Who Am I?

[This is an old article that I wrote more than fifteen years ago. At that time I thought that a soul existed independently of the physical universe. I no longer believe that. Soul implies an identity. I now believe that any identity, even self, perishes with the body. If any spirit remains, then that spirit is part and parcel of this universe. Spiritual and physical are not separate. They are part of the same system. ~Vinaire, February 6, 2012]

I believe each one of us has agonized over the question, “Who am I?” at some time or other in our eventful lives. Probably the most troubling times were the teenage years, when one was unsure of oneself and longed for guidance. Ultimately, the constancy of our culture and its spiritual heritage helped us find a meaningful answer.  But, we worry if it is going to be just as easy for our children who are growing up in America.  These children are increasingly faced with a global environment where cultural values are in turmoil.  Will they be able to find the answer to who they are?

Most striking to me during my teenage years was the directness and certainty with which Swami Vivekananda brought some understanding to this subject.  Matching it, in its influence, was the ability to analyze which only an engineer like Swami Chinmayananda could impart.

“I am a spirit living in a body, I am not the body.  The body will die, but I shall not die,” declared Swami Vivekananda with a knowingness far greater than a mere intellectual understanding of Vedas.  Most of us seem to believe we have a soul, but that’s NOT what the Swami said.  One does not “have” a soul.  One is the soul.  Swami knew that the thing which is the person, the spirit, was separable from the body and the mind at will and without bodily death and mental derangement.  This certainty was brought to him through samadhi.

“Now the spirit is seeing itself as the body.  That must stop.  The moment you begin to realize that, you are released,” said Swami Vivekananda pointing to the false perception most people seem to have.  They think they are the body.  They identify themselves with its name and characteristics.  The identity provided by the body becomes so valuable that they believe this is what they are.  Losing it, or giving it up, is unthinkable to them.  The first question a person encounters in samadhi is quite often: “How will I establish my identity if I have no body?”  It is a terrifying moment.

“The feeling of independence which possesses us all, shows there is something in us besides mind and body…  Each soul is a star, and all stars are set in that infinite azure, that eternal sky, the Lord.  There is the root, the reality, the real individuality of each and all.  Religion began with the search after some of these stars that had passed beyond our horizon, and ended in finding them all in God, and ourselves in the same place.”  This is a beautiful answer by the perceptive Swami Vivekananda.

The idea that as one rises in potential he becomes one with the universe is often misunderstood to mean he becomes identified with every thing.  This idea is false.  The truth is that as a person rises in potential his self-determinism increases and so does his ability to create and control.  He or she loses all the earlier identification with body, mind, and objects, and becomes more and more oneself.

As one’s awareness increases, one comes into harmony with rest of the universe.  One can be or not be as one wishes.  As the individuality increases one loses the necessity for having an identity .  Nirvana is the extinction of all identification with things.  Nirvana is NOT the extinction of one’s individuality.  One is first and foremost oneself.

The most common confusion on part of an individual is between himself ‘as an identified object,’ and his individuality or beingness.  A person’s beingness depends upon his ability to create or command his environment, not upon his identification with the body or any label, status, or position.  When one realizes this difference one can truly be free and oneself.

“Who am I?” If you come up with the answer, “I am,” you are most probably right. For you are the spirit, you are the causative potential, you are who is running this mind and body.


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  • Chris Thompson  On February 6, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Good recap Vin. This view is common to religion and spirituality of all types. Though we may mince words, this is what people generally think once they have left the group which identifies entirely with their flesh and and temporal existence.

    Even your “I am” is a layer of identification which may be a layer of illusion of identification which we assign to ourselves. So then in retort one may challenge me “what do you mean by ‘…we assign…’?” And my father would have asked “do you have a mouse in your pocket? (comprising the “we”) Well that is another fractal question, isn’t it?

    The “certainty” that I once held about my “spiritual” existence has been replaced this past year with a new and peaceful “calm.” Beliefs? I hold a few very lightly. My own beliefs in spirituality might be summed up with, “Current existence is temporal and underlying this existence is also more temporal existence.” And of course, when speaking of unspeakable things, words unravel. So as I finish up “my” final phase and begin wrapping up the business of the existence that I have known and practiced as this self, I am less and less troubled by the what-ifs and business of spirituality for what existence can be described as other than temporal?

    My existence is satisfying and fresh and that is enough for me.

  • Avery Bruechert  On May 27, 2012 at 3:58 AM

    I’m still learning from you, as I’m trying to reach my goals. I certainly enjoy reading all that is posted on your site.Keep the information coming. I liked it!

  • vinaire  On May 27, 2012 at 5:44 AM

    Thanks for posting here. I continue to learn to.

    May I ask what your goals are that you are trying to reach?


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