Chapter 3: The Witness and the Illusion
There is a big world around me - it is not mine. Shrinking, I come closer - this body is not mine. Descending deeper into it - the mind is not mine. Then who is there whom I can call “I”? Or is there nothing in me which I can call “I”? Am I, or am I not? Cutting away “mine” in its entirety, what purest thing remains within? Only one thing remains which is not discarded; there is no way it can be discarded.
In the West there was a philosopher named Descartes - a deep thinker. He decided not to accept anything until he found the truth which cannot be doubted, so he began to reflect. He labored hard and he felt everything was doubtful. One may say “God is,” but a doubt can be raised about it. God may or may not be, but a doubt can always be created. “There is heaven,” “There is liberation” - it can all be doubted. Descartes said, “I will believe only in a thing which cannot be doubted, not something that can be proved or argued in favor of, no. Something that cannot be doubted, something which is inevitable, indubitable.only then I will accept it.”
He searched and searched. However he too stopped at one point. He denied God, heaven, hell, and everything else, but he got stuck at one point: “Am I or am I not?”
Descartes said, “This cannot be doubted, because even if I say ‘I am not,’ then too I am needed to be able to say this.” It is like a person who is in the house and who answers the caller, “I have gone out,” or “Right now I am not in the house. Come back in a little while and then I may meet you because by then I will be back home.” His very telling this will be the proof of his being at home. So the fact of my being is indubitable. This much is clear, that I am, though what I am is not so clear. Am I a body, or a mind, or what? - this is not so clear.
This is what the Upanishads are in search of. One after another everything is eliminated, just as one would remove layer after layer of an onion. If you go on peeling an onion, finally nothing will be left of it in your hand. An onion is nothing but layers upon layers of skin - clothing over clothing - and there is nothing to be found if you go on undressing it. It is as if someone may have made a cloth-doll and we remove the cloths one by one. The first layer removed, the second layer is revealed; the second layer removed, the third layer is revealed; and so on, until all the layers of cloth have finally been removed, and there remains no doll anymore, just a nothingness in your hand.
So the biggest search of man is to find out if he too is nothing but an accumulation of many, many layers that we can go on peeling off and in the end there is nothing in our hand. If we go on denying and saying, “I am not the body, I am not the mind, I am not this, I am not that,” it may turn out to be the story of the onion, and in the end nothing may remain of which one may say that “This is me.”