What is in a name?
In our lives, our names are often considered to be the most important labels for our individual identity. As our names are the means by which we introduce ourselves and how we represent ourselves to various authorities, via our recognised official documents.
Yet, a deeper reflection on the use of our names, as a label for our identity, will bring with it many interesting issues to mind. Like, for example, the fact that none of us had any say regarding our names, and its meaning. As our names are given to us by our parents, and unless we change our names later in life, which very few of us do, we all tend to adopt this label as a means of identification, and through its use, define our sense of identity.
Furthermore, when we reflect further on the names we are given, we realise our first names often have some religious connotations, and that is why in the past in the English-speaking world, our first names were often referred to as our Christian names. Moreover, our surnames also often have associations with the professions of our ancestors or roles they fulfilled in society. None of which has any bearings on the soul that enters our body, and eventually comes into this world.
Therefore, the names we are given often have more to do with our parents’ aspirations for us, or the roles that our ancestors filled in society. None of which has anything to do with our essence, or our true sense of identity, unless we try to live up to our parents’ aspirations by trying to live up to what our names represent.
This realisation, for a reflective seeker is important, as they soon realise that in order to discover their own essence, they must do away with any labels that they associate with their sense of self. Especially, any labels that they had no say in, or anything which can act as a form of attachment that our false selves, or our egos can use to latch onto and bind our souls through a limited perspective.
Hence, in order to answer the most potent question relating to our sense of identity, which is defined by the answer to the question: ‘who am I?’, all of us must be ready to remove all labels which we assign to our very sense of self, in order to start the process of self-discovery. Otherwise, the markers we use, or attachments we assign to our sense of self, become filters by which we see ourselves and our world. All of which stops us discovering the truth about our essence, which, is a non-local reality that we have tied down by the use of labels and our sense of attachments!
This tendency is explored in the following short story:
One day in a social gathering a spiritual master, whilst surrounded by his students, was talking quietly to his wife, when all of sudden a rich influential merchant, who had recently moved into the city, enters the room with his entourage. At the sight of the merchant the room goes quiet, as everyone had heard about the immense wealth and influence of the merchant. As even the king had been known to show reverence to the merchant.
Soon the merchant, who always strove to be the centre of attention, and tended to be envious of others who vied for attention, began to look around the room with interest. It was then he noticed the spiritual master sitting next to his wife and a group of his students. On seeing the master being surrounded by his students, the curious merchant approached the spiritual master and put out his hand, and with a sense of importance promptly introduced himself, and then quickly asked the master for his name.
The master in response with a gentle smile and a twinkle in his eyes replied, “I am, who I am.”
The confused merchant in a muddled tone inquired, “But what do you mean by that? Surely you must have a name?”
The master grinned and retorted. “As I already told you, I am, who I am!”
The merchant who was now befuddled, countered, “I don’t understand! Surely you must have a name that people identify you by?”
The master in a gentle tone chuckled, “Oh I see! You must belong to the group of people about whom Jesus famously declared that ‘entry to heaven is as difficult as passing a camel through the eye of a needle’. For names, as a means of defining one’s identity, are not needed for those who have gained access to heaven via the light of their essence. As for such a group, the only required identification is oneness within Unity!”
There are many hidden symbolic teachings in the above story, which hopefully will become clear on reflection.
The tendency of tying our true self by wrongful associations, is sadly a very common practice, as our egos use this approach to fixate our minds to a purely materialistic worldview, which blocks our minds, and our souls in the process. As a result, we begin to think, we are merely our bodies, and the way we live, is all there is to life. This propensity is in some ways, similar to thinking that the Earth is the centre of the whole universe, as the ancient Greeks used to think, and the Catholic Church used to preach for centuries.
However, this is why the sacred books often ask us to look up to the heavens, and explore the heavens, in order for us to snap ourselves out of this closed mind-set. So that we can, through exploration, begin to understand our place in the universe. This examination can be via scientific means like astronomy, physics, and space travel, which are all modes of investigation via physical means; or can be by spiritual means – when we realise that we are not merely our bodies, and are in fact also spiritual beings, with an essence that is in actuality a non-material and non-local reality! It is this realisation that all seekers attain, when they finally have an answer to the question, ‘who am I?’
Consequently, faced with this issue, we must also follow the methods taught by all spiritual seekers who have attained the above realisation. Otherwise, our soul’s potentials will always remain untapped and undeveloped, all of which mean our souls will be in a state of unease. Unease caused by many issues associated with a misplaced sense of identity, which in turn allows our egos to trap our essence and create an immense sense of unrest within us.
This misplaced sense of identity can also be the cause for many mental health issues like insecurities, anxiety etc.
Now as Buddha wisely stated: “What you think, you become; and you are what you think.” Thus, in order to realise our true reality, we must change the way we think in regards to who we are, and the way we live. Therefore, if we wish to realise the non-local reality nature of our essence, we must work on shedding all labels and filters we have come to associate with ourselves. As all of us in potentiality are greater than who we think we are.
Rumi in the following poem guides all seekers to such an exploration for he says:
“There is no Sufi in the world; and if there be a Sufi, that Sufi is (really) non-existent.
He exists in respect of the survival of his essence, (but) his attributes have become non-existent in the attributes of Him (God).
Like the flame of a candle in the presence of the sun, he is (really) non-existent, (though he is) existent in (formal) calculation.
Its (the flame’s) essence is existent, so that, if you put cotton upon it, it (the cotton) will be consumed by the sparks;
(But) it is (really) non-existent: it gives you no light: the sun will have naughted it.”
In the above poem, Rumi clearly says a Sufi is not a Sufi, as long he or she defines themselves as a Sufi, or with any other label. For a true Sufi is a seeker that has lost their sense of individual identity, as a result of attaining oneness with Unity, by reaching the station of Fanã, or Nirvana as described in Buddhism, or Samadhi in Hinduism! It is within this station that the seeker finally realises the true nature of their own essence, which Rumi in the above poem describes as “flame of a candle in the presence of the sun!”
Yet, as a result of this experience and their continued evolution, what tends to happen, is that one of the seeker’s soul’s attributes begins to dominate their character and spiritual presence. It is this attribute that often then becomes the spiritual title of the seeker, given to them by their master, and is also frequently referred to as their heavenly name. These titles often can be seen in sacred books in regards to the prophets. For example, Jesus is referred to in the Koran on occasions by his spiritual title, Ruh-al-lah meaning the spirt of God, or Prophet Abraham who also at times is called Khalil-al-lah meaning the friend of God.
As a result of this lesson, a seeker encounters the paradox that only by letting go of their attachments, including any labels they associate with their sense of self, or identity, will they discover their true heavenly name, and the true nature of their essence!
1 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19:25. There are valid arguments to suggest that instead of the word camel the word rope should be used in the above quote as Cyril of Alexandria (fragment 219) claimed that “camel” was a Greek scribal typo where kamêlos (κάμηλος, camel) was written in place of kamilos (κάμιλος, meaning “rope” or “cable”). More recently, George Lamsa, in his 1933 translation of the Bible into English from the Syriac, claimed the same. However, the word camel has been left in the above text for its symbolic spiritual meaning.