I’ve been thinking lately about things I have no business thinking about, like how to reconcile the capital-‘S’ Self from A Course of Love with what I’ve glimpsed of the Buddhist teaching of anatta, or no-self. Let me say right at the outset that this is not purely an intellectual exercise. One of the great miracles of starting this blog has been the dialogue with people whose words, and possibly (though it remains hard to say conclusively) their points of view, may differ subtly from my own. The question of whether or not we really differ in points of view needs no answer, for friendship does not require such clarity, relying instead and far more beautifully upon the careful offering of gifts to one another– gifts that are pulled out from that sacred mystery that both links and stands between. The gap, perceived or real, is also sufficient to compel reflection, which leads to the discovery of one another, and to insight. For these, I am grateful to each one of you who have engaged me here.
Much has been said and continues to be said about non-duality, the existence and/or non-existence of an eternal self, the existence of a soul, of a little-‘s’ self, an ego, a capital-‘S’ Self, and so on and so forth. I really like this article that comes up when you do a web search on the Buddhist doctrine of no self, because it suggests the question did not lend itself to a meaningful answer the Buddha could offer, and that he may have chosen not to muddy the waters with needless arcana that don’t need to be understood in order to provide us with a path out of suffering. I like this answer because it is helpful to me. Every time I try and understand the mechanics of phenomena over my pay grade, I end up suffering.
Having said that, I am going to delve into two inter-related nuances of this topic I have found it important to wrestle with, and from which a smoothing of experience has begun to emerge. There is a way in which I’m holding in my heart a finding–one that I will suggest is becoming a new home. As background, my understanding of the Buddha’s teachings is that their primary aim is to assist us in perceiving correctly, such that we might end, or at least be relieved from, our suffering. (I do not mean to disrespect through over-simplification, so feel free to shed light on this thought in the commentary below.) I find that this is true of the many forms in which non-dual teachings are offered, and also feel this was in some respects the principal aim of A Course in Miracles, which has been described by some as a non-dual teaching dressed up in particularly Christian or theistic guise.
The first half-crazy notion I would like to offer is that while there is a time and a place for teachings on the escape from suffering, such a time will pass. We should, in fact, be thankful this is inevitably so. Both individually and collectively, suffering will cease. It is not a question of if, but when. And if we view the cessation of suffering as an accomplishment– though not an accomplishment of a fictitious or transitory self– we can see that life on the far side of it is likely to be radically different in emphasis and practice than life on the near side.
A key tenet of A Course of Love is acceptance that we are the accomplished, which means we are not beings in need of anything beyond what we’ve been given in order to fully embody and express the deepest truths of who we are. What’s been missing has been the recognition that this is so, and thus the expression. We’ve been missing. We haven’t shown up. But who exactly has been missing? And who is it that has been subject to the seeker’s condition of suffering?
I ask you to bear with me a moment while I wander.
While I do not know if the same is true of other paths such as Buddhism, the teachings of Jesus I have found most helpful– such as A Course in Miracles, Dialogue on Awakening, the Way of Mastery, and most recently A Course of Love– have contained a certain progression. There is movement within them– a direction if you will. Their emphasis shifts as the healing progresses. I experience this direction as the calling to return to our authentic and natural place within the singular cosmic act of Creation. This return is the end of suffering, for suffering is itself the result of separating from this cosmic, holy and endless movement. This separation is made most manifest in the trumping up of a misplaced identity– what we often call the ego– which would like to appropriate the full rights and privileges of Creation itself for its very own. It’s a great idea, until one discovers it simply doesn’t work.
Clearly this unanswerable question of identity is bound up deeply in both the onset of suffering, and its ending. The most recent teachings from Jesus with which I am familiar are contained in A Course of Love, and they feel like a bridge from one side of this divide to the other. Their stated purpose is to speak directly to the heart, bypassing the mind and all of its tangled trespassing upon the ineffable, so that we might recover and then move on to the expression of our true identity. According to A Course of Love, it is this healing of misplaced identification that not only ends suffering, but releases our true power as integral nodes of Creation. We become, in other words, actively present. We show up.
If the ego is gone, as it surely is at this point, who or what remains? Who exactly is now showing up?
I am not going to be so bold as to offer an answer I do not have, but the particular approach taken in A Course of Love has been very helpful to me in achieving a comfortable insight that I can live from. I’ve found it is not an idea that I’m always referring to my mind to clarify for me every time I wish to feel its presence, but rather an easy, flowing comprehension. This idea is that we share an identity in Love. At our very root, we are the same. We can see this in one another if we look for it. We can see the Love that peeks out through every pair of eyes, every creature, every stone, every blade of grass… Thus, our ultimate identity, the one that never changes, is Love, and it is one we share.
We feel this identity at the point of our going forth, at the point of our mutual differentiation, which is our heart. And yet this sameness does not require that we turn in our guns of distinctness and individuality. We arise uniquely as differentiated expressions within Creation, and the heart is our tether to what is the same in all of us: everything. Whether as differentiated beings we have permanent souls or not, I don’t know. The recognition that we share an identity in Love, and that Love desires to express itself indefinitely and unabashedly through an ensemble of distinct beings who may or may not at all times manifest physically has made this point moot for me. It simply doesn’t matter. It is not the case that I lack a “self”, however, by which I mean an identity. I’m not nothing at all. Who I am is as close to me as me. It is my heart. Whenever I need a reference point for who I am, it is there. It is not something I can define very well, or into whose cosmic mechanics I can offer any particular insights. It is enough to know that the experience within me which is closer to me than me, which is most natural and free, is safe, endless, and true.
I don’t know if I have a self, or a Self, or neither. But I have an identity. It is vast and seemingly without boundary. And it is not an impostor. I know this because whenever I truly see another through my heart, they feel like me. This identity is reinforced by universal recognition. Somehow, the greatest gift we offer to one another is the manifest experience of the identity we share. Increasingly, I feel this identity returned to me everywhere that I look, and so oddly enough, even a well-placed wall of stone can engender the sublime experience of who I am.