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The problem is in seeking what to call 'my own.'
September 14th, 2012

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

The problem is in seeking what to call 'my own.'

Someone recently wrote the following comment (in a thread on 'free will'):
I even suspect my continuity is but an illusion, as consciousness probably cycles on and off many times a second, and I continuously die and am reborn. In case that is in doubt, I die every night and am reborn in the morning for sure. I am not afraid of dying, I am afraid of the time I won't be reborn. I agree with "science" (and the mystics) that the ego is not worth very much, but for now, it is all "I" have to call my own.

I think (for what my judgement is worth) that this perspective on Non-Self is pretty deep already but it nonetheless bumps into a hindrance shared by many, so I'll make a post out of the reply:

Writing "for now, it is all 'I' have to call my own" is obviously quite humorous in the perspective of letting go of the ego. The 'I' is not the problem here… the problem is in seeking what to call 'my own.'

From the Buddhist perspective, the 'I' constitutes itself by appropriation of "what's (posited as) mine." The origination of the sense of self (permanent like a 'soul') follows this chain:
experience is subjective [by construction (limited perception by organs)]
=> 'my' experience
=> if 'my' exists, 'I' exists
=> to reduce the anguish of death / extinction / not being reborn, I can solidify the 'I' by 'solidifying' "what's mine" i.e. loudly "calling it my own".
Everything is conditioned, relative and impermanent though; so, in order to solidify what's mine, I need to project some delusion of permanency, solidity, independent entity onto what I appropriate. I delusion myself, create a sense of 'eternal' self, thanks to the delusion that what I appropriate is solid, that the world is eternal (if not 'this' world, some 'super-world' encompassing Paradise and Hell)… 

To see impermanence around us, conditions and processes around us, to see the lack of solidity / entity around us is what allows to let go of 'owning.' What do you own when there is nothing that stays your own? Letting go of ownership, including of ownership of a convention / definition of "who I am," one can let go of the ego.

The initially-mentioned commentator continued:
My hope is to identify with that sneaky "higher self" while I still exist, or maybe to wake up and find that my identity is not centered in my self, but as the Buddhists say, there is no ego, or it has to give up and die so you can be "enlightened," which means you realize your true self is not the foreground ego, but the whole background universe, temporarily centered in yourself.

Buddhists indeed deny the little self, but many major streams of Buddhism would also deny the higher Self… which doesn't negate freedom: it simply doesn't associate such freedom to a fixed permanent entity (with a fixed identity). It is simply a matter of allowing freedom to change the entity (it's all about how does one 'define' an entity): by nature, a potential change  prevents the entity from being fixed…
Losing the little self (ātman) but identifying (Ātman) with the higher Self (Brahman) is a lot closer to the Vedantic / Upaniṣadic perspective than to Buddhism. Vedānta is a very commendable spiritual tradition (close to Buddhism in many aspects, but different at heart in this very relation to Brahman).

[initial comment by +Drew Sowersby, in initial thread (worth a read if you're interested in philosophy on 'free will'): ]
[photo (© D. Wallez, 2008): trimurti of शिव (Śiva), elephanta island, India]
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