Core Practice – The sense of I AM

Wisdom contains no knowledge.

-Zen Saying

Knowledge is bondage.

-The Shiv Sutras

A reflection of the watcher in the mind creates the sense of “I” and the person acquires an apparently independent existence. In reality there is no person, only the watcher identifying himself with the “I” and the “mine”. The teacher tells the watcher: you are not this, there is nothing of yours in this, except the little point of “I am”, which is the bridge between the watcher and his dream. “I am this, I am that” is dream, while pure “I am” has the stamp of reality on it.


Optical Illusion
Creative Commons License photo credit: ciokkolata_farabutto_never_loved_berlusconi

“You” as you think you are, do not exist.

Realizing that “I” and “me” are only ideas is a critical revelation in awakening—perhaps the most critical.

What does it take to allow this realization?

  1. Intellectual agreement that the “I” is an idea is helpful, but not the same as the feeling-realization of Truth.
  2. What I suggest, and talk about here, are Awareness, Release and self-honesty. These can lead to stillness and silence, in which the realization that “I” is not real may be allowed.
  3. Awareness is connecting with inner silence. This is the effortless, object-less, choice-less awareness. It can be developed through meditation, inner-observing, and other techniques. When attention dwells effortlessly  in this thoughtless awareness, it can be seen that the ‘I’ thought comes and goes.
  4. Release is learning (remembering) how to let go. Many of us come to awakening because our lives are not working and we have anxiety and fears–and so releasing can help us let go the pain-body immediately.
  5. Self-honesty (Willingness, readiness) is crucial. This is a deeper sort of willingness than what most of us experience as honesty in our conventional lives. All our thoughts and emotions and intentions must be aligned to allow this realization. There must be an utter openness, without any expectation at all.
  6. A radical inquiry to see that “I” do not exist. This is the method I am using, and I will write more about this as I gain experience with it:

1.       Notice a thought passing. (or emotion, experience, intention and so on)

2.       Try to find the self that’s thinking the thought. Notice there is none.

3.       There is nobody thinking the thought. There is only thinking, which does not belong to anyone.

13 thoughts on “Core Practice – The sense of I AM

  1. Jeffrey Lapointe

    Hi Kaushik,
    I agree that becoming aware of the observer of your thoughts, feelings, experiences etc is a most important crucial step. But also as important is the dissolution of the observer and I see that only (so far) through the dissolution of resistance offered by the mind. Resistance in the mind creates emotions and this is a feedback loop to the observer. As Krisnamurti says – the observer is the observed. When the observer sees only pure openness or acceptance or freedom there will not be a state of change and the observer should(?) dissolve. It is the resistances and the contrast of the world that seems to set the observation point.

    I have not been able to identify with there is nobody thinking the thought easily even though I am well aquainted with my observer. Even as I know there is no thinker..I still identify with by body. I can move my fingers without being conscious of some connection still exists and therefore my “I” is still reinforced.

    So far the best I can do is slow down my reaction in situations where it feels almost like slow motion so that I can watch my reaction come and go and then I am left with a much truer picture. The more practiced I become the less I see my reaction and the more I only see the truth. I suppose eventually if I am lucky (or not) I might get to the place of only seeing what is truly real without looking through the lens of my judgement. But at this point I would still identify with my physical body which at this point I still believe to be someone.

    Love and light

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Jeff,

      My experience is similar to yours. First, with Tolle’s help, I had the intellectual realization that I am not my thoughts. That is, I am not the observed. This was a rational realization which later deepened as an enduring revelation, with practice of Awareness and Release and self-honesty.

      Recently there is the feeling that I am not observer either. Yes–the observer is the observed; thought creates the thinker. And so my meditation now is to see through that the “I” does not exist. I have pointed in this article what I think is a direct method. There are other methods. Nisgardatta, for example, suggests to hold on fast to the sense of I AM. Ramana and Adyashanti, suggest to inquire, Who am I?

      I think you are ready for this meditation. Give it a go. Radical self-honesty is just a decision. Decide you will be radically honest with yourself. Decide that honesty is not accurately reporting your state. It is the realization that what you think your state is, is fiction. What you think your state is, is made up in thought. Radical honesty is radical openness. Open up, and try to find the thinker behind the thoughts.

      light and peace,

  2. Brenda (betaphi)

    Hi K. Let’s assume that I am able to discover that my ‘self’ does not exist. What does this realization get me? I know the question itself sounds selfish, but what exactly is the trade off when self is annihilated? If Truth is the trade off, then what does Truth get me in my day to day existence? It almost sounds scary to be without a self. Why would I want to eradicate my sense of self? Don’t I need it to navigate this world?

    Somehow, “I do not exist” feels slippery. Shouldn’t we be naturally cautious around slippery slopes? If this sounds argumentative, I apologize. I’m just a little confused and very curious. I can hear you saying, ‘Oh, brother.’ You don’t have to respond. I may not be cut out for this deeper level of willingness. Loosening myself from my self sounds a little like losing my mind. Ouch! 🙂

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Brenda,

      It’s a valid question. Seeing through the false sense of self is the crucial revelation in awakening, and so the question really is, what does awakening get me?

      Well, it goes back to the question, “Is there enough joy and peace in my life?”

      The point of living is to live consciously. That is, to live easy and naturally, and not the way most of us do. Most of humanity, because of a simple “optical illusion of consciousness”, as Einstein put it, live out their lives according to conditioning. Most of us are highly identified with our conditioning, and so we don’t see it as conditioning–we think we are our thoughts. What you feel, think, say and do, come not from what you are, but from you have become. You live your past and your fears.

      This identification with thought (and emotions and beliefs and ideas) creates a separation. It adds an extra middleman between life and living. And this is why most of us are uneasy. This is why there is depression and anxiety and fear. And in the extreme cases, this is why there is cruelty and genocide and wars.

      This is the reason to awaken.

      And of course the ego will rebel. There is a lot said about the ego in contemporary circles, and I want to be clear that ego is not a separate entity inside us. It may sometimes be useful to think that way so we can observe it. The ego is the changing bunch of thoughts and emotions that we, at any particular time, think we are. The ego is not real. It does not exist. It exists only as a changing idea. Try to find the thing in you which we call the ego. You won’t find it.

      And this is the revelation we’re after when we say we want to see through sense of self. We are talking about seeing through the idea, seeing through something which does not exist in the first place.

      In the end, Brenda, no intellectual explanation will be satisfying. You have to ask yourself, who is it that wants to know? What inside us wants to know why we should see through the false sense of self? What inside of us is afraid of awakening? What is it inside of us which is afraid of losing its identification with what its familiar and unhappy self?

      This fear comes up quite often. When I work with people on releasing, a frequent fear people have is, what will I be without my emotions? Well, we never lose our emotions with releasing. We don’t lose our thoughts with awakening. We don’t lose beauty and mystery and joy and love. What we do lose is an illusion.

      I hope this isn’t too mystical. I want to be practical about this, and that’s why I didn’t have a lot of discussion in this article, and went straight to the core practice.

      Thank you for asking this very important question. I hope you are well!

      love and peace,

  3. Evan

    I’m not sure about this logic. The thoughts are there – they have some reality. The observer of the thoughts is there – they have some reality. I’m not sure what you mean by thinking not belonging to anyone.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Evan,
      Yes, it isn’t logical, because logic belongs to thought.

      Go deeply into it. Go into it with radical perseverance and radical honesty and radical willingness. Is there a thinker thinking these thoughts? Is there an experiencer behind the experience? Or, as Krishnamurti says, does “thought create the thinker”?

      When I first read Tolle’s Power of Now, and read how we are deeply identified with thought, and how that is the basic cause of suffering, my reaction was, wait a minute, how can I not think? I like thinking. I like the free-form day-dreaming and active thinking and imagining. And how is possible to even be without thinking?

      And yet, it is not only possible, but in fact much easier to be in still awareness, not identified with thought. Thoughts have not gone away. But they are seen through.

      The thinker of thought is an idea. The idea can be seen through. This is what the awakened tell us, and I believe this, because I have had glimpses, but the glimpses are not abiding. I see it intellectually, but not as and enduring Truth, and it is my intention now to see this through.

      light and peace,

    2. Kaushik Post author

      Perhaps this quotation from Nisgardatta can help:

      Go deep into the sense of “I AM” and you will find. How do you find a thing you have mislaid or forgotten? You keep in mind until you recall it.

      The sense of being, of “I am” is the first to emerge when you awaken from sleep. Ask yourself where it comes from or just watch quietly without obsessing on “why”.

      When the mind stays in the “I am”, without moving, you enter a state which cannot be verbalized but can be experienced.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      You don’t exist. There is just life.

      There is no you who thinks; there is just thinking. There is no you who understands; there is just understanding. There is no you who believes; there is just believing.

      The trick is to recognize this. Not believe it or agree with, but to actually see through the delusion of “I.”

      Is this possible? If we sit and look, look persistently, willingly, honestly, but without concentrating or expecting or anticipating, can we recognize this?

  4. StepVheN

    Good stuff.

    All you really need to liberate yourself is Courage to be relentless and the honesty to value the truth above all.

    With those in toe take a look at the fact that your self is non existant

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