The illusion of the self

By Matthieu Ricard on March 30, 2009

According to Buddhism, our view of the self as a singular, distinct, autonomous and lasting entity is at odds with reality and, therefore becomes a source of frustration and suffering. An exacerbated feeling of self-importance, self-cherishing, and self-centeredness are the basis for impulses of attraction and aversion, which quickly develop into mental afflictions of hatred, craving, arrogance, envy, and lack of discernment.

Conversely, viewing the self as a mere convention or as a designated label for our dynamic stream of experience - consciousness in relation to the body and the world - is in harmony with the interdependent and impermanent nature of reality; and leads to a state of well-being grounded in wisdom, altruism, compassion, and inner freedom.  In order to reach this understanding, one should thoroughly investigate the notion of a ‟self” that might possibly constitute a separate, autonomous entity.

This analysis reveals that the self cannot reasonably exist outside of the body and the experience of consciousness. It cannot be intrinsically associated with the physical constituents of the body since it does not have any location, shape or color, Finally, the self cannot be found in the stream of consciousness, within which past thoughts have gone, future thoughts have not yet arisen, and present thoughts do not abide. Thus, Buddhism concludes that the self is a mere convention. (to be continued)