The word illusion is used a lot in mystical circles, as it is important to discern the truth from the projection. The underlying illusion that all other illusions stem from is the illusion that ‘I am’. We all believe that the real us exists locked up somewhere in our bodies controlling our actions, thoughts, emotions etc. We say things like I have a body; I have a soul, my heart, and my mind. The deeper we go the further this “I” runs away from us.
According to the Buddha, self is not truth. He declared,
“Where self is, truth is not. Where truth is, self is not. Self is the fleeting error of Samsara; it is individual separateness and that egotism which begets envy and hatred”
What the Buddha means by this is that the idea we have, that I, as an entity exist apart from all other things is the cause of all human suffering. All of our actions, thoughts, and deeds are done in accordance with our view of ourselves. We steal so we can possess something that we want that we did not have before, we get angry when we feel we have been wronged, we give charity when we want to feel good about ourselves. While we live with the illusion of self all things we do are to further solidify this illusion.
We believe that we exist as an entity apart from all other things. We exist, and everything else that exists is alien and external to us. We go about our lives placing value on things that magnifies our sense of self and disregarding things that diminish it. We desire things that we want and suffer when we do not get it. We ignore the universal law of impermanence and believe that the things in our lives that we have attached to will always remain that way. When it inevitably changes, we try hard to hold on to it and suffer when it is no longer that way.
The self that we think we are is very insecure and constantly needs to reaffirm itself through attaching to identities such as name, occupation, gender, nationality etc. It builds systems so as to make us firmly believe we are that self. When we are praised, this affirms the self and we enjoy it, when we are criticised this threatens the self and we suffer. This illusion is deep set in our minds and we can’t see the real truth, which is that a compliment and a criticism are both the same thing, an opinion of the truth from a flawed perspective. Because the person doing the complimenting or criticising is also acting in accordance with their illusion of self, so their view is also skewed.
As soon as we acknowledge anything that we perceive to be external to us, we create a subject and object relationship. We name it, we position it in relation to us and we place a value on it. The "I" needs to possess and it does this by breaking phenomena down into concepts that it can understand and pigeon hole into a controllable idea. This means that, all we perceive in this world is seen through the tinted glasses of this "I".
Our sense of self is nothing but a narrative, a long train of thoughts that hurries along jumping from one idea to another. Nothing exists that really stays the same from birth to death, except this train of thought that constantly comments and passes judgement on all things that it perceives, which as mentioned above is a way to control and this leads to solidifying this "I".
So here is the question we need to ask ourselves. If we are able to still this train of thought and be internally silent. What remains?
Shkar Sharif is the head instructor at Tiger Crane Kung Fu in London. Any other questions, ask!