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The Body is the Outer Garment that you, as Pure Spirit, Wear

In the Gita, you will find reference to the master of the sense organs, and to the one who has acquired control over his sense organs. Krishna was the master of the senses and Arjuna had gained control over the senses. But at the beginning, Arjuna was steeped in body-consciousness and was not in control at all. Arjuna began worrying after he started thinking about the future consequences of the forthcoming battle with his relatives and friends. He was deeply concerned with what might happen following the destruction of these people. In other words, Arjuna was thinking only in terms of body-consciousness. The body can be thought of as a vessel or a container or apparel which the individual soul puts on. Just as it is natural to throw away a dirty or a worn-out article of clothing and wear a new one, in the same way, you also give up this body and put on a new one. Krishna showed that death was very much like getting rid of an old piece of cloth.

When ordinary people hear that the body can be thought of as a dress that you put on and take off, they get some doubts. After eighty or ninety years when old age has had its effect, one can easily accept that the body has become like a worn-out cloth. Then one would agree that these old clothes should be left behind. But if a person dies during youth or manhood before old age has set in, it would amount to leaving new clothes behind. Suppose a body of twenty years is left behind, how can it be called an old worn-out cloth? That is obviously a new cloth. Krishna answered this doubt with an example.

Suppose you had gone on a pilgrimage one year and while there you had purchased a piece of cloth. You brought the cloth home and kept it in a closet. Then after five or ten years, while putting some clothes in storage, you came across this piece of cloth and remembered that you had bought it many years earlier. You took this cloth to a tailor and got a shirt made. One day while wearing this shirt, you bent over to sit down and the back of the shirt tore. You thought it was a new shirt, but how quickly it had become torn! Why did it last only for such a short time? It tore because the piece of cloth was old; the shirt was new but the cloth came from old stock. Wearing a body and spending only a little bit of time in it may appear on the surface as if you are discarding a new body. But actually it is of old stock. It has come to you from many past births.

Here is another example that will help you to understand this. There are two individuals, a young person and an old one. The young man who is 18 years old has been striking a stone repeatedly, giving it twenty powerful blows with a hammer, but it does not break. He sits down to rest. Then an elderly person comes along and with only two strokes of the hammer breaks the stone. What is the reason for this surprising result, where the stone did not break after 20 strokes given by the strong, young person, but was quickly broken by a feeble individual of 80 years of age who gave it only two strokes? The mistake in thinking is to count only the two strokes given by the old man, believing that the stone had given way after the impact of those two strokes. But in truth, it gave way after 22 strokes. After the 20 strokes given by the young man it was given an additional 2 strokes by the elderly person; then it broke.