The phrase I-Am is the cornerstone of Advaita philosophy. I creates the concept of an invisible subject that cannot perceive itself, and ‘Am” creates the concept of the entirety of one’s own perceived world which also includes the external world, one’s inner world of kinesthesia, emotions, thoughts, desires, pain and pleasure. That Am-ness also contains the experience of I. That is, there is a sensation buried in our experiential filed of ‘I’, apparently pointed inwardly to the invisible subject.
Am-ness, or consciousness, depends on the existence of a body. Without a body, there is no perceptions, no experience. One can follow that I-sensation inwards and “descend’ through various levels of Amness, including one’s experience of their bodies, the experience of the energy body, Kundalini, Chakras, etc., the experience of various Samadhis and bliss states, then the expeirnce of nothingness, the absence of experience and the absence of the I-knowing, of the I-experience.
Lastly, there is the experience of bare consciousness, absent an I, absent an Am, absent a sense of identity or self. This is called the hypnogogic state one experiences after awakening, and before one becomes consciousness of oneself as a person embedded in your life.
This is the pure I without a sense of identity or of even being alive, where the world and and body are observed, but no sense of identity has descended. The is no witness here and no witnessed. Words do not touch this state. This state Nisargadatta calls ‘universal consciousness’ because it is consciousness without personal identity, and is the same in all creatures, whether insect of humans.
Into this not knowing state, the life force begins its movement, starting the mind’s flowing, and the descent of the identity that I, who I know not, exist.
The I, without identity, without form, without substance, without existence, suddenly exists as an identity. This identity disappears when I fall into deep sleep, and also when I die, but it continues to exists in all the countless sentient bodies that sense the world.
But Nisargadatta states that the ‘I’ points to that which is aware of sentience of consciousness, not as an individual, but again, as that which is aware of ‘Amness’ as a principal, but also as nothingness, being entirely without existential characteristics, or qualities, such as form, identity, or extension in time as timelessness, and even beyond the duality of time and timeless, as that which is aware of the difference.
That is, the I, is entirely without the equality of existence, until it becomes aware of existence, of Amness. Thus the I is not born because it is beyond life and death, beyond time and space, neither mortal or immortal. Thus, it is also beyond talking, beyond words, an entire mystery to the mind, but entirely graspable as a spiritual intuition, one’s fundamental essence as the Absolute, the Noumenal, Parabrahman. Ramana refers to this knowledge of experiential/non-experiential, as Consciousness. But, it is a mystery to the mind, to the conventional ways of knowledge, or knowing objects and processes, and this truth is known only after dwelling in that not-knowing hypnogogic state for a long period of time.