Awareness and Who is this ‘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 has come to a growing realization.  That meditation, zazen and aspects such as peace (平常心, heijoushin), freedom from suffering, kendo at the “highest” level, mushin, enlightenment, being in-the-moment or in-the-zone are intimately tied to re-discovering who we really are.  When I reflect on “Who is this ‘I’?”, “Who is thinking these thoughts?” and re-orient my attention back on to itself via the approach of Self-Inquiry* [Endless_Self-Inquiry] [Sharpe_Self-Inquiry] [Wiki_Self-Inquiry] (also described below), I am neither the thoughts nor the body it seems.  But rather awareness** which experiences.  That which experiences thoughts, sights, sounds, body sensations, pain, pleasure, keiko, life, … You may notice this quality (minus the keiko) more readily in babies and infants.

Here’s a side story which points to the value of its 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] forwarded to me by a fellow dojo member.  For over a decade, Yamaoka kept losing to Asari but 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 two sets of quotes (below).  The first set is from a number of teachers who describe this awareness and address this fundamental question of “Who is this ‘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”.  The second set is on Self-Inquiry for those interested in directions back to who we are and who we have always been.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • On Awareness
    • Nisargadatta Maharaj
    • Alan Watts
    • Ken Wilber
    • Brian Thompson
    • Arthur J. Deikman
    • Will Wright
    • Stephen Levine
    • Sam Harris
    • Ramana Maharshi
    • Additional Quotes
  • On Self-Inquiry (Directions Back Home)
    • Janice Sharpe
    • Nirmala
    • Michael James
    • Sri Sadhu Om on Ramana Maharshi
    • Michael Langford
    • Walt Walker
    • Jon Bernie

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

May we all re-discover who we really are!

* Self-inquiry is also spelled as Self-enquiry.

** Awareness is also referred to as spaciousness, stillness, consciousness, oneness, the absolute, mushin, being present to this moment,…


On Awareness

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

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.”

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
  • 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!

Brian Thompson

Brian Thompson’s articles like those cited below at flow like poetry.

  • From [Thompson_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.

    • 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.
  • From [Thomspon_I-Awareness]
    • Your true self nature—Awareness—is not an “object” that can be perceived like a thought or a tree.

    • It evades all conscious perception because it is empty of any attribute, even though it is the emptiness in which all attributes appear.

  • From [Thompson_BeStill]
    • You mistakenly believe yourself to be whatever the mind implies.  You are not any thought, for you are the presence of awareness in which all thoughts appear.
    • You are that which is aware, here and now.  Everything else is a momentary event that’s passing through awareness, including every thought, emotion, sensation, perception, and belief.
    • Any sense of unhappiness, displeasure, or discontent experienced is not truly yours; it is the mind’s. And the mind is not you.
  • From [Thompson_Wanting]
    • There is no end to that which you believe you don’t have. And, once you self-identify yourself with this nonsense, it (the feeling of dissatisfaction and despair) will seem to permeate your entire being.
    • When you live in such a way, your whole existence is then defined by whatever you believe you lack—including happiness, self-worth, confidence, peace, love, contenment, and joy.

    • Drop out of the game entirely. No longer seek anything at all. Free yourself from your imagined self.

  • From [Thompson_Illusion]
    • There is only the perceiving.  There is only the seeing.  There is only the hearing.  There is only the speaking.  There is only the singing.  There is only the loving. … We’ll see that the real truth of anything is in the “ing” – the verbs.  There are no nouns.  I am a verb.  You are a verb.  Everything is a verb because everything is being.   (at 11:45 mins)
    • All things are consciousness experiencing itself.  We are all different points of view looking at one another to perceive itself.  (at 13:18 min)
  • Others
    • Un-think. Un-learn. Un-know. Un-believe. Un-speculate. Un-seek. Un-strive. Un-fear. Lose your mind and effortlessly be.

Arthur J. Deikman

  • [Deikman_Observing]
    • 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 … 
    • 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.

Stephen Levine [Levine]

  • Awareness is like a beam of light that shines endlessly into space.  … When the light of awareness touches an object of thought, a moment of hearing, of tasting, of seeing, the light from that object is reflected in perception, just as the reflected light of the sun allows the moon to be seen by night.  Awareness is the light by which we see the world. p. 180.
  • Few can tell the difference between awareness and the object of awareness.  Most often we mistake thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and even consciousnes itself for some “I,” and forget our true nature by which all is seen.  We forget that we are the light itself and imagine that we are the densities that reflect the light back to us.  p. 181.
  • At each moment, focusing on the light, we ask ourselves, “Who is it that thinks this thought?  Who is seeing?  Who is sitting in this chair reading this book?”  There comes a time … (a)fter surveying all the evidence, we simply don’t know who or what we are.  You have let go of who you think you are to come to who you really are.  p. 182.

Sam Harris

  • From the Section “Dzogchen: Taking the Goal as the Path” of Chapter 4 of [Harris_WakingUp]:
    • In the teachings of Dzogchen, it is often said that thoughts and emotions arise in consciousness the way that images appear on the surface of a mirror. … (A)n insight that one can have about the nature of the mind. p. 139
    • … you are consciousness itself – you are not the next, evanescent image or string of words that appears in your mind.  Not seeing it arise, however, the next thought will seem to become what you are.  p. 139
    • The gesture that precipitates this insight for most people is an attempt to invert consciousness upon itself – to look for that which is looking – and to notice, in the *first* instant of looking for yourself, what happens to the apparent divide between subject and object.  Do you still feel that you are over there, behind your eyes, looking out at a world of objects?  p. 140
  • From the Section “Having No Head” of Chapter 4 of [Harris_WakingUp]:
    • … (S)elflessness is not a “deep” feature of consciousness.  It is right on the surface.  And yet people can meditate for years without recognizing it. p. 146
      • After I was introudced to the practice of Dzogchen, I realized that much of my time spent meditating had been a way of actively overlooking the very insight I was seeking.
    • It is very difficult to imagine someone’s not being able to see her reflection in a window even after years of looking – but that is what happens when a person begins most forms of spiritual practice. p. 147
      • Most techniques of meditation are, in essence, elaborate ways for looking *through* the window in the hope that if one only sees the world in greater detail, an image of one’s true face will eventually appear.
    • But one must start somewhere.  And the truth is that most people are too distracted by their thoughts to have the selflessness of consciousness pointed out directly.  And even if they are ready to glimpse it, they are unlikely to understand its significance.  p. 148.

Ramana Maharshi

  • You are awareness. Awareness is another name for you. Since you are awareness there is no need to attain or cultivate it.  All that you have to do is to give up being aware of other things, that is, of the not-self.  If one gives up being aware of them then pure awareness alone remains . . .

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



On Self-Inquiry (Directions Back Home)

Janice Sharpe [Sharpe_Self-Inquiry]

  • With self-inquiry, you’re not clearing thought, but your focus is elsewhere. So even if thoughts come and go, your focus is inward so you’re not paying attention to them.
    • It’s like being at a very busy restaurant, and you hear the din of all the conversations around you, but you don’t pay attention to them; you stay focused on the people in your conversation.
  • There is a complete surrendering of your conditioning to be open in each moment to newness.
  • Self-inquiry is not what is commonly described as meditation, because it does not imply sitting in a lotus position and working on the mind to be quiet. Instead, it is an inquiry into one’s own sense of self, attempting to know yourself, and to realize that the psychological self is a construct that only exists as a collection of thoughts.

  • To begin, many people start sitting somewhere quiet and practice asking the question “Who am I?” and learning how to let the thoughts go by. In my experienceI did this every time I thought of it, no matter what I was doing — eating, driving, meditating, walking to appointments. Every waking moment that I thought of it, I did it.
  • In my own life I have observed that the outcome of doing this is that I have no attachment, other than a passing one, to the identity of who I am. So in terms of practicality of life, living in this world, there is still a concern in the moment for health or safety, but there is not a worry, per se. I can’t hold a worry for long.


  • From [Endless_Self-Inquiry]
    • In self-inquiry, we simply ask, Who am I? or What am I? or a variation on that, Who is having this experience?
    • When you look to see who is having this experience, you don’t find anyone. There’s nothing there.  The Experiencer can’t be experienced, just as the eye can’t see itself. You don’t find any thing, nothing you can touch or see or hear.
    • Another way to ask the self enquiry question is with your whole Heart. You ask it with everything you’ve got, as if your life depended on it. … When you ask it with your whole Heart and you don’t find an answer, you just stay there, not knowing. You just let yourself not know. There’s nothing but that space, and you just stay present to that space, to that sense of there being nothing behind your eyes, nothing behind your thoughts, nothing behind your feelings.
  • From [Endless_Self-InquiryPractice]
    • [S]elf-inquiry … is a turning of attention and curiosity inwards towards yourself and towards the truth of your nature.
      • It is a practice of redirecting attention away from outward objects, events, and experiences and towards the experiences within your body and being… Eventually this inward focus can lead to an experience of your ultimate true nature…
    • The practice can be quite simple. You begin by asking, “Who am I?” or “What am I?” or “What is here right now?”
      • You can also use any other question that directs your attention to your sense of “me” or to your direct experience of your existence and/or experience in this moment.
      • If your attention is flowing to an outer sensation or experience, then you can ask, “To whom is this sensation or experience happening?”

Michael James [James_About]

  • Sri Sadhu Om clearly explained that ‘self-enquiry’ is simply the practice of self-attention, that is, the practice of turning our attention or power of knowing away from all thoughts and objects, towards our fundamental consciousness of our own being, which we always experience as ‘I am’.

Sri Sadhu Om on Ramana Maharshi [Sadhu_RamanaPart1]

  • “Always keeping the mind (the attention) fixed In Self (in the feeling ‘I’) alone is called Self enquiry’… Remaining firmly in Self-abidance, without giving even the least room to the rising of any thought other than the thought of Self (that is, without giving even the least attention to any second or third person, but only to Self), is surrendering oneself to God. – Ramana Maharashi, PDF  p. 158
  • The enquiry ‘Who am I ?’ (the path of knowledge or jnana marga) and self-surrender (the path of love or bhakti marga) are the two great royal paths found out by Bhagavan Sri Ramana from His own experience. PDF p. 159

Michael Langford

  • [Langford_Awareness]
    • I tried this practice:  Awareness watching awareness while ignoring thought.
      • to turn the attention that normally goes out to the world around 180 degrees and to look inward.  However, it also means to ignore thought.
      • If I noticed that some thought had started, I just ignored the thought, and brought the attention back to awareness watching awareness. Awareness paying attention to awareness, to the exclusion of all else.
    • The results were instant!  From the very first moment one tries this practice, one is abiding as awareness! There is no waiting! It is so easy.
    • I do not mean to imply that from the beginning the ego is dead. It might take years of continuous practice before the ego is dead, and thought and the world are gone forever, never to reappear.
      • However, from the moment one tries this simple, easy to understand practice, one is abiding as awareness!

Walt Walker

For a nice overview of Self-Inquiry and “Who am I?”, I’d recommend reading Walt Walker’s three-part series [Walker_Self-Inquiry].

  • From [Walker_Self-Inquiry].
    • As we experience this truth, the notion of ‘I’ literally dissolves. We can see this. We can sense it. Feel it. It’s an actual, livable experience.  …. Something infinite, and eternal.

    • It’s something you can realize for yourself. It is available to you as a direct, experiential knowing.
    • Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.

Jon Bernie

  • From [Bernie_Seeking] who briefly overviews the stages of development.
    • Usually at the beginning of so-called spiritual practice, people have to maintain a kind of vigilance, a kind of diligence. … to develop concentration and mindfulness.  … to stay with awareness (0:25)
      • Because the natural tendency is to pull away into separation, into projection, into mental worlds,…, into compulsive behavior.  So, the natural tendency is to be unconscious.  And it takes effort to be conscious. … a tremendous amount…
    • And once one discovers awareness, same thing, it often takes a certain kind of diligence to maintain a kind of awareness you might say.
    • But then there comes a point in which there is a shift. … And at at that point, awareness is effortless.  It’s sort of the default setting. (1:25)
      • And what takes effort is to be reactive, identified and struggling with what is.  (1:44)


[Bernie_Seeking] Jon Bernie, “The End of Seeking – awareness becoming aware of itself | nondual teacher Jon Bernie,, Sept 1, 2010 (3:54 mins).

[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,”

[Endless_Self-Inquiry] Nirmala, “Self Inquiry or Self Enquiry:  Who am I?”

[Endless_Self-InquiryPractice] Nirmala, “The Practice and Purpose of Self Inquiry”,

[Harris_WakingUp] Sam Harris, Waking Up – A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, 2014.

[James_About] Michael James, The About page of “Happiness of Being – Ramana Maharshi,”

[Langford_Awareness] Michael Langford, “Awareness Watching Awareness,”, 2001 (PDF, 7 pages).

[Levine] Stephen Levine, Who Dies? – An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying, Anchor Books, 1982.

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

[Maharshi_Teachings] Ramana Maharshi, The Teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharashi, Century Paperback, 1962.

[Walker_Self-Inquiry] Walt Walker, “Who Am I? Self-Inquiry, Part 1” (a Three Part Series),, Feb 5, 2019.

[Sadhu_RamanaPart1] Sadhu Om, The Path of Sri Ramana – Part One, 6th ed.,” 2005 (PDF, 233 pages).

[Sharpe_Self-Inquiry] Vic Shayne and Janice Shayne’s Nov 14, 2018 response to “How do I do “I am” self-enquiry meditation?”, Quora.

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

[Thompson_BeStill] Bryan Thompson, “Be still within awareness, as awareness,”, Oct 25, 2016.

[Thompson_Illusion] Bryan Thompson, “The Illusion of Separation:  Zen Thinking with Brian Thompson,” YouTube Video (16:06 mins), Feb 29, 2016.

[Thompson_Wanting] Bryan Thompson, “Abandoning the ‘Wanting’ Mind,”, July 18, 2017.

[Thomspon_I-Awareness] Bryan Thompson, “I, Awareness,”, Mar 6, 2018.

[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.

[Wiki_Self-Inquiry] Wikipedia on Self-enquiry (Ramana Maharshi).

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

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


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