My Self, If I Exist
“The more we realize, the more compassionate we become, and the more compassionate we become, the more deluded we have to be. When all beings are wallowing in the mud, we have to jump into the mud to be able to help them. And obviously, when we get into the mud, we become muddy. That’s being deluded within delusion. That’s our life.” On Zen Practice by Taizan Maezumi & Bernie Glassman, P. 143
The whole Bodhisattva ideal requires that I be deluded. Are you kidding? After spending so many years trying so hard to live in reality…
My issue? This self has to pay the bills and keep a little sanity in the meantime. And I’m not doing a great job of it.
This past week, I was obnoxious to someone. And too tired to care at all. What part of me was obnoxious? Was that my self, spirit, soul?
I’ve read a lot of psychology books and know that a certain level of ego strength is essential and non-negotiable for navigating the real world. It is mandatory for basic functioning. Someone or something has to have a job, do the dishes, etc.
But Buddhism says that my “self” doesn’t really exist, at least not in how I think it does. It has a very non-dualistic streak. I believe in the interconnectedness of all things, but that assumes that I believe that those things exist independently (at least to some degree) of me. Otherwise, what is it that is connected?
The hazard is that we tend to identify with whatever we can control. We assume that whatever we can control is part of who we are. When we are younger, that includes a lot, especially one’s body and career. However, aging destroys that illusion. As the body disintegrates, our illusion of control is shattered into a million pieces. I’m seeing that with Barry. As entropy becomes more central to Barry’s body, what, if anything, survives?
The Buddha consistently refused to answer whether or not there is a self.
I feel like I have accomplished an absolutely amazing amount this past year. I have done a ton of things to the house and dealt with repeated traumas. I never knew I could do this much. Necessity has shown me that I am so much more capable than I ever imagined I could be. I volunteered for none of it, at least not consciously. Certainly none of it was my idea.
But who achieved all of this?
I want to be spiritual. I want to be compassionate. But I also have to operate in the dualistic world of mortgage payments, doctor visits, dealing with people in denial, etc. I have always envied nuns and monks because they could focus on spiritual growth without those pesky real-life issues. However, when I met some nuns, I saw the end result and was not impressed. They were nice and sweet and child-like. Maturity comes from dealing with reality, something the nuns had never been required to do. When your every need is taken care of, maturity is simply not essential. It is just plain weird to meet a middle-aged girl. It was like she was playing dress-up. It is startling to meet people who age without gaining any appreciable wisdom.
The idea of struggling to live in the real world, dealing with it forthrightly, and then getting muddy trying to pull others out of the mud somehow, at this point in my life, does not appeal to me in the slightest. At this point, I would settle for sanity and just not being continually annoyed by myself and others.
Every meditation or exercise in spiritual growth starts with the instruction “Go somewhere you know you will not be interrupted for a few hours…” Sorry. That situation does not exist for me. I have to be continually available. That’s why I am too tired to care about most things anymore. Sometimes spirituality seems like a luxury. It’s probably a lot easier to believe a self doesn’t exist when expectations are not constantly placed on it or one is free to ignore them. It must be nice. Someday I will have that freedom, hopefully.