Not only will we not find an I, we don’t need one!

Jul 14, 2022


So, let’s look at some logical arguments to prove how there can’t be a separate “I.” It’s just not viable. One of the arguments is called “one or many”: If something exists, it’s either one thing or more than one. So listen.


I will make a statement: “I have a thermos and an iPhone.” How can we prove I spoke the truth? It’s pretty straightforward. If you look in the direction of where those words are coming from, and you speak English, and you can identify the various things I just spoke about, you will all agree I mentioned three things, right? Three nouns.


If it’s a true statement, you have to point to three, separate, independent things. That means that each of them doesn’t depend upon the other for their existence. Robina does not depend upon the Thermos for her existence; if the thermos breaks, Robina won’t collapse and die (well, she might if she’s really attached to it!). If the phone doesn’t work Robina’s still intact. Three things, different from each other and independent of each other. Not complicated.


Now, I’ll make another statement: “I have a nose and an ear.” Same discussion. In order for there to be three things, we need to point them out, and show that each is not the other. This is more nuanced, clearly.


I said three things: I, nose, ear, right? Three nouns. If it’s a valid statement, you have to find, you have to point out, three separate things. That’s a reasonable expectation. So, there’s ear; that’s one. There’s nose; that’s another. Now, where’s the I? Can you point it out? Is there an I that’s separate from the nose and separate from the ear?


We totally believe that there is! Everything we think and do and say is based on the unquestioned assumption that there’s an I in there somewhere, an I that runs the show, that gets hurt, that is depressed, that wants this and believes that. It’s absolute in our mind.


But Buddha tells us, “Sorry, guys, you won’t find such a thing!” It’s just not viable. And not only that, he’s telling us that we don’t need one! And he’s telling us that our believing in such a thing is the basis of all suffering of all living beings. Pretty intense!


So, how is it not viable? Okay, in just the same way that if the Thermos breaks, because the phone is separate it is not affected, then if my ear hurts, my nose is not affected; if my nose is broken, my ear remains intact. 


Now what about this precious I that we think is in here somewhere? If it were separate, as we believe, then when you insult my nose, then the I should go, “Phew, I’m glad it’s not me you’re insulting! Poor old nose!”


Hilarious, right! 


Actually, there are two mistakes we make. One, we think there’s a separate I; and two we think that the I is all of me. This is the mistake implied here. “How dare you insult me!” I’ll say when you insult my nose. But you, accurately, will say, “Robina, I didn’t insult you, I didn’t insult your self, I insulted your nose!” 


We laugh at that. We think it’s silly. Because, in this case, of course we think the I is all of me. We suffer so much because of this one.


So if there’s no I that’s separate from the parts and there’s no I that’s oneness with the parts, is there an I, a self, a person? Well, yes there is. This is where it’s more nuanced. There is an I, but not separately, not independently, not intrinsically, not from its own side; not pointable, not findable. 


There’s a dependent-arising I; there is an I that exists interdependently with, in dependence upon, the parts. Finally, the I exists in dependence upon the name, the label, I, which is imputed upon the parts.


You won’t find an I among all the parts but you will find an ear and you’ll find a nose among those parts. We don’t need a separate I, a boss to run the show: the parts do fine on their own, each doing their job!


And then we’ll go, “Well, at least I’ve got some parts!” No. Same argument. Nose is the label we impute upon its parts; ear is the name we impute upon its parts. And so on. We want to pin something down. We can’t.


As Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, the label cannot be the base. The I cannot be the parts. Here it’s more nuanced, as I said. There is the base and there is the I, but you can’t separate them. They’re not separate, but they’re different.


The implication of all of this is that when we’ve realized this, we are free. We are radiant. We are blissful. We are fearless. We have wisdom. There’s no longer any fear, and there’s no longer any delusions. There could never be anxiety or attachment or anger because they are the voices of this fantasy I.


So, as Rinpoche says, when as a yogi or yogini, in the subtlety of meditation, you have seen nakedly for the first time that there never has been, isn’t, and never could be that fantasy intrinsic me, that’s your first moment of the realization of emptiness. 


And we can’t fall back after that, we can only go forward.


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