WHO AM I, REALLY?
The simplest way to know who you are is to find out who you are not.
Almost everyone takes oneself to be the body-mind complex.
It is quite natural (naisargika) and necessary for functioning in the world (loka-vyavahāra).
When someone asks you who you are, you tend to say, ‘I am so and so,’ referring to your name and some form of identity (related to your work or profession). We generally answer such questions from the standpoint of our personality or ego-entity.
Is that who we really are?
Let’s examine it a bit further, with an open mind.
As a starting point, it is important to understand the simple difference between the subject and the object.
Can you be the subject (the perceiver) and the object (the perceived) at the same time?
The answer is no.
For example, I see/perceive my car. I cannot be the car. Similarly, I perceive this body. This body, like my car, appears as an object to me. I am the subject. And subject cannot be the object. They are of totally different nature, like light and darkness (tama-prakāshavata viruddha-svabhāva).
I cannot be this body—for, I am the subject, and the body is an object to me.
I drive my car. I never mistake myself to be the car.
Similarly, I make use of my body to get around. It is my body, like it is my car.
Why then do I mis-take or confuse myself to be the body?
Please pause and ponder over this universal mis-take.
The spiritual quest begins and ends with understanding this vital point—that, I am not this body.
Let’s carry our self-inquiry a bit further.
I am aware of my thoughts. They ceaselessly come and go out of my awareness. I perceive my thoughts (as objects). So, I cannot be my thoughts, a.k.a. my mind. What we commonly call mind is just a bunch of thoughts. Thoughts come and go. But I remain, as the perceiver of their presence and absence. If I were the thoughts, then when they disappear, I will disappear too.
When you say, ‘My mind is restless,’ you are referring to your mind as an “object.” You, the subject, are aware of your restless mind, the object. Therefore, you are not the mind.
What about the intellect, the seat of logic and reasoning?
Am I my intellect?
Let’s say a friend asks you, ‘Do you understand Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity? You may reply, No, it is too difficult, too complex for me. My intellect cannot figure it out. When you say so, you, the subject, are objectifying your intellect.
Hence, you cannot be the intellect either.
Now you see the problem with Descartes’ famous assertion, “I think, therefore, I am.” (Cogito ergo sum)
Did the great French philosopher mean to say that, when he is not thinking, he ceases to exist? We hope not.
“I am, therefore, I think” (Sum ergo cogito) seems to more in line with the way the things are. I have to be there first, before I can think any thoughts. I experience my thoughts. The experiencer, by definition, is prior to the experience.
I am not the body, nor I am the mind or the intellect.
So far, so good.
What about the ego? Am I my ego, the me-notion, the seat of my transactional personality?
Often, we refer to others as vain and proud and ourselves as humble. In this manner, we are unwittingly ‘objectifying’ our ego.
Can you think of an incident when you, during your conversation with your friends, were a bit overly chatty about your achievements? Upon reflection, you later realized that you were on an ego-trip.
What is the ego, anyway? Does it really exist? Or is it just a concept, an “I-notion” or “I-thought,” that appears and disappears in the mind, like any other thought.
Please pause and ponder over this fact.
If ego is just another thought appearing in the mind, then I cannot be the ego.
Ego is the imaginary self that we mis-take ourselves to be.
It is as close as it gets to the Real Self. That is why it is said:
‘Ego is the problem; ego is the solution.’
If I am not the body, nor the mind, the intellect, or the ego, who am I, then?
As is clear from the foregoing analysis, the body, the mind, the intellect and the ego—all are objects to ME. I am the Subject. They come and go. But I remain. I am prior to them. They ceaselessly change. I am the unchanging substratum, the witnessing Consciousness that lends existence to all objects, perceptions (of the body-mind and the world), thoughts, and feelings. Their existence depends upon me. I exist, regardless. I do not depend upon them.
What is the practical application of this knowledge?
If I am not the body-mind-intellect-ego-complex, then I am not conditioned by them—I am not limited by them. Their limitations are not my limitations. I am not affected by their limitations.
What are the limitations of the body? The body is born at a certain time, grows ill, old, and eventually dies. If I am NOT the body, then birth, old age, death, etc., do not belong to me. They belong to the body. I am not affected by them.
As the Self, I am never born; as the Self, I never die. I am eternal (nitya).
Since my true Self is of the nature of Pure Awareness, the limitations of the mind and intellect do not limit me either.
My true Self is like space (vyōm-vat). Can space ever become impure? So, I do not need to “purify” my mind. How can you purify space, which is ever-pure?
This puts an end to the self-improvement business.
I, the Self, do not need to be liberated. How can the space be bound?
Your “being” does not need any liberation or awakening because it is never bound, to begin with.
This puts an end to the enlightenment business.
I, in my true nature as the Witnessing-Consciousness, is ever pure and liberated (nitya-shuddha-bhudda-mukta-svabhāva). This is who I am, right now, right here.
This puts an end to all spiritual seeking and existential suffering, once and for all.
Then you live your life, naturally and spontaneously, without needing to be on the ceaseless tread-mill of self-improvement or becoming enlightened.
Who wants to improve, to get better, or become enlightened? It is the imposter ego who wants all these frills. It feels small, limited, and separate.
You are free from the servitude of the commanding ego. You welcome all and everything as it comes, choicelessly, without approval or censure (rāga-dveśa).
Before: Chopping wood and carrying water.
After: Chopping wood and carrying water!
The only difference is that now you do not consider it as “my” wood and “my” water.
The undue attachment with the objects has ceased; and the sense of separation, limitation is gone. There is only effortless playfulness.
You go with the flow, with the Divine Play (līlā), without identifying with it or considering it as your play.
You have arrived HOME, which you had never left!