Cygnus: I am not Hindu, and was raised Christian, yet I am currently pursuing an interest in Advaita, and hoping to follow this in depth. I also have an interest in Buddhism,
C: The key enquiry is "who am I?", a question that presently remains unrealised, for me that is.
NS: No better question than that, IMO. Have you been reading Ramana Maharishi? He made the examination of "who am I," central to his excellent teachings.
NS: I guess, most of us in the west have a Christian background, but few bother to step out of their native tradition and seek their own spiritual truth. You are to be congratulated. I hope you never give up your quest for the grail, until you have it firmly in your grasp.
C: It would be good to encourage genuine Hindu's into the forum, and I'm hoping there will many here in the future.
NS: I agree that we could possibly learn a good deal about the traditional practices of Hinduism from a native Hindu. But, as with all religions, the practice and depth of insight are very much individual. Think how it would be for a Hindu coming upon some random "Christian" in order to learn about "Christianity." Would this Christian be an ignorant fundamentalist, a casual token (Easter only) sort of lifelong Christian, or any of 2 billion other possibilities of Christian practice and wisdom? It's far better to read the scriptures, and philosophy, of each religious school for yourself.
C: I have read and refer to the Bhagavad gita and Uphanishads, and currently reading the Brahma Sutras. The Ashtavakra gita is also an amazing inspiration and beautiful prose, and a constant reference…
NS: Excellent. I've read them all too, and count them all amongst my best 'gurus.' They must be read by any true seeker, and then read again and again. I've collected many favorite quotes from these scriptures, and many more besides from all of the major religions. There is in fact a single "Perennial Philosophy" to be found common to them all, including Christianity.
As you are dwelling on the "who am I" insight provoking phrase, I spent years with the Bhagavad Gita quote, "you are not the doer." As a result, I've become a total 'do nothing.' ;^)
Thank you, for the excellent quotes from the A. Gita. I've a copy of my own, and take it to be one of the best. I don't agree with every statement in any religious or philosophical text, though, For instance, I take exception with only your one quote:
"If one thinks of oneself as free, one is free, and if one thinks of oneself as bound, one is bound. Here this saying is true, "Thinking makes it so". " 1.11
'Thinking' what is true, and what is not, can certainly be useful in clarifying our conceptions, but it can never free us from taking the mind as our source of what is real, and what is not. Reality can only be found outside of the mind's illusions. The "I" you are inquiring after will never be found in your mind's conceivings.
A hypnotist can make me think that I'm a chicken, but I wouldn't waste my time, if I were you, waiting around for me to deliver any eggs. The mind can't free you from the mind, no matter how much it says: "I am free, I am free, ...". "Liberation" is liberation From the mind's tyranny.
"'I' is to be felt. Feeling is the prime factor, and not reason." (Ramana)
To disentangle ones Self from the illusory self, the 'who am I' works to like an acid burning away everything that is not 'I.' Not that any damage is done to your body, or mind and its dreams; but you cease to take it as something to identify with (as in, "this is me.").
Here's that perspective's description from the B. Gita:
"The body and the mind, the sense-organs and the intellect are instruments only. He knows himself other than the instrument."
"The illumined thinks always: "I am doing nothing." No matter what he sees, hears, touches smells, eats; whether he is moving, sleeping, breathing, speaking, excreting, or grasping something with his hand, or opening his eyes, or closing his eyes. This he knows always: "I am not seeing I am not hearing. It is the senses
that see and hear, and touch the things of the senses"."