Not Me

Monkey mind

“What is really your own, you are not conscious of. What you are conscious of is neither you nor yours. Yours is the power of perception, not what you perceive. It is a mistake to take the conscious to be the whole of man. Man is the unconscious, the conscious and the superconscious, but you are not the man. Yours is the cinema screen, the light as well as the seeing power, but the picture is not you.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj

The common descriptions transmitted about Realization in many of the traditional spiritual paths and wisdom systems revolve around the affirmation of some essential, eternal, and transcendental Self behind all phenomena, hence the term “Self-Realization” or “God-Realization”. In that respect, the conscious process of recognition runs counter-intuitive to those traditional programs. In the conscious process of true inquiry, all identity descriptions and self or Self-images are seen through and recognized as mere conceptual designations. We realize that what we are cannot truly be described by human language except in terms of negation. As the Sage Nisargadatta notes succinctly, “You cannot know yourself through bliss alone, for bliss is your very nature. You must face the opposite, what you are not, to find enlightenment.”

In the silent equanimity resulting from such insight, we can observe our conditioned programs, our delusions, our human limitations and foibles, failings, and apparent faults, and yet not be compelled to frantically seek out and commit to some kind of remedial curriculum or self-improvement scheme designed to modify them. In a nutshell, we simply recognize that none of them amount to a “me”, are not my self, and are not what I am. In fact all we can really say is, “I am not this, I am not that.”

With the liberating benefit of such direct recognition (and not just intellectual agreement), the power of the binding, afflictive poisons such as greed, envy, hatred, pride, and ignorance is undermined. They no longer have a target, a landing place. No longer is there grounds and rationale for a perpetual war with oneself. No longer is there a call to divide oneself into conflicting camps of light and dark that in turn need to be reconciled by some prolonged and superhuman effort, just so that we might finally become what we already are. In fact, the more attention and energy that is expended in efforts to sculpt ourselves into some spiritually-correct version of ourselves, the further away we travel from our own true nature and being.

On the contrary, the process of conscious recognition involves the art and practice of “non-doing”, founded upon a genuine humility and surrender. It is important that this be clearly understood, because most of us tend to indulge some inflated or idealistic notion of what we are or want to be, complete with all sorts of provisional betterment projects and ascension goals, rather than simply relaxing and coming to rest in the timeless aware spaciousness of our true nature, the limitless unknown.

On a cautionary note, many seekers may tend, especially in the beginning of the conscious process, to engage analytical inquiry techniques such as “Neti, Neti” (Not this, Not this) purely at the level of the intellect, and that is to be expected. However, there is danger in lingering in the conceptual domain and concluding that the job is done, once there is some verbal conviction. This is why we might encounter certain people who can “talk the talk”, but are still afflicted by the passions and behaviors characteristic of the self-possessed.

Unless the inquiry penetrates deeper than the realm of mental formations and cuts off the root of all identification and self-positions, it will not ultimately be very transformative, and can even pose as an additional hindrance by fattening the “spiritual ego”. Indeed, clinging to an intellectual understanding of the emptiness of the self-complex can actually interfere with or impede its direct recognition (or clear seeing), which is something of an altogether different nature.

In any case, by directly recognizing the emptiness of all that we once took to be ourselves (both negative and positive), we can cease fixating on those obsolete stories. There is real wisdom in just being, although such wisdom is difficult for the usual seeker to allow in. As mentioned earlier, it is counter-intuitive to the spiritual self-improvement program, which is designed solely to create a more agreeable story. As it so happens, no story is true, because all stories are based on the false assumption of the existence of a separate and enduring person, a “me”. Every story, every appearance, is of the same nature as a daydream. What knows the daydream? That which knows the day dream is not the daydream.

Upon sincere and persistent inspection, we can recognize the utter impermanence of all our stories, all daydreams. With that realization, we will come to understand the futility of the various salvation schemes which we have been chronically employing. We observe in the process how such strategies have systematically superimposed notional programs of bondage and unhappiness on our natural, prior state of freedom. Such a liberating recognition blossoms by allowing one’s total energy and attention to relax from its fixations and compulsiveness, becoming less rigid and more receptive to the fact that nothing needs to be attained, modified, enhanced, redeemed, enlightened, or improved.

It has only been our angle of vision that required some adjustment. We have been so entranced by the illusion of a solid and independent self-sense that we have been unable to appreciate the spaciousness in which it and everything appears and disappears. However, when we return attention to that which is always already aware, the self-fixation naturally drops away.

There is a great relief in that revolutionary shift of perspective, allowing for the emergence of our natural spontaneity and playfulness. Moreover, as we relinquish the struggle to define ourselves as “this or that”, we are not only returned to our native innocence, but we also experience the arising of real compassion for others — those who may still be under the influence of the stressful conditioning programs that keep them enlisted in the divisive inner warfare.

Whatever we attach and cling to invariably becomes the source of our distress. Consequently, by seeing through and letting go at the root of such distress – the obsession with and absorption in the fiction of “me and mine” — we can instead relax and enjoy life for its own sake. The implanted motive to work on myself in order to get better, more luminous and holy, more profound and attractive, will cease motivating us.

After all, we may be dead before tomorrow! All we have is this moment now. If we are drawn, for example, to certain spiritual practices such as meditation, they need not be taken up in order to become someone else – some idealized version or religious fantasy of ourselves. Rather, they can instead just be appreciated as a natural enjoyment of the physical form which we are occupying, not unlike going for a walk or drinking a glass of cool water. Sitting still and not knowing, not dwelling on or grasping at the parade of passing thoughts, is one of life’s great pleasures, especially for those who are no longer subservient to artificial agendas!

With the loosening of the grip of fixed patterns of identity, we can gratefully come to recognize each experience in life as a gift, regardless of the form it arrives in. Each possesses its own beauty, particularly when we don’t expect or demand that it be anything other than what it is. Rather than assuming a victim mentality when things seem disagreeable, we can as co-creators inquire into our own responsibility. In such recognition, we become eminently present and “ordinary”, without the heavy and unwieldy baggage of either sorrowful regrets or idealistic projections holding us back and weighing us down.

Having allowed our true nature (which has been heretofore obscured beneath heaps of rationalizations, second-hand beliefs, and habitual reactivity spawned by hope and fear) to reveal itself, energy and attention are freed up to the point where we can simply live for the sake of life itself, doing whatever we do, purely for the sake of doing it. As it turns out, that is enough — to just do it, just live it.

Moreover, there is a curious but common assumption that, without holding on to a self-idea, one would be rendered dysfunctional or even incapacitated in the objective sphere, when in fact, it is actually the superimposition of the self-idea that more often than not complicates activity and impedes unfettered functioning.

The Thai Forest master Ajahn Chah put it perfectly when he said: “Once you understand non-self, then the burden of life is gone. You’ll be at peace with the world. When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness and we can truly be happy. Learn to let go without struggle, simply let go, to be just as you are – no holding on, no attachment, free.”

Recognition is nothing other than the arrow of this understanding finally penetrating our mental and emotional armor, finding its mark at the heart, and really sinking in. It is not seeing a grand supernatural vision or bathing in special, blissful states; it is opening our eyes to how callous and arrogant and even silly we can be, how resistant and reluctant and fearful, and how (by trying to be knowers) we have gotten in our own way. As the mystic Angelus Silesius humorously noted: “God, whose love and joy are present everywhere, can’t come and visit you unless you aren’t there.”

Conventionally, we can know a lot about ourselves. After all, we’ve been working on that story all of our lives, featuring “me” as the central character. Nevertheless, the only valid self-knowledge for us in this realm is the recognition of what we are not, starting with the body-mind organism, and including everything we think and believe to be real. What we truly are can never be an object of perception, since whatever is perceived cannot itself perceive. As Nisargadatta clearly noted: “You cannot be witnessed by you; only what is other than you can be witnessed by you.”

Furthermore, even the discoveries in modern science are pointing out that nothing is what it appears to be. The eminent physicist Niels Bohr (echoing the Buddhist Law of Dependent Origination) noted: “If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet. Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” Indeed, as far back as the second century, the renowned Buddhist adept and scholar Nagarjuna (often designated as “the second Buddha”), taught that everything that exists does so dependently, and everything that is dependently existent necessarily lacks independent objective existence, or in other words, is empty of any real or inherent existence.

Interestingly, developments in modern neurology employing MRI brain scans have revealed that the “me-sense” is a neurological figment that occurs when nine different areas of the brain are active at the same time.  There is no actual personal “self” ever, just a neurological sensation of a “me”.

In any case, truth itself can never be an object of consciousness, since consciousness itself is transitory. Hence, it must be prior to consciousness, and thus ungraspable by the conceptual apparatus. One can only recognize that one lives in untruth, in a dreamy fantasy. U. G. Krishnamurti deftly summarized: “The body does not exist except as a thought. There is one thought. Everything exists in relationship to that one thought. That thought is ‘me’. Anything you experience based on thought is illusion.”

Likewise, liberation is not some reward granted by the universe for following the right doctrines, or aligning with superior religious sects or philosophies. It is not an attainment — nobody “attains freedom”. Such a make-believe story — that one can become something other than what they already are — only reinforces our perpetual sense of dissatisfaction (though it certainly keeps the preachers in business).

Indeed, the one who would be free is the one who has been obscuring real freedom, and it is that one who disappears in the light of true recognition. Otherwise, we will continue to cherish the belief that we can somehow acquire lasting happiness, if only we become more like this or less like that, while stubbornly insisting to ourselves that we exist as separate and enduring persons. We don’t.

“Thus, any body whatsoever . . . any feeling whatsoever . . . any perception whatsoever . . . any mental processes whatsoever . . . any consciousness whatsoever — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near, is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.’ Seeing thus, one grows disenchanted with the body, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with mental processes, and disenchanted with consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion, he is released.”

~Anattalakkhana Sutta

self melt

See also:


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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21 Responses to Not Me

  1. Candace says:

    Dear Brother,

    This post is simply amazing! I love it! Your ability to convey truth with such clarity is unparalleled. I am grateful for your generosity in sharing such wisdom!

    Love & Blessings!

    • Bob OHearn says:

      Dear Sister, Thank you for your kind appreciation! It is gratifying to hear that you resonated with the remarks, and much Love & Blessings to you!

  2. marcel says:

    Wonderful Brother, yes even the pinnacle of “awakening” experiences is but emanantion from one’s parents desire to have sex, anything which can be memorized or forgotten, experienced, or be conscious of is in this fraud. Yes Life, there’s no one in particular living it [apart from a person imaginary dream saying otherwise], it all happens spontaneously. We can give up the struggle of a personal tale, the ridiculous hopes and fears for the sake of becoming and not becoming, it’s all a ghost like phantasy of mind, there is no such thing as becoming, all is. And no self-definition is valid, it is all from the identification with the body.

    Thanks for the continuous alternation between “yes” and “no” teachings, for which minds are always grasping and avoiding and granting reality to the so called experiencer of it (those superfluous ingredients) it helps not getting too absorped within the particulars of a dream.

    “To deal with things knowledge of things is needed. To deal with
    people, you need insight, sympathy. To deal with yourself, you need
    nothing. Be what you are–conscious being–and don’t stray away from

    “Your expectation of something unique and dramatic, of some wonderful explosion, is merely hindering and delaying your Self Realization. You are not to expect an explosion, for the explosion has already happened – at the moment when you were born, when you realized yourself as Being-Knowing-Feeling. There is only one mistake you are making: you take the inner for the outer and the outer for the inner. What is in you, you take to be outside you and what is outside, you take to be in you. The mind and feelings are external, but you take them to be intimate. You believe the world to be objective, while it is entirely a projection of your psyche. That is the basic confusion and no new explosion will set it right! You have to think yourself out of it. There is no other way.”
    ~Sri Niz

  3. Bob OHearn says:

    Great quotes and insights bubbling forth, Brother! Really appreciate sharing the inquiry with you, and of course there is no better inspiration than Sri Niz — nobody says it better! Moreover, unlike the commercial clowns on the Satsang Merry-Go-Round today, he never charged a penny to those who came and visited. Thanks for your participation, Brother!

    Love & Blessings!

  4. marcel says:

    Amen, Brother.
    Love is not selective, alike the sun which does not shine to enlighten anyone in particular.
    Unconditional means it permeates all conditions, without clever stories of fortunate conditions, good karma and such in order to enhance the aroma of a seperate and enduring self who’s been “blessed” enough to pay for a spiritual marketplace. The right guide will always appear when the conditions are ripe, and if it involves money it will be available, but going from teacher to teacher, temple to temple for the sake of the “me-project” is just exactly why the self-styled gurus have a career and there is the potential of seeking false safety and refuge in the transient spiritual self-image. Prior to speech or silence, giving and receiving, is it available for all, in fact, it is all, and its all that remains when the crap has evaporated, and then we can just remain as we Are without the schemes of mind, as mountains and rivers, you and me.

  5. AP says:

    Such brilliant writing!

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    “Sorrow is felt so long as you think that it is you who is breathing.”

    – Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    “We believe in so many things on hearsay. We believe in distant lands and people, in heavens and hells, in gods and goddesses, because we were told. Similarly, we were told about ourselves, our parents, name, position, duties and so on. We never cared to verify. The way to truth lies through the destruction of the false. To destroy the false, you must question your most inveterate beliefs. Of these the idea that you are the body is the worst. With the body comes the world, with the world — God, who is supposed to have created the world and thus it starts — fears, religions, prayers, sacrifices, all sorts of systems — all to protect and support the child-man, frightened out of his wits by monsters of his own making. Realise that what you are cannot be born nor die and with the fear gone all suffering ends.”

    ~Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

  8. Bob OHearn says:

    Nisargadatta Maharaj: You need not know what you are. Enough to know what you are not. What you are you will never know, for every discovery reveals new dimensions to conquer. The unknown has no limits.

    Q: Does it imply ignorance for ever?

    Nisargadatta Maharaj: It means that ignorance never was. Truth is in the discovery not in the discovered. And to discovery there is no beginning and no end. Question the limits, go beyond, set yourself tasks apparently impossible — this is the way.

    Do not try to know the truth, for knowledge by the mind is not true knowledge. But you can know what is not true — which is enough to liberate you from the false. The idea that you know what is true is dangerous, for it keeps you imprisoned in the mind. It is when you do not know, that you are free to investigate. And there can be no salvation, without investigation, because non-investigation is the main cause of bondage.

    In the mirror of your mind all kinds of pictures appear and disappear. Knowing that they are entirely your own creations, watch them silently come and go, be alert, but not perturbed. This attitude of silent observation is the very foundation of Yoga. You see the picture, but you are not the picture.

    Q: What do you see?

    M: I see what you too could see, here and now, but for the wrong focus of your attention. You give no attention to your self. Your mind is all with things, people and ideas, never with your self.

    Bring your self into focus, become aware of your own existence. See how you function, watch the motives and the results of your actions. Study the prison you have built around yourself by inadvertence.

    By knowing what you are not, you come to know your self. The way back to your self is through refusal and rejection.

    One thing is certain: the real is not imaginary, it is not a product of the mind. Even the sense ‘I am’ is not continuous, though it is a useful pointer; it shows where to seek, but not what to seek. Just have a good look at it.

    Once you are convinced that you cannot say truthfully about your self anything except ‘I am’, and that nothing that can be pointed at, can be your self, the need for the ‘I am’ is over — you are no longer intent on verbalizing what you are.

    All you need is to get rid of the tendency to define your self. All definitions apply to your body only and to its expressions. Once this obsession with the body goes, you will revert to your natural state, spontaneously and effortlessly.

    The only difference between us is that I am aware of my natural state, while you are bemused. Just like gold made into ornaments has no advantage over gold dust, except when the mind makes it so, so are we one in being — we differ only in appearance.

    We discover it by being earnest, by searching, enquiring, questioning daily and hourly, by giving one’s life to this discovery….

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    “Most of us so easily accept positive dogma, a positive creed, because we want to be secure, to belong, to be attached, to depend. The positive attitude divides and brings about duality. The conflict then begins between this attitude and others. But the negation of all values, of all morality, of all beliefs, having no frontiers, cannot be in opposition to anything. A positive statement in its very definition separates, and separation is resistance. To this we are accustomed, this is our conditioning. To deny all this is not immoral; on the contrary to deny all division and resistance is the highest morality. To negate everything that man has invented, to negate all his values, ethics and gods, is to be in a state of mind in which there is no duality, therefore no resistance or conflict between opposites. In this state there are no opposites, and this state is not the opposite of something else.”

    ~J. Krishnamurti

  10. Bob OHearn says:

    “Having found no self that is not other, the seeker must find that there is no other that is not self, so that in the absence of both other and self, there may be known the Perfect Peace, or the presence of Absolute Absence.”

    ~ Wei Wu Wei

  11. Bob OHearn says:


    Concerning these unique instructions, we have now arrived at the threefold mental preliminary practice. On this topic, the Tantra of Penetrating Sound explains:

    Where does the mind come from?
    Where does it stay?
    Where does it go?

    If these three questions are investigated, The mind will be trained and its true nature understood.

    To start, investigate the mind’s point of origin. The factor that we refer to as “awareness” and “mind” is in constant motion like the wind; it is this “mind” that experiences all forms of happiness and suffering. Where does this shifting awareness first come from? Does the mind come into being from a point of existence or nonexistence? Does it arise from appearances or from emptiness? Does it originate from the external universe or the beings that inhabit it?

    You may wonder whether or not the mind arises from some particular thing made up of the four external elements. If you look for such a thing, however, you will find that you can break everything down into tiny parts . In the end, you won’t find anything. You may then get the idea that it arises from inside your own body. Search through each part of your body, through your head and each of your limbs. Can you find it anywhere? On the other hand, if you think that it arises from a state of emptiness, can you find some place that it arises from? Yet if it comes into existence from appearances, what do you actually observe?

    In short, investigate the mind that you are searching for and then turn your attention back to the mind that is doing the searching. You will then behold the mind in its’ original state, and see that it has no identifiable essence at all. Until this has actually come to pass, you should repeat this process of examination over and over again.

    Second, investigate the mind’s presence. In this very moment, is the essence of this aware consciousness present in the external universe or in the beings that inhabit it? What part of the body is it in? And if not there, where else might it be? What shape, color, function, and essence indicate its presence?

    Once you have examined and investigated in this manner, and determined that it does not exist in any location whatsoever, turn your attention back to the consciousness that is conducting the investigation.

    Continue this process until you have determined that consciousness lacks inherent existence and has no basis or root, while it nevertheless knows and perceives.

    Third, look into the mind’s departure. Like the wind, this mindful awareness seems to suddenly arise and then departs just as abruptly. Where does it go? Does it end up in the external universe or in the beings that inhabit it? Does it end up in appearances or emptiness, existence or nonexistence, or in some other condition? When you investigate this matter, you will see that there is no place to which the mind goes.

    Likewise, the subjective mind itself cannot be identified either. It has no essence that one can point to and say, “This is it!” Hence, there is no place where the mind goes, nor is there a mind that goes somewhere. As before, continue this process until you have determined that empty awareness neither comes nor goes.

    ~~Teachings from the Third Dzogchen Rinpoche

  12. Bob OHearn says:

    The Essence of Mind ~ Chetsang Rinpoche

    The essence of mind is somewhat difficult to explain, so we look at it from the negative point of view, that is, what mind is not. First of all, we see that it is not something which arises or ceases or abides. It is free of these three things. From beginningless time, there is no arising, no cessation and no abiding in terms of staying in one place, not moving, or not changing. It is completely free of all three of these.

    It is also free of being a thing or a substance composed of particles. The essential entity, or substance, of mind is not something that can be defiled or stained by grasping at subject and object. It is completely free of the stains from those activities.

    Further, when we look at the essential substance of mind, we find that no matter how much we search for it, no matter how much we analyze it, there is no thing there to be found. There is no entity that we can come up with by searching, evaluating, and analyzing. No matter how much we seek for its essential substance, we cannot find it. The searcher, the one who does the search for essential substance of mind, cannot find it. Therefore it is said that the essential substance of mind itself is emptiness.

  13. Bob OHearn says:

    “‘Nothing is me,’ is the first step. ‘Everything is me’ is the next. Both hang on the idea: ‘there is a world’. When this too is given up, you remain what you are — the non-dual Self. You are it here and now, but your vision is obstructed by your false ideas about your self.”

    ~Sri Nisargadatta

  14. Bob OHearn says:

    “The key is to identify your own persona within your consciousness and learn that it is not a requirement for your pervading existence. If you lose persona, if you let go of the need to be an individual definable identity, you will not cease to exist, as some currently fear. The ability to let go of your life story at will greatly dissolves active thought processes to the point that you simply become an aware observer. It is this state which has great reward for reintegrating back and forth into the spirit world, without the barriers of accumulated attitude.”


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