Who am I? The face I see every morning in the mirror? The eyes that scrutinize it? The heartbeats within my chest? Or the thoughts that race through my brain while I am wondering about all this?
According to the ancient Vedic scriptures, I am none of these things. I am an eternal soul – a jiva – stuck within a city of nine gates (two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, the mouth, rectum and genital).
"When the upper point of a hair is divided into one hundred parts and again each of such parts is further divided into one hundred parts, each such part is the measurement of the dimension of the spirit soul." This amazing statement from the Shvetashvatara Upanishad explains why scientists have not been able to see the soul through their microscopes. Atomic in size, the soul nonetheless is so powerful that it animates the entire body with consciousness. It is situated within the heart, and when it leaves the body, the red corpuscles that carry the oxygen from the lungs can no longer gather energy from the soul. As a result, the activity of the blood, generating fusion, ceases; the heart stops beating; and the entire body disintegrates.
What happens to the soul then?
"For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time," the Bhagavad-gita explains. "He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain" (Bg. 2.20). "As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from childhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change" (Bg. 2.13). "As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones" (Bg. 2.22).
The atomic soul (jiva) is part and parcel of the supreme whole, equal to God in quality. Both are eternal, full of bliss and knowledge, but they are not quantitatively equal. Whether embodied or in its pure spiritual state, the jiva remains atomic in size, just as the sunshine molecules remain atomic particles of sunshine. The sunshine is simultaneously one with and different from the sun globe: it is one in quality in terms of heat and light, but not in quantity. Similarly, the jiva always remains a part of the supreme whole.
Throughout the Vedas, the supreme whole is known as Krishna. Being the supreme energetic source of everything, Krishna has innumerable energies, which are categorized in three main divisions: internal, external, and marginal. The internal or superior energy manifests the spiritual variegatedness of the kingdom of God; the external or inferior energy manifests the cosmic creation; and the marginal energy comprises the countless particles of consciousness known as jivas.
Just as the limbs of the body are meant to serve the whole body, the jivas are meant to serve the Supreme Being. But their infinitesimal size makes them prone to become influenced by the Lord's external energy. Under such influence, some jivas choose to misidentify themselves as independent enjoyers. In other words, they become God's competitors. Although it is an impossible dream, Krishna, "who has been fulfilling everyone's desire since time immemorial" (Sri Isopanisad, 8), fulfills their desire by creating this world of matter. This material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world. Here the rebellious jivas are free to enact fantasies in one of 8,400,000 types of bodies created by the external, illusory energy.
When the jivas enter the material energy, they are subjected to past, present and future. Under time's influence, and overpowered by fear, they suffer greatly. The only remedy is to resume service to the Lord. The jivas, however, cannot reach this conclusion by their own efforts, because they have forgotten their real identity as spirit souls. They consider themselves products of the material energy.
As the supreme father of all jivas, Krishna is most kind and compassionate. Therefore He personally comes to speak Bhagavad-gita, and He sends His confidential servants to act as spiritual masters. As the Supersoul within everyone's heart, He gives us a conscience, with which we can accept the Vedas and a spiritual master.
Through the study of Bhagavad-gita, the jiva comes to understand his true position as Krishna's servant. Then, under the direction of the expert spiritual master, he engages his senses, mind and intelligence in the service of Krishna. Such practice gradually raises us to the platform of transcendental loving service unto the Lord and culminates in the attainment of a blissful, intimate relationship with Krishna -- the perfection of life.