‘I’ might be thought to be a convenient shorthand word to refer to all of the intimately inter-related properties which make up ‘me’ – memory, hair, fingernails etc. We may use it, in this way, colloquially but reflect for a moment. I know that ‘I’ have always existed for the duration of the lifetime of this body. The feeling of ‘I’ is unchanged despite the fact that the body has multiplied in weight dramatically since birth, changed all of its cells many times – I cannot be this body. What is my (colloquial) mind but the thoughts, opinions, beliefs, memories, etc. – which have changed drastically and continue to change – I cannot be the mind. All of the ‘properties, functions, qualities’ that one might think make up ‘I’ are merely ways in which I limit myself by attaching to some aspect of this body-mind entity.
The ‘real’ I is pure unattached awareness, singular and without limiting properties. We (the person) are continually looking outside of ourselves for a justification for our existence, a ‘meaning’ for our petty lives. The truth is found not by looking to the world, searching for happiness in external objects, but by looking inwards to find the real ‘I’ behind and beyond all of this.
As Death says in the Kathopanishad: –
“God made sense turn outward, man therefore looks outward, not into himself. Now and again a daring soul, desiring immortality, has looked back and found himself.
The ignorant man runs after pleasure, sinks into the entanglements of death; but the wise man, seeking the undying, does not run among things that die.
He through whom we see, taste, smell, feel, hear, enjoy, knows everything. He is that Self.
The wise man by meditating upon the self-dependent, all-pervading Self, understands waking and sleeping and goes beyond sorrow.”