Who Am I?

Who Am I?

November 1930

The Word ‘I’ refers to the Speaker before us or the first person in our cognisance. The ‘I’ is generally identified with bodily figure of the speaker. In our attempts for identification virtually we cannot and, as a matter of fact, do not ordinarily go beyond the bodily form and make, the stature, the colour together with any distinguishing mark or marks the body of the speaker might have got, his sex, locality, nationality, mentality, parentage, learning and other acquisitions, profession and also any relationship in which the speaker stands to us.

If we stretch the definition to its furthest scope, generally conceivable to us we might also point to the idiosyncrasies of the speaker and the impression he has created in us, in so far as he might have come in actual contact with us. All these ideas that we form of the speaker are applied to the external mind and body of the speaker, the modalities or manners and circumstances in which he came under our purview for the time being we took cognisance. Making allowances as far as desired of the speaker for the changes he underwent in the past or may undergo in future or for innumerable other actions he can follow up and natures he can display in thousand other circumstances in all the times he is destined to live in his present bodily form, he can not ordinarily carry our ideas of him wholly beyond the bodily form and co-ordinated mind he has got and their relation to the phenomenal world he lives in.

But this identification of the ‘I’, that the speaker represents is too narrow and too shifting and his quest for the real “I” is likely to be baffled if he is seriously inclined to cling to such hasty and erroneous presumption. All these we mean or presume are but the present temporary adjuncts of the speaker, while his “I” is their proprietor. In common language we refer to properties by a possessive inflexion of the nominative, the proprietor. The properties are never supposed to be identical with the proprietor and the proprietor is certainly different from his properties. The properties should be absolutely under the proprietor’s disposal and he should be able, at his free choice at any time, to relinquish some or all of those properties and assume or acquire others. The will of the proprietor in so doing should not be liable to be affected or regulated in any way by an independent or contrary wish of the properties. Thus from our considered idea of “I” all those or such other properties should be altogether eliminated.

The property is in this case mortal and temporary. It can exist in relationship with or in possession of the proprietor only for a specified period—say, a hundred years. But the proprietor is also supposed to survive the dispossession of his present properties. At the time of death the connection of the proprietor with these properties ceases. Then the body cannot move, the bodily organs of senses cannot work any more and they are soon decayed. But the proprietor perchance takes possession of other properties that he may find in his altered circumstances. This inevitable fact of the periodical dispossession of the proprietor is described in the Geeta in the following Shloka:—

Just as a man may leave off his old or tattered pieces of cloth and put on new and fresh ones, so the proprietor of bodily properties giving up his worn-out coverings takes up new bodies in their stead.

The fact of death is no more than analogous to a change of apparel. Thus an analysis directed exclusively to the bodily form and external properties and co-ordinated mind cannot lead to the proper identification of the “I” who is realisable as their proprietor.

Now, the speaker appears before me in Calcutta and says to me with every assurance, “I am here” and I also see his form before my very eyes whose testimony I, of course, believe, most naturally. But the next moment he falls asleep in my presence and on awakening tells me, “I had just been to London and was taking a walk on the bank of the Thames with several of my friends I made during my stay there.” The next moment the speaker seems to be a little absent-minded and does not respond to my call and presently starts up and says with a deep sigh, “I was just thinking of my son who is at Bombay engaged in some business; hence I was not aware of your calling me.”

The “I” of the speaker is not evidently confined to the bodily coil, his gross material possession but may appear to refer perhaps to the mind of the speaker which lies beyond the gross material and which cannot be directly perceived by our eyes or other senses. The physical body can only work in concert or in co-operation with mind without which the body is not able to take any initiative.

In this twentieth century we are accustomed to ordinarily accept the mind as the possessor of the body. But a question may at the same time, crop up as to what respectively the material body and mind really are.

We get a tiny bodily form at our birth. We grow up to certain dimensions. Then the growth stops. Finally we have to leave this mortal coil at the time of death. Before birth we were evidently not where we are at present and where we apparently cease to exist after death. Thus we possess the physical body and mind only in the intervening position and time but neither before, nor after this limited interval. We shall consider later on the nature of our position in this universe.

In our present realisation of our existence we are no doubt aware of our physical body, and so also with regard to the existence of everything around us. It is also true that the physical forms and shapes in their present state do change, decay and transform. The knowledge of science backed by experiments demonstrate to our sensuous apprehension that this physical element is never destroyed. Every material object, however, changes its shape and is transformed into diverse forms. Just as the candle in our room after has burnt out resolves itself into gaseous products and the full existence of it is found to exist in the room in that form in the atmosphere when weighed. We similarly find the forms of insects, birds, animals and trees undergoing death and decay and resolving into the elements of physical Nature. The hills and oceans, though relatively seeming permanent are revealing to the scientists the process of their birth, growth and decay. We have often heard the geologists and antiquarians in upholding the theory of previous existence of a big continent in the bosom of the present Indian Ocean, now the deepest in its kind and also of the archaeon occurrence of a vast ocean in place of the Himalayas, the highest mountains now on earth. The astronomers are trying to trace the conglomeration and growth of the different planets of the universe. Birth is always found to be followed by a sure end or demise however far away it may be. Thus all physical objects whether in the solid, liquid or gaseous state and however long the duration of their particular forms of temporary existences may last, change their shape and tend to be resolved into their component elements of solid, liquid, heat, motion and space. These five forms of physical elements are the final ingredients of which all material forms are composed. So also are our own bodily forms.

To the stubborn materialist the question may occur whether life itself inhabiting the bodily forms is a product of the physical elements or the resultant of any other processes. This is no doubt a question that has appeared to the imagination of all the physical and mental scientists and their hypothetical surmises have been shared by their admirers both in the East and the West. Some have gone so far as to presume life to be a sure effect of a mechanical process like sparks of fire and aberration of electrical energy or a phenomenon like the effervescence produced by the chemical combination of soda and acid or, in other words, to be a product of evolution by the natural combinations of matter. Thus they confidently hope for the manufacture of life in their Laboratory by investigating the cause of automatic action (of squeezing and expanding) of the cardiac muscles. Though their attempts have failed up till now yet they are still dogging the theory with undiminished confidence and partinacity, and they are so very dogmatic that reasonable arguments of the Theists produce little effect on them.

Likewise the Epicurians of the school of Charbak identify the living person with the physical body and take the body to be the end in itself. We find a considerable section of people holding the same view though not committing themselves in so many terms. But the firmness and amount of complacency with which most people pursue a course of bodily enjoyment and bodily aggrandisement make their position quite clear. These dogmatists spare no pains to guard themselves against any ray of real knowledge peeping into their dark cells lest they are disillusioned to take a same view of life; and in their vain attempts to patch up the many loopholes in their frail garments, they most impudently make use of the resources of their material experiences to stifle the voice of reason and to stunt the activities of our real benefactors. But though the world at present may count a majority at their back in its materialistic disposition making the putrid body the summum bonum of life, we sincerely hope that reason and good sense are bound to prevail and the voice of true wisdom will receive a real hearing in the near future.

(To be continued)