But hold on! We receive our name a few days after birth. Who was I in those few days?
After thinking for a while we might say- "This body." But then why do we say "He is no more" while the body is still here? Or why do I even refer to it as "my body"? Who am I and to whom this body belongs? Moreover, most of its cells replace themselves within a few days to a few years. On a physical level I'm no more the same person I was just a few years ago. Yet am I not the same person?
This is where the fundamental spiritual question in Indian spirituality leads us to.
Who Am I: Body Or Mind?
Now we start to think harder- "I'm the one who does the
thinking. I'm the mind within this body."
What is the mind? It consists of all my ideas, thoughts, emotions, desires and memories that get altered every time I experience something new. When I reflect upon my mind I realize that it is nothing else but a stream of thoughts which are constantly changing like the water of a river. Am I this constantly flowing stream of ideas? Am I a mere accumulation of these little bits and pieces: cells in the physical world and ideas in the mental world?
Who Am I? A Consciousness?
As we delve deeper into our mind and reach its center, we find something radically different from this entire collection of cells and ideas that we know so well. It is the Conscious Witness (sakshi) present within each one of us. It is the inner Light that enlightens my mental world, and the life force that enlivens and animates my body. It is a mystery because it cannot be understood objectively. "With what may I know the knower?" (Yajur Vedic Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.4.14) - This dilemma has puzzled the Indian sages since millenniums. It can only be felt or experienced subjectively. One can know that "it is", but cannot know "what it is". But even just to become aware of this inner mystery is a life-transforming experience...
Therefore, the seeds of Indian spirituality lie within this fundamental question - "Who am I?" probably first asked by Rishi Mahi Dasa Aitareya, the seer of the Rig Vedic Aitareya Upanishad (1.3.11).