See the differences in the subtle functionally more than structurally

On the spiritual path, an intellectual temptation is obsession with technicalities.

For example, on learning that the material energy comprises eight elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and ego (Bhagavad-gita 07.04) –we may ask, “Where exactly are mind, intelligence and ego located? How exactly are they differentiated?”

As these elements are subtle, the physical location and structural differentiation that characterize gross matter doesn’t always apply to them. More importantly, their technical analysis is not the Gita’s purpose – that is the domain of the ancient Indian school of philosophy known as Sankhya. The Gita mentions these elements primarily to stress that they belong to Krishna. He is the Gita’s purpose and is attained by bhakti-yoga, not Sankhya analysis. And for practicing bhakti-yoga, a functional understanding of these elements is enough – a structural or technical understanding is unnecessary and even irrelevant.

To illustrate how we often approach things functionally, consider a computer system. Gross matter is like the hardware; subtle matter like the software; and the soul like the user. While using a computer, we don’t bother about the exact physical locations of different types of software such as the operating system, apps native to that device and third-party apps. We work based on their location in particular drives as seen on our monitor, though that location doesn’t necessarily correlate precisely with physical locations in the memory chips. Additionally, we don’t bother about how the softwares are differentiated structurally – they all are patterns of ones and zeroes. We focus on how they function.

Similarly, while studying the Gita, we can approach the mind, intelligence and ego functionally. We can understand how they function and how to use them for serving Krishna.

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