WHO AM I ?
Hi Guys. In this October 2022 blog (Issue 33), I contemplate the multiple eternal questions of; ‘’Who am I?”, “What’s the purpose of life?” and “What happens when I die?”. This is somewhat of a short consolidation or reminder of related subjects in my previous blog posts.
As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. I also tap into worldly belief systems, religions and philosophies to draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom. So, if you are beginning to realise there is more to this life than you think, and you have the merest hint of something happening in yourself – read on.
These monthly blog posts are designed for those interested in mindfulness/spirituality/philosophy and will only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there (and all points raised can easily be further researched). I must emphasise that I am simply coordinating the knowledge and information that I am able to access, gather and present with lots of excerpts. I will also include text from my previous blogs as appropriate.
I will briefly touch on these questions which are of equal importance in the sphere of spirituality. All these questions are essentially different for each of us. It depends if you are spiritual and/or pragmatic about life, intuitive, curious, religious, atheistic, oppressed, oblivious, uncaring, self-aware etc. or just generally influenced or obsessed by the modern world.
However, if you are actually asking these questions you are probably in the mindset that brings you to think that there is much more to life than meets the eye, as it were. The mystery of being human probably demands many of these sorts of questions and you first need to think beyond what or who you think you are.
Each of these questions, in themselves, engage immense philosophical and spiritual contemplations. The dimensions of each of the questions have been written about and debated by the best minds for centuries. Nowadays there is an enormous amount of relevant material, easily attainable on the amazing internet and in current books and articles.
The following diagram briefly points out the aspects to be explored: -
WHO AM I?
As a ‘mortal’ being your physical body ages and dies – full stop! If this is all you expect or accept, you may not be aware that there could be more to your ‘existence’ than you realise. Briefly, your goals may be to achieve what your society, culture or other similar influences suggests for you. I.e. you could be seeking what your ego wants in the form of fame, wealth, power, esteem, status etc. You may, in fact be suffering under these illusions (and the implications of living in the ‘lower self’) without truly be able to control your life.
As an ‘immortal’ being, you will have recognised or intuited that there is a soul, spirit, consciousness or animating force within/without you that can be better understood to give you a meaningful considered life. This view, entails seeking the goals of Self-awareness, guiding you to realise that your spirit entity does not die.
Who are you? US Scientist Ali Sundermeir explains; “Well, physically about 99 percent of your body is made up of atoms of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. You also contain much smaller amounts of the other elements that are essential for life.
While most of the cells in your body regenerate every seven to 15 years, many of the particles that make up those cells have actually existed for millions of millennia. The hydrogen atoms in you were produced in the big bang, and the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms were made in burning stars. The very heavy elements in you were made in exploding stars. In 1973, Carl Sagan, the legendary US Astro physicist made the comment; “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”https://www.energy.gov/articles/particle-physics-you
Spiritually then, following these sorts of questions and depending on how you reflect on them to further understand yourself, you may find you are on a ‘journey’ which is spiritual in nature (but should be very much on your own terms). In referring to a spiritual journey per se, it is regarded as not being connected to religious doctrine, dogma or any ecclesiastical aspects.
Religion (with all these trappings) may be introduced to you at an early age and may in fact guide you eventually or obliquely to spirituality. Whereas, spirituality or Self-awareness (to be aware of your consciousness) is something you may actually discover through your own intuition – sometimes later in life but not always.
This faculty of ‘intuitive discernment’ is also defined as the ‘buddhi’ in Hindu and Buddhist belief systems. It is about using this faculty to free ourselves from the restraints imposed by the ego and habitual thinking dwelling in the past and the future (mainly fears and attachments that control you) and simply be more curious about living life by your considered choices (and not by chance).
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a French philosopher, palaeontologist and a Jesuit priest who thought deeply on the meaning of our existence and relationship with the Divine. He famously said: "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience." He indicates that we existed in spiritual form before we were born into this physical world – we are therefore eternal (immortal) souls. NB a soul is also considered the animating force for your body. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Teilhard_de_Chardin
Rajinder Singh is a Sikh spiritual Master. Singh emphasizes the fundamental unity and harmony of all faiths. With regard to our true nature (i.e. eternal self), he says; “Currently, we are asleep and ignorant of this truth. To become spiritually aware is to awaken to our true nature as spirit, to experience our true self. Spirituality is the process of discovering our true self. We normally think that perception is possible only through our bodily sense organs. Nevertheless, when we become spiritually aware, we recognize that we can perceive with the spirit. An empowered soul is a soul that has recognized itself and it aware that it is the essence of who we really are that is the guiding power behind the body and mind.”
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF LIFE?
Generally, life’s purpose is to either achieve the goals of a ‘mortal’ being enmeshed in the lower self or that of an ‘immortal’ being awakened to the higher Self.
Aldous Huxley’s was a 20th century English writer, intellectual and philosopher who wrote over 50 books including the well-known novel, ‘Brave New World’ envisioning a dystopian technocratic hell.
Huxley reflected on the universal perennial philosophy view (a theological tradition) and interpreted it as; “the divine (eternal Self) is the absolute principle of all existence; and the last end of every human being, is to discover the fact for himself, to find out who they really are.” He was introduced to the Vedanta teachings and befriended Jiddu Krishnamurti whose teachings he admired. He also wrote ‘The Divine Within - Selected Writings on Enlightenment’ (an Anthology) – Harper Collins by Jacqueline Bridgeman 1992 and The Perennial Philosophy – Chatto & Windus – London 1947. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Perennial_Philosophy
In eastern philosophy and religions, it is said that we have a dual nature; mortal and immortal, and the purpose of our lives is to determine what is the ‘truth’. That is, to transcend this duality to self-realisation/enlightenment or even just a momentary taste of this. It is said that, we are a soul having a body experience trying to get home and to escape the cycle of birth and death.
In this context, some of us may have the odd moving experience of something positive that appears to come from ‘deep within’ – maybe during a yoga session or meditation or just whilst enjoying a sunset/sunrise, a baby/small child, art etc. This might be called mystical or even momentary enlightenment or just unexplained.
Many deeply spiritual persons in the past have sometimes been referred to as mystics. These individuals are said to be able to recognise the mystery of the unity of all things. However, many more persons nowadays have a knowledge of wellbeing/philosophy/metaphysics and can recognise these so-called mystery events.
Such experiences can come at any time and the 20th century British author F.C. Happold, in his book; ‘Religious Faith and Twentieth-Century man’,attempted to analyse what these experiences were all about, as follows:
“One is enabled to recognise these experiences as truly mystical in character since they invariably contain some at least of the known and recognised characteristics of mystical states. In my book 'Mysticism' I listed seven characteristics of such states.
1. They defy expression in terms which are fully intelligible to those who have not had some analogous experience
2. Though states of feeling, they are also states of knowledge, resulting in a deeper insight into the nature of things.
3. Except in the case of true contemplatives, when they can result in a permanent shift of consciousness, they are infrequent and of short duration.
4. They convey the sense of something 'given', not dependent on one's own volition.
5. There is a consciousness of the oneness of everything
6. They also have a sense of timelessness.
7. There is forced on one the conviction that the familiar phenomenal 'ego' is not the real 'I’.
The following diagram illustrates a reference to our life path from the time of our first socialisation in childhood through adulthood and eventually to become what you think you are (i.e. this could be the destiny of your ego) or by awakening to a choice, which, if taken, then bifurcates to a spiritually styled journey taking you to become what you are seeking – i.e. Self-awareness.
In terms of the diagram, when we are born and in those early few years as a baby, we are considered to be innocent, pristine, a pure soul, a ‘flawless diamond’ with no ego. In early and later childhood our emerging personality, nature and outlook, are initially influenced by our parents, family, custom, culture, school, peers, religion/belief system and socialisation. Individual development is formulated and there is early ego development and possible early barriers to recognising the higher Self or any awareness. In some children, there could also be a whole bunch of questions and inherent curiosity about life’s purpose.
Eastern philosophy and Vedanta (i.e. the most ancient scriptures of India whose basic teaching is, that our real nature is divine) in particular, can provide guidelines for humanity. The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Sanskrit Hindu teaching at least 3-5 thousand plus years old.
The Gita basically describes an allegorical battle between the forces of ego and the higher Self, it does this with dialogue between Krishna, as the Supreme Soul teaching the warrior Arjuna (representing the best but flawed aspects of humanity) how to defeat the ego forces and discover the higher Self, (The Gita is considered a mostly secular practical guide on living a spiritual life).
The entire text is a representation of the battle that goes on in our minds and represents a blueprint for solving the ethical and moral struggles of human life. In the text, Krishna also explains to Arjuna his duty to himself and others and the ultimate meaning and order of existence. Krishna reminds Arjuna that the Self is the ultimate goal of human experience.
The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2 at Slokas 16 to 18, is interpreted as having the following meaning: -
‘The impermanent has no reality; reality lies in the eternal. Those who have seen the boundary between these two have attained the end of all knowledge. Realise that which pervades the universe is indestructible; no power can affect this unchanging, imperishable reality. The body is mortal, but he who dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable. Therefore, Arjuna, fight in this battle.’
In Hinduism, Prakriti (Sanskrit) refers to a primal creative or natural force. It signifies the natural or original intended state of something or of an individual‘s being.
Underpinning prakriti are three energetic forces called the three ‘Gunas’(primary qualities or modes of nature). The gunas are responsible for the behaviour and natural propensities of all living beings as well as existing in all objects in nature.
Timothy Burgin, - US author and Yoga teacher writes; “In the philosophy of Yoga, all matter in the universe arises from the fundamental substrate called prakriti. From this ethereal prakriti the three primary gunas (qualities of energy) emerge creating the essential aspects of all nature – energy, matter and consciousness. The three gunas are ‘Tamas’ (darkness and chaos), ‘Rajas’ (activity and passion), and ‘Sattva’ (beingness and harmony). The awareness and conscious manipulation of the three gunas are a powerful way to reduce stress, increase inner peace and lead one towards enlightenment.”
“The mind’s psychological qualities are highly unstable and can quickly fluctuate between the different gunas. The predominant guna of the mind acts as a lens that affects our perceptions and perspective of the world around us. Thus, if the mind is in ‘Rajas’ it will experience world events as chaotic, confusing and demanding and it will then have a strong tendency to continue to react to events in a ‘Rajasic’ way.
Therefore, for yogis to make progress along the path we must practice self-observation and discernment to witness and not react to the activities of the gunas. We must also have the inner-strength and willpower to consciously shift our thoughts and actions away from ‘Tamas’ and ‘Rajas’ towards ‘Sattvic’ balance and purpose.”
However, in seeking Self-realisation, there is a need to transcend the gunas to enlightenment. The Gita, especially in chapters 13 and 14 and specifically at sloka 24 of Chapter 14 where it states; “He to whom joy and sorrow are same, rooted in Self, to whom a clod of earth, stone and gold are same, to whom pleasant and unpleasant are alike, the wise, to him much censure and praise are alike.”
The Swami Parthasarathy translation of this sloka indicates: “The ignorant are affected by the varying experiences at the three levels of their personality (i.e. gunas). At the physical level they are happy with agreeable, conduce environment and experience. But become unhappy when they meet the opposite. Similarly, at the mental level they feel elated with joy but depressed with sorrow. Again, intellectually they become disturbed by censure and praise. The ignorant suffer also from their dependence upon material possession. they are affected by the alternation of wealth and poverty.
A spiritual seeker pursuing the Self frees himself from the influence of material possession, physical environment, emotional difference and intellectual vacillation. He maintains a stability, equanimity in and through all such fluctuations. Meditating upon the Self he rises above the gunas that bind him to the world.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I DIE?
According to Eastern religions/philosophies, if you have achieved the goals of a ‘mortal’ being, you will have another life cycle. If you have achieved the goals of a Self-realised being (‘immortal’), you will achieve the end of cycles of birth and death. Rebirth or reincarnation (or an afterlife concept) is an important aspect of Karma and a central tenet of the eastern religions/philosophies. Reincarnation is the philosophical or religious concept that the non-physical essence (immortal soul/consciousness) of a living being begins a new life in a different physical form.
Reincarnation is said to be cyclic and an endless Samsara (Sanskrit word meaning wheel of birth and death, involving suffering, ignorance, and dwelling in the ego) unless one gains spiritual insights that end this cycle leading to liberation (Moksha or Nirvana). This ‘liberation’ is achieved through ethical living, meditative and yogic practices (i.e. Bhakti, Jnana, Raja or Karma yoga) as a path towards enlightenment (also known as Self-Realisation). This is also known as ‘burning off your Samsara’, by making actions and decisions that are not driven by attachments and sense desires (i.e. greed, anger, hate, fear, craving or obsessive unsatisfied longing).
Karma is a Sanskrit word (ancient classical language of SE Asia) meaning action, work or deed (not fate) and refers to the dynamic spiritual principle of cause and effect. The principle of Karma indicates the intent and actions of an individual can cause or influence the future of that individual. Good intent and good deeds contribute to good Karma and happier rebirths, while bad intent and bad deeds are said to contribute to bad Karma and bad rebirths.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karma
Finding Self-Realisation (or spiritual awakening through a journey) in this aspect is where the ego is recognised but diminished by you, the practitioner, through a conscious realisation of the authentic self (Atman – higher Self). This is where your Dharma (or ethics – knowledge of how to behave justly – and the power that runs the universe as a cosmic law of creation) applies to your individual soul path. And, it is important to practice right action in your code of conduct, ethics and moral obligations. A person’s karmic accumulations (karmic bank account!) will decide whether or not they are reborn in a human form. See, ‘Spiritual Liberation’ by Michael Bernard Beckwith (2008).
"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." – Mark Twain (real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens) – 135/1910 – American writer, humourist, entrepreneur, publisher and lecturer.
“Who am I? Not the body, because it is decaying; not the mind, because the brain will decay with the body; not the personality, nor the emotions, for these also will vanish with death.” – Sri Ramana Maharshi – 1879/1950 – Indian Hindu sage and jivanmukta (liberated being) – his teachings recommended self-enquiry and surrender to the Self.
“Let everything happen to you – beauty and terror – just keep going – no feeling is final.” Rainer Maria Rilke – 1875/1926 – Austrian poet and novelist.
“Live your purpose and make your soul smile.” – Frank Sonneberg – award winning American author – currently named as one of ‘America’s top 100 thought leaders.’
“The recognition of the law of the cause and effect, also known as Karma, is a fundamental key to understand how you have created your world, with actions of your body, speech and mind. When you truly understand Karma then you realise you are responsible for everything in your life. It is incredibly empowering to know that your future is in your hands.” – Keanu Reeves – Canadian actor (starred in the Matrix – philosophical thriller).
The material (empirical) world is considered unreal, an illusion born of ignorance. Cast off this veil and access the pure, perfect unchanging consciousness which pervades everything.
It would appear that dissolving the ego mind and achieving self-realisation is the ultimate destination. Ego is the enemy! You can change the course of your life this instant by letting go of your habitual obsessive thoughts (i.e. mainly in the past and in the future). These obsessive thoughts are generally brought about by fear and entertaining unhappy emotions. Focus on the present moment – it is all you have.
You are the Self, meditate on that, gain knowledge/experience, do the work and as you get closer to an advanced spiritual stage, you will find there is no turning back.
All this is dependent on how you perceive your meaning of life and the perception of your own significance in the cosmos.
Also, try yoga, along with meditation – a natural combination for achieving overall well-being. If already practicing yoga and meditation – go deeper – both higher vibration activities! Nourish your mind body and spirit!
Compiled by Baz Shirley.
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And all my previous posts on: mumbojumbonews.com