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).

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. As the great disciple of Ramana Maharshi, Annamalai Swami, noted: “Liberation comes when you fully understand and experience there is no one who needs liberation.”

That is the paradox of self-realization — there is not now, nor has there ever been, an independently existing self to be realized. Although it seems to appear, it has no intrinsic nature. 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 the appreciation of 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.”

Now, there are some teachers who claim that the self is merely a thought creation, a dream illusion, unreal. However, that’s actually only a fraction of it. Stopping there would be a premature conclusion, an error in recognition and appreciation. The “self-sense” is an expression of something much more than a mechanical assemblage of mental events, and those who tend to conceptually write it off as that are missing its real purpose.

There is a tendency of many aspirants to get lost in concepts about emptiness, without also recognizing that emptiness is form. To cling to the emptiness of the self or ego is even worse than clinging to its form in many respects, because it paralyzes the natural functioning. Seeing through the substantiality of the self is merely a preliminary recognition. It then returns as servant, rather than master, so to speak.

Essentially, it is a unique and ingenious “space suit” that Spirit employs to navigate and thus enjoy the human experience, and so is absolutely necessary for life and relationships. We came here to enjoy the experience of manifest 3-D human being, and so attempting to eliminate the very vehicle by which we would do that is rather ridiculous.

All that is really necessary is to understand that it is not who we are, anymore than we are the automobile we drive to get from one geographical location to another. With that recognition, we are then free to create with it like a paint brush on the canvas of experience, appreciating it for what it is in the context of the play of consciousness itself.

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” can be equally recognized as  fantasies of interpretation on perception. Indeed, no conceptual designations, regardless of how sublime, are 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:  

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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19 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 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

  8. Bob OHearn says:


    Q: It seems that so much time is needed to realize the Self; many lifetimes in fact. For me, realization always seems to be an event in the distant future.

    AS: You don’t need hundreds of lives to realize the Self. In fact you don’t need any time at all. Your idea of time is one of the things that is holding you in bondage. Time is one of the properties of the mind.

    Liberation does not come after a period of time because there is no time in the Self. Liberation comes when you fully understand and experience there is no one who needs liberation.

    That understanding and that experience only arise when the mind and its inbuilt ideas of time cease to function. If you think about time and start to worry about how much longer it will be before you realize the Self, your attention will be on the mind and not on the Self. You can only make progress while the mind is on the Self.

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    When the body is born, all kinds of things happen to it and you take part in them, because you take yourself to be the body. You are like the man in the cinema house, laughing and crying with the picture, though knowing fully well that he is all the time in his seat and the picture is but the play of light. It is enough to shift attention from the screen to oneself to break the spell. When the body dies, the kind of life you live now — succession of physical and mental events — comes to an end. It can end even now — without waiting for the death of the body — it is enough to shift attention to the Self and keep it there. All happens as if there is a mysterious power that creates and moves everything. Realise that you are not the mover, only the observer, and you will be at peace.


  10. Bob OHearn says:

    “Think about replacing the term spiritual growth with Self-Awakening. You are not a human being embracing a spiritual experience, but an inquisitive spirit embracing the complexities and questions surrounding the human condition. You are not so much growing, but awakening that which you already are, but are currently unaware of. You are bringing your remembrance of Self into being by creating experiences of it in physical reality. Your soul does indeed grow from this experience, but it is your spirit which is Self-Awakened through the process and journey.

    You will know when you are on the right path for ‘you’ when you experience genuine heartfelt joy. You do not need divine signs, angel feathers and other beings to tell you what is your right path, for it is not the role of any guide to dictate your own sense of values and the state of anyone else’s journey. There is no right and wrong journey, there is only ‘the journey of experience’. The question remains, what do you wish to experience?”

    “Spirituality is not a process of vertical movement as if ascending upon some hierarchical ladder of so-called ascensionism. Your spirit, that is, the identity you were first created as many millions of years ago, is already spiritual and cannot be any ‘more’ spiritual than what it already is. For what it IS, is the same as that which is Prime Creator. So then, your ‘level of spirituality’, as you have called it, is simply your human brain, your ego, trying to fabricate challenges, obstacles and interactive pathways for you to somehow ‘achieve’ something which, in fact, you already are, always have been and always will be, regardless of anything and everything you do in physical state. So before you, or anybody who now reads these words lowers their own spiritual Self-value, know that regardless of what ‘spiritual’ progress you presume you have made through physical ‘learnings’, it does not and will not change who or what your spirit is. You are beautiful, you are perfect and divine, and you do not need to achieve, suffer or struggle for this to remain fact, in life or in death.”

  11. Bob OHearn says:

    Because we don’t recognize our essential nature — we don’t realize that although appearances arise unceasingly, nothing is really there — we invest with solidity and reality the seeming truth of self, other, and actions between self and others. This intellectual obscuration gives rise to attachment and aversion, followed by actions and reactions that create karma, solidify into habit, and perpetuate the cycles of suffering. This entire process needs to be purified.

    ~ Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche

  12. Bob OHearn says:

    “Liberation and bondage are both expressions of the ego. Only one who recognizes this ego can be truly realized. Saying that “I am liberated” is to remain in bondage. One can drown even in the shallowest water of illusion by tying an anchor in the form of pride of liberation.”

    ~ Siddharameshwar Maharaj

  13. Bob OHearn says:

    “Presupposing the existence of a non-existent entity and then wanting to get salvation for that imaginary “I” you have to start and try to do so through various paths of yoga, redemption or self improvement.
    When your modes of redemption themselves become a means of giving life to the non-existent ego, how can they destroy it?
    To do any yoga except Self-enquiry is to be just like a thief turning himself into a policeman to catch the thief who is none but himself.”

    ~ Sri Ramana Maharshi

  14. Bob OHearn says:

    Q: “What is central to spiritual realization?

    A: “Foremost know this: if realization, by whatever name, non-dual wisdom, Buddha Nature, Truth, Reality, Tao, the kingdom of heaven ……. does not set the heart alight with tender-hearted great compassion, if it does not cause the body to swoon in great exaltation perception of all appearance as divinity, if it ever changes in waking or sleeping …. then it is not realization.

    What is central to realization? Well its depth and vastness cannot ultimately be described in words but there can be pointers as to its mystery. I will speak from this body mind’s own experience and understanding for what it is worth.

    The mind untouched by any stain of birth or death – this is central.

    A heart imbued with tender-hearted compassion for every being seemingly friend or enemy, relative or stranger – this is central.

    That body, speech and mind experience, without contrived concepts, all appearance as a pervasion of divinity, mysterious, utterly beautiful – the wondrous magical illusion of Buddha Nature – this is central.

    To be free of any concern with worldly possessions whether impoverished or wealthy – this is central.

    That the cells of the body be constantly inspired by the longing and radiance of prayer, even in the midst of stable realization of emptiness – this is central.

    That the very notions status, high or low, is laughable – this is central.

    That one is steadfastly occupied with the benefit of beings – this is central.

    That one is free from all interest in Dharma politics – this is central.

    That no trace of phenomena can any longer be found – this is central.

    Realization is not an experience. In realization both poles of experience – perceiver and perceived – have dissolved, resolved, disappeared in the luminous ground whose essence is unutterable mystery and whose nature is clear light divinity. Anything that can in any way be described as experience, as involving a subject or an object – falls short of profound realization.

    Realization does not come and go – once entered with authentic totality it never changes, ceases, comes or goes in the so-called waking or sleeping states.

    Realization does not give one status – realization is not status but rather it is the death of even the possibility of thinking or feeling that appearances participate in the anxious ugliness of higher and lower.

    Take refuge in the most profound wisdom compassion. Take up the way and follow with earnest care and sincerity. Don’t fret too much about what realization is or isn’t because any idea about it is based in confusion and falls far far short of the reality. Instead purify obstacles and hindrances to seeing things exactly as actually are, cultivate tende-hearted and active compassion with a profound concern for cause and effect while practicing the view and meditation which transcend cause and effect.

    Do not rely on others for no one can do your work for you and no one will enjoy or suffer the karmic consequences of your actions other than you. At the same time as this do not be shy about binding yourself to the sublime sources of wisdom that ceaselessly manifest in myriad ways. Realization cannot be bought or sold with money or other bartered goods. Day by day, step by step and the result is assured.”

    ~ Traktung Khepa

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