The inexistent self of Buddhism, and the trans-personal self

The inexistent self of Buddhism: a brief description

In the Buddha’s Discourse on the Not-self (, he stated the reasons for his claim about the non existence of any self. Shortly, Buddha says us we human beings are the result of five aggregates. The impermanence is a key concept of Buddhism doctrine, also used in the Four Noble Truths (see, for example, for explain the roots of suffering.

Then, the argument of “there is no self” is:

  1. The five components are impermanent.
  2. If there was a self, it would be permanent, and the self has the control over the five components
  3. A person is no more than the five skandhas (this is the exhaustiveness claim).
  4. Therefore there is no self.

The prior argument has, from my point of view, one weak premise: the third; are we sure we are no more than the aggregate of five skandhas?.

And also the second premise contains a weak assumption: the control; we can live a state of consciousness in which we are mere observers, no taking control of the flow of things.  The weakness of this two assumptions, “a person is no more than their aggregates” and “the self are the controller of the aggregates” are two reasons that support an alternative position: there are a permanent self, an “I”, beyond the aggregates, and this “I” is not controlling anything, on the contrary, is a mere observer, untangled from the world.

Let me distinguish two levels of self: the psychological (the personality) and a transcendent one. For me, Buddha refers only to the former. The second self, the transcendent, is the one which we pay attention now.

And “I” that takes no control

We must be able to let things appear in the psyche. For us, this is an art which most people do not know anything. We are usually interfering, helping, correcting or denying, without letting the psychic process is developed in peace“. – Carl Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower, 1962, pg. 93

Jung speaks of a mind that does not interfere or react with the contents of consciousness, an idea that reminds us to the modern definition of Mindfulness: when we simply observe, without interfere, a deeply therapeutic result occurs, a relaxation in the experience of the moment present, and cease trying to control everything. We realize that if we stop fighting for control, the world does not fall apart, and we still are somebody, we accept the conditions of life, and found a new source of satisfaction.

The meditative traditions continue where psychoanalysis ends … we cut the roots of the reaction … That eliminates much suffering. Then you become master of your own mind and experience.” – Daniel Brown, MindScience.

As Buddha said, the liberation of the automatic process of reaction for control things brings us peace and relieve us of a big piece of our suffering; yet when nobody controls anything, we still feel we are somebody. Who we are?

An “I” that is only an observer, not implicated in then world

Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled. – Bhagavad Gita –

The second Buddha’s weak argument is about a self formed exclusively by the sum of the five aggregates, so is a material “I”. There are many spiritual traditions that claims the contrary, like the classic Hinduism, but nowadays even in the field of Psychology we can find alternative approaches:

Transpersonal Psychology is concerned with the study of humanity’s highest potential, and with the recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive, spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness. – Lajoie, D. H. & Shapiro, S. I. “Definitions of transpersonal psychology: The first twenty-three years”. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 24, 1992

There are other higher levels of personality which all of us also have, less or more developed: higher affectivity and higher mind. The last is characterized for not be centered on the individual, but on the knowledge itself, we can say: on the truth. Is impersonal, not interested in personal ideas and opinions but in see things as really are.

On the higher affective level there are not personal reactions against external data, instead, the good, the goodness, are perceived as universal facts; when we contemplate a beautiful landscape the sense of harmony and grandiosity is universal, the same for all. All of us have such level, more or less developed.


I think, basing on other traditions, modern Mindfulness meditation, and also on Trans-personal Psychology, that we can live at higher level than our habitual “I”, our individual personality, who, like Buddha states clearly, is only a virtual being, the result of the sum of impermanent aggregates; instead, we can live as a higher “I”, that can retain the sense of be somebody while at the same time is living a whole connection, a trans-personal feeling.

“They say they think with their heads”

There is a story according to which C.G. Jung, the well-known psychiatrist, met while their journey to Mexico with an Indian named Ochwiä Biano (mountain lake), this one comment:

The whites always want something, are uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want. We do not understand them. We think they’re crazy.

When Jung asked him why he believed that all white men were crazy, the Indian replied:

They say they think with their heads.

Jung, surprised, said: “of course, don’t you do so way?”, and the Indian, pointing to his heart, said: “We think here.”

Actually now a days there are a revival of the role played for the body in decision making, strange as it can seem for our intellectualized society; there are IQ, intelligence quotient, but also EQ, emotional quotient, and emotions born both from body and mind, and even SQ, spiritual intelligence quotient. The body reacts to the environment independently of the intellect, and with training we can feel their instinctive messages. If Jung was true with their theory of collective unconscious, our body, thought the individual unconscious, is able to connect with the collective one and get information beyond the scope of our intellect.

Maybe the ancient tribes was true, and the excessive use of intellect in the developed societies is the source of most of our troubles, maybe is time to recover our body intelligence, our connection with the Nature and the whole.



Delusions of separateness


In the Universe of delusions of our little individual mind there are one category that is specially harmful for ourselves: separateness. In the picture I illustrate it: in a vast Sea we can see countless contiguous waves, all of them forming part of the Sea. If any wave had a little individual mind, then it were possible situations like the one of the picture: a wave feeling alone, looking for friendship, maybe for love, and moreover, hoping a forever unchanged relationship. There are other delusions also originated from separateness, that are even more dangerous: see the others as different from ourselves, and fear or even reject such differences.

A wave of the Sea is unstable, fickle, and last for a short lapse of time, there are not any stable part in it, and of course is not alone at all, but surrounded by other waves of their same nature; analyzing with our mind any wave, we can see differences between them: there are tall and short waves, large and small, breaking and smooth ones, newborn and old ones, etc., but, all of them are waves. Also, human being is unstable, fickle, and last for a short lapse of time, and lives surrounded by billions of fellows. Why this sense of separateness?

The delusions of separateness and his by-products are originated,  created by our individual mind. Indeed, is the main function of the so-named psychological ego, a mental construct that feels separated from all the environment, and feels threatened for anything that challenges their sense of separateness … but at the same time such separateness make him very weak, so the ego is always looking for protection, for security, for a stable environment, for people who help him to survive. In this complicated two directions movement, towards separateness for survive as an individual ego, and also towards the others for have help, human being lives. Is a very  complicated balance, producing schizophrenic behavior: people walking on the street, coinciding on a elevator, or in a train car, avoiding eye contact, for fear to be damaged in some way; neighbors in apartments, living side-by-side for decades, without almost any human contact,  family living  people wanting to live home, maybe divorcing, maybe emancipating prematurely due to hard disputes with parents, etc etc.

Just imagine we stop “looking at the navel” and instead we start to look at reality without mental filters, what we can see then? Is easy: a Sea of billions of fellows, with out same characteristics, exactly the same, the ones of the human specie. Also, we can see our little mind is no more than a product of Nature, and also has the same characteristics in all our fellows. We are strongly focused on the differences, and don’t realize the similitudes, the oneness that embraces all the individuals.


If those penguins had Ego, many of them were lonely there, others would fell threatened by others, and some of them will attack others

Indeed, we have here an enigma: there is a Natural force named the evolution of species, and also other force named conservation of the species; both acting coordinately. The former are dedicated to “tuning” the species for improve their adaptation, but also is able to create new species; the last is the conservative one, dedicated to exactly reply the DNA from individual to individual, and also to defense against eternal attacks. It happens that evolution, the first force, has given us human beings a so developed nervous system (originally created for help the second Natural force, conservation of the individual) that creates a virtual psychological ego, so worried for survive that is able to involve himself in armed conflicts … killing other members of their own specie for political, or religious, or other reasons (that is, psychological invented reasons)… so attacking directly the Natural force of conservation of species!  Maybe human being is an error of the evolution? Then, our future will be become extinct for our own hand. Maybe is an intermediate product toward a new specie? I think so, also Eckhart Tolle, the well known writer and speaker, think in this way, see for example The Ego, the Now, Evolution and Madness: An Interview with Eckhart Tolle.

Spiritual Psychology

Classical Indian mysticism compares the mind to a lake, there are strong winds called emotions blowing on the surface; as a result, the water is moving constantly, sometimes slightly, sometimes making a storm. There are two paths for overcome such storms: one is calming the mind, which become peaceful like a high mountain lake; the other is learning to dive into the depths of mind. The former can be achieved through meditation and also through other disciplines, like emotional management, positive psychology, relaxation, and others. The last, a more direct approach, as far as I know can only be achieved through meditation; what we will find under the surface of mind? The description we will give here could be named the one of  a “Spiritual Psychology”.

Just below the surface there are a small level named individual consciousness; being so near to the surface, such level is still easily stirred by the winds of emotions and sense impressions. In this level we live the duality: we identify us with our thoughts, and we believe we are separated from the world.

Underlying this level we can find the depths of collective unconscious, named “alaya-vijnana” for the Buddha. This level is non-dual: there are only one alaya-vijnana, when we reach it, our consciousness expands embracing the whole. If we learn to dive into such deep level of mind, we become free from the influence of any storm at the surface; there are no need to calm the winds, simply we are not affected by them. Is easy to find people training themselves for achieve very difficult aims,  like run a Marathon, climb the Himalayas, swim kilometers in the sea, … but of what real use is all of it? With similar amount of effort we learn to dive in our deep mind, achieving the peace which overcome any description, named “Shanti” in the Hindu tradition, or “the peace of the Lord” in the Christian one.

There are a lot of disciplines and methods that study the mind from the same point of view  also used for study the physical environment; being the mind so subtil, seems clear that such methods are too rude for really dive deep in the nature of mind. Moreover, being ourselves identified with our mind, we become unable for to be objective, living only in the surface of the mind. When we dive the mind through meditation, we discover our identity is beyond our individual mind; in such peaceful state we experience the bliss of the unified life; in such moments we live as, we are the soul, or the higher self, or the Atman, there are many names for label it, but names are not important, is a lived experience, we must live it for ourselves.

Nature evolution has given us with a so sophisticated nervous system that it be able to connect, through appropriate training and tuning, with subtil, higher orders of existence, beyond the physical world. Ancient sages of India and also of Egypt was, maybe, the first divers of the mind, about two or three thousand years ago; now a days there are hundreds of thousand of meditators, following any of the many self development disciplines. Knowing the first human beings appeared on the Earth about two millions years ago, the time between the first meditators and us seems very short:

temps humanitat

Using a scale of 100.000 years, the time between us and the first known meditators appears as a point (in the figure, the red point) in the last section of human being existence on Earth. 

From this point of view, seems we are the first of a new human species, the meditators one, and we live in a transition epoch, at the doors of a new gold age:

Tao evolución

The next step of human evolution? Image from the book “Buddha’s Nature – Wes Nisker

This post was inspired by the book “Conquest of Mind” by Eknath Easwaran, and also is based on personal experiences.

Evolution of our identity: from little ego up to the Self

Human being has two dimensions. In one dimension, as a part of the whole, he is Nature, he is Universe, their personality is a creation of the Universe, and is in constant interchange, intercommunication with their environment; their body is matter, and their individual mind is also a product of the evolution, a product of the Nature. But besides that, human being also has an identity, an individuality; even with the constant interchange with all their environment, even continuously changing, something in him keeps him self-aware. The evolution of the identity of human being involves both dimensions, both directions: connecting with the environment and also developing the sense of be somebody beyond the environment.

Expansion of the identity: non duality

The former aspect is the phenomenological, the existencial one; the person lives it as if it were two different things: the objective world, outside them, and the subjective world, within them. Indeed, both things are subjective, because the person only can experience the contents of their individual consciousness; their mind divide their field of consciousness into separated zones, one zone is labelled as “I and my“, other zone is labelled as “not I, not mine“, but indeed all the stuff is in the same field, their own field of consciousness. We are not claiming here “there are not an objective external reality”, we are only saying that people only knows the objects into their consciousness, and such objects are made of all of their experiences and knowledge, but very often people don’t realize this fact, thinking about their own consciousness objects like they were external ones.

There are a possible evolution here: expanding the field of individual consciousness, integrating all their objects, searching relationships between them, and realizing the unity in the diversity of objects: all of them are contents of one unique field. This manifests itself as a progressive control of the outside world, as well as the need to organize that knowledge of the world within itself. Science is one of the ways of do it, trying to learn the way of being and working of things. We, as a human specie, are involved in such evolution.

In the same way, but going beyond, when the individual mind relax their classification of the objects of consciousness in categories “external” and “internal”, then all the objects of knowledge are seen in one unique field without added separations; as a result, the identity of the person, so far it identified with some of these consciousness objects (like my thoughts, ideas, body, etc.) experiences an expansion: the person now feels he is, in some way, all their objects of consciousness, without exclusions, he is in all, and all is in him. Indeed, in such state, the person identifies with their consciousness as a whole, not with any particular object; is a non-dual state of being: the subject and the object are the same.

Contraction of the identity: the ultimate self

There comes a time when the person realize he, as an identity, is not any thing, but a pure subject beyond any object or name. He is not their ideas, even he’s not their personality. Their ultimate identity is nothing, but a “nothing” that is pure power, potential energy. In their field of consciousness their ultimate identity appears like a non dimension point. Living from this deep point he feel the sensorial world as very far.

When the person develops such punctual awareness, realizing the ultimate subject, all the things become external to him, all are external objects, except himself who is subject. At the same time he realizes all he experiences is part of their own consciousness, so in some way, all the “external” objects are himself. So there are a motion: an expansion in which he recognises himself being all, and a contraction in which he lets go all and simply he is, no more. Usually the person lives in some point between such two extremes; the reality covers all, from one point to the whole. The personal reality, or field of personal consciousness, is like a flat Galaxy: there are a lot of matter, of things; we can live and even identify with some of them, or with other of them. In the middle of the field there are the nucleus of the Galaxy, our true identity. From this center we have perspective of all the field.

galaxia plana

Consciousness as a flat Galaxy, in the center there are our true ultimate identity


Higher dimensions of identity

Numerous testimonies from various places, traditions and times, testify is possible to expand our identity/awareness in other dimension, we can say a “vertical” dimension, in contrast to the “horizontal” one, of which we have spoken before. When the person is used to live as a “self” independently of the environment, including their emotions and thoughts, which now are lived like “external” to him, may spontaneously open to the Universal Self  which is inside of all. He himself is like a little Universe, a Galaxy, surrounded by the whole Universe. And this Universe also has two facets: the objects and the subject; who is the ultimate subject? the Self, who is unique, existing in all, and at the same time transcending all. Then, he discover there are only one Self, expressing in some way as many.

camp galáctic

Galaxies field, all conforming an Universe

A mind inside a Mind

Some days ago I attended a seminar about Advaita Vedanta, the School of Philosophy that states the unity of our individual soul with the Universal one. The conferenciant, an experimented teacher which 3o years of work in the topic, chose to give a more practical than theoretical lecture, so he gave us numerous examples of non dual experiences, meditation and other amazing tales that he lived for himself, some of which really impressed the audience.

In one of such tales he told us he was very shy in their young days, so the first time he had to talk in public, in an oral exam in the University, he became so nervous, so excited, that he experienced a body dissociation: suddenly, he was watching their own body in front of them. Being amazing, the next fact is even more incredible: the body, alone, started to talk … for forty minutes! During the monologue he was watching the whole scene some metres away, probably through “other body”, maybe an etheric body or something similar.

Assuming that such a story was true, one of the questions that arise is: if the guy was out of his body, then who was talking? Indeed, that strange story remembered me other one that happened to me in my childhood, not so amazing of course, but more real for me. I was only seven years old, and I was in the Maths class; the teacher was asking us questions, one by one. It happens that such teacher physically punished “bad students”, those who were not able to answer questions, and I was one of them. Indeed, I knew well the punishments, like being hit with a wooden ruler … the fact is I was terrified, as the teacher approached my fear grew and grew, until I became paralysed, unable to speak. Then, when the teacher at last arrived to me, something very strange happened, something difficult to explain, but also something I will never forget: “my body  talked”, not “me”; my “I” was shocked, closed within … what? Not sure, but I didn’t listen the question,  I was not there for listen it. Yet the answer cames … and was the right one! I remember the teacher looked at me with a strange expression, and advanced for ask the next classmate. I have no idea what they asked or what I answered, but the answer was the right one!

Both tales have a common characteristic: the identity of the person abandon the scene, running away, yet the body alone is able to do the work without “us”. How is possible? For me there are only one explanation: the oneness of mind. In the Advaita philosophy is said “the individual soul and the Universal soul are one“; I think the individual mind and the Universal mind are also one, and are intimately connected. When the individual desperately look for an answer, or a knowledge, and then their conscience abandon “the scene”, seems possible that the Universal mind temporarily occupied his place in the body, and do the work. How is possible? Because both minds, the individual and the Universal are one, the separation is entirely a product of our limited mind, that imagine we are isolated individuals.

Moreover, the Universal mind is not limited, having all the answers, all the existent knowledge, no question is too hard for it. The implications of this possibility are impressive.  If we are identified with our minds it will be almost impossible to accept such hypothesis, but if we can accept we are much more than our limited individual minds, is a plausible theory.

I’ve write  about the possibility of an Universal Mind time ago, so I don’t insist again here, the aim of this post is show another subjective fact, lived for me, also lived for an Advaita master, that can be explained in terms of a non dual, all pervading Mind. Being such Mind all pervading, supporting all the manifested things, it follows our individual minds also are within the Universal one. That’s why I chose “A mind inside a Mind” as the title of this post.