It is one of the most intriguing and frequently asked philosophical question in the world. When asked this question: who are you? People give various answers, for example: who are you? I am a thirty years old Asian male, I am a college graduate, I am an American citizen with Independent political view, I am an employee of a Fortune 500 company, I am a person who had a traumatic childhood, I am the person who grew up with no religious background and have these beliefs, etc. Most people would give an answer from any one of above statements or more. But is that who we really are? Or are those answers just a part of the journey and the experiences that we part take in this world? Let us dive deep and take a look at the different layers of who we are.
There are three layers of answers to this question, let’s take a look at the first layer. I am a thirty years old Asian male. In this example, what is meant to be said was that I am my body, in the more simple way, I am identified with how I look, what ethnical background I am, what gender do I consider myself to be, and how old my body is! But is that who I truly am? No, of course I am not my body, my body belongs to me but I am not it! It can be a confusing concept to understand, but let me give an example. Let us say I purchased this nice and fancy car, I love my car, I drive it all the time, but am I going to say I am my car? People will look at me like I am insane if I said I am the car. So what is mine can never be me, because I physically see it and own it, it belongs to me, but it can never be me! Same here goes for my body, I can physically see it, it belongs to me, I experience this world through the five senses provided by my body, but I am not it! If this example is not too convincing, let me throw out another one: you looked at your body when you were 10 years old, and you are looking at your body today, are they the same? You might say, of course not, I grew up and become an adult, my body changed along the way. Great! Now I want to ask, are you the same person between today and when you were 10 years old? Of course you are the same person! You were looking at your body when you were 10 years old, versus you looking at your body today! Who is the person that noticed your body changed within these years? You are! And what you noticed changing is not who you are either! What we can see that is temporal is not who we are! There is a quote in Bible:
Corinthians 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
I truly believe that the quote is saying we are not what we see, even when it is our body! Our body will grow old and eventually dissolve into the soil, but who we truly are is beyond the visible and temporal body that is given to us!
Now that we have looked at the first layer of who we are, let’s dive deeper into the second layer. I am a person who had a traumatic childhood, I am the person who grew up with no religious background and have these beliefs. What the above statement is saying that I am my mind, I am my thoughts. I am identified with my family background, my childhood experiences, my beliefs and hopes and dreams! While it might seem to be more logical than the first layer, it is not who we are!
There was a French philosopher René Descartes once said: Cogito, ergo sum. It is widely translated to English: I think, therefore I am. While it might sound logical and philosophical to think this way, but we are not to be defined solely on our family background, our culture, our experiences in life, our thinking and beliefs that come from such experiences and our society. Let me show a simple example: I once had a girlfriend who has red hair, and unfortunately we broke up. For awhile I looked at every girl that had red hair and they reminded me of my ex, who I hated with passion, and I had this thinking: girls with red hair is not trust worthy. Now is that statement true? Obviously not! and I don’t believe in it, but at that time I had this belief and I was strongly identified with it! Does that define who I am? Of course not, it is just the experiences that I had, along with the agitated mind and sorrow heart that created these thoughts and feelings, and it certainly does not define who I am! If we let our traumatic past experiences form thoughts and beliefs about who we are, and strongly identified with them, then we are lost in our mind and lost in our thoughts, therefore, reliving and suffering such experiences every moment for the rest of our life! But if we are able to come out of such traumatic experiences and move on from them, then we are becoming a better person, certainly a better version of ourselves than ever before! Every experience, every thought and every feeling should serve as a tool and a stepping stone to make us a greater person, a more conscious being, and lead to a happier life!
So we are not our body, and we are not our mind. Who are we then? There was once a Guru in India said: when we identify and eliminate who we are not, then truth of who we are will reveal itself. We are the being that is noticing our body grows, our mind changes, our thoughts pop up from time to time, and our feelings that wells up in our heart from time to time. We are the consciousness, the spirit, the soul that is experiencing this world through our body, our mind, our thoughts and our emotions. We are the soul that is yearning to fully experience this world, and the universe is also experiencing and expressing itself through us!
Once we understand who we are, we can become the conscious being and fully experience this world, through our body, mind, thoughts and emotions, while we don’t have to be identified or trapped in any of these forms. To become more conscious and live a truly happy life, we need to understand who we are, then we can practice to remember who we truly are in every moment for the rest of our life! I would like to end it here with a quote that came to my mind: I have, therefore I am. The more I have, the more I am. I think, therefore I am. The more I think, the more I am. When I lose all I have, all my thinking, then I can discover who I truly am. Thank you for reading, and have a wonderful day! Feel free to share your thoughts or opinions on any topics you would like to discuss.