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, with its attendant confusion and consequent suffering).

To clarify the transparent emptiness of our true nature, the contemporary teacher Jackson Peterson offers this analogy: “Imagine the clear glass of a mirror. All the reflections can be seen within the glass, pervading the glass with no separation, but there is no actual contact between the glass and the reflections. The glass remains empty of any contents, and completely unchanged no matter what reflections pervade it’s glass transparency. You are this changeless emptiness, and only this changeless emptiness: not the body, not the ego, not the mind, not thoughts, not an individual consciousness. Only absolute emptiness. Knowing this is it’s own self-knowing: gnosis.”

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. There are only conceptual fabrications that are to be seen through and thus rendered obsolete — mental superimpositions and fantasies of conditioned interpretation that have obscured our original innocence. When they end, so too does the whole weary narrative of “me and mine”.


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 temporary dream-like illusions arising and dissolving in consciousness. It is not unlike 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.

Again, in such realization, the game itself is seen to be an appearance in consciousness, and that includes all the phenomena associated with the game. It has no substance other than consciousness, but consciousness itself has no inherent solidity either. Indeed, what we might call “the objective world” is only another perception appearing in consciousness, and that is actually how it is experienced – as a flash of images in consciousness, to which values are subsequently attached, dependent on one’s various conditioned filters or “software programs”.


Thus, it is seen that consciousness and its contents are equally empty of any inherent existence, even though everything we can think or know or experience is appearing in that emptiness, as that emptiness itself. All of our seeking and avoiding, all of our hope and fear, all of our “selfing” stories, are only figments or shards of this empty consciousness, and therefore possess no independent existence apart from the evanescent dream-like play of consciousness. However our current energy form happens to appear, in reality it is a transient manifestation of awareness. Essentially, we are being lived.

As the contemporary teacher Adyashanti wrote: “When you’re not thinking yourself into existence, there really isn’t a self. All you have to do is try it for a moment. Just be still for five seconds. What happens to your name, your gender, and the person you imagine yourself to be? If we’re to find a way beyond suffering, we’re going to have to look at this sense of self that’s really nothing but a collection of memories projected into the present moment and then into the future. We’re going to have to begin to notice that what we think we are is just that: simply a thought. What we imagine ourselves to be, it’s just that. It’s imagination. Neither our thoughts nor our imagination can tell us who we are.”

Just so, when it is realized that there is no substantial concrete reality to the seeker or the sought, then the desperate search for self-confirmation and validation grinds to a halt. Nor is there any longer anything to protect and defend, except empty fantasies of consciousness. It’s reminiscent of the line from the famous Bob Dylan song, “Like a Rolling Stone”, which goes: “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”

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.

body mandala

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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12 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

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    The Five Principles of Realization and Liberation
    Jackson Peterson

    The first principle is becoming aware of our thoughts and the nature of thought. By taking the position of just being an observer of the thoughts and images that come and go we discover all thoughts are the same: they are temporary appearances that come and go like clouds in the sky. Give no importance to one thought over another. If we pay no attention to any thought but remain in the “observer” role, it seems the space of awareness becomes more open and thoughts less demanding of attention. We discover all thoughts are without substance and importance. We could say our thoughts are “empty”, like clouds: appearances without any core or entity.

    The second principle is recognizing our stories and emotional dramas are structured only from thought, our “empty” thoughts. In continuing to observe our thoughts we should notice how they tend to link together in chains of meaning and particular significance. It is this linking together of thoughts that creates our stories, beliefs and emotional drama in a convincing and powerful way. As a result we may spend most of our time going from one mini-daydream to another. It is this trance-like state of mind that we need to break up again and again as often as possible. We do that by shifting our attention from thought to the presence of the five senses in immediate now-ness. Just notice your physical environment and the direct sensory experience free of analysis. Practice this shifting away from mental engagement in thought to noticing your physical environs as often as possible. Hopefully the trance-like habit of living in your thoughts constantly will be broken. In this way we can free ourselves from anxiety and emotional suffering as both are caused by the mind’s stories that are rarely challenged. It is possible to discover that our stories and emotional dramas are as empty as last night’s dreams. In fact our daydreams and stories are no more real than our dreams at night. We discover our stories are also just as empty as the clouds that group together in the sky in various formations that disperse and disappear in the next moment leaving no trace.

    The third principle is recognizing that one’s sense of self is also only an empty story made of thought; a mental construction without an actual identity as an entity that exists independently and with self-determinism. Studies have determined that our coherent sense of personal identity doesn’t appear until about the ages between 18 and 24 months. That means previous to that time there was no personal “me” story or self-image. That also means the newly appearing sense of “me” is totally the result of thought-stories that the mind constructs about identity. There is no personal self present other than this make-believe “me” story. Even science makes clear there is just one unified field of energy as the universe without separate parts. The entire field is inter-dependent without any breaks or splits in the unity. The sense of being an independent entity like a “personal self”, is just an illusion and has never existed in fact. By observing the “me” thoughts that arise from moment to moment we can notice the “personal me” is nothing more than a chain of linked thoughts about identity that are supported by memories and imagination. Seeing this directly and clearly, not just intellectually, the emptiness of personal identity becomes obvious to the mind at which point the illusion ceases. But that cessation will only occur according to the degree of the depth of this self inquiry. If it doesn’t occur the understanding is too shallow and not convincing enough to the deeper levels of mind grounded in conditioning and habitual “selfing”. In such a case one should revisit the first and second principles again and establish a deeper state of observation regarding the experience of the “me” thought arising and dissolving until it becomes clear that no personal self exists outside of the mind’s belief otherwise. When recognition arises it becomes clear that the notion of there being a personal self is as empty as a single huge cloud that dominates the sky yet disappears in the next moment without a trace.

    The fourth principle is recognizing what exactly is the nature of that which is observing and experiencing the empty nature of thoughts, stories and personal selfhood. What is doing the “recognizing”? What is this impersonal aware consciousness that perceives and knows? In these recognitions there seems to be an ever increasing evolution or revelation of wisdom. As a result one’s cognitive space seems expansive, open and vividly transparent without a center. What exactly is this state of impersonal consciousness? It clearly has a sense of being aware; empty and knowing. Can we be aware of being aware? Is this aware consciousness present in all experience, inseparably so?

    Let’s look directly at this impersonal aware knowingness: In a well lighted room close your eyes. Notice at your eyelids that the light of the room shining on your eye lids creates an inner glow upon your closed translucent eyelids. You will see an orangey-red color at your eyes lids. What is it that is observing this color? It will seem as though your aware consciousness occupies a place a few inches behind the eyes and its attention is directed at the eyelids in front. Notice your aware presence as being the place from where you are looking forward from at the orangey color. Are you “aware” of the color? Now be aware of your awareness just as it is. Does this awareness have any color, shape, substance or dimension of its own? Or is it simply an empty presence of aware knowing? Review these last two questions again and again until it becomes clear that “you” are actually this empty, clear and aware knowing. When this is seen clearly instead of recognizing the emptiness of thoughts and self as the empty nature of the clouds that appear in the sky: the empty nature of the sky itself is recognized by itself.

    The fifth principle is recognizing the inseparable relationship between one’s empty, aware “seeing” and the five senses. One can’t find awareness separate from one’s sensory perceptions. We think we experience actual external perceptual objects and things, but we only experience internal perceptions in consciousness as sensory stimulations of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch; not their objective referents.

    There isn’t first a sensory perception and then an awareness of it. The five senses are this “knowing awareness” seeming to be split up into five separate sensory components. These sensory capacities are not limited to the physical five senses. “Knowing awareness” can perceive independently of the five physical senses with no limitations regarding time and space. Merging our attention fully with the five senses instead of with the mental phenomena of thoughts, stories and beliefs in personal identity, reveals a state of total “nowness” beyond thought and mind. A limitless vista of knowing transparency and Clear Light reveals itself to be our true nature beyond any descriptions or assumptions of mind. In merging our attention totally with the five senses, the luminous nature of appearances is revealed to be the vivid character of our own awareness.

    The inner nature of the five senses is itself the clarity of pure awareness. We can know pure awareness through the immediate presence of the five senses. Pure awareness is never separate from the inner nature of the five senses. Can we separate awareness from the act of seeing what’s seen? Can we separate awareness from the act of hearing a sound? Is there a distance between the act of perception and the awareness that perceives?

    There are no concepts ever within the perceptual awareness of the five senses, and therefore no delusion.

    There is never a “self” or “mine” within the perceptual awareness of the five senses.

    There is no emotional suffering within the perceptual awareness of the five senses.

    There are no “reified” or separate and labelled objects within the perceptual awareness of the five senses.

    There is no grasping nor rejecting within the perceptual awareness of the five senses.

    There is no hope or fear within the perceptual awareness of the five senses.

    Skillful and compassionate actions arise spontaneously from the natural wisdom awareness of the five perceptual senses.

    There is only profound peace within the perceptual awareness of the five senses.

    There is nothing that the five senses must realize in order to be free. The perceptual awareness within the five senses has never been bound.

    Our immediate non-conceptual experience of the five senses is pure awareness; a natural nirvana that never ceases to enlighten and never fails to delight.

  8. Bob OHearn says:

    The ocean does not forget that it is a wave,
    but the wave forgets that it is an ocean.
    This is “why” there is manifestation;
    for sake of play this forgetfulness arises.
    The world is only for celebration.
    Manifestation is just a cosmic drama to be enjoyed.
    There is only play and it is not existent,
    and continues because whatever you think so it becomes.
    This manifestation was created by you
    and it will be destroyed by you.

    The first thought is “I.”
    Then arises “my,” which is ego,
    and then comes all manifestation.
    Time, mind, manifestations is projected out of “I”
    which is itself the projection required to manifest the play.
    Undress yourself of these things and find where “I” rises from.
    You are Shiva if you do not project “I,”
    and your Shakti-is the projection by which to play,
    Consciousness is the source of this play,
    of the mind, and That is all.

    The ocean cannot stay alone
    and so the notion of wave is created.
    When waves rise ocean loses nothing
    and when waves fall ocean gains nothing.
    Samsara, the illusion, maya, the play,
    are the waves on the ocean of nirvana.
    Waves are not separate from the ocean,
    rays are not separate from the sun,
    You are not separate from

    ~ Papaji

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