Recognizing Who You Are
You live in confusion and the illusion of things. There is a reality. You are that reality.
When you know that, you know that you are nothing, and in being nothing, are everything. That is all.
— Kalu Rinpoche
We search for who we are in endless thoughts and imaginings, endless reflections and ideas. This is the search that must be abandoned! We need to surrender all of our cherished concepts, beliefs, and preconceived notions about ourselves. Only when we let go of all ideas of who we think we are, are we able to realize what we truly are beyond any concept or fleeting experience.
Not knowing anything, not searching for anything, understanding that we can’t hold on to anything, leaves us with nothing—nothing except our original nature, pure presence/awareness.
Everything else is a concept, but who you truly are as presence/awareness is not a concept. You are the light illuminating all concepts and everything else. Under no circumstances can you ever leave what you are.
You are what you are looking for; you just need to see that it is already here.
There is only Oneness
Awareness is like the sun in the sky. The sun’s rays are the pathless path we travel back and forth between our original nature and its expression.
Without encountering an object, the light of the sun wouldn’t be visible. It is only visible when it reflects back off an object. Manifest reality, the world around us, is the object, a mirror like-reality that reflects back the sun, allowing its light to be seen. Just as a reflection in the mirror, it may look very real, but it is only a reflection. Although it might look like there are two realities, the sun and the mirror, there is really only One.
Thought is awareness in disguise
Our original nature is composed of three qualities:
- Unending sound or vibration (the sound of our original nature, the heavenly music spoken of in all spiritual scriptures of different religions).
- Cognizing awareness or luminosity (the ability to perceive even without thought).
- Unlimited skylike vastness or emptiness (the container allowing for the arising and cognizing of everything)
Because we don’t realize our nature, these three qualities become our voices, our thoughts and our physical bodies. As our attention flows to our words and the sounds we make, we forget our original sound. In like manner, our thoughts endlessly come and go, obscuring the unconditioned awareness aspect of our original nature. And as our attention flows out to the physical body, we forget our universal body of unlimited space.
In reality these qualities are present right now in body, speech, and mind, but we don’t recognize them because our attention has shifted to the expression of the qualities rather than where the expression is coming from.
All we need do is reverse this flow and realize that we are and have always been what we are searching for. All that has happened is that the attention has moved out into form and identified with it. It’s just a case of mistaken identity. Understanding this is the first step, followed by returning the attention to the source of attention and re-stabilizing in it so that attention is not dragged out with every movement of the mind.
There are two approaches to realizing your true nature. The first is to discover the truth of who you are. The second is to discover what you are not. If you get rid of the false thoughts of who you think you are, the remainder is what you really are. And when you realize what you really are, all thoughts of who you thought you were drop away and you are free of the suffering of misidentification.
These two approaches are actually the same thing, two ways of expressing the same idea. The famous Indian sage Sri Nisargadatta once said, “You can either push the cart or pull the cart. Both are fine as long as you keep the cart rolling!” However, the question remains, “Who are you, really?”
How do you answer this seemingly easy question? Do you answer it with your name, your family history, or your professional title? Or your role as a mother, a father, a daughter, a son, a husband, a wife, a lover? At some point you will realize that none of these ideas of who you are provide an adequate answer, and it’s at this point of inquiry that you may find yourself at the edge of a vast open space where you wonder, “Can this be who I am?” And then the next thought: “No, impossible, there’s nothing here.” The mind cannot comprehend this vast nothingness, and so what usually happens is that you turn back to what you were doing before the question arose.
You also begin to see that any answer the mind comes up with is just another story about who you think you are: your hobbies, what you like, what you don’t like, what you have accomplished, what you haven’t accomplished, how you grew up, your talents and abilities, and so on. The answers never stop changing. They are constantly in flux. This is the human experience. We are always thinking about, adjusting, and developing who we imagine ourselves to be in order to get along in society, to comprehend the reasons behind our actions, or to get ready for something new that is about to happen. However, not a single answer or all of them together can provide a complete definition of who you are.
Do we dare to simply look and see?
Below are some questions that will assist you in discovering certain truths about your essential self. These questions are meant to help point you into the realization of who you really are, what is present right now yet perhaps not fully recognized or appreciated.
As you consider these questions, be honest about your actual direct experience and not what you think you already know. As you begin to sink deeper into the questions, you will start to get glimpses of your essential self that are founded on your direct experience, not on your ideas.
- Are you present and aware right now, in this very moment? Can you see that you are completely here and aware of being here?
- Does this noticing that you are actually here, present, and aware require any thinking?
- Can you see that thoughts, emotions, feelings, and sensations are coming and going in this space of pure, aware intelligence?
- Can you also see that all objects, events, and experiences are happening in this space?
- Now, look at an object. As you become aware of this object, does your sense of being here, and being aware, alter in any way? Does the awareness itself waver? Does it ebb and flow?
- In truth, has this aware presence ever shifted or changed in the face of any situation?
- Is it necessary to wait for the future for the recognition that you are this aware presence right now?
Perhaps in the attempt to answer those questions, you began to become aware of what exists as the core of you—a silent, obvious, clear, present awareness, a consciousness that has the capacity to recognize itself. As you look even deeper into that silent pristine presence at the centre of you, notice that every thought, feeling, sensation, and experience comes and goes in awareness, this clear knowingness that knows all these appearances, in this moment, and then this moment, and then this moment. This presence/awareness is what you are, the true self, and it remains unaffected regardless of ideas, emotions, and beliefs that might appear in it or be projected onto it by the world. Awareness is what has always been here, perceiving through you.
What are you looking out from?
The awareness that observes itself as itself, without the interference of thinking, is the same awareness out of which the chaotic swirl of thoughts and emotions emerge. It is what enables you to perceive and is always here. Never in your life have you not been naturally aware, easily and effortlessly, without any straining or striving on your part. Without awareness, how else would you know this? Awareness and only awareness is what enables this realization.
It is you who are the eternal space within which all thoughts have their brief existence, arising for a few moments and then disappearing just as quickly. The truth is that thoughts have no power to affect you or to restrict your freedom whatsoever. The spacious, deeply peaceful, infinite and eternal stillness of awareness is who you really are. You can never be anything else, and the same is true for everyone else.
We are all the same, One Essence, One Taste. The only difference is in appearance. Most people, in the act of looking, are only interested in looking out toward the world of form. Some develop an interest in also looking at what they are looking out from, a kind of two-way looking. But whether someone is interested or not in this dual view, everyone is still living from this same space that we are all looking out of. So there is no difference whatsoever. And everyone has the right to postpone that view until the moment when they wish to turn around and also notice what they have been looking out from.
All peace, all happiness, and all understanding are always shining as this aware presence that you already are. Who you are cannot be gotten from someone else, and no one can take it away from you. You have always been this, and you will be this eternally.
Once you realize this, you get the divine joke of it all, and there is often uncontrollable laughter, a joy unlike anything you have ever known. You see that what you have been looking for everywhere is what you have always been, and nothing can change this fact nor improve upon it in any way. So what does this leave you with? What is there to do? Not much. You have found everything you need.