WHO AM I?
This searching question “Who Am I”, recommended by the Sage Ramana Maharshi, strips away the illusion of the egoic self, and when repeated as a mantra, is like the echo machine, familiar to sailors, which searches below the murky depths to reveal the reality that lays underneath.
“Who Am I”, is a direct question that gradually unmasks the false layers of identity, to reveal the true “Self”, the eternal reality that lies within. The non dual reality (advaita), that underlies all phenomena, can be likened to the ocean, without which the surface waves, which come and go, could not exist. It is identification with the surface waves of life that leads to confusion, emotional highs and lows, and the danger of being caught and transfixed by forces outside of ourselves.
Fortunately the road to freedom has been clearly outlined in the sacred texts and spiritual dialogues of the Upanishads, and in modern times in the literary works of Eugene Halliday. In particular his Reflexive Self Consciousness, which is an essential read for all those who seek psychological well being, and spiritual enlightenment. In the longest and oldest of the Upanishads the Brihad-aranyaka the Sage Yajna speaks and says that the Self (Atman), is not this- not this (Neti-neti), (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, 5.5.15).
To repeat daily, in a spirit of self inquiry “Who Am I”, will bring to mind many attributes, such as one’s own social and economic standing in life, the impressions we have about ourselves, and a constant stream of sense related information. This like the surface waves on the ocean distracts from the underlying reality and hence the reminder, not this- not this (neti – neti).
The analogy of the waves and the ocean is far from perfect, yet it goes some way to representing the continuum of the life-force, as it expresses itself through all animate and apparently inanimate objects, each standing out for a time and creating the illusion of separativity. To experience the wisdom that underlies form we have to place the mind in the heart and experience the source from which everything has arisen, hence the reminder, not this-not this.
Thoughts, habits and desires, have an inherent will to exist, and the more we charge them with energy the stronger they become, until even unwelcome thoughts become difficult to dismiss, invading dreams and creating under currents of feeling that influence every level. Watchfulness and discrimination are two key words during our journey of self enquiry, and we have to be vigilant, so that that the mantra neti-neti, does not lead from one form of day dreaming to another.
We cannot see the world of spirit, but it is ever present, and can be sensed at intuitive levels of perception, such as when we see an object or scene of great beauty, and then realise that to recognise it, it must already exist within ourselves. We are reminded here, of the words of a Father to his Son in the Chandogya Upanishad (6.12-14). “Believe me, my son, an invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is Reality. That is Atman. THOU ART THAT”.
The Atman is both immanent and infinite and it is that in us which knows and has the freedom to make choices. The choices we make, determine the nature of the life we lead and ultimately we cannot blame anyone for what happens to us, as individual choices determine our outcome. True happiness lies on the inside and not on the outside and it is by diving deep within, that we are able to tap a source of wisdom that provides the template for every living thing, and continues to guide each according to their individual karma and the lessons to be learned.
The key to achieving clarity and awareness is a short period of meditation every day, and by enquiring “Who Am I”, this thought will gradually put all thoughts and impressions into perspective and gradually consciousness will become the screen against which all other thoughts come and go.
It is taught that all mantric syllables become more powerful the quieter they become, hence they are first voiced, then whispered, and mentally repeated until only the essence of the sound remains. ‘Who’, may start its life as an interrogative pronoun, but during meditation becomes more subtle, and much like the air flowing through circled lips, when voicing “Who”, there grows the sense of reaching more subtle levels of inflowing energy and consciousness..
Gradually we begin to trust the intuitive response from centre and learn to ‘Let Go and Let God’, by responding to the truth within the heart, and that Self same intelligence, that has developed the flowers in the field, the ability of the turtle and salmon to navigate the oceans of the world. It will also guide man to develop to his full potential, if we would only stop, let go, and listen.