Love Says We Are Everything

When we first hear them, the Buddhist teachings of non-self can arouse confusion or even fear. We might fear that non-self means the loss of our self, as if we were going to die. But the psychology of non-self is quite different. In practice, we don’t have to change or get rid of anything. We merely learn to see through the false ideas of our self. We discover that we can let go of the limited sense of self, that grasping and identification are optional. We can shift our identity and learn that we are interconnected with all things.

The Buddha insisted that his followers study how self arises and what happens when we let it go. “My friends, if I hold up the grass, twigs, and leaves that are here on the ground in the Jeta monastery, would the thought occur to you these are my self?” “These things are not ourselves,” replied the monks. “Even so, my friends, whatever is not yours, learn to let it go. And what is not yours? The body and senses, the feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness, are not yours, not to be clung to, not to be identified as self.”

To examine the process of identification, let yourself play with it as you read. Imagine you are a book. Identify with it. Pretend it is you. How do you feel as a book? I am a new book. I have a nice cover. I am full of words and understanding. Some people are interested in me. I like to be read. Maybe I’ll become a big seller, famous. Maybe not. Now notice what happens when you close the book. Close it gently. I like to be respected. Open it again and slam it shut. Toss it under a cushion or hide it among other books. How does this feel? I don’t like to be slammed shut, I don’t want to be put away and lost, I don’t like being dropped or hidden. Now stop identifying with the book. Now it is just a book. Open and close it again. Put it away or hide it. Notice how differently this feels. The book is not you.

This process of identification happens all the time. The Indian guru with whom I studied, Sri Nisargadatta used to laugh, “You identify with everything so easily, with your body, your thoughts, your opinions, your roles and so you suffer. I have released all identification.” He would explain by holding up his hand. “Look how my thumb and forefinger touch. When I identify with my forefinger I am the feeler and the thumb the object that I experience. Reverse the identification and I am the thumb, feeling this forefinger as an object. I find that somehow by shifting the focus of attention I become the very thing I look at . . . I call this capacity of entering other focal points of consciousness love. You may give it any name you like. Love says ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says ‘I am nothing’. Between these two my life flows.”

The ability to shift identities does not belong only to Indian gurus. It is a human skill. Many tasks cultivate an ability to enter into other identities. The best animal trackers become the animal they are following. A skillful detective gets inside the identity of their quarry. Actors succeed by their abilities to convincingly enter other identities. A mother naturally and instinctively identifies with her baby and knows why she is crying. Lovers say their hearts beat as one.

This healthy release of identification is not the self-estrangement of a psychotic looking at his hand as a foreign object. That is a misguided disconnection, the result of delusion and pathology. Nor is the release of identification a denial of the marvelous singular and unique essence of every individual. Our uniqueness remains, but without self-centered grasping and fear. We discover that our identity is more tentative, fluid like a river, each moment born anew. Wisdom says we are nothing. Love says we are everything. Between these two our life flows.


This excerpt is taken from the book, “The Wise Heart”

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