To “Know Thyself” ask “Who Am I?”
~ Ron’s Memoirs
“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!
Thank you. Beautifully written. And within the words the energy bubbles and brews. Powerful.
Thank you for expressing such wonderful insights. I love that you are sharing your journey with others. You mentioned Paramahansa Yogananda…wondering if you have seen the new movie, “Awake: The Life of Yogananda”? An amazing work, and thrilled this seeker. Aum, shanti, peace.
Yes, Leslie, I recently celebrated my 82nd birthday by seeing “Awake” the inspiring biographical movie about legendary guru Paramahansa Yogananda. Author of the famous book “Autobiography of a Yogi”, Yogananda was one of those very rare beings who realized and perceived divinity in all people, and who thereby ever emanated universal Love and kindness. The film portrays his amazingly radiant energy, and I highly recommend it.