02.69: “Who am I?”or “What is my?”

by May 7, 2012

Our life-story is essentially the story of our quest for happiness. This quest is directed by a driving question. For spiritualists, the question frequently is, “Who am I?” For materialists, the question usually is, “What is my?”

These questions reflect two radically different conceptions of life. The Bhagavad-gita (2.69) points to these two antipodal worldviews metaphorically: “What is night for the materialists is day for the spiritualists, and what is day for the materialists is night for spiritualists.” Here day refers to the sphere of activity and night to the sphere of inactivity. For materialists, the sphere of activity is material enjoyment; for spiritualists, it is spiritual realization. Let’s look at these two worldviews.

Materialists are governed by the default unexamined assumption that they will become happy by acquiring and consuming material objects. As they stay preoccupied with questions like “What is my?” or “What can be my?” they scarcely have the mental space to consider the question, “Who am I?” They often buy unthinkingly into the belief that they are their bodies.

Spiritualists refuse to let themselves be governed by unexamined assumptions, no matter how popular. They recognize that the two assumptions – material things bring happiness and the self is material – involve piling one assumption on another and thereby building a fragile glass palace of assumptions. Moreover, they also realize that the sequence of these assumptions reverses the natural flow of reasoning. To put first things first implies asking the question “Who am I?” before pursuing a stereotyped way to happiness. When they complement their critical introspection with Gita wisdom, then they discover that their essential self is spiritual. This discovery opens the door for them to relish spiritual happiness in loving relationship with Krishna. That, they realize, is life’s best happiness.


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