Life was given to me without my consent… my own existence filled me with astonishment.
Elsewhere he writes:
Let us abandon the vain search after the unattainable, and give ourselves up wholly to the joys of the present.
Elsewhere he adds:
I am racked with thirst, and yet a fresh cool stream flows before me.
Omar is drunk with life, intoxicated with existence, in awe of the very possibility of being. But not always, not when he is caught up in the wheel of life… Not when he thirsts for the unattainable again…
How long will you expend your existence on vain self-love, or in search for the source of being and of non-being?
While I typically waste my time on the latter (on the search for the source of Being and Non-Being) rather than the former (vain self-love), I wonder if my philosophizing and the search for truth isn’t vain self-love…
Do you, Fellow Mind, have the Courage of Not-Knowing?
[adapted and grammatically modernized by yours truly from McCarthy’s version of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam]
related: Poetry – a Zen Sin?
Try a little identity experiment. You’ll need a credit card, a pen and a piece of paper, and a cup of water. Write your name down on a piece of paper. Now, sprinkle some water on your name on the credit card and on your name that you have inked on the piece of paper. Notice what happens. While the ink of your name on a piece of paper begins to run and dissolve, your name on the plastic card remains intact.
Let a few minutes pass. Wipe the credit card dry. Now try to soak up and dry up the water from the piece of paper. Your name on the credit card is completely unaffected. Your name on the piece of paper is damaged: a little smudged, diffused, somewhat dissolved.
The morale of the story? The Transient doesn’t last. Your name on the credit card is embossed and, as such, is part of the inalienable structure of the card. Your name on the piece of paper is written, added to the surface.
Ego is information about us. It’s added. First, we are. Then we seek reflection in a variety of informational mirrors. Finally, we internalize this information about us and confuse it with what is truly us, mistaking the words of self-description that we wrote down on the mirror of our am-ness with the mirror itself. Ego, in short, is an in-house logbook of self-descriptions, a collection of favorite quotes about us, a résumé of our accomplishments, and so on.
Ego is an added self. As a result, it is vulnerable. A little character assassination does an easy wet job on our self-concept. A drop of disapproval and the hard-crafted calligraphy of our identity begins to dissolve. Somebody calls us this or that enough times, and we forget our original built-in identity of name-less-ness.
Adapted from “Lotus Effect” (Somov, 2010)
The first one was the invention of fire keeping. Fire set us free. It bought us time to sit down and reflect. The second is the invention of the wheel. The wheel put us on the road. It kicked off progress and set us in motion. The wheel yanked us out of contemplation. The third is the invention of the mirror. The mirror gave us a chance to reflect on ourselves while still on the go. The mirror gave us an opportunity to return to introspection without slowing down the wheel of the progress.
But we misused the mirror: we have confused the reflection in the mirror with the one looking at it. As a result we got stuck in the mirror. We started to worship the false idol of reflection.
It’s time to break away from the mirror: you are not a reflection.
Try what I call a “mirror fast.” Spend one day without looking at the mirror. Notice the real you.
Adapted from “Lotus Effect” (Somov, 2010)
Hand mirror photo available from Shutterstock.
Here’s an arguably heady (but hopefully useful) piece on what I call Skinthink (from “History of the Next Big Bang;” it’s a psychoanalytic socio-cosmology in the tradition of Russian Cosmism and Vedic Cosmology).
Mind is Skin
Made of skin, mind thinks like skin. It is a fact of human embryonic development that CNS [Central Nervous System], the seat of human intelligence, begins as nothing more than involution (envagination) of ectoderm. The ectoderm enfolds onto itself (through a process called neural tubing) and becomes centralized, externally, as a brain, and, internally, as a mind.
The first and foremost job of any skin is to separate the inner from the outer, the self from the other. The skin divides and so do we. Made of skin, we mind dualistically and dichotomously. Each mind, like a pair of scissors, divides the Oneness of the Universe in half (initially into “self’ and “other”) and then in half again and again and again. This Skinthink is inevitable.
In getting to know your essential self (in dis-identifying from what we are not), there are ten mirrors of identity to look into:
Once you study yourself in these mirrors you will see that 9 of these mirrors offer you nothing but distortions – you are not how you look, you are not others’ thoughts about you, you are not your body, you are not even your own thoughts about you, and so on and so forth.
It’s only the 10th mirror (the Mirror of Consciousness) – the mirror of meditation – the inner mirror – that allows you to catch a true glimpse of your essential self.
Candrakirti, a seventh-century Buddhist philosopher wrote: “[Self] is an essence of things that does not depend on others [other things]; it is an intrinsic nature” (1). The question to answer is this: what is self and how shall we recognize it when we encounter it? I’d like to suggest the following two markers of real self.
Locality is the first criterion of the essential self. Experientially, subjectively, you are always here (wherever that “here” for you is), while the world is out there. To be yours, self would have to be located inside of you, not outside of you. Self is intrinsic, (internal, inner, embedded).
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “self” takes its linguistic root from the Proto-Indo-European word base se, which means “separate, apart”. The word ”self” is kin to such separating words as segment, section, secret. Notice the “se“ word base of all these terms. So, when I mention that self is inextricably linked to locality, it is this separateness I’m talking about. The word “self” is also kin (by way of se) to the word “several,” which literally means those that are separate and thus diverse, multiple, different, and individual. It is this localized se-parateness, the apart-ness of self, that assures its essential and indivisible individuality.
Permanence is the second criterion of the essential self. Indeed, any aspect of self that is impermanent, fleeting, and transient is by definition neither necessary nor sufficient for the existence of the essential self.
Adapted from Lotus Effect (Pavel Somov, 2010)
(1) Bodhisattvayogacaryacatuhsatakatika, 256.1.7
Ego is not an anatomical structure. It’s not something that you will see on an X-ray. Ego is an informational structure. That’s what the term ego actually means: it is a Latinized translation of “das Ich,” which is German for “the I.” “The I” is “the information” that you have about you.
The ego-based view of the self is as unstable as a table on three legs. There are three issues with ego we need to examine, and they all start with the letter I. “The I” (ego) balances on identification with impermanent information. Let’s take a closer look.
Ego is Information. Ego is a collection of self-descriptions, just a bunch of words written down on the mirror of your consciousness. Let’s say I point at the moon with my index finger. Is my finger the moon that I am pointing at? Of course not. Now ponder this: are you the information that you have about you or are you that which this information is about? Are you a self-description or that which you are describing?
So, why is it that we give away our essence, exchanging the original for a copy? The answer is complex, nuanced, and case-specific, but here’s a bird’s-eye view of the problem.
You see, the brain translates life into information. Some of the information that we receive has nothing to do with us. We either ignore it or file it away for future use. But some of the information feels personally relevant. So, we examine it and hoard what’s useful. The information that we keep becomes our ego, our self-concept.
Over time, we get used to this information about us and begin to identify with it. For example, you get a few As in a graduate-level math class and you feel tempted to conclude: “I am a math whiz.” Or, say, you grow up in a coal-mining town, identifying with its ethos of honesty and hard work, and then run for a political office as “a son of a coal-miner,” on a mandate of what-you-see-is-what-you-get transparency.
One way or another, we all – up to a point – wrap ourselves in our informational and autobiographical resumes like togas until they cake on like second skin.
I know you had at some point that timeless restlessness
of trying to find a way to be comfortable in a Chair of Reality
and your mind just couldn’t quite find a way
of how to settle down into whatever is
But here’s what you missed
You the Consciousness
are already long at rest
winking at the essence of all your love
with a lazy Buddha smile
No punctuation in zazen
just flow and non-flow
of Ordinary Perfection