Know Thyself

One of the well-known Delphic maxims is “Know thyself.” It should be the first question that we have to ask ourselves, and the ultimate inquiry that we keep on pondering throughout our lives.

“Know thyself” is one of the crucial signs that we have self-consciousness. Hearing this maxim in Delphi, we naturally ask ourselves who we are and who I am.

Who are we on earth?

At the moment when we see ourselves as ourselves, our self-consciousness takes place, and we ask such a question. And in the middle of our life-long journey, we ask the same question again. Even at the end of our lives, we would ask the same question again. Also, every single day, we repeatedly ask ourselves this same question.

Are we our Body?

When Adam and Eve ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, the first thing they realized was their physical existence. Suddenly, they recognized themselves as a body and saw themselves naked. Thus, using fig leaves, they covered their bodies.

And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

Genesis 3:7

The fig tree and leaves are symbolic in many ways. It could be the traditions, systems, and laws that control us positively and negatively.

In the Gospel of John, we know that Nathaniel was under the fig tree. What did it imply?

Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

John 1:49-51

In the Gospel of Mark, we know the story that the fig tree dried up. What did it imply, too?

And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it…

And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

Mark 11:13-14,20-22

Are we our Mind?

The fig tree could imply the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge. It could give us the ambivalence between body and mind.

At the moment, when we identify ourselves as a body, all of a sudden, we realize that this body as an object would decay someday. We are a time-bound existence and experience. We would inevitably face the reality of death.

Once our body is gone, what would happen to us? Would we disappear? What does it mean to say we disappear and vanish? If we see ourselves as a body, then who is this “we” that identifies us as a body?

That is our mind.

The fear of a finite body with time-bound existence and experience is in our mind. The fear of life and death is primarily in our mind. Indeed, the “fig tree” is such “we” that concerns a body as a limited object, which is in our mind.

We can easily recall this famous maxim of Descartes:

Cogito, ergo sum.
I think, therefore I am.
Je pense, donc je suis.

From this moment, we have realized that the basis of existence and experience is not necessarily our body alone, but our mind. While it caused the ambiance of body and mind duality, at least we were able to leap from the inherent physical existence and experience into the rational mindfulness.

Of course, we still identify ourselves as a body. It has been the foundation of our existence and experience. Including and transcending this, we can do exist and experience ourselves in the domain of our mind and knowledge.

At the moment when Adam and Eve covered their naked bodies with a fig leaf, we were no longer a body alone but became a body and mind existence and experience. Thus, we left the Garden of Eden.

Beyond Body and Mind

It is, however, not the end of the story. Knowing our body-mind existence and experience, can we stop asking ourselves who we are on earth? God forbid.

Let’s read the story of Nathanael and Jesus again. When Nathanael called Jesus the Son of God and the King of Israel, he was still under the fig tree. Thus, Jesus said to Nathanael:

Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

John 1:50

Indeed, we shall see something greater than that which we can see under the fig tree. What is this “something greater”? Jesus continued:

And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

John 1:51

As long as we are the existence and experience of a body-mind being under the fig tree, we can never see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” We can never return to the Garden of Eden, which is not degeneration but restoration.

We have to die with our body and mind in a way that the fig tree dries up. And, we should leap into the faith in God. Let’s read the portion of the Gospel of Mark again.

And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God.

Mark 11:20-22

What is our faith in God? Jesus said as follows:

For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

Mark 11:23-24

Jesus is not telling us to be irrational and superstitious. The implication here is that we must transcend our space-time bound rational body and mind. We should be beyond our body and mind that Adam and Eve had gotten when they left the Garden of Eden. In this transcendental dimension, we can “move” the mountain, and we can see how prayers “work.”

Who are we on earth? Know thyself.

We are our body and mind. Once heaven is open, however, we are beyond them. We are nobody and anybody with faith in God.

Image by Danie Bester

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