Q. I’ve been reading Ramana Maharshi recently and he keeps on saying ‘I’m not the body’.
Tom: Yes, that’s right.
Q: But I don’t really hear you talk about not being the body.
Tom: Yes, that’s because it’s a ‘thorn’. Remember the phrase I’ve mentioned: ‘Use a thorn to remove and thorn and throw them both away’?
Q: Yes, I’ve heard you say that. Please can you explain it again?
Tom: Sure. The first thorn represents a wrong concept that is active in your mind and causes suffering, just as a thorn in your foot causes suffering. You then take a second thorn and use it as a tool to remove the first thorn, but then you throw them both away. If you don’t throw away the second thorn, then you now have a new thorn (concept) that will cause you to suffer.
Ramana often talks about rooting out the ‘I-am-the-body’ concept, and the concept ‘I-am-not-the-body’ is just to negate the initial thorn. But then you throw it away too.
Q: So I am not the body is not true either?
Tom: Exactly. Or, lets put it like this: for a moment just forget what Ramana says, forget what I say – for all you know we could both be talking a load of rubbish! Afterall, lots of intelligent people believe strange and silly things, and we could be no different, right? So forget what we say.
So let me ask you a question: do you know for sure that you are a body?
Q: Well it often seems like I am a body…
Tom: But do you know for sure?
Q: No, not for sure.
Tom: Good. Now, do you know for sure that you are not the body?
Q: No, not for sure.
Tom: Good. That’s our basic experience. We don’t know either way. The body appears and follows us around, as it were, but we don’t know exactly what it means. Is the body me? Is it not me? The truth is I don’t know. That’s it. That’s the truth. We don’t know. Isn’t that right?
Q: But when I say to myself ‘I am not the body’, it feels so good, it just feels really nice.
Tom: Yes, of course, because you are negating the concept (I-am-the-body) that causes so much suffering. It’s a good thing to practice, it’s a great practice in fact. If it works for you I recommend you practice it.
Q: Oh, I see, so it’s a practice.
Tom: Exactly. We are not saying don’t practice. We may need the second thorn, that’s why it is there, that’s why it is taught. So use that thorn, use that tool, practice ‘I am not the body’. When it has done its work, when it has weeded out the ‘I am the body’ concept, then you won’t need it any more and you can throw it away too.
Q: OK, I got it now. Wow, there are so many thorns, aren’t there?
Q: I often get confused about whether or not the world is a dream or illusion or not, but that’s just another thorn too, right?
Tom: Exactly. ‘The world is an illusion’ – it’s a very powerful thorn, one that benefited me a lot whilst I was seeking. But again, do you know for sure if the world is an illusion?
Q: No, not for sure…I know what you’re going to ask next…
Tom: …And do you know for sure that the world is not an illusion?
Q: No, not for sure . I knew you’d say that.
Tom: (laughing) That’s it! We don’t know either way! It’s so simple – Got it?
Q: (laughing) Got it.
Tom: so you can practice these, all these thorns. All these thorns are concepts. Use them – they are most definately useful – use them if you need them. The concepts are used to weed out the beliefs. You may need to practice them for weeks or months, but when their work is done, and the suffering has dissipated, throw them away.
Also see Ranjit Maharaj talk about this.