If you ask yourself who you are, the answer might sound like: I am this person reading this article whose name is XYZ, who is a male or a female, who looks like the image in the mirror, living in ABC city, working as blah-blah, child/parent/spouse of so-and-so, having such-and-such thoughts, feelings, experiences, knowledge, skills, capabilities, memories, tendencies, and so on so forth. All these answers pertain to what can be called in a nutshell - a body-mind complex. There are high chances that this is what you take yourself to be.
Now consider this: You are a fully grown adult now, but you were once a little baby, a small boy/girl and a young teenager. Research suggests that, sparing few types of cells, most cells in the body die within few years and get constantly replaced with new ones. So, physiologically speaking, most of your current body cells were not present ten or twenty or thirty years ago which means you had materially different bodies back then. Even the state of your mind as a baby/child/teenager was very different than what you have now. So, if you are just a body-mind complex, you must have been someone else in the past as your body and mind have been very different at different stages of your life, and you will yet again turn into someone else as you grow older. But that’s not how you feel about yourself. You think you are one and the same entity throughout your life whose body and mind changes over time. So, if you are always the same entity, how can you be the body-mind complex which is constantly changing?
Here’s another way to look at it: Let’s say its possible for you to take-up an entirely new body which is everything you always wanted - healthier, stronger, better looking, more functional, and without any of the pains, aches and problems of your current body. And let’s say you don't lose any of the advantages of your current body and people around you somehow continue to recognize you as before. Chances are you would want to sign-up for this offer. You would be willing to swap your mind too if you are offered a different mind with a more positive personality, stronger intellect, sharper memory, better knowledge and skills and capabilities, and much lesser issues compared to your current mind say in terms of anger, fear, lust, shame, hatred, etc., while still making sure that you don’t lose any of the advantages of your current mind. These are clear indications that you are neither the body nor the mind, because if you were really those, you would have never considered swapping them out as it would have meant the end of your current existence and birth of someone else.
Yet another way to arrive at the same conclusion: Let’s say you think you are fat and want to reduce your weight by half. It basically means that you would lose half your body. Or, for some reason, you lose a limb or two like a leg or an arm, or maybe more which makes-up a large part of your body. Would you think that you are only a part of what you were earlier or would you still consider yourself to be the same whole person? It applies to the mind too. Even if you lose a part of it like your memory or knowledge or intellect or any such thing, which happens a lot with age, you would still think you are the same person. These are again clear indications that you are neither the body nor the mind.
Let me re-iterate. If you were really just the body-mind complex and nothing more, any substantial change in the body and/or the mind would have meant that you have turned into someone else. But that’s not how you feel about yourself. You always feel that you are the same person throughout your life even though your personality might be undergoing various changes. Think about it. Contemplate on it. Re-read if you need to and you will begin to get it. If you are still not getting it, its primarily because of your natural attachment to the body and mind which is preventing you from believing that you are not them. Its not easy to get rid of this attachment and takes time.
Lets try to further understand what’s going on. Consider a house that you are familiar with. As time goes, you change the furniture, appliances, fittings, color scheme, and many such things. You may even remodel it and add/remove/change sections over time. So much so that the house might look very different from what it looked say thirty years ago - both from inside and outside. But you would still consider it to be the same house. In fact, as long as you don’t completely demolish the house and re-construct a new one, you would continue to call it the same house irrespective of the extent of change it undergoes. This is because what you refer to as the house is not really the material building itself but a concept of the house in your mind. As time passes and the house keeps changing materially, the concept keeps adapting to the change and you keep referring to it as the house. The same thing applies to your own body-mind. What you refer to as yourself is not the body-mind complex directly but a concept of it in your mind that remains one but keeps pointing to the changed body-mind.
Now the killer: Do you think you are really that concept in the mind you are referring to as yourself, or are you the one who is referring to that concept?
You have come a long way in trying to understand who or what you really are - all the way from thinking you are just a body-mind complex to thinking you are some entity that is referring to a concept of your body-mind as yourself. Its difficult to go beyond this understanding just through intellectual analysis, reasoning or normal experience. So it helps to seek guidance from those who have been successful in knowing their real self, learn from what they have to say about it, and then validate it for yourself. There have been many such through the millenniums who have left their invaluable and timeless teachings. If we study their teachings, we will find one thing in common - they all say that who or what we really are is indescribable in words. There is good reason for that. Its impossible to communicate even a normal day-to-day experience in words (like the experience of eating an ice-cream or listening to a piece of music or looking at a beautiful scenery) to someone else and make them come even close to how you feel. They have to experience it for themselves. If such is the case for a normal experience, what to say of our real self which is far subtler. Even then, for others benefit, these teachers atleast indicate what our real self is like and describe practices to know and experience it internally.
The best term used to indicate the real self (aka Self), as found in the teachings in Upanishads and other Indian scriptures, is Sat-Chit-Ananda which means Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. These are not three words but one word represented by a conjunction of three words as there is no single word that can express the meaning fully. What it means is that the essence of the Self is pure and absolute Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. Pure and absolute Existence implies that its not existence of a particular thing or existence dependent on something, but Existence in itself which is the ground for existence of all things. Pure and absolute Consciousness implies that its not a particular conscious being or consciousness of a particular thing, but Consciousness in itself which is the ground for all types of conscious activities. Pure and absolute Bliss implies that its not a particular type of nice feeling, but Bliss in itself which is the ground for all types of positive feelings (like happiness, joy, peace, etc.). Moreover, all three i.e. Existence, Consciousness and Bliss, go together at all times and are not disjoint.
So, your real Self is not a particular entity that is existing, conscious and blissful, but is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss itself in its purest and absolute sense.
If this sounds vague to you, you are not alone. As mentioned above, who or what you really are is indescribable in words, so these words are only indicative in nature. You need to experience your true Self internally and then only will you really know who you are. But here’s why it atleast makes sense for the Self to be Existence-Consciousness-Bliss:
Let’s take up Consciousness first. Existence and Bliss will follow through. Consider any day-to-day experience, like looking at something. The light reflected from an object enters your eyes and falls on your retina that generates neuro-signals which travel through your optical nerves and result in some bio-electro-chemical activity in your brain that is somehow interpreted as a visual scene within your consciousness. What you see is not the sub-atomic particles that make-up the object, nor the light particles, nor the neuro-signals, nor the bio-electro-chemical activities in the brain, but something quite different from the materials involved in the whole process - a 3D image with different colors and brightness. Same thing happens when you are listening to something - the surround sound that you experience is quite different from the materials involved in the hearing process. In fact, your experience of anything - whether its physical or mental - is always of a construct in your consciousness and never of the matter involved directly. Actually matter and consciousness are so intrinsically different that its impossible for them to interact with each other. Hence, what we think of as matter is also nothing but a construct in consciousness that just seems to have matter-like properties. Even the concept of your own body-mind that you refer to as yourself is also nothing but a construct in consciousness.
If you are having a problem in understanding what consciousness means, try this: Say someone creates a robot, an android, that is designed to look and behave exactly like you. Its been programmed to act, speak and even think like you. The way you talk/walk/sit/stand, your skin, your hair, your features, your expressions, everything being exactly the same. So much so that no one will ever be able to tell apart any difference between the android and you. Even after all this there will still be one key difference between the android and you - the inner subjective experience of being you. Its only present in you and will be absent in the robot. This is consciousness.
Its important to note that this is not “your” consciousness as by “your” you mean your body-mind, and its not that consciousness is within the body-mind but the body-mind is appearing within consciousness. What you call as “your” consciousness is only a “reflection" of this consciousness in your mind, but consciousness itself is not dependent on the existence of yours or anyone else’s mind. This is the pure and absolute Consciousness. Its also pure and absolute Existence since its the only entity that exists and everything - you, others, the whole world, the whole universe - simply seems to appear in it making it the ground of all existence. Its also pure and absolute Bliss as nothing else exists that it would be in any form of conflict with.
This pure and absolute Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, which enlightened people say is also infinite and eternal, is what you and everything really is.
If you are an intelligent living being, the foremost thing to know in life is who or what you really are and then live life accordingly. An intellectual understanding of it is a good beginning but not the end. You need to resolve all doubts and get a firm conviction that what is being explained makes complete sense. No matter what your questions are, there are answers to all of them and the best answers come from within. This technique of Self-realization has been practiced successfully by people for thousands of years and is only going strong. All possible questions have been asked and answered in multiple ways. Once you get a firm conviction, you need to make it a living reality which is only possible through meticulous spiritual practice. The benefits of doing this are tremendous - both while you are on the journey as well as when you reach the goal. All miseries and sufferings in life pertain to the body-mind and the conflict that arises because of its separation from others. When you realize you are not the body-mind but pure and absolute Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, the only entity that really exists, and that is infinite and eternal, all miseries and sufferings will evaporate and you will reach a state of unlimited permanent bliss!
(This article was cross-posted from happinessjourney.net/post/153070581415/who-are-you-really)