"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Liberation from the Self

The average person, though he or she likely does not know or believe it, is driven by the small "self" of the human ego. The sense of a separate "I" which is nothing more than an undisciplined but continuous stream of thought is, in effect, his or her identity, and he or she acts based upon such thoughts. Yet on all continents and in all ages non-dualistic wisdom traditions have pointed out the fallacy of this belief. We are much, much more than we think; albeit, what we think, we are.

"What man," asked Jesus, "ever added one cubit to his stature by taking thought?" "Know thyself," Socrates urged. "Nothing is either good or bad, but our thinking makes it so," observed Shakespeare.
"There is no ego apart from the thoughts," explains Eckhart Tolle in the attached video. "The thoughts, (and) the identification with thoughts, is ego. But the thoughts that go through your mind, of course, are linked to the collective mind of the culture you live in (and) humanity as a whole. So they are not your thoughts as such, but you pick them up from the collective - most of them. And, so, you identify with thinking, and the identification with thinking becomes ego. Which means, simply, that you believe in every thought that arises, and you derive your sense of who you are from what your mind is telling you who you are."
Yet the wisdom of all the worlds great religious and/or spiritual traditions (along with that of transpersonal and many other Western psychoanalytic schools) tells us that there is a far greater depth to our being than the merely egoic self.

The great twentieth century Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich put it this way:
"The wisdom of all ages and of all continents speaks about the road to our depth. It has been described in innumerably different ways. But all those who have been concerned - mystics and priests, poets and philosophers, simple people and educated - with that road through confession, lonely self-scrutiny, internal or external catastrophes, prayer, contemplation, have witnessed to the same experience. They have found they are not what what they  believed themselves to be, even after a deeper level had appeared to them below the vanishing surface. That deeper level itself became surface, when a still deeper level was discovered, this happening again and again, as long as their lives, as long as they kept on the road to their depth. . . .

The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is
God. That depth is what the word God means. . . . For if you know that God means depth, you know much about him. You cannot then call yourself an atheist or an unbeliever. For you cannot think or say: Life has no depth! Life itself is shallow. If you could say this in complete seriousness, you would be an atheist; but otherwise you are not. He who knows about depth knows about God."
[Paul Tillich, "The Shaking of the Foundations," Scribners, 1948, pp. 56-57.]
To mistake the small "self" or ego with who we are, thereby obscuring the depths of our being (and thereby the Ground of Being, itself) is, however all too common. Albert Einstein, called it "an optical delusion of consciousness," observing: "A human being is part of the whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness."

"The true value of a human being," the great scientist noted, "is determined by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive," he warned.

The first step in obtaining "liberation from the self," is thus, (as Tolle notes) becoming aware of our own egoic thinking in order to disidentify with it, to become the observer of the thought rather than the enactor of the ego's thinking.

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