Who are we: A perennial question

Who are we?

That is a perennial question asked by all philosophers and seekers of life. The question can be best answered at two different levels.

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At one level we are all Pure Being, the unbounded absolute infinite Consciousness that pervades the universe. At another level, we are all discrete and unique beings, differentiated by mind, body, ability, DNA, ethnicity, and so on.

  • At the first level we are pure unbounded existence while the second level we are doing and thinking machines or entities clothed in our physical bodily existence.
  • At the first level we see ourselves as living in bliss consciousness, while at the second level we seek happiness in exchanges of mental and physical products with other entities.
  • At the first level we are eternal spirit – unborn and undying. At the second level we are born and then we die. At this level, we can become afraid of death. So we worry about many things, become greedy, and save resources to better guard against death.
  • To live at the first level, we transcend our mind and senses using any of many techniques such as meditation. Living at the second level seems simple and easy, as we can access our mind and body through the use of our ordinary senses and supporting instruments.
  • At the second level we are all separate and each defined individually by our ego- consciousness, while at the first level we are all one together as nature and defined by our eco-consciousness.

This is a primary distinction in life. Ignorance of this basic piece of knowledge of who we are is a source of many challenges in living life properly. How we see ourselves depends upon our state of consciousness. From an ego consciousness, we appear to be this body and mind and others, just as others too have their own body and mind, and we interact with them to exchange materials ideas and so on. However, we all have a higher self. Not knowing it is the first and biggest fallacy. There are techniques to learn about the higher self just as there are techniques to learn the bodily and mental self. Our trained and disciplined mind is the biggest instruments for learning about the higher self. What we pay attention to grows in our consciousness.

However, this distinction may be of little interest to the poor who do not get even two pieces of bread every day. Meeting their basic physical needs becomes their primary challenge in life, and they do not have the time or energy to transcend. Similarly, this knowledge may be of little interest to the super rich for whom material abundance and physical pleasures have become intoxicating, and who do not believe in the transcendent. This knowledge is perhaps most useful for the middle-of-the-roader , the seeker of a blissful life, free from pain and miseries.  If interested, one can learn more at tm.org.


Transformation of Self-Identity: Imagination and Transcendence

Identity (of the self) is a fundamental concept that one develops about oneself that evolves over time. A fixed identity composed of name, relationships, and belongings keeps one locked in small self.

How can one proactively evolve or transform one’s identity? First step would be to locate and unfreeze the current identity. Research has shown that there is a part in the brain that is responsible for one’s memory and identity. That part is hippocampus (seahorse-shaped) in the middle of the brain. To transform one’s identity is to change the flexibility of that part of the brain.

Yagyas such as AtiRudraAbhishekam when done properly are a great way for self-transformation. Ashwamdetha yagyas are another way to achieve that. Coming from the Vedic tradition, the Ashvamedha is a ritual used by great Indian kings to expand their imperial sovereignty. A stallion would be released to wander for a period of one year. Whatever area the horse would cover in a year, unless challenged, would belong to the king. Then the horse is sacrificed.

There are two ways to explain the change in identity: Imagination and Transcendence.

Ashwamedha yagyas lets the king’s horse roam freely to as far as it can. Similarly, if the mind is free to imagine itself in the most expansive terms, it could be the broadening or expansion of identity. All of that territory becomes the mind’s. That is the way to understand it from an object-referral method.

Ashwamedha yagyas is also seen as the sacrificing the horse. Sacrificing the specificity-oriented mind to give way to a wholeness-oriented self, is the self-referral way of explaining self-transformation. That identity of specificity has to be erased and identity of wholeness has to settle in.

Transcendence is the forgetting of specificity and stepping into wholeness.  Transcendental Meditation is an effective and proven method for self-transcendence. While both are complementary concepts, Self-transformation through transcendence may be more desirable than self-expansion through imagination.


Clash and convergence of paradigms

There are multiple paradigms of knowledge of reality. How can everyone be right?

The answer is that there is a dilemma in the waking state of consciousness. One can continue discussing from different points of view and be correct in some vital way, without being able to refute the other points of view. Only when one transcends the waking state that some unified realities become available and acceptable. From the transcendent level of consciousness one can experience the connectedness of the entire universe. Eventually one can potentially experience the Vedantic non-dual reality of ‘tat tvam asi’, or ‘Aham Brahmasmi’. From the waking state of consciousness these look like absurd words. Even reading the Vedas from a waking state of consciousness is meaningless, and brings no power. Vedas have to be experienced from a state of transcendental consciousness. After all the Vedas were cognized by the seers from that state of consciousness.

Another question often asked if body is hardware, and mind is software, what is soul?

The answer is: the soul would be like the natural laws of electromagnetism and computation and information theory. There are three fundamental gods: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Shiva represents form, or space, and thus the body. Lord Vishnu represents energy, or function, and thus the mind. Lord Brahma represents logic, the knowledge that binds form and function in the service of a purpose. This trinity together make up the entire universe. Consciousness is that which is aware of itself. Thus it is the knower, the known, and the process of knowing (the subject, object, and the verb, all in one). Thus the soul is the knower, the mind would be the process of knowing, and the body will be the known.


Your Digital Self

In the digital world you are defined by the data exhaust of your many activities. From your communication and movement activities, to your purchase and sales activities, there is a digital record of your actions that can be put together to collectively constitute your digital self.

The data about you can be analyzed and mined for patterns of behavior. Who you talk to, when you talk, what you talk about, and how you communicate … all these can be deciphered from analyzing the text and time-stamps of your conversations. Your pictures and comments and Likes on FaceBook tells a lot about what you do, what you like, and who you relate to. Your tweets are a veritable record of your many proclamations, jokes, and commentary. Smartphone apps like WhatsApp contain a complete record of much sharing among half-a-billion people across the globe.

For instance, a composite profile of a person was made using only 45 days’s worth of data from WhatsApp. It showed who the person talked to, what she talked about, when she talked most, and how she communicated. Advertising companies can perfectly understand her behavior patterns, and sell her what they can. The analysis showed that the person spoke a lot about food, desserts, and weight loss. And that she was online most often at 8 pm. Thus companies could sell her more food, sugary stuff, and then also sell her dreams and products for weight loss.

Our behaviors are far more patterned, and a lot less spontaneous, than we care to believe. Modeling the data about your activities can show that. How can we be better prepared to counter those who may be using many of our unconscious behavior patterns to fleece us? One way is to understand your own digital self better.

The first step is to be open to understanding yourself in a deep data-driven way. The example above shows the value of being self-aware of our behavior patterns.

The second step will be to obtain data about our digital self. Organizations like FaceBook and Google gather all the data, analyze it and then send targeted ads on behalf of businesses. However is is not very clear right now, how an individual can gather the data from the likes of FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and hundreds of other sites. If large organizations can obtain such data, individuals should also be able to do so. I found an application called http://givememydata.com/ that helps you get back your data from FaceBook.

Data about one’s own activities should be made available free of charge to every individual. The data should be made available in a pre-processed form that is easily understandable and manageable by the individual concerned. This should be similar to how all credit-rating agencies need to offer you annually a free record of all your financial profile.

Once the data has been collected, the third step is to analyze the data, along very simple lines to generate a composite dashboard of oneself. That will be our accessible digital self, seen through the digital mirror.

For more on data mining check out my book available on Amazon.