Tuesday, April 29, 2014


‘To escape the self-trap, to be sane and decent and awake
and whole — that is all that matters.’ Vernon Howard.

You are the problem---on every occasion. Yes, you---and me for that matter. So, what is the problem, you may ask? Well, it can be any problem whatsoever, but the real problem is what the American spiritual teacher Vernon Howard [pictured left] referred to as the ‘self-trap.’ Please read this piece of wisdom from Mr Howard:

‘The attempt to escape a problem is the problem. There is logic in this. When a man tries to escape, when he moves away from the problem, he divides himself into one man with a problem, and another man who will escape the problem. In reality, there is no such division, so the escape must always fail, as the man sadly experiences. But, when seeing he is the problem itself, that he and his problem are one, he stops trying to escape because he sees there is no other course. In this state of intelligent acknowledgement of reality, he will not have the problem.’

I often explain it this way. In each of us there are many selves, and they are all false—false in the sense that they are not the real person each one of us is. When we ‘have’ (an unfortunate word in this context) a problem, there is the ‘self that wants to escape the problem,’ and there are many other selves in our mind as well, including the ‘self that doesn’t want to escape the problem,’ as well as the ‘self that thinks it will escape the problem,’ and the ‘self that thinks it knows how to escape the problem.’ None of these selves have any power in and of themselves, none of them can rise above their own level, and many of the selves militate, and even fight, against other selves in our mind. You need to understand that all of these selves are simply mental images in our brains. They wax and wane, they come and go, they vary in felt intensity from moment to moment, but they are all transitory, temporary and for that reason illusory. None of these selves are separate or independent from the real person each one of us is. In his book Esoteric Mind Power Vernon Howard writes about what he calls the ‘self-divided man’ who ‘consists of dozens of "selves" which fight each other in taking him over for a few minutes at a time.’ Howard writes:

'Living in a state of psychic riot, he is thrilled one minute and dejected the next. One part of him is a danger to another part. So what can be trusted? Nothing. The self-knowing man has cleared his mental streets of these rioters, leaving him with a whole and healthy mind, which can be trusted completely.'

Let’s say you have an anger problem. There is anger in you, so to speak, but the reality is you are angry because you have so identified yourself with the ‘self that is angry’ and the ‘self that wants to be [and stay] angry’ that you have become at-one with the anger. You and the problem are one in that special sense and, as the onetime Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple pointed out, ‘no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavour.’ Many others have said more-or-less the same thing. A couple of centuries earlier the French Roman Catholic archbishop, theologian, poet and writer François Fénelon wrote, 'The entire root of your problem is that you cannot get out of yourself,' and many more centuries earlier Jesus said, 'I can of mine own self do nothing' (Jn 5:30). Truth is truth. It never changes. It cannot change. If it could it wouldn't be truth. 

The reason 'self can't change self' (and therefore can't solve the fundamental problem of self) is simple---the ‘self that wants to escape an unwanted self’ is the same thing as the ‘self that thinks it will escape the unwanted self,’ the ‘self that thinks it knows how to escape the unwanted self,’ and the ‘self that doesn’t want to escape the unwanted self,’ and all the other damn selves as well. All of these selves are false and powerless---they're just mere images in our mind. The trouble is, we believe in them and act as if they were real. Now read what Krishnamurti [pictured below right], the Indian spiritual philosopher, has to say about this dilemma:

'I am angry, is that anger different from me? Me, the observer, who says "I am angry." Or that anger is part of me. It seems so simple. No? And when I realize that, that the observer is the observed, that the anger which I recognize is part of me, not something apart, then what am I to do with that anger? I am not separate from that anger. I am anger.'

Dr Norman Vincent Peale wrote, 'There needs to be a shift in emphasis from self to non-self,' but how is that to be achieved given that self can't change self? Clearly, a major paradigm shift is needed---but how? (First, don't ask 'how.') The good news is that you, the person that you are, has power to change---when you see yourself as you really are, when you make a decision that you really want to live differently, and when you are prepared to ‘drop,’ so to speak, your strong identification with your false self or selves. Krishnamurti would often say, ‘Stop trying to escape from the fact of yourself.’ You can’t do it, but when you drop the false, that is, see the false as false, and stop hanging onto and identifying with the false, the real is revealed. In the case of anger, for example, you need to observe the anger without recognition---without even using the word anger, which is a form of recognition.

Self-observation is the answer. You need to see yourself as you really are, without identifying in any way with any of your multitude of selves, thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, or actions. Do not judge or condemn yourself. Be impartial and objective, and simply observe without reaction and identification. Only in this way will you, the person that you are, be able to deliver the person that you are from the bondage or burden of the problem of the false self. You, the person who has chosen to be at-one with the ‘self that is [and wants to stay] angry,’ and various other mischievous selves as well, must come to see clearly that all such selves are false… no matter how much attention, identification, and recognition you have given them in the past.

Vernon Howard would often say, ‘You don’t have to create your deliverance, your freedom. You can have it, right now. It’s there for you, right now. Who has bound you? Claim your deliverance and freedom, right now!’ All that is needed, on your part, is what Mr Howard refers to as a ‘state of intelligent acknowledgement of reality.’

I will finish with this. 'No self. No problem,' said the Zen master when asked to explain the deeper meaning of Buddhism


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