Who Am I?

Sri Ramana Maharshi famously inquired into the question ‘who am I?’. Through constant self-examination with this question, the seeker begins to separate himself from the idea that he is the body, or the particular life-energy formation or mental sense that make up his external, surface personality and being. For most people, we look to the physical body as being ‘who we are’. When we bury someone in a graveyard, we go to visit our family, friend or relative and lay flowers on the grave and recount that we went to see that individual, even though the body has likely long since disintegrated! We are so embedded in the consciousness of the body that we believe that we were born and that we will die, and we cannot truly conceive of what came before and what comes after in terms of consciousness.

Some traditions, such as the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, have explored the question of consciousness in great depth and this tradition describes practices such as transference of consciousness, as well as the movement of the consciousness after death through an intermediate state called the ‘bardo’ and on to a subsequent rebirth.

At some point, as Sri Ramana Maharshi clearly has illustrated, we can begin to distinguish between the essential nature of consciousness and the various forms in which it manifests, and we thus begin to see that the body, the life-force or the mind are just specific limited forms, but do not either fully contain nor embody consciousness ‘in itself”.

The Mother notes: “But first this consciousness must be mobile, and one must know how to distinguish it from the other parts of the being which in fact are its instruments, its modes of expression. The consciousness must make use of these things, and not you mistake these things for the consciousness. You put the consciousness in these things, so you become conscious of your body, conscious of your vital, conscious of your mind, conscious of all your activities through your will for identification; but for this, first your consciousness must not be completely entangled, mingled, joined, so to say, with all these things, it must not take them for itself, must not be mistaken.”

“When one thinks of himself (obviously out of millions of men perhaps there are not ten who do otherwise) he thinks ‘Myself … that’s my body, that’s what I call ‘myself’, what’s like this. And so, I am like that; and then my neighbour, he also is the body. When I speak of another person, I speak of his body.’ And so, as long as one is in this state he is the plaything of all possible movements and has no self-control.”

“The body is the last instrument and yet it’s this which one calls ‘myself’ most of the time, unless one has begun to reflect.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Exercises for Growth and Mastery, Becoming Aware of “Oneself”, pp. 124-126

2 thoughts on “Who Am I?

  1. After having realized true self vs. the “myself” as set forth above, is it not so that’s its still necessary to identify with others’ personhood, bodies, etc., as part of functioning/communicating in the world? Or is there a stage of ‘dissolution’ before death of the flesh whereby distinctions between flesh and consciousness are no longer perceived?

    Liked by 1 person

    • in a non-dual universal reality, the forms are “real” but not independent or separate from each other. Thus, the realisation of the universal self makes one “one” with the rest of the existence. The individual nexus of view and action is part of the play of the universal unfoldment. I do not believe it is a matter of not “perceiving” the differences, but recognising that they have only a limited reality and not as “separate” beings, but as multiple nexus points with the One. There is of course a long debate on this issue. The materialists will say that the forms are real and primary. The renunciates will say that all the forms are illusory and transitory, a production of “maya”. Sri Aurobindo harmonizes the two extremes in what he calls “omnipresent reality” (for in depth review see the early chapters in The Life Divine “The Materialist Denial”, “The Refusal of the Ascetic” and “Reality Omnipresent”. )

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