What Am I?


“If you think, ‘I breathe’, the ‘I’ is extra. There is no you to say ‘I’. What we call ‘I’ is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no ‘I’, no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door.”

–Shunryu Suzuki

What is Real? This is the same as asking “What am I?” The problem is, when the question is posed, most of us invariably resort to our intellect. However, we are always going to be frustrated by taking that approach, because we cannot use mind to grasp that which is prior to it. Indeed, any kind of knowledge which we believe we can access can only be in consciousness, but consciousness can have no knowledge of that which exists prior to its own appearance.

In fact, any notion that we can employ the intellect to ascertain the Real is a mistaken assumption, though the whole thrust of western philosophy, for example, is dedicated to just such an enterprise. Take for example the French philosopher Rene Descartes, and his famous proposition: “Je pense, donc je suis.” This was translated into Latin as “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am.” While the proposition seeks to show the process whereby one can know the existence of “I,” already from the start it is presupposing that existence with the words, “I think.” In fact, there is no concrete entity that can be discovered beyond the activity of “thinking.” No matter where one looks, something called “I” cannot be found.

Indeed, no matter how much intellectual knowledge one may acquire, if the primary illusion of “I” is not seen through, our own true nature will remain a mystery to us. Nor is there anything one can point to and say “that is self”. It is not the body, not thinking, not emotions or sense-impressions. Whatever happens in consciousness (such as the appearance of an “I”) is purely an imaginary figment, a mental fabrication, like a mirage. Similarly, nothing that we can see, think, remember, or know is real. Rather, it is pure illusion, generated as a projection of mind.

When the energy stream of thoughts, emotions, memories, perceptions, and sensations is carefully inspected as it arises and ceases, the sense of personal continuity we take to be “me” can be recognized as a stream of empty impressions about a “me”, but with no actual entity present beyond the conceptual designation “me”. Such recognition will interrupt the chronic self-projection, even to the point in which the fabricated illusion collapses.

When all illusions are forsaken, what’s left? We are. What is that? Words can’t go there. Imagination can’t go there. Nevertheless, it is closer than our breath. If we wish to recognize it, however, we will first need to relinquish our hapless fascination with the nearly ceaseless neural parade of thought energy, be still, and pay attention, inquiring at the root of mind itself. What is granting reality to this moment? What is aware right now? What knows the immediate experience of reading these words? What is not changing, even though everything changes? What am I?

No doubt, the human intellect is a marvelous gift, a magical tool that can carve a functional order out of the apparent chaos of the phenomenal world, and if properly applied, can even bring us to the threshold of realization, but in order to pass through that “gateless gate”, something else must happen, something beyond the intellect’s capacity or domain. Indeed, at a certain critical juncture in the process of liberation, reliance on the intellect alone can pose an impediment to the direct breakthrough insight into our true nature and condition.

There is a famous Zen koan which asks: “What is your original face, before your parents were born?” If we rely on the verbal mind for answers, we will merely be indulging in conceptual speculation. The Zen Master will laugh at our fumbling attempts and summarily dismiss us. We need to go beyond the intellect’s logic, beyond all conceptual designations and mental fabrications, all interpretations and fantasies of the imagination, in order to discover or awaken to that which is prior to the mind’s arrival.

The “I” of the past is merely memory, a fabricated illusion of personal continuity. The “I” of the present is impossible to grasp, though the attempt to do so can be quite illuminating. The “I” that will be in the future is a mental projection, spawned from hope and fear.

Indeed, there is no “I” but the one right here, but since “right here” happens to be no place in particular, this “I” cannot be said to be particularly anywhere. Truly, there is no “right here” — “right here” being nothing but a transient location in the imaginary geography of interpretive perception.

In this direct recognition, the “I” does indeed “cast off the illusion of I”, yet remains as “I”, all the same. As Ramana Maharshi notes, this apparent paradox is not a contradiction to the Realized, and so seekers strive for the ideal of “Realization”. Ironically, this glorious effort at some special attainment just happens to be the real contradiction — there being no one, no “person”, who is actually realized.

What an interesting predicament for all the would-be Buddhas and spiritual super heroes – the no-thing melts into the Nothing! In other words, nothing happens, no substantial self was ever implicated, only awareness persists, unchanged and unchanging.

Indeed, wanting to achieve “Realization” is rather like wanting to be present at one’s own funeral, given that true realization marks the end of the “person” — the true death that sages and mystics throughout the ages refer to in their testimonies of treading the “spiritual path”. Nevertheless, how can something that never had any true existence, die? That is a big part of the humorousness of the whole game – the search — and why we tend to laugh out loud when the obvious becomes . . . well, obvious!

From the very no-beginning, there was nothing that needed to be eliminated. That whole strategy is part of the misdirection that the pseudo-spiritual preachers and religious con men have burdened us with through the ages. The only thing that needs to be transformed is our mental rigidity based on fixed beliefs, and our emotional contraction at the heart.

In point of fact, without the self-sense, we would not even be able to function in this world, much less truly awaken to our original nature and condition. However, we need not take this working concept of “I” as our actual forwarding address. That’s the mistake most everyone makes, and why we are always stumbling around so befuddled, like sleep-walkers reaching out for some satisfaction that is forever eluding us in our restless dreaming.

As Nisargadatta Maharaj notes: “Understand this state of affairs; the concept ‘I Am’ comes spontaneously and goes spontaneously. Amazingly, when it appears, it is accepted as real. All subsequent misconceptions arise from that feeling of reality in the ‘I Amness’. Why am I totally free? Because I have understood the unreality of that ‘I Am’.”

In the movies, for example, there is a something known as “persistence of vision” in which separate, still images flashing at 24 frames per second create the sense of continuous motion. This is a fitting analogy for the experience of a continuous self. We experience the rapid succession of events and then fabricate a continuous “doer” to account for it. However, when we identify with the experience of a continuous doer, such that we take it to be who and what we are, we establish the basis for confusion and subsequent suffering.

All suffering we experience can be traced back to this attachment to the experience of a continuous “me”. “I like what is happening to me and I want to hold on to this experience” or “I don’t like what is happening to me and I want to change it” are two sides of the same coin of attachment to the illusion of a seemingly enduring person.

We can instead recognize this “I” — the so-called “ego” — more as a nifty navigational tool, or conscious activity, that enables us to discriminate here in the objective realm in which we live and relate. For example, it helps us to stop on red and go on green, and a whole lot of other useful stuff in-between.

As long as the personality is recognized as a kind of prop, with no inherent substantiality beyond what we grant it in our playful creativity, then there need be no problem. It’s only when we become fixated on it, misperceiving it to be our true identity, that we suffer its frailty and impermanence, and become trapped in vicious cycles of craving and aversion which only serve to reinforce our sense of separation from life and love.

Although the full reality is far beyond human comprehension, in rather simplistic terms, all of the sentient beings in the multiverse who take themselves to be separate consciousnesses only believe that to be the case because Source – the fundamental basis of all that is — has playfully chosen to have a kind of “amnesia” about those aspects of its own mind, in a manner not unlike the way we dream up all sorts of characters at night and believe them to be separate entities, while in reality they are merely our own mental projections.

Thus, true awakening from the dream is nothing other than the direct recognition that there never was or could be a permanently separate, substantial, and independent individual, or “person”. Those mystics who claim that there is only God are referring to this very fact.

To realize that we ourselves are expressions of the Supreme Source is not so much an affirmation of some transcendental self-identity, but rather entails the recognition that we are literally energetic shards of Source Consciousness acting out the roles, or pretense, of being separate and independent individuals.

Just so, any notion that we as humans might entertain of the sense “I Am” is necessarily limited and bound by the parameters of our temporary incarnation into the denser vibratory frequencies of this current psycho-physical realm. However, it is precisely as and through these humble vehicles that Source Itself becomes cognizant of and enjoys the Play of Consciousness in this sphere of manifestation. Why else dream it into existence?

Each one of us, as unique dream characters in the holographic “Mind of God”, are here acting as the lens, the angle of vision, for Source. It enjoys all points of view without judgment, but with the same unconditional love that is shone on the universal totality, which consists of nothing but the dream-like mirroring reflections of Its own inconceivable Being. Likewise, all experience — just as it arises, endures, and dissolves in every moment — is itself recognized as inherently perfect, and simultaneously perfectly empty.

As it is, there are infinite realms of experience that serve as the playground of Source, and hence any sense of “I” will be endlessly modified in its evolution towards complete self-awareness as “That”, of which at last there is no other. By sincerely and thoroughly inquiring into who and what “I” am, the process is set in motion that will eventually take us beyond all of our conditioned beliefs and second-hand concepts and opinions, ultimately revealing our true nature directly, beyond all doubt or speculation, as Reality Itself.

 “That which makes you think you are human is not human. It is but a dimensionless point of consciousness, a conscious nothing; all you can say about yourself is: ‘I am’. You are pure being, awareness, bliss. To realize that is the end of all seeking. You come to it when you see all you think yourself to be as mere imagination and stand aloof in pure awareness of the transient as transient, imaginary as imaginary, unreal as unreal.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj

moon heart

See also:


About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: http://www.pbase.com/1heart Essays on the Conscious Process: https://theconsciousprocess.wordpress.com/ Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: http://feelingtoinfinity.wordpress.com/ Verses and ramblings on life as it is: https://writingonwater934500566.wordpress.com/ Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: https://themindthatneverwas.wordpress.com/ Verses on the Play of Consciousness: https://onlydreaming187718380.wordpress.com/ Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: https://themysteriousexpanse.wordpress.com/ Poems of the Mountain Hermit: https://snowypathtonowhere.wordpress.com/ Love Poems from The Book of Yes: https://lovesight.wordpress.com/ Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: https://travelsindreamland.wordpress.com/ Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: https://freetransliterations.wordpress.com/ Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: https://westernmystics.wordpress.com/ Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: https://spiritguidesparrow.wordpress.com/ Thank You!
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18 Responses to What Am I?

  1. marcelvuijst says:

    Thank you Brother, just finished translating this piece.

    “There seem to two kinds of searchers: those who seek to make their ego something other than it is, i.e. holy, happy, unselfish (as though you could make a fish unfish), and those who understand that all such attempts are just gesticulation and play-acting, that there is only one thing that can be done, which is to disidentify themselves with the ego, by realising its unreality, and by becoming aware of their eternal identity with pure being.”
    ~Wei Wu Wei

  2. Bob OHearn says:

    “Do not try to know the truth, for knowledge by the mind is not true knowledge. But you can know what is not true — which is enough to liberate you from the false. The idea that you know what is true is dangerous, for it keeps you imprisoned in the mind. It is when you do not know, that you are free to investigate. And there can be no salvation without investigation, because non-investigation is the main cause of bondage.”

    ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

  3. marcelvuijst says:

    Even the slightest habitual up-welling is liberated spontaneously, i.e. it is no further entertained nor granted reality so no additional freaky parades of attachment, how fortunate to have such a meeting with these clear vessels, non-dwelling is bliss. In debt to you both.

  4. Pingback: What Am I? ~ Bob OHearn @ The Conscious Process | | Pauline Battell | Star Seed | Lightarian (TM) Rays Master-Practitioner | Reiki Kundalini Master-teacher |Spiritual Channeller | Lightworker |

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “Certain formats of information, if you like, can be accessed by delivering your vibration to a higher cycle per second range. Different doors to information will become available to you as and when you resonate to the appropriate frequency. You will discover information simply arrives within you, so to speak, without the filter system and intellectualization system of the brain. It is not something which can be taught to you by any self-proclaimed master, for it is something which will happen to you when the time, and the vibration is right. You will not be able to define within your mental processes exactly where such information comes from, since it is beyond mind, but merely such information will happen to you on another level, and seem to come in from every known sense. In a sense, it will arrive as a knowing; you will not have to question the information.

    Do not be mislead by media-fuelled spirituality which proclaim you must do this, that or the other to achieve some ascension status in order to bring this about. This line of thought is simply aligned with ego-persona and intellectual mind, rather than spiritual truth. In truth, to raise your vibration and connect with your true identity of spirit, you merely have to let go of human consciousness. If you think about it for a moment, your spirit, before your consciousness was forged into physical form, was already within a divine ascended vibrational state. It is simply that the events of physical state, and all the negativity which comes with this state, has coated this pure vibration with negative human consciousness.

    This is not to say that being human is all about negativity, just that upon taking on the energies of such dense a state creates a type of amnesia for you. So, in a sense, to get back what you once had as a beautiful child; that radiant glow about you, you want to let go of the consciousness you have since accumulated as ‘yours’. You want to let go of the mindset of ownership to the consciousness you carry so it is no longer interfering with your vibrational frequency. Let go of your persona of ‘I need to be this person’, and instead simply be without condition, without question or conclusion. In this state you become infinite within this moment, and nothing is barred from you. Simply practicing surrendering your persona to selflessness will remove the filters, and thought processes which bar this intuitive connection with your spirit. That which is your spirit then can happen to you on its own terms, instead of yours, in human state.”


    • gayla says:

      Sparrow .please tell me more

      • Bob OHearn says:

        “You will never, ever, lose this individual identity you know as ‘I’, even if you return to Source. That your individuality as a spirit may one day be melded with all that is: I remark that this is possible at any time you so choose. You have been led to believe that your worth-less human soul is required to accomplish and endure some hierarchical enlightened pathway of destiny in order to immerse yourself back with the great spirit. I inform you that you may in fact release your individual persona and reintegrate back into the blissful union of the great spirit at any time. Not only this but I inform you that you may thereafter choose to once again separate from that union at any time to indulge your individual persona journey where you left off. Due to the complete and utter dissolution of time, it is described as an experience of perfect bliss which lasts an eternity. Yet for those who greet them on their return experience, only a short elapse of time.”


  6. Bob OHearn says:

    “Nothing can exist except by being set up by conceptuality. Everything is seen to depend on the mind— the mind is the authorizer. Hence, the “I” depends on conceptual thought. It and all other phenomena are only set up by the mind. When you understand this, you get a little idea that persons do not exist in and of themselves and are only dependently established.”

    ~Dalai Lama

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    “The rule is that we have not to speak about “It,” at all. The word “unmana” (no-mind) is used to indicate That in which mind is not. Worry is merged and mind is dissolved. The entity that was saying “I,” was the mind. When the structure (the mind) that is on the “thing itself” (Brahman) is gone, what remains is the “Natural State.” He remains as He always is. The manifest Self (Atman), the Vedanta, and the formless Self (Shivatman) have remained One. Those who experience for themselves know this.”

    ~Shri Siddharameshwar Maharaj

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