Musing about Self and Non-Self

In therapy, we very often use the process of integration to reconcile “conflicting” or “disowned” parts of ourselves. We tell our parts, “I welcome you back to my family of selves”. There may be a 3-year old self who was afraid, a 5-year old self who was angry. These are the selves who react to our lives and sometimes run it. So who do we mean when we say ‘I’, ‘my’, ‘me’, ‘mine’? How do we define our identity? Most of us introduce ourselves by our name, and immediately attach another label to it – tinker, tailor, soldier, spy… We are what we do? We think therefore we are? In the Buddha’s estimation,  to be or not to be is NOT the question.

According to Thich Nhat Hanh, the buddha introduced the concept of non-self as an antidote to the concept of self. It was that attachment to a “self” that caused people to live in the grips of the “I”. And if then we abandon the self and latch on to the non-self, well, then we have jumped from the pot into the fire. Self and non-self, attachment and aversion – tricky stuff. The over-inflated ego is a “self”. The over-afflicted ego is also a “self”. Perhaps to transcend both is where there is non-self?  

So one would never find the non-self by seeking it, neither could it be found if one never seeks it. So it is not able getting, finding, having. It’s about seeing, accepting, embracing. In the end self and non-self are just concepts, fingers pointing to the moon. If our eyes are glued to the fingers and we will never clearly see  the moon.

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