Sri Ramakrishna would often discuss with his devotees about the nature of life on earth. He would lament how people are extremely wedded to the idea of body. But he himself was quite conscious that body was separate from the Self.
He would say that when a person rids himself or herself entirely from the love of lust and lucre, then such a person clearly perceived that the body and the Self were quite separate from each other.
For example, he would say that when the milk inside the coconut was all dried up, then the kernel separated from the shell. One feels the kernel rattling inside when one shakes the coconut.
It is just like a sword and its sheath. The sword is one thing and the sheath is another.
Since he was so deeply aware of his nature as the indestructible Self, he could never ever speak about the illness of his body to the Divine Mother. Once, he was very ill and was sitting in the Kali Temple at Dakshineshwar. For a moment, he felt like praying to the Divine Mother to cure his illness.
He started to tell Her about his illness. But he could not proceed much in his effort. Immediately, there flashed in his mind the museum of the Asiatic Society (Kolkata) and the human skeleton displayed there, strung together with a wire. He told the Divine Mother, “Please tighten the wire of my body like that, so that I may go about singing Your name and glories.”
Thus, his prayer was to grant him that state of health, which would enable him to call on God. He knew that the body would perish one day or other, but the Self or the Atman was eternal or undying. The only way to progress in spiritual life is to go beyond the idea that one is body and realise one’s true nature as the undying Self.
-by Swami Shantatmananda, The Sunday Guardian, 3rd May 2014