The question comes in all spiritual practices, in all spiritual life—who are you? Who are you and what is this life of yours? When you begin to answer that question perhaps different answers come, many answers, that have limitations of time and place, that ground you to different experiences of your life. But then the question comes: Who is having these experiences? Who is knowing the experience?
Then, when you come to that, you realize that there is within you a conscious awareness, an intelligent awareness, that knows everything you think; everything you say; everything you hear, feel, touch. Without that knower there would be no one to be aware of all of this.
There is a fundamental awareness, a fundamental knowing. And without this fundamental knower, without this aware consciousness, all that you experience would be for naught. So, there is more to you than the experiences you have, than the identities you put around yourself that you feel you are this way, you are that way, you are successful, you are unsuccessful, so on and so forth. There is fundamentally someone who witnesses all of that, who knows, who’s consciously aware.
When you realize that there is this conscious awareness of everything you do, of every identity you have, that without awareness there would be no self, no person that you are. So, this fundamental awareness creates a basis of being, but again the question comes: Who or what is this fundamental awareness?
Is this consciousness only aware of you? Does it only entail your thoughts, feelings, physical body? What is this conscious aware intelligence that is fundamental to your being, without which you would cease to exist? Is this awareness separate from you? Or are you this awareness? If you are this awareness, where does your consciousness, your being, your fundamental awareness begin and end?
The Yogis say that the Jiva, the individual self, is witnessed by the Atman, that is this knower, this consciously aware beingness that knows even your I-feeling, your own I-feeling, your fundamental sense of self, could not exist were there not this knowing consciousness within you. But this Atman, this knower, the one that knows your existence, this Atman, this Self of you, the Yogis say is the same as the Paramatma, the Self of all beings, the witnessing consciousness of all existence.
That awareness is not bound by time and space, nor is it bound by anything it witnesses. So when it witnesses all of your thoughts, feeling, desires, your very sense of “I am”-ness, that witnessing consciousness, that fundamental Atman, your soul, is of the same substance as the soul of all beings, the Paramatma, the infinite conscious beingness.
So how are you separate, how are you alone when your fundamental nature is one? Not governed by your I-feeling or your thoughts or desires or whatever you think of yourself, not governed by that, but a cosmic knowing. The knower of all beings is the same as the knower of your own self. You have an intimate relationship to that awareness, to that consciousness. That is the core of your essence.
Your Atman is your soul, is your essence. And that fundamental consciousness that is you has no separation from the fundamental consciousness of all beings. It’s the same. That which is core to you is the same as that which is core to every other person, to the birds, to the trees, to the grass. The witnessing awareness of all creation, the Paramatma, the supreme soul, the Self of yourself, abides forever, eternally, never dies, never is born.
Though all that it witnesses changes and changes again, that awareness is changeless. That conscious intelligence, that knowing existence never changes, doesn’t erode with time. Though so much happens that is witnessed, the witness remains ever the same. That is Purusha is Sanskrit. Purusha meaning conscious awareness, beingness.
That essential being remains, knowing all that is but never changed in the process of enfolding in the witness-ship of all creation, including your own being; your I-feeling is witnessed by this Atman, and all that you are. When you ask yourself: “Who am I?”—really, are you not this Self of yourself, this soul, this Atman, this witnessing awareness? And where is the difference between you, between the witness, the soul, and all others?
In the whirlwind of life, in the rising and falling of pleasure and pain—is not this aware consciousness the quiet, deep shore, the quiet depths where you find peace, home, resilience through everything, even the changing of forms? So, the life of those who seek the depths is one of coming to know this infinite Self and learning to rest in that.