God expresses His identity in the Bible, the sacred text of the western world, but the meaning of His statement to Moses, a great prophet, has remained cryptic to biblically scholars since it was written. Bhakta Herakles, however, has found the answer decoded in the ancient Srimad-Bhagavatam and explained by Srila Prabhupada.
"... All the answers are there in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and Teachings of Lord Caitanya. You will simply have to study these books to find out the answers..." Letter to Bali-mardana and Sudama written from Tittenhurst, UK 3rd October 1969
In the old testament, there is the story of Moses, to whom God appears in the form of an inexhaustible burning bush. He gives Moses instructions on how to take the Israelites out of Egypt. However, Moses doubts that the Israelites won't believe him about this divine revelation and therefore asks God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" To this question, God gives His name in the most enigmatic fashion: "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." Exodus 3:14 — American Standard Version (ASV)
This "name" given by God to Moses, has puzzled biblical scholars for centuries. I remember watching a documentary about this subject as a teenage and the scholars came up with all sorts of concocted interpretations and some of them would be very hilarious such as "God could be a 'comma', because it is present between I AM (,) THAT I AM. Even Indian philosophers of the Advaita Vedanta school has given their interpretation about this. Nisargadatta Maharaj explains this as" an abstraction in the mind of the Stateless State, of the Absolute, or the Supreme Reality, called Parabrahman: it is pure awareness, prior to thoughts, free from perceptions, associations, memories."
However, interestingly enough, we can find a similar statement in relation to the biblical verse in the pages of Srimad Bhagavatam. The second Canto of the Bhagavatam, which describes the process of material creation, contains the narration of how Lord Brahma takes birth from the lotus flower which emanates from the navel of Garbhodakasayi Visnu. There was complete darkness in the universe because Brahmaji was the first created living being. He tried to find the origins of his existence but in vain. Therefore upon hearing the word "Tapa", he meditates for 1000 celestial years and when the Supreme Personality of Godhead becomes very pleased with him, manifests Himself. He gives Brahma the Srimad Bhagavatam in 4 verses during the beginning of creation and it is known as the Catushloki Bhagavatam (2.9.33-36), which was expanded by Krishna Dvaipayana Vyas into 18000 verses.
In the first verse of the catushloki, the Supreme Personality of Godhead says:
"Brahmā, it is I, the Personality of Godhead, who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see now is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation what remains will also be I, the Personality of Godhead."
An extract of Srila Prabhupada’s beautiful explanation of this verse:
"We should note very carefully that the Personality of Godhead is addressing Lord Brahmā and specifying with great emphasis Himself, pointing out that it is He, the Personality of Godhead, who existed before the creation, it is He only who maintains the creation, and it is He only who remains after the annihilation of the creation. Brahmā is also a creation of the Supreme Lord. The impersonalist puts forth the theory of oneness in the sense that Brahmā — also being the same principle of “I,” because he is an emanation from the I, the Absolute Truth — is identical with the Lord, the principle of I, and that there is thus nothing more than the principle of I, as explained in this verse. Accepting the argument of the impersonalist, it is to be admitted that the Lord is the creator I and that the Brahmā is the created I. Therefore there is a difference between the two I’s, namely the predominator I and the predominated I. Therefore there are still two I’s, even accepting the argument of the impersonalist. But we must note carefully that these two I’s are accepted in the Vedic literature (Kaṭhopaniṣad) in the sense of quality. The Kaṭhopaniṣad says:
nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān The creator I and the created I are both accepted in the Vedas as qualitatively one because both of them are nityas and cetanas. But the singular I is the creator I, and the created I’s are of plural number because there are many I’s like Brahmā and those generated by Brahmā. It is the simple truth. The father creates or begets a son, and the son also creates many other sons, and all of them may be one as human beings, but, at the same time from the father, the son and the grandsons are all different. The son cannot take the place of the father, nor can the grandsons. Simultaneously the father, the son and the grandson are one and different also. As human beings they are one, but as relativities they are different. Therefore the relativities of the creator and the created or the predominator and the predominated have been differentiated in the Vedas by saying that the predominator I is the feeder of the predominated I’s, and thus there is a vast difference between the two principles of I."
In short, the real I is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and can be considered to be the name of the Lord. He is the only entity who existed before the creation (before we could even say 'I exist') and will continue to exist even after annihilation of the whole cosmic manifestation. His identity is Absolute whereas our identity is dependant on his existence and therefore relative. Our understanding of 'I' and 'mine' in relation to this material universe is just an illusion due to our false ego. This is what God means when He discloses to Moses about His identity (I Am What I Am) and this concept can be clearly understood only by studying the Srimad Bhagavatam under the guidance of a pure devotee of the Lord.