Are you for real?!

6.5 mins read.

We need to take the real self out. It is getting in the way of everything good, everything fun.

Grasping at our self as real is the reason we took rebirth as a human being in the first place. We blame everything and everyone for the problems of this human life of ours, but the real reason everything keeps going wrong is because how can anything other than polluted waves arise from a polluted ocean of samsaric rebirth? We need to purify our ocean-like consciousness of this contamination of ignorance by realizing that its object — the real or inherently existent self — does not exist.

I am carrying straight on from this article, so it might help to read it first if you have time.

Which is the real me?

In this meditation (outlined below), we can imagine lining up all our selves. There are so many of them! This is not even to mention the countless versions of self we have had since beginningless time. Line them up and see that the painful, overwhelmed one, for example, is one of many – so which one is the real you?!

What will come out of that is a moment of, “Oh, the self I normally see, the separate unique one, doesn’t exist!” Self exists, even the painful one, but only as an imputation of the mind — not from its own side. I am projecting a singular fixed self on shifting plural parts and believing it is actually out there, more than a projection.

We grasp at one of these versions of self at any given moment and believe it is the one and only, the real me, but why? And, for that matter, why do we pick that one and not another happier more resilient one?! There is no reason, just bad habit.

We don’t need to grasp any version as solid and real. Singularity is merely imputed – self is just a label that we are imputing on various parts of our body and/or mind, such as a thought “I’m hopeless at everything” and a feeling of being overwhelmed. There is no such singular self there. If we go looking for it, it’ll disappear like a rainbow:

When we look at a rainbow it appears to occupy a particular location in space, and it seems that if we searched we would be able to find where the rainbow touches the ground. However, we know that no matter how hard we search we will never be able to find the end of the rainbow, for as soon as we arrive at the place where we saw the rainbow touch the ground, the rainbow will have disappeared. ~ Modern Buddhism

The painful self is just a projection of our thoughts. We feel we have no choice but to experience it because we believe it’s real, but it’s not. What are we going to do if we understand this? Well, we will stop projecting it because it hurts. Why would we project that not good enough self?! That argumentative self? Especially when we have alternatives, which Buddha offers. We can be a confident, joyful Bodhisattva, for a start. We are not inherently a Bodhisattva (or anything else) but this actually means we can relate to ourself as one. This change of identification is grounded in reality, not fantasy, and will lead to incredible results.

A simple meditation 

I’ll now put some of the stuff from this and the last article together in a meditation.

Start by slowing down, as explained in this last article. Ideally generate a good motivation, such as the wish for your family and all beings to be free from the sufferings caused by self-grasping.

I always relate to myself as one self, a unit, a singularity. Is that true? For example, although I am happy, unhappy, tired, energetic, hungry, full, etc, I feel that this is the same single self that is sometimes hungry etc.  

Bring a painful version of self to mind, for example, “I’m not good enough/hurt/insecure.” Use a version that you get stuck in all too often. See how in that moment you perceive it to be your actual self.

I perceive that singular self as if it were independent of the mind and everything else, discrete, inherently existent. It appears to exist objectively as a single, separate, whole unit, delineated from everything else. This is the self I normally see. Spend some time getting a look at it. 

Then ask, “Is this my actual self? Is this really me?”

Line up a self that is an adult, daughter, friend, happy, sad, angry, attached, tired, etc. Which one of these many selves is me? The real me?

The self has many parts and therefore is not a singularity but a plurality. ~ Modern Buddhism

Therefore that painful self you’re stuck in is NOT the real you. It is A self, not THE self. The non-contiguous self that appears so clearly and at which you grasp does not exist any more than a rainbow:  

If we do not search for it, the rainbow appears clearly; but when we look for it, it is not there. ~ Modern Buddhism

Recognize that. Get a sense of relief as you let it go. 

What does this mean? Because my objectively cut-off painful self doesn’t exist, I don’t need to hold onto it. Because the self is just an imputation, empty of existing from its own side, I am always free to choose what to impute myself on or identify with. Because I am just projecting or imputing myself on a plurality of parts, I am free to project myself differently on different parts — I can identify with my Buddha nature, kindness, or wisdom, for example.

Hold this understanding for a few minutes if you can, feeling happy in the freedom of emptiness. And conclude with the determination:

I am not stuck; in fact I have limitless potential. I am free to be who I wish to be. Therefore, I will choose to be a happy self, a kind self, and/or a Bodhisattva.

Taking the time to slow down

As a main takeaway from these last two articles, I’d like to suggest that we all take the time to slow down so we can wisen up. I have been telling myself this because I, perhaps like you, have been coming out of a challenging several months, with more heady conceptuality than usual from getting caught up in one unfolding crisis after another, personal and collective. None of us is alone in facing anxiety and feelings of isolation – people tell me and I see headlines about the toll this Pandemic is taking on people’s mental health. I am finding that the simple act of slowing down is helping me a huge amount. I think it can help you too.

We can try it whenever we notice that our mind is getting tight or inflexible or worried. We can try it when we are next waiting for something – for a red light, for a kettle, for an appointment, for a meeting to end. If we just stop for a few minutes and allow our mind to relax, we will most likely find that we start to feel better. Our wave-like troubles can subside in a still, tranquil ocean. And not only that, we will also likely find that we naturally start connecting to a deeper sanity that waits inside us, such as love or wisdom.

Retreat season is just around the corner, in January — a perfect time to slow down and get creative for a far better year … Here is an article about meditation retreats and what is on offer in 2022.

Over to you. Please leave any comments or questions in the box below 

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Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

10 thoughts on “Are you for real?!”

  1. I love the reminder to slow down. I’m
    currently 27 hours delayed on my trip home to Brighton from Canada. As the delays were unfolding yesterday I was getting quite anxious. Today (with the help of OSG online and catching up with your blog posts I’m simply enjoying how Vajrayogini Day is unfolding!

  2. Thank you, L., for writing these articles. My wife says that even an ounce of dharma can change a person’s life for the better. We often talk about how the things one hears on any given Tuesday night dharma talk would be considered life altering wisdom if heard on a radio talk show or TV interview. We need this, we need it every day, and your soulful, relatable articles are a clearing in the morass of ordinary information. Thank you again, dear L.

    1. I love this comment 🙂 Thank you.

      It’s so true about how much life-altering wisdom is available in Buddhism. How, through the morass, can we reach everyone with this supercharged common sense?


  3. Thank you so much for this wise sensitive article. I can empathize with your overwhelming feelings and share your view on the need of getting rid of our self grasping self. Thank you also for your words for meditation. Blessings

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