To make the best choices in every issue in life, you must first answer these 5 questions: Who am I? Where have I come from? Why am I here? What’s to be done? Where shall I go?
by Leonard Perlmutter (Ram Lev)
Harrowing, infuriating stories emerging from the #MeToo movement, the opiate addiction crisis, and the St. Valentine’s Day massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School continue to tear at our hearts. But as we struggle to make the best choices concerning these horrifying revelations and to direct our creative energies toward positive change in our nation’s character, conduct and consciousness, we must first pause—and acknowledge one potent, undeniable truth: As we decide what’s to be done, our unexamined and unconscious preconceptions are going to exert enormous power to distort our perceptions.
In everyday life none of us really sees circumstances as they truly are. Instead, we experience a projection of our own mental concepts. As first century Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “We are not disturbed by things, but rather by the views we hold of them.” In fact, Shakespeare went so far as to claim that, “There is nothing either good or bad, only thinking makes it so.”
Because so many of our unconsciously held concepts are neither true nor valid, the perceptions our minds form, and the associated actions our bodies take, often lead to more pain—not the desired overcoming of pain.
If we seek change while relying on worn-out, untruthful, faulty concepts, we will doom ourselves to even more painful, tormenting anger and fears. Unintentionally, we will create yet another level of distress. As the Compassionate Buddha warned, “Don’t swallow a hot iron ball and then cry out, ‘I am in great pain.’”
If we are sincerely seeking a kinder and more rewarding way to treat ourselves and others, we must first examine the one concept that most perverts our human perceptions. That concept is the personal pronoun “I.”
Sadly, in the midst of all our human relationships, most of us do not really know who we are. And if our friends and foes seek to know us merely by evaluating our current physical, mental, emotional, political and spiritual attributes, they also can never really know us for certain. That’s because everything with a name and a form in the material world is continually changing—including “me,” and including “you.”
If, however, we can admit to ourselves that we need to set aside relative truths in order to find meaningful solutions to the perplexing issues of our times, we can employ the sage advice of Albert Einstein, who advised humanity that, “A problem cannot be solved on the level at which it appears. It must be solved on a higher level.”
The first step to discovering the higher truth that Einstein believed would lead to genuine and workable solutions, is to contemplate and answer these five essential questions: Who am I? Where have I come from? Why am I here? What’s to be done? Where shall I go?
Who Am I?
We define ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally every day. We might define ourselves as tall or short, heavy or thin, flexible or inflexible, happy or sad, focused or unfocused, calm or stressed, angry or forgiving, bored or interested, fearful or fearless. The list could go on and on.
When we examine how we define ourselves, one thing becomes clear. Each definition of “I” implies the existence of its polar opposite. Why? Because our world of relativity is defined by pairs of opposites. We can’t know up without knowing down, in without knowing out, anger without knowing forgiveness, and fearlessness without knowing fear.
If you gaze at the ceiling above you it will appear high to you, and yet if you were on the roof, that same ceiling would seem low. While that observation would also be true, both would be only relatively true. On this plane of existence, the human being is subject to the laws of relativity. The height of the ceiling, for example, is subject to the laws of time, space and causation. The ceiling height is only relatively true, and relative truths are always subject to change.
The very same can be said about any definition we attribute to the personal pronoun “I.” Information derived through the senses is always only relatively true. Right now I’m tall, but when I was five years old I was short. Yesterday I was angry, but today I’m forgiving. Last week I was calm, yet this week I’m anxious. When I fly in an airplane twenty thousand feet in the air I am fearful. When the plane lands I become fearless.
Based on our memory, the only unchanging truth about ourselves that we can declare with certainty is “I AM.” Other than I AM, when we try to define ourselves we invariably settle on a meaning that reflects a relative truth that is ever-changeable. Everyday definitions of the “I” are never absolutely true.
Contemplate this point for a moment. Based on your personal memory, was there ever a time in your life when the statement “I am” was not absolutely true?
Certainly the size and shape of your body have changed over a lifetime, as has your mental and emotional landscape. You might have been heavy as a child, but now you are thin. Yesterday you might have been fearful, but today you’re fearless. In your youth you were politically liberal, but in the afternoon of life you’re more conservative.
The I-amness that has continued as the only constant in your life is the most persuasive indication that consciousness exists beyond the mind-body-sense complex that “I” refers to as “me.” This inherent capacity to be present every moment—to witness—is what allows “you” to perceive and comprehend the words on this page, and it enables “me” to order thoughts and craft words into this essay.
Consciousness, referred to as awareness or attention, exists both within and beyond time, with and without an object to observe. As a meditator begins to observe his or her thoughts, consciousness can observe consciousness in the silence between two thoughts. Consciousness is the background of all reality—a cosmic soup of awareness from which and into which all gross and subtle objects appear for limited periods of time.
What are these gross and subtle objects that continually appear in your awareness? The clothes you wear and the bed you sleep in are gross objects. Anything that’s perceived through the senses is a gross object—including the human body. The truth, therefore, is that “we” have a body, and “we” are aware of the body, but “we” are not the body. It is merely the instrument of consciousness.
Gross objects appear in your awareness for only a limited time, and then they depart. This phenomenon is not very different from the weather. Yesterday it was sunny. Today it’s raining, and tomorrow it may snow.
Subtle objects, like thoughts, desires, emotions and concepts also appear in your awareness. Like gross objects, subtle objects also have a form, but they vibrate at a frequency too high to be perceived through the rudimentary instrumentation of the five senses. You can’t see, taste, or touch them. Yet, through the mind, your most powerful instrument, “you” are made aware of these subtle objects. Seemingly out of nowhere, a thought comes into your awareness. It could be a thought that provokes a desire, fear or anger. It might not have been in your awareness a few seconds ago, yet you’re aware of it now, in the present moment. In an hour you may hardly remember the thought.
This understanding encourages you to dis-identify with anything that is transitory. It is clear “you” have a body, but “you” are not the body. “You” have a mind with thoughts, desires emotions and concepts, but “you” are not the mind, nor are “you” the thoughts, desires, emotions or concepts appearing in your awareness through the instrument of the mind. Essentially, the real You is awareness itself—pure consciousness without any object—consciousness that, by its very nature, can perceive all the gross and subtle objects that appear in time and space.
While “I” can never completely define who “I” am through the limitations of language, “I” can experience the truth. For this noble purpose, Yoga Science describes our Essential Nature as being a composition of three fundamental qualities.
Sat – Eternal Existence
The first characteristic of your Essential Nature (the real “I”) is described by the Sanskrit word Sat, meaning eternal existence. That internal witnessing capacity that allows “you” to perceive all gross and subtle objects is eternal, changeless. The ultimate “I” was never born and will never die. It is self-existent. Unlike every gross and subtle object, awareness is not dependent on
anything else for its existence.
No object can claim to be eternal. A book, for example, is neither eternal nor self-existent. It is dependent on many different things for its existence: trees, a lumberjack, trucker, paper mill, printer, bindery, author, editor, publisher, salesperson, and bookstore or website. Objects like a book, or even the desire for the knowledge to make an enlightened decision concerning a sexual predator or mass murderer, may be subject to change, but your own awareness—which empowers perception—is eternal.
Jesus the Christ taught us that, “Before Abraham was, I am.” What was He speaking of, if not the eternal capacity to witness? When Moses was in the desert, he stood before a bush that was burning yet not consumed by the flame. Acknowledging the sacredness of the experience, Moses asked the bush, “Who are you?” Whereupon the bush replied to Moses, “I am that I am.” Moses grasped the import of the Divine pronouncement, but still was doubtful that others would. He asked the bush, “What shall I tell the Hebrew people? Who shall I tell them has sent me?” To this the Lord responded by saying, “Tell the Hebrew people that ‘I am’ has sent you.”
Chit – Consciousness and Wisdom
The second characteristic of your Essential Nature (“I”) is Chit, meaning consciousness—your capacity for awareness, attention and wisdom. Within Chit resides an intuitive library of wisdom.
Everyday, “you” have relationships with thousands of gross objects: people, animals, plants and minerals. You also witness thousands of subtle objects: thoughts, desires, emotions and judgments that come into your awareness for a limited length of time. The nature of the real “you” is Eternal Awareness (Sat and Chit)—capable of providing all the higher knowledge necessary for your mind-body-sense complex to skillfully fulfill your life’s purpose.
Ananda – Bliss or Fullness
The final characteristic of your Essential Nature (“I”) is Ananda. It means bliss or complete fullness. There is no gross or subtle object you can know, experience or obtain that can make you any fuller or more content than “you” (pure consciousness) already are. On the highest level of consciousness, “you” are the Eternal Witness—the attentive background—eternally content in the bliss and fullness of your own transcendent perfection.
You have already glimpsed the unspeakable joy, bliss, fullness and contentment that the sages refer to as Ananda, and yet, may not have recognized it. You might have experienced this Ananda when you fell in love, or at the sight of your own newborn child. Or, the rapture of Ananda might have briefly come to you as you jogged, gardened or read; as you lost yourself in a beautiful painting or musical composition; or as you stood in awe before the majesty of a glorious sunset on a secluded lake. When your attention is completely captured by one object, there is no room for thinking. You neither entertain memories of the past nor imaginations of the future. Instead, at that singular point in space and time, when all your attention becomes fixed on a particular object, the perceiver and the object of perception both disappear, and what reflects into the awareness of the Inner Witness is Ananda—an indescribable contentment.
After some time, of course, new, compelling thoughts stream into your awareness. New, subtle objects appear, diverting “you” from the bliss of one-pointed attention, and you once again begin to think and question. You may have been momentarily absorbed in the absolute beauty of a rose, but the mind eventually intervenes by entertaining a thought. “Is this rose as magnificent as the one I grew last summer?” The intellect diffuses your focus and the bliss of Ananda fades from conscious awareness. Once more you are swept away into the unending procession of memories of the past and hypotheticals for the future that effectively dissipate your mental energy and enslave your perceptions to your mental pre-conceptions.
Those fleeting, bliss-filled moments might be termed “peek” experiences. Through them, you have been granted a tiny glimpse of the bliss that is your very own Divine Nature. When your attention is thoroughly one-pointed, the individual self, the little ego, that limited sense of “I” disappears, leaving only Sat-Chit-Ananda, the eternal, bliss-filled consciousness and wisdom of the Eternal Witness.
When the mind experiences a moment of one-pointedness, the habitual procession of mental distractions temporarily abates.
In that stillness you feel wonderful. This contentment, the sages remind us, is nothing other than the bliss of Ananda reflecting into your own consciousness (Chit). It is your eternal Self. It is fullness. It is perfection. No object or relationship could make you feel any more content than you already are in that stillness.
These experiences of fullness are a taste of what is your birthright. There is nothing “you” have to get from outside yourself to be free of anger, judgment, fear, anxiety, stress, burnout, phobias, sorrow, spiritual longing, or any kind of physical, mental or emotional suffering. You merely have to recognize That which you are. When a sculptor stands before a raw block of marble, she might have a vision of an elephant. As she takes hammer and chisel in hand, she proceeds to remove everything from the block that is not elephant—until all that remains is the elephant.
There is really no magic in your making discriminating and rewarding choices— regardless of whether you’re deciding what to eat for dinner, or how our society should deal with mass murderers or sexual predators. In the past, “we” didn’t know our real Self, and our own unconscious concepts habitually motivated “us” to make choices that gave rise to pain, misery and bondage. As 20th century mystic Ramana Maharshi observed, “The mind is consciousness which has put on limitations. The real You is originally unlimited and perfect. Later, You put on limitations and then identify with the mind’s restraints.”
But, as your meditation practice deepens and the personality acknowledges your real Self as Sat-Chit-Ananda—eternal, consciousness, wisdom and bliss, the real You will begin to see things as they are, not as they once appeared. Then, through an ongoing dynamic process of purification and transformation, the old personality’s unconscious limitations will slowly fall away. In their place, the old “you” will truly become the real You—ever-supported by a clarity of vision that enables “you” to serve as the compassionate instrument of change you have longed for in the world.