Self Inquiry and Buddhism

Self Inquiry and Buddhism

The mind of a Sage

 Sages don't see themselves as 'persons'.  They 'see' themselves as non-local impersonal individuals speaking through the vehicle of their individual human experience.   

Big difference.

So if you look at a sage and 'think' you see a 'person'... think again.


The Narcissistic Trance

 The individual being sees a body... with a name... and hears thoughts that speak in the first person... and feels emotions... and 'has' memories... and we 'heap' all this together and assume it's a 'person'.   It's an automatic assumption based on the evidence presented.   A seemingly logical assumption... but an unquestioned automatic assumption.  The exclusive obsession with the evidence of this 'person' can be called.. a Narcissistic trance. 


Self Inquiry is contemplating that we exist (as individuals)

 The assumption of a 'person' is an answer to a question we give to our selves... as in 'what am I?'    We make the assumption automatically and it's never explained as otherwise.   So the individual being that was asking is ignored... and the answer becomes dogma.

 Self Inquiry is often expressed as the question 'Who am I?'... but it can also be expressed as an assertion - not a question... as in... 'I exist'.

 Contemplating the fact that we exist can lead to the startling conclusion that we didn't actually 'know' we exist... we only believed we exist as a person.    So when we contemplate that we exist it can suddenly and pleasantly surprise us that we actually do exist... and that this existence is a nameless, undefined existence... free from all definitions... and perfectly compatible with our humanity.

 Spiritual traditions call this... being.

 And once you know... without a doubt... that you exist... then you can say 'I Am'... without a doubt.

 Knowing you exist is the open door to knowing... it's an unbroken silver chord to knowing because it's always available... as long as we exist.   If you know you exist... you know.   If you exist... you just know.  All you have to do is seriously contemplate that you exist and sooner or later it will dawn on you.

 The problem is we don't appreciate that we exist... because we assume we exist as a person... so then we are obsessed with the personal because it's all we're aware of.  But when you really know that you exist you begin to appreciate existence simply for it's nature... until then there will be fear of non-existence which stems from only believing we exist.  Belief and doubt go hand in hand... you can't have one without the other.   So if you are satisfied with the belief you exist... you'll have to get used to doubting that you exist.

 'I am' is just knowing... that 'I exist'. 

 Knowing 'I exist'... is reassuring.

NOTE: The 'knowing' of our existence is a 'muscle' that can be exercised.   The more you work it'... the more you'll 'know'... and the more you 'know'... the less you'll be fooled.


NOTE:  Individuation is not separation.  Individuation is a unique individual perspective... of the Whole. 

 It's a paradox.


Knowing we exist is Self Inquiry

 Self Inquiry is often taught as holding on to the feeling of I am.   But too often for the seeker it becomes a declaration that 'I am!' which is a form of 'holding on' to the idea of 'I am' which is a concept.   So then inquiry becomes a distraction and as such it is incompatible with ordinary life as the same aspect of mind that's required to deal with the world is attempting to 'hold on' to something.   So when it distracts from out ability to act we discard it at the first chance as dealing with ordinary life takes understandable precedence over any forced distraction.

 But Self Inquiry can be compatible with ordinary life... and thus 'practical'.

 First... when you know you exist this knowing does not interfere with the function of ordinary mind as it is not a thought... it's 'knowing'... which operates simultaneously with ordinary mind... just like being... because it's an aspect of being.   So knowing 'I exist' is transparent to ordinary mind... and not a distraction.  

 Knowing 'I exist', in the end, is not just a declaration in the mind but a simultaneous 'knowing'... which is perfectly compatible with ordinary life and thus, in this way, is 'practice-able'... so to speak.  

 Self Inquiry practiced in this manner is thus just 'knowing I exist'... as 'I go about my business'.    And this knowing is not a distraction from ordinary functioning..

 Knowing "I exist" is Self Inquiry.   And when you know you exist you 'understand'.


Deconstruction and Buddhism

Buddhism can't be 'constructed' as in piling one concept on top of another until we come to a 'conclusion'.  It can only 'dawn' on the individual as the result of a 'deconstruction' of fundamental assumptions.

So Buddhism is not a construction site... it's more of a 'hole' in the foundation.

The hole in the foundation in Buddhism is where the 'personal' me used to go.



 Buddhism can be summed up in two words... "no me".

 "No me" as in "no person"

 No person as in... no "substantial" person.

No "substantial" person... yet I exist.

No "substantial" person... as in... the "person" is just a belief.

IE: it's a "heap"... that leads to an assumption.

An assumption is just an unquestioned belief.

Contemplation is just contemplating the implications of living without an assumption.

 The 'person' is a definition... existence is undefined... yet it "is".

 So the essence of Buddhism is... "No me... yet I exist"  


"No me... yet I Am".


"No me"... yet I function.


"No me"... yet I am an individual being.

Or just...

"No me"... while I go about my 'business'.


So practicing Buddhism is contemplating the implications of... "no me".

Buddhism is contemplating the 'emptiness' of "no me".

"No me"... is a relief.

"No me" does not mean 'no life'... as in no personal life.   It just means that we see 'through' the assumption of a 'person'... while going about our 'business'.

There is life... after 'no me'.


Note: The 'not-self' is the 'no-person'.

NOTE: The 'hole' in the foundation, in Buddhism, is where the 'personal me' used to go.


The 'impersonal life' is just living the life of a 'person'... without being a 'person'.

It's a paradox.


We can live quite nicely without the belief in a 'person'... but we can't live without 'existence'.

Our humanity will continue to operate when we see through the 'person'.

Our humanity is not contingent on any one belief... it just is.

Individuals are individual beings. 

Individuals exist... 'persons' are an assumption.

It's simple.


Individuals are beings who honor the 'personal'... but whose being knows better.

So practicing Buddhism is seeing that that there is no person for anything to happen 'to'... as we go about our business. 


It's easier to detach from the 'personality' when you see there is no 'person' behind it.

We let go of the 'person' but we detach from the 'personality'.

IE: Mental 'detachment' is a two step process.  

(see The Three Levels of Detachment at the bottom of the page)


Detach from the 'personality'... and the rest of the mind just 'is'.


  Individuals are capable of acting for the good of others... as well as for their own highest good.   Individuals use 'Self' imposed discipline for their highest good... as well as the highest good of those around them.    They are 'paying forward' by what they do... as well as what they don't do.

Individuals make good 'citi-zens'.   Persons are problematic.


Reprise: Self Inquiry and the 'person'

There is a more traditional way to practice Self Inquiry and that is the following... but... in this case, it also addresses the main barrier to inquiry... and that is the one who is inquiring.


Self Inquiry is often difficult to practice at first because the 'person' is unconsciously posing the question of 'Who Am I?'... to the 'person' in their mind... because they don't 'know any better'.   Naturally the 'person' doesn't understand such a question or why it should question itself so the mind moves on quickly and the practice is defeated.   Thus its a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house.

However, the savvy individual that practices Self Inquiry poses the question in the form of an open ended inquiry in the form of a questioning 'attitude' in the mind as to the assumption of the existence of the person.  Thus it's an open ended or open minded inquiry that makes 'room' in the mind for the Self - in the form of intuitively informed impersonal awareness or being - to arise in ones own awareness... as ones Self.

So this attitude is reflected in the practice as... if not a 'person' then... 'who am I?'

Thus the blogs Home page is a philosophical preparation of sorts for this open ended or open minded inquiry to be practiced which over time will create a level of comfort with undefined states of being or just 'being undefined'... as ones 'Self'.  IE: the Self as 'you'.

So the savvy, knowing individual that practices Self Inquiry 'knows better' as the ground of the mind has been prepared on a philosophical basis for this deeper inquiry to take place.


The Dilemma of Buddhism

This blog, and particularly its Home Page departs from traditional language of Buddhism on a crucial point and that is that Buddhism is often interpreted as stating that there is no 'individual self'... or no 'separate individual'. The problem with this language in the seekers mind is that it can leave the mistaken impression that there is no individual to reincarnate.  So Buddhism can come across as something of a dilemma.  But it doesn't have to be.

The blog addresses this language issue by taking a more direct (or Vedic) approach in stating that there is an individual being or 'Self'... just no separate 'person'.  So we 'exist' as individuals... but not as separate 'persons'.  That's a subtle but important distinction which gives the individual a place to hang their 'hat' of existence on without the attachment to a false assumption of a non-existent 'person'.   This 'terminilogy' is essentially a paradoxical clarification of the oft used term... 'selflessness'.

Thus the spiritual progression on the path is from...

a 'separate' person... to an 'individual being'... to a 'non-local' individual.

This one simple point transforms Buddhist thought from one that leaves the individual potentially hanging on a language induced dilemma it can't solve to a situation that makes sense... that doesn't violate common sense... the common sense fact that we exist... as individuals.   When seen from that perspective suddenly Buddhism makes sense in a way that perhaps it didn't before.

NOTE: The 'Atman'... is the individual.


The Myth of ego death

The blog page, and again, particularly its Home page, also take issue somewhat with the traditional confusion concerning the place of the ego in terms of the individual.  The blogs view of the ego is not something inexplicably intertwined with the individual in a way that 'traps' them in an endless loop of struggle.  Rather it is seen as something 'other' than the individual... but integral to a human experience.  This subtle but important distinction makes room for detachment while making room for honoring our humanity... while minimizing the 'struggle'.


 The ego doesn't 'die'... not yet.  It's only the attachment to the belief that we only exist as a separate 'person' that can 'die' in this lifetime.   The only thing that can 'die' are false beliefs.    That which truly exists... exists forever.   But... as long as there is a shred of human individuality there will be need for an ego in order to 'operate'.   The greatest sage is still an individual but their awareness of non-local being dwarfs their individuality... and their ego.  But that tiny shred of individuality still needs an ego to communicate their message... otherwise they would be inert to us instead of sentient.   Their impersonal egos serve the sage... not the other way around.   

   The real question is to what purpose is the ego used - is it a tool for facilitating everyday 'operations' (so to speak) and communicating with other beings or mis-used for the purpose of distraction?   When it's used as a tool... it's in its proper place and not a problem.   When it's mis-used for distraction... then it promotes distraction.   It's simple.

 The 'ego'... is a neutral 'thing'.   It's the operating system of our humanity.  No 'humanity'... no human experience.  The personality is an individual human expression that runs 'on' the operating system of the ego.

 The ego only 'dies' when the individual is no more and we have a ways to go till that happens.   Individual sages with egos do exist in the afterlife (as in Sri-Yukteswar's resurection linked here).  

 In the end what gets surrendered is the individual will... not the ego.   Because in the end it's the individual will... separate from the One Will that deteriorates into personal willfulness.     This is why it's essential to develop individual will... because we can't surrender what we don't have.

 And surrender at that point is not seen as a 'defeat'... but a 'relief'... a 'relief' from the burden of individual will.   It's seen as the lightening of a load.   The load of carrying the 'world' on our 'shoulders'.


The Witness is the witness of the Personal Dilemma

The personality still operates in the absence of an assumption of a 'person'.

If the personality still operates in the absence of an assumption of a 'person'... what does that say about the 'person'.

For more on this see... The Witness



The sole and complete obsession with the separate 'person'... is separation.

The individual is not 'separate'... because it's 'connected'... through being and awareness... to the One Being.

The 'individual' is a unique 'free agent' of the One Being.

'Persons' are 'separate' only in their minds... thus 'separation' can be 'seen through'... in their minds.

   The ego is the operating system of our humanity... the 'person' is only a belief... an assumption.   You can't 'operate' without an 'operating system'.   But we can 'operate' without the exclusive obsession on the separate person.   
 Humanity is our destiny to live out... being only a separate person is optional.   Our humanity is the vehicle for a human experience.  

Our humanity is not the problem.   'Personalizing' our humanity is the problem.

A world of individual human beings is a workable world... a world of separate persons is problematic.

Our humanity continues to operate when we see through the assumption of a 'person'.

 So we will still function as human beings while seeing 'through' the belief in a separate 'person'.   Seeing through the belief in a person is no threat to our humanity.   So letting go of a limiting belief doesn't harm our humanity in any way... it liberates our humanity.

 A world of flexible individual human beings is a 'workable' world...

A world of separate 'persons' is problematic.

Our humanity is necessary for a human experience.   Being 'only' a separate person burdens our humanity.

A sane world is a world of flexible individual human beings... beings who know their own being while honoring their 'personal' destiny's... beings who 'are' while going about their business...  IE: beings who 'see through' the world while participating 'in' it.

This is what we came here to 'do'.

NOTE: 'Dharma' is just 'doing' what you came here to 'do'.

NOTE: 'Seva' is a 'personal sacrifice'... for an impersonal purpose.

'Seva' is best practiced at home with 'others'... because no one knows you're 'doing' it.


NOTE: Being is perfectly compatible with the operating system.

NOTE: A 'trance' is only possible when attention is distracted.


Persons 'personalize' their experience... individuals gain from their experience.

Big difference.

'Personalized' experiences create attachment to experiences.   'Impersonal' experience gives us experience.

'Personalized' experience is the mechanism of attachment.

Attachment is the 'magnet' to the 'past'.

The 'past' and 'future' are all about the 'person' and the 'personal'.   There is no 'impersonal' 'past' or 'future'.

Remembering the 'past' is not attachment to the 'past'.   Remembering the 'past' is an aide to discernment.

Remembering the 'past' helps to make us no body's fool.

Memories are useful... attachment to memories is a 'drag'... on our attention.


Free will free's up attention.   Free will liberates the individual to 'do' what it came here to 'do'.


More on the ego

It's an irony on the path to being undefined that we'll never be able to 'solve' the problem until we define it.   If we can't define the ego... how are we going to 'solve' it?

The fact is we'll never be able to separate the ego from our humanity... but you can separate the separate 'person' (and the personal) from the ego.

We can't draw a line around the ego... but we can draw a line around the 'personal'... and the 'person'...

This may not 'solve' the entire problem... but it's a necessary start towards solving that which can be solved by the individual.

Sanity is solving problems that can be solved... insanity is beating on problems that can't be solved.


NOTE: The ego will respond to whomever it perceives to be its 'master' - IE: whatever dominates the individuals inner attention... as in either the 'person' or the 'real time' intuition of the 'being'... as in... the individual being... or the Universal Being.  So the ego is a 'neutral thing'.   IE: It's transparent to whatever is 'driving' it.

So whatever dominates your inner attention... is whats 'driving' the ego.

All spiritual practice is about inner attention.   In the end... it all comes down to inner attention.


On 'bare attention'

A 'person' comes across an 'individual' who appears to be doing nothing...

Person:  What are you doing?

Individual: Paying attention.

Person:  To what?

Individual:  To whatever comes up.



All karma is about the 'person' and the 'personal'... there is no impersonal karma.


'Zen Mind' is Direct Experience

NOTE: When you hear someone talk of 'direct experience'...  It denotes an experience based 'directly' on knowledge... as in Self Knowledge.  Self Knowledge gives direct experience... all else is interference with direct experience.

 Indirect experience is experience filtered through ones limitations and 'personal' opinions... IE second hand knowledge.   Self Knowledge short circuits the 'person' and its opinions... thus making ones perception more 'direct'.

One is in 'time'... the other outside of 'time'... but not incompatible with it.

Direct experience is 'direct' because there is no 'filter' between ones perception... and ones experience.

So when you can speak from 'direct experience'... that's a little more than a 'leading indicator'.   That's an 'indicator' of Self Knowledge.


NOTE: Direct experience is viewing the world 'directly'... without the filter of the 'person' and the 'personal'.

Direct experience is 'beginners mind'.

'Bare attention' is required... for a 'direct experience'.

Beginners mind is 'bare attention'.

Beginners mind is 'impersonal attention'.

The 'filter' of discernment is necessary... but 'personal filters' are 'in the way'...   IE: in the 'way' of 'direct experience'.


Zen mind is a flexible mind.

Zen mind is no distraction.

Zen mind is paying serious attention.

Zen mind is... 'continuous' attention.


Zen mind gives us quality of life.

Zen mind is always in season.

Zen mind is bypassing the 'middle man'.

Zen mind is impersonal mind.

Zen mind is no body's fool.

Zen mind 'understands'.

Zen mind... gives us 'a life'.


NOTE: Zen mind starts with individual 'direct experience'... and 'extends' outward... from there...

Zen mind 'begins' with 'beginners mind'... and 'ends'... with 'Depth of Field'.



The Three levels of Detachment

1) Mental Detachment:  There are two steps to mental detachment and they are first... to let go of the assumption of a 'separate person'... combined with detachment from thought through 'detached' observation of the mind.   

 Beginners mind or 'bare attention' is a form of 'mental detachment'.    Bare attention is just outer attention on outer things... and inner attention on 'inner things'.   Imploding background attention is a form of mental detachment since it helps to break attachment to thoughts... while practicing beginners mind or bare attention.

2) Emotional Detachment:  Emotional detachment is letting go of 'suffering'.  This does not imply a 'denial' of suffering.  In fact it requires a level of emotional intelligence before the individual can practice emotional detachment without 'falling' for denial.   So emotional work is still a prerequisite for this level of detachment.   See... A Spiritual Roadmap

 When someone 'wrongs' us we automatically feel we have the 'right' to feel 'wronged'.   Letting go of being 'wronged'... while addressing what's 'wrong', is a form of emotional detachment.   Practicing that will make it less 'automatic'... and raise awareness of it.  

 Detached and engaged... it's a paradox.  

 Letting go of being wronged while dealing with what's 'wrong'... is an 'Art'.   'Seeing' the world through a paradoxical mindset is an 'Art'... that can be practiced.

 There is a term for being detached and engaged... it's called... 'being assertive'.

The individual has the right to stand up its 'self'.   The non-local individual may be less 'interested' in its 'self'... but it's not oblivious to it's 'self'.

3) Spiritual Detachment:   Spiritual detachment is characterized by any amount of spontaneous separation (IE detachment) of awareness from the fog of consciousness such that awareness is distinct from consciousness... and it usually happens as a result of the cumulative effect of spiritual practice.   It is accompanied by an awareness of being that is informed by a non-verbal intuition.

 Total and complete 3rd Party spiritual detachment as in the 'witness', is that which is characterized by a deep sense of Happiness, Joy and Freedom from all 'personal' concerns... but not from the responsibility for them.

So we are detached... yet responsible.   That's a paradox.

The first two levels are a mental and emotional phenomena... but the third is a combination of energetic and spiritual phenomena... thus it is an experience of a different 'order'... so to speak.

This list is not necessarily a linear progression on the path.   Yoga and chi-gung and mantra are helpful at any level.

In short detachment is something we can practice at several different levels.

For more on spiritual detachment see... The Personal Dilemma

 See also... A Spiritual Roadmap


NOTE: For those interested in a Post Traditional Buddhism or non Buddhism  see...


NOTE: See The Secular Buddhist website at...



Robert McCoy
Contact Info:      bommac123 at