Are we fully ourselves at birth, or do we become ourselves over time? Rabbi Rami explores.
Yesterday afternoon I was holding my new grandson in my arms, wondering who he was: not who he might become, but who he was now at a little more than two-months-old. Was he like a tulip bulb that would mature into the tulip he already was, or was he no one in particular who would become whom he would become based on something outside himself?
In a sense, this was a debate between Hindu and Buddhist sages. The Hindu would argue that my grandson was a manifestation of Brahman, that his true Self or Atman was already fully present. The Atman doesn’t grow or mature or evolve: it is Brahman from the start. The Buddhist would argue the principle of anatta or anatman, no Atman: the notion that there is nothing permanent in the universe and hence my grandson has no permanent Self. He is an ever-changing compilation of elements without any sense of permanence.
In my conversation with Deborah Threadgill Egerton on the Spirituality & Health Podcast, we explored her new book Know Justice Know Peace: A Transformative Journey of Social Justice, Anti-Racism, and Healing through the Power of the Enneagram, which argues that your dominate Enneagram energy is established from birth. This only makes sense if you believe you are someone from birth, but I’m not sure.
I don’t believe there is a “you” at birth, but I do believe there is a “You.” The difference between “you” and “You” is that “you” is the ego, and “You” is God. Using my favorite Hindu metaphor, “You” is like an infinite ocean, and “you” is a finite wave of that ocean. Just as the wave is nothing other than the ocean, so “you” is nothing other than “You.” And just as the wave changes over time and is still the ocean, so “you” change over time and yet are still “You.” Because “you” change, I have difficulty believing “you” are fixed and tied to a fixed Enneagram energy.
As “you” mature spiritually, as “you” become more aware of “You,” “you” become less attached to the labels—ethnic, racial, gender, religious, and psychological—that define “you.” My “you” is a white male Jew whose Enneagram energy is Five. My “You” is none of this.
Who am I? Am I the ocean or am I a wave? I am both. It is not a matter of either/or, but a matter of both/and. Knowing the ocean doesn’t deny the existence of the wave. Knowing the ocean simply denies any claim the wave may make to being separate from or other than the ocean or any other wave of the ocean.
So, who is my grandson? While I can impose a “you” upon him and affix my preferred labels to him, the truth is he is, now, “You” slowly manifesting as “you” and, in time, I hope, maturing beyond “you” to realize the “You” he has always been.
Listen to the podcast episode that inspired this essay here.