The ‘I’

June 21, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Posted in Musing + Mulling | 2 Comments
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What makes a person an individual? Their name? Their body? Their own qualities, their intellect, their soul? Their religion, or lack thereof, their way of life…what?

The name is a provision we make to organise things better. Associating a person with their name is something we do simply to escape the chaotic mix-up that would arise if everyone and everything went about nameless. But you may argue, may you not, that that is exactly what is required – isn’t the act of naming, after all, setting something apart from something else, making it distinct, separate, independent?  And that is the cornerstone of being ‘individual’ – being different. But what we call a person might be the name to millions of others. Then doesn’t the distinctness vanish into thin air? Moreover, a person can be called anything: any name at all.

The body, too, is illusory. The body is like a shadow – you wouldn’t associate your being with your shadow, how then can you associate it with your body? Don’t you relinquish the body at the moment of your death?

But the trickier aspect is this: a person with their own unique qualities, opinions, aspirations. Of course, these differ from person to person – and therefore, you may safely assume that this after all, is what makes a person different from the person next door. And you’d be right. But what if you happen to change your opinions (opinions can be temporary), shift your interests, replace your desires? Then that would, by our definition, be nothing short of being another person.

And yet you are not another person. You are just you. This is the heart of the matter: being you. Being – we call it existing. Existence, in one form or the other, is still existence. That is what we mean by ‘soul’. My definition of soul is a simple and short one. I call it the ‘essence of existence’. Soul is the heart of existing, one way in which humans differ from computers: we know that we exist. That existence, and the knowledge of that existence, is what it means to have a soul.

It is, in effect, what it means to have an identity. I consider identity and individuality to be two different things. A metaphor explains this quite simply: Water is, by definition, a shapeless, flowing, substance. When that same water becomes ice, it acquires a shape, and doesn’t flow. When that ice is heated it again becomes water, and that same water upon heating changes into gas. At every stage, the properties vary according to the form. The form is changing but no-one doubts the existence of the substance. Water, in liquid, solid, or gaseous form, is still there. And you don’t have to call it water – you may as well call it ice or gas or orange juice. So at every stage, in each of its forms, it has a unique set of qualities. Volume, mass, shape, fluidity, transparency, each of them peculiar to the respective form. That is individuality. The fabric of uniqueness. But in spite of everything, in spite of all the change, the water continues to exist, continues to be. That is identity.

And in the end, it all boils down to this: Wherever you may come from, whatever you may be called, whoever you may be related to, however you are, whatever you may become, you won’t stop being you.

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2 Comments »

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  1. greetings
    i enjoy your mind stuff. It is very stimulating and thought provoking it reminds me of the sheer elegance of free will.Yet one cannot have free will without determinism.Nor form without emptiness,equally i am, because you are? .Also one may ask what is the part of me that knows i exist? i am not my body? i am not my mind? i am not my thoughts? i am not my feelings? i am not my ego? may be i am just a reflection?. Maybe i enable the universe to see itself?.Energy like water cannot be destroyed.One can only change its form.as you say? all though we have individuality,we are not separate?.We all move through the same sea of atoms? Best wishes Patrick

  2. Yeah, isn’t consciousness one of the greatest riddles of the universe?

    And the last part that you mention about individuality, well, the Oriental philosophy actually is based on that principle – ‘all are one, and one is all’.

    I’m not quite sure whether we are only a reflection, though…and of what. I just think that we are more than the sum total of our opinions, thoughts and feelings.

    Thanks for the compliment =]


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