“Know thyself – The unexamined life is not worth living.”
“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”
“Know thyself and thou wilt know the universe.”
“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.”
~ Lao Tzu
“The essence of all wisdom is to know the answers to ‘who am I?’
and ‘what will become of me?’ on the Day of Judgment.”
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
~ William Shakespeare
“Ask and it shall be given; Seek and ye shall find.”
~ Matthew 7:7
“You will know the truth,
and the truth will set you free.”
~ John 8:32
“What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”
~ Eckhart Tolle
“That which permeates all, which nothing transcends and which, like the universal space around us, fills everything completely from within and without, that Supreme non-dual Brahman — that thou art.”
“The thought ‘who am I?’ will destroy all other thoughts,
and like the stick used for stirring the burning pyre, it will itself in the end get destroyed. Then, there will arise Self-realization.”
“The question ‘Who am I?’ is not really meant to get an answer, the question ‘Who am I?’ is meant to dissolve the questioner.”
~ Sri Ramana Maharshi
“Give up all questions except one: “Who am I?” After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are. The “I am” is certain. The “I am this” is not.”
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
“Who am I?
The quest is in the question.
The question is the answer.”
~ Ron Rattner, Sutra Sayings
“An ‘identity crisis’ can be life’s greatest opportunity,
because it raises life’s most crucial question – “Who am I?”
~ Ron Rattner, Sutra Sayings
Ron’s Introduction To “Know Thyself” ask “Who Am I?”
Many SillySutras postings explain that “ego” is our mistaken separate self-identity, rooted in the ‘I’ thought; and that all enduring spiritual teachings are aimed at ending “ego” as the fundamental impediment to spiritual evolution and Self-realization. This posting emphasizes “Know thyself”, and asking “Who am I?” as important ancient wisdom paths for finding and ending ego’s illusory self-identity.
For millennia, rare mystics and sages have counseled us to “Know thyself”, and to question “Who am I?”. But since the industrial age few Westerners have been inspired to pursue this perennial advice. However, as a Westerner who persistently and successfully asked “Who am I?”, in today’s posting I briefly share a memoirs story and an historic description of these paths.
Throughout history saints and sages of every tradition and culture – East and West – have counseled us to “Know thyself.” In the West, this fundamental injunction was attributed to the Greek oracle consulted by Socrates and carved into the Temple of Apollo as: “Gnothi Seauton”.
Eastern saints and mystics for millennia have taught that there is an ultimate goal of life – an ‘enlightened’ state of spiritual awareness bringing permanent happiness and freedom from all worldly bondage. Swami Yogananda Paramahansa, who brought Eastern wisdom to the West in the 20th century, called this spiritual goal “self-realization”.
Who is this “Self” that we are counseled to know or realize? How can we follow the advice of the saints and sages to “Know thyself”, and so experience “self-realization”?
One of the principal methods to “Know thyself” suggested by mystics and sages is to inquire: “Who am I?” For example, ancient Indian sage Shankara said that spiritual “Knowledge cannot spring up by any other means than the inquiry: Who am I?”.
In Hinduism, such self-inquiry is chiefly associated with Advaita-Vedanta, the oldest extant school of Indian Philosophy. Advaita means non-dualism and its teachings are essentially the same as those of Mahayana Buddhism. Both are aimed at experiencing non-dual Reality.
The ultimate answer to the question “Who Am I?” cannot come from intellect. We can know or realize our “self” only by intuitive experience of “Who Am I?”. However, in the Hindu and Buddhist non-duality paths, powers of discrimination are used to transcend intellect and to reveal the Self via self-realization.
Ron’s “Who Am I?” Story.
Most of us never question our true self-identity, but we assume ourselves to be mere mortal physical life-forms with unique histories, separate from everyone and everything else.
Not until age forty two, did I ever wonder “Who Am I”? Until then, I assumed that I was only my physical body, its thoughts and its story; that I was a middle-aged secular Jewish litigation lawyer, married, with two kids, born in Chicago and living in San Francisco.
But on New Year’s Eve 1974-5, these assumptions were severely shaken. After unwittingly eating a large piece of marijuana-laced cake at a ‘pot luck’ dinner party, I had a dramatically unforgettable out of body experience.
From a bedroom ceiling, I saw my body lying face down on a pillow, and saw each of my thoughts originating outside the body as a vividly colored kaleidoscopic form.
These perceptions seemed very real – not dreamlike or hallucinatory. And they irresistibly raised for me an unprecedented urgent new question: “Who or what am I?”
I reasoned that if I was on the ceiling of the room, while my body was face-down on the bed, I couldn’t be the body; and that if I was on the ceiling of the room, while my thoughts were appearing below me, I couldn’t be the thoughts. And if not my body and not my thoughts, “Who or what am I?”
Thereafter, irresistibly and persistently I began pursuing this previously unexamined question, with intense longing for an answer. This process proved an enormous blessing which changed my life forever.
It convinced me that “Who Am I?” can be the most important question that anyone can ever ask; that by deeply reflecting on our true self-identity and persistently inquiring: “Who Am I?” we can ultimately experience a profound, life-enhancing psychological transformation process.
[See “At Mid-life, a Rebirth to a New Life ~ Ron’s Memoirs”]
Here’s what happened:
After irresistibly wondering “Who am I?” for fifteen months, at age forty two, (unaware of any apt spiritual teachings) I was given the answer to that question, and realized my true self-identity as pure awareness, rather than as my physical body, its thoughts and aggregate experiences.
Whereupon I experienced a profound and unforgettable mid-life spiritual awakening and rebirth, which irreversibly ended my prior paradigms of Self-identity and Reality. But this awakening didn’t result in ‘instant enlightenment’. Instead, my epiphany began a continuing process of increasingly remembering that beyond this space/time world, we all are eternal spirit and universal awareness, not just mortal bodies and their thoughts.
Thereby I’ve enjoyed a previously unimagined new life phase of ever increasing peace of mind, happiness, gratitude, and faith in the mystery of Divinity. And since that awakening, I’ve been blessed by constantly learning from my life’s experiences.
For example, after the rebirth event, I began experiencing numerous unprecedented mystical or psychic subtle energy phenomena. And I became infused with so much vital energy that for several months I hardly needed sleep. I was puzzled and wondered what was happening to me. Only then did I synchronistically begin learning answers in teachings of Eastern mysticism, like nondualism. However, in daily life I continued to consider myself as a secular Hebrew lawyer, and remained unaware and uninspired by any supposed spiritual goal, until meeting my teacher.
Becoming a “born-again Hindu”:
Then at age forty four, after repeatedly seeing inner visions of a bearded elderly man, I synchronistically met my beloved Guruji, Shri Dhyanyogi Madhusudandas, a venerable 100 year old Hindu meditation yogi, from whom I received shaktipat initiation. Guruji lived until age 116, and since his mahasamadhi transition in 1994 his guiding presence has remained in my heart.
After meeting Guruji, I declared myself to be a “born-again Hindu” and first began learning of the spiritual ‘goal’ sometimes called Self-realization or “enlightenment”. And, that upon Self-realization the spiritual ‘practitioner’ is dissolved into yogic union with the mystery of infinite divinity; rather than becoming a supposedly separate “enlightened” person.
According to Guruji, shaktipat initiation and his prescribed practices awakened and enhanced an evolutionary purification process of kundalini life-force energies which purify the subtle bodies and nervous system by gradually removing accumulated karmic impressions or seeds [samskaras or vasanas], which cause undesirable habits and patterns. Sometimes these awakening life-force energies manifest through spontaneous physical, mental, or emotional actions or behaviors, which Guruji called kriyas.
Since my awakening experience, for over four decades I have continued to spontaneously experience unpremeditated tears, behaviors, feelings and sensations which have helped further my spiritual evolution, and through which I have joyfully attained utmost gratitude for this blessed life.
From “born-again Hindu” to “uncertain Undo” :
For many years, I attended public satsangs and followed Guruji’s prescribed practices to advance the purification process of undoing negative karmic conditioning. Then soon after Guruji’s mahasamadhi transition, I mostly stopped relying on outer spiritual authorities and events, and reclusively focused within to intuitively advance the evolutionary kundalini purification process sparked by my shaktipat initiation of undoing negative karmic conditioning.
Whereupon, I declared myself to be an “uncertain Undo”, rather than “born-again Hindu”. And I began writing aphorisms like “Undo Ego” and composing whimsical sutras like:
“On the path of undo we’ll never be through
’til we’re an undone ONE.”
Benefits from undoing ego:
Today, over four decades since asking “Who Am I?”, and realizing my true self-identity as pure awareness, I’m still not fully ‘undone’. So ego attrition continues.
But as I’ve continued to more and more self-identify as spirit rather than body/mind, I’ve experientially found faith beyond belief, beyond dogmas or theology. And I’m happier and more grateful for this precious lifetime than ever before. (See https://sillysutras.com/ive-found-a-faith-based-life/)
Thus, from inner and outer experience, I’ve found that nondualism self-inquiry to “Know thyself” by asking “Who Am I?” can be supremely rewarding.
So today’s posting is dedicated to encouraging such self-inquiry, to discover and undo our illusory ego-mind self-identity propensities, thereby helping us find ever growing happiness.
By persistently questioning “Who Am I?”,
May we constantly undo ego illusions,
And thereby live ever happier lives,
Until ultimately as “An undone ONE!”
We “Know our Self”
as Eternal –
And so it shall be!
One must elevate – and not degrade – oneself with one’s own mind, as the mind is both a friend and an enemy.
For those who have subdued and conquered the mind, it is the best of friends.
But for those who fail to do so, the mind remains the greatest of enemies.
~ Bhagavad Gita, Chapter Six, Lord Krishna to Arjuna (6.05-06)
Q. What is the human “mind”?
A. “Mind” is a word-concept with many meanings. In answering this question, we define the human “mind” as a conditioned egoic space/time energy process, which we also call “mortal-mind”, or “ego–desire mind”, or “conditioned mind”.
Religious philosophies sometimes equate “Mind” with God, or ultimate Reality beyond space/time. But we distinguish and exclude those concepts of ultimate Reality in answering this question about the human “mind”, as the conditioned perceiver and projector of space/time samsaric ‘reality’ .
In the Bhagavad Gita, an important Hindu scripture, Divine Avatar Lord Krishna informs warrior Arjuna that the conditioned human mind
“is both a friend and an enemy”; that “for those who have subdued and conquered the mind, it is the best of friends. But for those who fail to do so, the mind remains the greatest of enemies.”
Q. How can the human mind be either our best friend or worst enemy?
A. The human mind can be either our best friend or worst enemy, depending on whether we use it skillfully to advance, or egotistically to deter, our spiritual evolution – to either terminate or perpetuate mistaken ego entity-identity.
The above Bhagavad Gita passage epitomizes the essential spiritual teaching of the entire Scripture: Attaining freedom from saṃsāra, the karmic cycle of death and rebirth, through spiritual liberation or Moksha. Metaphorically this scripture portrays (in an epic battle) the perpetual conflict between good and evil – between satisfying ego’s endless desires for ephemeral worldly gratifications, or transcending ego to achieve realization as God – the Absolute eternal spirit beyond all impermanent energy forms and phenomena.
When it identifies and perpetuates itself as ego, the human mind can be our worst enemy.
For millennia spiritual sages have identified “ego” as the greatest impediment to spiritual evolution and Self realization. Thus, the ancient Vedic seers told us that “Ego is the biggest enemy of humans.” (Rig Veda ) And the Dalai Lama says that in Buddhism ego is the “number-one enemy of compassion.”
“Ego” is conditioned mind’s mistaken self-identity as an entity separate from God – as a separate mortal perceiver of a supposedly objective world. But this is an unreal illusion – a mental mirage. Nonetheless ego-mind fearfully and constantly attempts to perpetuate its unreal existence. But such attempted self-preservation is ultimately futile. What never was can never be preserved.
Thus, while conditioned-mind attempts to perpetuate itself as illusionary ego-mind it impedes spiritual evolution, and thereby becomes “our worst enemy”.
When used skillfully to transcend ego, the human mind can be our best friend.
Except for rare Avatars and Bodhisattvas virtually all incarnate humans have not yet completed the process of spiritual evolution from humanity to divinity. So they remain subject to the karmic cycle of death and rebirth through ego misidentification. But the human mind can skillfully be subdued and used to transcend and conquer ego, and thereby to advance spiritual evolution toward achieving spiritual liberation or Moksha .
Ultimately, such transcendence happens when mind and thought cease and Universal Awareness which has been mistakenly regarded as a separate experiencer of sensations and emotions, and a separate performer of actions, exists by itself and as its Self, and is not mentally divided.
Thus, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a sacred Hindu text, state:
“Yoga is the cessation of mind.”
“The witness is Self, pure awareness, which,
though boundless and unchanging,
appears to perceive creation through the construct of mind.”
“The identification of pure awareness with the mind and its creations causes the [mistaken] apprehension of both an objective world and a perceiver of it.”
“When the mind withdraws attention from sense experience,
the senses receive no impressions from sense objects,
and awareness rests in its essential nature.”
“When he is not in the state of yoga, man remains [mistakenly] identified with the thought-waves in the mind.”
~ Patanjali – Yoga Sutras
Similarly, when twentieth century Indian sage J. Krishnamurti was asked
“Is belief in God necessary or helpful?”, he replied (in part):
“Belief in any form is a hindrance. A man who believes in God can never find God.
If you are open to reality, there can be no belief in reality.
If you are open to the unknown, there can be no belief in it. … belief is a form of self-protection…” …
“The mind is the product of the past.”
“There can be reality only when the mind understands the total process of itself and comes to an end.
When the mind is completely empty – only then is it capable of receiving the unknown.”
“Only when the mind is wholly silent, completely inactive, not projecting, when it is not seeking and is utterly still – only then that which is eternal and timeless comes into being.”
Until the human mind is psychologically de-conditioned and emptied, and no longer confuses projected pure awareness as a separate objective world, it can be gradually subdued and used skillfully to advance spiritual evolution. We can use it to lose it. Like using a thorn to remove another thorn’s sliver, we can use ego-mind to end ego-mind. We can quiet, control and dis-identify with the ‘voice in the head’, and we can behave dharmically and compassionately.
Thereby the human mind can become our ‘best friend’, by hastening transcendence of illusionary ego identity to allow Self realization as timeless thoughtless Universal Awareness.
And so may it be!
As we consider the nature and function of the conditioned human mind process, the following further information may be helpful.
Body, mind and soul are inseparable abstractions.
Every conditioned human incarnation necessarily includes body, mind and soul as concepts which cannot be separated, without destroying their spiritual significance.
They all connote an entity or energy process seemingly separate from its Source. Thus, in the Bhagavad Gita “body”, “mind”, and “soul” are all denoted by the same Sanskrit word: “atma” or “self”. So in investigating the human mind it is imperative to consider it as only one connotation of “atma” or “self” and, in all events, to consider it as a conditioned subtle energy process experienced as separate from its Source.
Metaphorically, each incarnate person can be described as a systemic earthly energy process (or vortex), with enveloped mysterious layers of perceptible and subtly imperceptible energies. What we call the “mind” includes both conscious and subconscious energy processes. When subconscious, the mind autonomically operates and regulates countless systemic functions. Consciously, conditioned mind is like a subtle energy processor of conceptual thought, intellect, memory, intention, and communication.
Death of physical bodies and brains does not end consciousness and conditioned mind. They remain to perpetuate the karmic cycle of death and rebirth.
All mental perceptions, memories and tendencies associated with physical bodies are stored in subtle mental energy bodies which survive death of those physical bodies. Contrary to pseudo-scientific materialist beliefs, brains do not create consciousness and mind; consciousness creates brains and mind to function like tuner/transducers decoding karmic cosmic energies for human interpretation.
For millennia seers and mystics have revealed that subtle mental energy bodies associated with physical bodies survive death of those physical bodies. Just as computers need an operating system to function, so do physical bodies. Like computers which operate via software, physical bodies are controlled by subtle mind-stuff energies (chitta). And when – like computers – physical bodies inevitably deteriorate and ‘die’, their ‘mental software’ survives, and is reused.
Thus, just as I am able to use with a new iMac the same OS X software system that operated an old iMac, I can (and may for eons) operate other physical bodies with the same mind-stuff energy that is animating this one. And those other physical bodies which will be using my pre-existing mental software, will probably display many of the same ‘operating features’ as my prior physical bodies. These mental operating systems can be gradually ‘up-dated’. But this usually requires a very slow process of intentional self-discovery and removal of conditioned mental obscurations and defilements.
Like computer software systems, all mental conditioning comes from the past – from this or prior lifetimes.
Thus twentieth century sage J. Krishnamurti, has declared:
“Mind is memory, at whatever level, by whatever name you call it; mind is the product of the past, it is founded on the past,
which is memory, a conditioned state.”
“The timeless can be only when memory, which is the `me’ and the`mine’, ceases.”
~ J. Krishnamurti
Transcendence of past mental conditioning is essential to achieving spiritual liberation or Moksha as the Eternal NOW.
The goal of all enduring spiritual traditions is to transcend past mental conditioning.
Such transcendence is achieved only when thoughts cease and Universal Awareness, which has been mistakenly regarded as a separate experiencer of sensations and emotions and a separate performer of actions, exists by itself as Self, and is not mentally divided.
And so shall it be!
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
~ Dr. Seuss
“[Self] Realization is of the fact that you are not a person.”
“You are THAT!”
~ Nisargadatta Maharaj
Who’s a Who, and Who are You?
Q. If “A person’s a person, no matter how small”,
and a person’s a person, though tiny or tall,
When is a person no person at all?
A. A person’s no person, whether tiny or tall,
when s(he) doesn’t think s(he)’s a “person” –
any person at all.
Q. Doesn’t everyone think they’re a “person” –
whether tiny or tall;
Does anyone think they’re no person at all?
A. Nobody thinks that they’re anyone – tiny or tall,
when they don’t think anything – anything at all.
Q. But when they’re not thinking,
who are they?
And who am I? And who are you?
A. To realize that we must stop thinking,too!
Ron’s comments and recitation of “Who’s a Who, and Who are You?”
Ron’s explanation of “Who’s a Who, and Who are You?”
Since launching the Silly Sutras website I have posted many writings – aphorisms, quotations, poems and essays – about Eastern non-dualism philosophy, which I accept as highest spiritual teachings. Paradoxically these writings point to an ultimate Truth which cannot be expressed in words, but only suggested silently – like the Buddha pointing to the moon.
Thus, sometimes we may best communicate wordlessly with silent gestures, pantomime, looks or tears; or auditorily with laughter, tunes, or music.
With words, Truth is sometimes best expressed with jest – whimsically, humorously or paradoxically.
The foregoing poem “Who’s a Who, and Who are You?” was composed to both whimsically and paradoxically point to ineffable Absolute non-duality Reality.
Einstein told us that our space/time duality reality is a persistent mental illusion – a way of thinking. Similarly, for millennia mystical inner explorers have revealed the ever illusionary nature of our impermanent relative ‘reality’ – calling it (in Sanskrit) “maya” or “samsara” – which the Buddha likened to a mental mirage.
In sutra sayings I have paradoxically proclaimed that:
“Reality isn’t REAL!”
that it is just a mental movie – a holographically, fractally, and kaleidoscopically projected ‘theater of the mind’.
In composing “Who’s a Who, and Who are You?” I have attempted to express paradoxically and whimsically how Dr. Seuss might point from space/time to Ultimate non-duality Reality.
I hope we can get the ‘point’; or at least begin to wonder what it means.
And so may it be!