What is the ‘Who am I’ method?


Acharya Prashant: The ‘Who am I’ inquiry is a simple method. In fact, the simplest of methods.  So simple that it cannot even be called a method. And it is often misunderstood. Who am I’ is not a question. It cannot be a question because we are already full of answers. We already have a lot of answers for ‘Who am I’. That day we circulated a sheet and asked people to write down statements beginning with ‘I am…” Somebody was able to write twenty, somebody wrote forty, one gentleman even wrote fifty plus.

So that’s the kind of inner clutter of ‘I am’ that we have. “I am an Indian, I am a Hindu, I am a male, I am knowledgeable, I am rich…” So what is the point in asking ‘Who am I’? You ask something only when you do not know the answer. Here you already have multiple answers. So what is the point in asking? ‘Who am I’ then is more honestly, just an acknowledgement, and not a question. An acknowledgement that all these identities do exist in my life. But if it is not taken as an acknowledgement, then you will ask the question. And things will go bad when along with the unnecessary question, an unnecessary answer is also predetermined and supplied to you.

The way many teachers talk of ‘Who am I’ these days is, “Ask, ‘Who am I?’ and become quiet.” Now this is quite fake. Because when you will really see how many identities you have, then there will be an upsurge of noise, not quietness. You ask, “Who am I?” and you will receive thirty-five replies. You remember all the replies that were there on the paper? “I am this, this, this…”

So you asked, “Who am I?” and how many replies did you get? 48,. But instead of honestly acknowledging that one is already full of “I am X, I am A, I am Y, I am B,” it is often suggested to ask ‘Who am I’ and then witness the silence. There can be no silence. And if there is silence, then it is a fake and manufactured silence.

The fact is when you see what you are operating as, you will only see a lot of noise, which in turn will be suffering. One has to have the courage to live through that suffering. In acknowledging that suffering, that suffering will drop. But if you unnecessarily impose a quietness upon yourself, then you will get some kind of a fake bliss.

You asked, “Who am I?” and then you did not allow the answers to come. Why did you not allow the answers to come? Because it is not allowed in the method. The method forbids any answer. The method says, in the answer, there should only be silence.So even if the answer is about to come, I quash the answer, and what I get is a fake silence. That fake silence will not help.

What will help is a real acknowledgement that you are living in multiple statements of ‘I am…’ You have to look at each of those statements. You have to let each of them come up. You have to look at their presence, their needlessness, and the kind of suffering that they bring to you. In seeing that, they drop. In fact, I am amazed how any honest person can ever ask himself, “Who am I?” The moment your name is called out, “Jack!” you say, “Yes! Here!” and then you ask, “Who am I?” Now you already know that you are Jack, now why are you asking, “Who am I?”

So, it beats me. It beats me. “Hi, I am Jack, and I am practicing ‘Who am I’” If you are Jack, then what do you mean by practicing ‘Who am I’? ‘Who am I’ is a question only for those who really do not know who they are. We already know who we are. So for us, there is no ‘Who am I’. For us, there is only, “I am this.” And live in this acknowledgement. Live in this.

I asked one day, that suppose the postman comes one day to deliver a ten thousand dollar cheque and he calls out your name, “Ramesh, here is a ten-thousand dollar cheque for you.” Would you say, “Who am I? I do not know.” At that time you immediately know that you are Ramesh. Then you also know your bank account number. But when it comes to a spiritual session, then you say, “Who am I? Who is my father? What is this world? Where did I come from?” When the cheque arrives, then you do not ask, “Who am I?” So this is sheer hypocrisy.

Listener: I was thinking about this method. It is more useful to ask, “What am I? Am I the body? Am I my emotion? My mind?”

AP: Is there any doubt? A question is only honest if you have any doubt. Do you have any doubt about who you are? First of all the Teacher must bring you to a position where you start having doubts. Only then you can honestly ask the question. Are you getting it? You ask, “Which way to Tapovan?” When do you ask that? When you have a doubt. If you are smug in your belief that you already know the way to Tapovan, would you ask a question?

The role of the teacher is to first of all, bring you to a point where you become shaky, where you lose confidence in your beliefs about yourself.

But if the Teacher does that, he will become unpopular.

So the teacher who wants popularity totally bypasses this stuff.

The first step must be to shake up the student’s beliefs. Only then the student is qualified to ask, “Who am I?” In shaking up the student’s belief, the Teacher will have to become unpopular. He cannot remain sweet anymore. He will have to attack the identities, he will have to show the needlessness, worthlessness, and lovelessness contained in identities.—That is the job of the Teacher.

And then, once you have seen the futility of your identifications, then in a very delicate way, you are left with this echo, “Okay, if all is gone, then who really am I?” The first part of the question has to be, “If I am not all that, then who am I?” That is the complete question.

L: That has happened to me, about 3 years ago. I realized that I don’t have any control, and I really don’t know what I am doing.

AP: Also remember that in honest inquiry, the answer cannot be predetermined. They way many teachers practice it these days is that they tell you the answer in advance. Now what is the point in asking the question? It is known in advance that the answer is silence. The teachers these days say,  “So ask, “Who am I?” and then fall silent.”

But in honest inquiry, the fact is that whenever you will look at your identities you will only find a chaotic buzz that will say, “I am a son, I am a husband,  I am an employee,  I am a patriot, I am a Christian, I am Hindu, I am a young man,  I am an old man,  a shopper,  a seller.” All mutually conflicting, associating identities, all buzzing together. You won’t find silence.

Silence is when all this chaos is cleared. It cannot be cleared by imposing silence upon the chaos.

Watch the session: Acharya Prashant: What is the ‘Who am I’ method?  The transcription has been edited for clarity.

Read more articles on this topic:

Article 1: Asking ‘Who am I’ is honesty in the face of falseness

Article 2: Will I ever know who am I?

Article 3: When you believe in your identity, you will never know the reality

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