is atomic in size and can be perceived by perfect intelligence. This atomic soul is floating in the five kinds of air (prana, apana, vyana, samana and udana), it is situated within the region of the heart, and spreads its influence all over the body of the embodied living entities. When the atma is purified from the contamination of these five kinds of material air, its spiritual influence is exhibited. “
Mundaka Upanisad 3.1.9

So just very briefly, in summary, the yoga system speaks about these five types of air - subtle airs that are moving within the body. When the living being which resides within the region of the heart, the atma, or the self, it exerts its influence via these five types of subtle airs or subtle channels in the body and because of this, the influence of the living being is spread throughout. I mean, whether it’s an ant or a blue whale, every centimeter, every inch of that body is experiencing awareness or consciousness and is manifesting symptoms of life even though the living being is like an atomic spiritual particle.

In the Yoga Sutra it speaks about becoming free of these bodily conceptions and actually learning about our self. There is a verse in the second pada or chapter, the 25th verse where it says,

“When ignorance is destroyed, the identification of the self or the atma with matter or prakrti, meaning like material body, this identification ceases and this is liberation.”
Yoga sutra 2.25

So now, the question: Who am I? I am not this body. I do not die when the body dies. I move on. The life manifest in the body is because of my presence and when I leave, life leaves with me. It is one of the characteristics of the living being. I, the personal—or the person living temporarily within this body, I am an eternal spiritual being, an eternal spark of God.

At this point I just like to make a statement, you know. I am not, I am not an impersonal force or energy. There are people that promote this idea that I am some impersonal, energetic force. This is incorrect or an incomplete understanding. The nature of the living being is that you are personal.

It is my eternal right to exist in a state of great wisdom and spiritual love, free from anxiousness and fear. When a person experiences or attains this condition it is actually the initial stage of enlightenment. We will then ask the question, how does such a liberated person, a person in this state of self-realization, how do they exist or live within this world? If they are still embodied, how do they live in this world?

It boils down to trying to understand this terminology, this phrase you may have heard, “living in the world but not being part of the world,” and unfortunately we find that most people, when we are in this covered state, we not only identify deeply but we feel that we are part of this world and that is incorrect. So how will such an enlightened person live?

You know, a common man may not be able to distinguish the difference between an enlightened person and any other person. It will not instantly be obvious. A person who is actually enlightened goes about their allotted time in this world performing the normal responsibility of one’s station in life. But one thing that is, you know, very clear that they will always, though, be working for the actual welfare of all others and in this state of enlightenment there is a blossoming of very perfect spiritual love and also a feeling of compassion for all living beings. To—speaking about this, there’s a beautiful quote in the Bhagavad-gita and it speaks about a person in this liberated condition. It says that:

“Such a liberated person is not attracted to material sense pleasure of this world but is always in a transcendental state enjoying pleasure within. In this way the self-realized person enjoys unlimited happiness for he concentrates on the Supreme.”
Bhagavad-gita 5.21

This is actually very deep. We can speak only about this verse probably for a couple of hours and really enjoy all of the meaning here but given our time limitations and the fact that this is available as a video that you can replay, I would really encourage you to, from time to time, revisit these quotes and read them and contemplate upon them.

So in conclusion, in my essence I am an eternal spiritual personality, a spiritual being. It is my natural state to exist in a condition of perfect and full, not just happiness but complete blissfulness. To exist in a state of very deep and wonderful love, to be free from all of the anxieties and burdens that come from falsely identifying with one’s body or mind and all the things connected with that.

So what we’d like to do now is we’ll just engage in a short kirtan and this process of kirtan, of using the transcendental yoga sound, it is a process of meditation that is actually the most effective and powerful means for full realization - self-realization and God-realization - at this time. Kirtan is engaged in—usually there is a person that will lead the kirtan, who will first sing a mantra, with these transcendental sounds, then there is, ah, people who sit and listen to that and then they repeat. They sing it also. It doesn’t matter what kind of voice you have, if you’re singing out of tune, that’s all completely irrelevant. This spiritual sound is extremely powerful. It is completely—will purify the heart and the mind and will induce full spiritual realization, self-realization and awaken our natural spiritual love. So I’d like to invite you to join me perhaps some just 10 minutes or so while we chant. You will see the mantra appearing on the screen.

I’d like to thank you very much for joining us today and hope that you will be able to join us next week as we explore the second part of this series. Thank you very much. Namaste.