In a crowded place someone yells out your name. Among the hundreds of people in the crowd, you respond instinctively. There are two or more people in the crowd with the same name – not a common occurrence but it happens. Each one of them responds instinctively. Are we defined as to who we are by our name?
It was not long ago, I went in search of the place where I was brought up. It is a house in a village in rural India. Not much changes in these places. Yet there were changes. Families had moved on. People living there were mostly new to the community. But as I started explaining my background – my parents and grandparents and the many things that occurred at that place nearly fifty years ago – slowly a crowd gathered. All of a sudden I who was nobody moments ago, became some body recognizable to a few. Are we defined by our parents and past generations and the family we come from?
There is alumni association that connects us with the school or college where we studied. There is driving license, a PAN card, Bank Account or an I.D. card that distinguishes each of us from the rest. Then there is a Visa and a Passport that defines who we are and if we belong to a given nation or not. For a group of people in a nation those from outside are “aliens” like the species from outer space!
Even our pets know the difference between their owners and the visitors. A couple of puppies lying idle minding their own become ferocious and noisy when I visit my friends. I have to accept their reaction as normal as much as they have to live with their disdain at my unwelcome intrusion into their privacy!
There is deliberate and willful separation of each of us from the moment of conception to the moment of death. Every body is different. We are like a house or container – a product identified by others through our body and its features and how it evolved; Our “house” is filled with the emotional experiences and the impact they create every moment to separate me from the rest of us; Our “house” is full of thoughts we think of or express. There are million ways we can see each of us as different from the other. “I” am differentiated from others through tangible evidences – the house or the container – collectively identified as “Deham” which literally means the body or our mortal existence.
Then why do the scriptures proclaim that “I” and the Universe are one and the same (Thath Thwam Asi)? How can each of us, the “many” can be “one and the same”?
Let us go back to the moment when your name was yelled out in the crowd. You responded. Who was that “you” – the resident in your house or container – that responded? Think for a moment. If that was not your name you would not have responded. Someone else with that name would have responded. Who is that “someone else”? Perhaps I would have responded if I had that name. Then who is that “I”?
Let us continue this thought experiment a bit further: If I had the identical background in any and all aspects (name, family, school, nationality, body, emotions and thoughts …), I would be thinking, talking, reacting and doing everything exactly like you. I admit it is a scary thought. It is even scarier to think that neither I nor you would respond to the call or react, if both of us were not conscious!
This leads us to the point of view that consciousness – the inner person, one who resides inside of “me” (Dehinam) – may be the same inside of you, me and everyone else. In each of us that consciousness conditioned by its identification through the body, mind and intellect – Deham – acquires the perceived separation. It is like a person inside a house or a car. As long as I, you or someone is inside that house or the car, the person gets identified with that container.
Imagine a bucket of water. Separate it into droplets. Each droplet takes the shape of the container in which it is placed, tainted with different colors, etc. We see each droplet as different from the rest and also different from the water in the bucket. We live a life of different droplets, even though the origin and properties of each of us is like the droplets in a bucket of water. Thath Thwam Asi?
Let us do another thought experiment. As scientific knowledge progresses we learn that we are all part of the same gene, modified ever so slightly. Everything we perceive through body functions can be increasingly described through laws of nature. Our emotions and thought process – cognitive skills – are all being laid bare as evidences of laws of nature. The planets, solar system and all that exists in the universe are being explained through the laws of nature.
After over one hundred years the laws predicted by Einstein – Gravitational waves – are now being confirmed. There may be laws that we don’t understand forever. But one cannot imagine anything that exists which are not governed by Laws of Nature.
Let us call this sum total of all these laws (known and yet to be discovered) – which are intangible and perceived only through their effects – as Brahman. Each of us exist enabled by the laws of nature. We exist as mere witness to the laws known and unknown. This simple and self-evident truth is proclaimed in the scriptures as “I” am Brahman (Aham Brahma).
As isolated drops of water every body is different. Looked at in totality (as a drop in the bucket of water) and as witness to or evidences of the laws of nature at work everybody is the same. Swami Chinmayananda has described this as follows: Electrical bulbs in a circuit may be of different size, shape, color and in different locations – like the different “body” we see. But they all come alive – as sources of light – enabled by the same electricity (Consciousness). We witness the same intangible electricity through the tangible and different bulbs.
What are the laws that help us see each of us as the water in the bucket rather than as the water isolated into droplets? We have attempted to explain these laws under “anatomy of our experiences”. Please see links at the end. The differences we perceive as individual houses while not realizing the common resident in all of us are enabled by the “connectors” – Guna – between the inner self or consciousness and everything external to it.
Three connectors – Knowledge (Sathvam), Bias or attachment to partial knowledge as the whole truth (Rajas) and Ignorance (Thamas) – bind the inner SELF (Dehinam) to everything else (the tangible, physical world – Deham) relentlessly and without fail. 14.5.
All aspects of our existence as individuals and separated from each other – every body is different – is nothing more than the effect of these three connectors (Guna). 14.19
Such wisdom leads to divinity where we see everybody is the same (this is described as: Such wise persons acquire the qualities of the God). 14.19