|"Fire! Fiiirrre! huh huh huh"|
A century before Freud, Kant had his own 3 conceptions of the Self, and as I read them I found it pretty funny that Freud had obviously stolen some of Kant's material. But more importantly, I found myself a little startled to see how closely Kant's theories paralleled Hindu and Buddhist thought (which I will talk about more later in my post on the fascinating Bhagavad Gita). There is some truth to each of these conceptions.
amygdala, it performs the beating of the heart, our respiration, and translates light in our retinas into something mysterious called an "image" in our minds. To respond to my question when I was child, it would be the view that we are indeed just a sack of fluid that happens to think. Buddhists might call this our true nature in that it is our impermanent body, constantly changing as our cells die and get replaced. It is what we came from and what we will end up as, it is our connection to nature and each other and understanding this concept is the key to enlightenment.
In Hindu thought, this could be also be thought of as the rajas guna. The rajas guna is the source of our passions, like the Id it constantly seeks instant gratification. It acts to hide our true nature from ourselves. Freud compared the Id to a wild stallion that is difficult to rein in.
It is easy to say "Yes that is fine but I just want to know about my conscious self, my "soul." But to neglect what we are made of, our base impulses which often cause us to make irrational decisions and ignore sound judgement is to deny a vital part of our Self. As much as we like to think we have dominion over the "animals," sometimes its good to remember we are still one of them.
|Get a lid on that id, kid|
|Maya, the world of illusion|
Finally Kant's awkwardly named self-in-itself is our consciousness. It is our higher Ego. It deliberates, makes rational decisions, and gives us morality. (Freud and Kant kind of overlap on these ideas. Freud lumped the decision-making part into the Ego and gave morality its own category: the Superego.) You could call our higher thinking the part that makes us unique among the animals. Neurologists might call it the pre-frontal cortex. In Hindu thought this is the realm of the highest guna called sattva. Our self-in-itself, our sattva nature, has the ability to be what Stephen Covey would call proactive. This is our greatest gift: our ability to ignore our animal instinct and our often irrational emotional response to the craziness the world throws at us. Instead we can detach ourselves from that emotion and step back and examine it. Only then can we can proceed with what is truly best for us.
|We are all Brahman|
But what does all this mumbo-jumbo mean? Did I find an answer to that bizarre sensation I felt as a little kid? I suppose I will say this: unlike Descartes, I can't believe its all just a dream out there. The world is plenty real enough. And unfortunately, I am certainly not my own God. That feeling that I am somehow different from everyone else, that I am special, that recognition of my Self apart from everyone and everything that makes me feel I am the only thing that is important in the universe ... its all just a trick my mind plays on me. Because everyone else, if they think about it hard enough, if they find someplace very quiet, or stay up late and stare deeply into that campfire, will ultimately experience the same thing. Thus, I can't be the only one that feels this way or thinks these thoughts. I am not all that special or unique after all. I am just another dude.
Ultimately it comes down to a choice. We either believe that our consciousness, our ability to think rationally, is the end of the discussion. That is our highest Self and it is a great gift, but that's all there is to it. When we die, that Self vanishes forever. There is nothing more. Or, you can go a more mystical route. And you can believe that beyond the Self, there is something else. There is the Soul or Atman. Brahman, the divine spark, that piece of God that lives inside us and makes us capable of doing things that no other form of known life can do. Something eternal, that connects us back to nature.
The more I think about it, the more I think that perhaps our highest nature ends up being the same thing as our most basic nature. In other words, if our true nature, the divine spark, is higher than the Ego and part of something bigger, part of the natural world and the universe, isn't that actually the same view as thinking of ourselves as just a set of molecules, bits of the natural world that happened to come together, just so, to make us "us"?
Maybe the Buddhists and Hindus are saying the same thing after all.
But mostly I just want to check Facebook right now and make sure I still exist.