What is the difference between matter and spirit?

3 min readApr 24, 2023


It is not that we are a body or an entity and then we get a spirit, or we have a soul. We are the soul. We are spiritual beings, and we’re accommodated by a material body because of our attraction to material nature. We’re on a joy ride that goes wrong, ensconced in the material world.

I am like a fish out of water because I’m a spiritual being in a material world. Still, when I leave the spiritual vibration and get into a material environment, I can get absorbed.

But it doesn’t bring me happiness.

The only real happiness in the material world is a temporary relief from stress.

In contrast, real spiritual pleasure is continuous, not dependent on getting something or being in any particular environment.

According to wisdom literature, we notice our nature when we get involved in a spiritual practice. We become cognizant, and we’re able to feel happy in any circumstance. This cognizance or knowledge is defined in the Bhagavad Gita as the perspective of I am not my body. 

Matter wouldn’t matter if there weren’t a conscious entity to observe it.

When we look at matter, we give it meaning. We say “this is mine,” “that’s yours,” and so forth. Matter is inferior energy, and we have some apparent connection to it because our bodies are made out of it. At the same time, we don’t mix with it.

3 Analogies that Explain the Differences Between Matter and Spirit

We can describe the difference between matter and spirit with various analogies:

  • Oil and Water
  • The City of Nine Gates
  • Hardware and Software

1. Oil and Water

Have you ever tried to mix oil in water? They just don’t come together. We, spiritual beings, are as different in terms of energy from the material world as oil is from water and water is from oil. We, spiritual beings, never mix with the material energy.

2. The City of Nine Gates

In Bhagavad-gita, the human body is called the city of nine gates because there are nine pathways leading in and out of the body. It objectifies one’s experience of being a human.

I may say, “I’m a man,” “I’m a woman,” “I’m a cat,” “I’m a dog,” but the wisdom literature says no, we’re living beings, a living force, spiritual beings, we’re people.

People have cognition; they have volition.

Right now, we happen to be within the apparatus of a particular body. We’re not the city. We’re just residing here temporarily. We’re also the ones animating it; we’re the ones that make it go. So as soon as we step out of the body, it’s no longer animated.

3. Hardware and Software

We have a gross and subtle body. We could say that the gross body (e.g. bones, flesh, water, etc.) are all held together in a framework. This framework is like the hardware of a computer.

Then there’s the software which is the subtle matter: mind, intelligence, and ego. These are subtle elements just as much as the software that runs the hardware. That’s all material, and that’s not us. It’s just the machine running; the machine’s operator, the conscious being, is us.