Buddhists/The Self

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Question
To continue from my previous questions under ‘Wanting’:

‘Ego as defined by DeMartino is the act of separating; the schism of self from self is ego.  He often stated, “It’s not that we have the ego, we ARE the ego”. We don’t have a problem, we are the problem. We are the act of separating.  The person, the self, is this ability to be self aware through separating.  When we lose this ability to separate, that is, we can’t regain it; we are dead as an individual.  Someone in a coma who cannot come out of it is dead as an individual.  They can no longer separate.  All of this begs the question: who is separating from what?’

So if the ego or self is the act of separating, there can be no ‘who’ separating from ‘what’ because ‘who’ presupposes the act of separation itself. So in this sense, there is no self, just an endless regression of a process? But how can an action exist if there was no entity to cause it in the first place? If the self is the act of separating, what do we make of the ideas of self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-esteem, self-protection, self-expression, self-awareness, self-hatred, self-condemnation?

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‘Without the arisal of the ego we do not exist, there is no good or bad to it, there just isn’t a question then.  Since we have arisen from nature we can now express nature beyond just our human consciousness.  The bird that is self-aware can now sing any song with pure glee and self-expression. We are nature enjoying itself.’

Is there a typo of the word ‘arisal’? Can’t find it in the dictionary. Should it be ‘arising’?

Am I right that being a self is a morally neutral thing? In Zen, is selfishness abhorred? Is self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-esteem, self-protection, self-expression, self-awareness considered selfish since the self seems to be valued or nurtured? Do self-hatred, self-condemnation, also contribute to the act of separation or minimise the act of separation, since the self is negated? Since we are the problem, do we hate ourselves for creating trouble for ourselves?

Answer
Hello Jane,
 Here goes. Once again I included your question before my response.

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So if the ego or self is the act of separating, there can be no ‘who’ separating from ‘what’ because ‘who’ presupposes the act of separation itself. So in this sense, there is no self, just an endless regression of a process? But how can an action exist if there was no entity to cause it in the first place? If the self is the act of separating, what do we make of the ideas of self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-esteem, self-protection, self-expression, self-awareness, self-hatred, self-condemnation?

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Dr DeMartino called the ego the ‘ever regressing self”.  He likened it to seeing your shadow on the ground and stepping back to see who is casting it.  By stepping back you create it.  By standing still you solve nothing.  You reach for the self it stands apart, you don’t reach and you still stand apart.  So yes, there is an endless regression of self creating the problem.  We are self separated from self.  If you see yourself in a mirror for the first time how do you reach that self? You see it as ‘you’ over there but it’s you here.  You reach toward it and you don’t get it and you back away and you don’t get it.  In a sense there is nothing to do but to realize what is.

The rising of the ego is an act and a fact meaning that the act of coming into ‘being’/separating creates the fact of separation or at least the apparent fact.  When we speak of self love, who is the self you love, accept, etc etc?  Does this ever really get answered?  What does it mean to be self aware; what is it you are aware of?  Are you aware of being aware? Behind all of this lies the problem of self identity which I’ve already talked about quite extensively.  What is the identity of this ‘entity’?  When does it come into being?  Without answering this you cannot really go anywhere.
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Am I right that being a self is a morally neutral thing? In Zen, is selfishness abhorred? Is self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion, self-esteem, self-protection, self-expression, self-awareness considered selfish since the self seems to be valued or nurtured? Do self-hatred, self-condemnation, also contribute to the act of separation or minimize the act of separation, since the self is negated? Since we are the problem, do we hate ourselves for creating trouble for ourselves?
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Being a self, in this sense a separated self, is not moral or immoral, it is just separating.  Is a knife good or bad?  Neither, it’s how it is used and then still it is neither.  A fully realized ‘self’ is nature realized, not the ego, so all things are seen equally.  The individual self identity that had the problem is destroyed and simultaneously recreated to see self and other as mutually defining. It is a living paradox being both self and not self simultaneously.  Like the wave that separated it is now again fully the ocean but can still maintain the perspective and form of the wave though profoundly changed.  In one sense you do not favor self over other but in another you do.  We talked about this earlier when we were talking about violence and self protection.  There is a Buddhist story that talks about a monk finding a tiger starving in a pit.  The monk compassionately throws himself in so the tiger will not starve.  Nice story but the tiger starves a week later now, makes no sense.  If it were a tiger cub starving would the monk feed it with his own child?  Of course he would not, we follow our own nature and our expression of nature is as a human being.  We will favor our species but we will not minimize other species.  There is a balance.

In self hatred the self is not minimized it is maximized.   Better put, the illusion of self is maximized.  We create a self fulfilling monster by our ignorance.  When we eventually start to fall apart due to age we then create a facade of self with plastic surgery and make up. The fear of losing the self fuels a greater illusion.

Isn’t trying to awaken the greatest act of selfishness?  We are trying to resolve a problem and in doing so it takes a tremendous amount of effort and self awareness to do so.  Like playing the erhu it takes a huge amount of self determination to overcome your instrument.  It is a great act of self to overcome the self.  It is a great act of selfishness to spend all of that time.  If you are helping the poor because you think it is in the best interest of your soul isn’t that selfish? It’s all according to what that self is, eh.  In the end the result of practicing your instrument is pure music; no player no instrument.  However there are many who by their huge egos do become great players in a sense and sometimes lose themselves into the music.  Often when they come out of it they are frustrated and harder to deal with because they cling so arduously to their sense of self.

Once in conversation a fellow went on a self ego bashing rant about how bad the ego is and what trouble it is.  DeMartino forcefully replied, “Stop beating up yourself/ego up!  It’s not going to get you anywhere.”  Without the ego we wouldn’t be having this discussion, it is the way to awakening.   The self you hate for creating trouble is the same illusion.  Who is this self?  Can you  grasp it?

I hope this helps you.  Take care,
         Joe

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Joe McSorley

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I can answer questions dealing with Taoist philosophy and Zen and not the historicity and religion of Buddhism and its different schools. I studied under Dr. Richard DeMartino and Masao Abe of the Kyoto School of Zen.

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