buddha scenery

“When you believe yourself to be a person, you see persons everywhere. In reality there are no persons, only threads of memories and habits. At the moment of realization the person ceases. Identity remains, but identity is not a person, it is inherent in the reality itself.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj

When asked about whether we have a self or not, the Buddha remained silent. His silence served eloquently as an indication that both views (“I have a self” and “I do not have a self”) were inaccurate ways of viewing our experience. The real issue which he was interested in pointing out in that regard was how clinging to some notion of a separate and enduring self, some fixed identification with name and form, leads inevitably to suffering. Moreover, like all the great sages, he was not suggesting that we take that proposition as a matter of mere belief, but rather taught that we needed to test it in our own lives, to see if it is true.

Certainly, with the benefit of earnest and conscious investigation, the person we take ourselves to be — the one we conventionally consider to be “our self”, or “me” — can be recognized as a fabrication, a mental creation, that almost everyone nevertheless bases their whole life around. Our dominant priority is the care and survival of this person, and such an attitude is seemingly hard-wired into the human animal at a very primal level.

In his book, “Buddha’s Brain”, Dr. Rick Hanson noted:

“Then the brain indexes across moments of subjectivity to create an apparent subject who– over the course of development, from infancy to adulthood– is elaborated and layered through the maturation of the brain, notably regions of the prefrontal cortex (Zelazo, Gao, and Todd 2007). But there is no subject inherent in subjectivity; in advanced meditation practices, one finds a bare awareness without a subject (Amaro 2003). Awareness requires subjectivity, but it does not require a subject.

In sum, from a neurological standpoint, the everyday feeling of being a unified self is an utter illusion: the apparently coherent and solid “I” is actually built from many subsystems and sub-subsystems over the course of development, with no fixed center, and the fundamental sense that there is a subject of experience is fabricated from myriad, disparate moments of subjectivity.”


When we characterize someone as “selfish”, all it really means is that they are identifying with and absorbed in their own sense of self, though often to the detriment of their fellow beings. However, just about everyone is selfish to one degree or another, short of true and complete awakening to the emptiness of the “me-story” and the subsequent birth of selfless compassion. In fact, without a properly operating self-sense, we would be very nearly rendered dis-functional in terms of our ability to navigate the objective world. In other words, subjectivity may be necessary, but the reification of a subject is optional (and the cause of mistaken identity).

In traditional spiritual terms, the direct recognition of the insubstantiality of that imaginary creation qualifies as “Realization” (unless it is merely intellectual, in which case it is just more borrowed information that must be discarded so that true realization can eventually emerge). In any case, with such an awakening to, or recognition of, the unreality of the person, liberation from the earthly vexations can eventually pertain, but not to the fictional character previously believed to represent who and what we are. That is the paradox of self-realization — there is not now, nor has there ever been, an independently existing self to be realized.

Nevertheless, a sense of individuality will continue to persist, even beyond physical incarnation, but not in the sense of solid entification, but more like a point of transparent wakeful awareness. Ultimately, however, even that sense will be superseded by the recognition of one’s prior or absolute nature as an ineffable expression of Source Itself, indivisible from the totality of the universal manifestation.

Nisargadatta Maharaj puts it this way: Freedom from self-identification with a set of memories and habits, the state of wonder at the infinite reaches of the being, its inexhaustible creativity and total transcendence, the absolute fearlessness born from the realization of the illusoriness and transiency of every mode of consciousness — flow from a deep and inexhaustible source. To know the source as source and appearance as appearance, and oneself as the source only is self-realization.”


What is recognized is that there has never been any actual separation, but only dream-like illusions arising and dissolving in consciousness, like a video game’s virtual reality in which the player becomes totally identified with this or that game character, literally forgetting themselves in their absorption in the game. In reality, of course, the characters are simply expressive figments, thoughts, in the mind of the player. They only possessed the sense of separated, independent individuality that was granted to them so as to make the game viable and interesting.

Recognizing the real nature of the play is called “Moksha” in systems such as Kashmir Shaivism, in which Shiva (the practitioner) realizes that it has been he all along, playing the game of duality in all the various multiplicity of forms, forgetting himself in order to experience the joy of remembering himself. Of course, that is all just human poetic metaphor for a process far beyond the human pay grade in terms of comprehension. This is why the sages will typically revert to silence, rather than confusing minds with more conceptions that only vaguely reflect the true situation.

For example, we might hear the phrase “entering Nirvana”, but that is again just a human characterization of something far beyond the human perceptive and descriptive capacity. Is it true “Self-Realization”? One might say so, depending on their cultural/religious conditioning, though it is not at all a matter of achieving some sort of ultimate entification. Rather, it is more like letting go of all limitation or contraction of the movement of infinite expansion.

Another way of putting it is that what we always and already ARE simply becomes evident, once we break free of the trance of identification with all that we are not. Buddhists might employ the term “Tathagatagarbha”, or Buddha Nature, to indicate the original “divinity” inherent within all sentient beings (although still dormant and unrecognized by those who are yet deluded by the amnesia accompanying the separate self-sense).

Just so, in true realization, nobody has actually entered into nor exited anywhere — nothing has happened in Reality — which is why some sages use the analogy of the dream to point to this great Mystery. In that regard, both “self” and “Self” are to be equally recognized as mere fantasies of interpretation on perception, and any such conceptual designations are not really applicable to the fundamental and ineffable Reality, the ground of Awareness, of which all manifestation is a luminous expression — an expression of unconditional Love.

“The state of Self-realization, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you always are and which you always have been. The state we call realization is simply being oneself, not knowing anything or becoming anything. If one has realized, one is that alone which ‘is’ and which alone has always been. One cannot describe that state. One can only be that.”

 ~Ramana Maharshi

self or Self

For further exploration of this subject, see:


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About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, and our lazy dog, Amos, in a lovely little mountain town called Paradise, situated on the ridge of the Little Grand Canyon, in the Northern California Sierra Nevadas. I have 6 sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Poetry and Prosetry: Transliterations: Love Poems and Duets with Mazie: Autobiographical Fragments, Stories, and Fables: Thank You!
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10 Responses to Self-Realization

  1. marcel says:

    “Certainly, with the benefit of earnest and conscious investigation, the person we take ourselves to be — the one we conventionally consider to be “our self”, or “me” — can be recognized as a fabrication, a mental creation, that almost everyone nevertheless bases their whole life around”

    This has become obviously clear upon investigation hence I spend “my days doing nothing” just observing, enjoying the play of elements while never allowing fabrications about ” me or not-me” for real, free of vexations and fear, just basic days of whatever unfolds.
    But so many speak of “mysterious enlightening thingies” as if there was something I’m missing (I keep an open mind) A teacher told me I just lack one thing, I have no idea what it is, and whatever comes up it is not [thus I have heard]. Perfectly at peace there’s nothing I feel like striving for or away from, but I’ve been told by that same teacher that the sense of lacking nothing or being complete is already a mistake (not sure if it was a language thingy for it is not that I walk about thinking, “I lack nothing”etc) still occassionally the mind tries to wage a war, which I just another narrative of the same play, perhaps I’m missing something but I’m perfectly at ease, I view all as if myself, I love all. This might not be “liberation” [as I have heard] but I’m perfectly fine and this transient body/mind can drop “dead” right now, I am peace, and content always. For a while now I’m not paying attention to those fundamental obsessed naggers who want me to pay money I dont have and go on this and that retreat, searching around after flesh teachers. I truly feel I seek or lack nothing, though they say it’s an error. What is it to me? I have no energy for another fantasy “me-project” I am peace, that’s all I am, at the same time perhaps I seek confirmation (a self-narrative?) anyways, peace and non-selective love, that’s all I really know, all else is just accumulated knowledge once treasured but now discardable. I have no mind for practise, and yet there’s practise, I once thought it a mystery because it cant be grasped by logic, I’d like to give this body/mind in the servance of “others”, but I dont know where or how.
    As there’s no one living a life anyway, but it lives itself, it might unfold when the fruit is matured so the direction becomes clear and know what “job” is destined, or it’s all just the same play, there’s no volition or destiny I can detect wich directs my activity, not even sure “hidden” would do it justice. Everything ever done for myself is useless and these transient satisfactions I can no longer chase, I want to give myself away not in some marketplace with a goodguy badge for selective judges, but lose myself in the service of All, of Love, nameless.

    [end public service announcement] :p

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Thank you for your comments and the thorough up-date on your practice, Brother!

      Not knowing the particular context, I would still be suspicious of some teacher who tells you that you are lacking something, or need to do this or that (such as sign up for their course).

      “He who instructs an ardent seeker to do this or that is not a true master. The seeker is already afflicted by his activities and wants peace and rest. In other words he wants cessation of his activities. If a teacher tells him to do something in addition to, or in place of, his other activities, can that be a help to the seeker? Such a person cannot liberate the aspirant; he can only strengthen his fetters.” ~Sri Ramana


  2. Bob OHearn says:

    “You need not chase the ‘I am’ to kill it. You cannot. All you need is a sincere longing for reality. We call it atma-bhakti, the love of the Supreme: or moksha-sankalpa, the determination to be free from the false. Without love, and will inspired by love, nothing can be done. Merely talking about Reality without doing anything about it is self-defeating. There must be love in the relation between the person who says ‘I am’ and the observer of that ‘I am’. As long as the observer, the inner self, the ‘higher’ self, considers himself apart from the observed, the ‘lower’ self, despises it and condemns it, the situation is hopeless. It is only when the observer (vyakta) accepts the person (vyakti) as a projection or manifestation of himself, and, so to say, takes the self into the Self, the duality of ‘I’ and ‘this’ goes and in the identity of the outer and the inner the Supreme Reality manifests itself.

    This union of the seer and the seen happens when the seer becomes conscious of himself as the seer, he is not merely interested in the seen, which he is anyhow, but also interested in being interested, giving attention to attention, aware of being aware. Affectionate awareness is the crucial factor that brings Reality into focus.”

    ~Sri Nisargadatta

  3. Thanks Bob, once again- crystal clear…

  4. Bob OHearn says:

    Nisargadatta Maharaj: Learn to separate yourself from the image and the mirror, keep on remembering: I am neither the mind nor its ideas: do it patiently and with convictions and you will surely come to the direct vision of yourself as the source of being — knowing — loving, eternal, all-embracing all-pervading. You are the infinite focussed in a body. Now you see the body only. Try earnestly and you will come to see the infinite only.

    Q: The experience of reality, when it comes, does it last?

    M: All experience is necessarily transient. But the ground of all experience is immovable. Nothing that may be called an event will last. But some events purify the mind and some stain it. Moments of deep insight and all-embracing love purify the mind, while desires and fears, envies and anger, blind beliefs and intellectual arrogance pollute and dull the psyche.

    Q: Is self-realisation so important?

    M: Without it you will be consumed by desires and fears, repeating themselves meaninglessly in endless suffering. Most of the people do not know that there can be an end to pain. But once they have heard the good news, obviously going beyond all strife and struggle is the most urgent task that can be. You know that you can be free and now it is up to you. Either you remain forever hungry and thirsty, longing, searching, grabbing, holding, ever losing and sorrowing, or go out whole-heartedly in search of the state of timeless perfection to which nothing can be added, from which nothing — taken away. In it all desires and fears are absent, not because they were given up, but because they have lost their meaning.

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “If there is a certain notion that you have direct ‘Realization,’ it is only the delusion of a confused mind. This confusion is only the enhancement of the Illusion that is already there. It is the spectacle, the festival of Illusion. Every so-called ‘Realization’ is Illusion.”

    ~ Siddharameshwar Maharaj

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    There is no such thing as a Self-realised person. When there is no “person” the Self is realised. When there is no “person” the question of coming and going cannot arise. The body is an appearance in the Self. When the body disappears the Self remains as it always was and is. Realisation is the understanding “I am not this body which comes and goes, I am that permanent, unchanging reality in which the body and all else appears”.

    ~ Papaji

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