Making things solid

The Buddha described what we call “self” as a collection of aggregates – elements of mind and body – that function interdependently, creating the appearance of woman or man. We then identify with that image or appearance, taking it to be “I” or “mine,” imagining it to have some inherent self-existence. For example, we get up in the morning, look in the mirror, recognize the reflection, and think, “Yes, that’s me again.” We then add all kinds of concepts to this sense of self: I’m a woman or man, I’m a certain age, I’m a happy or unhappy person – the list goes on and on.

When we examine our experience, though, we see that there is not some core being to whom experience refers; rather it is simply “empty phenomena rolling on.” Experience is “empty” in the sense that there is no one behind the arising and changing phenomena to whom they happenSo when anger arises, or sorrow or love or joy, it is just anger angering, sorrow sorrowing, love loving, joy joying. Different feelings arise and pass, each simply expressing its own nature. The problem arises when we identify with these feelings, or thoughts, or sensations as being self or as belonging to “me”: I’m angry, I’m sad. By collapsing into the identification with these experiences, we contract energetically into a prison of self and separation.

Joseph Goldstein, If There Is No Self, Who Is Born, Who Dies, Who Meditates?

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