Discourse Text Gallery
You may wander why we discuss the topic of "Who am I?".
You may say that you know very well who you are.
Nowadays all details and information about a particular person applying for a job are contained in a document called "curriculum vitae", which summarizes the person's name, age, weight, height, experience, etc.
Is that enough to define who that particular person is?
Here is an interesting story.
A lady, critically ill, was confined in a hospital and was in a comatose state. In her coma she had a sort of vision: she had gone to Heaven and was asked by an angel "who are you?". "I am Elisa" she answered.
But the angel said: "I did not ask your name, I asked who you are". So she said:" I am the wife of John and the mother of two children." "I did not ask whose wife you are and how many children you have, I am asking who are you?" the angel said. Elisa, a bit confused, then said: "I am a school teacher".
The angel however retorted: I did not asking what is your profession, I asked who you are!" So Elisa thought that the angel might be asking her religion so she said: "I am a Christian".
"I did not ask to which religion you belong" said the angel
"I am asking a simple question: who are you?". Maybe, Elisa thought, the angel is asking my nationality and said: "I am Filipino". But the angel answered: "No, I am not asking your nationality,
I am asking who you are!". Elisa at this point was utterly confused and became thoughtful. "If I cannot identify myself with my name, family position, profession, religion and nationality," she thought, "then what is the appropriate answer to this question: who am I?".
As the question came from an angel she thought that it was not an ordinary question, but it must have some deeper meaning. So she thought she should think seriously about the question and find the correct answer.
As you probably know Sri Ramakrishna used to worship the image of Mother Kali, the Divine Mother, a statue of rather small dimensions. He was once asked how such a small image could create the universe, which is so vast.
Sri Ramakrishna retorted:" Look at the sun, which is so much bigger than our small planet but looks so small, almost like a dish in the sky. Although the sun is much bigger than the hearth it looks very small because of the distance, because our planet is so far away from it."
This is a very fitting explanation, in fact the nearer we go to the sun the more we understand how large it is.
Similarly, the image of Mother Kali, or other Deities, look so small and finite, but the nearer you go to them, by understanding them, you realize that they are infinite.
An Indian writer made a wonderful comment about human beings, he said: "To stand before a man is to stand before an ocean." The ocean is so vast and deep and seems almost infinite.
The man looks so small, but there is infinity in him; we are all carrying infinity within us, we are actually infinite. In fact we suffer because we forget about our infinity and we think of ourselves in a small, narrow way.
How can we become aware of the infinity which is within us, about our real nature of Sat –Chit-Ananda that is infinite, absolute existence, knowledge and bliss?
Besides we search for joy outside us while the real source of joy is inside us, we misdirect our search. Why do we fear death?
It is because we are not aware that our real nature is eternal.
We identify ourselves with our body and surely the body has a birth and a death and that of course causes fear and suffering. It is therefore necessary to find our real nature.
It is a pity that we make others or other things the object of research, but we never make ourselves the object of research.
The first instruction of the Upanishads was in fact: "Know thyself" and the whole of the Upanishads discuss and give an answer to such point. Upanishads and Vedanta start with the question "Who am I?" and then answer such question. The gist of the Upanishads is in fact about the real nature of oneself and about how to realize one's real nature.
The knowledge about the external world is a partial, external knowledge; knowledge becomes complete when it includes internal knowledge about ourselves. To find out about our real nature it is first of all necessary to understand the difference between the apparent and the real. Sometime apparent and real are the same, but often they are not. Take the sky for example, or sea water: they appear blue, but in fact they have no color, they are transparent.
Accordingly there is a difference between the apparent self and the real self. The next step is analysis about ourselves: here the subject of research and the object of research are the same.
This is the difference of methodology between external research and internal research. There are different levels in one's personality: physical level, level of energy, level of sense, level of mind, level of intelligence, ego. Are these levels working according to their own whims of there is some sort of coordinator?
A coordinator is necessary in order to avoid making one's life very difficult; who is the coordinator? Is there a substratum, something deeper, below our different levels of personality?
There is a sense of I-ness throughout our childhood, youth and old age. This notion of I-ness is always there irrespective of our physical or mental changes. What is this sense of I-ness?
Let us try to analyze: are you the body? In such case the I-ness sense of a child must be different from the ones of an adult or old person, as the body changes with one's age. So you are not the body as your I-ness sense does not change with your age.
Similarly you are not the energy, as you may sometimes feel strong and sometimes weak, but your notion of I-ness remains the same. And you are not the senses: although temporarily you may identify yourselves with the senses, it is actually the sense organs that see, hear, touch, etc. Even if you should, for example, lose your hearing, your feeling of I-ness would not change.
Again, you may temporarily identify yourselves with your mind. It is in fact the mind that makes you feel happy when you receive praise and makes you feel sad if someone abuses you. So are you the mind? No, because your sense of I-ness is still the same regardless of whether you feel happy or sad or afraid and so on.
Are you then the ego? In deep sleep your ego sense stops working. But when you wake up you feel that you have the same I-ness sense as when you had gone to bed. So you are not the ego.
All through the same I-ness feeling is always there: so what is it that gives us the same sense of I-ness?
The Upanishads say that your real nature is the soul, the spirit, Atman, the substratum of our personality because of which we have the feeling of continuing I-ness. Atman is the coordinator of our different levels of personality; it is the only real consciousness.
The different personality levels which are there in each of us borrow a partial, limited consciousness from Atman and in fact, according to this Indian philosophy, these different levels of personality are matter, gross, like the body, or more and more subtle like mind, intelligence, ego, etc.
An easy example: the moon does not have any light of its own; it borrows its reflected light from the sun.
What is then the nature of the Atman?
In the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita the nature of Atman is discussed at length.
Atman is without form, we cannot touch Him, He is birth less, death less, eternal, he is absolute knowledge, absolute existence and absolute joy.
Why do we say that?
Our experience of knowledge, existence and joy is relative, short lived, conditioned by time and space, and limited.
On the contrary those of Atman are absolute, that is not temporary, but eternal, and not conditioned by time and space, and without limits. For example think of what Newton, the great scientist, said: "I am collecting only a few pebbles from the ocean of knowledge." This makes us understand the difference between limited knowledge and absolute knowledge.
So the Upanishads give us this beautiful statement: "One who knows the Atman is omniscient, knows everything." An important consequence of this point is that, as the concept of ourselves shapes our idea of others, if we look at ourselves as body, inevitably we shall look at others as body as well. That will lead to all sorts of problems and lack of harmony as bodies are always different.
On the other hand if we look at ourselves as Atman, we shall then regard others as Atman as well: that will make a huge difference as Atman is the same in everybody and we shall then be able to establish harmony through Atman.
So now we understand intellectually that our real nature is Atman, but the next important question is how can get established in that: the whole challenge is this. That way is first of all to listen to this truth: we are very fortunate that we have the possibility to hear this truth.
The Upanishads say that there are millions and millions of people who have no chance to hear that our real nature is eternal, infinite, it is Atman. But, among those who heard this truth, rare are the ones who try to realize it, and even rarer are those who realize it.
So the first step is hearing, reading, studying. The second step is reasoning and becoming intellectually convinced and third step is focusing on that truth, identifying ourselves with our real nature, not with the body. That is the real struggle.
We should at every moment be aware of what our real nature is, without identifying ourselves with the different levels of our personality such as mind, body, etc. There are different ways to do that: the way of devotion (Bhakti), the way of selfless work (Karma), the way of meditation (Raja) and the way of discrimination (Jnana).
This latter way, the way of discrimination, is seemingly very simple as it only requires awareness of our real nature, without any other spiritual practice. But if one tries to follow this way and be aware at all times of one's real nature, one realizes how difficult it is: inevitably one has the tendency to forget about one's real nature and to identify oneself with the body, mind, senses, intelligence, ego, etc.
Bhakti, the path of devotion, is an easier way. Bhakti has two aspects: ritualism, and the philosophical aspect of devotion, where you do not warship any particular image or deity: you see the same presence of God, or a God's incarnation, in yourself, in everyone and in everything.
Behind each divine personalities and God there are always two aspects: one is the form aspect and the other one is the spiritual aspect.
Accordingly we think of the form of Sri Ramakrishna, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, etc. but there is also their spiritual aspect, the consciousness aspect.
When you have the Christ consciousness, the Ramakrishna consciousness, the Krishna consciousness, etc, you see the same Christ, Ramakrishna or Krishna in everything and everyone, including yourself.
In practice one should first focus on the form aspect of one's chosen deity; later one transcends that aspect and goes to the substratum of that aspect which is formless, which is spirit. By connecting yourself with that Christ, Ramakrishna, Krishna consciousness you finally realize your chosen deity.
The same consciousness at macro level is called God, or Supreme Reality, or Brahman; but the same consciousness at micro level is called Atman, or spirit, or soul. Either by focusing on God, or by focusing on yourself you finally realize your real nature, you understand who you are.
What is the obstacle that hides our real nature from us?
Upanishads say: Maya, or spiritual ignorance.
Maya acts in two ways: first it hides the real nature of a particular entity, and then is shows a distorted, different image of such particular entity.
Maya covers our real nature (I am Atman) and projects the wrong image of ourselves (I am the body, I am the mind, I am the ego, etc.). That is how Maya works.
How can we solve this problem?
How to eliminate spiritual ignorance, Maya?
Introspection, self analysis and purification of mind are necessary.
We have to maintain awareness of our real nature, focusing on the truth, we have to discriminate between what is real and unreal, permanent and temporary, and finally we have to control our mind and senses, we have to lead a controlled life.
Swami Vivekananda gave this beautiful definition of religion: "Religion is the manifestation of the divinity which is already in man."
You achieve it by following the way of Bhakti, or Karma, or Raja, or Jnana, or a combination of those ways.
Why the husband loves his wife?
Why the parents love their children?
The Upanishads say that the same Atman is in husband, wife and children, that is why they love one another.
Why no one wants to die?
Because our real nature is eternal.
Why man, right from the childhood, wants to know more and more?
Because our real nature is knowledge.
Why do we seek joy?
Because our real nature is joy.
Our natural urges to live, know and have joy are there as our real nature is existence, knowledge and joy.
Only, we often misdirect such urges, so we need to re-direct our search in the correct way, discriminating between real and unreal and keeping awareness of our real nature. The effect of that will be that we become free from anxiety, fear, sadness, and a sense of relief will be there instead.
The more we identify ourselves with our real nature, the more we feel real joy, peace, wisdom, controlling our minds and managing our desires. Another way to achieve real joy, peace and wisdom is to depend completely on God, but that is not an easy path.
In either way we know ourselves, we know who we are, we achieve Mukti, liberation, or the Kingdom of God of the Christians. Finally Upanishads answer the question: "Who are you?" with "You are That; the Supreme Reality, Atman". When you realize that, and are established in that, the purpose of your life is fulfilled.