Saturday, July 7, 2012

Who Am I?

Who Am I? I am not the first person to ask this question and I can bet my little finger I won’t be the last!

 I never really stopped to contemplate the validity of my existence. I never doubted that I was a human being with XX chromosome. I know my name, I knew my parents, I know I am married, I have a daughter I know how I look and am sure that I would recognize myself if I were to see my reflection in a mirror. At least till yesterday I knew who I was. Today I am not so sure.

 In our Vedanta Class we were asked to contemplate on the question “Who am I?” According to Vedanta teaching, I am not the body; I am not the mind; I am not the intellect; I am not my thoughts; I am not my memories and I am not my breath. If I am none of the above then who am I?

 This was not an easy exercise. My entire belief system was being questioned. If I was not my body, my thoughts, my mind, my intellect then who or what was I? It all sounds very easy when we are having a discussion with our teacher and she steers us towards the understanding that the real ‘I’ is unchangeable, imperishable, all pervasive and a part of Brahman or God Consciousness. Having been a student of Vedanta for a few years now, I can intellectually understand that the I that I have been talking about is not the imperishable ‘I’ that she has been talking to us about.

 My understanding of I has been limited to my Body, Mind and Intellect. I relate to the world through my senses and my faculties of discrimination which are predominantly the mind and the intellect. I have also learnt that the mind is not in me, but I am in the mind. Our bodies change, our minds change, our thoughts change, our relationships change. Everything around us changes. The only thing that is changeless is the ‘I’ that observes the change. This ‘I’ cannot be created and cannot be destroyed. It is beyond birth and death and therefore eternal. ‘I’ am eternal.

 As this knowledge is becoming clearer I am coming to more and more realizations. I am becoming aware that somewhere along our evolution we forgot that the ‘I’ is eternal, changeless, formless consciousness. In our mis apprehension we started identifying with the mind, body and the intellect. We started to put boundaries around ourselves and around others and started becoming smaller than who we really are. The truth of our real selves got veiled by mass hysteria. The body became our point of reference and we cut ourselves from others. We built walls of separation; both physical and emotional. We started seeking happiness outside of our selves. We gave away our own power and are now constantly in search of fulfillment. The reason our lives feel so unfulfilled and limited is because of separation. Separation from the real ‘I’ which is universal consciousness. The only way to feel fulfilled and connected is to first understand that we are all connected. Another persons joy and happiness has an impact on our own joy and happiness and similarly another person’s sadness and anguish will impact our own state of mind.

 There is no other way.

 We have forgotten this and this is not our fault. The present consciousness is such that each individual feels unique and separate and wants to leave behind a mark of himself or herself. We feel small and mortal because we have not understood that we are immortal. The body is mortal but the real ‘I’ is not. The body may perish but the real me will not perish. I heard one teacher explain to the student the above analogy by using the example of electricity. He compared consciousness to electricity and the individual humans to the various electrical appliances. Just as electricity makes the appliance run, consciousness makes our mortal bodies function. When an appliance breaks down, the electricity is still running, its just not running through that particular appliance. Similarly when the body dies, consciousness is still around and manifests itself through a different body. We are all a part of the same consciousness and so should not feel small, separated or limited.

 I am making some progress on this journey but the physical I insists on being the master. I still struggle to go beyond the mind and the body. The body reminds me when it is hungry, thirsty, sleepy and so on. The mind also reminds me of its existence by going from thought to thought without resting. But amongst all the chaos and confusion there is this reservoir of peace and fulfillment which lies deep within my inner being. Just as a pearl lies at the bottom of the sea and the foam floats on top, the real jewel of joy, happiness and bliss lies deep within ourselves and the mundane appears on the surface. One cannot deny the physical I but we need to recognize the real ‘I’ and practice discernment every time we are confronted with the question “Who am I”

 I now also understand what is meant by the very commonly used phrase “ Become the observer of your thoughts and action”. I had heard this phrase often but never really understood what it meant. How could I the doer become the observer? I the doer could not become the observer because I never understood who or what ‘I’ was. I am not the doer. My mind, body and intellect are the doers and the thoughts and actions of the mind and the body arise out of my subconscious and latent desires. The real ‘I’ is not affected by the actions of the physical I and can therefore be the observer. The observer is just the observer and not a judge, so when I watch my thoughts all I need to do is watch them with a sense of detachment and non-judgment.

 Next time I see my reflection in the mirror, I will try and see the unchanging, eternal me and not feel so unhappy when I see the extra pounds and a few grey hair. But till I reach that state of nirvana and unlimited bliss I will have to contend with what meets the eye and ensure that my mind, body and intellect are being prepared to meet the real ‘I’.

 Love, luck, happiness