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Material Body

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The wonderful material body
Our material body is our visible, physical identity in the material world. It is made of material elements—solids, liquids, gases, etc.—and exists for a limited time. It is born, grows to maturity, and produces offspring; it then gradually dwindles, ceases to function, and ultimately vanishes.

What we call a "living body" is a combination of two kinds of energy—material and spiritual. Material energy supplies the gross materials of which the body is made, and spiritual energy animates the body and enables it to work. Without the presence of a spiritual spark—the self or atma—no material process can give life to the body.

We tend to identify ourselves as our material body. If our material body is male, female, old, young, black, or white, we think we are male, female, old, young, black, or white. This misconception, called false ego, is at the root of most of our anxiety. Because of false ego, we believe "death" means the end of our existence, when it's actually just the end of the material body's existence. We're not the material body. We're spiritual.

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Spiritual energy, the vital force within the material body, remains constant throughout all the body's changes. The body dies, but we continue to exist. As soon as the self leaves the body—the event commonly known as death—the material body stops working. The self then moves on to another body, a process known as reincarnation or transmigration. The old body—deprived of its spiritual spark—then begins to decompose.

What type of material body we get next depends on various factors. The quality of our karma (actions) and consciousness determine whether we're qualified to have a human, animal, or vegetable body. The superior forces of material nature within the universe then arrange a specific body for us.

There are millions of different material bodies, and practically an unlimited variety within each species. Each body has its particular limitations—lifespan, intelligence, mobility, capacity for enjoyment, strength, and so on. The self passes through body after body after body, seeking fulfillment. But because the self is everlasting and spiritual, and all material bodies are temporary and subject to miserable conditions like disease, old age and death, we're disappointed again and again.

We have material bodies in the first place because of our persistent aversion to the Supreme Person. Our original, spiritual nature is to live in cooperation with the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Person, who is the source of all energies, including ourselves. When we want to live separately from Him, we want to not be ourselves. The material body is a kind of disguise that Krishna, the Supreme Person gives us when we want to forget our real identity.

Fortunately, this forgetfulness can be reversed. Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-gita how to recover our normal consciousness through the practice of Krishna consciousness. By deliberate remembrance of the Supreme Person, Krishna, anyone can truly be themselves, and never again have to undergo all the pain and trouble that goes along with being confined in a material body.

QT Material Body

More on this topic

We like to quote our sources. This page is based on the following:

  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 2.18, Purport:

    "The material body is perishable by nature. It may perish immediately, or it may do so after a hundred years. It is a question of time only. There is no chance of maintaining it indefinitely. . . The minute particle of the whole spirit acquires this material body according to his work . . .As sunlight maintains the entire universe, so the light of the soul maintains this material body. As soon as the spirit soul is out of this material body, the body begins to decompose; therefore it is the spirit soul which maintains this body. The body itself is unimportant."

  • Bhagavad-gita, 2.16:

    "Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent [the material body] there is no endurance and of the eternal [the soul] there is no change. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both."

  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 2.16, Purport:

    "That the body is changing every moment by the actions and reactions of the different cells is admitted by modern medical science; and thus growth and old age are taking place in the body. But the spirit soul exists permanently, remaining the same despite all changes of the body and the mind. That is the difference between matter and spirit. By nature, the body is ever changing, and the soul is eternal."

  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 2.17, Purport:

    "This very small spiritual spark is the basic principle of the material body, and the influence of such a spiritual spark is spread all over the body as the influence of the active principle of some medicine spreads throughout the body. This current of the spirit soul is felt all over the body as consciousness, and that is the proof of the presence of the soul. Any layman can understand that the material body minus consciousness is a dead body, and this consciousness cannot be revived in the body by any means of material administration. Therefore, consciousness is not due to any amount of material combination, but to the spirit soul."

  • Bhagavad-gita, 4.9:

    "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 As It Is, 4.9, Purport:

    "One who can understand the truth of the appearance of the Personality of Godhead . . . returns to the kingdom of God immediately after quitting this present material body. Such liberation of the living entity from material bondage is not at all easy . . .But the devotee, simply by understanding the transcendental nature of the body and activities of the Lord, attains the abode of the Lord after ending this body and does not run the risk of returning to this material world."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.2, Chapter Summary:

    "Living entities averse to the Lord's lotus feet come under the control of the Lord's illusory energy, maya. They forget the Lord's identity and are trapped by the illusion of identifying with the temporary body. Under the sway of material attraction, they become greatly fearful."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.15.31, Purport:

    "Doubts of duality begin from the misconception of the material body, which is accepted as the self by less intelligent persons. The most foolish part of our ignorance is our identifying this material body with the self. Everything in relation with the body is ignorantly accepted as our own."

  • Srila Prabhupada, in a lecture given in London, July 29, 1973:

    "This is the beginning of our material life. When we forget to render service to Krishna, immediately we get a material body offered by the material nature."

  • Srila Prabhupada, in a lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam, 2.8.7, February 10, 1975:

    " We have got this material body. . . because we wanted to enjoy and did not like to serve Krishna. This is the cause. . . That is our . . . constitutional position, to serve Krishna, but sometimes we desire: "Why shall I serve Krishna? Why shall I serve the spiritual master? I shall enjoy. I shall enjoy." But that enjoyment was there by serving Krishna, but he wanted to become enjoyer independent of Krishna. That is the cause of falldown. "

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.3.20:

    " The material body is . . . the accumulated result of one's previous material activities. If one is awarded a body decorated with beauty, education, popularity, strength and so on, his standard of material enjoyment is certainly high class. On the other hand, if one is ugly, mentally retarded, crippled or repulsive to others, there is very little hope for his material happiness. In both cases, however, the situation is flickering and temporary. One who has acquired an attractive body should not rejoice, since death will quickly bring an end to such an intoxicating situation.

    Similarly, one who has taken birth in an obnoxious situation should not lament, since his suffering is also temporary. The beautiful man and the ugly man, the rich and the poor, the educated and the foolish should all endeavor to become Krishna conscious so that they can be elevated to their eternal constitutional situation, which is to reside in the planets beyond this material universe.

    Originally every living entity is unimaginably beautiful, intelligent, wealthy, and so strong that his spiritual body lives forever. But we foolishly give up this eternal, blissful situation because we are unwilling to meet the condition for eternal life. The condition is that one should be a lover of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. Although love of Krishna is the most exquisite ecstasy, surpassing by millions of times the most intense pleasure of the material universe, we foolishly break off our loving affair with the Supreme Lord and artificially try to become independent enjoyers in the material atmosphere of self-delusion and false pride."

Further Reading:

  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Chapter 2:

    —an analytical study of the material body and the spirit soul.

  • Bodies and Souls
    —a collection of articles on the importance of understanding the profound differences between the self and the material body.
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