Monday, April 6, 2015


The great evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins wrote a monumental bestseller called The God Delusion. Unfortunately, Dawkins, brilliant man that he is, appears to be a bit deluded about the nature of the God, for the One that he says doesn’t exist isn’t God anyway.

Do you want to know what the real delusion or illusion is? It’s the one we all have with ourselves. So, you think you know who you really are? Read on.

Each day we use the ‘I’ word a helluva lot. ‘I am a Democrat,’ we may say, or ‘I am a Catholic.’ So, if we change our politics or our religion, has a new ‘I’ come into existence, or has the original ‘I’ morphed into something different? ‘I am James Wong [or whatever be your actual name],’ you say. But what if you change your name? Think about it, is ‘I’ your name? It can’t be. Nor is this ‘I’ our body or even our mind, for both of those things are constantly changing. ‘I’ is simply a one-letter English word we use to refer to the person each one of us is. Only the person is ontologically real. The ‘I’ is a mental and linguistic construct. It is not ‘real.’ 

You see, just because we have a word for something does not necessarily mean that something actually exists. Most philosophers and neuroscientists now take the view that there is no permanent, unchanging ‘I’ at the center of our existence. The Buddha said this some 2,500 years ago. ‘I’ is simply whatever we attach to it. It is always something external to our point of reference. ‘I’ is identity-less. To use a Buddhist term, ‘I’ is empty. It is whatever label we attach to ‘it.’

The author in front of the Great Buddha of Kamakura,
at Kōtoku-in, in the city of Kamakura, in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

By now you may be saying to yourself, so what is this all about? Well, here’s where the real delusion comes in. It’s when we start identifying this illusory ‘I’ with ‘me’---‘me’ being the person that each one of us is. So, when we say, ‘I am angry,’ we are identifying the ordinarily negative and often very destructive emotion of anger with the person that we are. There may be anger ‘in’ us, but we---the person that each of us is---are never angry. Get the point? There is a real difference. You see, when we identify ‘I’ with ‘me,’ the latter being the person that we are, we always (yes, always) end up suffering.

When it comes to beliefs, positions, attitudes, views and opinions, we identify with them to a point where they actually come to define---wrongly, of course---who we are. That is why we are so relucant to let go of them, even when they hold us in bondage and prevent us from seeing and experiencing things-as-they-really-are. Listen to what the American spiritual philosopher Vernon Howard has to say about the matter:
This means that you take [the belief, position, attitude, etc] as being yourself, which it is not. But having identified with a particular attitude or belief you now fear that its loss will cause you to lose what you call yourself. Your real nature does not consist of this or that position any more than you are the coat you put on and off. Your true self resides above all mental positions. Find it.

We are always our own worst enemies, and most of our suffering is caused by ourselves. Here’s one very effective way to reduce the amount of your self-induced suffering. Stop identifying your ‘I,’ which in truth is identity-less, with your ‘me.’ Each time during the course of a day you find yourself---that is, the person that you are---identifying ‘I’ with ‘me,’ pull yourself up. Bit by bit, start changing a lifetime of self-delusion. When you hear yourself saying, ‘I am angry,’ say, ‘No, that is not the case. There is anger in me.’ Of course, that does not relieve you of the responsibility of owning that anger and managing it appropriately. Look to see what is causing your anger. It will always be some desire of some kind. Then take appropriate action.

A man once said to the Buddha, or perhaps to some Buddhist monk or teacher, ‘I want happiness.’ The man received the following advice. ‘First remove “I”. That’s ego. Then remove “want.” That’s desire. See, now you are left with only “happiness.”’





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