The cornerstone of tribal mentality is the self. When humans were at an early stage of development, the self, like the tribe, was apparently inevitable. But in the modern world, the self, like the tribe, has become completely divisive and dysfunctional.
The self, willfully maintained, inevitably becomes narcissistic. Meditation, or whatever you prefer to call self-knowing observation, is not a focusing and reinforcing of the self, but the ending of egocentrism and the quieting of the chattering mind.
One can describe what happens when thought-consciousness yields to awareness and direct perception, and thereby hope to reach those willing to listen. But a personal account may work against the transmission of insight, precisely because the experiencing of insight is not personal.
Does any emphasis on personal states take away from the universal experiencing that occurs when the operating system of the self and the program of conditioned experience end?
It’s a dilemma. Obviously insights into meditative states, which are not personal, can be conveyed without talking about one’s experiences of meditation. Does doing so merely open one to malevolent charges of narcissism by respectable narcissists?
Taking the self as a given, the unchangeable core of our humanness, is like people in the Dark Ages assuming the sun revolves around the earth. Their everyday experience confirmed it every time the sun rose and set, just as our everyday experience confirms the validity of the self every time we say or think ‘I,’ and make a choice.
But just as careful observation proved that the earth revolves around the sun, so too careful observation reveals that the self is merely a bundle of memories, images and experiences around which the rest of the content of psychological thought inseparably revolves.
An illusion willfully maintained is a definition of a delusion. False teachers in the West speak of ‘the deepest self’ just as false teachers in the East spoke of ‘the Higher Self.’
The inability to be simple and clear about the inherent separative, illusory nature of the self is tying intellectuals in self-referential knots, leading them to say circular, meaningless things such as “each identity itself is not one thing but a tradition of debate about the meaning of that identity.”
The observer and the self are essentially the same thing, though the observer can be understood and ended fairly easily if one puts one’s mind and heart to it. It takes much more diligence and spadework to understand and end the self however, since it is the accretion not only of personal experience but also one’s family and racial lineage.
However even the temporary cessation of separation (the essence of the self), and the noise of thought that ineluctably accompanies it, is salubrious.
What does it mean to have an inner life as well as a life of the mind? Does it mean reading different famous people, and quoting their ideas? Does it mean a veneer of civility over an empty, unexamined core of self and ego? Does it mean the pose and pretense of equanimity, compassion and wisdom?
Or does it mean not comparing oneself with anyone, but looking at and remaining with what one is feeling, thinking and doing from day to day and minute to minute?
Whatever name one gives observing without the observer—whether meditation, contemplation or reflection—it involves understanding and ending the self.
Of course, there is a danger of solipsism in self-examination. Millions of people have twisted the age-old maxim to know oneself into the notion, ‘I can only take care of myself.’
That attitude is no less separative than the obsessive externalizer, who obtusely maintains that we can only know ourselves through social networks and communities.
The essential distinction we need to make is between self-knowledge and self-knowing. Self-knowledge, like all knowledge, is accumulative, the result of experience or instruction stored in memory.
Self-knowing has a completely different source and foundation. It is of the active present, has no reference to the past except through the present actuality, and does not accumulate.
We have become so enamored of knowledge that the insight that knowledge is an impediment to insight and understanding is incomprehensible. Of course, the veneration of knowledge began many centuries ago in the West, and was often confused in Eastern philosophy as well.
Paraphrasing Plato, he believed that ‘unguided by knowledge, the people are a multitude without order, like desires in disarray: the people need the guidance of philosophers as desires need the enlightenment of knowledge.’
The problem is that knowledge cannot ever confer enlightenment. Conflating knowledge with enlightenment is a confusion of the first order, one from which all manner of confusion arises.
The veneration of experts, and the reaction against experts and elites that is so evident in the West today, has its basis in the inability to see the rightful place of knowledge, and the implicit assumption that the advancement of humanity is synonymous with the advancement of knowledge.
Knowledge in all forms has to be set aside for inward growth to take place. The self is an illusion and the source of darkness, which can only be dissolved through diligent, observer-less observation.