Ajahn Amaro (1956-present): "Who" or 'What" are you?
It seems so reasonable to think like this, and on one level, it makes total sense. But when we identify with those concepts, there is no freedom. There’s no space for awareness. But then, when we recognize how seriously and absolutely we take this identity, we open ourselves to the possibility of freedom. We taste the sense of self and feel how gritty that is and how real it seems to be. In recognizing the feeling of it, we are able to know, “This is just a feeling.” The feelings of I-ness and my-ness (ahamkara and mamamkara in Pali) are as transparent as any other feelings.
When the mind is calm and steady, I like to ask myself, “Who is watching?” or “Who is aware?” or “Who is knowing this?” I also like asking, “What is knowing?” “What is aware?” “What is practicing non-meditation?” The whole point of posing questions like these is not to find answers. In fact, if you get a verbal answer, it is the wrong one. The point of asking “who” or “what” questions is to puncture our standard presumptions. In the spaciousness of the mind, the words “who” and “what” start sounding ridiculous. There is no real “who” or “what.” There is only the quality of knowing. And, as we work with this in a more and more refined way, we see that feeling of personhood become more and more transparent; its solidity falls away, and the heart is able to open and settle back further and further.
The above is an extract from the excellent book ‘Small Boat, Great Mountain’ by Ajahn Amaro, which can be downloaded for free from here. Ajahn Amaro is abbot of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in England and has been a Buddhist monk since 1979, having studied with Ajahn Chah & Ajahn Sumedho.