The idea of “self” is a fabrication of the perception of the physical universe. It’s the ego identity that states, “you are this.” What “this” is also changes from moment to moment. At one moment one may identify as an individual body, then we may indentify as something of a family, a group… even a nation…. These are all limited beliefs, as what we really are, is far greater than any expression of this physically constraining space.
Suffering From Self-Grasping
If we were to go into a store and a watch that was for sale fell on the floor and broke, we would not think much of it. But if we were to drop our own watch and it broke, we would feel upset.
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Vivid Awareness: The Mind Instructions of Khenpo Gangshar (p. 70). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.
It’s quite reasonable that what we consider “ours” seems to have an indentification with our nature of self. If the same object, owned by someone quite unknown to us, were to shatter, we shrug it off. Some would even applaud and laugh. How often social media today has videos of the pain and suffering of the loss of others, as the mockery and entertainment of the masses. A car being crushed, or someone’s arm being broken – these videos are traded like precious entertainment.
Yet the same situation befalling an “individual,” would be recognized as pain and suffering. There would be little humor or joy in watching one’s own car being crushed, or their arm breaking.
Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that by identifying with something finite, we put ourselves into that finite state. We take on a reality that we are one with the watch, the tv, the car. When it gets hurt, so do we.
I’ve heard some say that the word possessions, is a funny word in that it really rings true – the objects we own often possess our senses.
Taking a Closer Look
Zoom in on this relationship of the person and owned object. Consider something you recently purchased, something you really keep safe. Perhaps it’s a new phone, a new car, or a new house.
When the object you own is harmed, you feel alarmed. Yet when the same object owned by a stranger is lost or harmed, do we feel the same level of alarm?
The lack of feeling the same level of concern, indicates that the relationship between the object and person is a shifting one. It isn’t quite real, is it? If it was, we would feel the same way about all lost or harmed objects. Every iPhone that had a screen cracked should bring a tear to our eyes. Yet it just isn’t the case.
The Body and Mind
Similar to people and their possessions, we can also consider the person and the mind relationship.
“What are you,” someone might ask. An answer might be, “I’m the body.”
But are you? Are you really just the body?
If you lost a leg, would you loose 25% of “who you are?”
“I’m the brain,” another might suggest. But then, how does someone ascertain data that is non-local. There have been so many near-death experiences, or otherwise spiritual phenomenon that seem to suggest we are not simply the brain.
Even if someone states they are simply the brain, then if the brain was altered with a narcotic and one “went crazy” would that be who you are? Or where you the brain before the craziness? Are you the brain at birth, or the brain at 90 years old? Even the brain is hard to point to, as it’s constantly changing.
Taking a Closer Look
It really is hard to find the self. This idea of the body being the self, is as erroneous as the objects being one’s self. The idea of “self” seems to jump around and sit nowhere. It is as though there is no self at all.
When we realize that there really is no self, then we can meditate on that. First we study it and develop certainty in it. Then we can meditate on it and actually realize the selflessness of the individual. When we realize that, we can eliminate all of the afflictions. When they have been eliminated, we will stop performing karmic actions, will no longer wander in samsara, and we will achieve the status of an arhat. Thus, this is the way to tame our own minds—the method taught in the foundation vehicle for realizing the selflessness of the individual.
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Vivid Awareness: The Mind Instructions of Khenpo Gangshar (pp. 70-71). Shambhala. Kindle Edition.
The First Wheel
This realization of changing self, as well as the realization of no-self, is the first step in Buddhism. It is called the turning of the First Wheel of Dharma.
Put another way, this is the essence of the Four Noble Truths:
- Suffering: All forms of life (good or bad) are born of a duality that has seeded a suffering nature.
- Cause of Suffering: The cause of suffering is the view that we are separate. This creates craving and desire, as well as aversion. It is the binding of one’s perceived self, as something separate from others – it is the creation of the ego.
- End of Suffering: As all perceived phenomenon is temporary, all suffering can end. Through the purified mind, suffering is thought to be eliminated.
- The Path of Buddhism: We wake up to a realization of what there really is. What is, is what we experience. We awake. This wakefulness is through a spiritual process (which differs based on one’s view of Buddhism or other spiritual path.)