Who am I? — part 3
Our character
author: Matthijs Cornelissen
last revision: March, 2017

Dispositions and competencies

In our increasingly mobile and shifting society, our relationships, role-behaviours, group-memberships and possessions are becoming less and less fixed. As a result, the focus regarding our identity comes to rest more and more on individual differences, on issues of competence and capacity, on traits, dispositions, and temperament, all that we might call in short, our character, or perhaps our "attitude". It is in these that our individual differences come most to the fore, and one could easily come to the conclusion that with this we have finally arrived at something that we could rightfully call our identity. As students often formulate it "I am the manner in which I think". Assuming that thoughts are embedded in, caused by, or emerging from our brain, the philosopher of science Daniel Dennett would say "We are our neurons", or somewhat more sophisticated: "We are the way our neurons are interconnected".

But is that really all? What about time and change? In what way are we the same person as we were when we were one year old? In what way not? Are we like a river: one in name but never containing the same water?

The Indian tradition holds that all that most people know of themselves is temporary and can change without effecting who we really are in our innermost essence. In Vedanta as well as in Samkhya it is commonly held that in our innermost essence we are simply one with the Divine and "pure" in the strong and exclusive sense of having no distinct qualities: all our differences are part of nature, and as soon as ignorance is left behind so is our indivdual existence. Sri Aurobindo does not accept this position. He agrees that we are in our essence one with the Supreme, but he also asserts that each one of us has a permanent spiritual individuality with a unique svabhava and svadharma (spiritual nature and law of right action). In fact, he holds that these are part of our true Self and that they belong neither to the Ignorance nor to universal Nature. All this is much easier to understand, however, once we have at least some basic idea about our real Self. So that is what we will have a look at in the next chapter.


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