The following is an excerpt from Philip's book, 'Being:
the teaching of advaita a basic introduction'. (Buy through Amazon UK Marketplace or from the bookshop at The
See my review of this book.
The seventeenth century philosopher, Rene Descartes,
is well-known for his statement, "I think
therefore I am". In saying this he tried
to limit our identity to just the thinking aspect
of the subtle body. However, this argument
falls apart when we realise that there is a part
of ourselves that is aware that we are thinking,
that quietly witnesses the thinking and feeling
processes. Clearly Consciousness is far more
than just thought.
In the Book of Exodus in the Bible, God says
to Moses from the midst of the burning bush, "I
AM THAT I AM" and "I AM hath sent me
unto you". In these statements there only
the pure sense of 'Amness' without any qualification,
that which is the same for each individual.
Our deepest identity is the feeling of 'I AM'.
This feeling is universally felt by all
living beings; it is our true identity that is
beyond birth and death and beyond change. We
saw in our study of the four levels how we tend
to identify this with the vehicle of Consciousness
rather than with the Consciousness itSelf. This
is how our sense of 'I AM' becomes confused with
our identity on the line of time in the drama
of life. We start to qualify that identity
not just by saying, "I AM" but by saying, "I
am a man" or "I am a woman", "I
am British", "I am Indian", "I
am ten years old", "I am fifty years
old", "I am a writer, a doctor, an
artist" and so on. In taking on these lesser
identities as to who we really are, we miss out
on our one true identity that is always present
and is beyond all change and suffering.
In many of the world's mystical traditions there
exists the concept of 'Being'. In the Zen
Buddhist traditions it is often called the 'Isness'
of a thing or person. It is quite distinct from
any identity in life, no matter how important,
learned or respectable a person may be. Although
it is hard to explain, there are some people
who appear to have much more of a sense of 'Being'
or 'Isness' or 'Presence' than others. They may
be quite old or frail and yet something seems
to radiate out of them; there is a quality of
light, warmth, humour and good nature. Being
in the company of such people brings about that
same feeling in oneself. The moving mind with
all its concerns starts to lose its grip and
suddenly everything seems to be alright.
This quality of Being is not only unique to
great saints and teachers but can also be found
in the most unlikely people in perfectly
ordinary circumstances. Often this quality is
seen in people not long before they die. As daily
life and its drama starts to lose its importance,
this underlying identity starts to shine through.
'Being' could be described as the degree to
which we are aware of our true identity as this
unchanging sense of 'I AM', that which is total
stillness and total emptiness. When our identity
is concerned only with the line of time,
this quality is missed except for occasional
glimpses. Awareness of our true Being gives a
feeling of becoming transparent as the time-bound
identity starts to appear more and more illusory.
There is an awareness of a great impersonal
force that flows through one and outwards as
if one is just a vehicle and, at the same time,
this is who one is.
One of the keys to the experience of our true
Being or sense of 'I AM' is that it doesn't exist
in time. When we live only with our sense of
identity which is on the line of time, we are
always caught up in the past or the future, neither
of which actually exist. However, it does not
mean that it is completely true to say that this
sense of 'I AM' only exists in the present moment,
since that too is another aspect of time, when
time is a mind-made concept or another metaphor.
Perhaps it is more accurate to say that there
is always "just this" which gives a
feeling of being outside time altogether,
a sense of eternity or the 'Eternal Now'.
Returning to the story of the man from Baghdad
who dreamed of the great treasure in Cairo and
who, after many adventures, returned to find
the treasure in his own house in Baghdad, we
can see that we are all rather like him. We know
we have lost something yet we look for it
on the line of passing time. Eventually we exhaust
that search and come to the realisation that
it does not lie in time at all, but only in the
eternal now and that it is always available.
So we discover that the treasure was always in
our own house all the time.
The process of life eventually provides this
realisation because when we are very happy we
find ourselves automatically in the present,
wanting this moment never to end. And when life
is difficult, silently resting in the present
and not allowing the mind to move forward or
back can often be our only refuge. Fear about
the future and regret and anger about the past
only exist if we let our minds move away from
the present. When we meet the anticipated
future event it is met in the light of the present
and that is usually very different from
the way we imagined it.
As Winston Churchill once quoted an old man
as saying on his death bed, "I've had a
lot of trouble in my life most of which never
When we silently rest in the present our connection
with a separate self, supported by the memory
of passing time, dissolves and we become aware
of a much larger presence that exists only in
the now. So it appears that we are leaving our
home and making a journey but in reality we never
ever leave our true home, for it is always with
us and available in the present.
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