Letting Go of Self to Enjoy What Is
A college member of our meditation group sent me the following email:
Charlie: How does one square gaining knowledge, an education, with practicing Buddhism and becoming (or trying to become) free of self? Academia seems to be based on self promotion and competition (grades, arguing your views, etc.). How do you separate ego from education?
My reply: No need to square anything. What is is. Just remember that the "ego" or "self", while a convenient operating principle, as Eckhart Tolle calls it, is illusory, insubstantial, and without any enduring or autonomous self. The need to square arises from that illusion, as do the notions labeling our or others' experiences and activities as self-promotion, competition, points of view. These are experienced when they are experienced, but they are all only thoughts, judgments, opinions, and feelings that arise based on past causes and conditions (experiences, education, parenting, socialization, etc.). Most of us have not penetrated the possibility that our sense of a self or ego is an illusion, much less that this illusion is what perpetuates these divisive and judgmental ways of experiencing our life. And even those of us (me, e.g.) who profess to understand or have occasionally experienced the sense of a self as illusory, lapse into thinking of and experiencing it as "real" much of the time.
Just view all the ideas you referred to and which I'm espousing in response to them as simply more thoughts to be observed as insubstantial, without self, and impermanent, and let go of them. All this was summarized by Buddha in saying: "In seeing, there is only the seen; in hearing, only the heard; in sensing, only the sensed; and in thinking, only the thought." There is no self or ego behind any sensory or cognitive experience; there is the experience but it is empty of a self. The concepts of a self, an ego, or no-self, for that matter, are themselves just thoughts. Getting beyond, seeing though, transcending, and realizing the insubstantiality of conceptual thought is what the spiritual path is all about in order to see/realize/accept/appreciate/embrace the "suchness" of things and experience simply that what is is with an equanimity or peace that surpasses understanding.
Getting an education, when that is being done, is what is, and whether it's perceived as experienced by an "ego" or complex mix of past causes and conditions is also what is. So just enjoy getting educated. The paradox of giving up the sense of an enduring, autonomous self is that it leads not to apathy, indifference, or insensitivity but to a compassionate embracing of life and being the best "one" can be as part of an unfolding, interconnected, and interdependent whole. Hopefully, this buddha babble offers some clarification rather simply confusing the issue even more. Peace, Charlie