The Self

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Nobel Laureate in physics, Erwin Schrodinger, who introduced Wave Mechanics to the world, remarked in his book “My View of the World”:

“If we agree to leave aside, without further discussion, as altogether too naively puerile, the idea of a soul dwelling in the body as in a house, quitting it at death, and capable of existing without it, then I think that one of the principal problems, if not the principal problem, without whose solution there can be no final peace for the metaphysical urge, can be quite briefly characterized as follows.

“Consider these four questions, which cannot, as a whole, be satisfactorily answered with any combination of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, but rather lead one on in an endless circle.

(1) Does there exist a Self?
(2) Does there exist a world outside Self?
(3) Does this Self cease with bodily death?
(4) Does the world cease with my bodily death?”

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The Self is generally viewed as the sense of ‘I’. I know myself through the feelings and sensations of my body. I am intimately associated with this body through which I perceive things around me. This body provides me with an identity and individuality. This body exists, and therefore, ‘I’ (Self ) exists.

I do not feel the sensations from other bodies, so I am uniquely associated with one body only. There is a world that exists outside the body. So the world must exist outside the Self.

My observation is that other people are gone when their body dies. I am so intimately connected with the physiology of the body that I must also disintegrate with the body at death.  So the Self ceases with bodily death.

The world obviously has continued after other people have died. So the world would not cease with my bodily death. But it is also true that as I cease to exist, the world would cease to exist for me.

The above is a self-centered view that leads to the conclusion that the world ceases for the self that has dissolved but it continues for the selves that continue. So, the Self and the world must consist of the same ‘empirical’ elements. We must reject a world existing outside ‘Self’, because that to which we give the name ‘world’ is only a complex within the Self.

Yet my own body is only a complex within the world-complex. It is inconsistent to think that what is known as ‘world’ would be completely eliminated by a destructive attack on one small part of itself—of which, furthermore, it contains millions of examples.

Please note that I have borrowed the argument above from Schrodinger. This brings up the question, “How is ‘Self’ related to the ‘world’?”

The obvious answer is that both ‘Self’ and the ‘world’ must be greater than the body. Some aspect of Self, therefore, must continue after bodily death.

The sensations and perceptions through the body cease after the bodily death. Therefore, the sense of identity and individuality must also cease with bodily death. But there is a universal sense we have when we assume the viewpoint represented by philosophy, science and mathematics. This is like the universe perceiving itself through itself. Such universal sense, though in a much more intimate way, must remain after bodily death.

A universal Self seems to emerge with bodily death. It is no longer intimate with a single body. It is intimate with the whole universe.

The universal self is the same across the board from person to person. The plurality of individuality relies on the sense of body. After bodily death there is no more individuality. The continued individuality projected through the idea of “soul” is just an idea arising from wishful thinking.

The Self seems to have two parts. One part is unique to the body because it feels the sensations of one body and not those of other bodies. It is individualistic as it thinks in terms of emotions and memories in the narrow context of body. The second part of the Self is not narrow at all but is universally broad and the same from person to person. It thinks in terms of universal principles. It forms the genesis of all our knowledge. If the first part thinks in narrow terms, such as, 3+5 = 5+3, the second part thinks in broad terms, such as, A+B = B+A, where A and B can be any two numbers. It is the individualistic part that dissolves at bodily death. The universal part remains.

Self may be viewed as a spectrum of consciousness that condenses into the plurality of individuality in one direction, and expands into the oneness of universality in the other direction.

Nirvana of Buddhism is the cultivation of that oneness of universal consciousness of Self.

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