The Illusion of the Self

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Who are you?

These Covid days have left me reflecting on the question.

All responses to the first inevitably relate to ‘my possessions’ (such as titles,), my ‘labelling of myself’ through reductionism (intelligent, funny, sensitive) or in ‘relationship’ terms in society(father, son, spouse, Consultant, etc). In some regions, with leanings more towards Individualism or collectives, the descriptors are more ‘individualistic’ and in others more ‘relational’. Are these responses truly responding to Who are You, or, What are You? It seems the latter, as these are our ‘attachments’(in Indian philosophy) or our ‘identification’ (as Gurdjieff calls it) or ‘Identity’ or Personality as the West would call it.

Many years ago I attended a three day ‘Art of Living’ and we worked in pairs, each one taking turns to respond to this one question: Who are you? repeated once again after every response. It became clear, that I was subsisting, my notion of What I am, to offer a responses to “Who am I’. In a ten day Vipassana programme, I came to an awareness, that I am not just my body, nor am I my thought. Both are identified by me as ‘I’. The wisest of Indian sages, maharishi Ramana, has advised, ‘Simply ask the question, Who is asking, Who am I?’

In a world, so filled with etching out an existence, combating innumerable adversities and challenges, we experience what Buddha calls ‘Dukkha’ (or sadness). One sees the world in one which when you delve deeper springs up with existential aloneness. There seems to be no release from this ‘existential pain or angst’ that always confronts us.

Some more fortunate to reflect ask themselves: What is the meaning of Life, what is my purpose? Does being born, offer me a purpose for my existence. Who is there to respond to this question? With our birth to a family, region, one is usually provided a ‘religion’ as well.

We chase after ‘solutions’ and are offered a ‘belief system’ in return. Each of these belief systems (call it Religion if you like or a spiritual philosophy) have a dogged conviction, that it has discovered the Truth (the Holy Grail). One would claim, that “I am the Way, I am the Light’ another ‘There is no god, but God’ or another may claim, “I am That’. Often unsatisfied with one ‘belief system’ we switch to another. For in a belief, the truth is not known: it is to be believed. You are reading this post: that is ‘known’ to you, but you have to believe or have belief in something, of which you are unsure. This includes a belief in God, in Life after death, and so have you. It is a belief.

Some belief systems would have you ‘enhance the self’ – to work on your SELF, (an Ego if you like with moral and conscience) so that you are a ‘responsible citizen. It holds the assumption that if Man was left to himself, ‘natural forces’ would unleash itself, as Hobbes would share that would create jungle like chaos. Thus, Social and Moral laws and Governance is a must.

Some belief system rejects the SELF, and wishes for it to be dissolved. It holds the notion that Ahamkara (the ego) needs to be dissolved with the viveka of Buddhi, to get in touch with a Mahat (intelligence) the ‘first born’ of the co-joining of Purush (inert) and Prakriti (dynamic energy) to recognise that we are finally, divinity and part of the cosmic Brahman (Sankhya Philosophy).

This tradition rejects the notion of the western concept of Self, and confirms that true reality is not possible because of Avidya (ignorance) of failing to recognise the transitionary nature of life: Asmita (ego), raga (attachment), Dvesha (aversion) and Abhinivesh (fear of death). True bliss is when one is in touch with Sat(truth) Chit Ananda – the ultimate bliss of self. In the absence of this, there is suffering and pain.

There are many other schools of philosophy….. and ‘pundits, priests, and God-Men’ to explain this to you.

Replete in any school is the striving to move away from ‘suffering, and pain’ and seek ‘happiness’. Some seek it in materialism, some spiritually. With so many philosophies, which one steers to the truth? Indian philosophy avers that “The Truth is One, but the Wise speak of it in many ways’. What is Truth was a rhetorical question Pontius Pilate asked of Christ, and promptly then condemned him to be crucified.

What is Truth is a question that has been on our lips, and our thoughts over the millennial of man’s existence.

It is the right for each one of us to choose a philosophy by which we affirm our being and our lifestyle, even if it includes ‘Carvaka’ (Atheism) , Monotheism or Polytheism.  Any path will do as long as one is steadfast. For this, we also have to ‘live’ with the others ‘right to choose’ else we may label them as infidels, heretics, non-believers, and sinners.

Comparison of one with another is like a game of cricket and baseball: there are many similarities, but so what? They are two different games. So why compare? In the end, each one of us have the responsibility to journey on our own, within, to explore our notion of Truth. For most, the ‘busyness’ of life is more important and these questions seem interesting, but not practical.

I would love to hear your comments. Do ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ if you found this of interest.

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