‘Body Mind Spirit’ – most of us would have surely heard this term/expression at some point in our lives, but unfortunately its true significance is not so well known. I say ‘unfortunate’ because this lack of understanding makes it so that far too many people are wandering through the world without any clear awareness of their true nature, and the natural purpose that flows from this nature. This can be compared to having the lights switched off. The on switch, of course, is knowledge, and this is one of the primary functions of Yoga teachings – to provide some knowledge/light, so that we can have some meaningful direction for our lives.
‘When, however, one is enlightened with the knowledge by which nescience is destroyed, then his knowledge reveals everything, as the sun lights up everything in the daytime.’ Bhagavad Gita 5/16
The body aspect of our being we all know – our flesh and blood ‘gross’ material body. Next, the mind. In the context of the expression ‘body mind spirit’, mind actually refers to more than just the mind. It refers more generally to the whole ‘subtle’ material body, which includes the mind and the finer facility known as intelligence. All our memories, thoughts, emotions, hopes, fears, worries and plans for the future, our anxieties, our elation, our sense of peace or anxiety, etc… all of these are elements of the ‘subtle’ material body.
Now to the spirit. In Yoga teaching and various other traditions of spiritual understanding, a person is said to be the ‘soul’ or the ‘spirit’ or sometimes the ‘spirit/soul’ ~ something other than the ‘gross’ physical body, and something other than the ‘subtle’ mental body. Spirit (an energy that is completely distinct from both gross and subtle material energy) refers to the real essence of a person, and soul refers to the characteristics that the spirit is naturally endowed with. This spirit/soul is the real ‘you’ and its characteristics include consciousness, will and desire. Sometimes there is confusion regarding mind and spirit, but Yoga teaching clearly explains that they are distinct.
‘Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies. Besides this inferior nature, O mighty armed Arjuna, there is a superior (spiritual) energy of mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe’ Bhagavad Gita 7/4-5
This is all well and good – we need to have at least some basic understanding of what body, mind and spirit actually are, but that is just the beginning. Just as important is to know how they interrelate, so that we may make the best possible choices as we endeavor to become satisfied and happy.
For example we may make the choice to spend the majority of our time and efforts in pampering the body in various ways. That’s nice – we all like to have a bit of physical pampering in our lives, but knowing that there are limits to this, should surely make us question whether or not a deeper and more lasting satisfaction is to be found in something other than the pleasures of the body. One aspect of these limits was once brutally but poignantly described by Bob Dylan in one of his early songs. ‘You can have your beauty, skin deep it lies, you can have your youth, it’ll rot before your eyes’. As they say – ‘Ouch!’
Nevertheless, it’s a fact that can’t be denied. Slowly but surely, we will all be overtaken by the various decrepitudes of old age, and with them will come the relentless decline of the physical pleasures that we can experience. So although the choice to follow the path of material pleasure is available to us through the facilities of the subtle and gross material bodies, it’s a path that eventually leads to disappointment – at best. Is all this gloom and doom avoidable?
That depends on the choices we make. If a person remains mesmerized by the world of material opulence and passing physical enjoyments, then yes, when our own precious body ‘rots before our eyes’ (and with this rotting, our ability to physically enjoy), it will indeed be to our great sorrow. If on the other hand, a person attains self realization, then the demise of their physical body does not really matter to them. Why?
Because they know that their true nature is spiritual. Because they know that they are rays of spiritual light that have emanated from the Supreme Spirit, and because they know that the satisfaction that naturally flows from this relationship is far greater than the fleeting satisfactions of material pleasures. These are the simple yet profound truths and the culmination of Yoga teachings. It is not that the spirit and the mind should be used to serve the body, but rather it is that the body and the mind should serve the spirit.
Learn more about the journey of self discovery in these enlightening lecture series. Fascinating and insightful, these are two of the best series on this topic I have come across online: The Self Discovery Series & The Wisdom of Yoga 8 Part Series