“Man is Memory” – UG:
eaning: The concept of self is also connected to the idea of meaning. Things would not have meaning for us except in relation to (the idea of) ourselves. If we didn’t believe in our indefinite existence, then we would only have tentative meaning to things. As a corollary, we would only assign limited meaning to time. As UG would say, we would be limited to questions like the immediate needs, necessities, projects, such as, “When is my train arriving?” “What time is my next meal?” or “What can I do to take care of things after this flat tire in my car?” And so on.
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Defense and offence and all the ego-centered activities arise from this life. All this exists and seems rather inevitable, even if we sever this life from the idea of any after life that I might have. As long as I envision an indefinitely prolonged life (whether or not there is in fact another life), it doesn’t seem to matter whether I believe in another life or not. My acquisitiveness and self-centeredness are an inevitable result of this.
And of course, man’s sorrow, as long as it is based on the desire structure and a life of striving for pleasure and avoiding pain, has to follow necessarily.
Most important of all is the role of memory without which there is no ‘I’ or ‘Mine’, no defenses or offenses, no striving for pleasure or avoidance of pain, except bare minimal animal responses. Of course, there can be varying degrees of attachment, identification, and so on, and therefore varying degrees of the self or the ego, depending on the associative structure in a person. Total loss of memory, like in Alzheimer’s cases, is the upper (or lower) limit.
It’s pretty obvious that there is nothing that could be done by thinking or willing in order to be free from the ego, because that activity is undertaken by the ego.
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The Story Line: Whatever we experience, it almost never the case that we move on to something else. The way we derive meaning from the experience is generally by weaving a story around it. What someone said or did gains more significance in our lives because we connect it with what the person said or did in the past, or what he might do in the future, given his motivations, intensions or purposes. In respect of ourselves too, we weave similar stories: if we have accomplished something, then we always project it into future accomplishments, overcoming past failures, and so on. The stretching of the present moment into the past and the future is how the story is created.
Once we create such a story, then we not only identify ourselves with it, but define ourselves or other people through those stories. Indeed that is how our self image or impressions of other people are formed. An experience or an act, whether it is mine or someone else’s, is turned into a time line and in my own case it becomes a state. I am that state for the moment. What is only momentary is turned into a time line, a state, a character or personality trait and a basis for a judgment either about myself or someone else. (See also ‘Build-up of Thought’, p 24.)
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We have all those memories (wanted and unwanted), fears and fantasies, worries and guilt feelings, everything, thoughts and memories seeming to pour into our minds willy-nilly, including the fear of death, have all one thing in common – myself. I remember all that stuff because that’s the way I continue, I feel I am still there, I am alive, and I will continue. But for that, thoughts won’t just come by themselves. Attempting to not to seek the self-continuity is itself born out of the self wanting to have continuity. So, there is no such possibility. We may be stuck somewhere there, stultifying ourselves, but there is no escape.
Also, thoughts, memories and emotions occur in our minds from time to time either because of the situation that provokes, or because there is a prior set of mind or background which reacts to these situations.
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All the thoughts I think have the ‘I’ at the center. I always take my point of view and loathe considering, except for the sake of argument, other points of view. There is always a partiality built in my dealings. It’s practically impossible to remove myself completely out of a picture. It’s just as impossible as getting out of my skin.
The pleasurable or painful sensations I was talking about earlier could also explain why it is difficult for me to take an impartial or objective view of things as these sensations prompt me to be biased either positively or negatively. And the sensations also have a way of reinforcing themselves, burying us deeper and deeper in a given track.
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Self-Investigation and Self-Understanding: Anyway, to revert to the idea of meaning, the problem with the self is this: it’s tied up with the idea of meaning, of the intentionality of images. Thought doesn’t amount to much unless it is infused with meaning. An experience I remember is not just an experience, but something that I remember (or a thought that I thought). That means I have to relate to it with some meaning. And I am now looking for that which says that it is ‘I’ who remembers it. This is where the utter frustration emerges. Whatever is the answer that I supply to this question has to be in the ‘objective’ world: whether it is some unknown subject (what subject?), or some assembly of neurons all of which together or some aspect of Brahman or what not. None of these deliver the actual ‘I’. This is the paradox of self-exploration and trying to understand. Any attempt to understand is, as UG says, is bound to create duality. That has to leave the ‘I’ out of the picture. ‘’I’ am trying to understand this.’ You will never catch yourself. That’s the most absurd thing in the world.
On the other hand, if you really put aside all the objectivity, and remain, pure and simple, as subject, then the world of thought has to disappear. And that would put an end to the ‘I’, because the ‘I’ exists only in this relationship. That’s why I keep searching and try to find out, understand and know myself; that’s just a way to perpetuate myself.
But what do I hope to gain by annihilating myself? In the very asking of the question there is the attempt to watch over my own funeral. I have to be there! When you don’t know, there is no point in asking.
All this investigation has shown is the absurdity of inquiry in the self; the inquiry presupposes that somehow one can bridge the subjective and the objective.
They tried to do that in the Upanishads and other places. All that investigation ends up in meditation, which ultimately is meant to stultify thought and put an end to the inquiry. The result is anyone’s guess.
This is also the trouble with meditations like Vipassana: The passive observing (which J. Krishnamurti always advocated) is really nothing so passive. Look at all the analytical observation in vipassana. You are talking to yourself all the time. You are very much there. How do you plan to disappear with all that mental activity? Even those who supposedly succeeded in calming their mind (DMN or whatever being inactive for a length of time), aren’t they doing all the mischief which anyone does normally? Maybe they may call themselves altruistic, working for the liberation of mankind. When they are not themselves liberated, how could they hope to liberate the world?
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Intentionality (2): Assume that you are nothing but this brain stem (speaking physiologically), and you are using your inner speech which is essential for thoughts (at least it seems to be central to most of them) to label memories and experiences and spell them out. While recalling or thinking, thanks to the mirroring of the world, you actually see them as real and imagine yourself to be their center, or, at any rate, attribute them to yourself. I think the reality of the experience is generated in this thinking of being in the experience; in other words, being identified with the elements of the experience. I am recalling saying something about me. There is my image and my speech mechanism repeating those words to myself and in the very process I begin to feel that the words were addressed to me. Of course, it’s possible to hear those words as just words or sounds which don’t involve you in any fashion. That is to say, it’s possible to disengage yourself from them, to be ‘declutched’, to use UG’s term.
This indicates that meaning attribution is a multi-layered process: First there is just some disturbance; or it could be sounds; then words; and words with some meaning; and further the words are being addressed to me; and finally, I feel the import of the words as being an insult and I start feeling upset about them. This process could perhaps be represented either objectively or subjectively.
Then the question arises, which is the most important one, as to who or what it is that identifies itself with what is said? We can call this objectively a bunch of brain stem cells or an assembly of neurons, which have an integrity or cohesiveness of their own. Or we could say, it is I with my background and knowledge which is identifying itself with them. The question of ‘who am I?’ really boils down to this: instead of the brain stem cells or assembly of neurons, you are looking for their subjective counterpart (or the psychological component) and getting frustrated in the process say that you can’t find any. Because you are the one who is looking at this process and asking yourself. Of course, you will never ‘find’ yourself!
To say, there no one who is identifying oneself, there is only identification, is only an admission to this fact.
Intentionality (3): Although one might argue that the intentional world is one in which the past is looking at the present or a modified past. But what this misses is how any content of the mind is looked at as an entity, not just as an impression or sensation. How does intentionality make us feel, for instance, we are actually within situations, past or present or imagined future, and feel as if we are actually dealing with people, not just memories? Verbalization may have a part to play in it, but the picture is far from clear.
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Evidence: Thus there are some serious questions/doubts about the whole methodology of inquiring into the self:
So, what is the evidence I have to say that I am a ‘self’? What I can see is that the self seems to be present in its various manifestations (although I can never say, except through my memory, that they all belong to the same myself). Examples abound: When you insult me, ’I’ feel insulted. I see myself in my attachments, my pride, my hurts, my desires, ambitions, hopes, and what not. I can see myself manifested in acts of aggression, self-centeredness, selfish acts, and so forth. I see that they all belong to the same myself (that’s the crux of the problem) because each time I see one of these manifestations, I feel them as somehow belonging to ‘me’. Several memories of this sort are recalled with the assumption that since I am recalling them, it is the same ‘I’ which has all these thoughts and memories, although I have no further evidence of that underlying ‘I’. This assumption is assisted by my awareness of speech muscles and so forth, as well as the pleasant or painful sensations I experience physiologically in body in various situations, each time reminding me as it is I who experiences them.
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Withdrawal from the Self: Withdrawal from the thinking process is in a sense withdrawal from the self. When the self is runs into conflicts, or severe frustrations or other problems, sometimes the only way out is to withdraw from the whole process of the thinking about the problem. Of course, real problems of living, like having to make a livelihood, won’t just go away by doing this. One still has to eat by finding food. But when you are muddled with emotional problems, by withdrawing at least for a moment you stop torturing yourself.
As a simple experiment, quite often when I lay down and try to sleep, I am simply wired and can’t seem to relax enough to fall asleep. Let’s say the cerebral cortex or DMN or whatever is too active. The best thing one could do at that moment is to slowly bring the ‘cursor’ down from the area of the cortex down to the lower levels, say of breathing, or throat or whatever and stay there. It may seem difficult at first, but if you let you attention drop down deeper into the body and you remain passive, you might find that is conducive to falling asleep.
I am aware of how much this sounds like meditation. But it doesn’t matter what you call it, as long as you don’t take it as sleep pill expecting to always work regardless of the circumstances. There are several variables in being unable to sleep, including physiological and emotional factors, and this approach or any meditation is no cure all.
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A further note: This can be done in day-to-day living: Let all thinking and thoughts go; and we seem to be left with just awareness of things (including my body), without necessarily differentiating or identifying the objects. No naming. Therefore, no objects delineated as such, unless called upon by circumstances. Then there is no self nor is there any awareness of the self. That means you can arrive at some state in which there is no self, and also no world. But the moment thought operates, divisions take place, both the world and the self exist, and the whole process of the self begins. Notice that at this point nothing means anything. We are, as UG might say, like ‘babes in the wood.’ Life, death, suffering, pain, wars, violence, and famines – nothing means anything, because at that moment we cease to perceive them as such and such, let alone assign any significance to them. I can’t say this is or is not a sustainable life, but anyone can realize how this is indeed possible.