Most people at least dabble in an investigation of the nature of the self at some point in their lives. Much has been said about the self over time. I’m particularly grateful for the Buddha’s contribution, because he didn’t just elaborate a philosophical stance – he gave us a map to guide us in our own discoveries.
Today, I will explore: How do I exist?
Many words describe how I appear to myself to exist. It’s a sense that I truly exist. A feeling that I am independent of my body and mind. A sense that there’s an I who’s the controller of my body and mind. A one-dimensional sense of “I” where my experiences are somehow cut off from the solitary self itself. A feeling of an unchanging essence of “I” – a soul or atman.
Using the most simple terms: it feels like I’m “me!”
When I quiet down and catch a glimpse of this self-grasping, I can inquire within.
If this inherent essence of self that appears to exist really does exist, then where is it? I should certainly be able to find it… after all, it’s me! And since it appears to be singular, without parts, then I would have to find it either within my body and mind or apart from my body and mind.
Today, I will examine my experience of my body and mind to see if I can find some kind of essential identity that makes me “me.”
I’ll start by dissecting my body – if I’m truly in here somewhere, where? In my gut? In my hand? My brain? If my brain, which part – the amygdala, the prefrontal cortex? Which neuron am I? All of these parts can be further broken down into molecules, atoms, sub-atomic particles. Am I space or a gluon?
Then I can dissect my mind. Am I in any of my four mental aggregates? (1) My pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensations? (2) My capacity for discerning something as what it is? (3) The other compositional factors within my mind, such as thoughts, emotions, and abstract concepts? If my true essence is only, say, love, then who is it that gets angry and is selfish and greedy?
(4) Am I my consciousness? The consciousness of myself at five years old? At twenty? Just this moment? Then I already ceased to exist! Anyway, if I were my mind, it wouldn’t make any sense to say, “I’m sick” or “I’m walking.” Those are things the body does.
Do I somehow exist apart from my body and mind? That would be odd…
I’m certainly not non-existent. Someone’s writing here! But can I find an inherently existent self, the way I appear to exist?
Today, I’ll question like this. If I can see that I have no intrinsic essence, then there’s no big “I” to defend. This will be a wonderful method to cultivate inner peace and turn my attention to focus on others instead of just myself.