The nature of self
August 30, 2014 § 6 Comments
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)