The timeless question, “Who am I?” is a profound one.
Most of us don’t even have this question in our minds. Those of us who are thinking about life usually ask questions such as, “What is the purpose of my life?” or “How can I be happy?”
You may be wondering, why bother trying to find out the answer to “Who am I?” when you don’t even have the question in the first place? Well, what’s pretty amazing is that all our big questions of life will be answered and worldly sorrows wiped away, when we gain a first-hand experience of who we really are.
How is this so? How will uncovering who we really are put an end to our sorrows and bring us the enduring happiness we are all searching for?
To answer this, we have to first understand the larger picture and where we fit in. There are some fundamental facts about Spirit, soul, spiritual journey and ego that we have to understand.
What are spirit, soul, ego and the spiritual journey?
The meanings of the words “Spirit” and “Soul” are connected. They offer different perspectives of the same thing.
*Spirit is the eternal, infinite presence that is the source of all matter and life. Spirit is variously called Source, All-That-Is, Supreme Self, Truth, Ultimate Reality and many other names. All of creation emerges from it, sustained in it and is absorbed back into this presence.
Here’s a remarkable fact – Spirit is the only real presence in creation. Creation with its infinite cosmoses, universes, galaxies, planets, stars, things and beings is nothing but Spirit expressing in different forms. There is nothing else.
When Spirit functions through a particular human body and mind, it is called the Soul. Spirit or Soul is the true essence of a human being. However, a strange thing happens when Spirit enlivens a human being. It begins to identify with the characteristics of the human body and mind and “forgets” its true infinite nature.** Vedanta calls this Self-forgetfulness, “Maya”. It is the power inherent in Spirit that deludes itself.
Naturally, when the infinite, unlimited Self identifies itself as a little human being, there will be pain and suffering. To imagine the great sorrow of this wrong identification, think of a time when you tried to squeeze your feet into a pair of shoes that were too small for you. Remember the awful pain? Living as human beings, we suffer the sorrows of finitude, inadequacy and lack.
The ego*** is the sense of individuality that arises when Spirit or Soul functions through a human body and mind.
The spiritual journey or spiritual growth, is the process through which the ego uncovers and regains memory of its true spiritual essence.
When the body dies, the sense of individuality continues to live and journey onward as the soul. The soul finds another body with a suitable set of parents, environment and circumstances that will bring the ego the greatest opportunities to unfold its innate divinity. The soul journeys from body to body through lifetimes until the ego finally realizes its identity and oneness with Spirit.
We are more than our species, qualities, actions and relationships
Every thing or being in creation, can be described with reference to its species, qualities, actions and relationship with other things and beings. For example, “An antique (quality) mahogany table (species) standing (action) in the corner of the room (relationship).”
How would you answer the question, “Who are you?” You would probably supply your name, and then go on to describe yourself something like Sally did: “I am Sally Starr, a Tony-award winning (quality) Canadian (species) actress (action). I graduated from the Juilliard School in New York (relationship).”
Without describing herself with reference to her species, qualities, actions and relationship, she would be merely a name i.e. Sally Starr. Knowing only her name would mean nothing until we know her species, qualities, what she does (action) and her relationship with other things and beings.
Stripped of all these and her name, would Sally cease to exist? No, of course not. However, the presence occupying the body of the woman named Sally would still be there. That presence is Sally’s true identity. It is Sally’s soul or Spirit. When Sally dies, the physical body and all its connections to the world die along with her. But her soul continues to live because it is eternal.
Permanent happiness at last
When we re-discover our true spiritual essence, the question, “Who am I?” will finally be answered. With it, all the doubts, confusions, striving, and ups and downs of life will come to an end. This is because Spirit is infinite, eternal and ever-fulfilled. Each one of us is ultimately searching for this true fulfilment and permanent happiness in life.
*To understand the big picture, please read my blog: Our Spiritual Journey – part 1/2 Understanding the big picture.
** To read more about this self-forgetfulness, please read: Our Spiritual Journey – Part 2/2 – Spirit, matter and you.
**The word ‘ego’ in the spiritual science of Vedanta is not what we commonly refer to as pride or a sense of self-importance. Please read my blog post: “Understanding the Ego” to find out more.
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