“When I met my Guru, he told me: ‘You are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are.’ ”

Nisargadatta Maharaj

The following are true stories.


Venkataraman was a seemingly ordinary sixteen year old. One day he found himself suddenly paralysed with a fear of death. He laid down on the floor of his uncle’s study convinced he was about to die. Instead of remaining terrified he asked himself; “Who was it that was about to die? What was it that was about to disappear?”. At once he became liberated.


Sam Harris once had a dream. The lama[1] gazed into his eyes and pointed his finger directly at Sam; “Who are you?”

Sam told the lama his name. This was not the answer the lama was looking for. Once more the lama pointed his finger directly at Sam and his voice echoed; "Who are you?"

He once again tried to explain who he was, but to no avail. This time the monk’s gaze shifted and he pointed over Sam’s shoulder; "Who are you?"

This time Sam turned his head to see who the lama was talking to. No one was there. Sam woke up.


The boy played with his friends in the valley. An old woman recognised him among his friends and approached them.

“What are you doing wasting your time here? You should be studying meditation and the Buddhist scriptures!”

The boy asked the old woman back.

“What are you talking about? What is meditation?”.

“Ha! You don’t know what meditation is?”

The boy shrugged.

"It’s like you turn your eyes inwards to the back of your head and look at your mind”

So the boy turned his attention inwards as if looking to the back of his head. He realised the nature of his mind.

Have you ever wondered who or what it is that you are? We take for granted that we are a self or a person, but what do these words actually mean? What do you refer to as “I”? You are not your body, your thoughts or your feelings. Your body is but an object that you see and feel. You experience the body much like you experience the outside world. It is another part of the world, it is not you. Your thoughts are like a line drawn on the surface of water, as they appear they disappear. Feelings linger longer but still ultimately arise and fade away. How can such transient appearances be what you are? Most, if not all suffering in this world is enabled by individuals mistaking themselves to be their body, thoughts or feelings. If you want to bring an end to all your suffering, find the answer to the question “who are you?” and discover your true face.

Nothing that you can perceive can be you. You are that which perceives. You are aware of sights. You are aware of sounds. You are aware of sensations. You are aware of thoughts. You are aware of feelings. All of these things are changing but what is the one common element of your experience? It is the fact that you are aware.

You are awareness itself

All the change in your life happens against a changeless background. Behind the ever changing experience of your life is the ever present awareness of that experience. This pure awareness is the real you. It always was and always will be. Understanding what you really are is key to bringing an end to your suffering. It is only by mistaking yourself to be your thoughts or feelings that it is possible to suffer. Thoughts and feelings are simply experiences, they arise in awareness and then disappear without a trace. You are not your thoughts and feelings but rather that which is aware of them. That which is aware of sadness is not itself sad, that which is aware of anger is not itself angry. You are the ever present witness of your thoughts and emotions, you are not them.

When watching a movie we can get really absorbed in the events on the screen, but it always is possible to step back and realise they are not real. Similarly we get absorbed in the events of our lives, in our thoughts and emotions, but it is always possible to step back and realise we are not them. We watch our lives go by much like we watch a movie. In the film of our lives we mistake ourselves as being the main character but in actual fact we are the screen.

In Buddhism, it is said that awareness is like a mirror. A mirror simply reflects and is unchanged by its reflections. A beautiful image does not improve a mirror and an ugly image does not damage it in any way. Awareness is the same. It is not improved or tarnished by positive or negative experiences. The empty awareness of experience is perfect as it is.

  1. I hope you aren't picturing an alpaca look-alike in your mind's eye. "Lama" is the Tibetan word for "guru" which is Sanskrit for teacher or master. With the implication of them being a spiritual or meditation teacher. Sam mentioned this dream in his book Waking Up, he had a dream in anticipation of meeting the legendary Dilgo Khyentse who you can learn more about by watching this. ↩︎