Who are You, Really?
By Jeff Martens
Once upon a time there was a great gathering of noblemen, lords and dukes seated according to their rank and awaiting the appearance of their king. A simple man entered the room, his eyes gleaming, his clothes tattered and a little ragged at the edges. After looking around at all the faces, he began walking towards the higher seats. Conversation stopped. All eyes followed this stranger’s path, wondering at his boldness as he finally took a seat above all who were present.
“Excuse me, sir,” one of the noblemen called out. “But who do you think you are? Are you a minister?”
“No,” replied the simple man.
“Are you a King?” another asked.
“No,” came the answer.
“Are you God himself?” asked an incredulous lord.
“No. I am higher than that.”
There was a great gasp from all who were present. “Nothing is higher than God!” thundered the incredulous lord.
The simple man smiled, a look of bliss in his eyes. “I am that nothing.” And with this he walked out of the room…
Taduparagapeksitvat cittasya vastujnatajnatam
The mind must color an object to know it. (Y.S. 4.17)
Our minds “color” people and events through our filters of judgement and comparison, praise and blame in order to get to know them. Basically mind comes to know the world by projecting and then observing its own struggle of opposites. From this struggle the ego is born and we begin to identify with our problems and limitations. But when the mind tries to know the True Self by applying its limited methods to That which cannot be confined by thought, the result is dhuka (literally “bad space) or suffering which comes from a fundamental ignorance of who is really experiencing life.
Because our minds depend on constant activity in order to exist, our thoughts run the hamster wheel of duality in order to create the mental friction or vritti (Me-You, Black-White, Right-Wrong) that we are so addicted to. Ultimately the mind has a very limited strategy to know the world through this tension of opposites. It can fight, run away or numb out. All of these strategies depend on judgement and mental labels cultivated from memory and expectation — in other words, from things that no longer exist. So what is the way to be free of the mind without shutting it down completely and forever?
From the sense of feeling like an ego alone are mental fabrications produced. (Y.S. 4.4)
The reason the mind is unable to experience peace is that our mental labels only create more division. Every label or opinion always has an opposite. The mind then goes back and forth between the two (or more) sides agreeing or disagreeing, approving or disapproving. The mind seeks God but it is only the limited image of God conjured up by our expectations and preconceptions. Amd because the mind fabricates a “false” God in this way it will also create God’s opposite in order to go back and forth between the two. This is not knowing God, but merely creating God in our own image, a God who approves of the same things we do and disapproves of what we don’t like as well. The result is a God (and a soul) that is extremely fragmented by the scope of our limitations.
In the sixth century there was a major Christian conference where the leaders of the church gathered to decide a very important issue: whether or not a woman had a soul. Luckily for the women of today, it was decided that females do indeed have a soul but only by one vote! To have the idea that God would distribute souls only to males is to create a God that agrees with your opinion. Such an arrogant view of the world and its workings can only come from a heightened sense of isolation and conflict and a warped sense of who we really are. The mind in its mode of identifying with the ego will always look for like-minded souls to support its erroneous view of the world in order to build itself thrones or throw itself into gutters compared to others. It does not much matter to the mind which activity is practiced, as long as there is some sort of mental motion to identify with.
In this state of constant division, the perceptions of the mind are based upon the activity of choosing sides. As a result, we see the world through the filters of our judgements and opinions taken as fact. Often what is beautiful to the mind serves the mind’s restlessness. And what is troubling to the mind can arise from mere projection. Because we become blind to our own state of judgement, we reshape the world and begin to see our own “faults” wherever we look. We then try to “fix” things solely by manipulating the outside world without addressing the one who is the one perceiving the problem. Our soul nature or Sat Purusha (the Observer or Experiencer) is lost along the way in favor of identifying with our constant mental struggle. Such spiritual ignorance (identifying with this mental activity as ourselves) is bound to create more suffering. This is one meaning of what Christ meant when he encouraged us to first remove the beam from our own eye before we try to remove the sliver that we see in our neighbor’s eye.
Repeated states of ignorant perception feed habitual unconscious actions and will reap repeated suffering. Though we think our choices come from free will, we actually end up acting out of habit over and over again because we keep coloring situations and people the same way over and over again. Why? The answer lies with who we really think we are. So rather than trying to fix the external details, Patanjali suggests a deeper awareness of the pain’s source, the root thought that branches into all the thoughts that disturb the mind.
Prarvrittibhede prayojakam cittamekamanekesam
A first thought originates all of the minds multiple activities. (Y.S. 4.5)
The first erroneous thought is the same identification with separation discussed throughout many religions. It is the myth of separation, the beginning of a separate “free” will distinct from God’s that is illustrated, for example, by Adam and Eve in the fabled Garden of Eden. It is the thought of separation, isolation, of I-amness (asmita) without integrating that wisdom and understanding back into innocence and realizing your true Divine Nature. The thought of “I” becomes our primary focus. How does the world relate to me, what canthe world do for me. Then it is just a short step to “mine”, which is then just a hop, skip and a jump to erroneous action (identifying with possessions or titles, attachment to people, events and things outside yourself for your happiness, the need to protect the I and its accompanying reputation and habits.) The world and its experiences can then further bind us to suffering or help set us free since, with any awareness at all, we can eventually come to realize that constantly separating ourselves from others out of fear or judgment only creates more pain. Once this is understood, we are then ready to take the step towards true perception and use our mind to discover freedom. This is the highest puprose of true free will.
Tatra dhyanajam anasayam
Of all the minds multiple thoughts, only the one born of meditation is free from error. (Y.S. 4.6)
Here is the alternative to the minds way of knowing: Ordinary mind knows physical dimensions, appearance and characteristics through the senses. It also knows through the memory of past association, imagination and future expectation. But there is another way of knowing, dhyana, that transcends the mind and emerges through stillness.
If you sit across from someone and use the mind and senses, you can know that person’s name, occupation and favorite color. You can know their gender and marital status. But does this knowledge really tell you anything about who this person actually is? Dhyana or meditation is the path of stillness, of being silent and absorbing the essence of a moment, any moment, without label or judgement. Even thirty seconds of being fully present can bring a more intimate knowing than untold hours of study or conversation. Why? Because what you are perceiving is your Self, your One True SELF. Once this is known your titles and opinions and barriers drop and you are free of misperception. The mind remains still unless needed and you see the other person or situations as they truly are, a divine manifestation of Truth reflecting Truth. This is the power of awareness, the power of discovering the True Self beyond all thought. Then communication is graceful and perfect. And when this happens, you truly begin to see your Self everywhere you look.
As Patanjali states, all perceptions born from meditation or stillness are then pure from your labels and free from expectation. You are now beyond old rankings or habitual roles as defined by the mind. You have become that free “No-Thing-ness” that is beyond the mind’s concept of God. Duality ceases to draw you into conflict and you begin to feel this love in the world more than just understand it. From this feeling our meditation becomes a living practice, spreading the seeds of freedom wherever we go.
Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga. All suggestions are voluntary. Consult a qualified teacher or your physician before you embark on any practice in which you are unfamiliar.
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