Edited by Marco Ferrini
Human beings are much more than the physical body in which they live and travel. Only some psychophysical components fall under our sensorial observation and make up our sole empirical experience. Vedanta, Yoga and other works of Indovedic tradition describe the spiritual essence of the being (atman) and its two macrostructures: mental and physical, which together represent the instruments for the atman to operate in the world.
At least on the anthropological level, the incarnate being is composite, because biologically it is a body object of empirical experience, a psychic structure which moves the body primarily through the nervous system, and a spiritual, eternal and immutable essence which, during incarnation, uses the psychophysical instrument to interact with sensory reality. This knowledge has been handed on by all great traditions.
In Bhagavad-gita for instance we read: "Know that what pervades the body cannot be annihilated. Nothing can destroy the spiritual being. The physical body is certainly destined to destruction but the spiritual being is incommensurable and eternal, therefore have faith in the continuity of life. He who believes the soul can perish has no real knowledge because in truth the soul never dies, the soul is unborn, eternal". Bhagavad-gita II.17-19
"As a person dismisses used and worn out clothes to wear new ones, so the soul wears new physical bodies, giving up the old and useless ones". Bhagavad-gita II.22
The psychosomatic structure of the human being has no life in itself and is devoid of consciousness. The atman is the unique silent witness, which acts as the unifying principle of all psychophysical activities; once the soul leaves the body life ceases, and the physical structure shows the features of a corpse. If we can feel pain or pleasure in any part of the body we owe it to the atman, because it radiates its conscious light on the whole physical structure. The atman does not pertain to the physical dimension. It is like the definition of the centre of a circle: it has no height, no thickness, no depth, no width, no weight; it has nothing but the circle would not exist without it.
Knowing people only through the body and becoming affectionate towards their external features is a very serious mistake, it is an investment leading away from knowledge and love. Especially in the human condition, living beings enjoy the extraordinary power and capacity to elevate themselves beyond the thin layer of perceptible reality, to fully know the beauty of creatures and creation, to meet the Creator.
In the evolution towards love we need to come to terms with Eros, with the rise and fall of passions. Eros and thanatos are two typical phenomena of incarnate life; Eros and death seem opposite poles, while in fact they always come together and originate one from the other. Authentic love, spiritual love, can transcend them both. Eros is turbid passion: it is a fire which breaks out, devours all and finally destroys itself. Eros chains the being to attractions and pleasures emerging and declining, because based on a false and illusory perception of oneself. It primarily consists in lust and desires which can never be completely satisfied, as they are connected to the body dimension of perennial change and progressive inevitable dissolution. Eraclitus would warn his disciples on the opposites of conditioned life: what goes up then comes back down, what goes down later will head upwards.
The great Masters have shown how to overcome opposites by the sublimation of their energy, functional to their transcendence. The process called sadhana-bhakti thoroughly described in Bhakti-vedantic literature, allows to reach this goal, to free the energies of divine nature inherent in every human being, the only creature in the universe who is able to stand over instincts, to overcome and dominate passions, and take to the fascinating inner journey from the ego to the self, from Eros to love, from death to life.