Friday, December 26, 2014

Who Am I? Part II - Non-Self

To recap my previous post, I tried to answer the question “Who am I?” without referring to my physical form, my personality, my beliefs, my memories, or anything else that is an attribute of or derived from my mind or body.  I could answer ‘I am consciousness’, or ‘I am a child of God’, or ‘I am an immortal soul connected to the Source’, or something similar.  But these answers aren't very descriptive.

Maybe the question, “Who am I?” is not a very good question to ask.  Maybe there is something wrong with the question.  Underlying it are some assumptions.  First of all, the question assumes that the act of being (the singular “am”) is performed individually and separately from others.  Secondly, there is the assumption that the self (or  “I”)  has a significant distinction from other people, or from the universe as a whole.  I think you could debate the merits and faults of these assumptions endlessly.  The third assumption is personhood identity.  Why do we ask “who” rather than “what”?  Let me reword the question to make deconstruction easier.  I am whom?  The "whom" is a question of identity.  But from a soul-centered perspective, identity is something one has, not something on is.  So the question doesn't even make sense.  I instead could ask “I have whom?”  Disregarding how odd the question sounds, it definitely seems less important than the question I began with.

One goal of Buddhist practice is to understand anatta (or non-self).  The self, or the ego, is an impermanent form that we create and recreate continually.  And as marketing professionals can tell you, identity is the strongest attachment that we have.

Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist teachings describe the concept of oneness.  Thich Nhat Hanh put it simply, “We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”  And the doctrine of oneness is more central to Tao and Hindu worldviews than to Buddhism. 

Identity, whether individual or collective, only serves to separate us.  The concept of identity creates a world of ‘us and them’.  This dualistic thinking is one step on a path to arrogance, egocentrism, ethnocentrism, dehumanization,  domination, oppression, conflict, and war.  Some people might point out that the perspective of ‘us and them’ and a sense of healthy competition can be a great tool for motivation.  And they’re probably right.  But what is the cost?  Is there a way to fuel motivation that is less harmful?

I am in the process of trying to disidentify with the ego.  It is extremely difficult, especially for people like me, who grew up in a particularly individualistic and competitive culture.  I have a lot of progress yet to make.  But I believe the benefit for myself and for those around me is worth the effort.

In this post, I've glossed over some very deep concepts in a very short essay.  It took me about two years of learning to be able to write this post and the previous one.  So I don't expect you to agree with or grasp what I've related.  But if you're interested, I encourage you to learn more.  Pick up some books, whether spiritual or psychological that can help you dig deeper into concepts of oneness, non-self, and disidentification with ego.

Thank you for reading.  Use the comment tool to post any thoughts or questions.  And please share my blog with others who might find value in it.  May you be well and happy.

1 comment:

  1. Here is a very interesting take on the Buddhist concept of anatta.