Please, in the question “Who am I?” What does “I” mean? Does it mean the essence of life?
“Who am I?” is not really a question because it has no answer to it; it is unanswerable. It is a device, not a question. It is used as a mantra. When you constantly inquire inside, “Who am I? Who am I?” you are not waiting for an answer. Your mind will supply many answers; all those answers have to be rejected. Your mind will say, “You are the essence of life. You are the eternal soul. You are divine,” and so on and so forth. All those answers have to be rejected: neti neti — one has to go on saying, “Neither this nor that.”
When you have denied all the possible answers that the mind can supply and devise, when the question remains absolutely unanswerable, a miracle happens: suddenly the question also disappears. When all the answers have been rejected, the question has no props, no supports inside to stand on any more. It simply flops, it collapses, it disappears. When the question also has disappeared, then you know. But that knowing is not an answer: it is an existential experience. Nothing can be said about it, or whatever will be said will be wrong. To say anything about it is to falsify it. It is the ultimate mystery, inexpressible, indefinable. No word is adequate enough to describe it. Even the phrase “essence of life” is not adequate; even “God” is not adequate. Nothing is adequate to express it; its very nature is inexpressible.
But you know. You know exactly the way the seed knows how to grow — not like the professor who knows about chemistry or physics or geography or history, but like the bud which knows how to open in the early morning sun. Not like the priest who knows about God; about and about he goes, around and around he goes.
Knowledge is beating around the bush: knowing is a direct penetration. But the moment you directly penetrate into existence, you disappear as a separate entity. You are no more. When the knower is no more, then the knowing is. And the knowing is not about something — you are that knowing itself.
So I cannot say what “I” means in the question “Who am I?” It means nothing! It is just a device to lead you into the unknown, to lead you into the uncharted, to lead you into that which is not available to the mind. It is a sword to cut the very roots of the mind, so only the silence of no-mind is left. In that silence there is no question, no answer, no knower, no known, but only knowing, only experiencing.
That’s why the mystics appear to be in such difficulty to express it. Many of them have remained silent out of the awareness that whatsoever you say goes wrong; the moment you say it, it goes wrong. Those who have spoken, they have spoken with the condition: “Don’t cling to our words.”
Lao Tzu says: “Tao, once described, is no more the real Tao.” The moment you say something about it you have already falsified it, you have betrayed it. It is such an intimate knowing, incommunicable.
“Who am I?” functions like a sword to cut all the answers that the mind can manage. Zen people will say it is a koan, just like other koans. There are many koans, famous koans. One is: “Find out your original face.” And the disciple asks the Master, “What is the original face?” And the Master says, “The face that you had before your parents were born.”
And you start meditating on that: “What is your original face?” Naturally, you have to deny all your faces. Many faces will start surfacing: childhood faces, when you were young, when you became middle-aged, when you became old, when you were healthy, when you were ill…. All kinds of faces will stand in a queue. They will pass before your eyes claiming, “I am the original face.” And you have to go on rejecting.
When all the faces have been rejected and emptiness is left, you have found the original face. Emptiness is the original face. Zero is the ultimate experience. Nothingness – or more accurately no-thingness — is your original face.
From Ah This!, Discourse #2
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