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The Sense of Self

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The Sense of Self
Answer
12/10/12 2:40 PM
CONTEXT:

I'm pre-Path but getting low Equanimity regularly. I recently [as in last week] started meditating again and my goal is to sit every day for two or three hours [more if I can get it] until I get stream. If I don't get stream at home then my hope is I'll nail it at a ten-day retreat I'm planning on attending this upcoming summer. When I can I try to note off the cushion and/or focus on my breath. My concentration is not nearly as strong as it was when I got off retreat this past June but my goal is to build it up again via daily sittings/off-the-cushion notings, etc. On retreat I was getting high Equanimity and feeling the sensations pretty powerfully like poppings/pulsings/waves/vibrations etc., whereas now I barely feel them. When my concentration was at its strongest I'd feel squeezing sensations at my temples, throbbing and pulsing of various speeds between my eyes, and a heavy pressure on my head like someone had placed wet clay there. Now I just get some squeezing at the temples. I feel that I'm getting low Equanimity in my daily sits, however, because I can quite comfortably sit for an hour or two sometimes with relative ease, so I think I'm getting a really weak watered down forth vipassana jhana. At times my focus gets spacious and wide, and I then try to investigate aspects of the mind, such as the "sense of self." I try to discover where it comes from and how it arises.

THOUGHTS and OBSERVATIONS and QUESTIONS:

I'm very interested in what other folks have discovered in their investigations regarding the sense of self, how it arises, and how the mind maintains the sense of dualism which perpetuates and creates this sense of self. It is my understanding that probing these questions can help open the no-self door leading to path, and a greater understanding of the non-dual nature of mind.

What I've noted so far is that the sense of self arises in various ways:

1) When the mind is lost/immersed in dream/fantasy/memory/etc. the abstracted sense of self is minimal but the sense of self [or whatever you want to call it] still seems to persist/remain within the dream/fantasy/memory/etc. as if merged/absorbed within the dream/fantasy/memory/etc. but not gone. My point is that when I get lost in a dream/fantasy/memory/etc. there is still a sense of self in there somehow, its just that I have less control over this sense of self, I am not perceiving the sense of self, or watching the sense of self -- It is kinda like it is on autopilot at these times.

2) If I am meditating/noting then I try to directly perceive all sensations/thoughts as they arise and pass away. At these times I am perceiving in a more direct way and in a manner separate from the sense of self. Perception seems to separate from the sense of self at these times, which I know because I can note the sense of self when it arises. When lost in dream/fantasy/memory/etc. it seems that the sense of self merges with perception. When meditating/noting the perception [my ability to note] can "dis-embed" from the sense of self.

At these times it becomes apparent that a sensation will arise and then the sense of self will follow/pop up, trying to "merge" with that sensation. Or when a thought/image/etc. arises the sense of self arises and will try to "merge" with this thought/image/etc. By merge I mean that it appears that the sense of self wants perception to join once again with the sense of self in the less abstracted way seamless way [sense of self + perception] and then take up the agenda of the sense of self, meaning, take action or "react" to the sensation/thought in some way [sense of self + perception + sensation/thought = reaction].

When in Equanimity it is easier to maintain the separation between the sense of self, perception, and the sensations/thoughts, etc., but viewed at these times the sense of self becomes very confusing. The sense of self is a kind of thing which wants to colonize all the other thoughts/sensations/perception., as if it wants to own them, or merge with them, take credit for them, react to them. The sense of self wants to take credit for everything: IT perceived something, IT felt something, IT thought something. Is the sense of self a thought like any other thoughts? What makes it different? What makes it unique and gives it its unique colonizing power? Is the sense of self a thought which refuses to acknowledge that things pass away, in that it always want to arise/perpetuate/maintain? In the scheme of things while in a meditative state it is easy to realize that a thought or sensation just occurs and isn't you, but this sense of self is a real bitch. It will fight tooth and bloody claw to maintain its control and its illusions.

CONCLUDING QUESTIONS:

Does anyone have any comments on how to more skilfully investigate the phenomenon of the sense of self? And is this investigation a fruitful path in regards to having stream?


Edited for structure and coherence and grammar.

RE: The Sense of Self
Answer
12/10/12 6:16 PM as a reply to Alan Smithee.

RE: The Sense of Self
Answer
12/10/12 7:57 PM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
The sense of self is a kind of thing which wants to colonize all the other thoughts/sensations/perception., as if it wants to own them, or merge with them, take credit for them, react to them. The sense of self wants to take credit for everything: IT perceived something, IT felt something, IT thought something. Is the sense of self a thought like any other thoughts? What makes it different? What makes it unique and gives it its unique colonizing power? Is the sense of self a thought which refuses to acknowledge that things pass away, in that it always want to arise/perpetuate/maintain?


can you try and see what is leading to arising and passing of all the phenomena ? Sitting here , the very next thing that is
arising in your mind and body - can you find what leads to it's arising ? If you can get an answer , then try and relate
it to the self.

RE: The Sense of Self
Answer
12/10/12 11:42 PM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Alan Smithee:

At times my focus gets spacious and wide, and I then try to investigate aspects of the mind, such as the "sense of self." I try to discover where it comes from and how it arises.

At these times it becomes apparent that a sensation will arise and then the sense of self will follow/pop up, trying to "merge" with that sensation. Or when a thought/image/etc. arises the sense of self arises and will try to "merge" with this thought/image/etc.

By merge I mean that it appears that the sense of self wants perception to join once again with the sense of self in the less abstracted way seamless way [sense of self + perception] and then take up the agenda of the sense of self, meaning, take action or "react" to the sensation/thought in some way [sense of self + perception + sensation/thought = reaction].

When in Equanimity it is easier to maintain the separation between the sense of self, perception, and the sensations/thoughts, etc., but viewed at these times the sense of self becomes very confusing.

The sense of self is a kind of thing which wants to colonize all the other thoughts/sensations/perception, as if it wants to own them, or merge with them, take credit for them, react to them. The sense of self wants to take credit for everything: IT perceived something, IT felt something, IT thought something. Is the sense of self a thought like any other thoughts?

What makes it different? What makes it unique and gives it its unique colonizing power? Is the sense of self a thought which refuses to acknowledge that things pass away, in that it always want(s) to arise/perpetuate/maintain? In the scheme of things while in a meditative state it is easy to realize that a thought or sensation just occurs and isn't you, but this sense of self is a real bitch. It will fight tooth and bloody claw to maintain its control and its illusions.

Does anyone have any comments on how to more skilfully investigate the phenomenon of the sense of self?

It always amazes me that modern people seem so "hell bent" on attempting to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, when attempting to understand or gain insight into what Gotama taught. And many times, without bothering to apprise themselves of what he was recorded to have said.

Does it ever occur to people to follow the gist of the main teachings in order to discern the kernel of truth within them? For instance, do people ever bother to study and understand the five aggregates in order to gain a clearer insight into anatta? Anatta, which literally means an- "without" and atta "self," or in the context of the Dhamma "without self ." The five aggregates reveal five processes by which human beings create the illusion of self in every act they accomplish. By means of form, feeling, perception, volition (or mental formations), and consciousness.

The best way I know how to communicate this is to quote Richard Gombrich, from his book How Buddhism Began, The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings, who explains it this way: "The Buddha's interest in how not what, his emphasis on process rather than objects, could be said to be summarized in his teaching of the paticca-samuppada, conditioned origination." Earlier on in this essay, Gombrich states correctly that: "Consciousness is, for the Buddha, a process which illuminates objects. So when there is nothing to illuminate, there is no illumination: 'consciousness has no attribute' (anidassanam)." That last statement, "consciousness has no attribute" really nails the point. No attribute by which to identify itself. Hence, if there is no attribute by which it can be identified, who or what is it that suffers or experiences dissatisfaction?

Gotama spoke of the aggregates in terms of their being "not self" or "without self."

"Bhikkhus, form is not-self. For if, bhikkhus, form were self, this form would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of form: 'Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.' But because form is not-self, form leads to affliction, and it is not possible to have it of form: 'Let my form be thus; let my form not be thus.'

"Feeling is not-self. . . . Perception is not-self. . . . Volitional formations are not-self. . . . Consciousness is not-self. For if, bhikkhus, consciousness were self, this consciousness would not lead to affliction, and it would be possible to have it of consciousness: 'Let my consciousness be thus; let my consciousness not be thus.' But because consciousness is not-self, consciousness leads to affliction, and it is not possible to have it of consciousness: 'Let my consciousness be thus; let my consciousness not be thus.'

"What do you think, bhikkhus, is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable sir." — "Is what is impermanent suffering or happiness?" — "Suffering, venerable sir." — "Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this I am, this is my self'?" — "No, venerable sir."

"Therefore, bhikkhus, any kind of form (feeling, perception, volitional formation, consciousness) whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all form should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: 'This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.' "

He spoke only about the processes of the mind and how to recognize them in action in order that people would begin to see that these processes themselves were the cause, the source, if you will, of the problems they created for themselves. And being able to see the aggregates in this light was deemed to be "right view." If they were viewed in any other light than this, it was deemed to be "wrong view." When form, for example, is reified and seen as a self or as containing a "soul," this is "wrong view."

People can tend to become caught in this vicious cycle while fruitlessly endeavoring to figure out what it is they are doing wrong. It all comes back to "wrong view." Follow the path (Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Contemplation/Concentration) as you are learning to discern and see the truth and you won't go wrong.

Spend some time contemplating that sutta quotation (either during or outside of meditation) and see what you come up with. Or alternatively, contemplate Gombrich's description of the aggregates being a "process" of mind (dependently co-arising) by which the mind fabricates/creates a "self." You may surprise yourself!

RE: The Sense of Self
Answer
12/10/12 11:57 PM as a reply to Ian And.
"It always amazes me that modern people seem so 'hell bent' on attempting to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, when attempting to understand or gain insight into what Gotama taught. And many times, without bothering to apprise themselves of what he was recorded to have said.'

'Does it ever occur to people...'

'For instance, do people ever bother to study...'

'Spend some time contemplating that sutta quotation (either during or outside of meditation) and see what you come up with. Or alternatively, contemplate Gombrich's description of the aggregates being a "process" of mind (dependently co-arising) by which the mind fabricates/creates a "self." You may surprise yourself!'


Wow, your tone is really condescending. I asked a question based on my meditative practices, and, if you felt that there are texts out there which would help answer those questions then I appreciate knowing what they are, but the scolding and/or ranting you can keep, as they will not help me either in my practice nor in my investigations into the suttas.

And I was kind of looking for the thoughts of practitioners based on their own observations made during their own practice...

RE: The Sense of Self
Answer
12/11/12 12:06 AM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Also , one may have a doubt some day - If ill-will and lust is not-self too , then whats the harm even if
its present ? The problem is that as long as such powerful instincts are present , the *feeling* of self
will continue to arise and so suffering will also arise and as Right View is ultimately aimed at ending
suffering , one does have to end ill-will and lust even though they are not-self too.
Here is where you understand the utter necessity of Right Intention/Right Effort part of
the 8-fold path.