The Mystery of “I”
By Arthur Telling
The Question of Old
Since recorded time, man has grappled with the big questions of what life is and who we are, dating to ancient Greece and the Chinese and ancient Mesopotamia and beyond, and there have formed many theories, ideas, and truths too, yet the nature of the self remains elusive. Who is this “I” speaking to you, and who is this “I” the reader?
“I” cannot be seen, or heard, or touched; yet “I” is, was, and will always be, the center-point of the existence of every being. Through the five physical senses we experience the outer world, and we think, and remember, and love and hate, all attributed to the self; but are these qualities actually the self or are they qualities of which the self uses?
Identifying the Self
Buddhists offer an exercise toward identifying the self. One method is, when meditating, the student chants “Who is mindful of the Buddha?” The answer is not “I”, but rather: “Who is who?” Who is it thinking the words? We can say “I am I,” but am I really “I” the self, or are my words and thoughts a mere effort by the self to communicate with others of the self?
The self, cognizant in waking, active while sleeping, tirelessly processes incoming information and aids us, the physical man, in forming and presenting outgoing data. A frown absent any voiced speech is dialog that the self constructs, not just for communicating our states of mind to others, but even in solitude for our own benefits. We do this all the time, showing love, anger, frustration, all the various emotional states, sometimes while in complete privacy, which is curious because, the true nature of the self being not yet identified, we don’t really know why we sometimes communicate, as we do, in complete privacy. Who are we speaking to? It may be the self that is understanding what we do not, that we are perhaps really not alone.
Big Mind, Little Mind – Inner Self and Physical Man
“I” and “man” might not be entirely, perhaps even not at all, of the same natures; and the self may be so closely intertwined with other such selves that he and they may be in close-knit communication, and perhaps the various selves that we subjectively call “I” are the one self that religions and metaphysics speak of, often referred to as “big mind” and “little mind”, little mind being elements within big mind. But how can a single mind be many minds?
All is mind, as the Buddhist Masters proclaim; one mind composed of perhaps infinite consciousness made up of the living cells as identified by Science. A simple explanation of the nature of the physical world becomes demonstrable: all in our existence is the same thing; a composition of living cells of varying consciousness, varying awareness, from a rock or a table composed of cells having ability to hold a form comprehended by our minds as image, to the more animated kingdom of vegetation having growth ability through interaction with the Sun, to the animals which move about and think and reason, and to man with his ability to reflect on his role in this world and to even break out of it.
The latter, man’s reflective abilities, is central to our quest of identifying “I” the self. Absent this, the question would not be asked, there would be no need to know, or even to want to know, because there would be no issue. The physical world and everything within it plays out its role: a rock plays the rock, a flower similarly plays the flower shooting forth and spreading its seeds, a squirrel gathers nuts and nourishes its young, and man, too, learns the ways of the world, transforming forests into housing complexes, farming, teaching, doing things which further his role and give him a better life. The mind is in play but is on automatic, seemingly programmed like your car’s onboard computer, not deviating from the designer’s plans.
Ancient Teachings are the Path
The self, thus, per our ancient and current spiritual texts, is God, and with recognition of the self, awakening the mind and seeing the moment in front of us as “mind”, as the self itself, we reach that great goal man struggles to obtain: Nirvana, paradise, where suffering and death are absent from us. But how do we get there? Is it enough to meditate and dwell upon “who is who?” Is it enough to perpetually focus our minds on the present moment that is in front of our nose, and to “make a hand in place of a hand” and “an image in place of an image” as Jesus instructs his disciples in the (Gnostic) Gospel of Thomas, a gospel used by his early followers but not canonized into the New Testament Bible? For the time all this is what we have.
Arthur Telling has written numerous stories and articles on religion, philosophy and metaphysics. His article, "A Different Jesus Message" appeared in the Nov. 2011 AMORC Rosicrucian Digest. Telling is author of “Johann’s Awakening” (a parody of Jonathon Livingston Seagull), and three novels including “Kaitlin’s Message” exploring the secret sayings of the Gospel of Thomas. His web site is: www.arthurtelling.com