Thursday, May 1, 2008


Some readers of this blog confuse the 'self' with a 'sense of self.' An anonymous commenter writes "presumably you do not feel the need to assign a 'sense of self' to the thermophilic bacteria of which you write." Richard Dawkins dismisses the entire notion of the self with the idea that animals developed a 'sense of self' because it made them better survivors (of course that is exactly the same reasoning he uses for the development of love, brains, consciousness, altruism, the human eye and the opposable thumb!). But the self is not the same as a 'sense of self', and this is far from a semantic quibble. That Richard Dawkins, a man whose entire reputation is based on his supposed expertise as to the origin and evolution of life, cannot distinguish between the self and a 'sense of self' is really quite pathetic. The self, as I will explain later, is life it SELF. All of Dawkins' discussions, then, are not really about life. They are about the equipment that life uses, and the biological processes that serve that life. Actual life, that is the user of this equipment and the recipient of all those biological services, is the very same 'self' that I am referring to. Again, I am not referring to a 'sense of self' which is a construct of thoughts, images and feelings about who you think you are. I am referring to the self, the you, that thinks about and considers these constructs. The self is that which has a sense of self. Or, in the case of animals or other life forms that do not have a sense of self, the self is that which does not have a sense of self. The self is no more and no less than who you really are as opposed to any thoughts that you may or may not have about the matter.

Now the self is the most frustrating concept to communicate precisely because it is not a concept. Normally, when we are introduced to an idea we consider it, weigh it, see how it measures against what we already know, see if it seems to have any relevance to us or not; and then either accept it, reject it or ignore it. But the self is not a concept. The self is what is doing the considering, weighing and measuring. It is not an image, but what is looking at the image. It is not thoughts, but what is thinking the thoughts. It is not memories, but what is remembering the memories. It is not your body, but what is experiencing your body. Now you may consider this gobbledy-gook or psychological mumbo jumbo, but that is, again, precisely because you cannot conceptualize it. Intelligence and intellectual training are no help in grasping this idea, which again is not an idea. The self is not a concept; the self is!

If there are thoughts, there must be a thinker of those thoughts. If there are sensations there must be a 'feeler' of those sensations. If there are no thoughts but just sensations, there still must be a feeler of these sensations whether that feeler is capable of thought or not. If there are desires (i.e. to survive or to replicate) there must be a self, a he, a she or an it, that experiences these desires, whether or not the desirer is capable of thought or sensation. And whenever we say: he wants or she wants or it wants; whenever we say that he, she or it does or desires or feels anything at all, it is not brains or bodies that we are really talking about. Brains and bodies don't desire, feel or do anything. They are matter. We are spirit. We desire, feel and initiate actions. Intuitively we know this. This is the self that people have been vainly searching for through their microscopes for centuries now. And this is the self that they will never find, because the self cannot be seen. The self is the looker, not what is being looked at. These dedicated researchers are looking through the wrong end of their microscopes!

Why do academics who claim that their specialty is 'life,' like Dawkins and his ilk, find it so impossible to grasp this idea, which is life itself. Any discussions about life, its origins, its evolution, its function, its adaptability, make no real sense without an understanding of self. Without self your research and conjectures are really about the electrical and chemical processes that serve us and the physical bodies that conduct these processes, without considering the life that is enjoying and experiencing the world through these bodies and is being supported by these processes. It's like analyzing every nut, bolt, beam and piece of plaster in your house, without acknowledging you, who is living in that house, for whose benefit that house was built, and without whom that house, the way it was designed and the way it functions, really makes no sense at all.

The self is nothing that you can point to. The self is the pointer. The self is the context, not the content, of your experience. Is it too subtle to be worth discussing? It is as subtle as the difference between a living being and a corpse, between a healthy baby and a still born baby. It is what you mourn when someone passes on. It is what you celebrate when someone arrives.

Is the self a hallucination, a part of some sort of belief system, as Dawkins would have it, adopted by people who couldn't get accepted into a micro-biology PhD program? Unlike Dawkins' way of thinking, which is based on the following beliefs:

1.The belief in the supernatural powers and overarching ambitions of submicroscopic  nucleic acid molecules (genes).

2.The belief that life evolves from simplicity to complexity, even though we do not understand in any depth and certainly not in any way that we can reproduce it, even ONE function of this 'simple' beginning of life, whether we consider that beginning to be a single cell or a replicating molecule.
3. The belief in the gradual accretion of knowledge over hundreds of millions and billions of years, even though we know of no being, no molecule, and no particle that accrues this knowledge.
4. The supremacy of human intelligence even though our only measure of human intelligence is the extent to which we are able to understand life and the universe, which supposedly contains no intelligence.

The self is not part of any belief system and it is not a hallucination. If there were such a belief system the self would not be the belief system but the one who is experiencing the belief system, the one who is having the hallucination. The self does not require any belief system. It does not require any mythology. It does not require any religious stories, either biblical or otherwise. It does not require a sales pitch. It is not something that is 'understood' only by a small cadre of elite 'professionals' who tell you, when you complain that it doesn't make any sense, that you cannot understand it because you are insufficiently educated or insufficiently intelligent. It is not a concept that you have to learn to understand. It is not a belief that you have to learn to accept. It is an EXPERIENCE, and once you have had that experience the way you view yourself and your life is instantly transformed.

It is like trying to explain to a fish what water is. The fish has no framework for understanding water because she has never experienced 'no water'. Water is the milieu of every moment of her experience. To her mind, water is a myth. But lift that fish out of water for a few seconds and when she goes back in her understanding of water is transformed. Now she understands water and she needs no reminders to be grateful for it. A person doesn't realize there is a self because he is so constantly attaching his self to his thoughts, perceptions and memories that he comes to believe that he is the content rather than the context of his experience.

The reason people are attracted to meditation, yoga and spiritual practices is not, as those great philosophers, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, would have it, because they want to avoid reality; it's because they are tired of avoiding themselves. Meditation, chanting, yoga, tai chi, fasting, prayer, all of the varied spiritual practices are designed to provide that 'no water' experience; to give you an experience of yourself separate from the things you are thinking, wondering and worrying about. Can you separate your self from the things you are thinking about, the thoughts from the thinker? What happens when, even for a moment, you stop thinking, stop dreaming, stop focusing on the outside world of things or the inside world of thoughts and feelings? Then you have an experience of the self instead of an experience of whatever it is that the self is focusing on.

What you discover when you realize that you are not the things that you are thinking about, not your body or even your relationships, is that you are not a thing, at all. You are not even molecules and atoms. You are not even muons or neutrinos. You are spirit, not matter. And, as spirit, you have not changed. Your body has changed. There is probably not one cell in your body that has not died and been replaced by a new one since your birth. Your thoughts have changed. The things that you desire and that are important to you have changed, but you, the context of all that experience has not changed. You are exactly the same as you always were and always will be. And there is nothing in you that can change because you are not a thing.

I should interject here that I am not saying that you are doomed to being the same idiot that you always have been. If you consider yourself to be an idiot, your idiocy is probably due to your goofy ideas about what you have to do and how you have to be in order to get your needs met. But you are not your goofy ideas or your idiotic behavior. You are that which has the goofy ideas and the idiotic behavior. You can change all that and have sane ideas and decent behavior and still be exactly the same you, the same context. In fact, the more you understand who you really are, the less desperate your needs become, the more connected and less isolated you realize that you already are, and automatically, the less idiotic your behavior. And the first thing you can do is to stop calling yourself an idiot. You may have done idiotic things and have unfortunate habits of thinking, but you, your Self, is not idiotic.

What you also realize is that the context, not the content, of your experience is exactly the same as the context of my experience. The content of our experiences, of course, can be very different. I filter my experience through the medium of my body, my culture, my relationships, my entire point of view. And your filter may be very different from mine. But the context is the same. We are one context attached to two different mind bodies. And this is also true of other species, genera, phyla, whatever. The experience may be radically different with huge variations in richness and complexity, but the context, the ground of being, is the same. And this is the ultimate bond. We go through this life wearing many different bodies, having many different experiences, many different points of view. Some of these experiences may even be without any thought at all, but never without desire. Desire is what holds us to our bodies. We all want to survive. And by that I don't mean that we want our bodies to survive, not really. What we want is to be able to continue experiencing the world through the bodies that we are currently inhabiting. When our bodies can no longer conduct the biological processes that allow us to experience what we want to experience, we move on. But again, as our bodies change, and our perspectives and environments change, the self, the context, remains the same, exactly as it was and as it will be.

And with this realization is the realization of the ultimate bond, the realization that separation is really an illusion, a game we play. What we really are is context, not content, and your context, my context, all of life's context and the context of God or the Cosmic Consciousness is one unbroken spiritual fabric that supports the entire universe. To the extent that we grasp this as individuals, as societies and nations, there will be peace and harmony in the world. To the extent that we believe that we are really separate entities locked in a struggle for survival or that life is founded, as Dawkins & Co. would have it, on ruthless, mindless, replicating molecules, we are doomed to ceaseless competition and mutual destruction.

If you ever had the experience of meeting a true saint, and they are few and far between in our society, what amazes you is the intensity of the love that emanates from them directly to you. How could this be, you wonder, since you never feel that much love coming from even the people that you have spent your entire life with? It is precisely because the saint recognizes YOU, not your perspective, your nationality, your politics, your gender, your accomplishments or failures. The saint may or may not have a sense of any or all of that. But the saint looks through all that baggage that you have accumulated and that you lug around with you at all times, and sees YOU, sees the SELF that we have been talking about. And she recognizes herself in you, literally. She sees and experiences you as yet another aspect of herself. All the other stuff, your past, your opinions, whatever, she may learn later, or she may not. The point is that no matter what niche you were born into and what path your life has taken, she recognizes that you are part of the unbroken spiritual fabric that supports you, her and the entire universe.

Let's come at this from a completely different direction. Astrophysicists now tell us that 94% of the universe is invisible. What they have discovered is a world of neutrinos, particles so small that they cannot possibly be seen. Neutrinos are also neutral; they have no charge. So they are not attracted or repelled by anything in the visible universe. They just flow right through all matter and space (including all of interstellar space) unimpeded. Neutrinos were discovered because, even though they are unimaginably tiny, their cumulative mass, since they occupy all of space, is enormous and has a marked effect, a drag, on the expansion of the universe. The discovery of this invisible plane was predicted by Albert Einstein. He also said that there were probably several more planes even subtler than the neutrino plane. Now suppose there were a plane, as Einstein suspected there might be, that had no particles, no mass what so ever. That plane could never be measured or detected.

Now hold that thought and bear with me for just a moment while I bring in one more conjecture from the world of physics. Einstein also gave us the speed of light, roughly 186,000 miles per second, and that is considered a constant, the C of E=MC2. It is the fastest speed at which a particle could possibly travel. But what if we didn't look at the speed of light as a cosmic speed limit, but as a cosmic threshold? What if the speed of light were the point at which a particle stopped being a particle, stopped being a thing and became no thing. Then if this no thing kept accelerating it could reach infinite speed since there would be no thing, no mass, to impede its acceleration. No thing traveling at infinite speed would be every where at the same time since it would take no time to travel the entire universe and return to the same spot. So no thing would be infinitely fast and absolutely still simultaneously. Also, there would be no divisions between one part of no thing and another part, since there would be no thingness to separate one part from another. So no thing would not really have any parts. And because of it's infinite velocity and zero mass, no thing would take up all space and no space simultaneously.

Okay, so if this no thing has no mass and is neither attracted nor repelled by anything in the physical universe, why worry about it? Aside from an interesting intellectual exercise, what possible effect could it have on us? The answer is that it does not effect us because it IS us! It is exactly the same no thing that I was talking about in the first half of this post. No thing is the plane that we come from. The self is 'no thing' focussed on and committed to a particular set of genes, which of course becomes a particular body and brain. So our self, being not a thing, and being neither attracted to nor repelled by anything in the physical universe, is ultimately not effected by the physical universe. As I said before, we are exactly the same as we were and as we always will be. But we choose to have this experience, this commerce, this interchange with the physical universe that we call life. The choice to have this experience is called will. The energy that we create to effect the physical universe is called desire. The instrument that allows our desires which begin in the spiritual world to manifest in the physical world is called our bodies.
I do hope the light bulb went off. If it hasn't but you are intrigued please read some more posts, meditate, chant, do yoga, read any of the great spiritual books from any of the great religions, and, at the least, begin to treat the spiritual life of human beings with the respect it deserves. Peace!

Any comments? Please let me hear from you.