Who am I ?

Who am I? Am I this body? My thoughts, my intelligence, my feelings? Am I this material body that consists of earth, water, fire, air and ether? Am I possibly a machine that has developed consciousness for some reason? Or am I perhaps something completely different, incomprehensible?

5 Elements Who am I?

The Bhagavad-gita explains that the true self of every living entity is the eternal spiritual soul. Spiritual is the opposite of material and refers to everything that is eternal and not subject to material transience.”

“Every living being is an eternal spiritual soul that is never born and never dies,” but which takes on a physical shell when it incarnates into the material world.”
(Bhagavad-gita 2.20)

The Vedas divide the human being into three categories. Firstly, there is the gross material part, the body, which is a machine constructed by Mother Nature. It is described as the first cover of the true self, the soul. In computer terminology, the body would be called “hardware”. Then there is the subtle part – the mind, the intelligence and the false ego (the false idea that you are the material body and the controller). We experience this subtle body, the second cover of the soul, in dreams, where we – detached from the gross material body – experience and act. The subtle body could be compared to the “software” of a computer. Neither the gross material body nor the subtle body are really alive, although they appear alive due to the presence of the soul, which electrifies them with its consciousness.

न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचिन्नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः ।
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे ॥२०॥

na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin / nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ‘yaṁ purāṇo / na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been,
does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing,
undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.”
(BG 2.20)

The real true self, however, is the immortal, spiritual soul. The rest – body, mind, intellect, false ego – are merely transient coverings. Of course, there is no comparison with the computer world for the soul, as computers are not alive. This soul is a tiny particle of the so-called marginal energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Its relationship to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is like the relationship of a part to the whole. The soul is like a leaf on a tree which, although it belongs to the tree, is not the tree itself.

The relationship of the soul to the Supreme Personality of Godhead and our true, eternal identity are individually different and cannot be recognised or conveyed in an artificial way. Nevertheless, there are also collective characteristics that are common to all souls in relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The most basic commonality is that the individual soul is always subordinate to the Lord. Under no circumstances is the soul superior to the Lord or equal in every respect. The soul is like a drop of water from the ocean, the Supreme Lord. It is identical in quality to the Supreme Lord, but does not have the same quantity. Some things, such as whales, can only be found in the ocean, but not in a drop of water from it.

All living beings are parts of God

Goloka Padma2The Vedas describe God as the origin of everything – all universes and all living beings. Everything is related to God. All living beings – humans, animals and plants – are souls, i.e. parts of God. Just as the origin (God) is eternal, spiritual souls are also eternal. In the cycle of birth and death (reincarnation), the immortal soul wanders from one body to another according to its actions (karma) until it reaches the highest goal through purification. This goal is love for God and the return to the eternal spiritual kingdom of God. Recognising this original relationship with God and acting accordingly is called Krishna consciousness in the Vedas.

When we are conscious of our relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, this consciousness is called God consciousness or Krishna consciousness. Krishna consciousness is the original, pure consciousness of the soul. It is not something artificial.

When the soul leaves the body, it becomes what it actually is – a collection of matter without consciousness. The Vedas explain that our body is not our highest priority. It is transient and is compared to a dress that is given up and exchanged for a new one as soon as it has become useless. The soul is in the body like a captain in his ship.

Material nature has lent us the material body for a time. Since we cannot keep this body, we should mainly take care of our spiritual self – the soul. Our endeavour should primarily be directed towards what happens to ourselves and not what happens to our body. For the path of the material body has already been immutably determined by its owner (nature): Dust it was and to dust it will return.

In the Bhagavad-gita (15.7), Lord Krishna describes the living entities as His eternal fragmentary parts:

ममैवांशो जीवलोके जीवभूतः सनातनः ।
मनःषष्ठानीन्द्रियाणि प्रकृतिस्थानि कर्षति ॥७॥

mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke / jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ
manaḥ ṣaṣṭhānīndriyāṇi / prakṛti-sthāni karṣati

“The living entities in the material world are My eternal fragmental parts. Because they lead a conditioned life, they struggle very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (BG 15.7)

Where do I come from and where am I going?

The Vedic scriptures explain that we are eternal spiritual souls, parts and particles of the Supreme Soul. Our origin is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. However, as children of God, we get entangled in the material world because we misuse our freedom. We want to be God-like ourselves. We want to put our opinion and judgement above that of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We are envious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and try to exploit the Lord for our own purposes. We want to enjoy the fruits of our actions (karma), ourselves. In short, we,  ourselves want to be the Supreme Lord. This is the reason for our fall into the material world, which is similar to a dungeon, or better understood as an educational institution, to make evildoers socially acceptable.

The principle of the spiritual world is to serve. Voluntary, loving, devoted service. The principle of the material world is to rule. As soon as the desire to rule arises, this means falling into the material world. To want to be the ruler means to generate karma and karma is the bondage of the material world.

The engine of the spiritual world is infinitely increasing love. This love arises from the relationship between the spiritual souls and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who try to surpass each other in their service and devotion to each other. This love turns into lust and then into anger, envy, greed and confusion under the desire to be a ruler and thus to demand devotion and love for oneself. Lust is the driving force of the material world, burning like hellfire, and it is the greatest enemy and oppressor of living beings.

Krishna offers us to come to his spiritual realm, Vaikuntha, where there is no suffering and no fear. Vaikuntha is not a realm of this world and is completely independent of it. For example, it is possible to reside in Vaikuntha while still possessing a material body. One who returns to the realm of the Supreme Lord never falls back into the material world. This is confirmed to us by Krishna Himself. The realm of Krishna is in many ways beyond our limited comprehension, yet it is revealed to us through the plays of Krishna in His appearances in Vrindavan, Mathura and Dvaraka. Of all the Vedic scriptures, the Srimad Bhagavatam deals most extensively and intensively with the realm of Krishna, the highest level of which is called Vrindavan.

न तद्भासयते सूर्यो न शशाङ्को न पावकः ।
यद्गत्वा न निवर्त्तन्ते तद्धाम परमं मम ॥६॥

na tad bhāsayate sūryo / na śaśāṅko na pāvakaḥ
yad gatvā na nivartante / tad dhāma paramaṁ mama

“This realm of Mine is illuminated neither by the sun nor by the moon, nor by electricity. One who attains it never returns to the material world.” (BG 15.6)


As eternal souls, we have already lived before the birth of our present body and will continue to live after the death of the body. Death means that the soul leaves the body and enters a new body. The reincarnation of the soul can also be proven experimentally: Psychology today is familiar with the method of reincarnation therapy, in which people are taken back to previous lives via hypnosis and describe amazing, verifiable details that they could not possibly know in the present life. Sometimes they even speak a language that they would not otherwise speak. This refutes the objection that such statements are due to imagination or external influence.

Karma – the law of action and reaction

Unlike animals, humans have free will and are therefore responsible for everything they do. “As you sow, so shall you reap.” Our wishes and actions determine our future in this life and the next. Nothing is by chance.

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि ।
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही ॥२२॥

vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya / navāni gṛhṇāti naro ‘parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny / anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī

“As a man puts on new clothes and discards the old, so the soul takes on new material bodies and gives up the old and useless ones.” (BG 2.22)

Changing Bodies


Overcoming karma

The spiritual soul wanders in the cycle of birth and death from material body to body until it is redeemed from this existence through a process of purification. The knowledge of how to be redeemed from the material world and the strength to follow this path is given to man through the grace of God. He appears in the world either personally or in the form of His incarnations, spiritual masters, sons and prophets to open the door to the spiritual world, the kingdom of God.

Liberation from the material world

When a ship has become unusable, the captain packs his seven things and looks around for a new ship. If his merit as a captain was great, he may receive a beautiful clipper or a luxury cruiser. However, if he has not proven himself as a captain, he will probably have to make do with a small ship or even just a rubber boat. Of course, the captain’s wishes also play a role. Some want to command a majestic sailing ship, others a powerful warship and still others perhaps a submarine. The captain’s wishes and merits determine the type of his new ship.

Something similar happens to the soul. After death, the spiritual soul receives a new material body and the nature of this body depends on the actions and desires of the soul in its old previous body. This is called reincarnation or rebirth or simply living on after death.

Lord Krishna describes the process of transmigration as follows:

शरीरं यदवाप्नोति यच्चाप्युत्क्रामतीश्वरः ।
गृहीत्वैतानि संयाति वायुर्गन्धानिवाशयात् ॥८॥

śarīraṁ yad avāpnoti / yac cāpy utkrāmatīśvaraḥ
gṛhītvaitāni saṁyāti / vāyur gandhān ivāśayāt

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another, just as the wind carries fragrances.” (BG 15.8)

As long as the soul is bound to a perishable, material body, i.e. as long as it is in the material world, it suffers from birth, old age, illness and death.

Garuda Vishnu

To escape from the material world, we need to turn to someone who is not of this world and can save us from it. Just as a drowning person needs the help of a lifeguard to be saved. This lifeguard is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is possible for the Lord to free us from our karma (the sinful actions that bind us in the material world).

He can reach out to us and free us from the ocean of births and deaths. But for this it is necessary to surrender to the Supreme Lord and allow ourselves to be saved. The great saints and scholars of the Vedas recommend that one should not endeavour for liberation separately. It is better to work on surrendering to Krishna right away, because that includes liberation from the bondage of the material world. Those who are able to surrender to Krishna automatically attain freedom and salvation, because Krishna is freedom personified.

In our society, the values of freedom are strongly emphasised. People attach importance to having their own will. Buzzwords such as self-realisation, career, self-determination etc. are everywhere. In New York there is a huge statue dedicated to freedom and the whole of America celebrates Independence Day. Freedom is a great achievement for us. Nevertheless, there is something that stands above freedom. And that is voluntary devotion or love. We practise this every day, in all possible forms and shades, because we can’t do much on our own, despite all our freedom. Hardly any child would reach adulthood completely on their own if their parents did not support them or if they did not give themselves to their parents. It is quite natural for us to give ourselves to others. This also applies to our relationship with Krishna, who is the father of us all.

If we do not surrender to Krishna and run after a false dream of freedom, then we are like little children who have run away from home and have to lead a hellish street life. A street child may believe in his freedom, but in reality he has lost the greater freedom, the care of the parents. A child under the protection of parents is largely relieved of his worries about food, clothing, health, protection, education and security; but a parentless child has to fight a rather hopeless battle all the time just for these basic requirements or freedoms. Of course, ordinary parents can offer only a little material freedom compared to Krishna. The spiritual freedom offered by Krishna is unlimited and that is why wise persons surrender to Krishna. Krishna means freedom. A person completely surrendered to Krishna no longer acts himself, but only according to the will of Krishna, who is not subject to the law of karma. Complete devotion to Krishna is therefore true non-action and real liberation from the multiple sufferings of material existence.