"I" Am Merely an Illusion
You wake up, to a beautiful sunrise with the sun’s warmth blanketing your skin, as your face becomes warmer, lovelier, sweeter, like Shakespeare’s summer day in Sonnet 18. You feel nothing, but the absolute present, until your dreamy state is replaced with your everyday responsibilities, hazy memories, and core beliefs that define who you are. For a beautiful second, you were truly free, but then you gathered yourself and shifted into the mindset of who you believe yourself to be in this world, your Ego. We as humans use our perception as a somewhat survival tactic in this world. We use our thoughts and experiences to shape who we are and create certain labels that define us. I can call myself a Muslim, a writer, an Indian, a brunette, a dreamer, a sister, daughter, friend, etc. These labels make it easier for my mind to understand my sensations, perceptions, and thoughts put into a more comprehendible way to create my place in this world. This can be related to the Bundle theory created in the 18th century by the Scottish philosopher David Hume who explains that an object is only simply a “bundle” of various properties like color, size, weight, etc. This can apply to our human self as our Ego is only a result of different sensations, perceptions, and thoughts that we experience put together to create a single idea of ourselves. As you are growing older, your Ego deepens and becomes a more believable illusion since the many experiences you encounter change your perception of ideas and your mind begins to accurately pair and attribute different concepts, events, or mental states together. These concepts are part of wide branches of psychology including behaviorism, social psychology, and most importantly psychoanalysis which all carry these ideas of associationism and attribution. This is why young children in ages of about 2-3 refer to themselves in third person since they have still yet to produce the idea of who they are, an “I”. This goes to say that only through subjective experiences in this world can we create the image of ourselves in our mind. Going off of this, how could you ever prove that what you believe yourself to be is true or in fact existent at all? For example, you only know you are a brunette because that is what social norms say and that is what you have been taught, but after all, these ideas have initially originated from human minds. How can you say that your hair is brown? As humans, we only have three color receptors in our eyes, blue, green, and red, but other animals like the mantis shrimp have a striking sixteen color receptors, meaning they can see many more colors than we can. Even though you close your eyes and try to imagine a new color, it is impossible, because all your thoughts are a product of comprehendible ideas and experiences and new color is far from comprehendible as our brain can only process as many colors as our eye cones allow. Moving on, when Rene Descartes says cogito, ergo sum, translated into English as "I think, therefore I am", how can you know if your thoughts are even true, as society and experiences have birthed these thoughts? Thoughts are real since you can think about grabbing a yellow pencil to write on a blue paper and then putting that thought into action, but how could you know if they are entirely accurate? Going back to the example of mantis shrimps, as humans you have a right to doubt your perception since you can never see nor think of every color since we are unable to do that. You can’t view the world from an unbiased objective view since your reality/world differ from a mantis shrimp’s world. This ties on to the idea that you didn’t come into life with an Ego, but you developed it as you went on with life due to the impact of external influences that confine with social norms. Whatever your mind can comprehend, body can experience, and society can see as probable, is true according to your Ego, so one could reasonably conclude that the Ego is in fact an illusion. Going back to Descartes’s idea, your true self is stripped of Ego and it is that which you use to understand of all your thoughts, but your thoughts do not define the existence of your true self as these thoughts only create your Ego veiling your true self. Think of your true self as a pair of binoculars, when looking through, you can see everything beyond the binoculars, just not the binoculars itself. The sky, grass, and rivers you see when looking through the binocular is your Ego, as it is everchanging and based on external influences. However, the binocular is your true self, as it is unchanging and unaffected by the Ego. The binoculars don’t disappear or change shape if a river dried out or a tree got cut, they stay the absolute same. To put this in more philosophical terms, thoughts appear and disappear, but you stay, as you are the experiencer of your thoughts and it is through you that your thoughts become real. Just because a happy thought disappeared doesn’t mean you did too because then whose there to experience the sad thought, the experiencer is your true self which is invariable and free of all thoughts. Your thoughts merely create your Ego, but as I have mentioned, the Ego is just a theory, an illusion your mind created to adjust your true self into the world, it is harshly nonexistent, and so could one say cogito, ergo sum in some ways flawed? To take this point in a more logical and biological perspective we can take a look at Alan Watts book, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. In here Alan Watts has provided a beautiful explained of our true self, as he stated “’Individual’ is the Latin form of the Greek ‘atom’ — that which cannot be cut or divided any further into separate parts. We cannot chop off a person’s head or remove his heart without killing him. But we can kill him just as effectively by separating him from his proper environment. This implies that the only true atom is the universe — that total system of interdependent “thing-events” which can be separated from each other only in name. For the human individual is not built as a car is built. He does not come into being by assembling parts, by screwing a head onto a neck, by wiring a brain to a set of lungs, or by welding veins to a heart. Head, neck, heart, lungs, brain, veins, muscles, and glands are separate names but not separate events, and these events grow into being simultaneously and interdependently. In precisely the same way, the individual is separate from his universal environment only in name. When this is not recognized, you have been fooled by your name. Confusing names with nature, you come to believe that having a separate name makes you a separate being. This is — rather literally — to be spellbound.” (Watts). This goes to prove that the only form of separation between our worldly self and true self, is our Ego which is a hallucination of ideas and thoughts we have grouped together to create labels to identify ourselves. We have been fooled by these labels that have created miles of distance between our worldly self and true self, the true self being an unchanging and a forever part of the universe. Now let’s shift to a more Buddhist perspective to this idea. Tibetan Buddhism has endlessly pondered about the relation between ones Ego and true self. The book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, beautifully and intricately explains the difference between these two ideas and how they can correlate with each other and also be dealt with. In this book, Rinpoche says, “Two people have been living in you all of your life. One is the ego, garrulous, demanding, hysterical, calculating; the other is the hidden spiritual being, whose still voice of wisdom you have only rarely heard or attended to.”. Later on, in the book, it is stated that Ego death (complete loss of subjective self-identity) is the key to accessing our true self unpainted with all worldly illusions through meditation. Similarly, the guru Swami Muktananda mentions “The Self, Shiva, is supremely pure and independent, and you can experience it constantly sparkling within your mind. It cannot be perceived by the senses, because it makes the senses function. It cannot be perceived by the mind, because it makes the mind think. Still, the Self can be known, and to know it we do not need the help of the mind or the senses.” All of these different point of views on a single idea, Ego is an illusion, just prove to show science, logic, and religion all lead to one answer. That is, we are more than we think, we are unchanging, we are pure, we are abstract, but only when we lift the heavy veil of Ego to unearth what is truly us.
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