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.

When we characterize someone as “selfish”, all it really means is that they are identifying with and absorbed in their own sense of self, usually to the detriment of their fellow beings. However, just about everyone is selfish to one degree or another, short of true awakening. 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 spiritual terms, the direct recognition of the insubstantiality of that imaginary creation qualifies as “awakening” (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 the unreality of the person, liberation from the earthly vexations can eventually pertain, but a sense of individuality will continue to persist, even beyond physical incarnation.

Certainly, this sense of individuality may be expanded greatly, as one deepens in cosmic consciousness through the levels of awareness, but it will ultimately be superseded by the recognition of one’s true or absolute nature as Source Itself, the same ineffable nature of the totality of the universal manifestation. There has never been any separation, only dream-like illusions arising and dissolving in consciousness, like a video game’s virtual reality in which the player gets 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 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. However, it is not really like acquiring some sort of Supreme Personality, but more like letting go of all limitation or sense of separated individuality that has been temporarily contracted into either a personal or Universal “I”. Buddhists might employ the term “Tathagatagarbha”, or Buddha Nature, which is inherent in all sentient beings (although still dormant and unrecognized by those who are yet deluded by the amnesia accompanying the separate self-sense).

Nevertheless, paradoxically, 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 not really applicable in the end 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


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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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4 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. marcel says:

    Ah, thank you Brother, this is very helpful in my investigation, it’s very simple and obvious but I keep missing it, also nice to read my own story back, da brain was totally shitfaced last night after returning from the biggest football (soccer) classic in this country.

    “What Grace to fall, to fail completely!”
    Thanks a million.

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Back in the day, a lady salesperson once shared her secret with me, when I asked her how she was able to drink guys twice her weight under the table, while out for business dinners. She said that she drank a 5 oz. shot of shoyu sauce before starting on the alcohol, and then alternated seltzer shots with each drink of booze.

      She claimed that this strategy allowed her to keep her yin & yang in balance, even under extreme duress, while the guys got loaded and malleable, and in this way she was able to close a lot of deals to her company’s advantage.

      When I was sitting across the table from her during business negotiations, I stuck to seltzer (with a twist of lime).

      Here in the USA, of course, they have the Super Bowl football classic, which seems to be an opportunity for people to consume mass quantities of salty snacks and watery beer, while over-sized millionaires on the playing field bump into each other repeatedly for a few hours, punctuated by commercials geared towards encouraging the consumption of more watery beer.

      Humans are funny!


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