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.

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.