Hi Vivien, here are my answers to these interesting questions:
1) Is there a separate entity 'self', 'me' 'I', at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form?
Was there ever?
No, a separate self cannot be found in actual experience. If it were there in any way, it would be directly experienced, but it is not. There is absolutely nothing separate from experience. When thoughts are happening, and if that thought has the label I “in” it, that thought too is not separate from experience.
If there was a separate self as the witness (as it is conventionally considered), it would have to exist outside of and separate from experience and be experienced “witnessing” the other experience. But then, what would it be that could witness that separate self? A third self? And what would witness that third self? Even using sheer logic, the separate self is utterly absurd. But, just looking at experience, no separate self witnessing experience is there. All there is is just simple, plain experience. Nothing is hidden, nothing is separate.
The question about if there was ever a separate self implies that there is a past. This is not the case. Thoughts that imply past with words or images happen. But these thoughts do not offer any proof of a past. Looking at a thought about the past, there is some color that seems to appear. How is it that colors imply the past? They don’t. The only thing that these color thoughts offer proof for is EXPERIENCE. So, there is not a separate self, and there never was.
2) Explain in detail what the illusion of separate self is, when it starts and how it works from your own experience.
Describe it fully as you see it now.
The illusion of the separate self is the unexamined idea that there is something that witnesses experience, thinks thoughts, makes decisions, and moves the so-called body. This illusion starts when a thought with (or implying) the label I appears and there is a sensation in experience. These thoughts that say “I should XYZ,” “I think XYZ,” “I am XYZ,” “I will XYZ,” etc. constitute the illusion. These thoughts imply doership, ownership, or responsibility for what happens in experience. And, if never examined they seem real. This illusion is reinforced by other thoughts that claim responsibility for what appears in experience. For example, sitting at this computer, a small image and thought appears of my body sitting on the couch and the words “I should answer the questions.” Because I am sitting at the computer now, it appears that I pre-meditated these events. In reality, all there is is THIS experience, and somehow, that experience is not changing. What reinforces this idea of changing colors and sensations are only small images or thoughts that imply the past. I do not have a theoretical framework for how this happens, and that’s okay.
Another aspect of the illusion of a separate self is how language takes ownership for what appears in experience. For example, I just thought “I should get some water.” In this sentence, the thought I refers to the body. And the label body refers to the change in colors that appears in experience that supposedly separates my arm from the desk, my leg from the floor, etc. For the convenience of conversation, these labels are helpful. But, unexamined, the idea of my body implies that there is a body, and there is a separate owner of the body (the supposed separate self). Even the thought “I should get some water” contains the exact same linguistic syntax that creates the illusion of a separate self and separate objects. Just looking at actual experience, none of these assumptions are true.
3) How does it feel to see this?
What is the difference from before you started this dialogue? Please report from the past few days. [/quote]
Just looking at actual experience where there is no separate self feels… unremarkable. It’s like having a rest. It’s a little hard to remember what things were like before I started this dialogue. Life just goes on, the drama about school continues, worries still come up, planning etc. It’s just that, it’s not really a big deal for long anymore. It’s so easy just to look and see that no one was thinking that worry, no one forgot to look for a few hours, no one chose not to do some course work. Things just aren’t a big deal. Things seem to happen in life, unexpected reactions happen, taking ownership happens, and then it’s like it’s all forgiven in a moment of looking.
4) What was the last bit that pushed you over; made you look?
There was a question in our conversation about looking to see during the day if there is a separate awareness aware of objects. This question just cuts through everything, and the answer that is most accurate has no words. The best answer is found by looking at experience. For a little while, this question generated a flurry of thinking and theorizing about how what is experienced could be true. What ever thoughts come up from this question just seem inaccurate, and so it’s just much easier to rest in looking.
5) a) Describe decision, intention, free will, choice and control. What makes things happen? How does it work?
Give examples from your own recent experiences to how things happen and how things work.
Decision is a thought. For example, the thought I just had: “I’m going to get a coffee.” The reality of this decision is that it is only thought. None of the components of decision are real. “I” is a label that refers to a non-existent separate witness or a series of colors in sight that offer no proof for a separate body. “Going to get” implies time, which is a thought. Is there ever anything that happens? I’ve covered past above. The future is only an idea. “A coffee” is a label for some colors that appear. The change in color from the green of the cup to the brown of the desk do not offer proof for a separately existing thing called coffee.
Often, choices reinforce the illusion of decision. But, where do the choices come from? Was there an I that thought up the choices? No, that’s not in actual experience. If there is a thought deciding on one of the choices, is there an I that thought that decision? No, that doesn’t happen, I don’t make decisions. Is there an I that moves the body? No, it seems like it moves on it’s own.
Intention, I think I described that with my above example.
Free will and control are totally bogus. Free will is tied into the idea of being able to make decisions. But, as I mentioned, is there an I that generates the choices or generates the decision? No. These are thoughts and they appear spontaneously.
In a way, I’m not so sure that things are even happening. What evidence is there that things are happening? As I look closely, all I see are little images showing different configurations of colors that supposedly happened. These are just thought.. There does seem to be something like a trail of color as colors seem to change, but… I cannot explain this. Things just don’t seem to happen.
b) What are you responsible for? Give examples from your own recent experiences to how this works.
There is no me that is responsible for anything. I, as mentioned, is a bundle of concepts that refer to a doer, thinker, body, and witness. The whole idea falls apart when looking at actual experience.
I remember that earlier this evening I had a thought “I should have done more course work today,” and a sensation appeared too. After questioning, “Does an I do anything,” it is clear that thoughts don’t do anything. There is just no way for thoughts to influence the configuration of colors that appear as actual experience. The burning sensation faded, the thought was no longer present. Life went on.
6) Anything to add?
What do you like to do for fun, and
What is enlightenment and what is it’s relation to seeing that there is no separate self?