Updated: Aug 13, 2021
The Indian teacher Ramana Maharshi recommended the technique of self-enquiry to discover the unreality or illusory nature of the proxy-i, or the apparent self masquerading as I. Attention is on the experiencer. We can train our attention on inner awareness by inquiring, "Who am I?" This brings attention into the present moment.
As I type, I inquire, "Who am I?" The you you think you are can experiment as you read along. Who is the "I am" that reads? Who is beyond the you you think you are? Who is inquiring? Very quickly we begin to slough off false identifications. Who am I? Well... uh, me obviously? Who is this obvious me? Am I the name given to me at birth by my parents? Am I a string of sounds articulated in this or that language? Well, I am more than that clearly. Am I my nationality? Would I cease to exist if my nation ceased to exist? Am I my race? Are the atoms that make up me Black atoms or White atoms or Asiatic atoms? Am I my gender? Is the power dancing within me NOW a male or female power? Am I my ethnicity? My job? My title? Who is asking? Who is inquiring? Who plays the game of self-enquiry?
"In order to be able to say 'I am not this' or I am That', there must be the 'I' to say it. This 'I' is only the ego, or the I-thought. After the arising of this I-thought, all other thoughts arise. The I-thought is therefore the root thought. If the root is pulled out, all the rest is uprooted at the same time. Therefore seek the root-I. Then all these problems will vanish and the pure Self alone will remain... You need not eliminate any false 'I'. How can 'I' eliminate itself? All that you need do is to find out its origin and stay there. Your effort can extend only so far. Then the Beyond will take care of itself. You are helpless there. No effort can reach it."
This is the path of destruction. The false begins to unravel; the illusions come undone. Says who? Well, uh, Ramana Maharshi?
Ramana Maharshi is dead. Leave him out of it. Who is this me we keep circling back to?
Umm, what's the point of this? This is stupid.
Who asserts this? Is it not presumptuous on the part of the proxy self to sit in judgment over that from which it derives its beingness? The proxy i begins to doubt. Where is this proxy i? Is there more than one self? If so, who are we?
This is not the path for the timid. Again, says who? The proxy i grows weary of self-enquiry. It feels threatened. If the egoic structure collapses, who am I? If the i thought disappears, who am I? If the root-I does not arise, who remains? Fear comes only after the I-thought arises. To whom does fear come? So long as there is identification with the I-thought, fear arises and clings to it.
Whatever I can perceive cannot be the self.
In front of me, is a bowl of fruit. I am not a tangerine. The tangerine is outside of the separated, individuated self called me. With the mind's eye, I can perceive a seeming entity called me. So, I cannot be the object I perceive with the mind's eye, this proxy i. In self-enquiry, there is only subject, no object.
Well, then, who is the subject called I?
Frustration intensifies. In defense of the illusion of a whole, rational, integrated, separate and self-created identity, the proxy i redoubles it's hold... on what? Who redoubles? Who is dissatisfied?
Irritation arises. Who experiences this? To whom does irritation arise? The entity called me can label and externalize the irritation as irritation. The entity called me can give it a valence (strong or weak). It can locate where in the body irritation expresses as a sensation- tightness in the shoulder, pursed lips, a tightening jaw. That I can externalize or objectify the emotions arising means I am not embedded at that level. I am not the irritation arising or the tightness in the shoulder, the pursed lips or the tightening jaw. Who is this I that feels frustrated or angry or anxious or curious or any color of human emotion? Enquiry persists.
Who am I? Am I my thoughts? Thoughts are mere wisps of nothingness. The more we seek, the more elusive this seeming I.
To say, 'I am the experiencer' is pretense- one pretends to have attained that which is beyond grasping. Words emerge from thoughts. Thoughts emerge from ego. From whence does the ego derive its light? To say that one is separate from That which gives light to the mind and animates it is self-delusion.
Who is the I behind this investigation? Who is this I that asks Who am I? The seer and seen can only exist only if supported by the Mystery.
I don't know. "All I know is that I know nothing," to quote Plato.
Clever. The little self still resists and plays coy. It does not want to dissolve into the Unknowable. Hence, the long, interminable searching- a seemingly sincere seeker on a seemingly long path to nowhere. All illusion. Truth is NOW.