Kabbalistic ideas on creation are also derived from their conception of God as
'I am'. In the Jewish tradition creation occurs by the utterance of a single word. The word is the first of all sounds to be heard in manifest existence, and thus parallels the Hindu conception of
Om. For the Kabbalists this word is none other than the supreme name of God,
'Eyheh', 'I am'. According to one of their traditions, every creature utters the divine name
'I am' on being created and at the time of its dissolution it repeats the same
'I am' as it is reabsorbed into its maker. This utterance of the divine word
'I am', according to the Kabbala, gives reality to the created world and sustains and upholds it. The uttered
'I am' is an emanation of the unutterable 'I am'; it is God Himself moving from the unmanifest to the realm of manifest being.
An interesting parallel to this idea can be
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi (talk no. 518) where Bhagavan says
'The Supreme Being is unmanifest, and the first sign of manifestation is
aham sphurana [the radiation or emanation of ''I''].'
Bhagavan always maintained that the 'I'-thought rises from the Self and then, quite literally, creates the world it sees and gives it its apparent reality. And, paralleling the Kabbalistic notion, Bhagavan taught that the world ceases to exist when the
'I' is reabsorbed back into the Self.
One should not push parallels between Judaism and Bhagavan's teachings too far, for orthodox Judaism maintains that God is wholly and eternally separate from the world, whereas Bhagavan taught that the Self is the sole reality, and that the world is an appearance
in it, rather than a creation of it. For Bhagavan, the world is being in the same way that God Himself is being, for the two cannot be separated:
'Being absorbed in the reality, the world is also real. There is only being in Self-realisation, and nothing but being.'(12)
Christian theologians have also taken God's revelation of Himself as
'I am' to indicate that His fundamental nature is being, but they will not concede that creation is in any way a manifestation of God's essence. Take, for example, the following statement by a Catholic theologian:
God is the fullness of being, that is, subsistent existence and subsistent reality, not merely as existent being, a real object, but existence itself, reality
This statement, which I am sure Bhagavan would endorse, is not by some maverick interpreter. It comes from a respected theologian and fits comfortably into the mainstream of Catholic thought on the subject of God as being. However, it cannot be interpreted to mean that the world partakes of God's reality because virtually all Christian sects believe that God created the world
ex nihilo, that is to say 'out of nothing'. Matter, say the Christian theologians, is not a part of Him, nor is it an emanation from or of Him. It is, according to them, quite literally conjured up out of nothing. Although the world is brought into existence by Him, Christians will not accept that it partakes in any way of His essential nature. Views to the contrary are known as pantheism and are condemned by Christian theologians as being erroneous or even heretical. So, while Christians are fully prepared to accept that God's revelation of Himself as
'I am' means that His fundamental nature is being, they are not prepared to concede that the world partakes of his beingness in any way. In the
words of a Vatican Council:
'As being, one sole absolutely simple immutable substance, God is to be declared as really and essentially distinct from the world.'
There is another crucial area in which Bhagavan's teaching differ fundamentally from those of both Judaism and Christianity. Bhagavan taught that
'I am' is not merely the real name of God, it also the real name and identity of each supposedly individual person. Extending the notion to its logical conclusion, Bhagavan maintained that if one could become aware of one's real identity,
'I am', then one simultaneously experienced the 'I am' that is God and the
'I am' that is the substratum of the world appearance. The following quotes are typical and summarise his views on the subject:
It [I am] is the substratum running through all the three states. Wakefulness passes off, I am; the dream state passes off, I am; the sleep state passes off, I am. They repeat themselves and yet I
The egoless 'I am' is not a thought. It is realisation. The meaning or significance of
'I exist' is the only permanent self-evident experience of everyone. Nothing else is so self-evident
[pratyaksha] as 'I am'. What people call self-evident, viz., the experience they get through the senses, is far from self-evident. The Self alone is that.
Pratyaksha is another name for Self. So to do self-analysis and be 'I am' is the only thing to do.
'I am' is reality. 'I am this or that' is unreal. 'I am' is truth, another name for
Perhaps the clearest statement in the Ramanasramam literature on the identity of the divine name
'I' and the manifest world comes not from Bhagavan himself, but from Namdev, the 14th century Marathi saint. In his
The Philosophy of the Divine Name, a work that Bhagavan frequently cited and read out with approval, Namdev explains how the
'I' manifests as the world and how its real nature can be discovered:
The Name permeates densely the sky and the lowest regions and the entire universe… The Name itself is form. There is no distinction between Name and form. God became manifest and assumed Name and form… there is no mantra beyond the Name. The Name is Keshava [God] Himself… The all-pervading nature of the Name can only be understood when one recognises one's
'I'. When one's own name is not recognised, it is impossible to get the all-pervading Name. When one knows oneself, then one finds the Name everywhere. To see the Name as separate from the named creates illusion… Surrender yourself at the feet of the Guru and learn to know that
'I' myself is that Name. After finding the source of that 'I', merge your individuality in that oneness which is Self-existent and devoid of all
In most religions of the world, devotees are encouraged to repeat the name of God in order to experience His grace, His presence or even His real nature. The religions of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam have conflicting and irreconcilable metaphysics but there is a surprising degree of agreement among them on the theory and practice of uttering the divine name. The following explanation gives a Muslim point of view, but adherents of all the religions just cited could produce similar expositions from their own traditions:
The Divine Name, revealed by God Himself, implies a Divine Presence which becomes operative to the extent that the Name takes possession of the mind of the person invoking. Man cannot concentrate directly on the Infinite, but by concentrating on the symbol of the Infinite, he attains the Infinite Himself: for when the individual subject becomes identified with the Name to the point where all mental projection is absorbed by the form of the Name, then the Divine Essence manifests spontaneously, since this sacred form tends to nothing outside of itself. It has a positive affinity with Its essence wherein Its limits finally dissolve. Thus it is that union with the Divine Name becomes union with God
For Bhagavan the divine name was 'I' or 'I am'. Although, like Namdev, he generally encouraged his devotees to do self-enquiry and reach God by finding the source of the
'I', he was prepared to concede that repetition of the divine name 'I' would lead to the same goal. However, he generally recommended this path only to those who found self-enquiry too hard:
If you find the vichara marga [the path of self-enquiry] too hard, you can go on repeating
'I', 'I', and that will lead you to same goal. There is no harm in using 'I' as a mantra. It is the first name of
A housewife who complained that self-enquiry was too hard and that she had no time for meditation received a similar answer:
If you can do nothing more, at least continue saying 'I', 'I' to yourself all the time, as advised in
Who Am I?, whatever you may be doing, and whether you are sitting, standing or walking,
'I' is the name of God. It is the first and greatest of all
In another answer Bhagavan explained why this method was so successful:
Question: How does the name ['I'] help realisation?
Answer: The original name is always going on, spontaneously, without any effort on the part of the individual. The name is
aham, 'I'. When it becomes manifest it manifests as ahamkara - the ego. The oral repetition of
nama leads one to mental repetition which finally resolves itself into the eternal
I should like now to return to the Old Testament and elaborate on another quotation that Bhagavan was fond of citing. In Psalm 46, verse 10, it is written
'Be still and know that I am God'. Bhagavan appreciated this line so much that he sometimes said that the statements
'I am that I am' and 'Be still and know that I am God' contained the whole of
Vedanta.(22) In Bhagavan's view the quotations are very closely related for he taught that
'the experience of ''I am'' is to ''Be still'''.(23) The two words
'Be still' denote both the method and the goal for it is through being and through stillness that the
'I am' is revealed: 'If [the mind] is turned within it becomes still in the course of time and that I-AM alone prevails. I AM is the whole truth.'(24)
When the term is used in its absolute sense, 'being still' is not mere quiescence. As Bhagavan makes clear in the next answer, to attain it one must reach, permanently, the state of pure being in which the separate self has been destroyed:
Question: How is one to know the Self?
Answer: Knowing the Self means 'Being the Self' … Your duty is to be and not to be this or that.
'I am that I am' sums up the whole truth. The method is summed up in 'Be still'. What does stillness mean? It means
'destroy yourself'. Because any form or shape is a cause of trouble. Give up the notion that
'I am so and so'.(25)
'Be still and know that I am God.' Here stillness is total surrender without a vestige of
All that is required to realise the Self is to 'Be still.'(27)
If one paraphrases Psalm 46, verse 10, to bring out more fully the meaning that Bhagavan attributed to it, it would say,
'Reach the state of pure being and absolute stillness in which the mind is destroyed and one will then experience directly that God is
Bhagavan often stressed that in order to 'Be still and know that I am God' one must be totally free from thought, even the thought
'I am God'. After citing this biblical quote he once added, 'To be still is not to think.
Know and not think is the word.'(28) And on another occasion:
'One should not think ''I am this - I am not that''. To say ''this'' or
''that'' is wrong. They are also limitations. Only ''I am'' is the truth. Silence is
'Being still', according to Bhagavan, requires no thinking and no assertions. On the contrary, it requires a complete absence of both. This attitude was primarily a criticism of the ancient tradition of repeating or thinking
Brahman' as a means of attaining liberation. In the following quotation Bhagavan explains how the real meaning of
Brahman' has been ignored or missed by commentators and practitioners:
It simply means that Brahman exists as 'I' and not 'I am Brahman'. It is not to be supposed that a man is advised to contemplate
Brahman, I am Brahman'. Does a man keep on thinking 'I am a man, I am a man'? He is that, and except when a doubt arises as to whether he is an animal or a tree, there is no need for him to assert
'I am a man'. Similarly, the Self is Self. Brahman exists as 'I am' in everything and every
At the beginning of this article I explained the ancient Jewish attitude to names, noting how many biblical names revealed something about the person or being who possessed the name. God's name,
'I am', revealed His essential nature; Abraham's his destiny; Jacob's his chief character trait, and so on. At the dawn of the Christian era the belief that names gave an insight into a person's character and destiny was still widely prevalent, so when an angel appeared to Joseph at the beginning of the New Testament, announcing that his wife would bear a son conceived by the Holy Spirit, the meaning of the name given by the angel assumed great significance:
… an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save the people from their sins'. (Matthew 1:20-21)
The name Jesus is a Greek translation of the Hebrew name leschouah, which is itself a contraction of lehoschouah. The longer version is not euphonious to Jewish ears, so the shorter version is generally used. The etymology of the longer name produces the meaning,
'Yahweh is salvation', or 'Yahweh helps'. The former meaning has always been more popular, and it is alluded to in the passage I have just cited:
'for he will save the people from their sins.'
Yahweh, it will be remembered, is 'He who is', the name used by the Jews to denote
'I am', the original divine name revealed by God to Moses in Exodus. Since Yahweh is merely a euphemism for
'I am', one can say that Jesus' name also means '''I am'' is salvation', or, more generally,
'The Name of God is salvation'. Both ideas were to be major themes in early Christian teachings.
The idea that the Name of God, by itself, could produce salvation, without even being chanted or remembered by the devotee, was a peculiarly Jewish one. Psalm 54:1, for example, begins with the plea,
'Save me, O God, by your name'. For the Jews of the biblical period the Name of God
is God, not a mere designation or title. For them, the statements,
'The Name of God is salvation', 'God is salvation', and '''I am'' is salvation' are all saying the same thing.
When Jesus began his teaching career, He consciously identified Himself with the Yahweh of the Old Testament by calling Himself, on several occasions,
'I am', a name and a title that all Jews knew only God could use.
In one of the most famous New Testament stories Jesus walked on the surface of the Sea of Galilee in order to meet some of His disciples who were fishing there from a boat. Seeing that the disciples were alarmed by His action, Jesus called out to them,
'I am; do not be afraid'.(31) In most Bible translations the sentence is rendered,
'It is I; do not be afraid', but this is not what the original Greek says. The Greek for
'I am' is
ego eimi, and these are the only two words that appear before the semicolon. The claim to Godhood was not lost on the disciples. The miraculous feat of walking on the water combined with Jesus' bold assertion
'I am' caused the disciples to exclaim, 'Truly, you are the son of God' (Matthew 14:33). The same sentence,
eimi; do not be afraid,' also appears in some manuscripts of Luke 24:36. On that occasion Jesus was appearing to His disciples after His resurrection. Again, most translators have rendered it as
'It is I' rather than 'I am', but the post-resurrectional context makes it more likely that He is declaring his Godhood ('I am') rather than His mere physical presence ('It is I').(32)
There is another verse, found in both Luke's and Mark's Gospels, in which Jesus uses the words
'ego eimi' in a most interesting way. After predicting the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, the centre of Jewish worship, Jesus warned John and Andrew of terrible events to come. During the course of His warning he said,
'Many will come in my name, saying ''I am'', and shall deceive many'.(33) To proclaim oneself as
'I am' is to announce one's divinity, and such a claim would be taken by the Jews to be blasphemy. Evidence of how strictly this injunction was upheld can be found in Mark 14:62-3. In these verses, which give an account of His trial, Jesus was asked by the Jewish High Priest,
'Are you the Christ, the son of the blessed?' and He replied, 'I am'. This simple statement
'I am' was not taken as a mere affirmative answer, but as a claim to Godhood because the priest angrily exclaimed to the others present,
'You have heard this blasphemy'. The priest's associates agreed with him that it was blasphemy, for after this reply they condemned Jesus to be executed (14:64). So, going back to Jesus'
warning to John and Andrew, when He said that many people would come
'in my name, saying ''I am'',' He was saying that impostors would appear, claiming to be God Himself, and furthermore claiming that Jesus had sent them. The juxtaposition of
'I am' and 'my name' is particularly interesting, for in the context it is possible to say that Jesus Himself is laying claim to the original divine Name.
The verses I have quoted so far have all come from the synoptic Gospels, the first three books of the New Testament. The fourth Gospel, John's, has a different approach to Jesus' life and teaching and gives a far more prominent place to His affirmations of
'I am'. To understand just how different John's Gospel is, one only needs to make a brief list of what it contains, and what it doesn't, and then compare these items with the contents of the other Gospels. Unlike the other Gospels, there is no account of the birth of Jesus or of His baptism and temptations; there is no account of the last supper or His ascension; no healing of people possessed by devils and spirits, a major theme in the synoptic Gospels; there are no parables whatsoever; and finally, Jesus' speeches in John are long dignified pronouncements, often a whole chapter long, rather than the short pithy sayings that typify the synoptic accounts.
(17) Talks with Sri Ramana
Maharshi, talk no. 448.
(18) Introductions aux Doctrines Esoterique de l'Islam, T. Burckhardt, p. 101. I think Bhagavan would agree with this, even the remark about the Name merely being
'the symbol of the absolute'. In
Talks (no. 112) he says, 'Reality is that which transcends all concepts, including that of God. In as much as the name of God is used, it cannot be true.' However, he qualified this by adding,
'The Hebrew word Jehovah, meaning 'I am' expresses God correctly. Absolute Be-ing is beyond expression.'