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How Identity Causes Separation and Suffering

How Identity Causes Separation and Suffering

The confusion of identity is a primary source of human suffering. We seek different identities throughout our lives, always seeking to define ourselves, as if we could rest when we find just the right names to give ourselves. Why do we care to identify so much? Why is this such a core facet of human beings and what are its consequences?

Our confusion is not just that we identify with incorrect attributes, it is that we identify with these finite attributes at all! This confusion of ourselves, as specific traits of finite material, leads to wrong identifications which causes attachment to finite realities and thus suffering. Let me explain, we carry so many identities, from the moment we are born we are given a name and told a gender that we are which continues to fuel expectations of ourselves. We then develop traits and skills which we call the self, “I’m detailed”, “I’m silly”, “I am good/bad at math”, these are all examples. Later we develop social identities and career roles, “I am a doctor, teacher, lawyer” etc. Familial roles also become cherished identities, such as being a mother or uncle, child or grandparent. You may be asking, but aren’t I all of those things? What do you mean these are false? Yes, you do those things, yes, you perform those roles, but are you those things? If you identify very strongly with being a parent, then who were you before you were that? If you identify very strongly as an artist, then did you not exist before you developed those skills? Of course not, those are roles, those are traits or actions that you do, they are not the essence of what you are as a living and breathing being!

Let’s go to the first mis-identification - the body. We think we are this body, instead of inside this body. Take a moment and ask yourself, are you this finite body or are you inside this body? Isn’t this body your instrument, your interaction machine, with the world of materials? It brings in sensory data and allows for responsive action, but who is the one experiencing the sense? Who sees the sight? Who decides the response? By itself, the body is a machine, the eye for example would recognize patterns of light and form and convey it to the brain, but the seer, the one who can make a vision of this is internal. intelligence in you can recognize it, maybe from the memory of past objects, and even make a judgment for survival, but who is it that experiences this form?

This identification with the body leads to so many fears of death and desire for immortality (such as the desire to leave a legacy and be infamously remembered). When we think we are just this body, we see ourselves as finite and so only the material world matters. Of course, what follows is to only care about what is best for this body at this moment, this is the reigning value. This is how it leads to false values of materialism thus not protecting the earth for the future, because we do not see ourselves as this future, we are bound to the time/space of this body. If I am this body and this body dies, then I also die and so what else is there to do here in this life then fulfill the body? I can fulfil it in hedonic ways or with exercise and accomplishments, but I am stuck in this body identification- this body consciousness.

This body is a lifeless material, it is vitalized for a time and then it returns to the inert state in which it once was, slowly decomposing back into the material building blocks from which it came. When you see a little bug, and it is crawling along, you can relate to it, you can feel what it might be like to be inside that bug body with its sensory windows. Then if something were to squish this bug, you would see the life is no longer present in this body. The body, the raw material, is now laying there inert. That essential vitalizing factor has left, like a wire that no longer carries electricity. You can also understand this state, realizing that the essence of life is no longer there, yet you can never be that. The essence of consciousness simply cannot be “not there”. Where did that energy go? That vitalizing force? Wherever you are, you are there, as a life force. The material is left behind not the essence.

That vitalizing factor continues to be the primary essence of all experience. The eye, seeing only the limited span of wavelengths, takes in data, but there must be a mind that makes sense of the data and the one who experiences the visual. In some ways, these points are so obvious that we look right past them, yet they point to everything beyond the material sphere. There is an experiencer, the one who has the experience of life, in this case vision, the one who sees the object. The sensory organ receives the light waves and sends that data to the brain to put together a visual representation which is sent to the intellect to recognize or understand. Yet, when you watch a sunset over a mountain in total awe of its beauty, who is experiencing such an event? It is not the eye and its light waves, nor the mind putting those waves into a form or the intellect recognizing it, breaking it down to its component parts and choosing an action. We are not thinking the sunset, there is someone inside of you, some life essence that is experiencing the event. That experiencer in each of us points to the essence of life in us, the vital factor inside the inert material, before all the individual identifications we lay on top of it.

Life itself is intelligence. Just look at the plant and animal life, how each has adapted so perfectly to its environment. DNA is inexplicable, we try to study it and break it down, but do we sit back in total amazement at its existence, it’s complexity and perfection. The atmosphere, with its many layers and gases. The solar system and its perfect dance in the sky. The earth and its perfect tilt to support the existence of life. The consistency and reliability of the sun to support life on this planet. Sometimes in material science we forget in our ability to explain something that we did not create it, and simply explaining it does not mean we could re-create it! A perfect explanation does not make us a master! We are simply documenting the basics of the physical laws each area of life seems to abide by. We document that this planet moves this fast and along this path and confuse this basic knowledge with mastery. By what force does this occur?  By what force was it created and what keeps it in consistent motion? By whose laws does it abide?  We are simply discovering the rules that life follows without consideration of where these rules came from. From what intelligent origin is each aspect of material life made to follow such laws so perfectly as to support the existence of life?

Life is infused with intelligence, which humans obviously express in a conscious way. We have an awareness of intelligence and in our confusion of separateness from all of life we think it is our intelligence. Where did you get this intelligence from to have such a claim to it? Life is not separate; many ancient cultures experienced this truth without question. This separateness is an illusion as clearly pointed to in the interdependency of all beings, “inter-being” as Thich Naht Hahn called it. Life is One. Nevertheless, because we have identified in this separate body with this name and identity, we think we have or own this intelligence, not recognizing it is a reflection of THE intelligence all around us. Humans have an awareness of their intelligence, and they are able to apply it in new and creative ways. Humans have used this intelligence for better and worse and we can sit back and be impressed (or devastated) with what has been accomplished or done with the intelligence in our hands. Yet, there are many basic problems of health or environment we have not figured out at all. Having this conscious and creative intelligence is a continued reflection of the creative intelligence of life. If we are conscious, then it must be a reflection that informs us that the vital life force itself has the quality of consciousness. As we contemplate this truth, that the life force itself is conscious, that it is intelligent and is what is inside every life force- the experiencer, we come to slowly see that we too are this living vital force. These other identities and super-imposed illusions begin to fall away.

The ego has a need to identify itself, that seems to be a marked quality of the ego. It goes through all of these possible selves, like trying on an outfit or costume with different wigs and props, it can fool itself for some time. A teenager who is just developing their ego is very aware of their need to identify and disidentify. Yet, as one matures, they become ready to really ask the question who is this, who is the one in here experiencing this? This becomes a subtractive process, dissolution, a slow peeling away of each layer until we get closer and closer to the core within us- the life essence. The realization of the Self as life itself, as that vitalizing, intelligent, conscious factor is the final identification. Here there is no separation from the other, whether that be because of culture, color, religion, political beliefs etc. In fact, J. Krishnamurti was known to say that all identifications are a form of violence, because it is there we separate from the whole, from one another and this is the core violence we continue to perpetuate against one another. It is this separation that is the seed of war, what’s mine and yours. As we continue to dissolve the layers that divide there becomes no separation from life at all, including its essence as reflected in the animal world, in the flora or the celestial bodies. That essential life factor is that which sings life into each form, pulsating with beauty, shining through the material with vitality, we realize, that which is Truth is all that can exist - We Are That. 

(This concept is directly Vedanta philosophy; this is not my “idea” but rather a reflection of writing that stems from this great philosophical system and the luminous Rishi’s and Masters who could see this grand understanding of life.)


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