“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
To “Know Thyself” ask “Who Am I?”
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 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, with discovery and undoing of our mistaken ego-mind self-identity propensities, thereby ending consequent karmic sufferings.
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!
“Life can be found only in the present moment.
The past is gone, the future is not yet here,
and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment,
we cannot be in touch with life.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
“The greatest discovery of any generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering the attitudes of their minds.”
~ Albert Schweitzer
Ordinary human consciousness is conditioned consciousness;
it is pure Awareness conditioned by conceptions.
And our conceptual conditioning determines our condition.
~ Ron Rattner, Sutra Sayings
“If the doors of perception were cleansed
everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
~ William Blake
Forgiving the Past to Live in the Present
Mystics and some scientists say that our thoughts or beliefs about our ‘reality’ and self-identity determine our earth-life experience; that those thoughts or beliefs originate unconsciously with very subtle mental impressions (sometimes called in Sanskrit vasanas or samskaras) which through reincarnation are carried by the soul from lifetime to lifetime; that we can radically change our lives and behaviors by changing our thoughts about who or what we are; and that we can become “enlightened” only by transcending all mental conditioning.
Thus, according to twentieth century Indian sage J. Krishnamurti,
“Our problem is how to be free from all conditioning . . When the mind is completely unconditioned then only can [we] experience or discover if there is something real or not. . [A] mind . . filled with beliefs, . . dogmas . . assertions ..is really an uncreative mind; it is merely a repetitive mind.”
Our mental conditioning operates our physical body, like computer software systems operate computer hardware platforms. And, like computer software systems, all mental conditioning comes from the past – from this or prior lifetimes.
But, habitually abiding or operating with beliefs or tendencies from past experience, or projecting them into the future as fear or worry, prevents us from living spontaneously and authentically in the present moment – from fully being here NOW.
Past is history and future’s mystery, while Life is never then – it is only NOW.
“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Thus, Buddha taught that:
“There is only one time when it is essential to awaken. That time is now.” . . . . .
“That which is timeless is found now.”
Only by wiping the slate clean from past conditioning and resulting thoughts or concerns, are we are fully freed to live in the present – in the eternal NOW. Thus our spiritual evolution is furthered by any activity or practice which helps us live moment by moment in the precious present, spontaneously and authentically without mental pre-conditioning.
My life experience following a dramatic midlife spiritual awakening confirms these teachings. As gradually I have recognized and eliminated or changed beliefs and paradigms which no longer seemed valid or useful, quieted my mind, and more and more self-identified as spirit, my life has become more spontaneous and magical, and I’ve experienced ever more happiness, peace of mind, and gratitude for this precious life-time.
For me, it has been a process of mindfully witnessing inappropriate or obsolete behavioral patterns with intention of changing or eliminating them through grateful remembrance that I am not merely a separate mortal entity but universal spirit experiencing a blessed human life.
The more that I have gratefully and mindfully self-identified as spirit – as Universal Awareness – the more I have experienced fulfillment, insight, empathy, and creativity and the less I have manifested unhelpful habits and reflexive behaviors.
I have found that this transformative process of mindful spiritual self-identification has been accelerated through meditation and other universal practices of perennial wisdom traditions which help clear mental conditioning. So I’ve dedicated SillySutras.com to exploring and sharing universal wisdom principles and practices which can help us all live happier lives, as they have helped me.
During Jewish High Holy days, I am reminded of certain practices other than meditation, which may help free us from past conditioning:
1. Non-judgmental forgiveness or atonement of supposed transgressions or ‘sins’ by or against us. [see “Forgiveness And Atonement Of ‘Sins.’”] ; and,
2. Annulment and rescission of obsolete and unhelpful personal intentions, resolutions, or vows.
The Jewish High Holy Days are ten days of religious introspection and repentance, concluding with Yom Kippur [“day of atonement”]. During services, congregants communally repent past “sins” while repeatedly acknowledging that
“Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins,” [ Ecclesiastes 7:20 ]
The Yom Kippur observance begins with “Kol Nidre” (“All Vows”), a powerful prayer with a hauntingly beautiful melody which is chanted and recited in ancient Aramaic, and which for many Jews is the religious highpoint of their year.
When I attended Jewish services, during adolescence and later irregularly as an adult (before I became a “born-again Hindu”), the Kol Nidre ritual was for me emotionally memorable, even though I don’t recall knowing the meaning of the prayer until much later receiving a translation in an email message.
So, on ultimately learning the translated meaning, I was quite surprised and puzzled to learn that Kol Nidre enigmatically purports to disavow and annul until the next day of atonement all past and/or future communal or individual oaths or vows, viz.
”Let all our vows and oaths, all the promises we make and the obligations we incur to You, 0 God, between this Yom Kippur and the next, be null and void should we, after honest effort, find ourselves unable to fulfill them. Then may we be absolved of them.”
Since Judaism emphasizes the honoring of promises and obligations to others, I wondered:
“Why does the holiest of Jewish high holy days begin with a communal disavowal of all oaths or vows, which in Jewish tradition are regarded as ethically important?”
Also I began wondering why the Kol Nidre prayer has been so emotionally powerful, even when its meaning is largely unknown. After reflection and research I concluded that:
Kol Nidre applies only to personal vows to oneself or God, not affecting promises or obligations to others; it is not an unconditional request for Divine absolution from guilt for dishonored vows or obligations to others.
Many people – not just Jews – make resolutions or vows concerning their intended future behavior which are unfulfilled or become inappropriate or unhelpful as times change. And often they feel consequent frustration or guilt.
Rather than harboring guilt or frustration for this, Jewish tradition recognizes that it is best to wipe the mental slate clean. Thus, observant Jews can be spiritually uplifted and mentally cleared by communal participation in High Holy Day rituals of forgiveness or atonement of “sins”, and rescission of unhelpful personal resolutions.
And I believe that Kol Nidre has been especially powerful for even those unaware of its meaning, because subtly or subconsciously it invokes Humankind’s universal – yet paradoxically impossible – aspiration to be in this world beyond inevitable human frailty and suffering, beyond “sin” or ‘missing the mark’.
So, perhaps Kol Nidre and its haunting melody, invoke an Eternal inner voice which reminds us of our true nature – ever immanent Divine LOVE – with which we are ultimately destined to merge.
On holy days and every day, may everyone everywhere be blessed to remember their affinity and identity with Divinity; and, may we thus wipe clean the slate of past behaviors or attitudes which impede living in the precious present.
And so, may everyone everywhere be eternally happy –
Ron’s Commentary on Forgiving the Past to Live in the Present
In lunar equinox seasons of major theistic religious ‘holy days’ – Jewish (days of awe); Moslem (Eid Al-Adha); Christian (Feast of St. Francis); Hindu (Navaratri) – we are often reminded that central to all major theistic religions is the goal of psychologically returning to “godliness”. Moreover, all major religions – Buddhist-Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish – teach a common message of Love as the supreme “unifying principle of Life. . . . the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate Reality.” [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]
Yet, often in the name of religion, our world remains rife with discrimination, violence and killing which must be transcended for survival of Human life as we have known it.
Whether or not we are ‘religious’, we are all experiencing a mythological perennial process of returning to a psychological state of self-identity and “at-one-ment” with Universal Awareness, our ultimate Essence and destiny – an evolutionary process of gradually living more and more in and as the timeless NOW.
The above essay, Forgiving the Past to Live in the Present, encourages our harmony with this crucially important perennial process.
As gradually we mindfully observe and change behaviors, beliefs, and paradigms which no longer seem valid or useful, and as more and more we commonly self-identify as ONE Eternal spirit, which is LOVE – not just as separate mortals – our lives become more spontaneous and magical, enabling us to synchronistically experience ever more happiness, peace of mind, and gratitude for this precious human lifetime.
And so may it be!