You cannot possibly say that you are what you think yourself to be! Your ideas about yourself change from day to day and from moment to moment. Your self-image is the most changeful thing you have. It is utterly vulnerable, at the mercy of a passerby. A bereavement, the loss of a job, an insult, and your image of yourself, which you call your person, changes deeply. To know what you are, you must first investigate and know what you are not. And to know what you are not, you must watch yourself carefully, rejecting all that does not necessarily go with the basic fact: ‘I am’. The ideas: I am born at a given place, at a given time, from my parents and now I am so-and-so, living at, married to, father of, employed by, and so on, are not inherent in the sense ‘I am’. Our usual attitude is of ‘I am this’. Separate consistently and perseveringly the ‘I am’ from ‘this’ or ‘that’ and try to feel what it means to be, just to be, without being ‘this’ or ‘that’. All our habits go against it and the task of fighting them is long and hard sometimes, but clear understanding helps a lot. The clearer you understand that on the level of the mind you can be described in negative terms only, the quicker you will come to the end of your search and realize your limitless being.
— Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj – I Am Not – To Know What you Are, Find What you Are Not (p. 56)
It is enough to know what you are not. You need not know what you are. For, as long as knowledge means description in terms of what is already known, perceptual, or conceptual, there can be no such thing as self-knowledge, for what you are cannot be described, except as total negation. All you can say is: ‘I am not this, I am not that’. You cannot meaningfully say ‘this is what I am’. It just makes no sense. What you can point out as ‘this’ or ‘that’ cannot be yourself. Surely, you cannot be ‘something’ else. You are nothing perceivable, or imaginable. Yet, without you there can be neither perception nor imagination. You observe the heart feeling, the mind thinking, the body acting; the very act of perceiving shows that you are not what you perceive. Can there be perception, experience, without you? An experience must ‘belong’. Somebody must come and declare it as his own. Without an experiencer the experience is not real. It is the experiencer that imparts reality to experience. An experience which you cannot have, of what value is it to you?
— Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj – I Am That – p. 2
Do not try to know the truth, for knowledge by the mind is not true knowledge. But you can know what is not true, which is enough to liberate you from the false. The idea that you know what is true is dangerous, for it keeps you imprisoned in the mind. It is when you do not know that you are free to investigate. And there can be no salvation without investigation, because non-investigation is the main cause of bondage.
— Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj – I Am That (p. 457)
The seeker is he who is in search of himself.
Give up all questions except one: ‘Who am I?’
After all, the only fact you are sure of is that you are.
The ‘I am’ is certain. The ‘I am this’ is not.
Struggle to find out what you are in reality.
To know what you are, you must first investigate
and know what you are not.
Discover all that you are not
— body, feelings, thoughts, time, space, this or that —
nothing, concrete or abstract, which you perceive can be you.
The very act of perceiving shows you
that you are not what you perceive.
The clearer you understand that on the level of mind
you can be described in negative terms only,
the quicker will you come to the end of your search
and realize that you are the limitless being.
— Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj – I Am That – Introduction (VI)
Psychologists talk about people who are co-dependent because they don’t have a sense of self. What psychologists mean when they say a person has no sense of self is very different from what the Buddha meant by no-self or selflessness. People with psychological problems actually have a very strong sense of self in the Buddhist sense, although they may not in the psychological sense of the word. Psychologically, they don’t see themselves as efficacious individuals in the world, but they still have a very strong sense of “I”: “I am worthless.” When somebody criticizes them, they don’t like it. They get into co-dependent relationships to protect or to please this “I.” When they fall into self-pity, their sense of an inherently existent “I” is very strong. Thus they still have self-grasping even though they lack a psychologically healthy sense of self.
Buddhism recognizes two kinds of sense of self. There’s one sense of self that is healthy and necessary to be efficacious on the path. The object of this sense of self is the conventionally existent “I.” The other sense of self grasps at an inherently existent self that never has and never will exist. Within Buddhism, when we talk about realizing emptiness, we’re negating the false self, this self that appears inherently existent to us.
— Thubten Chodron – Cultivating a Compassionate Heart: The Yoga Method of Chenrezig
For the complete mutation in consciousness to take place you must deny analysis and search, and no longer be under any influence, which is immensely difficult. The mind, seeing what is false, has put the false aside completely, not knowing what is true. If you already know what is true, then you are merely exchanging what you consider is false for what you imagine is true. There is no renunciation if you know what you are going to get in return. There is only renunciation when you drop something not knowing what is going to happen. That state of negation is completely necessary. Please follow this carefully, because if you have gone so far you will see that in that state of negation you discover what is true; because, negation is the emptying of consciousness of the known. After all, consciousness is based on knowledge, on experience, on racial inheritance, on memory, on the things one has experienced. Experiences are always of the past, operating on the present, being modified by the present and continuing into the future. All that is consciousness, the vast storehouse of centuries. It has its usefulness in mechanical living only. It would be absurd to deny all the scientific knowledge acquired through the long past. But to bring about a mutation in consciousness, a revolution in this whole structure, there must be complete emptiness. And that emptiness is possible only when there is the discovery, the actual seeing of what is false. Then you will see, if you have gone so far, that emptiness itself brings about a complete revolution in consciousness: it has taken place.
— Jiddu Krishnamurti – The Book of Life