Discovering the Essence: Journeying into the Depths of “Who Am I?”

“Who am I?” This timeless question, is not merely a philosophical inquiry but a gateway to unraveling the mysteries of existence and understanding the essence of our being. It invites a quest into the boundless sacred space of introspection and self-discovery, a quest that enlightened Masters across cultures and ages have embarked upon.

In the cacophony of the material world, it’s easy to lose sight of our true nature, of the innate wisdom that we are not merely flesh and bone or the myriad labels we use to identify ourselves with.  As we journey deeper into ourselves, and the realms of consciousness, it becomes evident that our true nature transcends the limitations of time and space. We are not confined to the roles we play or the labels society imposes upon us. Instead, we are expressions of the divine, manifestations of pure awareness experiencing itself through the prism of human existence.

But how do we uncover this profound truth buried beneath the layers of conditioning and illusion? The path to self-discovery is paved with mindfulness, introspection, and disciplined spiritual practice. Through meditation, contemplation, finding silence and self-inquiry, we peel away the veils of ignorance obscuring our inner light. Here, in the realm of pure awareness, we catch glimpses of our true essence – a spark of the divine nestled within the depths of our being.

Adi Shankaracharya, the renowned Indian philosopher and theologian of the 8th  century, offered profound insights into the nature of self-realization and the question of “Who am I?” One of his most famous answers to this timeless inquiry is encapsulated in his work, the “Nirvana Shatakam” or “Atma Shatakam.” In the vast expanse of philosophical inquiry, few texts resonate with the depth and clarity of Adi Shankaracharya’s “Nirvana Shatakam.” This profound hymn serves as a beacon of wisdom, guiding seekers on the timeless quest to unravel the mysteries of existence and realize the ultimate truth of the self.

In this hymn, Adi Shankaracharya beautifully articulates the essence of self-realization through negation, known as “Neti Neti” in Sanskrit, which means “not this, not this.” He employs this method to guide seekers toward the recognition of their true nature by negating all that is transient, finite, and ephemeral, ultimately leading them to the realization of the eternal, infinite Self.

The opening verses of the “Nirvana Shatakam” illustrate this profound teaching:

मनोबुद्ध्यहङ्कार चित्तानि नाहं

न च श्रोत्रजिह्वे न च घ्राणनेत्रे ।

न च व्योम भूमिर्न तेजो न वायुः

चिदानन्द रूपः शिवोऽहं शिवोऽहम् ॥

“Mano buddhya-hankara chittani naham

Na cha shrotra jihve na cha ghra nethre

Na cha vyoma bhoomir na thejo na vayu

Chidananada Roopa Shivoham, Shivoham”


“I am not mind, intellect, ego, or memory,

I am not the senses of sight, taste, smell, or hearing.

I am not the sky, earth, fire, water, or wind.

I am the form of consciousness and bliss, I am Shiva, I am Shiva.”

Through these powerful words, Adi Shankaracharya guides seekers to negate identification with the transient aspects of their being – the mind, intellect, ego, and senses – and realize their identity with the eternal essence, which is pure consciousness and bliss, symbolized by the divine aspect of Shiva.

Adi Shankaracharya’s answer to the question “Who am I?” is a profound invitation to transcend the limitations of the egoic mind and awaken to the boundless expanse of consciousness that lies beyond. It is an invitation to recognize our innate divinity and experience the eternal truth of our existence.

The path of self-discovery is not always easy. Along the way, we encounter the shadows of the ego, the doubts of the mind, and the illusions of separation. We must embrace these challenges as opportunities for growth and transformation, knowing that each obstacle is a steppingstone on the journey to self-realization.

As we delve deeper into the labyrinth of the self, we come to realize that “Who am I?” is not a question to be answered with words or concepts but an experiential realization that transcends language and intellect. It is the ineffable knowing that we are not separate from the universe but intrinsically interconnected with all of creation.

In the light of this realization, the boundaries between self and other begin to dissolve, and we recognize the unity underlying diversity. We are but waves in the ocean of consciousness, distinct yet inseparable from the whole. In embracing our interconnectedness, we awaken to the profound truth that we are not merely individuals seeking enlightenment but expressions of the divine dancing in the cosmic symphony of existence.

The quest for self-discovery is not a destination but a continual unfolding of the infinite potential within. It requires embracing the journey with humility, curiosity, and an open heart, knowing that the answers we seek lie not outside but within the depths of our own being.