Most people identify themselves as being their physical body, but is that who you really are? Scientific research concludes that there is a complete change of the cells making up our bodies every five years. Discover how this evidence proves that you are not your body and launch your quest to find your true self.
Mistaken Identity: You Are Not Your Body
Jagad Guru: Who are you? What is a person? Like most people, you’ve probably filled out all kinds of forms answering questions about who you are. Institutions like hospitals or schools and just about everybody is always asking who you are, okay? And they always give you all these forms and you have this form that says, “What is your age? How old are you?” “What color are you?” and “What is…” you know, whatever other identities you’ve got, they want to know about them. They want to know who you are. So you write down, “I’m 30 years old. I’m black. I’m a librarian. I’m female,” All these different labels based upon, your body, okay? Your body is 28 years old, so you say, “I’m 28 years old.” Your body’s black so you say, “I am black.” Or your body’s white, so you say, “I’m white,” You have all these different labels on your body, so when people ask you who you are, you answer according to these labels, right? Isn’t that what people…
“How old are you?”
“Why are you 28?”
“Because my body is 28 and I’m my body.”
In other words, most people identify themselves with their material body. They identify themselves with their physical body. The problem with this is that: are you sure that you are really your body?
What if I ask you, “How old are you?” and you identify with your shirt, and maybe your shirt’s two years old, so you go, “Oh, I’m two years old.” Okay? I mean, obviously answering questions about yourself will be dependent upon what you identify yourself as, okay?
So most people identify themselves as their physical body. And then, in connection with that all the labels, all the different titles and so on, that their physical body has got, that’s what they consider themselves to be. But are you your body? Am I the body? Are we our bodies? This is really the beginning, the very beginning of the question, “Who am I?” This is the very beginning of answering this question, “What is our essence? What am I? Who am I?”
Now, let me ask you three questions. First, do you know that you exist now, today? Do you know that you exist? Yes, do you know you exist? Good. (laughter) If you didn’t know you exist then you’re in big trouble. Now, do you know that you existed seven years ago?
Woman In Audience: Yes.
Jagad Guru: Huh? Alright. Now, let me ask then a third question that is, “Are you your body?” Yes. (laughter) Okay. Most people identify themselves as their body. So you identify yourself as your body. You know that you exist today and you know that you existed seven years ago, okay? Now the problem with this, the problem here is that the body that you have today is not the body you had seven years ago. The body which you had seven years ago no longer exists. But you still exist.
If you think, “I am this flesh and blood. I am this body. I am this matter,” And you thought the same thing about yourself seven years ago, in other words, you thought you were your body seven years ago, just like you think you are your body now, you thought you were your body seven years ago. But the body is gone, the body you had is gone. The body you have today is not the same body.
The body is made up of countless numbers of material particles, molecules which are made of atoms. So every cell in your body is made of all these different particles of matter. Now, the cells which make up your body, most of the cells which make up your body, are always changing also. Okay? They’re always changing. They don’t last very long except brain cells, nerve cells. They last the lifetime of an organism. But the molecules which make up your body, the molecules which make up all the cells, the molecules which make up the brain cells and nerve cells, the bone cells, the particles of matter which constitutes the body, that stuff of which your body is comprised, composed of, changes constantly. It’s constantly being replaced with new matter from the environment. Here, why don’t you read this quote here.
Woman In Audience: Dr. Paul C Aebersold of The Oak Ridge Atomic Research Center has reported that his radio isotope tracings of the numerous chemicals continuously entering and leaving the body, have convinced him that about ninety eight percent of all the ten to the twenty eighth power atoms in the average human are replaced annually. ‘Bones are quite dynamic,’ he declared, their crystals continually dissolving and reforming. The stomach’s lining replaces itself every five days. Skin wear and tear is completely retreaded in about a month. And you get a new liver every six weeks. As for how long it takes to replace every last neuron, the toughest sinew of collagen, and the most stubborn atom of iron in the hemoglobin, all of which are notoriously reluctant to yield their places to substitutes – it may well take years. But there ought to be some limit to the stalling of the final few hold outs. And my late friend, Donald Hatch Andrews, professor of chemistry at Johns Hopkins University, who seems to have given the matter long consideration, put it at about five years, after which one can presumably consider one’s physical body completely new, down to the very last atom.
Jagad Guru: It’s classic. So, you know, for people who identify themselves with their bodies, this is really, you know, really rough.
Most people think of themselves as their body and they think of their body as something which isn’t changing because the change is so hard to detect, you know. It’s so hard to see it. So it’s not that obvious. But here, it’s describing that the bones… and the bones that you had, it’s not the same arm.
Somebody once said to me, this guy he said, “What about scars? I have a scar. I remember I had a scar when I was a little kid and the scar is still there. It’s still the same.” What? You can say the same thing about your nose. You can say, “My nose is still the same.” It’s not. Scar tissues also live. It’s not the same molecules which make up that scar. Even that… the particles of matter which make up everything in your body, every single particle of matter. Unless of course you were shot or something and there’s a bullet somewhere in there. But still that doesn’t really solve any problems because… unless you try to identify yourself as the constant bullet. (laughter) You know, “I’m the bullet that’s in my body or something, okay?”
Who are you? If your body is always changing, who are you? Some people say, “Well I’m the brain.” The brain… and some people say, “Well, all the cells in the body change, but the brain cells don’t. Therefore, we’re the brain.” Or they try to identify themselves as some part of the brain like maybe, you know, some little particle in the brain, some center in the brain, somewhere in the brain, some part of the brain. But, in fact, although the cells are not reproducing, there’s no replication, there’s no change of cells, in fact, all the matter which makes up the cell, every single molecule has changed.
In fact, the change in brain matter is more rapid than anywhere else in the body. The brain that you have today, that hunk of meat, flesh, blood, that matter that you have in your skull that you’re holding there, if you were to take it out and hold it there, changes every three days. You wouldn’t be able to find one molecule, one particle of matter that was present in your skull, a week ago, you wouldn’t be able find it in there today. This is… here, why don’t you read this quote? You’re very good at reading. “Recent studies.”
Woman In Audience: Recent studies on the turnover of the molecular population within a given nerve cell have indicated that, although the cells themselves retain their individuality, their macro molecular contingent is renewed about ten thousand times in a lifetime. (In other words, the matter making up each cell is completely renewed every three days).
Jagad Guru: Every three days. Every three days you get a new brain. This is… there’s a lot of things that are, you know, there’s a lot of questions that that brings up, like how do you remember anything? I mean, your memories are supposed to be stored in some mythical memory bank or some tracings, some traces on the brain. We’ll get into memory later on in this series but I just wanted to mention that now as we go along.
But the people who identify themselves as their brain, and a lot of people do, they have to understand that they are still themselves. I am me, but my brain is different. I am me, but I have a new brain.
So this is the problem here, okay. It’s like there’s a constant change in your body. The matter which makes up your body is constantly, continually changing. So the question is, if this matter which makes up the body is continually changing, then what am I? If I’m not the matter, then where am I? If I’m not any part of my body and I’m not the matter which makes up my body and I mean, I can’t be; after all I’m still here, my body’s gone. Then what am I?
So if a person answers to the question, “Who are you?” and they say, “I am my body.” And you ask them, “Did you exist seven years ago?” and they say, “Yes.” And you ask them, “Do you exist now?” and they say, “Yes.” In fact they are simply speaking out of ignorance. You cannot claim to be your body and yet claim that you existed seven years ago and claim that you exist today. Because the body that you had seven years ago just does not exist today. Okay?
Now, most people understand this change. They understand it from a different angle like maybe they’ll flash on it when they look in the mirror or maybe when they see a photograph of themselves taken twenty years ago or forty years ago, or like if they have a family album, you know, and they sit down and look at the family album, “Oh, there’s a picture of,” you know, “there’s a picture of me when I was two.” And, “Oh, there’s a picture of me when I was twenty. Here’s a picture of me when I was thirty and there’s a picture of me when I’m forty. Gee, it sure is different. It’s so different.” They see the difference.
I mean, they see the baby body and the boy body and the childhood body and like this. They see these differences when they look at the photographs. Sometimes a young girl, maybe she’s got a boyfriend and he’s coming over, and you know how mothers sometimes are. She’ll pull out the family album and she’ll say, “Johnny have you ever seen this picture of Linda?” (laughter) You know, and she’s sitting there in her diapers, (laughter) two years old, you know, or one. Whatever it is, how long they wear diapers, I don’t know. And the daughter, Linda goes, “Don’t show him that mom!” She gets all embarrassed, okay. It doesn’t look anything like her, you know. She’s this raving beauty and there she’s sitting there drooling, you know. (laughter)
So we flash on it that we’re not, the body’s not the same, especially if somebody’s got a really old body. Maybe they got a body that’s seventy years old and they look back on all their different bodies that they’ve had. Now, they’re bitter sixty and they used to be sweet sixteen. They’re sitting there looking at the picture when they won the beauty contest, you know. Maybe they’re showing it to some old man in the old age home. “Here I was when I was seventeen. I won the contest.” You know, she’s got no teeth and a whole completely different body. She remembers, she was there. She remembers all about it. She’s telling him all about it. “Oh, this happened and this happened. I remember I didn’t think I was going to win and I was so excited when I won.” She was there and she’s there now. She’s living now. She lived then, she existed then and she exists now but the body she had then is long gone. Where is it? Where is your sweet sixteen body? It’s gone to the dust. It’s been eaten by the worms everywhere. Who knows where your body is? If that was you, where are you? You’re all over the place.
This is one way to appreciate that actually the gross physical body cannot be considered the self. It cannot be considered the self because it doesn’t remain the same. It’s not constant. But you are a constant. You know that although you have a different body, that you still exist, that you are still you. You’re still you. You’re not someone else, you’re you. Your mind has changed, your body has changed, okay? But you’re still you. You understand this?
Some people they like to say that the brain or a certain part of the brain, is the self. We just mentioned this. Something that’s recently come up, we’ll go into it more in depth in another show but I just want to mention it now, and that is that they’ve recently discovered, scientists have recently discovered that certain people don’t have brains.
Quite a few people don’t have any brains. Their cranium is actually filled with spinal fluid and these people have very good grades in school and straight A students in college, some of them. Now these people know that they exist. They don’t even have a brain, but they exist.
So for those, for those of you who might still be in the illusion that the brain or some part of the brain is the self, that you are your brain or some part of your brain, the fact that there are people who exist and who know that they exist and don’t have a brain, this should be enough to convince you that the brain is not the self.
If, in other words, our example of the brain matter changing all the time does not convince you that you’re not your brain or any part of the brain, then at least, this fact that there are selves, there are persons who exist, who are aware of their existence, who have intelligence, who don’t have a brain – this should convince you that your idea is wrong.
So there are many other ways to understand or come to understand that the body is not the self. This is just one way that we’ve looked at today. And what we would like to do is go over a couple of other ways in future programs that I’ll just briefly mention now.
One is, the fact that different parts of your body can be changed but you’re not gone. This is one thing we’ll be looking into.
Another thing, what we’d like to do is we’d like to look into the question of perception. And this we’ll do on future programs but for now, let’s just recap this so that it is very clear, very simple to understand.
The gross physical body that you have today, is not the body that you had seven years ago. It is not the same particles of matter. There is no particle of matter there that was there seven years ago, including in the brain. Now the only logical conclusion that a person can come to from this is that they are not their material body. Because if they were their material body, then they would no longer exist because the body that they had seven years ago no longer exists.
Some people say this – they say that a new self is actually created every seven years or some people say every night after sleep. Some people say that the self ceases existing when the body goes to sleep. We’ll look into that idea a little later. Humes said that also.
But, for now, let us understand at least this – that the body you have is not the same body you had, but you are still you. You still exist. So your existence then is not able to be identified with your gross physical body. So those of you who go and answer questions on identity when you go to hospital or whatever and you start answering your forms, “Who are you?” hopefully this will confuse you a little, hopefully it will make it a little harder for you. (laughter)
Maybe you’ll even try and say things where it says, “Age,” you can put down… it’s up to you. You can either put down ‘seven’ because nobody’s ever really over seven years old in that sense; no body, no body okay, is really ever over seven years old. (laughter) You can say “Maybe I’m five. Between five and seven. I’m not really sure. I haven’t figured out every molecule yet. I think five and seven, between five and seven years old,”
So anyway, the body, you can either say it from that angle or you can say, “I don’t know who I am. I know my body is seven years old, okay, but I don’t know who I am.” Of course, you probably won’t get whatever job you’re looking for and they probably won’t accept you in the university you’re applying for, but you know. (laughter)
So why don’t we leave it here for now. We’ll look further into the question of identity, further into the question of ‘Who am I’ next week and until then you’ll just have to wonder some more because we’re not going to be able to really answer the question completely today. Thank you very much.
Learn more: Yoga View Of The Self