Am I a Person?

Discussion on the topic of whether one is the person or not, and indeed whether there is a person to begin with or not, can be very, very tricky. So, please bear with me if my thoughts and observations on this issue are not as clear as I will try to make them be and if I seem to contradict myself at times.

It would seem more correct to say that “There is no person” than to say “You are not the person” because the latter would seem to imply the duality of “You” (whatever that “You” is) and the “Person(s)”. Take the case of a clay pot. Is it correct to say “Clay is not the pot”? Obviously not. Because there is no separate entity called pot apart from clay. The pot is clay through and through. But, can we say “There is no pot”? Obviously we can because when we investigate what the pot is we find that it is a mere appearance, a mere name-and-form, whose substance or reality is clay. It is Clay alone that is appearing as or taking that shape or form to which we give the name pot. Even when we wrongly assert “There is a pot”, what we are cognizing is only Clay.

If the above name-and-form analogy of the Clay Pot is understood, then we can easily apply it to the name-and-form entity called body-mind and thus ascertain that “There is no person”, and “You as Consciousness are the name-and-form of person” because the “Person” is mere I-thought or ego and hence a function of the mind and not some separate and real entity. That is why David Hume wrote, “Whenever I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception. So long as my perceptions are removed for any time, as by sound sleep, so long am I insensible of myself , and may truly be said not to exist. If anyone upon serious and unprejudic’d reflection, thinks he has a different notion of himself, I confess that I can no longer reason with him. All that I can allow him is, that he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular.”

Buddhism says a similar thing with its concept of anatta or anatma (no self). It says that anatta (the absence of a soul), anicca (the impermanence of all being), and dukkha (“suffering”) are the three characteristics of all existence (tri-lakshana). Recognition of these three doctrines—anatta, anicca, and dukkha—constitutes “right understanding.” But, anatta of Buddhism cannot be taken to be a departure from the Hindu belief in atman (“the self”) because what Buddhism is denying is not Consciousness but the existence of the “person”, with which as we see above even Hinduism agrees. Buddhism maintains the anatta vada because it says that the five skandhas (aggregates) – 1. Form (the body), 2. Sensations (feelings), 3. Perceptions (the process of recognising what things are), 4. Mental formations (thoughts), and 5. Consciousness (an awareness of things) – are changing all the time. Therefore, the ‘self’ is also changing all the time. The belief that everything is in a state of change and there is no permanent self is called anatta. Note that the fifth skandha or Consciousness is referred to in Hinduism as Chidabhasa or Reflected Consciousness, which is a reflection of the Self or Brahman (Original Consciousness) in the mind, which gives rise to the “I-thought” or ego or chidabhasa.

And, yet we constantly fall prey to the belief that the body-mind exists as an independent entity apart from Consciousness or Self, and that we are that body-mind. But, when the question is raised as to “Who is the ‘we’ or ‘I’ that is taking itself to be the person or body-mind?” we have to say that it is almost a recursive function of the mind whereby it considers itself to be a separate entity as the body-mind. But, as we saw above in the name-and-form analogy, the body-mind is a mere appearance or name-and-form whose underlying reality or substance is Consciousness or Self, much like “no pot apart from clay”, “no wave apart from water” and “no ornament apart from gold”.

So, although this may be understood very clearly at the intellectual level, we still find it difficult to get rid of the illusion that we are the body-mind. That is, though Sravana (hearing of the truth) and Manana (reflection on the truth heard in Sravana leading to the intellectual conviction about the truth) may be completed, the illusion might persist due to long-standing Vasanas or “old habits of mind”, which get cleansed only when one dwells on the truth repeatedly (Nididhyasana).

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