The Search for Self
In Buddhism it seems the concept of “self” is similar to that of “soul” in Christianity. Christians live out their lives on Earth so that their soul may live on for eternity. The Buddha believes that nothing is permanent in as much as things are constantly in flux. Also, there is the question of how we perceive things and if our perception is or can ever be accurate. To a great degree we are a product of our environment so we interpret things and see things based on the biases and beliefs’ with which we were raised. Taking that into consideration it would stand to reason that our perception is perhaps skewed and not entirely rooted in truth.
Attempting to conceptualize the existence of “self” would be reliant upon the perception of what it means to exist. Human beings feel pain, happiness and many other sensations that are physical as well as emotional. So we know that at least in some sense we do indeed exist. The Buddha believed that everything is connected and to a certain degree we are all just a part of something else and reliant upon the grand idea of something greater than “self”. When one of us ceases to exist the world carries on as it has so nothing depends upon the existence of a self.
Buddhism, as with many religions or philosophies is a way of looking at the world and a set of beliefs that guide us as to how we should live our lives. The only way for any religion to work is for everyone to accept the fact that there is only one path to nirvana, or one path for salvation and for that to be true, the idea of an individual must be rejected.
In all societies rules must be established so that people may live together peacefully. One person’s well-being cannot be more important than someone else’s. Belonging to a group, any group requires a certain amount of rejecting the “self” so that everyone’s needs are taken into consideration. Society would break down if it was “every man for himself” so to speak because each person would only be thinking of their own needs at the expense of others. As with most things that require faith, it is impossible to prove or disprove whether or not they are true. Science can prove when the Earth was formed with a certain degree of certainty but it cannot prove there is no God. I can reject the power of prayer but there is no way for me to prove it works or that it doesn’t. The Buddha can reject the idea of “self” in the context of Buddhism but that doesn’t mean a person doesn’t have a “soul”, it is undeterminable.
The idea of “self” to me cannot be rejected, yet I do concur our perception of self is misguided. I am an individual but I am also a part of the universe and everything that encompasses, the trick is in convincing everyone else of that. Christianity instills the belief that humans have dominion over everything else, so it breeds this notion that we, the “individual” are the most important thing. My actions or inactions not only impact me, they also impact others, in ways I may or may not be aware of.
The path to anything, including nirvana requires many things and there is no one way to get there. Introspection is the first step to any type of discovery and the reconciliation of the self and the whole. I am no more important and am no less important than what is around me. A balance needs to exist in everything, when things are out of balance it doesn’t work. That balance is true within the context of the self as well. Believing that “ego” is part of the “self”, it is a delicate balance that keeps that in check. Too much ego and I go about life thinking my needs are more important than those of others, too little ego and the chances of me being exploited or taken advantage of increase.
It may seem as though this paper rambles a bit, probably because it does. When I realized this I began to panic and frantically began editing and trying to salvage what I had so that I would not have to start over with a new position. Then I stepped back and began thinking about the subject matter, the existence of self, or not as the case may be and I made a decision to leave the paper as it was not because I thought the paper had such merit but because in some ways the paper illustrated a process; a process of “self” discovery. The “self” changes, evolves and we are not the same person as we were just a day ago and I am not the same person I was when I began this paper, perhaps that is the beginning.