Witness the arising of the sense of self

In the blog category “Guided Reflections”, I will provide detailed explanations for all the guided reflection tracks that I will place in the Resources section of this website. These blog posts will be hyperlinked from the “Guided Reflections” page under “Resources” menu option where these tracks in mp3 format will be placed for streaming or for downloading.

Within Buddhist teachings, we human beings are described as a collection of five changing processes (often called aggregates of clinging): the processes of the physical body, of feelings, of perceptions, of mental formations and of the flow of consciousness that experiences them all. Our sense of self arises interdependently with this process of identification of sense objects with these aggregates. Even though this is a subtle process hidden from our awareness, we can observe the gathering of energies inside us or some form of contraction in our minds as the sense of self arises. The identification with our sense of self often results in clinging leading to suffering.

This reflection practice will help you experience the arising and passing away of the sense of self. You can prove to yourself that the self is not a monolithic constant experience but one that keeps on changing depending on the nature of our identification with our body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness. The fact that you can observe the sense of self arising and passing away could prove to you that there is something else beyond the sense of self that observes this phenomenon.

In Buddhism, the term anattā (Pali) refers to the doctrine of “non-self”, that there is no unchanging, permanent self, soul or essence in phenomena. Since craving and aversion lie at the heart of suffering, and since there’s clinging to the sense of self, the teachings use the perception of not-self as a strategy to dismantle that clinging. Whenever you see yourself identifying with anything stressful and inconstant, you remind yourself that it’s not-self because it is impermanent and unsatisfactory. Therefore, it is not worth clinging to, not worth calling your “self”. This helps you let go of it. When you do this as a matter of practice and skill set, it can lead to long-term happiness.

A question will arise as to the veracity of this practice. Surely, we cannot let go of everything and totally dismantle the sense of self. We must live in this world and provide for our families. We must consider our “selves” as physically separate from our neighbors and colleagues. I think that ultimately, there needs to be a skillful dance between the sense of self and the sense of not-self. We need to let go wherever necessary and consider our sense of self as fluid and inconstant. We can use this reflection practice of witnessing the arising of the sense of self to let go of stressful and excessive clinging to bring about some measure of happiness. We can also use this practice to relate to the people living in our midst in a more compassionate manner.

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