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Who are you, really?

Who are you, really?

Part of a series of teachings on a set of verses from the text Wisdom of the Kadam Masters.

  • Attempting to identify what makes us us
  • Considering why the thoughts and personality are not the person
  • Contemplating the things we do in the name of “I”

Wisdom of the Kadam Masters: Who are you, really? (download)

We’re still on the verse that says,

The best antidote is the recognition that everything is devoid of intrinsic (or inherent) existence.

Have any of you figured out who you are since yesterday? Are you your body? Are you your mind? Are you your thoughts?

It seems like maybe we’re our thoughts, doesn’t it? I have all these thoughts and my thoughts create who I am, and I have a personality. Don’t you have a personality? Don’t you have a character? These are all composed of thoughts and emotions. Aren’t they what makes you you? Aren’t you your thoughts and emotions? Who would you be without them? Doesn’t it feel like that?

And whatever language you speak, doesn’t it feel like your thoughts are intrinsically that language? In other words, it feels like your thoughts don’t depend on language. Or at least that’s the way it feels to me. My thoughts are my thoughts, they’re all in English because I don’t do too well in other languages. I did learn to dream in Italian, but I don’t know, I’ve forgotten that, too many years ago. That’s when you really have learned a language, you start dreaming in it. It’s like…spaghetti all the time.

Doesn’t it feel like that? Like your thoughts are who you are, and they’re all in English, and they’re just there, and they’re real, and they make you what you are. And your feelings. Doesn’t it feel that way? It does, doesn’t it?

Why aren’t we our thoughts? Why aren’t we our emotions? Why aren’t we our personality? Psychologists tell us we have a personality. Everybody thinks we have a personality. Why aren’t we that?

[To audience] You’re all sitting there like dumb ducks. [laughter] No, ducks at least go “quack quack.”

[In response to audience] Oh, you’re your brain. Okay. So let’s pretend this (the recorder) is your dad’s brain [to the young girls in the audience] We’re just pretending. It’s bigger than this, but it’s the same color. Okay, here’s your dad’s brain. Your dad’s brain is who he is. That’s dad. So when you say, “I love you dad,” do you love this? (the recorder). No. If his brain were sitting out here, would you say, “I love that brain?” No. Your dad’s not his brain, is he? No. [To the dad] See, your daughters are smart. You’re still clinging on to an old idea. [laughter]

We’ve got to look, ask questions like this. Why aren’t you your thoughts? Why aren’t you your personality? Why not?

[In response to audience] Okay, you couldn’t do anything if you were just your thoughts, like move, or whatever. If your thoughts were “I” then all you could do was what your thoughts could do. And your thoughts can’t walk and they can’t talk and they can’t do other things, can they?

[In response to audience] Even we put the thought into a robot…. Well it doesn’t matter whether it’s a living body…. If you put the thoughts, if you programmed the robot, like Siri. Siri doesn’t have a body, but is she a person? (no) Why not? Okay, she can’t think for herself. Can human beings think for themselves? [laughter] We have the capability…. Siri just reacts as she’s programmed. But some human beings do that, too, don’t they?

[In response to audience] Yes, that’s some kind of programming, causes and conditions. Siri, what Siri says, too. I mean, they’re educating Siri so that she can respond more when people say, “I’ve just been raped,” or “I feel like killing myself,” or something. They did a whole article on this. Right now Siri just says, “Is that so?” Because some people are more open to their phones than they are to human beings. So they have to make the phones able to respond. So, is Siri a person?

[In response to audience] That’s the question, “Does Siri have feelings? Does Siri experience happiness and pain?” She may say she does. If you say, “Thank you very much Siri,” she says, “It’s nothing. You’re welcome.” So it sounds like Siri feels happiness, doesn’t it?

[In response to audience] Okay, yes, she’s saying words, but there’s no thought, there’s no understanding of the meaning behind them. There’s no feeling behind them.

So maybe then you’re your feelings.

[In response to audience] Chickens are sentient beings, why not? Of course they have feelings. They don’t want their heads to get cut off by Jihadi John. Just like we don’t. [listens] Or Colonel Sanders. [laughter] That’s their version of Jihadi John is Colonel Sanders.

So think about that. Why aren’t you your personality? When you’re upset and you just say, “Well this is just the way I am.” Then, is that true, that’s just the way you are? You’re pre-programmed? So your new name should be Siri? Or to be fair, what’s the other? Cortana? Then the men are going to complain, “Well what about me?”

Think about this a little bit. Because we do a lot of things in the name of “I.” “I want this, I need that, I deserve this, I’m entitled to that.” We do a lot of things based on this thought of a very real “I”, so we should be able to at least find it. I mean whose benefit are we working so hard for anyway? Isn’t it mine? “MY Dharma practice?” “MY liberation?”

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.