The nature of self

August 30, 2014 § 6 Comments

North Vancouver 2087

It is known that exposure to life and death situations, serious injury or violence whether real or threatened, may lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in one person but not in another. From this we may conclude that trauma does not lie in the event, itself, but in some internal realization the event precipitates. I suspect the trauma lies in a sudden realization of the true nature of the self, or sense of “I”, that has previously been ignored or denied.

Buddhist thinking says that humanity falsely sees the self as a unique and real thing that exists independent of all else. This belief creates the idea of the other that stands in direct opposition to self. It also creates an inner emptiness that, with the idea of the other, drives humanity into grasping for pleasure and the avoidance of pain. It is through this grasping and avoidance that we remain stuck in Sangsara, the eternal cycle of suffering, death and rebirth.

Individually, we grasp at or avoid people and things according to how we want to be seen and how we see ourselves. This means that each one of us seeks to sustain the idea we have of our self. I think this point very important so will repeat it; we seek to sustain the idea of self.

The self is sustained though the grasping and avoidance of specific traits, people and things that then become identified as the self. But as the world by its very nature is constantly changing, the day must come when our identity falls away and we come face to face with the inner emptiness. It is our own unwillingness to face this emptiness, i.e., the loss of self, that precipitates trauma.

When faced with change an individual that holds tightly to his or her identity will suffer more than one who grasps lightly. When things change, one who has clung tightly may be traumatized to find the self is not a real and enduring thing. He or she may feel suspended in air with no ground on which to stand. And PTSD may result if the impermanence of self cannot be accepted.

The self’s true nature is impermanence. We may fight this by grasping at pleasure or accumulating riches but as these have no more substance than clouds in the sky, we suffer. Yet we need not despair. To quote Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, “All Buddhist practices are directed to overcoming such notions so that we may open up to a level of being that is much vaster than this tiny little ego we cling to so desperately.” (Into The Heart of Life, 2011. Snow Lion Publications. p.50)


Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

§ 6 Responses to The nature of self

  • Yes, the nature of the ‘tiny little’ self! If only…


    • No “if only’s” necessary. Limitless compassion, joy, loving-kindness and equanimity are yours right now. You need not improve yourself to find them. You need only let go your false ideas. Then the seed of your true self will grow and blossom as you learn to express these qualities in your every day life. It’s really a great adventure that anyone can start from where they are, right now!


      • ‘start from where they are, right now”!!!! the wonder of life. You are too kind my dear friend, but indeed I do have to let go of false ideas as well as improve – a very natural and not forced process! For example, your articles offer answers exactly when the questions appear! 🙂


      • Jung might call finding the answer when you ask the question a matter of synchronicity, i.e., when two or more events are connected by meaning, alone, and not any causal factor. But too often this term is used as a synonym for coincidence, which is not, I think, what Jung intended.

        To me, meaning is intrinsic to ultimate reality. This means that all true connections are meaningfully connections. It is only when we cling to the false, or try to force the truth, that meaning becomes hidden and obscure.


  • In the Stillness of Willow Hill says:

    It wasn’t until the breakup of my 25 year marriage that I found out I had been living only to sustain an image of myself. It took years to untangle from those broken images and open to emptiness. This is a hard concept to explain to others…they have to discover it for themselves when the moment is right. Thank you for your compassionate look at this topic.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading The nature of self at August Meditations.


%d bloggers like this: