Here’s an illustration of a disconnect between our impressions of the world and the “reality”. It’s called “rubber hand” illusion and it was discovered sometime in the last century. A person is sat down at the table and his left hand is placed a bit away behind a screen while right under his nose is placed a rubber hand that looks more or less as real.
What happens next is that the magician starts stimulating both hands simultaneously with a brush, finger by finger, until the person establishes a firm connection between the sight of a brush touching a rubber hand and a sensation he feels in his real hand that he can’t see at the moment.
Then the magician suddenly hits the rubber hand with a hammer and the person shrieks in horror. Well, it’s not that impressive in the video but the point nevertheless stands. What is probably more impressive is the fact that the mind practically abandons the real hand and the body slows down the blood flow so that real hand temperature drops.
Using yesterday’s Sanskrit lesson we can see proof why describing the impressions or sensations is the correct way to talk about the world rather than assume its independent and objective reality. When a person startles in false hand experiment he reacts to something that exists only in his mind and to him the fake hand feels just as real as, well, the “real” hand that his body quietly forgotten about.
Makes us think of what actually is our body and what isn’t, and whether it’s even correct to talk about our body as such. Maybe we should talk about egoistic appropriation of material elements as ours instead and we call it our body only because we accustomed to seeing the same group perform the same function over a long time.
This also illustrates expansions of our ego. First it’s our body, then we feel pain for our family, then we feel for our favorite sports team, then for the country, then for the whole humanity. By modern standards it’s actually great to feel the pain of the whole world or even of the suffering Sudanese children but from Vedic point of view it’s only an expansion of our ego. Is it any good if it grows to such huge proportions? I guess only if we eventually learn that we are not our bodies but anything our consciousness makes us to be.
There’s another side to this mind trick – what if instead of projecting ownership over material objects we learned to feel for Krishna? This sounds exactly like what Krishna consciousness is – acting for the benefit of the Lord, tuning our needs to those of the Lord, and in exchange sharing in His pleasure, too.
If we are selfish this is probably the best way to go, much better than seeking gratification in material objects. For embodied souls this is probably inevitable – first and foremost we seek happiness for ourselves, but as devotees we should probably loose this self-interest – please Krishna for our own satisfaction. And what happens if we somehow get disconnected from Him? If we don’t get the benefit of sharing in His pleasure would we lose our motivation, too? As devotees our service should never stop regardless of our personal situation.
That is a lofty goal, however, perhaps we should start with spotting examples of “rubber hand” illusion in our everyday life – when we assume ownership over things that don’t belong to us, and when we feel for things we shouldn’t be concerned about at all.
It’s no enough to see our misplaced attachments, though, our goal is to reduce those attachments to minimum and replace them with attraction to Krishna. That won’t come from observing illusions but only from chanting and following instructions of our guru.