The body and/or mind, hence body/mind, is what we usually identify with as “me.” We really think we are this separate character in the world with its joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, sufferings and pleasures, etc. This is the fundamental mis-identification – through which we keep ourselves trapped within the illusions of the mind.
What is the body? Many Indian teachers have called the body just an accumulation of food. In a way, we are a whirlpool. We have a fairly consistent pattern (that does grow and change with age), but there is a river of food flowing through that keeps it going. Cells are constantly splitting and dying. All the cells of the body are replaced every seven years or so. So like a whirlpool, what makes up the form (cells, instead of water) is not the same as time goes by.
The body you have now is not the same body you had when you were five. I could show you a picture of you when you were five and you might say, “yes, this is me.” However, what you see is not your current body. You are much taller, more mature, the hair color has changed, the teeth has changed (baby teeth to adult teeth), etc. Not to mention all the cells of the body have been replaced many times over.
The body is not some constant form, but a fairly lasting pattern as long as the food continues to flow. If the river dried up, the whirlpool would be no more. Likewise, if the flow of food stopped, the body would be no more.
The body is something we possess and fundamentally not who/what we are. We could lose a tooth or when we get our hair cut we do not lament the loss of a piece of our self. Arms and legs are just a matter of degree. If an accident were to occur and you lost an arm or a leg, you would not cease to be you. Don’t just accept what is being said as something obvious. We need to delve into this and see the truth of it. Without a doubt, do you know you are not your arms or legs?
Look at our own speech, we say this is my arm, my leg, etc. They are possessions. We don’t point to an arm or leg and say, “this is me.” Also, many parts are possessed – but can be given away. But we don’t believe the losing the donated parts makes us less “me” or no longer “I”.
Also, being the recipient of donors does not mean you have parts of other people in you. For example, if you got a blood transfusion…do you still feel like you or do you feel like there is some foreign entity now mixed in with you? Of course not. The blood is not you any more than your arms or legs.
Likewise, if you had a bad heart, and went in for heart transplant surgery…you would come out of it still being you…right? In more ancient times, it was said the soul resided in the heart. So for them, a heart transplant would mean putting someone else into another’s body. They would be horrified by the idea of a heart transplant. We now know that we remain ourselves after heart transplants. There isn’t a different person inside the body that moved with the heart.
What about the brain? The brain is where many think they reside. This is primarily because the major sense organs are located on the head…and we think we are in the middle somewhere…behind all the senses. But thinking we are in the brain somewhere is just as mistaken as thinking the soul resides in the heart.
Again, pieces of the brain can be removed or destroyed…and yet we still feel we are ourselves. Unless enough key portions are destroyed…but if you destroy enough key portions of a remote control receiver, and the control will cease controlling that device. Like a remote controlled plane or car, destroy enough of the receiver on the plane or car and it will cease to function. It does nothing to the transmitter. Automobiles are very computer operated these days and have an electronic “brain”…but you destroy enough of it and the car won’t work right or not work at all. This does not affect the driver one bit. Perhaps a different way to look at it, but of course there is no proof.
But let us go back to the brain. Many parts have been damaged or removed without the person feeling like he or she ceased exist. For example, a case was reported of a woman who is missing her cerebellum, a distinct structure found at the back of the brain. A large structural part that is by some estimates half the brain cells of a typical brain. This isn’t just brain damage – the whole structure is absent. Yet this woman lives a normal life; she graduated from school, got married and had a kid following an uneventful pregnancy and birth. A pretty standard biography for a typical woman. So we could conclude we are not the cerebellum.
There are a surprising number of known cases of people missing half of their cerebral cortex—the outermost chunk of brain tissue. A currently living and healthy German girl is one. She was born without the right hemisphere of her cortex, though this wasn’t discovered until she was 3 years old. According to her doctors, who published a full case study, “despite lacking one hemisphere, the girl has normal psychological function and is perfectly capable of living a normal and fulfilling life. She is witty, charming, and intelligent.” Different cases were missing different sides. So you could conclude we are not our cerebral cortex.
I have read accounts of people missing the whole right or whole left sides of their brains. Over recorded medical science, just about every part of the brain could be damaged or removed and still you would function and feel you are an “me” and “I”. If the the right key portions are destroyed, there is loss of consciousness or they become a vegetable…but again this could be akin to destroying the right key portions of a receiver and electronic brain in a telepresence robot. If the right key portions are destroyed, the robot ceases to function. The “driver” is unharmed and still exists.
Hopefully, these stories and ideas will get you to question the idea that you are in there somewhere in the brain. “You” being in the brain is not proven fact, but a widely and deeply held belief. Also, I gave you another way to look at it entirely…that the brain is a receiver for the controller who is not located somewhere inside the head at all.
To conclude part one, I want to point out that saying “you are not the body” is a pointer to the mis-identification with the body. To end mis-identification with the body, you must cease identifying with the body. In nonduality, you are the Self…which includes the body. But in order to realize the Self, it is best to not identify with anything. You throw it all away (so to speak) with neti neti (not this, not this).