I had been intending for some time to write this here, but I wound up posting it as a comment on Takuin’s blog.
Here it is, so it can be here too.
People spend an awful lot of time worrying about their selves. People go out into the world to find themselves, they turn inward to find themselves within themselves. They worry and fret about whether their selves are happy, content, or fulfilled. Often they seek themselves for years and years without really finding anything. Some never do.
This is because what they seek isn’t there.
Self, as a thinker and a doer distinct from the thinking and doing, is an illusion, a fantasy of causality that we implicitly agree to superimpose upon the doing that is what we call our lives. The self exists when we think about it – or, rather, we create the illusion of the self by thinking about it.
It is not hard to think of things that do not exist, like a talking dog. It’s not even hard to think of things that CAN not exist. Santa Claus, for example. The tooth fairy. The Easter bunny. A huge, fiery cave in which ex-humans live in eternal torture. A barber who shaves only men who do not shave themselves.
When we are not thinking about the self, but rather simply doing or thinking about other things, where is the self? Is it a self that is doing and thinking? No. Doing and thinking are patterns of matter. What I call my body is simply matter arranged into a pattern that “does” and “thinks”. The matter itself comes and goes from my body; my life is simply the pattern into which the matter is arranged over time.
What we call thinking is merely doing that occurs inside our brains. Do we control our thoughts? No. We ARE the thoughts. We are the sum of the doing that we do.
When we choose to try to control our thoughts, the choosing is a doing within the brain. Is there a self that chooses to choose? Do you choose to think? Of course not. You might think “I am not going to think”, but that very thought is a contradiction. You have already violated your choice. If you think “I am going to quit thinking NOW”, do you actually stop thinking? No.
It is possible to do things that have an effect on the functioning of the mind – meditation, medication, or biofeedback.. In order to do these things, we must choose to do them. But the choice itself is a doing over which we have no control.
You might even say that the fact that material actions can affect – even destroy – the mind could be evidence that the mind, the “self”, is only a pattern of matter.
So you can imagine that there is a self that exists apart from the body, that plans for the future, or seeks peace, surrender, or freedom. That doesn’t mean that such a self has to exist; in fact we have no real evidence that it does. We have evidence only of the physical manifestations of doing and thinking.
Choose to plan, or don’t. Seek peace or surrender, or don’t. You will still be what you are – an organizing principle by which matter is manipulated.
Is there ultimately a doer doing all this doing? Who knows? Why does it matter?