When this formless truth is experienced there is no way to say I, because I is a limitation. And what you have been calling I up to now does not exist any longer. Now what to call it? It surrounds you from all directions, it is present within and without. And we have only two words we can use: either I or thou. We cannot say I, because only with the disappearance of the I is the formless experienced. So with the inadequacy of language there remains only one way to describe it, and that is to call it thou. So devotees have called the ultimate reality, thou.
The first reason to call it thou is because there is no way to call it I. Actually, to call it thou is also not right, because thou is always in relation to I; it is a relationship. As long as the I is there, someone exists as thou. And when thou is there, I too exists. In such moments one experiences the futility of language. I cannot be said because it is no more; to say thou is also difficult, because then who will be saying it? Who will be saying thou? But if something has to be said, then it is more correct to say thou than to say I. Even though it is not right, it is not correct to say thou, still it is better compared to saying I…at least it conveys the absence of an I. This is the first reason.
Secondly, we could have called it that – neither I nor thou, but that. Wise men have also called it that. But when existence is called that, there doesn’t seem to be any loving relationship in it; it sounds as if it is an object. We use “that” for objects, and thou for individuals. And when the experience of the divine happens it is not like experiencing an object, it is like experiencing an ultimate entity – the ultimate aliveness full of a showering infinite love. The experience is like the embrace of a lover, so to call it “that” would be disrespectful, and to call it I is out of the question. The sage calls this pure consciousness, devoid of all attributes and free of all form, twam, or thou.
Martin Buber, a great Jewish thinker of the twentieth century, has written a book, I and Thou. He is one of the few people in the history of mankind who has expounded upon the deepest relationship between I and thou.
Man can live in three ways: keeping I at the center and making thou the periphery – the way people usually live – I always at the center, thou on the periphery. We use thou, we exploit thou, and we establish a relationship with thou, but always for the sake of I. Even if we sometimes surrender to thou, it is in the hope of making thou surrender for the sake of I; but the concern is always the I. This is the state of ego – wanting to bring the whole world to your feet and to decorate your I. I stands at the center and the whole world becomes the periphery: this is the state of mind of an irreligious person.
Another state of mind is to keep thou at the center and I at the periphery. This state is where only one thirst remains and that is to surrender oneself, to eliminate oneself, where only one longing remains and that is how to dissolve the I for the sake of thou. This is the state of a devotee, of a religious person: thou remains and the I goes on receding, shrinking. I becomes a thin periphery, thou becomes the strong center. This is the egoless state.