"Who am I?” The question slipped out of my mouth, one early morning after our yoga practice. My master and I were sitting on top of a small hill overlooking a river. The sun had just risen over the horizon and the songs of the little birds were as musical as they could be. It was mid March in India and the climate was just right for an early morning outdoor practice of yoga and meditation. Down by the river, I noticed a cowherd herding his cattle to the water. The bells around their necks added to the music of the birds – and since we were at a height, all these visuals and the sounds were at a delightful distant.

I did not intend to disturb my master, as he sat still, totally immersed in the moment. Here’s a tip - In Indian tradition, a disciple never breaks the silence, when in the presence of the master. Even clearing of throats is frowned upon!!! There is an old Indian proverb – INTRUDING UPON A MASTER’S SILENCE IS LIKE WAKING A SLEEPING TIGER!!!! You never know what to expect. The tiger might stretch lazily, purring softly; or, he might ..you know what!!

My master had been very gentle that morning. He did not coax me into difficult poses, but allowed me to glide through, almost as if it was a session of lazy stretches!! Such occasions were very rare, believe me!

As usual, yoga was followed by deep meditation. Meditating in the presence of these great masters is inexplicable – the manner in which the mind calms down, uplifting the inner spirit, is magical. I was lucky to have spent a lot of personal time with my master. Many years ago, I would jealously watch him personally guide other disciples. Listening to their spiritual experiences, kept me wondering if I would ever be so blessed as to have one-on-one sessions with him! Over the years, however, my intense practice drew my master’s attention and very soon, I became one of his favorites!! As years went by, he personally guided me in my yoga sessions and meditation practice.
My master rarely closed his eyes when he was meditating. So I never knew, whether he was looking at something out there, or was he gazing inward, totally oblivious of the surroundings. That morning, he was sitting in his lotus pose, eyes gazing into the river below, when out came my question.

I thought I heard a sigh.. I looked at him apologetically, for having broken his silence and meditation.

“Is this a question or an answer?” He turned to look at me. Ah! The tiger was purring! I was so relieved that I nearly squealed back in delight, “A question, master - Who am I?”

“Is this a question or an answer?” he repeated this again.
“I do not understand.” I faintly replied.

Feeling foolish in his presence was not new to me. It happened almost all the time. And there, on the hilltop, I could not comprehend what he was saying.
“When you ask a question right, you will always find the answer embedded in the question itself. The question becomes the answer and the seeker becomes the teacher. Go ahead. Ask the right question.” His voice was now a command.

I took a few moments to gather my thoughts. I mentally repeated the question to myself – who am I? Just plain and simple question of 3 words. How can I ask it differently. I was completely lost, so I decide to begin afresh.

I began aloud, “Who..”

“Stop right there.” His voice was sharp. Almost the same tone that he would use when he froze me in one of those ‘dreaded’ yoga poses.

“When you say ‘Who’, you are consciously imply that you are a person. Subconsciously, and perhaps, more powerfully, you imply an acceptance of your being a male with a bundle of experiences, feelings and memories, existing in a geographical place. Why can’t you be a WHAT or a WHY?” He looked at me without blinking as he said this. My master has piercing eyes.
Unable to withstand the stare, I gently let my gaze down, closed my eyes for a few minutes. I thought I saw a little light flicker!! Slowly and thoughtfully, I replied, “Who, What or even Why do not make any sense in my question, because they limit my ability to perceive myself as being beyond that. The grammar in the question limits my perception to be within the boundaries of the space continuum. Let me drop them, master”.
“So what is your question now? “
“Am I?” Even though I said this, it did not seem to make any sense.
My master nodded, but apparently his attention was diverted elsewhere. He was looking intently at the river below. I followed his gaze to see that the cowherd was trying to get a little calf out of the river. It was evident that the water was a little too deep for the calf .
The cowherd, a kid, probably 12 years old, was waving at us to come and help him.
‘Looks like the little fellow could do with some help”, my master said as he got up. Saying so, he took off briskly down the hill. It took only a matter of seconds for him to get out of the lotus pose and go. I had to struggle to catch up. My legs were numb from that long meditation and I was limping way behind him. “Wait for me, master”, I yelled pleadingly, “We haven’t finished yet”.

“Service before philosophy”, he yelled back. There was no stopping him when someone needed help. I knew I would lose him for the rest of the day, if I did not catch up.

“Master, about the question.”, I started saying as I finally caught up with him.
“I heard you the first time”, my master replied, moving swiftly down the trail, in perfect rhythm with his breath. Even talking did not seem to break that rhythm. “In saying ‘AM I’, you are perceiving a present, in relation to a past or a future. Why the ‘AM I’. Why not, ‘WAS I’ or ‘WILL I’”, he asked me, eyes intent on the his path.
We neared the river. The little kid was still struggling with at the calf. My mind was, however, pre-occupied with this question. I slowed down to think while my master went ahead to help the kid.
“The expression ‘AM’ in the question, perceives only the present, binding me to time which is relative. What if I drop all references to time as well.”
I ran to the river. My master was hip deep in the water and pushing the calf. I joined him. It was fun. The calf thoroughly enjoyed all the attention and finally decided to come out to join his mother.
We were both in the river. “Master, I dropped the reference to time as well”, I said. He was playing with the kid. But he heard me.
“Good. Now, go ahead and ask what’s left of your question?”
“I???” I said it aloud, so he could hear above all the playing and splashing. Both of them were busy washing the cattle. My master can be a total child when among children.
“What did you say?”, he asked amidst all that noise.
“I”, I shouted out loud. I was exasperated. My master’s attention seemed elsewhere and I had no clue yet, where this was leading.
Suddenly, he paused, turned around and came up to me. “I”, he echoed back with a laugh. “Is this the question you were asking or the answer you were seeking?” Saying this, he playfully pushed me in the water.
A cow in the herd mooed. And another followed it. And another…
I watched my master and the kid, as they both got all the cattle out of the water and started heading back. My master seemed to have forgotten that I was around. At that moment, however, it didn't matter.
“ I - Was this the question I was asking or the answer I was seeking”....Standing speechless in the river, that morning, I closed my eyes.
Slowly, tuning myself to the silent rhythms of my breath and thought, I allowed myself to simply ‘Be’ the answer.
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