What is the Self? Countless people have asked themselves this question and there have been numberless answers. But as these answers have all been observations expressed in words. What does that mean? All answers on the question “What is the Self?”, when formulated in words can only be from the relative point of view, from a dualistic point of view. It can only describe an object from the point of view of the subject. It is not by an intellectual, empirical and dual approach that the Self can be revealed. But the Self is that through which all is known. It is similar to the eye that can see the manyfold appearances but it cannot see itself. It can see itself as a reflection in a mirror but it can never see itself directly.
This example can be found in the story about the tenth man. Although this story might seem very simple with nothing really interesting to tell us, it is really quiet profound when put into the good context with some understanding.
There were ten men travelling to a very distant village. On their way they encountered a river they were obliged to cross. As the river had a strong current, they decided to join their hands to cross it. But on their way they lost their footing and they had to swim on the other side. Later, on the opposite bank they reassembled and decided to check if everybody had crossed the water. Each started to count the number of men who have arrived and they could only find nine. They concluded that one of them must have drowned and they were bemoaning their loss. Meanwhile a monk passed by and asked them what had happened. They explained their story to the monk, who quickly recognized their mistake. He asked them to line up and count aloud their number as he passed by and hit each of them with a stick on the shoulder. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9… At the end, as he hits the last man and this one calls aloud ‘ten’, they thus realized that they were ten. What had happened is that each man had counted the others and forgot to count himself.
This story illustrates well how the Self is always there but it happens to be overlooked. We cannot see it as the eye cannot see itself. Every attempt to see it will fail as the mind will try to grasp the Self as an object. It is only by turning inward and resting on the thought “I am” that the thoughts, the mind, will be dissolved and eventually our essential Nature, the Self, pure Awareness could be revealed.
Going out in the world as an individual and visiting an abandoned house gives me the sensation that I am close to those objects outside of me. I can touch them, I can smell them, I can see them and I can hear the noises around me. But what does the perceiver really perceive. Are the perceptions and sensations my body and sense organs deliver, really the world that is there, outside of me? Where do these perceptions and sensations really appear? Where do they come from? What makes me perceive something as beautiful that somebody else perceives as ugly? Is it me that creates this world or am I only perceiving the world? Am I the world that I create? Who am I?
I am the screen and the film projected on it. As long as I know that I am the screen and the film, I know that I am the perceiver and the perceived, hence I don’t “know” anymore. As soon as I forget the screen and believe the manyfold appearances on the screen to be different from me, I start to name them, to like them or to dislike them. My vision gets veiled and I fall into the confusion called ignorance of the true self. With that ignorance rises all the suffering inherent to that wrong belief of a world outside of me, apart from me. At the same time the belief that I am a body or I am a mind comes into being. Both, the belief of an outside world and the belief that I am a body and/or a mind always come into being together bringing about all the thoughts and hence the suffering inherent to that illusion. This illusion brings about distance, it brings about suffering, it brings about all negative emotions like attachment, aversion, pride and jealousy. But, behind this illusion is a pristine unborn, unchanging consciousness that has never been affected neither by the illusionary outside world of thoughts, neither by the suffering the thoughts generate themselves. It is the ‘I’-thought that separates itself and creates this world of suffering because it has forgotten its true nature and believes itself to be the body and/or the mind. It has forgotten that it is the screen and the scenery playing so beautifully on it. And it is only in moments of beauty and love that the veil opens a little bit, like the clouds sometimes open up and make visible the ever present and pristine sky unaffected by them. Be-ing… is meditation, is awareness. It is not awareness of something. There is nothing to be aware of. As soon as there is something to be aware of, there is ignorance of the true self. The true self IS pure pristine awareness. It is the screen and the film. The screen has no limits. It is vast radiant space, unborn, limitless and indescribable. How can we find the screen? We can only find the screen if we do not search for it. If the mind searches it, it is damned to never find it. Because the mind is thought and always arises in duality. Atman, which is Brahman, is beyond duality and can never be found as something, as an object of perception or thought. It unveils in pure pristine awareness, which is meditation, oneness, which is love and beauty in its purest essence.
(Please let me know if you find some errors or misinterpretations in my text. English is not my mother language and I do my best efforts to be clear, but I guess that sometimes I make mistakes or use words in wrong contexts. Thank you for reading my blog.)
Everything that comes together must fall apart. This is a law that cannot be avoided. It is a source of suffering that permeates our whole existence. As long as we cling to things we will suffer from being separated from them. As long as we build up something we will suffer from its collapse. Throughout history, we have repeated this pattern of union and dissolution countless times and it has generated so much unneeded suffering. Everything we can grasp with our senses will die. Nothing is permanent. The more we search for permanence, the more we will be disappointed and perpetuate our suffering. This perpetual search for permanence in this life has its origin in the ignorance of our true self. It is only by dying to the now that we might find something permanent in our life. But what are we really searching for when we try to perpetuate things? What do we expect? Is it happiness we are searching for? Can we really find happiness “outside”? Isn’t this impermanent happiness we try to find outside but suffering in disguise? Did you ever find lasting happiness that did not turn to suffering in the phenomenal world called Samsara?
Please do not simply read this. Go into it deeply and try to find a source of everlasting happiness “outside”. If you find a girl and you fall in love you might think that you have found happiness. But does this happiness not fade after several years? It might perhaps not but you certainly know how much suffering the death of a beloved one is causing and how much pain a separation is causing. And this is definitively unavoidable.
Have you ever asked yourself the reason for searching happiness? If we search something it is always something that we know. It is something that we have lost. If I search for my wallet or my keys, I know what I am searching for. Have you ever searched for something that you didn’t know, before you have searched for it? How would such a thought come about? It is very important to inquire deeply into this question. You might want to become something that you have never been before. You might want to become famous and you have never been famous. You might want to be beautiful if you feel ugly. You might want to become rich. But the very core of these longings is a quest of happiness. In the ignorance of your true self you search for happiness “outside”. You think that fame, fortune, beauty or social position will bring you happiness. And when you have achieved all that you wanted to, you still feel unsatisfied and you might have a lot of psychiatric medication in your cupboard to balance out the fears of loosing what you think you have achieved until now. And so the search and the suffering continues for the rest of your life.
The funny thing about that is that we all search for something that we have already and that we always had. We are happiness and we have never been separated from happiness. It is by dying to the now, by loosing everything that we imagine to have or that we long to get that we will eventually find true happiness. For happiness, as our true nature is beyond what is graspable, it is beyond what is perceivable and it is beyond words. We are what we are searching for and we have ever been what we have ever searched for, hence we know what we are searching for because it happens every night in deep sleep and we sometimes perceive it briefly during the day when the mind is very calm and aware in the now, but we have to die to it to really fulfil our deepest wish. Life is not possible without death, in the same way happiness is not possible without abandoning all those worldly concerns and dying to the self, dying to the now… simply being… and you will know that you have never been separated from the whole.
Don’t think that only sitting with the eyes closed is practice. If you do think this way, then quickly change your thinking. Steady practice is keeping mindful in every posture, whether sitting, walking, standing or lying down. When coming out of sitting, don’t think that you’re coming out of meditation, but that you are only changing postures. If you reflect in this way, you will have peace. Wherever you are, you will have this attitude of practice with you constantly. You will have a steady awareness within yourself.
— Ajahn Chah
(image source: http://www.yamashitariki.com)
Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
If you vanquish ego-clinging today, tonight you will be enlightened. If you vanquish it tomorrow, you will be enlightened tomorrow night. But if you never vanquish it, you will never be enlightened. Yet ” I ” is just a thought. Thoughts and feelings have no intrinsic solidity, form, shape, or color. When a thought of anger arises in the mind with such force that you feel aggressive and destructive, is anger brandishing a weapon? Is it at the head of an army?
Can it burn things like fire, crush them like a rock, or carry them away like a violent river? No. Anger, like any other thought or feeling, has no true existence—- not even a definitive location in your body, speech, or mind. It is just like wind roaring in empty space.
Instead of allowing wild thoughts to enslave you, realize their essential emptiness. If you subdue the hatred within, you will discover that there is not a single enemy left outside. Otherwise, even if you could overpower everyone in the whole world, your hatred will only grow stronger. Indulging it will never make it subside. The only truly intolerable enemy is hatred itself.
Examine the nature of hatred; you will find that it is no more than a thought.
When you see it as it is, it will dissolve like a cloud in the sky.
— Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
(image source: unknown)
Meditation has been laid stress upon by all religions. The meditative state of mind is declared by the Yogis to be the highest state in which the mind exists. When the mind is studying the external object, it gets identified with it, loses itself. To use the simile of the old Indian philosopher: the soul of man is like a piece of crystal, but it takes the colour of whatever is near it. Whatever the soul touches … it has to take its colour. That is the difficulty. That constitutes the bondage. The colour is so strong, the crystal forgets itself and identifies itself with the colour. Suppose a red flower is near the crystal and the crystal takes the colour and forgets itself, thinks it is red. We have taken the colour of the body and have forgotten what we are. All the difficulties that follow come from that one dead body. All our fears, all worries, anxieties, troubles, mistakes, weakness, evil, are from that one great blunder — that we are bodies. This is the ordinary person. It is the person taking the colour of the flower near to it. We are no more bodies than the crystal is the red flower.
The practice of meditation is pursued. The crystal knows what it is, takes its own colour. It is meditation that brings us nearer to truth than anything else.
— Swami Vivekananda – Washington Hall, San Francisco, April 3, 1900
If the mind turned outward and distracted,
starts observing its own being,
alienation ends, and the vestige ego,
merges in the light of true Awareness, shining in the heart.
— Sri Muruganar – The Garland of Guru’s (Sri Ramana Maharshi’s) Sayings (193)
The mind must come to a state of silence, completely empty of fear, longing and all images. This cannot be brought about by suppression, but by observing every feeling and though without qualification, condemnation, judgement, or comparison. If unmotivated alertness is to operate the censor must disappear. There must simply be a quiet looking at what composes the mind. In discovering the facts just as they are, agitation is eliminated, the movement of thoughts becomes slow and we can watch each thought, its cause and content as it occurs. We become aware of every thought in its completeness and in this totality there can be no conflict. Then only alertness remains, only silence in which there is neither observer nor observed. So do not force your mind. Just watch its various movements as you would look at flying birds. In this uncluttered looking all your experiences surface and unfold. For unmotivated seeing not only generates tremendous energy but frees all tension, all the various layers of inhibitions. You see the whole of yourself.
Observing everything with full attention becomes a way of life, a return to your original and natural meditative being.
— Jean Klein – The Ease of Being (p. 28)
Continuous attentiveness will only come with long practice. If you are truly watchful, each thought will dissolve at the moment that it appears. But to reach this level of disassociation you must have no attachments at all. If you have the slightest interest in any particular thought, it will evade your attentiveness, connect with other thoughts, and take over your mind for a few seconds. This will happen more easily if you are accustomed to reacting emotionally to a particular thought.
— Swami Annamalai – Living by the Words of Bhagavan (David Godman, p. 342–43)
It is a great honour to sit with discomfort, for all the mysteries of the universe lie within. As you sit with discomfort, you also meet discomfort’s best friend – the urge to escape that discomfort! Is there enough room in you for both discomfort AND the urge to escape discomfort? Of course – who you are is vast and spacious enough to hold anything. This is true meditation – no longer resisting discomfort and trying to escape to a future comfort, but discovering the ever-present, unconditional Comfort that you are, the perfect calm in the midst of the storm.
— Jeff Foster