The great Indian sage, Ramana Maharshi, told his followers to ask themselves the question, “Who am I?” A psychiatrist or psychoanalyst might also want to know the answer to that question, but the purpose of these two people is widely different from what Ramana Maharshi had in mind. Actually, they are at opposite ends of the pole.
The “I” that the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst had in mind was the little personality, the identity with a name that functions in the world. The doctor wants to know how this person handles the problems of the world, and determines to strengthen the patient’s ego-center so that he or she can cope with the vicissitudes of life, everyday life. Ramana Maharshi, on the other hand, had a much bigger aim in mind. The “I” he wanted you to discover was nothing other than the Eternal Center. He wanted you to be One with all things, the Self of all things.
This misunderstanding is one of the great hindrances in spiritual training, which is not aimed at having you make more money or build a better relationship with your spouse. If you want to know Truth (or, better yet, live it), you will not receive answers by analyzing why your boss fired you unexpectedly. To function in the world it may be necessary for you to understand your own shortcomings and correct them, but that has nothing to do with making spiritual progress. The Becoming that eventually can lead you back to where you, in truth, have always been is a puzzle. When Paul Reps said, “Ah, but if you had not been on the spiritual path for 35 years you would have never known there is nothing to be done,” he was expressing the answer to the problem of Being and Becoming.
Buddhism says there are three facts of life:
1) Anica (impermanence);
2) Dukkha (suffering); and
3) Anatman (no permanent self or identity).
The dukkha here can be interpreted as the suffering that comes from being separated from your true self, not merely the pain that occurs in daily life. Until you know Who and What you are, it is hard to be content.
The “Who Am I?” of Ramana Maharshi can lead you to knowing what is said in the Lotus Sutra:
From the State of Emptiness
Man’s body is a body pervading the Universe,
Man’s voice is a voice filling the Universe,
Man’s life is a life without limit.