My Personal Analysis of ‘Who am I’

My Personal Analysis of ‘Who am I’

By Desmond Yeoh Seng Cheong

Who am I?

Am I my body? If I am my body, then I will still exist after I die and my body is somehow prevented from rotting. If I am my body, I would be different after a heart transplant or if I lose a body part. I cannot say that I am my hand or my leg. If a part of my body is not me, then the total of all my body parts cannot be me. If I am my body, I would have total control over it but it seems to ignore my wants. It ages and weakens over time against my will and I cannot make a toothache go away no matter how hard I demand. No, I am not my body.

Am I my mind? What is the mind? Essentially, my mind is my thoughts. What are thoughts? My thoughts are everything that has been taught to me. It was put into me by others from the day I was born. What I perceive as good and bad or right and wrong is conditioned into my by others. Therefore, the bulk of my mind came into existence after I was born. I have little control over my thoughts. Random thoughts arise due to external stimuli. When I see a cute baby, loving thoughts arise but when I see an enemy, angry thoughts arise. I cannot tell my mind to remain silent whenever I want it to. External circumstances seem to have more control over my mind than me. When I watch a movie, my entire mind is absorbed in the movie. Am I then the movie? I am not. When I am listening intently to another person, both of us will have the same exact thoughts at that moment. Am I the other person at that point? I am not. I often picture myself when thinking about my past and my future. Am I that picture? No, that is just a creation of the mind and cannot be me. I can see myself as my brain but my brain is no different from any other organ in my body.  Saying that I am my brain is like saying I am my liver. No, I cannot be my mind.

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Who am I?

Am I what the world perceive me to be, for example, if the world sees me as a doctor, am I the doctor? No, being a doctor means my mind contains more thoughts and knowledge relating to medicine and similarly, being an engineer means my mind contains more thoughts and knowledge relating to engineering. My job title and any other titles I hold merely describe to a certain extent the nature of my thoughts. Thoughts are not existential. I am not my thoughts and therefore, I am not what the world perceives me to be. Even so, I am not the name given to me at birth.

Am I my senses? After all, I am caught up with sense objects all the time. My senses allow me to process external stimuli. At any one time, I can only be aware of one or two sense objects and be oblivious of other sense objects, for example, I may be looking deeply at a painting and may be unaware of the surrounding sounds or temperature or smell. Does that mean that I am only my sight at that point? No, that cannot be. When I am thinking, I may not hear what another person is saying to me. Does that mean I have temporarily disappeared? When I am asleep, there are times when I am not aware of any sense objects at all. At that point, am I dead; only to be reborn the next morning? No, I cannot rationally say that I am my senses.

Am I my emotions? Again, my emotions are determined more by external circumstances than me. If that is not the case, I can will myself to be happy all the time. No doubt, my emotions can make my thoughts more ‘real’ for example, my emotions can make a storybook interesting because many emotions are stimulated when I read the book but studying can be boring because my emotions remain dormant while I am reading. The thoughts that arise in my mind determine my emotions. If I am not my thoughts, I cannot be my emotions as well. My emotion makes my experiences real but I have little or no control over it. I cannot be something that I cannot control. Therefore, I am not my emotions.

Am I my consciousness? Consciousness only exist when I am ‘conscious’ of something. I may be conscious of what I am thinking about (mental objects) but may not be conscious of my other senses. Therefore, when I am conscious of my thoughts, am I my thoughts and when I am conscious of some sound, am I that sound? What happens in deep meditation or deep sleep when I am not conscious of anything at all? At that point, consciousness cannot be said to exist. If I am my consciousness, what happened to me at that moment of no-consciousness?

Who am I?…Who am I?

Wait! I see it now: My problems arise not because I do not know who I am. My problems are due to taking what I am not to be what I am. I have mistaken myself to be all the above when I am none of them! That is the root cause of my suffering. I do this out of habit. It is as if I have been wearing a mask for so long that I have forgotten that I am wearing a mask! How can I constantly remember that I am not the mask I am wearing?

I know….I shall follow Ramana Maharshi’s advice; whenever I meet with disturbing thoughts, emotions or sense-objects, I shall ask myself “Who am I” to remind myself of what I am not. If, for instance, someone insults me, I shall ask myself, “Who is the ‘I’ that is insulted? Is it my body, my name, my emotions, my mind etc?” If for some reason I get angry at myself, I shall ask myself, “Who is the ‘I’ getting angry? Who is the other ‘I’ which is the target of the anger?” By constantly asking myself these questions, my habit of taking what I am not to be what I am, will weaken. Although I can clearly see that each of the above aspects is not me, together, they create an illusory ‘I’ that is very convincing. My consciousness shifts between these aspects so quickly that I see an illusory self that is not really like, like the blades of a fan appearing to be a circle when they are moving very fast.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Raju
    May 29, 2012 @ 04:07:46

    Dear Desmond,

    I have a doubt. If I am not my body etc, why i can not remember or have a picture about my child hood life (from my birth to two years of my age or above). Please let me know if you have any idea.

    Raju

    Reply

    • kriyayogamalaysia
      May 29, 2012 @ 06:57:09

      Babies do not identify with an ego or ‘I’. As a result, they do not have memories of a ‘self’ when they grow up. This is the main reason why we do not remember our first few years after birth.

      Reply

  2. Raju
    May 29, 2012 @ 09:30:37

    So ‘I’ can have existence with the help of body and also while the mind is maturing then only ‘I’ coming into the existence. otherwise what is the form of ‘I’ ( I am not questioning, just i want to explore on this).

    Reply

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