The question "Who am I?" is not merely theoretical. What it means depends on what we identify with. If we identify with our physical body, then sports, the way we look, our health, things relating to the body become very important in our life. If we have identified with our emotions, then how we feel emotionally, our relationships with people, love, and happiness become most important to us. Identifying with our thoughts, we become readers of books, chess players, scientists, and a good conversation becomes really important. If we identify with consciousness, then spirituality, beauty in whatever form, and a sense of wonder become most important. Asking "Who am I?" immediately shows us our identifications. "I'm a sports person", "I am a very vulnerable and sensitive person", "I'm an Information Technology specialist", "I'm a very religious person", it all depends on where we identify most strongly.
We tend to identify with our roles, but these roles are not absolute. You may be a baseball player, but if you become too old to play the game, you are not really a baseball player anymore. Or you may be a postman, but if because of e-mail your job should become redundant, you are no longer the postman. Roles are relative, but we take them to be absolute. We identify with our roles to the point where we feel that we have become redundant when a role that we've played has become redundant.
Identification makes everything disproportionately personal. We are identified with our bodies, our feelings, our thoughts, and our consciousness to the point where we feel this is I, this is what and who I am. And because of our identification, we can become very emotional if what we've identified with turns out to be of a relative nature. We find it difficult to change, and we are afraid to die because we are deeply identified.
Asking "Who am I truly?" or "What is truth?" means that you cannot take the question at face value anymore. You may have identified with this or that, but now you want to get to the very truth of you. You are not just going to accept the first or second answer that comes to mind. "What is truth?" is not just a philosophical and theoretical question: to reflect on it can be a beginning, but finally, it might change your whole paradigm of yourself. And like understanding the earth to be round instead of flat has had a major impact on our lives, the way we understand ourselves will change everything. "Who am I?" or "What is truth?" are very penetrative questions, they can make you understand yourself in a completely new way.
Identification is the movement of claiming something, trying to appropriate it. It means that at a deep level we think, "This is me, and mine to keep." But life is a gift that is not for keeps, and ownership is only possible in a relative sense. Something is mine when it isn't yours, the meaning of 'mine' is relative. But I cannot say that it is mine in an absolute sense. I do not own this existence, and when I die, whatever I considered to be mine, turns out not to be mine after all. Identification is fine as long as we understand that its meaning is relative. It really has no absolute meaning. Like a wave cannot claim ownership over itself because it belongs to the ocean, ultimately we do not own ourselves because we belong to the universe.
When it is time to die, we are forced to give up everything we ever owned, we are even forced to give up what we have thought of as ourselves. We will need to let go of our entire lives. In this moment of truth, it will become very clear what we are not ready to let go of. We will have to give up our physical life, our emotional life, our mental life, our dream life, our social life. And we will need to let go of even our consciousness. The essence of existing, of being alive, our basic awareness, will be taken away. Dying can either be a phenomenon of complete acceptance, or it can be a struggle. The degree to which we find it difficult to let go of our lives voluntarily, to that degree we are identified.
What is liberation? Liberation is waking up to absolute truth. Liberation happens when absolute truth comes to light, when truth is revealed. It is discovering the truth of you, which is the truth of everyone and of existence. Truth is not your physical body, nor is it an emotion, thought, belief, or social role. It is not even your consciousness. As long as we are identified with any of these things, it is impossible for truth to reveal itself. We cannot freeze water and at the same time make it boil: these movements are in opposite directions. Truth, the Absolute, is revealed the moment we stop the movement of identifying ourselves with that which is relative.
You can only know absolute truth by taking a first-hand plunge. Truth cannot be known by merely investigating it intellectually. Absolute openness cannot be grasped by the mind, the mind cannot imagine boundless space. Enlightenment, freedom, is not a mental conclusion, it is not a play with words, it is the freedom of your heart. Truth is revealed when you no longer identify with your relative existence. 'No longer identify' does not mean that you distance yourself from life, it simply means that you do not continue the movement of appropriating life and consciousness. Like you can walk on a piece of land without putting a fence around it and claiming it is yours. When you are no longer identified, you discover absolute consciousness, absolute truth, you.
How do you stop being identified? How does one give up his or her identifications? Identification stops through understanding. Understanding makes identification impossible. We don't need to dis-identify ourselves from anything. If you understand that something isn't yours, how then can you disown it? If you understand that something isn't yours, then why claim it? Your life and your consciousness are not yours, not really. Can we face this simple truth? Then why identify with it? What do you mean if you say "This is I"? The true you reveals itself only when all identification stops. You can't have it both ways, you either identify with the life you have come to know, or you discover the true you.
The final moment of identification is when you stop identifying yourself with even consciousness. You completely let go of it. If it persists by itself, fine. If it disappears, you will not try to hold on to it, to prolong it. You give up your identification, you give up your claim completely. Does that mean that your body will disintegrate? Does it mean that your consciousness instantly vanishes? To understand that something isn't yours does not make it disappear just like that.
Truly and deeply understanding that literally nothing is yours, the movement of claiming your life is discontinued. You give up everything, no holding back whatsoever, before death makes it clear that it was never yours to begin with. By giving up all there is to give up, you suddenly become aware of who you are, you discover absolute freedom. Giving up all identifications, you find truth.
Resignation is not liberation. Resignation means that somewhere along the way you have become disheartened. You have given up your search for true peace or freedom. For a moment it may look the same, because you've stopped searching. But this is not freedom. Find truth, and your search ends. Not because you've given up searching, but because you have found what your heart was longing for! Your search has come to an end in a natural way. To find truth is like a flower releasing its fragrance to the winds, somehow fulfilling its ultimate destiny. It is to find the boundlessness that millions are looking for.
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Principles and Paradigms
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The Origin of Consciousness
- Identification and Liberation