Image © Neal Crosbie 2008
Image © Neal Crosbie 2008

In her article (“Long Journey to a Bow,” Fall 2008), Christina Feldman points out the importance of penetrating the conceit of self, describes its various manifestations, and suggests that liberating ourselves begins with becoming sensitive to those manifestations. As she writes, life is a powerful ally in undermining conceit by providing us with “times when our world crumbles” to the point of realizing that “there is simply no more that ‘I’ can do.”

The fact is that “I” have never been able to do anything, whether in difficult circumstances or easy. It has become a given in neuroscience that there is no entity in charge of the brain, no “I” who controls our behavior. Science has caught up with the Buddha in recognizing that the “self” is an illusion, at least as a controlling agent. Selflessness is not some abstract theological concept; it is the widely accepted truth of brain science.

Realizing this scientific truth has been a great help to me in unraveling the intellectual underpinnings of the self, but, as Feldman suggests, liberation requires paying attention to the everyday manifestations of conceit: “our judgments and comparisons, the views we construct about ourselves and others. Suffering, evaluating, envy, and fear. . . ”

Intellectual understanding of ourselves, helpful as it can be, doesn’t seem to bring freedom. For most of us, liberation from a lifetime of conceit requires ongoing mindfulness. I’m grateful to Tricycle for its continual reminders to pay attention.

Norman L. Bearrentine

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