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The Illusion of Self
Latter Day Buddhism

The trick is not in understanding who I am, but who I am not.

-- Brian William Drisko, 27-Nov-2007 1725


As I began to go through the gateless gate
It became apparent from the other side
There was no gate to go through
And no "I" that went through.

-- Brian William Drisko, 07-Jun-2008 0000


Asking me if I know who I am is like asking me to go look at a mirror to see what a mirror is.
I will tell you that a mirror is a reflection of me, but I know that is not what a mirror is.
In the same way, "I" am all that I will find when I seek to find what "I am"
Even though I know that is not what "I am."

I can not reach in to pull out an "I" to show you. I can only reach in and pull out an "I"
that is reaching in to pull out an "I" to show you!

-- Brian William Drisko, 07-Jun-2008 0000


We suffer from a hallucination, from a false and distorted sensation of our own existence as living organisms.

We do not "come into" this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean "waves," the universe "peoples." Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated "egos" inside bags of skin.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 1, page 8, paragraphs 2 & 3.


The sensation of "I" as a lonely and isolated center of being is so powerful and commonsensical, and so fundamental to our modes of speech and thought, to our laws and social institutions, that we cannot experience selfhood except as something superficial in the scheme of the universe. I seem to be a brief light that flashes but once in all the aeons of time -- a rare, complicated, and all-too-delicate organism on the fringe of biological evolution, where the wave of life bursts into individual, sparkling, and multicolored drops that gleam for a moment only to vanish forever. Under such conditioning it seems impossible and even absurd to realize that myself does not reside in the drop alone, but in the whole surge of energy which ranges from the galaxies to the nuclear fields in my body. At this level of existance "I" am immeasurably old; my forms are infinite and their comings and goings are simply pulses or vibrations or a single and eternal flow of energy.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 1, page 12, paragraphs 2.


You cannot teach an ego to be anything but egotistic, even though egos have the subtlest ways of pretending to be reformed. The basic thing is therefore to dispel, by experiment and experience, the illusion of oneself as a separate ego.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 1, page 21, paragraphs 1.


But the question is how to get over the sensation of being locked out from everything "other," of being only oneself -- an organism flung into unavoidable competition and conflict with almost every "object" in its experience.

But when you know for sure that your separate ego is a fiction, you actually feel yourself as the whole process and pattern of life. Experience and experiencer become one experiencing, known and knower one knowing.

Each organism experiences this from a different standpoint and in a different way, for each organism is the universe experiencing itself in endless variety.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 5, page 118, paragraphs 2, page 120, paragraph 3 and page 121, paragraph 1.


Don't try to get rid of the ego-sensation. Take it, so long as it lasts, as a feature of play of the total process -- like a cloud or wave, or like feeling warm or cold, or anything else that happens of itself. Getting rid of one's ego is the last resort of invincible egoism! It simply confirms and strengthens the reality of the feeling. But when this feeling of separateness is approached and accepted like any other sensation, it evaporates like the mirage that it is.

... when practiced in order to "get" some kind of spiritual illumination or awakening, they strengthen the fallacy that the ego can toss itself away by a tug at its own bootstraps.

If, then, you ask me how to get beyond the ego-feeling, I shall ask you why you want to get there. If you give me the honest answer, which is that your ego will feel better in the "higher spiritual status" of self-transcendence, you will thus realize that you -- as ego -- are a fake. You will feel like an onion: skin after skin, subterfuge after subterfuge, is pulled off to find no kernel at the center. Which is the whole point: to find out that the ego is indeed a fake -- a wall of defense around a wall of defense . . . around nothing. You can't ever want to get rid of it, nor yet want to want to.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 5, page 121, paragraphs 2 and page 122, paragraphs 1 & 2.


There is no trap without someone to be caught. There is, indeed, no compulsion unless there is also freedom of choice, for the sensation of behaving involuntarily is known only by contrast with that of behaving voluntarily. Thus when the line between myself and what happens to me is dissolved and there is no stronghold left for an ego even as a passive witness, I find myself not in a world but as a world which is neither compulsive nor capricious. What happens is neither automatic nor arbitrary: it just happens, and all happenings are mutually interdependent in a way that seems unbelievably harmonious.

When this new sensation of self arises, it is at once exhilarating and a little disconcerting. ... In immediate contrast to the old feeling, there is indeed a certain passivity to the sensation, as if you were a leaf blown along by the wind, until you realize that you are both the leaf and the wind. The world outside your skin is just as much you as the world inside: they move together inseparably. ... you soon discover that you are able to go ahead with ordinary activities -- to work and make decisions as ever, though somehow this is less of a drag. Your body is no longer a corpse which the ego has to animate and lug around.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 5, page 124, paragraphs 1 & 2.


The universe is at root a magical illusion and a fabulous game, and there is no separate "you" to get something out of it, as if life were a bank to be robbed. The only real "you" is the one that comes and goes, manifests and withdraws itself eternally in and as every conscious being. For "you" is the universe looking at itself from billions of points of view, points that come and go so that the vision is forever new.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 5, page 130, paragraphs 1.


No one who has been hoaxed into the belief that he is nothing but his ego, or nothing but his individual organism, can be chivalrous, let alone a civilized, sensitive, and intelligent member of the cosmos.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 5, page 136, paragraphs 1.


It seems to be the special peculiarity of human beings that they reflect: they think about thinking and know that they know.

Nothing so eludes conscious inspection as consciousness itself. That is why the root of consciousness has been called, paradoxically, the unconscious.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 6, page 139, paragraphs 1 & 2.


Man is ... intuitively certain that the entire multitude of things and events is "on" or "in" something as reflections are on a mirror, sounds on a diaphragm, lights and colors in a diamond, or the words and music of a song in the singer. This is perhaps because man is himself a unified organism, and that if things and events are "on" anything at all, they are on his nervous system. Yet there is obviously more than one nervous system, and what are all nervous systems on? Each other?

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 6, page 143, paragraphs 1.


When you are dead, you will be as you were before you were conceived. So -- there has been a flash, a flash of consciousness or a flash of galaxies. It happened. Even if there is no one left to remember.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 6, page 156, paragraphs 2.


The ingrained and compelling myth is the "I" comes into this world, or is thrown out from it, in such a way as to have no essential connection with it. Thus we do not trust the universe to repeat what it has already done -- to "I" itself again and again. We see it as an eternal arena in which the individual is no more than a temporary stranger -- a visitor who hardly belongs -- for the thin ray of consciousness does not shine upon its own source. In looking out upon the world, we forget that the world is looking at itself -- through our eyes and IT's.

-- See: The Book, On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts, Vintage Books Edition, August 1989, Ch 6, page 158, paragraphs 2.


The Astonishing Hypothesis is that "You," your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Caroll's Alice might have phrased it: "You're nothing but a pack of neurons." This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people alive today that it can truly be called astonishing.

-- See: The Astonishing Hypothesis, The Scientific Search For The Soul by Francis Crick (1962 Nobel Laureate and co-discoverer of the structure of DNA), Ch 1, pg 3, paragraph 1.



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