Wisdom from Swami Vivekananda

Look Into My Crystal Ball

The soul of man is like a piece of crystal, but it takes the color of whatever is near it. Whatever the soul touches… it has to take its color. That is the difficulty. That constitutes bondage. The color is so strong, the crystal forgets itself and identifies itself with the color. Suppose a red flower is near the crystal: the crystal takes the color and forgets itself, thinks it is red. We have taken the color of the body and have forgotten what we are. All the difficulties that follow come from that one dead body. All our fears, all worries, anxieties, troubles, mistakes, weakness, evil, are from that one great blunder — that we are bodies [the physical identity]. This is the ordinary person. It is the person taking the color of the flower near to it. We are no more bodies than the crystal is the red flower.

— Swami Vivekananda

See also: You are deathless, birthless, You are the infinite spirit (Bhagavad Gita 2.22- 30)

(Photo by Jennuine Captures)

The motorcycle analogy to understand self (Bhagavad Gita 2.11 – 2.13)

Sri Krishna, with a smile on his face, speaks these words to Arjuna:

While speaking learned words, you grieve for what is not worthy of grief. The wise grieve neither for the living nor for the dead. (2.11)

Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. (2.12)

The embodied soul, just as it continuously passes from childhood to youth to old age in this body, passes into another body (after death). The firm ones never grieve about this. (2.13)

Let us try to understand this with the help of an analogy. Say, for example, you commute half an hour by walk between your home and workplace everyday. You want to save time, so you think it would be a good idea to purchase a motorcycle. Thus an idea is born, the idea of having a vehicle that will help you save your time. After a while, the idea takes shape, you purchase a motorcycle and start using it everyday.

After a few months, some part of the motorcycle gets worn out, and you change the part. After some time, something else goes wrong with the motorcycle and you replace certain parts. So, as you use the motorcycle regularly, you keep changing different parts of the motorcylce. After a few years you have replaced most parts of the motorcycle, that it’s physically not the same motorcycle you purchased years ago. But then… physically it may have changed, but to you it’s the same motorcycle… just think about it.

And then there comes a time when the vehicle has become too old it can’t be used anymore. You throw it away and buy a new motorcycle.

The physical parts of the motorcycle may change, the motorcycle itself may be replaced, but what holds it together is the idea of having a vehicle that will help you save your time, and as long as this idea remains in your mind, you will have a motorcycle that gives shape to the idea. The motorcycle may even evolve into a car, but it’s the same original idea that manifests in all these different forms.

Now, let us go back to the 13th verse in chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita. The Lord says,

The embodied soul, just as it continuously passes from childhood to youth to old age in this body, passes into another body after death. The firm ones never grieve about this.

It’s all clear now. Just as the idea of ‘having a vehicle that will help you save your time‘ passes through different states of the motorcycle from new to old, the idea passes into a different motorcycle when the old one is dead. The idea itself never dies. What’s there to grieve about that?

Now to verse 12:

Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.

What you refer to as ‘my motorcycle’ not the physical motorcycle made up of metals and stuff. The real motorcycle is actually the idea, the original idea of having a vehicle that will help you save your time. The idea is non-physical. There never was a time the idea did not exist. The idea has always been there, it doesn’t have any birth or death. In fact, it’s wrong to say that ‘the idea is born’. Just that that idea that’s always been there crossed your mind at a particular point of time. It will remain in your mind for sometime and then leaves you. The physical motorcycle may be destroyed, the idea may leave your mind, but the idea never ceases to be. So, what’s there to grieve?

So, if you are not the physical body that changes state from childhood to youth to old age, if you are ‘that’ which goes through these different states in this body, and ‘that’ which takes up a different body when this body dies, then what is ‘that’? What are you?