Academy of Indian Philosophy

Inquiry into the Self

We must understand who we are. More fundamentally, I must understand who I am. Who is the “I”? What is the “I”? Our “agreed upon” language presupposes the idea that we think we know our identities. For instance, when I say “my face,” we are making certain assumptions. A face is a face, but who is the “I” that is owning the face? Who is the “I” within the “my?” Is it the entire body? Is it the brain? Is it a sense of “ego” speaking? Is it an immaterial soul animating the body?

Fair enough, but why is this important? Everything we do in this world originates from our sense of identity. If I believe that I am Indian, then I will have an association with concepts, ideas and principles that are of Indian concern. If I believe that I am a student, then much of my reality will be surrounded by academic concerns. “I am a graduate student, I do graduate things, not undergraduate things.” If I believe that I am a doctor, then my identity will be sculpted around these concepts. “I am an orthopedic surgeon, what are you?” A ranking, social hierarchy, belief system and more importantly, ego, will be constructed around these ideas. Consequently, my actions will follow these identities. If I believe myself to be Indian, then based on this belief, I may have national pride, sing the anthem, protest, favor certain foods, honor certain religious texts and so on. I may enter a conversation about India, feel honored, offended, respected or disrespected, all based on identity.

Relationships are based off of an assumption of who we think we are. When we say “my girlfriend,” we are assuming something by nature. The association of “I” to “my” is one of nominative to genitive, in other words, ownership. If in the language itself, we are using a sense of possession, what is to say about the actual relationship itself? What is to say about love? I love you. Who is the “I” that is loving, and who is the “you” that is being loved? Is it possible to have a relationship without possession? This produces a valuable question: What is love?

My identity is my reality, and my reality influences my actions. Who we think we are determines what we do. The question “Who am I,” then becomes the most important question to ask in life. However, if we notice carefully, most of us ask “What do I do,” before knowing what the “I” is.

For this very reason, I call an inquiry into the Self.

-Hemal P. Trivedi

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