Ask first “Who am I?” not “What is my?”

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 (02.69) 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, the sphere of activity is spiritual realization. Let’s look at their underlying worldviews.

Materialists are governed by the 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 notion 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, 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, 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 gradually realize, is life’s best happiness.

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 02 Text 69

“What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.”

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Author: Chaitanya Charan Das

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