Being selfless though we have an expression of the “I”?

[Based on my previous article: Nature and Dogma – The Objective Good and its limited subjective perception (2020)]

As pointed out before, evil means that the Good is lacking and the important question is of course, how is it possible that the Good is lacking at any spot, even the smallest, as the Good engarns everything, even the darkest place. Indeed, there is an explanation for this, given by Rabbi Nachman:

“Through anger, the great accuser is awakened, who is Esau, Edom, and from the upper accuser, (other) accusers are awakened and brought down, oppressing the angry person and ruling over him. Since through anger, one’s wisdom leaves (him) and the image of God leaves his face, and (thus) he has no (longer) the face of a man; his enemies rule over him by this, for he seems to them like an animal, and they don’t fear him.”

Likutei Etzot, Anger, 5.

When anger or other negative things rule over man, even though the Good cannot disappear, and even though it is engarned in the darkest place, man can simply not see it anymore, as the negative impact is ruling over him: the fury mobilizes tremendous actions, and if others also have bijas of evil in their storehouse consciousness, the righteousness is nebulized and they cannot act according to the Good. So the lack of the Good is the lack of an insight, as the Good itself cannot disappear in nature, but it can disappear morally, through our wrong perceptions and bad thoughts (which appear through disconnecting with the Good). Now what is the storehouse consciousness and bijas in particular? In Yogacara Buddhism, there is the theory that our consciousness works like a storehouse, consisting of a field in mind. In this field, we plant seeds (bijas). The seeds stand for our actions and experiences, and with every experience and every action, we plant seeds within us: if we have a lot of negative experience and do not reappraise these situations, we have a lot of pessimism stored within us. This has severe consequences in our real life behavior, because we judge situations not on the objective facts, but we use subjective information: if someone hurts us, then we are afraid of being hurt again and everything which is connected with this situation can be a trigger. As a result, we act irrational, often without being aware of it. For this reason, Buddhism advises us to seek enlightenment.

Sometimes, we talk of becoming “selfless”, though it raises the question how we shall be without any self and still realize who we are. It seems that when we talk of letting the ego go or becoming selfless, we actually refer to a self without selfishness, but still we have a self-reference. This is an interesting point in several aspects of course. In Eastern and Western thought alike, the soul is a force, which cannot act on itself and, therefore, needs a carriage, identified with the body. [Compare for instance the discourse by Menachem Wolf: Transcendental Kabbala: Kabbala of Reincarnation. Melbourne: Spiritgrow Josef Kryss Centre, 2015.] But the body has no self-identity, it is not a part of ‘me’, but only some material. For this reason, the Chinese speak of wu-wo, literally meaning “no-me”. In contrast to that South Asian Buddhism often speaks of “no soul”, as the concept of wu-wo was originally paratman in Indian discourses, and this led to the question, whether the soul exists as an independent entity or whether the soul does not even exist as such. In contras tto that, soul is a very important concept in Chinese folk belief, and therefore, it seems that Chinese Buddhism does not reject the soul, but the permanent self, and actually, this is what the Buddha meant with paratman. The self is changing in any second, and the self of yesterday is not the self of today. Therefore, this ‘I’ which is revealed through the soul is of impermanence and we can never grasp or hold it. Anyways, the “I” exists, what is important is that the body is just the outside and that which is called the “I” is revealed through the soul. Thus, the ‘I’ itself does not vanish, because one knows that one is who one is. For example, Socrates says in the Phaedo what they shall do with him after his death and his reply is that they could try to catch him if they can. The idea behind that is that he is just the soul, so when they talk of burying the dead body, they cannot talk of “him” anymore, because he left the body and is on his way to the Hades, so the question “what shall we do with you?” shows the misunderstanding of the disciples when they talk of “him” in a bodily sense.

Timo Schmitz, 4 October 2022

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