The following is an excerpt from Secrets of the Undiscovered Self by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja
Long ago there lived a powerful sage named Aṣṭāvakra Ṛṣi. The sage was curved in eight parts of his body, and when he walked his movements were quite peculiar and awkward. He was also very ugly, and ordinary people often laughed at the sight of him. Although externally he was awkward and crooked, internally his heart was pure because he had realized his eternal transcendental identity. He knew and realized the difference between the body and the soul.
Once, Aṣṭāvakra Ṛṣi was invited by the great king Mahārāja Janaka to attend an assembly of saintly persons. As he entered the assembly, everyone present began to laugh at him. Hearing them, Aṣṭāvakra Ṛṣi also began to laugh. The members of the assembly were surprised and said to each other, “We are laughing at him, but he is laughing even more loudly than us. Why is this?”
Janaka Mahārāja rose from his throne and asked Aṣṭāvakra Ṛṣi, “Why are you laughing so loudly?”
The sage replied, “I thought I was coming to join an assembly of saints and sages, but instead I have stumbled into a convention of shoemakers. A shoemaker’s interest is in leather and skin, and I see that all of you are just looking at my skin. Your interest is in seeing if someone is beautiful or ugly, healthy or disabled, young or old. Your minds are absorbed in these temporary things. You are not seeing my soul as saintly persons would. It is simply illusion to place importance on the external, temporary body while being oblivious to the eternal soul dwelling within.”
Janaka Mahārāja’s heart was deeply penetrated by Aṣṭāvakra Ṛṣi’s words. He realized that the sage was a liberated soul, and fit to sit on the throne. He very lovingly placed him on his own throne, bowed down to him, and accepted him as his instructing spiritual master.
The body is not the self. What is this material body? It is a bag of bones, blood, urine and many other unclean substances. The mind is also part of the material body and is different from the soul. It experiences temporary mundane emotions as real, thus causing much anguish and only a little pleasure. We are individual souls, not these bodies or minds.
These bodies are mortal; all the doctors and scientists of this world cannot prevent old age. One day, twenty, thirty or fifty years from now, we will become old. Our beauty and power will disappear; we won’t be able to walk without the help of a cane, and after some time we will die. At that time we will have to give up everything we have accumulated during this lifetime. Nothing in this world will be able to save us from continued suffering – only God can save us in all respects. If we realize this and engage in His loving service, we will become happy.
As spiritual souls we are all parts and parcels of the same God, the Supreme Lord. Souls in all species of life, from the lowest, such as plants and animals, to the highest, such as humans and demigods, are His parts and parcels. The ancient scriptures of India, the Vedas, say, “God is one. Everything in this world is merely an expansion of His power, or energy.” Atheists, who don’t believe in God, believe in the world of nature. They believe that everything comes from nature and returns to nature. The world of nature in which they have placed their faith, however, is simply a part of the energy of that Supreme Lord.
We are like the Supreme in that we have been created in His image, but unfortunately we have turned away from Him and have forgotten who we are. We think that these material bodies are our real selves. We spend our days collecting money and securing positions, thinking that these things will make us happy – but this conception is totally wrong.
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