The following is an excerpt from A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life, by Jack Kornfield. It is from Chapter 14, “No Self or True Self?”


Spiritual practice inevitably brings us face to face with the profound mystery of our own identity. We have taken birth in a human body. What is this force that gives us life, that brings us and the world into form? The world’s great spiritual teachings tell us over and over we are not who we think we are.

Persian mystics say we are sparks of the divine, and Christian mystics say we are filled with God. We are one with all things, say others. The world is all illusion, say others. Some teachings explain how consciousness creates life to express all possibilities, to be able to love, to know oneself. Others point out how consciousness gets lost in its patterns, loses its way, incarnates out of ignorance. Hindu yogas call the world a lila, or a dance of the divine, much like Dante’s phrase, “the divine comedy.”

Buddhist texts describe how consciousness itself creates the world like a dream or a mirage. Modern accounts of near-death experiences are filled with reports of wonderful ease after leaving the body, of golden light and luminous beings. Perhaps these, too, confirm how we are unaware of our true identity most of the time.

When we look into the question of self and identity in spiritual practice, we find it requires us to understand two distinct dimensions of self-selflessness and true self…

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