The “Self” Is a Giant Illusion
From inside to outside, there is no way
we can find an unchanging “me.” Since there is no unchanging “me,” how could
there be “my” family, “my” house, “my” car, and all the rest of it?
We have said that the true
characteristic of life is that it is a giant dream. So then, what about people?
What is the true characteristic of “people”?
The true characteristic of “people” is
also that they are an illusion, a kind of play of elements coming together,
like children building with blocks. At a certain moment, the children use the
blocks to build a little castle. This “castle” is something that exists within
a certain relative period of time, but the children will soon knock it down,
and build something else. So we say that the existence of the “castle” is an
illusion. When the elements which are put together to form it come apart, then
it will crumble. Human life and the human body are also this way. Our ways of
thinking, our emotions, our health, our internal physical environment, our
outward appearance, our course in life – all these will change every minute
following the ceaselessly changing flow of causal conditions. There is no
fixed, unchanging situation; no independent essence that does not pass through
birth and go toward death. Thus, speaking from the level of ultimate meaning,
there is no “castle built of blocks” that really exists, and there is no
“person” that truly exists. Everything is covered with a term to show the subtle
distinctions, the “apparent forms” that are really the same as the real basic
substance. If we say that there is some great distinction between ourselves and
the building made of wooden blocks, it is that we have a “soul” – what I mean
is not a soul as in “spiritual self” – which we are equipped with and with
which we can recognize the true mind, and fully awaken to the true
characteristic of life.
If your mind and spirit is covered over
by desires, then you will have no way to recognize the true self, and no way to
fully awaken to the true characteristic of life. You may think that in the
world a “self” genuinely exists, and it continuously possesses things and loses
things. In reality, this so-called “self” is no more than another thing that
arises from the coming together of causal conditions. Our physical bodies are
not inherent: their birth, health, and growth requires that they depend on many
external conditions, like the union of the father and mother, good food, ample
nutrition, a secure environment to grow up in, and so on. Moreover, the cells
in our bodies are constantly being born and dying off, and our vital functions
and our external appearances are constantly changing. Our intellects, our viewpoints,
our habits, our standards of conduct are very individual, but none of them are
inherent; they too are things resulting from the coming together of causal
conditions, and they are constantly undergoing changes due to the operation of
external objects. So then, from internal to external, there is no way we can
find any unchanging “self.” Since there is no unchanging “self,” how could
there be “my” family, “my” house, “my” car, and all the rest of it?
Speaking at the level of basic
substance, the whole world is like this. It is equivalent to us, there is no
distinction at all. For this reason there exists no opposition of standpoint or
viewpoint. The afflictions of many people lie in their not understanding this
point. They either put themselves in opposition to the world, or make a
distinction between “you” and “me,” and they waste a lot of brain power and
time calculating and comparing, and produce many forms of clinging and
attachment. Thus, people who are in favorable circumstances busy themselves
seeking even higher desires, and those who are in adverse circumstances busy
themselves with anger and resentment, and even taking vengeance on an external
world which cannot satisfy their desires.
What is the so-called external world? In
reality, it is the projection of various kinds of apparent forms on our inner
minds. When we still have not yet been enlightened, all we can do is interpret
the world assuming we are right, but this kind of interpretation cannot
represent the true characteristic of the world. For example, when you hear
someone rebuking you, you feel that you have suffered an insult, and so you
feel very angry. But in fact, both the sense of being insulted and the anger
are products of your ears and your mind functioning together. If you had not
heard them, or you did not care about them, could someone else’s insults hurt
your mind? This is why we say that what punishes you is your own mind.
In my writings, I often express my own
point of view forthrightly, so it is very difficult to make everyone like me.
Sometimes friends tell me that someone is insulting me again, and I always
laugh it off. On the other hand, when friends praise me highly, I will write
verse along the lines of “Xue Mo is adonkey” to express myself. Why is this? It
is because I know that this world is illusory transformation, and everything is
memory. As causal conditions flow and change, the people who criticized you may
become your most loyal friends, and the people who praised you may think of all
kinds of schemes to bury you. Nothing in the world is fixed and immutable.
Therefore I do not concern myself with it, and I do not have time to care about
it. All I can do is value and hold precious the time I am alive, and use
appropriate methods to do a lot of things of benefit to the world. As for
whether or not the world will accept me, or welcome me, that is the world’s
business – it will be enough if I have done properly what I had to do.
Many times, if we think a lot about all
the many changes in life, then we will look upon individual gain and loss more
and more indifferently. In the end, the bodies which accompany us through our
lives are not permanent things.
At the outset we are just a fertilized
ovum; when certain conditions come together we develop and take shape, and then
we are born. From being a baby the size of a kitten, we grow up and mature into
adults who can live independently, take on responsibilities, and form families.
The changes involved in this cannot be called minor. But at the same time we
happily accept these interesting changes, we also must accept those changes
that are no so interesting, like the aging of the body, and the decline of
physical strength, and the erosion of beauty, and so on. This is because in
basic substance our bodies are like houses and furniture – they are all things
formed by the coming together of causal conditions, and it is impossible for
them to avoid undergoing changes as the old causal conditions dissolve and new
causal conditions come together.
The contradiction is that when we are
crazy about making money, smoking, drinking alcohol, indulging in mad revelry,
we are totally unaware that we are creating the conditions that promote ageing,
and even more unaware that this will reduce our lifespans. We always feel that
we will be able to live for several more decades, but who knows? This is why I
say, the physical body is a big lie, and beauty based on the physical body is
an even bigger lie. It is a false form that can ingratiate itself with other
people and with ourselves, and can induce desires and anger and strife.
There is a movie that describes a funny
yet also sad story: ten years of war, dead bodies everywhere, but a man wanted
to take the beauty of a woman as his own. What an absurd state of affairs! But
there are many events like this in history – ancient and modern, here and
abroad, it is all like this. Why is this? It is because desire and false
thoughts cover people’s eyes, and make people unable to see the true
characteristic of the world clearly.
After you see the light of the real
characteristic, and this dissolves away the many desires and false thoughts,
then you will discover that many of the world’s concepts are no more than
concepts, that they are labels created by people. The true characteristic is
much simpler than the concepts. When you clearly understand this point, then
you will discover that all gains and losses are just a dream. You will also
discover that you have been patronizing a dream, and on the other hand,
forgetting to do all those things which have real meaning and genuine
constructive value. Sometimes it may even become a regret that you have no way
to remedy in this lifetime.