posted on Oct, 9 2009 @ 12:49 PM
As I've been reading books on Buddhism at my local library which is where I am now to type this thread out I've been a bit interested in what the
self is. Also doing a bit of online research there's quite a vast amount of opinions on the subject matter. I will list some and give you my opinion
on what the self is, and then maybe you can tell me your belief! =)
"Among all the Buddha's teachings, those on the nature of the self are the hardest to understand, yet they are central to the religion. In fact,
"fully perceiving the nature of the self" is one way to define enlightenment.
The Five Skandhas
The Buddha taught that an individual is a combination of five aggregates of existence, also called the Five Skandhas or the five heaps. These are:
4. Mental formations
Various schools of Buddhism interpret the skandhas in somewhat different ways. Generally, the first skandha is our physical form. The second is made
up of our feelings, emotional and physical, and our senses -- seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling.
The third skandha, perception, takes in most of what we call thinking -- conceptualization, cognition, reasoning. This also includes the recognition
that occurs when an organ comes into contact with an object. Perception can be thought of as "that which identifies." The object perceived may be a
physical object or a mental one, such as an idea.
The fourth skandha, mental formations, includes habits, prejudices and predispositions. Our volition, or willfulness, also is part of the fourth
skandha, as are attention, faith, conscientiousness, pride, desire, vindictiveness, and many other mental states both virtuous and not virtuous. The
causes and effects of karma are especially important to the fourth skandha.
The fifth skandha, consciousness, is awareness of or sensitivity to an object, but without conceptualization. Once there is awareness, the third
skandha might recognize the object and assign a concept-value to it, and the fourth skandha might react with desire or revulsion or some other mental
formation. The fifth skandha is explained in some schools as base that ties the experience of life together.
The Self Is No-Self
What's most important to understand about the skandhas is that they are empty. They are not qualities that an individual possesses, because there is
no-self possessing them. This doctrine of no-self is called anatman or anatta.
Very basically, the Buddha taught that "you" are not an integral, autonomous entity. The individual self, or what we might call the ego, is more
correctly thought of as a by-product of the skandhas.
On the surface, this appears to be a nihilistic teaching. But the Buddha taught that if we can see through the delusion of the small, individual self,
we experience that which is not subject to birth and death.
Beyond this point, Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism differ on how anatman is understood. In fact, more than anything else it is the different
understanding of self that defines and separates the two schools.
Very basically, Theravada considers anatman to mean that an individual's ego or personality is a fetter and delusion. Once freed of this delusion,
the individual may enjoy the bliss of Nirvana.
Mahayana, on the other hand, considers all physical forms to be void of intrinsic self (a teaching called shunyata, which means "emptiness"). The
ideal in Mahayana is to enable all beings to be enlightened together, not only out of a sense of compassion, but because we are not really separate,
Ken Wilber describes the Witnessing (or Observing) Self in the following terms:
"This observing Self is usually called the Self with a capital S, or the Witness, or pure Presence, or pure Awareness, or Consciousness as such,
and this Self as transparent Witness is a direct ray of the living Divine. The ultimate "I AM" is Christ, is Buddha, is Emptiness itself: such is
the startling testimony of the world's great mystics and sages."
He adds that the Self is not an Emergent, but an aspect present from the start as the basic form of awareness, but which becomes increasingly obvious
and self aware "as growth and transcendence matures." As Depth increases, consciousness shines forth more noticeably, until:
"shed[ding] its lesser identification with both the body and the mind ... in each case from matter to body to mind to Spirit... consciousness or
the observing Self sheds an exclusive identity with a lesser and shallower dimension, and opens up to deeper and higher and wider occasions, until it
opens up to its own ultimate ground in Spirit itself. And the stages of transpersonal growth and development are basically the stages of following
this Observing Self to its ultimate abode, which is pure Spirit or pure Emptiness, the ground, path and fruition of the entire display."
In a similar vein, Evelyn Underhill states:
"It is clear that under ordinary conditions, and save for sudden gusts of "Transcendental Feeling" induced by some saving madness such as
Religion, Art, or Love, the superficial self knows nothing of the attitude of this silent watcher—this "Dweller in the Innermost"—towards the
incoming messages of the external world: nor of the activities which they awake in it. Concentrated on the sense-world, and the messages she receives
from it, she knows nothing of the relations which exist between this subject and the unattainable Object of all thought. But by a deliberate
inattention to the messages of the senses, such as that which is induced by contemplation, the mystic can bring the ground of the soul, the seat of
"Transcendental Feeling," within the area of consciousness: making it amenable to the activity of the will. Thus becoming unaware of his usual and
largely fictitious "external world," another and more substantial set of perceptions, which never have their chance under normal conditions, rise to
the surface. Sometimes these unite with the normal reasoning faculties. More often, they supersede them. Some such exchange, such "losing to find,"
appears to be necessary, if man's transcendental powers are to have their full chance."
[edit on 9-10-2009 by 4stral4pprentice]