When we ask the question, “Who am I,” we begin our quest for spiritual knowledge. This is the first step. The inscription on the temple of Apollo at Delphi says Knothi Seuton, or “Know Thyself”. It is said that once Socrates was pondering over philosophic truths and walking absent-minded on the street, when he bumped into someone. Annoyed, the man asked, “Can you not see where you are walking? Who are you?”
Socrates replied nonchalantly, “My dear friend, I have been pondering over that question for the last forty years, and have still not found the answer. If you have any tips to offer, do let me know.”
The Bhagavad Gita says in this regard:
“To understand the difference between the body and the knower of the body is wisdom.”
The body is not you; it is like a house in which you reside, or like clothes that you wear. You are the eternal soul seated within it. The body is made from matter, and hence it is perishable, but you, the soul, are Divine, and hence immortal. Neither is the soul within us, nor are we in the soul. We are the soul that is seated within the body.
The Vedic scriptures state that the atma, or soul, resides in the heart. The Upanishadic sutras state that the soul resides in the region of the heart. However, it is not physically bound to the heart. Often people ask that if the soul resides in the heart, what happens in the case of a heart transplant. Does the soul get extracted from the body along with the heart? No, if a heart transplant takes place, the soul continues to reside in the same location, despite the change of heart.
“Consciousness” is the symptom of life that is manifested by the soul. It is not the soul itself; rather, it is a quality of the soul. This is just like heat and light, which are manifestations of the fire, but are not the fire themselves. Everything that exists is verily the energy of God. However, it is not all consciousness. Matter is “insentient” or devoid of consciousness, while the soul is “sentient” or possessing consciousness. This is an important distinction between the soul and matter.
Apart from having consciousness itself, the soul also has the ability to impart consciousness to matter, when it associates with it. Hence, the insentient matter of the body is made sentient by the presence of the soul. As long as the soul resides in the body, the senses, organs and limbs, all display signs of life. Upon death, when the soul departs, the body is dead matter once again.