Friday, January 14, 2011

The Personal Identity

From early childhood, you are conditioned to believe that you exist as an independent, personal identity inside the body -- somehow separate from others, each of whom also has an independent, personal identity within the boundaries of the body.

Well, if you exist as the personal identity called _____ (and you can fill in your own name here), where is this individual person actually located?  What is the nature of this entity you take yourself to be?

In essence, I am asking "Who or what are you?" and "Where are you located?"  These questions have been asked, and investigated, for thousands of years.

For purposes of this message, let's assume we are referring to a person named Robert.  If I approach Robert and ask, "Who are you?," what is likely to happen?  Robert will start to THINK about who he is.  He will search his mind and he will tell me facts or descriptions about himself.  Thus he may say that he is a man, has a wife, and two children.  He might tell me what kind of work he does, his religious affiliation, or when he was born.

These are all facts about Robert's life situation.  Do these facts tell us anything about the essence of Robert, about who he really is?  Is Robert simply a bunch of facts that make up his biography?  Very few of us would say that's what Robert is.  We sense in our hearts that Robert is more than that.

Furthermore the facts could change -- and the essence of Robert would not change.  If Robert gets divorced or changes his job,  that wouldn't change his essence.  If he has amnesia and thinks his name is Charles, that wouldn't change his essence.  Robert can't be the facts that make up his personal story.  Robert's true nature is changeless and beyond any description of his life situation.

These "facts" or descriptions are nothing more than thoughts or beliefs in Robert's mind.  These thoughts and beliefs are not who he is.

Many people would say that Robert, in his essence, is Spirit (inhabiting a human body).  Where is this essence of Robert located in his body?  If there is a personal identity called Robert making decisions for this body, then Robert's essence, or control center, must be located somewhere.  Where is the personal identity located in Robert's body?

If asked this question, the vast majority of people say that the personal identity is located in the brain.  No other part of the body would seem to be a likely candidate.  The arm is not the essence or control center of Robert.  The leg is not Robert.  None of the other internal organs would appear to be Robert, although some people identify the heart region as the location.

However, if we remove Robert's heart and put it on a table, I doubt people would say, "That's Robert."

The brain seems to be where the personal identity might be located.  Is there a personal, limited consciousness located inside the brain? 

Here again, if we remove Robert's brain and put it on the table, I doubt anyone would confidently say, "That's Robert.  There he is."  The essence of Robert is more than a few pounds of brain tissue. 

The cells that make up the brain tissue are constantly changing -- so how is it that Robert's essence does not seem to change?  Robert's "beingness" or his knowingness that he exists has remained throughout his life, despite the fact that none of the cells from his childhood are present in his body now.

In addition, I do not know of any scientific proof that has ever been produced to establish that the personal identity is located in the brain. 
Perhaps what we consider to be our personal identity (our name, nationality and other descriptions) are nothing more than thoughts.

"I am Robert" is a thought.
"I have two children" is a thought.
"I am married" is a thought.
"I have such and such religious beliefs" is a thought.

What these thoughts DO have in common is that they all appear in Awareness and subside in Awareness.

Thoughts change, they come and go.  What you are, your essence or true nature, does NOT change.  In addition, any thoughts or descriptions you may feel are part of your personal identity are not present 24/7.  Thus you aren't thinking all day about your name, your religion or your job title.  Those thoughts come and go.  While you sleep, these thoughts aren't there at all.  Yet something about you never changes -- and that something (actually not a "thing") must be what you are.

It would appear that what you are is non-phenomenal and unlocatable.

Nonduality teachings invite us to investigate if we are Universal Consciousness or Awareness, as opposed to a personal, limited entity inside the skin line of a body. 

I am not suggesting that you should deny the physical body or refuse to acknowledge others in the manifest world.  Nor am I presenting this so that you will form another belief about your identity.  Your mind will never figure out what you are. 

It's more a matter of seeing what you are NOT.  Then, through grace and understanding, it may begin to dawn what you ARE.  Your focus will shift from a preoccupation with the changing a focus on the changeless.

If this question of personal identity interests you, the inquiry will unfold in its own way.  You will be led to people and resources that are appropriate for you -- and you will begin to do your own introspection.