Remembering ‘Who Am I’ – From Identity Crisis to Presence

Who Am I

Life is a forgetfulness and a remembering. And that’s all, and that’s the whole story.

“One falls asleep and dreams a thousand and one things, and in the morning one wakes up and all the dreams are gone. So is life. We have fallen asleep – fallen asleep to our inner being. We have forgotten who we are; hence, the world, the samsara. The samsara means the world of ten thousand things.

“We go on rushing from one thing to another thing in search of a self. Because we have lost contact with our self, we are continuously searching for it. If you look deep down into the agony of man, this is the agony.

He has forgotten who he is and is searching and asking, asking of everybody, ‘Who am I?’ Maybe not consciously….

“That’s what you are asking when you fall in love. You are asking your beloved to tell you who you are. Why do people feel so beautiful when they are in love? – because some identity starts arising. The woman you love says, ‘You are beautiful. You are intelligent, you are unique.’ She is giving you a self.

“When you say to the woman, ‘You are beautiful, I have never come across such a beautiful person. I cannot live without you, you are my life, my joy, my very existence,’ you are giving an identity to the woman. She was searching for it; she does not know who she is. Now you are creating a self. She is creating a self for you, you are creating a self for her.

“That’s why people feel so at ease when they are in love. When love disappears, is broken, shattered, they are shattered. Why are you shattered?

You are shattered because your identity is lost, again you don’t know who you are.

“It was the woman or the man who was giving you a certain kind of idea of who you are. Now the woman is gone and the idea is gone with her; you are again in darkness. Again you don’t know, again you start searching.

“Why do you seek money and wealth? Just to have some identity, so that you know who you are, so that people can say who you are. Why do you go on searching for power, prestige? – for the same reason.

Man is in a constant search for the self, in a constant identity crisis.

“In the past things were more settled, and people were more at ease. Now things are changing so fast that again and again your identity is shattered.

“In the old days, once you got married, you were married for life. You were not going to be searching again for a woman or for a man; it was a whole life thing, a settlement. A certain idea would become fixed, slowly, slowly, that you were the husband, the father of the children, this and that.

“But now it is difficult, and more so particularly in the West. Every once in a while you will change the woman; every once in a while you will change the man. Again and again you will have to search for your identity.

In the past, people used to do the same work their whole life; it was traditional.

“Your grandfather was a carpenter, your father was a carpenter, you are a carpenter, your children will be carpenters – you knew who you were. Now it is impossible to know. People go on changing their jobs; things are changing so fast.

“You knew where you belonged in those days. You were an Indian, a Christian, a Hindu, a Chinese, a Buddhist. You no longer know; the world has come very much closer, boundaries have become false. The world has become a small village, a global village. Now you know there is not much difference between a Hindu and a Christian or a Mohammedan; that identity is not of any help any more.

Who are you? This problem is one of the most fundamental problems.

“Modern man is very puzzled, almost paralyzed. Buddha says it is not going to be of any help if you create a false identity. You can live with it your whole life, and still not know who you are.

“The only way to know who you are is to go within yourself with great remembrance, with great mindfulness, with awareness. Asking from the outside, whatsoever you get is a pseudo thing. Your woman, your man, your country, your religion, your church will give you a certain kind of identity; they will create a false self. But it is not real, and only the mediocre can be deceived by it, only the stupid can be deceived by it.

“The intelligent person sooner or later will have to see the point that these identities are from the outside: ‘In fact I don’t know who I am. My being a husband does not say anything about me. My being a father or a mother does not say anything about me. My being a Christian or a Hindu does not say anything about me. Iam still in darkness.’

These labels may be of some help in the outside world, but your identity card is not you.

“Your name is not you, even your photograph is not you, because you go on changing and the photograph remains static. It simply represents one moment in your life. It is not that it represents you, it only represents one gesture in your life, and even that very superficial. For example, you were smiling when the photograph was taken, and you may have just been smiling for the photographer.

“I have heard….

“A photographer was saying to a very, very serious-looking man, ‘Just for a single moment, sir, smile. And then you can be your usual self again.’

“Now, this photograph of this serious man smiling is absolutely false; that smile is just on the lips. The photograph cannot penetrate inside you. In fact, not even an X-ray can penetrate inside you, it may take the pictures of your bones but it cannot take your picture.

“There is no way to see who you are from the outside. There is only one way, and that is to become alert inside, to awaken inside, to make great effort inside, so that you are not asleep there. Then only will you have the first glimpse of the real man.

“And remember Ikkyu: One single glimpse of the real man and one is in love.

The man who is searching for his identity cannot be in love; his love is also nothing but a search for the identity.

“Among other searches, that also is one. You write a book, you become a famous author, or you paint and you become a painter, or you sing and you become a singer. But these are all efforts to somehow categorize you, to identify who you are.

“There is an ancient story about a philosopher who was very forgetful. He was so forgetful that in the night he would sleep with all his clothes on, even with his shoes on. Somebody suggested, ‘This is not a way to sleep, how can you sleep with your shoes on, and your hat on, and all your clothes?’

“He said, ‘It is very difficult. If I put them away in the night, then in the morning I forget where I have put my shoes, where I have put my coat. And what is a coat, and what are shoes, and what is my hat?

“’Everything becomes such a mess and it takes so much trouble to find and sort things out that I have decided never to do it again. Half my day is wasted.’

“The man was a practical man. He said, ‘This is a simple thing. I know that you are a very forgetful man, but there is one thing you can do. You can write small labels and stick them on everything: ‘This is my coat,’ ‘This is my shoe.’ And you can keep a diary also: where you have put the shoes, underneath the bed; and where you have put your coat, and where your underwear is, just make notes.’

That appealed to the philosopher, and he did it. And next morning he was really in a mess.

“He had never been in such a mess. Everything had seemed to work out. He found his shoes, they were underneath the bed. He found his coat, it was hanging in the closet. He found his shirt, he found everything. But finally, he shouted, looking at the sky, ‘My God! But now where am I? I have forgotten to note that down!’

“He looked in the bed, but he was not there. You can imagine the poor man’s anguish. He searched all over the house, he looked in every nook and corner, and he was not there.

And he came running out of the house shouting, ‘Please, somebody tell me where I am!

“I have found everything else in its place; just one thing I forgot. I didn’t write in the notebook where I have to find myself. I think I was in the bed, but the bed is empty.’

“The story looks fictitious; it is not. It is your story; it is everybody’s story. It is man’s story. You know where your house is, you know your phone number, you know who your wife is, you know who your son is, you know you are a Hindu, Christian, Mohammedan, Indian, Japanese. But do you really know who you are and where you are? And you will be in almost as much bewilderment as that ancient philosopher. But people don’t ask this question, because this question creates such uneasiness. They avoid it. They go on living, avoiding it.

Buddha transformed the quality of religion. Religion with Buddha became man-oriented. Before Buddha it was God-oriented.

“Now, God is not a problem at all; whose problem is God? How does God concern you? It seems to be a bogus problem, nobody’s concern. Maybe priests have some investment in it, maybe politicians have some investment in it, but really it is not an existential question. The existential question is: ‘Who am I?’

“With Buddha, religion changed its quality. It became realistic, it became pragmatic. Buddha said: There is no need to be worried about God. Let him worry himself about himself, if he wants to know who he is he can ask, ‘Who am I?’ Why should you be worried? And in the first place, God is your creation. That is your ultimate effort to avoid yourself. You go on creating fictitious problems. There is one beautiful thing about fictitious problems: they can be solved, they can be solved very easily. In fact, the problem itself is fictitious so any fictitious answer will do. The disease is pseudo, any pseudo medicine will do.

People become very interested in pseudo problems, and they think they are great seekers.

“Buddha hit them hard and shattered their ego, the ego of being a seeker. He said: If you are seeking and searching for God, you are simply befooling yourself.

“God is nobody’s problem. Just see the point. How can God be your problem? But people think it is a problem. By making it a problem, they can avoid their own problems. They become very occupied with God. They start thinking, they start collecting answers, they start philosophizing, speculating; they delve into scriptures, and they are lost in the jungle of words.

And they have forgotten the simple question that was really their question: Who am I? God may be the greatest escape.

“It has been noted by psychologists that in times of anguish, misery, war, trouble, people start thinking of abstract things: God, truth, heaven, afterlife. In times of stress when people are very uneasy on this earth, they start looking at the sky. They focus their problems there so they can avoid the real problems of the earth. This has been watched, observed, over and over. After each war there is a great revival of religion – the so-called religion.

“You also know it from your personal experience. Whenever you are in misery, in pain, you remember God. Whenever you are happy, when you are flowing and life is a celebration, you don’t care a bit about God, you don’t remember. This is a simple experience; no psychologist is needed to observe it. Everybody can observe in his own life. What does it say?

It simply says that when you are in anguish you create a false problem in order to escape it. A great occupation….

“You start praying. And you had never prayed. In fact, when things were going well you had never gone to the priest. When things were going beautifully and you were succeeding in life and life was a bed of roses, you didn’t remember God. But when life becomes a bed of neurosis, then suddenly you remember God.

God is an escape.

“Bertrand Russell is right in saying that if life on earth becomes really blissful, people will forget all about God and there will be no religion. He is right, because he does not know the religion of Buddha. He knows Christianity. Yes, religions like Christianity and Hinduism will disappear. But if life is really happy on the earth, something like Buddha’s message will become very, very prevalent.

“When life is going well, beautifully, and all is flowing and flowering, this question arises in the deepest core of your being: ‘Now is the time to know ‘Who am I?’’

“When life is not flowing, all is blocked and there is only misery and more misery and all is hell, how can you ask ‘Who am I?’ To come that close to yourself is dangerous because there is only hellfire and nothing else. How can you come that close? How can you sit silently with closed eyes and look into yourself? You have to avoid, you have to escape, you have to run away. So anything will do.

“And that’s how things always happen.

Whenever a society is in turmoil, people become very interested in occult, esoteric things.

“They start seeing UFO’s, they start seeing beings from other planets, they start thinking of great things that are going to happen. They start going to astrologers, and all kinds of nonsense.

“Buddha brings a very sensible religion to the world: empirical, experiential, existential. In Buddha’s way, there is no God, no prayer. And just think of your poor God, if he exists. What will his situation be? Think of him with all kinds of people praying and shouting at him and complaining. It has been going on for so long, either he does not listen at all, or he must have gone crazy by now.

“A great psychotherapist was asked by his student… The student watched the great old man working from the morning until evening, continually psychoanalyzing mad people, all kinds of nuts, listening to them. The young student was dead tired by the evening, and the old man was as fresh as he was in the morning.

“One day the student could not contain his curiosity. He asked, ‘What is the matter? How do you manage? The whole day listening to such horrible tales, nightmares, and you never become tired?’

And the old man said, ‘Who listens?’

“God must be avoiding you.

I have heard…

“A man who had been very pious all his life, and had prayed to God continually at least ten hours a day, died. And he died miserable and broke. His wife had left him, his partner had cheated him, his house had burned down, and his children were all delinquents. His brother, on the other hand, who was an atheist, had not prayed a single prayer in his life, was wealthy, had his health, a wonderful wife, fine children, and in short, was having a great time of it.

“When the pious man finally came face to face with God, he asked, ‘Lord, I’m not complaining. You know I’m not complaining. When you took my house away, I prayed to you in thanks. I knew there was some good reason for it. And when my wife left, I again prayed in thanksgiving, because I knew you had a good reason for that; and when my children turned against me, again I prayed to you with thanks, since I know that nothing happens without your approval, and I have to bow to Divine Wisdom. But why did all these things happen to me who prayed to you ten hours at least every day, and not to my wicked brother who is an atheist?’

‘Because,’ said the Lord in disgust, ‘you are such a nudge!’

“You are such a bore. This man must have tortured God – ten hours every day. Just think of poor God! Buddha relieved man of God, and Buddha relieved God of man. Buddha’s approach is such that if Friedrich Nietzsche had been born in a Buddhist land, he could not have written that God is dead and that from now onward man is free. There would have been no need.

“Buddha helped God disappear without any bloodshed. Nietzsche had to kill. Nietzsche said: God is dead; and not that he has died a natural death– we had to kill him, just to be free of him.

How can man be free with God? If God is there, then religion becomes nothing but obedience. If God is there, then religion is reduced to obedience.

“That’s why in Christianity you don’t talk about freedom, you don’t talk about moksha. Moksha means absolute freedom. And absolute freedom includes freedom from God, otherwise, how can it be absolute? If there is somebody to whom you are responsible and answerable, you can’t be free.

Friedrich Nietzsche’s statement that God is dead and we had to murder him, is just a reaction created by Christianity and its obsession with obedience. Christianity has created slaves in the world. Nietzsche had to utter that word, had to utter that statement. If Nietzsche had not done it, then somebody else would have done it; it was a need, it was inevitable.

“Christianity leaves only two alternatives: either commit suicide, lose all your freedom, become a zombie in the name of God; or, murder God and be free. Suicide and murder are both ugly.

“Buddhism does not give you such ugly alternatives. It simply says God is not the problem: the problem is man.

God is an escape from the problem. Look into man, find your source inside, and all will be solved.

And remember again, Buddha is not an atheist. He is not saying there is no God, but his concept of God is totally different. When you come to the deepest core of your being, to your very source, you will know that you are God.

“Christianity says you are sons of God. Buddhism says when you come to know yourself, you are not sons – you are godhood itself. There is no God other than you, there is no God other than the universe. Hence, Buddha never talks about God, because there is no God other than this. There is no other that than this; this is that. Existence is divine.

“But to know this, no prayer is going to help. To know this, no philosophy is going to be of any support.

To know this, one has to go utterly into oneself with only one question like an arrow piercing your heart: Who am I?

“And the deeper you go, the deeper you will see that you don’t exist as an individual.

That is the meaning of Buddha’s doctrine of anatta – no-self. You will not come to see any self inside you.

“The whole idea of being a person will slowly, slowly melt, and there will be a kind of presence but no personality. The individual will disappear and there will be the universal. You will not be separate from existence, you will find yourself one with the whole.”


Excerpted from:

Osho, Take It Easy, Talk #11, The Opening of Your Inner Core



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