What the “I” Is Not

Let’s concern ourselves with something practical—deciding what the “I” is not.

Am I my thoughts, the thoughts that I am thinking? No. Thoughts come and go; I am not my thoughts.

Am I my body? They tell us that millions of cells in our bod­ ies are changed or are renewed every minute, and that by the end of seven years, we don’t have a single living cell in our bodies that was there seven years before. Cells come and go. Cells arise and die—but “I” seems to persist. So am I my body? Evidently not! “I” is something other and more than the body. You might say

the body is part of “I,” but it is a changing part. It keeps moving, it keeps changing. We have the same name for it but it constantly changes. Just as we have the same name for Niagara Falls, even though Niagara Falls is constituted by water that is constantly changing. We use the same name for an ever­changing reality.

How about my name? Is “I” my name? Evidently not, because I can change my name without changing the “I.” How about my career? Not there either because I can change my career without changing the “I.”

How about when I say, “I am successful.” Is your success part of the “I”? No, successes are something that comes and goes; they could be here today and gone tomorrow. That’s not “I.” The same thing is true when you say, “I am a failure. I am a lawyer. I am a businessman.”

How about my beliefs? I say I am a certain religion—is that an essential part of “I”? When I move from one religion to another, has the “I” changed? Do I have a new “I,” or is it the same “I” that has changed? In other words, is my name an essential part of me, of the “I”? Is my religion an essential part of the “I”?