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The Criteria of 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

The Criteria of Essential Self

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2019). The Criteria of Essential Self. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 26 Mar 2019
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