Above all, we fear impermanence. We flinch from a flame because we know that fire destroys flesh. This is the fear of physical impermanence: the fear of body-death. But our “self” can also be injured independent of our body.
For example, If I believe my “self” to be intelligent and knowledgeable and someone confronts me with contrary evidence, perhaps with a humiliating claim about how I’ve made a terrible, idiotic blunder, my “self” will sense a threat just as real and just as dangerous as fire.
Burn: To be thoroughly humiliated or insulted to the point where you cannot return with a comeback.
— Urban Dictionary Definition
The Buddha saw a problem with the human tendency to seek refuge from threats to the “self” as if they were threats to the body.
After carefully examining his own experience, he came to the realization that his “ego” or sense of “self” (the thing that feels as though it’s sitting comfortably up in your skull, reading and responding this article) wasn’t really there at all.
The “self” insofar as we consider it a tangible entity, is non-existent, impossible to locate—an illusion. Beautiful, baffling, often-useful, but ultimately, smoke and mirrors.
What’s particularly odd about this ego trick, however, is that the magician who performs it (our “self”), is both the creator and the spectator, stuck in a silly, dreamy dance like a cat chasing its tail.
The gross symptoms of aversion include anger, aggression, hatred, envy, etc., but here are some subtle and often more widespread symptoms:
- Rationalizing that “they” are wrong and “I” am right
- Creating a new problem to distract from the existing problem
- Becoming blind to things which contradict one’s identity
- Ingesting substances to distract or shelter from suffering
- Following dogmas which advocate subtle forms of not facing up to life
- Procrastination and lateness
- “Escaping” into entertainment
- Unwillingness to look in the mirror, figuratively and literally
Do you recognize any of these?