The Dust of Identity


The Dust/Grime of Identity 

The intellect is like a scalpel. Its function is to slice through reality and enable you to discern one thing from another. If a knife has to cut through anything effortlessly, it is important that the substance it encounters does not stick to it. A sticky knife is obviously an ineffective implement. 

Suppose you use a knife to cut a cake today; tomorrow you cut meat; and the day after tomorrow you cut fruit. If all these residues were to stick to the knife, it would turn over time into a useless instrument. You’ve probably experienced this already: if you cut mangoes or apples after cutting an onion, everything tastes like onion! Such a knife becomes more of a hindrance than a help. In other words, once your intellect gets identified with something, it gets chained to the identifications, and leaves you with a completely distorted experience of the world. 

Once it happened…For political reasons, Akbar, the great emperor, was separated in his infancy from his mother. Another woman who had a child of her own was brought in to nurse him. This woman breastfed Akbar, and was later offered a reward for her services. Her boy, who was still a child, slightly older than Akbar, was allotted a few villages and was made a small ruler. Many years later, Akbar was crowned emperor. But this boy, who lacked the intelligence and capability required of a ruler, squandered all his resources, lost all that was given to him, and grew impoverished. 

One day, when he was about thirty-two years of age, a grand idea occurred to him. He thought, “Since the emperor and I drank the same mother’s milk, we are brothers. And since I was born first, I am the elder brother!” 

With this idea planted firmly in his head, he went to Akbar and told him the same story. “See, we are brothers, and I am elder to you. But look at my sorry state: I am poor, you are an emperor! How can you leave me like this?” 

Akbar was deeply moved. He welcomed him, set him up in the palace, and treated him like a king. The man was not accustomed to the ways of the court, and committed many stupid blunders. But the generous Akbar kept saying, “He is my elder brother. We have drunk the milk of the same mother.” He introduced him to everybody as his elder brother. 

This was the state of affairs for some time. Then it was time for the man to return to his village for some work. Akbar said, “My brother, you lost those villages given to you. I shall give you five new villages to rule—a small kingdom of your own.” 

The man said, “But I see that you have become this successful because there are lots of smart people around you. I don’t have anybody to advise me, and that is why I’m lost. If only I had good advisers and ministers, I would also have built a major empire. Above all, you have Birbal! He’s so smart. If only I had somebody like him I would also be a great emperor.” 

The large-hearted Akbar said, “If you wish, you may take Birbal with you.” 

He summoned Birbal and ordered him, “You must go with my elder brother.” 

Birbal said, “Your Highness, your elder brother deserves someone better than me. Why not my elder brother? I could send him instead.” 

Akbar thought that was a great idea because he did not relish the prospect of losing Birbal. Delighted, he said, “Summon him immediately.” 

The next day this man was to leave for his new kingdom, and a grand farewell was organized in court. There was a mood of anticipation in the air, as everyone waited for Birbal to arrive with his elder brother. 

Finally, Birbal entered with a bull in tow. 

“What is this?” Akbar asked. 

Birbal said, “This is my elder brother.” 

Akbar was furious. “Are you trying to insult me and my brother?” 

“No, my lord,” said Birbal. “He is my elder brother. Both of us drank milk from the same mother.” 

Once your intellect—or buddhi, as it is termed in the yogic taxonomy—gets identified with something, you function within the realm of this identity. Whatever you are identified with, all your thoughts and emotions spring from that identity. Right now suppose you identify yourself as a man, all your thoughts and emotions flow from that identification. If you identify yourself with your nationality or religion, they will flow from those identifications. Whatever your thoughts and emotions, these identifications are a certain level of prejudice. In fact, your mind is itself a certain kind of prejudice. Why? Because it functions from limited data and is fronted by an essentially discriminatory intellect. So, your mind, which should have been a ladder to the divine, is stumbling through endless mediocrity and, on some occasions, has become a straight stairway to hell. 

The identity around which the intellect functions is called ahankara. To continue with the earlier knife analogy, the hand that wields the knife is identity. Or in other words, it is your identity that manages and determines your intellect. When you use a knife, it is important not just to have a sharp blade, but a stable hand to hold it. Without a stable hand you can end up cutting yourself in a million different ways. Most of the suffering human beings undergo is not because of external situations. What is inflicted on them from the outside is minimal; the rest is all self-help! 

Once you are identified with something that you are not, the mind is an express train that cannot be stopped. If you put the mind on full steam and want to apply the brakes, it will not work. But if you are able to disentangle yourself from everything that you are not—if you dis-identify, as it were—you will see that the mind turns just blank and empty. When you want to use it, you can; at other times, it will simply be empty, devoid of all psychological clutter. That is how it should be. But right now, you are identified with so many labels, and at the same time you are trying to stop your mind: this will simply not work. 

Irrespective of what you think you are, when death confronts you, every identification falls away. If human beings learned to drop these voluntarily, life would be blissful. If you do not encumber your intellect with any identifications —body, gender, family, qualifications, society, race, caste, creed, community, nation, even species—you travel naturally toward your ultimate nature. If not, death will demolish it all anyway. You need have no doubt about that! 

If you employ your intelligence and make an attempt to reach your ultimate nature, this is called gnana yoga, or the yoga of knowing. Gnana yogis cannot afford to identify themselves with anything. If they do, that is the end of their journey. But unfortunately, what has happened to gnana yoga, at least in India, is that its proponents entertain several beliefs. “I am the Universal Soul, the Absolute, the Supreme Being”—they know it all, from the arrangement of the cosmos to the shape and size of the soul! They have read all these things in a book. This is not gnana yoga. Any information you have about that which is not a living experience for you, is irrelevance. Maybe it is very holy irrelevance, but it does not liberate you; it only entangles you! 

On a certain day, a bull was grazing on a field. He went deep into the forest, and after weeks of grazing on lush grass, became nice and fat. A lion, who was past his prime and having difficulty hunting his prey, saw this nice fat bull, pounced on him, killed him, and ate him up. His stomach became full. Then with great satisfaction, he roared. A few hunters were passing by. They heard the roar, tracked him down, and shot him dead. 

Moral of the story: when you are so full of bull you should not open your mouth. 

Very few people have the necessary intellect to pursue gnana yoga one hundred percent. Most need a huge amount of preparation. There is an entire yogic process to make your intellect so razor-sharp that it does not stick to anything. But it is very time-consuming because the mind is a tricky customer; it is capable of creating a million illusions. Gnana yoga as a part of your spiritual pursuit is a workable proposition; as an exclusive path, it is only for a very rare few. 


Just sit alone for an hour. No reading, no television, no phone, no communication, nothing. Just see in the course of this hour what thoughts dominate your mind—whether it is food, sex, your car, your furniture, your jewelry, or anything else. If you find yourself thinking recurrently about people or things, your identification is essentially with your body. If your thoughts are about what you would like to do in the world, your identification is essentially with your mind. Everything else is just a complex set of offshoots of these two aspects. This is not a value judgment. It is just a way of knowing what stage of life you’re at. How quickly you want to evolve depends on your own choices.




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