What is this Self that we are so sure we have?

The Buddha’s most difficult teaching is that of not-self. When some people hear about not-self, no-self, non-self, they put on the brakes and stop meditating altogether. Not-self sounds scary. Who am i, if i’m not a self?

So let’s start here. What is this “self” anyway?

The Buddha has given a list called the 5 Aggregates. Combine (or aggregate) these 5 things, and voila! You have a self.

Namarupa–name & form. Yes, this body seems to be my body.

Vedana–Feelings or hedonic tone. Yes, my feelings are my feelings.

Perception–Yes, my 5-sense door perceptions are my perceptions.

Consciousness–Yes, my consciousness seems to be my consciousness.

Sankharas–of which there are 52. Yikes! These are variously translated as concoctions, fabrications, mental formations (Yes, my thoughts and dreams are mine.)

But let’s leave this mind-boggling list behind. What, in your lived experience, is the self?

First, where is the self located? Say “I, I, I, I, I” until you feel it in your body. Say “me, me, me, me, me” until you feel it in your body.

Some people say the I is behind the face or more specifically behind the eyes. Isn’t there a homunculus sitting behind the eyes pulling the gears and levers? Sort of like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain? Some people point to their chest; some to their belly.

Ask “Who am i?” for 10 minutes at the end of meditation. Jot down your list. No need for the mind to go chasing after answers. Simply drop the question into the quiet-ish pool of your mind. Let the question sink. Maybe no answer arises. That’s okay. Keep asking.

Ask “What am i?” and jot down that list.

Whatever you have on your list, use that as a contemplation the next time you meditate. Ask yourself: Do i have a soul? Is something in me continuous? Am i a very particular collection of patterns and habits? Is that true? Truly true?

Keep looking for that self that feels so sure of itself.

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