We use the word ‘I ‘ a number of times a day, but we have never tried to think what is the real meaning of this word. What does this word I’ signify ?
Thinking ordinarily, you can say that there is nothing in the word requiring deep thinking. Do we not understand who ‘I’ am? You can also reply, “I am a child or a young man or I am a man, a woman, a scholar or a rich merchant.” But my question is, “Are you not something else than these ?” All these are only synthetic accidental modifications of various objects, only externally visible.
What I mean to say is this. If you are a child, childhood is to come to an end some day, but you will continue to exist even afterwards. Therefore, you can’t be a child. Likewise, you cannot also be a young man. Childhood and youth are the changes of the body and the word ‘I’ does not indicate body. I am sure you do not regard your body as your own self.
Same way, you are a rich man, because of your possession of wealth, but wealth and riches are going to disappear. When wealth disappears, will you also disappear ? Scholarship is the name of knowledge of a few books. Did you not exist when you had no knowledge of such books ? If you did exist, it appears that you are different from riches and scholarship i.e., you are not a rich man or a scholar.
The question then arises “Who am I”? It is not difficult to find an answer to this, if it rises in the depth of the heart and you are really inquisitive about the solution. This ‘I’ has forgotten the self in his pursuit of all else. How strange that the seeker has forgotten the seeker himself ! The whole world is so busy in taking care of others that it has no time to think “Who am I” ?
Different from body, mind, speech, delusion, attachment, aversion and even from the intellect aiming at others, I am an everlasting, pure, eternally conscious being having all bliss and sentience, and never changing.
For example, a man forgets that he is an Indian, in the thick cover of provincialism and thinks that he is a Bengalee, a Madrasi or a Punjabi. Indian nationalism thus stands divided in the deep feelings of provincialism. In the same way, the soul sinks deep in the clouds of oneness with the realisation that one is a man, a god, a masculine, a feminine, a child or a yougeman. Why should, therefore, we forget that we are animate sentient beings, amidst the cries of being possessed of wealth or learning, or being a child or an old man, just as our leaders ask us to remember that we are Indian first, Madrasees or Bengalees afterwards ?
Just as every Indian should strongly feel that he is an Indian in order to preserve the unity of Bharat, for such a feeling is the only way to protect that unity, in the same way the strong feeling of being a soul is very necessary in order to get a correct answer to the question “Who am I” ?
So I am only an animate being different from wife, son, house, riches, money and even my body. Delusions, attachments and aversions, that rise in the soul, being not part of its nature and transitory, do not come within the limits of the soul, and the petty development of our knowledge depending upon other objects, is not able to throw light on our perfect supreme consciousness. The fully developed manifestation of our consciousness, too since it is not eternal, cannot be accepted as our everlasting, perfect and indivisible soul, because soul is a substance, while this fully developed state is only a modification of the attribute of consciousness.
The real meaning of ‘I’ is an eternal indestructible element existing in all the three divisions of time i.e. past, present and future. So long as we do not develop the feelings of sameness with this sentient indestructible everlasting element i.e. our soul, to the question “Who am I” ?
The soul that we describe with the word ‘I’ is a subject of our inner vision and a matter of experience. It cannot be achieved by external activities of any kind. It cannot be bound with mental thoughts, because it is a matter of our soul awareness. It cannot also be achieved with the help of sensual perceptions, because senses only feel touch, taste, smell, colour and sound and can only be instruments in the knowledge of inanimate objects. These senses cannot be even passive causes of the knowledge of our souls.
This soul substance, an object of our experience, is a solid mass of consciousness and bliss. It is all purity, different from the subjects of senses and other feelings. Its separateness from other external inclinations and oneness with consciousness and other supreme attributes are its purity. It is one and the oneness of its countless attributes is its unity. Such a soul is soul alone, nothing else, all alone and self-sufficient. I have nothing that I can give others, and being perfect in myself, I do not stand in the need of cooperation from any external being.
This soul is above the intricacies of the spoken word, known only to our own experience. The first step towards its realisation is the study of the elements, but that realisation will arise after discarding all the thoughts about the soul itself.
Who am I ?” is a matter of our awareness, and our answer to this question has to be received from our own inner realisation. It cannot be expressed in words or writings. Words and writings can only make indications about this supreme being, they can point towards the direction, but cannot bring about its modification.
Dr. H.C. Bharill