“Who am I” is a difficult question to answer. And even if somebody answers that for us, all we would have is something to believe or disbelieve. On the other hand, it is easier to talk about “What I am not”. If we remove all the things we-are-not, then what-we-are will inevitably remain.
Let’s start with a story and an example. Imagine that somewhere on this earth, there is a 60-year old stamp collector. This guy has been collecting postage stamps for the past 45 years. He started small, and he now has a 40 square meter garage full of stamps. Every day, he comes back from work and spends at least two hours organizing his old stamps and looking for new ones. On the weekends, he can be up to 8 hours in his garage enjoying his collection.
Obviously, those postage stamps are a big part of his life. He claims that “These stamps are my life”. That is understandable and makes sense. However, now imagine that he says to you, “I am these stamps”. These claims start to be illogical now. How can he be these stamps? To confuse us more, he now says, “These stamps are me”. Okay, then, this does not make any sense at all.
This guy accumulated all these stamps for the last 45 years since he was 15. All those stamps in that huge garage are his. He can do whatever he wants with them. The question is, can he be those stamps? This claim is not logical and does not make sense. What you accumulate can be yours but cannot be you. You have the freedom to do whatever you want with what you have gathered. However, claiming that you are your accumulations is illogical.
A heap of food
We all know what the body is and how the body takes shape. However, many people claim they are the body even though they know those facts. They are aware they eat food to sustain and grow their body. So they understand the body is an accumulation of food. That is an irony because most people do not make that connection until somebody points it out for them.
The dinner you had yesterday is now part of your body. Sure, some stuff was thrown away to the toilet, but fundamentally, your body digested the food and used the material there to sustain and grow itself. So the body is a heap of food. It started tiny (3.5kg/7.5kb as a newborn), has grown, changed form, and still does. Every 7 to 10 years, every cell in the human body is replaced (source: Stanford University).
Claiming to be your body is as logical as claiming to be your postage stamp collection. So if you claim you are your body, you also claim to be the food you are eating. Fantasize a muscular man holding a steak and arguing, “I am this steak”. Alternatively, imagine you have a stamp collection like our 60-year-old friend above. You have accumulated both from outside. Both are yours. You can do whatever you want with them. But claiming to be them does not make sense.
A heap of impressions
We all can easily describe what the body is. However, it is conceptually more difficult to explain what the mind is. From one perspective, just as the body is an accumulation of food, the mind is also an accumulation of impressions. These impressions were gathered through the five senses and have created what we call the “mind”. In other words, what we experience in life has shaped our minds.
To be specific, how we think right now is determined by our past experiences, interactions, essentially our past life. The past does not only mean 3 or 20 years ago; it also means “yesterday” or “seconds ago”. What type of family you had, what school you went to, what friends you had, and a lot more determine how you think now. Just do a thought experiment: imagine that for some reason, at age 3, you and your family had to move to another country and lived there for 15 years. Would you still think the same way as you do now?
So the mind is also an accumulation, just as the body is an accumulation. And the same argument applies here as with the body: Claiming to be your mind is as illogical as claiming to be your stamp collection, your wardrobe or your book library, or your smartphone. These are all things you have accumulated. We can enhance life if we use the stuff we have collected along the way. We do not need to identify with them to improve this life.
- What you accumulate can be yours but cannot be you. Claiming that you are your accumulations is illogical.
- Just as the body is an accumulation of food, the mind is also an accumulation of impressions.
- We can enhance life if we use the things we have accumulated. We do not need to identify with them to improve this life.