In a scathing, yet beautiful and painless dissection of the human personality, Sri Adi Sankaracharya completes a very subtle description of the gross, subtle and causal bodies in the Tatwa Bodha. The acharya mentions all these in detail, not exactly to marvel at the beauty of creation of the physical, mental and the body of our basic qualities, but to identify and realise that all these are not me.
The master says that we know ourselves as the body and hence we say, “this is my body, these are my vital energy sources, this is my mind, this is my intellect and to top it all, this is my ignorance”. The teacher uses a beautiful simile here. We know all these aspects of our personality as “mine”, just as we may say, “these are my bangles”, “this is my ear-ring”, or “this is my house”. When it comes to these objects, whatever we claim as belonging to us is not us. We do not say “I am this bangle, I am this earring or I am this house!” Poets who are given the liberty of poetic fallacy are exempt from this, of course. Generally though, we do not have such a grossly wrong mis-identification with objects.
In the same way, the acharya says, whatever we know as “mine”, and is different from us and exists as an object of perception and can be identified as distinctly different from oneself is not me. It is not the atma, self or I.
What is the use of this distinction? Most of our problems in life come out of this mis-identification. If a mother is facing trouble with her child, a little analysis will show that she herself is a composition of the body, mind and intellect which are subject to the permutation and combination of the qualities of light, agitation and inertia, and her child is also an innocuous self, clothed again with the body, mind and intellect, which have their nature of inertia, restlessness and divine expression. When this truth is known and not just known, but experienced moment to moment, all the anxieties the mother experiences are in a moment smoothened out. She realises that she is the unchanging and eternal self which exists, is aware that it exists and is happy in its mere nature of existence.
The child too who may be giving her a difficult time is in essence this existence, knowledge and bliss. The remaining tantrums and troubles are due to the forces of rajas and tamas, which will anyway play out its natural qualities and nothing much can be done about it, except managing them. Life becomes stress-free in a jiffy with this knowledge.