All human suffering arises to serve a purpose. This purpose is the maintenance and promotion of one’s ‘self’. Suffering is the mechanism that attempts to move you in some direction on behalf of the apparent needs of your conceptual identity. Without this Identity – or the need to persist as it – you would not suffer as you do now. The act of believing in, maintaining, and serving your illusory self is the cause of all suffering. Becoming conscious that you are not this ‘self-identity’, and letting go of the need to perpetually serve its agendas is the end of your suffering. This article lays out the core dynamics of the self and its resultant suffering, as well as the means by which you may get free from it.
First, we look at how self and suffering came to be. Then we will look at the possibility of freedom from it. Finally, we will consider what it would be like to exist without self.
Dynamics of self and suffering
When you were born you were without self-experience. This primordial sense of being was likely an amorphous feeling without self-reference. Through time you developed the experience of being a distinct body, separate from mother and world.
Eventually, your internal world comes to life and an experience of ‘I am this’ defines your experience. Once you’ve identified yourself, all perceptive data is experienced and interpreted in relation to this ‘me’. You then engage in a lifelong process of accumulating characteristics and further defining your identity.
From this identified position you will use suffering to manipulate yourself in an attempt to promote and defend your created identity.
The possibility of freedom
Because all this content was either collected from others or created by you, it can be let go or uncreated by you. The more content you are devoted to defending, the more suffering you will experience. Each aspect that is let go of will result in proportionally decreased suffering.
To let go of self you must realize….
-You are not this content.
-Defending and ‘being’ this content causes suffering.
-No content is essential to your existence, so is unnecessary.
You are not this content
The most essential ingredient in attaining freedom is realizing that you are not your perceptions of yourself. Look into your experience and discern this fact for yourself.
Every feeling and thought that gives shape and reality to “I” is a perception occurring to you. No matter what arises, it is always something you are experiencing and never the experiencer (you).
By strategically examining your self-experience this fact can become apparent to your mind.
By having direct experiences of your true nature (enlightenment) you can become conscious of what you are prior to or beyond this created identity. When this occurs, your ability to let go of illusory self aspects is greatly empowered.
When you see that you are not something you’ve identified with you become willing to let it go.
Defending and ‘being’ this content causes suffering
You are life itself. Just as all life does, you abide by the dictates of survival. The exact same survival drive is present in all living things. This is both the root cause of your self, as well as the motivating force behind all your current experiences.
In order to survive, you must effectively manipulate circumstances to meet needs. Whatever you’ve identified as self will be automatically defended and promoted. This process is the cause of suffering.
The principle is simple – when an unfavorable circumstance arises, you suffer until it is gone so are motivated to make it go away – but the ways in which it shows up are varied and complex. This dynamic constitutes much of what you call life. Just know that all suffering is created with the purpose of defending your self. Less self – less suffering.
When you grasp you are causing your own suffering on behalf of an illusory self you become willing to let go.
No content is essential to your existence, so is unnecessary
Suffering is not inherently bad and can be seen as a necessary function of survival. The fact is however that the majority of our suffering is unnecessary. We created ourselves unconsciously. As a result, So much of what we suffer serves no function other than to defend some arbitrarily adopted characteristic. You can exist without any of the content you’ve identified with so it is possible to drop it right now.
When you grasp that you don’t need to be this or that way, you become willing to let go of self.
How to get free
Unfortunately for us, undermining the dynamics and forces that give rise to suffering typically takes a concerted effort. I believe it is worth the effort because the resultant freedom is the best thing I’ve ever experienced. By applying yourself to the task of liberation you can reduce the self’s domination over your experience of being.
The main driver of liberation is realization. Realization is the act of becoming conscious of your true nature beyond concept. The more conscious you become of what you are (as well as what you are not) the more capable you become of abiding in a state of free consciousness. In order to have these realizations, you can try the following techniques and methods.
Contemplating your true nature– This forms the basis of any powerful self-transcendence practice. Contemplating your true nature is the act of questioning “what am I” and intending to become directly conscious of what you are at an existential or ‘absolute’ level. You are trying to experience yourself without referencing your mind or perceptions, trying to know that which knows.
Abiding by non-self-serving principles– Taking action in accordance with the dictates of an illusory self serves only to perpetuate its existence. When you lie, perform, manipulate, and think on behalf of the illusory self you are essentially buying into it as a real thing, as the real “I”. You are affirming its existence as that which must exist.
The other option is to abide by non-self-serving principles such as honesty, unconditional love, inclusion, honor, discipline, equality, etc. All of these principles undermine the self agenda but promote your existence as free consciousness. They also empower you to experience yourself as something benign, with integrity, and inclusive of more than selfish motives.
Keeping the mindset and contemplation ‘I am not my perceptions of me’– You are being kept in an experience of ‘selfhood’ by your constant flow of thoughts and feelings. These internal experiences convince us of our limited selfhood. By holding the position ‘I am not my perceptions of me’ you will be able to contemplate them as they arise and systematically increase consciousness in this domain. The end result is an experience of thought and emotion free from the notion that they are somehow me or mine. This experience is far more effective, wise, free, rational, loving, and sensible.
Research for self-understanding– Questions of identity and suffering have lived in the human heart for a long time. Countless others have attempted to know the truth and get free. Referencing their works can be a huge leg up in your own endeavor. Read widely and never assume you’ve reached the bottom.
No suffering?- Pain and suffering may seem inevitable but this not be the case. In 1920 there was a famous 16-year-old sage who realized his true nature so deeply that he was found in a temple basement in deep meditation, being eaten alive by crabs and emaciated, but in pure bliss. He was found by monks and revered as a godman for the rest of his life (Ramana maharishi). In this extreme example, all suffering and pain were transcended. More than likely you will not go this far, but you can make huge improvements in your experience. Every self aspect you drop will reduce your suffering. It stands that if every single aspect was dropped your suffering would disappear. Short of this, however, you can work to eliminate many of the conceptual identities currently influencing your experience.
Enlightened consciousness– Consciousness of your true nature will replace your experience of being a separate self. In truth, you are only consciousness. As consciousness you do not suffer, were not born, and will not die- and you know this directly. When you are identified as consciousness your self agenda will not require your obedience. You now have the choice to engage or not with all that constitutes life for you. Life can be seen as a game to play rather than a burden to endure or survive.
Simply Being– There is nothing here. Reality is like a dream in that it has no substance and is an activity of the mind. When you realize this it becomes apparent that nothing needs to happen. That you are fundamentally free from everything. With this understanding, you are finally freed to simply be. You can exist without the need to resolve, defend, promote, wait, advance, hide, or distract. This feels good.
Seeing through the conceptual identity you’ve created for yourself and living as a free Being is a beautiful and fulfilling experience.