The Buddha may have had deep insight into the selflessness of all phenomena, but I sure do feel a lot like a self. Looking more closely, I can see at least five ways in particular that this sense of being a self is supported.
First, I feel as though I am the occupant of my body, the one who inhabits it. When I stand over here, I find myself at the center of the world I am constructing as various strands of sensory information are synthesized into coherent meaning. And when I walk across the room, that world-building apparatus seems to move right along with the body. I cannot help but view this body as the basis of the world I am constructing, and feel entirely and exclusively identified with it.
Second, I have a strong sense of being the beneficiary of the feeling tones that arise with every moment of experience, the one who experiences both pleasure and pain. When the feeling tone is pleasant, I am the enjoyer of that pleasure; when it is painful, I am the victim of that pain, the one to whom it happens. Nobody else suffers from this toothache, and only I have direct access to the joyful contentment I feel while admiring the beauty of this sunset.
Third, I am the artiste, the person who expresses myself. John Lennon may be right when he says “There’s nothing you can sing that can’t be sung,” but I still feel that I am composing and enacting something special much of the time. However humble my creations, they feel like they come uniquely from me. Each of us has a creative narrator functioning within us, and as we put our hand (or pen, brush, musical instrument, etc.) to work, there is a tangible sense that we are expressing our selves.
Fourth, I also feel like an agent, the one who makes choices, who acts out those choices, and who experiences the consequences of those actions. Sometimes I do good, and sometimes I do harm, but either way I have the sense of being the person who is acting in the world and at the same time being the one who is responsible for those actions. When the outcome is favorable, I deserve the praise; when it is unfortunate, I am usually (though not always) willing to take the blame. Indeed, words like decision, action, and responsibility can only make sense when there is a person who makes the choice, does the deed, and inherits the consequences.
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