Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

The Mutability of the Self

I saw this old quote from Noble Drew Ali today:

You are, each one, a priest, just for yourself... When we rely upon others to study the secrets of nature and think and act for us, then we have created a life for ourselves, one which is termed 'Hell'. - Noble Drew Ali

I find this to be a very true statement, at least for my own life. Learning that we define ourselves and our own lives has been a very important lesson in my adult life.

We spend much of our early lives (including early adulthood) acting on the assumptions and ideas that others have created for us, whether it be our parents, our teachers, priests or pastors, or simply the culture around us. These others have decided what we should be, often unconsciously and certainly without our agreement or explicit agreement. Our heads are filled with the words, images, hopes, and dreams of the world and we create ourselves from the templates offered to us…but we aren’t these things and the result isn’t something we must be.

Part of being an adult is learning this, I feel. We are all free to craft ourselves into what we wish to be. One of the realizations that I had concerning the Buddhist concept of shunyata, or emptiness, is that the lack of inherent existence for anything in the universe, which includes a lack of inherent existence for our personalities or sense of self, means that are also free from inherent limitations. There is no self to be this thing that we have always been told that we must be. This self is a created product of the actions of others, initially, and later a co-creation between others and ourself.

This means that we can choose what dreams to live, what constraints to live within, the image of what we really are and what we ultimately want to be as we live our lives. It is our own vision and understanding, our awareness, that determines our lives. You are not required to be what you were taught to be or what your family, friends, coworkers, or even spouse wishes you to be. For some, this realization simply opens the door to narcissism or a focus on selfish absorbtion as they focus entirely on their own vision of their lives to the detriment of others around them but this how this awareness becomes a vice. As a virtue, it gives us the ability to change and grow without simply being locked into one form because we are “stuck” being a certain way or a certain kind of person. We are allowed to change and do not need to be consistent with the vision that others have of ourselves over time.

This realization is easy to lose though. Day to day life and its demands, our interactions with others, and just living can cause us to fall into habits and patterns which are self-limiting and make us rigid. It is important to maintain self-awareness and return to this knowledge of the lack of inherent existence of ourselves and the consequent freedom to change and grow… Don’t live the dreams and programming of others.