Awareness and Who Am I? – Quotes and Resources

What you’re looking for is that which is looking. – St. Francis d’Assisi

Thanks to meditation and many teachers, this mind seems to have come to a growing realization.  That meditation and other aspects such as peace (heijoushin), freedom from suffering, kendo at the “highest” level, being in-the-moment or in-the-zone are intimately tied to re-discovering who we really are.  When I reflect on “Who I am” and Self-Inquiry, I am neither the thoughts nor the body it seems.  But rather an awareness which experiences.  That which experiences thoughts, sights, sounds, body sensations, pain, pleasure, keiko, life, . . .

Here’s a side story which points to the value of this re-discovery in the context of kendo.

I recently read a story about the famed swordsman Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-1888) and his teacher Asari Yoshiaki (1822-1894) [Fuliot, Chap. 27 “Asari’s Shadow”] [Samurai Tesshu] [Yamaoka 20Teachings] thanks to a fellow dojo member.  For over a decade, Tesshu kept losing to Yoshiaki and persevered ceaselessly to discover a way to win – as detailed in the references.

Then, one morning in 1880, when he was 45 years old, Tesshu attained “Enlightenment” while sitting in zazen.  Upon seeing Tesshu, Asari recognized at once that Tesshu had reached enlightenment. Asari, declined to fence with Tesshu, acknowledging Tesshu’s attainment by saying, “You have arrived.”

Here’s a set of quotes (below) by a number of teachers who describe this awareness and address this fundamental question of “Who am I?”  Quotes specific to kendo from many revered swordsmen and kendo teachers are listed in this companion article “The ‘Mirror’ in the Heart of Master Swordsmen (and Jedi Masters)” – where this awareness is described using the metaphor of a “mirror”.

  • Nisargadatta Maharaj
  • Ken Wilber
  • Alan Watts
  • Bryan Thompson
  • Arthur J. Deikman
  • Will Wright
  • Additional Quotes

Notes:  Resources can be found in the websites cited in the Reference section at the end.    As usual, I plan to add more quotes to this set as I discover them.

May we all re-discover who we really are!

Nisargadatta Maharaj [Maharaj_Pointers]

  • Ah!  Now we shall come to the truth.  Please understand as truth, that you are not an individual, a ‘person’. The person, that one thinks one is, is only a product of imagination and the self is the victim of this illusion. ‘Person’ cannot exist in its own right. It is the self, consciousness, that mistakenly believes that there is a person and is conscious of being it. p. 16
  • As long as you identify yourself with the body-mind you are vulnerable to sorrow and sufferingOutside the mind there is just being, not being father or son, this or that.  p. 16
  • That which is sought is the seeker himself!  Can an eye see itself?  p. 25

Ken Wilber

  • From [Wilber_NoBoundary]
    • We all have the feeling of “self” on the one hand and the feeling of the external world on the other.  But if we carefully look at the sensation of “self-in-here” and the sensation of “world-out-there,” we will find that these two sensations are actually one and the same feeling.  p. 44
      • Our problem is that we have three words – the “seer,” “sees,” and the “seen” – for one single activity, the experience of seeing.
    • [N]otice there is one thing which you cannot hear, no matter how carefully you attend to every sound.  You cannot hear the hearer. And that means that you do not hear sounds, you ARE those sounds.  The hearer IS every sound which is heard.  It is not a separate entity which stands back and hears hearing. p. 46
    • [T]here is no self set apart from the world. p. 48
      • You have always assumed you were a separate experience, but the moment you actually go in search of it, it vanishes into experience.
    • You needn’t try to destroy the separate self because it isn’t there in the first place. All you really have to do is look for it, and you won’t find it. p. 49 
    • When we start defining “who we are”, we not only create a box with a boundary identifying ourselves but also, implicitly and perhaps unknowingly, we also end up defining who we are NOT. p. 4
      • You come to feel that “I am this and not that” by drawing a boundary line between “this” and “that” and then recognizing your identity with “this” and your nonidentity with “that.”  So when you say “my self,” you draw a boundary line between what is you and what is not you.
      • When you answer the question, “Who are you?” you simply describe what’s on the inside of that line.
  • From [Wilber_Awareness]
    • But why is it, then, that we ordinarily don’t have that perception (of awareness, oneness, the absolute)?
      • [B]ecause our awareness is clouded with some form of avoidance. We do not want to be choicelessly aware of the present; rather, we want to run away from it, or run after it, or we want to change it, alter it; hate it, love it, loathe it, or in some way agitate to get ourselves into, or out of, it. We will do anything except come to rest in the pure Presence of the present.
    • This realization may take many forms.
      • A simple one is something like this: You might be looking at a mountain, and you have relaxed into the effortlessness of your own present awareness, and then suddenly the mountain is all, you are nothing. Your separate-self sense is suddenly and totally gone, and there is simply everything that is arising moment to moment.
      • You are perfectly aware, perfectly conscious, everything seems completely normal, except you are nowhere to be found. You are not on this side of your face looking at the mountain out there; you simply are the mountain, you are the sky, you are the clouds, you are everything that is arising moment to moment, very simply, very clearly, just so.
    • You have never left this state in the first place, so obviously you can’t enter it. The gateless gate!
    • But if that is so, then why even do spiritual practice?…
      • Rather, it is precisely by entering and leaving these various meditative states that you begin to understand that none of them constitute enlightenment. All of them have a beginning in time, and thus none of them are the timeless. The point is to realize that change of state is not the point, and that realization can occur in any state of consciousness whatsoever.

Alan Watts

  • There is simply experience.  
    • There is not something or someone experiencing experience!  
    • You do not feel feeling, think thoughts, or sense sensations any more than you hear hearing, see sight, or smell smelling. 
    • ‘I feel fine’ means that fine feeling is present. 
      • It does not mean there is one thing called an ‘I’ and another separate thing called a feeling, so that when you bring them together this ‘I’ feels the fine feelings.  
      • There are no feelings but present feelings, and whatever feeling is present is ‘I’. 
    • No one ever found an ‘I’ apart from some present experience, or some experience apart from an ‘I’ – which is only to say that the two are the same thing.”

Bryan Thompson [Thompson]

  • There is nothing more real than our awareness.  It is all there is. Everything in our experience exists only within this empty space, within our awareness, it can exist no where else.  A mind without thoughts is this pure awareness.
  • Beyond all of your senses, including your mind, is the clarity of your true nature — your awareness itself. It is an infinite space of emptiness — where anything is possible. We all have it, and it is where our true self is found.
  • It is a place of non-judgement and discrimination. It is effortless.  It is an essence of absolute and unparalleled contentment.  It is not a state of being, it IS our being,

  • This space of emptiness, our awareness, is the root of all things that begin with “I am”. This is our true self, not any of the perceptions we think we are. No matter if you think you’re a student or a mother, an artist or an entrepreneur, a success or a failure, thin or fat, beautiful or ugly, clumsy or agile, popular or not — these are only concepts of identity that exist within your mind and that you have attached your perception of self onto and that you now believe to be true. But the real you is your awareness.

Arthur J. Deikman

  • [Deikman]
    • Be aware of what you experience, then close your eyes. Awareness remains. “Behind” your thoughts and images is awareness, and that is where you are.
    • The observing self is not part of the object world formed by our thoughts and sensory perception because, literally, it has no limits; everything else does.
    • Thus everyday consciousness contains a transcendent element that we seldom notice because that element is the very ground of our experience.  The word transcendent is justified because if subjective consciousness – the observing self – cannot itself be observed …  Its fundamentally different nature becomes evident when we realize that the observing self is featureless; it cannot be affected by the world any more than a mirror can be affected by the images it reflects.
    • What we know as our self is separate from our thoughts, memories, feelings, and any content of consciousness. (Western psychological theory) … describe(s) the self in terms of everything but the observer, who is the center of experience. This crucial omission stems from the fact that the observing self is an anomaly  — not an object, like everything else.  In contrast, we cannot observe the observing self; we must experience it directly.  It has no defining qualities, no boundaries, no dimensions.
  • [Deikman_Freedom]
    • There is some kind of awareness, something basic that observes everything, and, although I usually don’t notice because it is drowned out by all the noise, it’s always there.
    • If I turn back to find myself, look inward to the deepest, the very heart of me where I actually live, that awareness is me.  It seems to have been there always, just as it is, while everything else changes.

Will Wright

  • From [Wright_Sun]
    • We think, feel, and act in the world as though we are an individual person, separate and unique from all the other beings. It’s obvious that we are all unique individuals, but if we look closely at our experience we are not separate. Nothing separates us from an other or anything else except the idea of separation.
  • [Wright_Discover]
    • All you need to discover is the limitless, timeless nature of awareness – that which knows the coming and going of all things but doesn’t come and go with them.
    • Look at that within you that is aware, or awareness itself, and see if you can find an edge or boundary to it. When you firmly establish that there is no end to awareness, in other words, it is infinite, then see if you can discover a time when it is not present. When you firmly establish that there is no time when it is not present, or, in other words, it is eternal, you are home free.

Eckhart Tolle [Tolle_NewEarth]

  • Instead of being lost in your thinking, when you are awake you recognize yourself as the awareness behind it. Thinking then ceases to be a self-serving autonomous activity that takes possession of you and runs your life. Awareness takes over from thinking. Instead of being in charge of your life, thinking becomes the servant of awareness. Awareness is …  Presence; consciousness without thought.

Additional Quotes

  • Suffering alone exists, none who suffer;  The deed there is, but no doer thereof; Nirvana is, but no one seeking it;  The Path there is, but none who travel it. – Buddha


[Deikman_Freedom]  Arthur J. Deikman, Personal Freedom – On Finding Your Way to the Real World, 1976.

[Deikman_Observing] Arthur J. Deikman, “Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy,”

[Maharj_Pointers] Ramesh S. Balsekar, “Pointers from Nisargadatta Maharj,” 1982 (PDF, 145 pages).

[Spira] Rupert Spira, “Being aware of being aware is the highest meditation there is”. (43:05 mins)

[Thompson] Bryan Thompson, “What is the nature of awareness”,, July 15, 2015.

[Tolle_NewEarth] Eckhart Tolle, “What is Awakening?” – An Excerpt from A New Earth:  Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose,, 2005.

[Wilber_Awareness] Ken Wilber, “Always Already:  The Brilliant Clarity of Ever-Present Awareness, Integral Life, Dec 10, 2016.

[Wilber_NoBoundary] Ken Wilber, No Boundary – Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth, Shambhala, 2001.

[Wright_Sun]  Will Wright, “Stepping Stone to the Sun,”, Mar 23, 2019.

[Wright_Discover] Will Wright, “All You Need to Discover,”, Jan 11, 2019.







Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s