The sense of I Am
The sense of I Am
Questioner: It is a matter of daily experience that on waking up the world suddenly appears. Where does it come from?
Maharaj: Before anything can come into being there must be somebody to whom it comes. All appearance and disappearance presupposes a change against some changeless background.
Q: Before waking up I was unconscious.
M: In what sense? Having forgotten, or not having experienced? Don’t you experience even when unconscious? Can you exist without knowing? A lapse in memory: is it a proof of non-existence? And can you validly talk about your own non-existence as an actual experience? You cannot even say that your mind did not exist. Did you not wake up on being called? And on waking up, was it not the sense ‘I am’ that came first? Some seed consciousness must be existing even during sleep, or swoon. On waking up the experience runs: ‘I am – the body – in the world.’ It may appear to arise in succession but in fact it is all simultaneous, a single idea of having a body in a world. Can there be the sense of ‘I am’ without being somebody or other?
Q: I am always somebody with its memories and habits. I know no other ‘I am’.
M: May be something prevents you from knowing? When you do not know something which others know, what do you do?
Q: I seek the source of their knowledge under their instruction.
M: Is it not important to you to know whether you are a mere body, or something else? Or, maybe nothing at all? Don’t you see that all your problems are your body’s problems – food, clothing, shelter, family, friends, name, fame, security, survival – all these lose their meaning the moment you realize that you may not be a mere body.
Q: What benefit is there in knowing that I am not the body?
M: Even to say that you are not the body is not quite true. In a way you are all the bodies, hearts and minds and much more. Go deep into the sense of ‘I am’ and you will find. How do you find a thing you have mislaid or forgotten? You keep it in your mind until you recall it. The sense of being, of ‘I am’ is the first to emerge. Ask yourself from where it comes, or just watch it quietly. When the mind stays in the ‘I am’, without moving, you enter a state which cannot be verbalized but can be experienced. All you need to do is to try and try again. After all the sense ‘I am’ is always with you, only you have attached all kinds of things to it — body, feelings, thoughts, ideas, possessions etc. All these self-identifications are misleading. Because of them you take yourself to be what you are not.
Q: Then what am I?
M: It is enough to know what you are not. You need not know what you are. For, as long as knowledge means description in terms of what is already known, perceptual, or conceptual, there can be no such thing as self-knowledge, for what you are cannot be described, except as total negation. All you can say is: ‘I am not this, I am not that’. You cannot meaningfully say ‘this is what I am’. It just makes no sense. What you can point out as ‘this’ or ‘that’ cannot be yourself. Surely, you cannot be ‘something’ else. You are nothing perceivable, or imaginable. Yet, without you there can be neither perception nor imagination. You observe the heart feeling, the mind thinking, the body acting; the very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive. Can there be perception, experience, without you? An experience must ‘belong’. Somebody must come and declare it as his own. Without an experiencer the experience is not real. It is the experiencer that imparts reality to experience. An experience which you cannot have, of what value is it to you?
Q: The sense of being an experiencer, the sense of ‘I am’, is it not also an experience?
M: Obviously, every thing experienced is an experience. And in every experience there arises the experiencer of it. Memory creates the illusion of continuity. In reality each experience has its own experiencer and the sense of identity is due to the common factor at the root of all experiencer-experience relations. Identity and continuity are not the same. Just as each flower has its own colour, but all colours are caused by the same light, so do many experiencers appear in the undivided and indivisible awareness, each separate in memory, identical in essence. This essence is the root, the foundation, the timeless and spaceless ‘possibility’ of all experience.
Q: How do I get at it?
M: You need not get at it, for you are it. It will get at you, if you give it a chance. Let go your attachment to the unreal and the real will swiftly and smoothly step into its own. Stop imagining yourself being or doing this or that, and the realization that you are the source and heart of all will dawn upon you. With this will come great love which is not choice or predilection, nor attachment, but a power which makes all things love-worthy and lovable.
Sri Nisargatta Maharaj
I Am That
Item 1. The Sense of ‘I am’