The early Buddhists recorded the life of the Buddha and it is from that, that we can piece together his life today. When he was born, his father the King, was given a predication that his son would be a great ruler. It was unclear if he would be a great emperor or a great healer. Regardless the Buddha was given a name Siddartha, which means he whose life has been attained. It was a time of economic and political expansion, especially in India and China.
Relations between man and state were at an all time high and in ancient India people embraced compassion and society had a great level of personal satisfaction. India dominated mathematics, had the greatest medical schools and many other forms of education with a heavy international influence. It was also immensely spiritual. Gurus and their disciples roamed the land freely, preaching their knowledge and searching for truth. It was a philosophic hotbed which challenged the ideas of The Upanishads, much like what we are seeing in the West at the moment.
His father was wealthy and powerful and he himself was athletic and intelligent. He was also born with a unique love and respect for all things and there are even stories of him as a child proclaiming that animals have the same right to live as we do. Siddartha lived a sheltered life within the palace walls, married and had a child, but developed an unease towards life, wondering about life’s meaning and purpose. After much pleading, his father allowed him to leave the palace. Despite the King’s efforts to clean the streets, Siddartha saw suffering in the form of a man ill with disease, an elderly woman and death. What he had witnessed haunted Siddartha and in the middle of the night he left.
Siddartha realised that everything was change, transient and that life itself was nothing but decline and death. He saw past the illusion that the beauty of the moment would never fade. He studied yoga and meditation with the best teachers he could find, but realised they too did not have his answers. Frustrated he went into the forest for six years and tried fasting to achieve realisation. He became emaciated and gained disciples, but realised this wasn’t the way. Once he lost his faith his disciples quickly abandoned him and he was alone again. Desperate, somewhere near Gaia, the Buddha cried out; “come what may, let my body rot, let my bones be reduced to ashes, I will not get up from here until I have found the way beyond decay and death”. Under the first full moon in Spring, Siddartha sat bolt upright and went into meditation. Just as the Devil came to tempt Jesus in the desert, the Buddha was haunted by Mara. He sent his beautiful daughters and tempted Siddartha with many more fleeting pleasures. When Siddartha didn’t stir, Mara finally appeared in person and angrily asked him who he was, and to leave his realm. Placing his hand on the Earth, the Earth itself gave witness as the voices of a million beings cried out that he was the one sent to relieve them from their suffering. With that Siddartha slipped into Nirvana and became the Buddha. When he arose Mara was still there to ask how he would wake a world whose eyes were clouded in dust. The Buddha thought for a moment and stated that he would teach the dharma and those that follow him, he would set free!
It is said that a man who has left the world always returns to transform it. The Buddha did just that. Upon his return the local people were absolutely gobsmacked by the Buddha’s radiance. People all gathered around asking what he was, he replied “I am Awake”.
It is often said that the Buddha was the world’s first psychologist, due to the depth and complexity of the teachings contained in the The Eight Fold Path. The Dhammapada was filled with wonderful teachings from the Buddha, but the most compelling idea of the Buddha’s story is that he was a normal person who became one of the greatest spiritual teachers in history through practise. The Buddha documented his experience of consciousness like a scientist. Neil Armstrong, following this trip to the Moon, was able to convey the feeling of his feet on the surface. Armstrong’s account ignited the passion in many to become astronauts so they too could attempt the same thing. Likewise, the Buddha was able to tell us what it was like to achieve complete consciousness.
The basis for the Buddha’s knowledge would have been The Upanishads, as Hinduism was an established religion. It is clear from his teachings that the Buddha thinks like a scientist and was not just a wandering yogi, but a tremendously well educated scholar. The Buddha embodies the teachings of The Upanishads and their message of joy and oneness for all people. He taught that his teachings could bring joy now, regardless of religion, education and interest.
Buddhism explores the idea of the Self in a rather unusual way. The Buddha claimed that the Self was an illusion of attachments. Like Freud, the Buddha believed that our identity is linked to our desires, motives and possessions. The idea of destruction of the idea of Self was supported by Einstein amongst others, but it was Nobel Laureates and neurophysiologists Roger Sperry and Micheal Gazzaniga, who made the most compelling argument against a fixed and understood Self. Severing the corpus callosum in several individuals with intractable epilepsy, they discovered that the right and left hemispheres could perform actions without the other being aware of it. The idea of a singular brain that was a unified entity could no longer be defended, despite the fact the Buddha suggested this centuries ago.
The major wisdom traditions suggest that we are all expressions of one divine entity. It has been believed for quite some time that consciousness was a byproduct of the mind. However ancient traditions knew this was not the case, that it is a divine creative and energetic force. From this viewpoint it’s easy to see that the Self and consciousness are two interwoven ideas. To view one without the other would suggest that one tradition and their experience of their incarnation was incorrect, while others were not.
Consciousness can be seen as both the personal, or the observer contained by perceptions, and the collective, which is the field. Both are I Am, but on the personal level we separate ourselves from the energetic flow. Ken Wilber and many others began to organise the different stages of Self to try and make sense of the separate I AM and the collective I AM from a psychological standpoint. Wilber organised these stages of consciousness as the pre-personal, personal and transpersonal, to demonstrate the evolution of the Self to a state of unification.
Psychologist Georg Wilhelm Frederick Hegel also developed on his model in which he describes the pre-personal as the Nature Stage, where the spirit self denies the material. The Personal is where the I lives and the Transpersonal is where the I discovers it is part of a Collective Self. These are only two of a wide variety of theories on the levels of consciousness and conscious states. The wide variety is very heavily dependant on the viewpoint of the researcher such as Freud, who claims expressions of consciousness can be linked to unresolved aspects of the psyche from childhood. Jung postulates that these aspects of consciousness are all various archetypes that come from our collective consciousness.
Charles Tart in his work Tart, outlines that we are all one, connected by the universal stream of consciousness that is in all things. In this universe the spiritual and transpersonal elements are as commonplace as the material. Tart believes that not all of us can automatically see this because our knowledge is limited by our mind and our perceptions. Our human nature that is innate to us is fundamentally good. Our somewhat unique personality is influenced by our species and the culture to which we belong and life is an expression of different vibrational states of consciousness. With this understanding we can see how our cultural and societal programming can encourage us to live in ignorance of our true selves and the experiences available to us.
Our idea of who we are is so baked into to our society and our histories sometimes we struggle to imagine anything different.
Given that our consciousness creates our reality, one would naturally be interested as to how that relates to our day to day lives. Consciousness is like the Self, in that it is pure essence, both in everything and nothing, like the atom which consists of waves and particles that exist in emptiness. This emptiness could give us an indication of where we find our real selves, the ultimate Self that is full of potential. In order to achieve this we must transcend the Self that we have constructed in relation to material things and thoughts to engage with the universal I. An evolutionary journey is needed as the process which engages with the essential I. Many may feel uncomfortable by the idea that we are all part of universal consciousness, usually because of our separateness.
The concept of the self is so multifaceted and we have yet to develop a reliable and repeatable scientific model to identify the self in any real way. From these models we can understand that we are a minimum of two selves, one physical, one spiritual... Godly even. These selves are both navigating an unreal worlds, on different dimensions, that are a reflection of our consciousness. Both are doing so in the best way that we can.
I used to be puzzled by the expression to meet yourself, assuming that it was a vague call to action for developing a relationship with ourselves. While I believe that is an important aspect of our evolution, I also feel that, due to out interconnection, we can meet ourselves through our everyday life, albeit it in different guises.
Each tradition has a different model for dissolving the Ego and accessing unity consciousness. Many, if not all, involve some aspect of a meditative practise. Meditation allows us to peel back the veil of our conscious awareness and see the Ego in action. We realise that the observer is not merely the aspect of my Self that lurks behind our eyes and views the colours, textures and light of the world that we are in. Our current experiences are all observed through the lens of our perceptions that are shaped by our history.
The Self functions as an actor, who takes part on our behalf in the world. It desires, wants and reacts. The observer sits behind the Self and watches it with a quiet detachment. The observer is free from judgement, specialness and difference. When we slip into the observer we notice a freedom and space which is filled with plans for the future or memories of the past. The observer is just here now, wanting nothing, just noticing the qualities of the experience the Self is having with passing thoughts and emotions.
Meditation lets us watch as ideas come into the mind. It allows us to see how quickly our thoughts begin to form a life of their own. We notice how like a tree they develop roots and grow deeper into our psyche, forming connections between memories, ideas and beliefs. These roots are allowed to grow they attempt to occupy the other aspects of my sensory awareness, triggering somatic responses and emotional arousal. From the place of the observer, we can observe this ability with awe and interest that is not usually present as we move through the day. From this place of detachment, we become the observed and our behaviour moves from being personal to interesting.
In the profound journey of self-discovery, we often find that losing ourselves is the key to finding our true essence. As we delve into the teachings of the Buddha, we come to realize that his life is a shining example of how the path to enlightenment requires shedding the layers of ego, desires, and attachments.
The Buddha's story is a testament to the transformative power of surrendering to the present moment. His renunciation of his princely life and pursuit of ascetic practices illustrate that true self-realization comes from letting go of the external trappings and seeking the answers within.
In the process of losing himself to the rigors of self-discipline and introspection, the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. He discovered that the root cause of suffering lies in our attachments and aversions, leading us to be trapped in the cycle of birth and rebirth.
By losing himself in deep meditation and self-inquiry, the Buddha found the timeless truth of impermanence, interconnectedness, and the nature of suffering. His profound insights paved the way for the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, guiding seekers towards liberation from suffering and the awakening of the true self.
In our modern lives, the concept of losing ourselves may seem daunting. We are often driven by societal expectations, material desires, and the constant pursuit of success. However, the wisdom of the Buddha invites us to pause and reflect on what truly matters.
To find ourselves, we must first let go of the illusion of the self that is shaped by external factors. By surrendering our ego-driven identity, we create space for genuine self-awareness and inner peace to emerge.
It is through losing ourselves in acts of compassion, selfless service, and mindfulness that we begin to glimpse the deeper truths of existence. The paradox of losing ourselves to find ourselves becomes a guiding light, illuminating the path to self-discovery and spiritual growth.
As we embrace the transformative power of losing ourselves, we become more receptive to the whispers of our inner wisdom and the interconnectedness of all beings. The journey of self-realization becomes a sacred dance between surrender and awakening.
Let us take inspiration from the Buddha's life, as we embark on our own pilgrimage of self-discovery. Through the practice of mindfulness, meditation, and cultivating a compassionate heart, we can shed the veils that obscure our true nature.
In losing ourselves to the depths of our being, we find an unshakeable peace, an abiding joy, and a profound sense of purpose. The path may be arduous, but the rewards are immeasurable – a glimpse of our true essence and an ever-deepening connection with the vast ocean of existence.
May we all courageously embrace the transformative journey of losing ourselves to find ourselves, and may it lead us to the radiant shores of self-realization and spiritual awakening.