There is a lovely story about a monk who came to his master and asked ‘who am I?’. The master stopped, gazed intently into the young monk’s eyes and said ‘go outside, look into the well, and you will see who you are’. So the monk went outside, looked into the well, and saw his reflection staring back at him. ‘Oh’ he said. ‘That is who I am’.
For the next ten years the monk went about his business, though continued to feel a sense of uncertainty about who he was. Surely he was more than the physical body. So he took himself back outside to the well and looked into it. He saw, that over the past ten years, his reflection had changed. If his reflection kept changing, this could not really be who he was. He looked even more different as a baby and knew that he would look different again as an old man. No. There had to be something more than this.
‘Ah!’ he said to himself. ‘It is my thoughts that are telling me that I am not my reflection in the well. My thoughts are very wise. Perhaps, then, I am my thoughts!’
So, for the next ten years, the monk went about his business, trying to convince himself that he was his thoughts. But he began to notice something. He noticed that his thoughts changed. He noticed that what he believed to be true in his mind one day was replaced by a new thought, a new truth, the next.
‘If my mind keeps changing, as my body does’ the Monk thought to himself, ‘then I cannot be my thoughts. Who, then, am I?’
Try as he may, the monk could think of no other explanation as to who he was. After a few more years of deliberation, the monk packed his bags and took himself off in search of his old master.
When he came to the monastery in which his old master now resided, he approached the elderly guru hoping for the answer he had so long been searching for.
‘Please master’ the monk said, ‘many years ago I asked you who I was and you told me to look into the well. I saw myself there but have since come to understand that I am not my body. Then I wondered if I am my thoughts, but now understand that I am not my thoughts. Who then, dear master, am I?’
The master once again looked patiently into his student’s eyes.
‘When you looked into the well, my child, who was it that saw you’?
‘And when you think your thoughts, who is it that listens to you?’
‘Who, then, is this I?’
The monk thought for many minutes, but could not answer. Then the elderly master held up his finger and whispered
‘The witness. Something witnesses your reflection. Something witnesses your thoughts. This witness is who you are’.
The witness the master speaks about in the story is that part of us beyond body, beyond thought that is always there, even as we are sleeping. Are we still ourselves as we sleep? Of course we are, yet the body is no longer in our conscious awareness or control and neither are our thoughts. We are not the bodies nor the minds but the witnesses of these bodies and minds. This witness is love.
Love witnesses our bodies as we fall asleep. Love witnesses our minds as we think, our mouths as we talk, our lips as we eat. Love is there when we wake in the morning and when we go to bed at night. Love is there before we are born and continues after we leave the body. Love has no beginning and no end. And this love is who we really are.