Maharaj: You came here today because you are searching for something. What is it that you are searching for?
Maharaj: What kind of peace do you seek? Peace in the Middle East? Peace in your marriage?
Fred: Peace in my mind.
Maharaj: Can you explain in more detail the nature of your problem?
Fred: Sure I guess so. I have periods when I suffer from a great deal of worry and anxiety. I also feel a lot of guilt about mistakes I’ve made in the past. And I get angry at the crazy things I see happening around the world and the feeling of helplessness that I have about being able to do nothing about them.
Maharaj: So you are hoping to find a way to end these feelings of worry, anxiety, guilt and helplessness?
Fred: Well I don’t expect that I’ll be able to get rid of them completely, but I’d like to find a way to reduce them or, at least, process them better.
Maharaj: Can you give me an example of something that you are worried about?
Fred: Well… I’m worried that someone might set off a nuclear bomb that starts a chain of events and leads to thermonuclear war.
Maharaj: I see, that is indeed a worrying idea. All of these feelings you want to reduce, what do they have in common?
Fred: They make me unhappy.
Maharaj: What else do they have in common?
Fred: I don’t know.
Maharaj: “I am worried. I am anxious. I feel guilty. I feel helpless.” The thing they all have in common is the “I” that they refer to. This is where you should start your enquiry. When you say “I”, what are you referring to?
Maharaj: And what do you mean by “me”?
Fred: Me! Who I am.
Maharaj: And who are you?
Fred: I am Fred. Fred Jones.
Maharaj: But “Fred Jones” is just a name. A name is just words. Words are just sounds. Are you just sounds?
Fred: No, I’m a person. A human.
Maharaj: Everyone can say they are a human. Who are you?
Fred: I’m Fred. I’m a man. Scientist. Father. Ex-husband. Lapsed Catholic. Born and raised in Australia.
Maharaj: Again, these are all just descriptions, words and sounds that many people could say about themselves. Who are you really?
Fred: Do you want to know my date of birth? Drivers Licence number? What? I have no idea what you want me to say.
Maharaj: Exactly. This question, who am I, is something most of us never consider deeply until forced to. This is what it means to be a seeker. What makes up the “I” you think you are? Are you a body or a mind or a spirit?
Fred: I don’t believe in spirits, so I’d say I’m a body and a mind.
Maharaj: Isn’t the mind a product of the brain?
Fred: Yes, the scientific evidence would seem to support that hypothesis.
Maharaj: And the brain is part of the body, so we can say you are “this body”?
Fred: Yes I guess so.
Maharaj: Is this body you have today the same body you have when you were one year old?
Maharaj: What has changed?
Fred: Nearly everything.
Maharaj: Are you the same person today that you were when you were one year old?
Fred: In some ways, no. I’m completely different. Most of the cells in my body then have been replaced. I’m obviously larger, I think differently, I have different memories, etcetera.
Maharaj: But you still belong to the same parents you did when you were one? Do you feel like the person who existed when you were a child, and the person you are now, are totally separate people? Do your parents think you are a completely different human being than you were then?
Fred: No I have the same DNA. And memories from throughout my life.
Maharaj: So you think you are this body – and yet you understand that the body you have today is not the same body you have when you were one year old. Or when you were ten years old. What has remained consistent when the body has been replaced?
Fred: My DNA.
Maharaj: So what makes you YOU is your DNA?
Maharaj: So if scientists took a cell from your body and built an exact clone from it, with the same DNA as you, would that clone be you? Would you and the clone be one person?
Fred: No. We would be separate people.
Maharaj: So what makes you YOU is something other than your DNA.
Fred: I guess it must be.
Maharaj: Then what?
Fred: My memories.
Maharaj: Your memories make you who you are?
Maharaj: Tomorrow you will have new memories from the experiences you have today. Does this mean that tomorrow you will be a completely new person?
Fred: No, I’ll just be me but with new memories.
Maharaj: But you told me before that you ARE your memories. How can you be “me but with new memories” when the ME that you refer to *is* your memories? Who is the owner of the memories?
Fred: My brain.
Maharaj: So you are your brain?
Maharaj: If you had a brain injury in an accident, and forgot how to walk – would you no longer be you?
Fred: No I’d still be me.
Maharaj: So you can lose part of your brain and still be you?
Fred: Yes, I think so.
Maharaj: Which part of your brain could you not lose and still remain you?
Fred: Probably the part that contains my personality and my memories.
Maharaj: So you are your personality and your memories?
Fred: Yes I think so.
Maharaj: So have you ever been extremely drunk or high on drugs?
Fred: Yes I have.
Maharaj: Did your personality change in those moments?
Fred: Yes I guess it did.
Maharaj: So were you no longer you during those moments?
Fred: Well I acted differently but I guess I was still me.
Maharaj: So you are still you, even when your personality changes.
Fred: I guess so.
Maharaj: So perhaps you are your memories? But we’ve already considered that, haven’t we? What if you had an accident and suffered from temporary amnesia. Would you still be you?
Fred: Yes I guess I would.
Maharaj: So you can’t be your memories then.
Fred: I guess not!
Maharaj: Well then. What are you?
Fred: I am beginning to think I don’t really know!
Fred: Do you have any suggestions for me?
Maharaj: Perhaps you are an idea?
Fred: What do you mean, an idea? Are you suggesting that I don’t exist?
Maharaj: I’m not suggesting that at all. But perhaps there is no concrete “you” because what you are is an idea. Remember the answers you gave me when I first started asking who you are? “I’m Fred. I’m a man. Scientist. Father. Ex-husband. Lapsed Catholic. Born and raised in Australia.“ There are a collection of ideas. Concepts. Mental models to explain facets of something. Perhaps all you are is a collection of ideas, thoughts, concepts.
Fred: But if I lost my memory I would also lose those ideas. And yet I’d still be me.
Maharaj: That’s true! But you’d be the collection of ideas that you retained after your memory loss. We associate the collection of ideas that we have about ourselves as being “me”. We can add or lose ideas constantly. You might be a meat-eater one day and a vegetarian the next. You still feel like you but your idea of who you are has changed.
Fred: But I feel like I’m more than just some ideas.
Maharaj: And where do you feel that?
Fred: In my…. mind?
Maharaj: So wouldn’t that too be an idea?
Fred: I guess it would! So if I’m just a collection of ideas, does that mean I don’t really exist?
Maharaj: Not at all! It’s impossible for something that doesn’t exist to say “I don’t exist”. Something must exist to say that! The question is – what exists?
Fred: The only answer I can come up with is “I exist”.
Maharaj: Indeed! “I am”. Isn’t that what the Jews believe their God said his name was when asked by Moses? “I am that I am”. Perhaps that is all any of us can say?
Fred: Does that mean we are also gods?
Maharaj: Not plural. Singular.
Fred: We are… God?
Maharaj: Yes of course! Isn’t God supposed to be omnipresent? Everywhere? Wouldn’t that include the space where we are?
Fred: But people usually believe they are separate from God.
Maharaj: Most perhaps do. But they are obviously mistaken. If God is indeed everywhere, then she must also be where you are, occupying the exact same space-time coordinates that you occupy.
Fred: Saying I am God sounds egotistical.
Maharaj: Oh no, it’s exactly the opposite!
Fred: How so?
Maharaj: Egotism means having a favourable image about yourself, thinking you are superior to others. But if you only exist as God, then must not the same be true of everyone else? Everyone is God! Therefore you can’t be superior to everyone else if everyone else is also what you are – God. So, in fact, the opposite is true. While you continue to think that you are something separate from God – and from everyone and everything else – that is egotism. While you continue to think that you are special – that is egotism.
Fred: But in the West we are taught that each of us is special and unique and an individual.
Maharaj: Exactly! This is a major reason why people are unhappy. They seek happiness in all the wrong places – money, things, religion, sex, drugs, yoga, holidays, love. None of these things will bring lasting happiness while you continue to think of yourself as something separate from the whole, from God.
Fred: But I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God.
Maharaj: God is just a word used to describe the indescribable. As a scientist, what name would you give to that which is all things, all space and time, and everything in them?
Fred: I’d probably just call it “the universe”. The universe is all space and time, and all matter and energy.
Maharaj: Excellent! The universe and God are the same thing. The ALL.
Fred: But religious people seem to think that God listens to prayers and can involve himself in their lives.
Maharaj: This is an anthropomorphic view of God. And it is contrary to thinking of God as omnipresent. If God is everywhere and everything, there can be no separation between him that prays and that which he is praying to. Either God is omnipresent or she is not. But let’s use your wording – The Universe. Uni means “one”. Verse, I believe, comes from the Latin word for “turning”. Universe therefore means “the one thing turning”. I believe ancient Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras used the term ”the all” to refer to the cosmos. If the universe is all of space and time and everything contained within it – doesn’t that include you?
Fred: I always thought of myself as being in the universe, just a part of the universe.
Maharaj: But if the universe is “the all”, can anything be separate from the all?
Fred: I’m not sure I follow your logic.
Maharaj: The universe is our name for all of time and space and everything contained within it. “The ALL”. You can’t remove anything from the universe. You cannot remove yourself from the universe. Every atom, every subatomic particle, every wave of energy, is “the universe”. According to cosmologists, the entire universe was, at one point, as small as an atom. And everything that is in the universe today, every atom, every subatomic particle, was contained in some form inside that microscopic universe. Before atoms existed, before subatomic particles existed, the universe itself existed. The law of conservation of energy, a fundamental concept of physics, states that energy in an isolated system remains constant – it can neither be created nor destroyed, but can only change from one form to another. And the universe is such a closed system. So this means that all of the energy that exists in the universe today, existed back when the universe was millions of times smaller than the head of a pin. And matter, according to Einstein, is made of energy. Therefore – everything that is you – whatever that may be – was, billions of years ago, part of that universe, millions of times smaller than the head of a pin.
Fred: What about parallel universes?
Maharaj: I’m not sure what that has to do with you. If they exist, they are irrelevant to who you are, because you, my friend, are in this universe.
Fred: Okay, fair enough. So what does all of this mean?
Maharaj: Well let’s go back to the beginning. Who are you?
Fred: …. The universe?
Maharaj: And, if that is true, what does that mean for your anxiety about thermonuclear war? If you are the entire universe, what impact would such a war have on you?
Fred: I guess it wouldn’t be that important. One race on one planet in one solar system of one galaxy, out of billions and billions of galaxies, gets wiped out.
Maharaj: The energy of the human race – what would happen to it? Would it be destroyed?
Fred: No. It would become something else.
Maharaj: Okay. What about the guilt that you mentioned. If you are the universe, how does that impact the source of your guilt?
Fred: I guess the guilt would be meaningless. If one element of the universe did something to another element of the universe… and there is only the universe… then it’s all just the universe playing some sort of game?
Maharaj: Not a game, but we might say it is all just the universe functioning as it has to function according to the laws that govern the functioning of the universe.
Fred: Like the laws of physics?
Maharaj: Yes, whatever fundamental principles govern the functioning of energy and matter – this is what makes everything happen.
Fred: So where does that leave free will?
Maharaj: Well you tell me – if you are the universe, who is left to have free will?
Fred: It certainly seems like I have free will.
Maharaj: Again, we are back to this mysterious “I” concept.
Fred: Ah. Right.
Maharaj: For there to be an “I” that has free will, you should be able to define who that “I” is. And so far, we seem to have only come to the conclusion that the “I” is the universe.
Fred: So if I … If there is no free will, how do I know that I’ll get out of bed tomorrow?
Maharaj: If there is no free will, how did you get out of bed today?
Fred: I have no idea.
Maharaj: Perhaps it was just the universe functioning?
Fred: But it appears that I can make decisions.
Maharaj: Again we have to nail down this “I” who you think is making decisions. If you aren’t even sure what or where it is, how can you be so sure that it has agency?
Fred: Okay. But how do I let go of the feeling that I have free will?
Maharaj: If you don’t have free will, how can you let go or not let go of anything?
Fred: So what do I do now?
Maharaj: Again – if there is no “you” apart from the universe, this question has no meaning. The universe will continue to function according to its laws and YOU ARE THAT.
Fred: So I’m just an observer of…. myself?
Maharaj: Nearly correct. There is no observer – just observing. You are the observing.
Fred: But what is doing the observing? Can there be observing without an observer?
Maharaj: I think we’ve already agreed that the only thing that exists is the universe. It can therefore only be the universe that is observing itself, through the apparatus of billions of brains.
Fred: If everyone in the world is the same thing as me, why do they all seem to operate as individuals?
Maharaj: When you go to sleep and you dream, don’t other people appear in your dreams?
Maharaj: And don’t those people in your dreams appear to operate as individuals, with their own free will?
Fred: Yes, they do.
Maharaj: And are they individuals with their own free will?
Fred: No, they are just in my imagination.
Maharaj: They are all creations of your brain?
Maharaj: So how are the people you see around you while awake any different?
Fred: Well I’m not dreaming.
Maharaj: When you are asleep and dreaming, are you always aware that you are dreaming?
Fred: Sometimes I’m aware that I’m in a dream, but usually it seems real until I wake up.
Maharaj: So the dream seems real and the waking state also seems real.
Fred: Yes. But I wake up from the dream.
Maharaj: And when you wake up from the dream, you realise it wasn’t real.
Maharaj: And what will happen when you wake up from this “waking” dream?
(2015-12-21, Cedar City, Utah)