The illusion of the self (end)

By Matthieu Ricard on April 05, 2009

For Buddhism, paradoxically, genuine self-confidence is a natural quality of egolessness. To dispel the illusion of the ego is to free oneself from a fundamental vulnerability. Genuine con?dence comes from an awareness of a basic quality of our mind and of our potential for transformation and ?ourishing, what Buddhism calls ‟buddha nature”, which is present in all of us.

Paul Ekman, one of the world's specialists in the science of emotion, has been inspired to study ‟people gifted with exceptionally human qualities.” Among the most remarkable traits shared by such people, he notes, are ‟an impression of kindness, a way of being that others can sense and appreciate, and, unlike so many charismatic charlatans, perfect harmony between their private and public lives.” They emanate goodness.

Above all, writes Ekman, they exhibit ‟an absence of ego. These people inspire others by how little they make of their status, their fame — in short, their self. They never give a second thought to whether their position or importance is recognized.” Such a lack of egocentricity, he adds, ‟is altogether perplexing from a psychological point of view.” Ekman also stresses how ‟people instinctively want to be in their company and how, even if they can't always explain why, they ?nd their presence enriching. In essence, they emanate goodness.”

If the ego were really our deepest essence, it would be easy to understand our apprehension about dropping it. But if it is merely an illusion, ridding ourselves of it is not ripping the heart out of our being, but simply opening our eyes.

Rather than weakening the individual, the understanding of the non-existence of an independent ‟self” leads to a deep rooted sense of inner freedom, strength and openness to others that allows the flourishing of altruistic love and compassion, rooted in wisdom.