11.7 : ESSAY ON 'I'
The ‘I’ is nearer to us than our eyes and ears. It is the soul of our souls. Whether it is childhood or adulthood we refer to ourselves by the same ‘I’. It is not the body nor the senses nor the intellect nor the vital air of breath which sustains our life, nor any combination or conglomeration of these. It is nothing that is included in all that we call ‘mine’. Write out all that goes under the list of what we might want to call ‘mine’. This must include not only one’s physical possessions, but also one’s own body and its limbs, mind, mental opinions, anything which can go under ‘my ….’. Throw out ALL THIS and then what remains is ‘I’. This I is the Self of the Upanishads. This Self, they say, is just the Brahman that transcends everything. The Self is known by the word ‘Atman’.
Anything that we call ‘this’ or ‘ours’ is impermanent. Only the ‘I’ embedded in our self is permanent. For this ‘I’ never changes, inspite of our aging, inspite of the passage of time and inspite of a change in location. So neither time nor space causes a change to this ‘I’, though, of course, anything ‘connected’ with this ‘I’ does get affected by time, space and causation. The Upanishadic seers have done a substantial research on this question. Who is this ‘I’ that seems to be never-changing? In this connection they analyse the daily event of sleep. We say ‘I slept well’. Who slept well? Who remembers the pleasure of sleeping? Certainly it is not the mind because it was itself sleeping. If it were not sleeping it would have been dreaming. Then who has enjoyed the pleasure of sleeping and now remembers it? The scriptures say that it is the ‘I’ which is a permanent witness to all the happenings, and which is the substratum of all that can be called mine.
That witness is the Atman which is spoken of in the scriptures as
SOUNDLESS, FORMLESS, INTANGIBLE, UNDYING, TASTELESS, ODOURLESS, WITHOUT BEGINNING, WITHOUT END, ETERNAL, IMMUTABLE AND BEYOND NATURE.
“ashabdam, asparsham, arUpam, avyayam,
tathA arasam, nityam, agandhavaccha yat;
anAdyanantam mahataH param dhruvam …”
(Katha Upanishad: 1-3-15.
Its own nature is perfect bliss and perfect knowledge.
A true renouncer knows that the only way to live in the world and not be attached to it is to attach oneself to God. That this is the same thing as attaching oneself to the Atman is the advaitic conclusion. The ‘I’ of such a devotee does him or anybody no harm. It is like a ‘sword, which after touching the philosopher’s stone, turns into gold; and therefore, cuts no more and injures none’ (Quotation from Sri Ramakrishna). Only the form or the mark of the ego is left in such a person like the dry leaves of a coconut tree that have dropped off in the wind leaving marks on the trunk; those marks only show they were leaves at one time.
Renunciation of doership is the negation of the false idea of ourselves as the doer. The body does not claim any proprietorship for the ‘I’-feeling. The Atman does no function, so it does not claim the ‘I’-feeling. In between, the feeling of ‘I’ is born in the whole system consisting of the body and mind. It is actually a knot (called ‘granthi’ in Tamil works of Ramana Maharishi) between Consciousness and the Inert (jaDam). This knot is ‘the bondage, the individual soul, the subtle body, egoism, samsAra and the mind’. (Quotation from Ramana). Cutting the knot is sannyAsa, physical renunciation; loosening the knot and making it ripe for cutting is tyAga, inner renunciation. The latter should always precede the former.
The advaita school holds that the individual self minus its ego as well as its avidyA (= Ignorance arising from its vAsanAs) is nothing but the Absolute Self. So when the individual self is said to surrender to the higher Self, what is surrendered and sacrificed to the Subject is the ego. The thought of proprietorship of action, namely that ‘I am the doer (KartA)’, ‘I am the experiencer (BhoktA)’ – this parigraha, i.e., mental possession of possessorship and doership, is what is renounced and surrendered.
By the oft-quoted statement ‘Renouncing all dharmas’ (sarva-dharmAn parityajya – Gita 18-66) what is sought to be renounced is the dharma of being the possessor and doer of all actions, words and thoughts. ‘I’ and ‘Mine’ are the two great evils in the mind. Instead of identifying ourselves with the real ‘I’ who is deep within us as the Subject, we always confuse ‘I’ with the body, mind and its ramifications. This is ‘dehAtma-buddhi’. It is the feeling that this Self is the conglomeration of several things external to it like the body, etc. It is this false dharma that has to be renounced. Once it is done then what remains is the Subject and Subject alone. There is no second. The surrender is complete.
This is the apex of both Bhakti and jnAna. Our true nature is Divinity and becoming divine is most natural to us. In that natural state one loves all human beings and the love to the Personal Manifestation of the Impersonal is a spontaneous effervescence. This is parA bhakti – Devotion par excellence. It knows no ‘I’ or ‘Mine’. The little self is merged in the Supreme Self. Knowledge and Ignorance both get consumed in that oneness of the knower, the known and knowledge. There is no seer, no vision, nothing to be seen.
For such a brahma-jnAni, neither time nor action, neither merit nor demerit, neither pleasure nor pain, matters the least. In that state of Enlightenment, there is no distinction between oneself and the other self. It is full of Grace and Light – no darkness, no confusion. It is the massive Light of Consciousness. No up, no down; no high, no low; no peak, no valley. It is a state that transcends speech and mind, a state that has no goings-on, no action, no reaction. Who can describe such a state? Only a confirmed brahma-jnAni like Adi Shankara can vocalise it into poetry thus:
‘No merit, no demerit, no happiness, no misery, no chants, no holy water, no scriptures, no rituals. I am neither the experiencer, nor the experienced, not also the experience. I am Consciousness, I am Bliss, I am Shiva’
na puNyam na pApam na soukhyam na dukham
na mantro na tIrtham na vedAH na yajnAH;
aham bhojanam naiva bhojyam na bhoktA
cidAnanda-rUpaH Shivo’ham Shivo’ham.