Recently I worked with a guest on the theme; “Looking for your Self”. What is this ‘Self’? Actually an important question. Many people are on the search to find their ‘Self’. Be aware this is not a one-time deal. It’s a life time ongoing wonderful practice.
Every morning before we go to work, before we go to school or wherever we want to go, most people look at the mirror. They brush their teeth and of course, maybe not even really aware, they look at the mirror. When we look at the mirror we look at … our Self!
‘Self’ we can find in many words. Myself, himself, herself, themselves. Some people call this self the EGO. Some people call it the habitual mind. Because you tend to think habitually in a certain way. Or some people call it the “ego-mind”. Not the real mind it’s the ego-mind, the egoistic mind.
Buddhism says in several Sutra’s the Self is the five aggregates. The five aggregates are:
- Body / material form
- Conception / Sensation / feeling
- Volition / Will / Desire / Mental Formation and
The five aggregates are our burden, they cause suffering, because we are clinging to them, but at the same time they provide us with the indispensable soil of wisdom. To bring suffering to an end we have to turn our attention around and see into the nature of the aggregates.
Body is body (skin, skeleton, internal organs, etc.)
Conception, Perception, Volition and Consciousness is the spiritual part of it. Is the mind.
So the “Self” is a combination of Body and Mind.
Who are we? What is the self? It’s our personal unique combination of body and mind. That includes everything. Your physical body, the material part of it, the molecules, the body cells. But other than the material part there is also the spiritual part. That’s your perception, your conception, your volition, your consciousness.
The spiritual part of the self is an important concept. Some people see it as connection with the ongoing (cycle of Samsara) soul.
Do you understand yourself? Can you control yourself?
If people say they can control themselves, how can they become mad? How can they become jealous? How can they become greedy? How can they commit crime? How can they hurt other people or animals? How can they torture animals or human beings?
Everything becomes so personal around us when we grab / cling onto the Self. By not letting go of it our suffering, anger, all our imagined shortcomings, jealousy, hatred, anxiety, doubt, egoistic feelings, your obstinacy, etc., arise.
These things in our daily lives torture us. You blame somebody else for it. Your brothers and sisters, your parents, your friends, your colleagues, your work. You blame the society but not yourself. You never blame yourself.
We take our thoughts, emotions and experiences so personally that the Self has become the underlying attachment to all things. Whether they are material or spiritual. We are attached to a strong element of Self in everything we think.
Everything about Me, Mine, I. In daily communication the word that is used the most is “I”, “Mine”, “Me”. This “I”, “Mine”, “Me”, is all egoistic. Will I gain? Will I lose? Is it fair for me? Is it good for me? This is mine. I have the right. I have my privacy.
You always try to cherish and protect yourself.
This constant attempt to satisfy the Self makes us very vulnerable. This vulnerable Self always require a wall of protection and the gathering of energy to sustain that protection. As a result we are increasingly fearful of losing things and increasingly uncertain that if things will not work out our way. We have anxiety. “When I finish university will I get a job?”, “If I get married, will I get a divorce?”, “Now I am married will I get a broken home?”. All this anxieties, all this vulnerability, that’s suffering. They torture us. Why? The Buddha unfolded that to us more than 2500 years ago.
He teaches us to look at our Self. To the situation we are in. Learning to know yourself we call it Self-reflection. It takes courage and wisdom to live the mystery of the Self and go beyond it to see who we actually are. To reduce the Ego and to make room to contemplate on the truth. This self-reflection we call meditation. So this self-reflection allows us to an attitude to let go of attaching to the Ego and look at it without judgment and deception/dishonesty.
So we need to look for the Self. To look beyond the Self. But the irony is that when you start to look for the Self you cannot find it! You cannot tell or show where your Self is, like you cannot show the place where your soul is. But as everybody knows when a person passed away the body stays and the soul is gone…
Can you find your Self? Is it a color? Is it a shape? Is it a triangle? Is it a rectangle? Where is your Self? When you look for the Self… where is it? When you look for it your response will be… “I can’t find it!”
It’s an irony, it’s like a ghost. It’s like a ghost that dominates your house. You cannot find the ghost. But your house is tidy and neat…So it must be possible to find it. But you can’t find the ghost. That ghost is hunting you. That ghost of egoism. That ghost of the polluted Self. It’s hunting you and you do not know about it.
Usually when we meditate we meditate sometimes on questions and contemplate on it. Questions like “Who is meditating?”, “Who is chanting?”, “Who am I before I am born?”, “What is real in all the changes I am in?”, “Is there anything constant, that does not change when you change your circumstances you are in? Your weight, skin color, height, country of origin, job? What is the unchanging in it?”
We use these kind of questions, as techniques, to start to look for the Self. To try to understand the Self.
But the Self is not real. It’s just an emotional attachment. It’s greediness, anxiety, fear, depression, ignorance. They are not substantial / significant, they are insubstantial / weak. They all arise and interact with the outside world. When we meditate we can actually see through this seemingly solid Self. But what are we left with after meditation? We are left with an opening intelligent awareness.
When we look at the Self; “Who am I?” What we got left with is this awareness. In other words we know that there is a Self but that Self cannot be found. That Self has been responsible for all that you have done so far.
You want to solve that ‘problem’ of your Self? You look at that. If you want to solve the ‘problem’ you have to look deeply at the root of the problem.
You want to know why people kill, why people steal, why people commit sexual misconduct, why people smoke, why people drink intoxicants?
Don’t look at the superficial actions that they do. You look of the why they do it. Look for the cause, the source.
You go to the deeper. How do I change that? How can I get rid of this clinging? Because I do not want a life wasting my time and energy to go on making myself any longer vulnerable, anxious, fearful, suffering and torturing.
Reflect on your Self and free your Self. The basic condition of happiness.
(credits: Buddhist University Wat Suan Dok, The International Buddhist Temple, The Manual of Peace)