Vedanta, one of the world's most ancient philosophies, says there are only five reasons why humans suffer: not knowing who we are, identifying with our ego or self-image, clinging to the transient and unreal, recoiling in fear of the transient and unreal, and fear of death. Vedanta also says that the five causes of suffering are all contained in the first cause - not knowing who we are.
If someone were to ask, "Who are you?" your response would probably be "My name is so-and-so. I'm American, or I'm the president of this company." You may also identify with your body, "This bag of flesh and bones is who I am." But sensory experience is totally illusory. You may think you are the body that your senses can locate in space and time, but the body is a field of invisible vibrations that has no boundaries in space and time.
How long can we cling to a world of illusion? Is there such a thing as the color red? Every color we see is a particular wavelength of light, and the light we can actually detect is a fraction of what exists. An insight that comes to us from both Vedic science and the Jewish Kabbalah is that the center of our awareness is the center of all space and time. It is at once everywhere and nowhere. But my eyes tell me this is not the case. I am here, you are there, wherever you are.
So maybe we should not trust our senses that much. My eyes tell me that the ground I am standing on is stationary, but we know that the earth is spinning on its axis and hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour. Sensory experience tells me that the objects of my perception are solid, but we know they are made up of particles that whirl around huge empty spaces.
The experience of a material world is a superstition that we've developed because we've learned to trust our senses. The universe is actually a chaos of energy soup, and we ingest this soup through our five senses, and then convert it into a material reality in our consciousness. Our senses transform massless energy into form and solidity, texture and color, fragrance and taste, sound and vibration. And our interpretation of that energy soup structures our reality and creates our perceptual experience.
Most of the time we do this unconsciously as a result of social conditioning. This superstition of materialism relies on sensory experience - what we can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch - as the crucial test of reality. If information is not available to our senses, we tend to think it isn't there. And the intellect, with its linguistically structured system of logic, serves to justify this mistaken perception of reality.
The essential you, your real essence, is a field of awareness that becomes both mind and body. The real you, infinite consciousness, is inseparable from the patterns of intelligence that permeate every fiber of creation. And yet the intellect divides infinite consciousness into a world of objects separated by space, time, and causation. As a result, we lose touch with the true nature of our reality, which is powerful, boundless, immortal, and free.
We are all prisoners of the intellect. The intellect mistakes the image of reality for reality itself. It squeezes the soul into the volume of a body, in the span of a lifetime, and the spell of mortality is cast. The image of the self overshadows the unbounded Self, and we feel cut off or disconnected from infinite consciousness, our source. This is the beginning of fear, the onset of suffering, and all the problems of humanity.
To one who is trapped in the prison of the intellect, all is indeed suffering. Ignorance of our real nature causes the inner self to be obscured. But when ignorance is destroyed, the powerful, unbounded nature of the inner self is revealed. Once you fully grasp this understanding, not only will you have the power to accomplish all that you want, but you will also have true freedom and grace. This means you will never experience fear, not even the fear of death.
** Excerpted from Power Freedom, & Grace: Living from the Source of Lasting Happiness [Published by Permission of Amber-Allen Publishing, Inc., San Rafael, California © 2006 by Deepak Chopra Publication Date: August 2006]