What Self?

Try thinking of self as just “being” and responding to the world around you with intelligence. You are a part of the great nature of infinite interdependence.


Question: How can I further detach from the self, when I strongly identify with the self in daily life? In “my” case I use it to comfort people… "I know how you feel, that happened to me, etc.”…

How does one deepen the practice of identifying more-so with the Functional Self that benefits beings…and further dissolve the self that is ego-centered, even if used to comfort others?

I think of it as sprinkling the greater consciousness with emptiness juice and further dissolving the ego.


Response: I’m not sure self is the actual problem. The point is to understand the nature of what we assume to be a self. What you refer to as “self” is just life and experience and the awareness of it all. From time to time try to look for a singular thing you call the self. You will see continuous movement, atmospheric moods coming and going like weather, ideas flickering but not really staying in any one particular place, and although they arise vividly—sometimes with intensity—all this experience will elude you when you search for it. As hard as you try, you won’t be able to identify where the self ends and the world begins. In other words, there is just this continuous dance between what you may identify as your outer and inner worlds but you will not be able to separate them or say they are the same. “You” will not be able to identify a singular, permanent, or independent self.

I don’t think you need to or that you can detach from the self. You won’t be able to sever yourself from this so-called self because in fact, you would have to find it first. And because it continues to change with so called “outer” experience I don’t think that will happen.

Try thinking of self as just “being” and responding to the world around you with intelligence.  You are a part of the great nature of infinite interdependence. In this way you are not the same or separate from anything. You can’t separate your awareness from life around you. Therefore you can’t say you are independent or separate from other. And yet, you can’t really say you are the same either. So how can you “get rid" of such a self? 

 This is what we learn from the great teachers such as Nagarjuna. We can study and do the contemplations on no self—they are incredibly powerful. But ultimately, understanding who you are is a felt experience—a very natural one. Then, as you respond to the world around you, you can share your experience of being human with others. You can share your joys, sorrows, challenges, and questions, just as you are doing. Just because you can’t find a singular, permanent, or independent self doesn’t mean things don’t function. The functional self responds to life. “Functional” means that things move, and they move because they are not singular, permanent, or independent. If they were not in relationship—if they existed in a particular way—there would be no movement at all. Everything would be inert.

 So don’t worry about the self so much and just respond to others with kindness. This will be a great kindness to your “self” as well because you won’t feel a need to see your “self” as a problem…so to speak! Then who cares about the self that you can’t even find upon investigation! You will be too busy enjoying your place in a universe of infinite contingency to worry about this singular, separate thing you can never find.

Yes, at times this so-called “you” will start to contract or withdraw, to reject, to solidify, you will feel the separateness and pain of not knowing who you really are…you can call that “state” of pain the ego if you like. But it’s not a thing. Rather it is a misperception of your true nature. So just remember that. Then get back to the business of living fully.