The self-inquiry of “WHO AM I?” is the main teaching and practice of yoga and Buddhism.
Some people might interpret it as about finding the true ‘I’, or the original ‘I’, with a permanent identity of a specific quality or state of being/consciousness. They understand it as about remembering or reconnecting with or going back to a true or original identity of who they really are. For example, if there is a man who was a happy person with good behavior when he was younger, but now he is unhappy and behaves badly, people who know him would say, “You have changed. This is not who you really are. Your true self/original nature is happy and has good behavior.”
People think this is what “find out who we really are” is about, that there is a true self/original identity with a particular quality (that we prefer, that we think is better), but we have changed or have lost that original quality or have forgotten our root/true self/original identity, and we think that the inquiry of “WHO AM I?” means to find out or remember our root/original identity and to regain or reconnect with that identity.
For those who believe in the soul, they take the “soul” to be the real ‘I’. “I am the soul. The soul is immortal. I am immortal. The soul is purity. I am purity.”
Under the influence of ignorance and egoism, most people want their identity (whom or what they think is who they are) to be associated or identified with some qualities of names and forms that their minds believe as ‘pure’, ‘superior’, ‘good’, ‘not bad’, ‘right’, ‘positive’, ‘strong’, ‘honorable’, or ‘acceptable’ in their belief, or culture, or religion, or society, and people don’t want their identity to be associated or identified with some qualities of names and forms that their minds believe as ‘impure’, ‘inferior’, ‘bad’, ‘not good’, ‘wrong’, ‘negative’, ‘weak’, ‘dishonorable’, or ‘unacceptable’ in their belief, or culture, or religion, or society.
In yoga and Buddhism, the inquiry of “WHO AM I?” is about realizing the truth of selflessness or ‘I’-lessness or egolessness. That there is no ‘I’ existing as an immortal/mortal being or permanent/impermanent being. There is no ‘I’ to be identifying with any quality of name and form with an immortal/mortal identity or permanent/impermanent identity of “This is I” or “This is the true I” or “This is the immortal I” or “This is the permanent I” or “This is the pure I”. There’s neither true nor false identity. There is neither permanent nor impermanent identity. There is neither pure nor impure I. There is neither “I am suffering” nor “I am free from suffering”. It’s not even “I am nothingness” or “I don’t exist”. There is no ‘I’ to be this or not this. There is no ‘I’ to be existing or non-existing.
For example, someone from an Indian family with Hinduism background who was born and grew up in England is an English citizen and somehow not practicing Hinduism, those who know this person would tell this person, “Don’t forget who you really are, your native country, your original culture, your true religion and your people. You are an Indian and you are a Hindu, and Indians are your real family. Any others who are not Indian are not your people or family. When other people attack India, Indians and Hindus, they are attacking you. You must stand up to protect your country, your culture, your religion and your people or family.” But in truth, this person is neither ‘Indian’ nor ‘English’ or ‘non-Indian’, neither ‘Hindu’ nor ‘non-Hindu’.
Some says, “We all are human beings and one same family disregards all the different backgrounds and qualities of names and forms.” But, even this is not “who I really am”. There’s neither ‘human beings’ nor ‘non-human beings’, neither ‘one family’ nor ‘many different families’.
It’s just the mind functioning under the influence of ignorance that generates the idea of ‘I’ or ego of the existence of an identity which attaches to certain qualities of names and forms to be existing. The mind perceives and recognizes different qualities of names and forms, and experiences different states and takes different forms due to attachment and reaction towards all the perceptions of names and forms. When there’s attachment and desires arise in the mind, the mind experiences suffering when these desires are not gratified. The mind that experiences suffering wishes to be free from suffering. The mind finds a way or path to be free from the cause of suffering. If the mind realizes the truth, being free from ignorance and egoism (the cause of suffering), and that brings to the end of suffering. The mind forms and deforms (births and deaths) countlessly in different states or names and forms, ceaselessly, and all states or names and forms arising and passing away impermanently, endlessly. In one moment, the mind is calmed, loving, contented and peaceful. In another moment, the mind is disturbed, unloving, discontented and restless. But there is no ‘I’. There’s no ‘I’ am good or bad. There’s no ‘I’ am happy or unhappy. There’s no ‘I’ enjoy or suffer.
People might also interpret selflessness as a quality or a state of unselfishness.
In yoga and Buddhism, selflessness is beyond the quality or the state of unselfishness. There is no ‘I’ am being selfish or unselfish.
Go beyond the idea of ‘I’. Go beyond all the qualities of names and forms. Go beyond mortality and immortality. Go beyond existence and non-existence.
Due to ignorance and egoism, people try very hard to search for a ‘true/original identity’ to be identified as ‘who I am’ or ‘This is who I really am’, but they won’t find it no matter how, because there’s no ‘I’ to be identified with a particular identity as ‘who I am’. Upon the realization of selflessness/I-lessness/egolessness, the mind realized the truth of ‘who I am’ and be free from all sorts of restlessness and suffering derived from ignorance and egoism.
Contemplate on this, and be free.