Who am I
Kripalu Wisdom / October 15, 2019
"Who are you?" said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation.
Alice replied, rather shyly, "I—I hardly know, sir,"
This famous dialogue from the book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, points out to one of the most intriguing questions of our life - "Who am I". And, honestly, just like “Alice” most of us do not know who we really are. Though, some of us may declare that they know. To explain it more precisely, let’s do an exercise. Let’s ask someone – Who are YOU. He may say – My name is “Rakesh”. That’s YOUR name, who are YOU. I am an IAS officer. That’s YOUR post, who are YOU. I am a human. But that too is your bodily form, who are YOU. I am the personality, the mind, and intellect. That’s YOUR personality, YOUR mind, YOUR intellect, who are YOU. In most circumstances, there will be no answers after this. What we are arguing over here is that anything which is YOURS couldn’t be YOU. So, everything we refer to with the pronoun "MY", like My house, My body, My mind, My intellect is not “I”.
But then, the question prevailed – "Who am I?"
Religious practitioners, philosophers, thinkers and scientists alike are struggling endlessly to find the answer to this question. Each school of thought has its own story to tell. Scientists hypothesize that we are nothing but a bunch of chemicals. Philosophers like to debate about the existence of some consciousness. However, our scriptures tell us the fact. They tell us that we can’t answer this question about ourselves with our materialistic mind and intellect. As Bhagavad Gita puts in
indriyāṇi parāṇyāhur indriyebhyaḥ paraṁ manaḥ
manasas tu parā buddhir yo buddheḥ paratas tu saḥ (Chapter 3, Verse 42)
This translates into:
The senses are superior to the gross body and superior to the senses is the mind. Beyond the mind is the intellect, and even beyond the intellect is the soul.
Since, the soul, which is the real “I” is superior to everything we could use to understand it, we can’t know it. But again, the eternal question remained – "Who am I?"
Our scriptures again comes for our rescue. They informed us that we may know ourselves not by some materialistic person or book, but only from a divine person or a divine book. We will have to answer this question by approaching the ultimate authorities on spiritual knowledge, which are eternal, and are revealed directly through God, i.e. The Vedas. However, as the Vedas are a bit difficult to understand, one can also refer knowledge from Bhagavad Gita, which are words of wisdom coming directly from Shri Krishna, relatively easy to understand and could be of great help in understanding the divine knowledge. An even better method as recommended by the Bhagavad Gita is to approach a true saint and understand this from him. As Bhagavad Gita puts in
Chapter 4, Verse 34)
This translates into:
Learn the Truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him with reverence and render service unto him. Such an enlightened Saint can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the Truth.
In the following video, Swamiji beautifully explains the different schools of thought, which are trying to answer the mystery of “Who am I”. He then goes on to reveal to us the truth of who we are, what is our form, where do we come from.
Video Transcript – Patanjali Yoga Sutras Part4 - Who am I?
So, the Saints tell us, that try and understand who are you, “Who am I”. Although I have never been to Greece, but I am told, that in the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, on the gate it is written there, Nothees youthon, know thyself - who are you. The wise old man of Greece – Socrates, he is to keep encouraging his followers to think, who are you, the basic spiritual question. So, it is said once deep in thought he was walking through the marketplace of Athens; thinking “Who am I?”, “Who am I?” And he knocked into a policeman. So, this policeman said – “What kind of a person are you? You don't even look where you're walking? Who are you? Socrates said – “Sir, for the last 40 years, I've been trying to figure out who am I. If you know, please let me, tell me about it.”
So, in our Vedic system in Indian philosophy, this answer to the question “Who am I” has been given by different scriptures. Six of these are accepting the authority of the Vedas, they are called Vedic darshan. Six of these are not accepting the authority of the Vedas, they are called Avedic Darshan. Doesn't mean they are bad, but they are there. So even in India there are primarily six Avedic Darshan and six Vedic darshan. Darshan, these philosophical texts are called darshan “Drishyate Vastu Yathathyam Anen Eeti Darshanam”. That helps you see things as they are. So, the Avedic darshan, first is Charvak darshan. Charvak says there is no such thing as the soul. You are this body. But if matter doesn't have life or consciousness. No no no when it came together in the body consciousness got created. And when it disperses consciousness will be dispelled. So, consciousness has been created from matter; this is what modern science tells us. Charvak said the same thing – you are the body. So, when you die, it's all over, story's over. That is why you don't need to think of any afterlife. And so, do what you like. If there are no consequences of actions, then do what you like. Eat drink and be merry – the epicurean said. So now after this comes the boudh darshans the Buddhist Darshans. They are four – soutantrikvaad, vaibhashikvaad Madhavikvaad and yogacharvaad. I will not go into the details. But in general, Buddhism talks about voidism. Voidism means there is no such thing ultimately as the self. It shunyavaad. But we perceive the self because of a stream of thoughts. This feeling – I am, I am; it's creating a stream of thoughts. So, we perceive the self. In the state of Nirvana, it will get dissolved. Little bit sprinkling of knowledge. We won't go beyond because then we won't be able to finish. Come to Jainvaad. Jane darshan says that the self is beyond the body beyond the mind beyond the intellect, there is a soul which is in existence. So, in one way it goes beyond the Buddhist texts. It talks about the soul. But what is the nature of the soul. So, Jain darshan says the soul is not anu, it's not vibhu, its madhyamakaar, the size of the body. Because it is keeping the body alive and conscious, so, it is the size of the body. Hence, if somebody's got a big body his soul is big if somebody's got a small body his soul is small.
Now Nyay. come to the Vedic darshan. Nyay darshan counters, the Nyay darshan says that this does not hold to logic. Because, let us say, that somebody had an elephant's body in this life, and in next life that soul is born in a pigeon’s body. Now how will that elephant soul fit into the Pigeon’s body. There will be a problem fitting it in. So, Nyay darshan says that the soul is Anu, tiny. How small? “balagra sata bhagasya, satadha kalpitasya sa, bhago jivah sa vijneyah, sa canantyaya kalpate” – says the soul is so small if you take a hair, and the tip of it, you chop it into a hundred parts. Hundred parts, tip of a hair, impossible. No, it says the Śvetāśvataropaniṣad is saying supposing you can chop it. And then pick one part and chop it into a further hundred parts. Now what you get will be the size of the soul. And this is only figurative, because it's so tiny when the soul departs nobody can see it. Scientists conducted experiments. This person is about to die, terminally sick, let's put him in a glass box so when the soul departs it will probably have to crack the glass and go out. The person died, the soul departed, the blocks remained intact. The soul does not need any space to leave. It is “Sukshamaanam apyaham jeeva” – subtler than the subtlest. That tiny soul sitting inside is creating consciousness in the whole body. Now you may say that how come this little soul sitting here is spreading consciousness throughout. So, the Vedant darshan says – “Gunatam Alokwat” – it is just like a source of light. The light is there the source, but its rays are coming all the way till here. Similarly, the soul is here in the heart and it is spreading consciousness throughout the body. That is why if somebody pricks you ahhh! What happened? – it's paining. If the soul is here how come your finger has got consciousness and it's paining. No no no, the quality of consciousness like light has spread through the body. And when the soul departs the hands, feet legs, eyes, ears, everything is there but no functions are taking place. Now it has become mud. People say burn him, bury him. He has become mud. You know in Hindi they say when somebody dies, kahan gaye the – uski maati pe gaye the. We went to his mud. Mud! Such a big person. Till yesterday you were respecting him, Governor, Commissioner, Prime Minister. Today you say he is mud. As long as the soul was there the body had value. The soul has left now everybody's body has turned into mud. Now you may say well if the soul has got consciousness, how did it come into the body. So Ved Vyaas in Vedant, he says “Vyatireko Gandhwat” – just like smell is in the flower, but if there are flowers growing in a garden the whole garden becomes aromatic. Oh! magnolias growing here. So, the flowers have passed on their aroma to the whole garden. Similarly, matter is not conscious the soul has got consciousness. So, when the soul is present in the body it makes this body conscious-like.
So, you are the soul, not the body, not the mind, not the intellect. Swami Vivekanand said “thou our souls immortal,l spirits blessed free and eternal, thou are not bodies thou are not matter, matter is your servant, not you the servant of matter”