I will start this topic with a paraphrasing of Merton's exposition of false self in his "New Seeds of Contemplation". Unfortunately, I don't have an English version, so I won't quote, but paraphrase. This is in the chapter "Things In Their Identity".
Being born as a sinner, means to be born with a false self. False self is a person whom I want to be, but who cannot exist, since God knows nothing about him. He wants to exist outside of God's will and love, so it must be an illusion. Life devoted to cultivation of this shadow must be a life in sin. The false self exists only in my egocentric desires. It has no essence, it is empty, so I clothe it with desires, pleasures of power, knowledge, love, experience, dignity etc., in order to hide its nothingness. In the end (in death) I will realize that I am a mistake.
So much Merton. I guess already here I can find two things which seem to me confusing. On the one hand, Merton clearly states that the false self is a "something" in human person, which alienates the person from what he really is, and that this something is made of desires and illusory beliefs. On the other hand, hhis language seems to convey a sense of "quasi-ontological" existence of this false self. It is an illusion, but it seems to be a "something" in us, something we believe we are and we call ourselves. So there is a "moral", I you will, aspect of the false self (false self has to do with sinful desires, emotions, beliefs and acts), and there is an "ontological" or "psychological" aspect (it is a something in our experience, which we believe to be solid, even though it is mere nothingness and illusion).
On the other hand, the false self is sometimes, usually in the Christian contemplative movement, described as a moral problem. E.g. Thomas Keating writes about a "false self system", with points of gravity such as desire for security, love and power, which he connects with the first three beatitudes from the sermon on the mount (and with the first three chakras). Merton points in the same direction and I believe Phil is consistently referring to the false self as a system of sinful and pathological desires focused around false beliefs.
I think that those two meanings of the false self are actually distinct. We can imagine someone who claims to have lost separate sense of self, but he is still sexually promiscuous, greedy and arrogant. There were such "sages" and still are. They have no separate self sense, they are englightened, but morally sinful. On the other hand, we can conceive of someone who has no enlightenment experience whatsoever, but lives entirely for God, forgetting about his own interest (Mother Teresa of Calcutta).
This leads me NOT TO use the false self in order to describe a separate sense self. I'd call it a "contracted", perhaps, sense of self or "limited", but "false"? It seems to be, in some respect, what Phil describes as "ego". There are certain people whose perception of their sense of self changes profoundly and it feels like there is "no-one inside", "the driver has left the car, but the car is still driving" kind of thing. I wouldn't say that a "false self" disappeared for those people.
When it comes to the moral sense of the false self, is there actually a system" or an "organized whole" which might be called a "false self". It doesn't matter for now, whether it is security, affection and power, or conditional love, or something else that characterizes this "system".
In ancient Christianity Fathers referred to this phenomenon that Merton describes simply as to THE PASSIONS. The inordinate, sinful emotions, based on false value judgments. The whole idea was taken from Stoicism. E.g. I think that money is important or necessary for me, so I feel desire for them. Or I think that sex is what is best in life, so I arrange my life in order to have as much of it as I can etc. Ancient philosophers, Pagan and Christians, believed this is pathological ("passions" in Greek was "pathe"), irrational and prevents us from living fully according to our human nature and God's will. The opposite was the ideal that was called in the Eastern Church "apatheia" ("passionlessness", "impassability") and John Cassian (5th century) in the West translated the difficult Greek term simply as the "purity of heart". Desert Fathers taught that this "apatheia" or the "purity of heart" is the only gate to charity or divine love. You have to purify your heart from all those false beliefs, habits, emotions etc.
I believe this to be the classical Christian teaching, present in the Middle Ages and later. But Merton suggests that there is a sense of a "self" underneath or at the center of all those sinful tendencies. For centuries we managed without this notion, simply speaking of sinful passions, desires etc.
Of course, psychology showed us in the 20th century that we possess a "self-concept", "self-image" etc. This is a mental representation of who we are and it has a motivational force. If someone lives for sex, or power, or glory, his self-concept will be certainly based on that. So sinful habits and attitudes become deeply rooted in our characterological dispositions.
Freud believed we are born with lustful, perverse, incestuous and aggressive tendencies which culture and morality try to resist, but can never erase. A more "humanistically" oriented psychoanalysts and psychologists refused to see the human psychology in such dark colors, so they tried to say that we are born good or at least "blank", and our passions arise because the environment is suffused with wrong attitudes.
Again, psychologically there is a certain "organization" or a "system" of desires, needs, emotions, habits, beliefs etc. Sometimes they are more sinful, sometimes they are more saintly. Is then the "false self" simply a sinful self-concept and personality structure? If so, why "false" and not "sinful"? And why this is supposed to be illusory, shadowy, empty, like Merton suggested?
By the way, Virgin Mary (who is not supposed to have had a false self at all), surely must have had a self-concept. She had desires and needs. She like this and didn't like that. She had interests and personality traits. Surely she wasn't a blank person without distinctive qualities. The difference is that her desires, interests, beliefs, needs were centered in God, they were not sinful. So she had a "system of self", but this system was good, pure, deified, instead of being sinful and illusory like ours.
So my proposal is to leave aside the term "false self" or "false self system" and simply speak about people having sinful or false beliefs, desires etc., which undergo transformation into true and good beliefs and desires. No "false self" becomes "true self" in that sense.
Since we discuss things concerning our spiritual lives, I will add that at times I experienced a profound understanding, given by grace, resonating in my emotions and behavior, that we lose our lives trying to satisfy our desires, needs and plans. There were days when this was so intense, that it made me laugh how much of my life and of others' life is wasted on this crazy project of getting what we want, instead of letting the flow of love take us where God wills. It might be the closest to the "dismantling of the false self" that I ever got. I also felt that habitual, sinful tendencies are somehow at war with this grace given understanding, but I thought of it in terms "the old man"/"the new man" of St. Paul. I felt them to be somehow "organized" (because they were life-long habits), but not like a "self". I just was thinking that I am sinful and God liberates me to feel and act according to Christ present in me, not to my sinful self. But I don't think that "sinful me" can disappear, at least in this life.
I don't have Phil's gift for concisely expressing my thoughts, so it might be a bit too much for the beginning. However, this is what I think about it.
A good start, Mt.
The confusion seems to be similar to how the terms Ego and self are used. In my book, God and I: Exploring the Connections Between God, Self and Ego, I tried to introduce experiential and conceptual clarity concerning the use of the terms -- especially in relation to psychological writers. For some odd reason, many spiritual writers speak of Ego as though psychology has never heard of the concept -- as though Freud, Jung and Loevinger had never written of it. For so many, it is synonymous with what they mean by "false self" as it is that aspect of consciousness that affirms individuality and, hence, a kind of distinction from other creatures. Paradoxically, the same spiritual writers are appealing to something in our consciousness to resist this supposed illusion, though they would never call this aspect an Ego.
I agree that Merton's writings about this can be confusing. I hear him basically saying that the identity we build up and invest in that is not centered in God is a false self, lacking any ontological reality. It feels real enough because we invest so much energy into perpetuating this persona, and because others react to this identity as though it is real. So it's a "something" in the sense that it's real to us, maybe even who we think we are, but it lacks ontological substance because it's mostly a system of ideas that we create rather than an expression of what the divine has created.
I'm not seeing much of a conflict between the way the desert fathers spoken of the passions and what I mean by false self system. Both are referring to unhealthy desires and beliefs that are ultimately compensatory to our deep-seated convictions of being only conditionally loveable and acceptable. Theologically, we can understand this to be a consequence of Original Sin, which we ratify as personal sin when we act out those desires. The diminishment of these desires through spiritual growth (virtue, deepening prayer, etc.) reduces our innate biases unto selfishness and cliquishness, and that is enormously helpful. Yet at any time, an individual -- even an advanced mystic -- is capable of sin.
Part of the problem with this discussion these days is the whole matter of how Eastern ideas about nonduality have come to be conflated with a Christian understanding of contemplative union. Readers of the forum know that I have ranted about this for years. Eastern approaches sometimes tend to deconstruct the Ego in the interest of amplifying non-reflecting awareness, which is more attuned to simply being and experiencing than reflecting and understanding. It need not be either/or, of course, but when the bias is so strongly in favor of the former as to discourage the latter, then the Ego will be criticized, as it is the center of consciousness from which we reflectingly and volitionally interact with "duality" (which is a very nasty word). In such cases, even a healthy Ego will be labeled a "false self" as it is an obstacle to non-dual experience. One point I have tried to make, as noted above, is that this need not be either/or. If we do have some degree of clarity concerning what we mean by God, Self, Ego and false self, then we can more fully affirm and appreciate a variety of mystical experiences.
In any case, however, an Ego infested with selfish desires and invested in perpetuating a particular Persona is not a healthy situation, East or West. But what the West seems more interested in is using the Ego to co-operate with grace that we might become less selfish and more loving -- what I call a Spirit-centered Ego. Some Eastern systems (and Western gnostic ones as well) want to completely annihilate the Ego in the interest of opening one to non-dual experience. I would discourage anyone from going down such a path, though it is often possible to use some of these Eastern methods in the context of Christian spirituality.
I agree with most of what you're saying, Phil. I have a suspicion that, were it not for the non-dual belief that any contracted and limited self-experience is a "false self" that needs to be either annihilated, or deeply relativized and seen through, Merton and others wouldn't use a term of false self to describe the sinful structure of our fallen souls. I suppose it is, as I tried to suggest, the belief that the very limitedness of the self is the root of sin, that leads many authors to speak about the false self and its dismantling. The false self becomes an enemy that contains all moral evil and there is hope that once it vanishes into thin air (due to enlightenment), moral evil vanishes as well.
What I'm trying to say is that there is no need to think of our sinfulness in terms of a "self" at all. And in terms of something "false".
1. Why "self"?
First of all, this notion reifies our sinful tendencies. They seem to be organized, to be structured, since all our body, psyche and spirit are driven towards coherence and unity. There is nothing strange in the fact that even the chaos of our sins tends to be organized around some particular sins (some people are driven by pride, others by sex, still others by anger - Dante in the "Divine Comedy" nicely placed those types of sinners in different sections of hell and purgatory). I understand this striving towards using the word "self" - Jungians speak about "subpersonalities" (Jung's complexes), there is a whole therapeutic method which speaks about multitude of "selves" in us. In this broad sense, which is not particularly useful, we can say that there is a "false self", the totality of our sinful tendencies.
But thinking of the false self as a quasi-demonic being in us (actually, Richard Rohr seems to believe that Satan is a mere projection of the false self) comes dangerously close to the Gnostic theory of two souls, which was repudiated very nicely by Augustine in Book Eight of his Confessions. When he describes his conversion, he relates the Gnostic idea that there is an evil soul in us, which drives us towards sin, and there is a pure, innocent, divine soul, which has nothing to do with that. Sounds familiar? Merton, of course, did not say that, but many of non-dual thinkers go exactly into this direction. Augustine, however, argues that there is only one soul which - due to sin - is divided, fragmented. We suffer from illness of our will's fragmentation. But it is the same will that sometimes wants to pray, and sometimes wants to hurt someone, and sometimes wants to forgive. For Augustine conversion is a unification of the soul, but there is still potential for fragmentation. I think he's got a point there, when he warns us from this tendency to think of something pure in us and something sinful, which are somehow separated. Meister Eckhart often emphasized that the highest part of the soul, which is above space, time and multiplicity, cannot soul and even in hell would be united with God. Again - it can be understood in an orthodox way, but it is kind of idea that can easily be distorted into Gnosticism.
So I'm pretty much against over-using of the term "self" for all our moral evil. Even though I know that it sometimes feels like all our sin is, so to speak, "one piece" in us, which we desperately would like to liberated from. In the "Cloud of unknowing" there is an image that the separate self sense is ugly, repulsive sinful bundle, which needs to disappear. Again - separate self is equated with sin. But what makes me hesitate and what makes me want to discuss it in the first place, is the fact that St. Paul used the metaphor of the old man and the new man. In ancient Greek "the man" (anthropos) was used often in the sense in English is conveyed by "the self" (for example, Plotinus says that each of us have in us three "men" - intuitive intellect, discursive intellect and sensible psyche - he obviously means levels of consciousness/self). So St. Paul basically speaks about "the old self", governed by Law and sin, and "the new self", the gift of Christ or even one with Christ, as if it were a "supernatural personality" given to us in the Holy Spirit. So maybe there is some reason to speak about the false self meaning the old man. But:
2. Why "false"?
The term "false", again, is deeply rooted in Eastern mystical traditions and in Gnosticism. As we know, for the East "sin" is actually a cognitive mistake, ignorance, lack of knowledge, while for the West sin is unnatural intention of the will. So speaking of "false self" instead of "sinful self" is inspired by the East (in the case of Merton, possibly, and in the case of others, for sure). But if it is "false" we only need to see its falsehood, its illusory nature and we will be liberated. We are like someone who is afraid of a snake until he realizes that it is some old piece of rope (Buddha's famous simile). Merton seems to go in this direction. But the problem, it seems, is not or not primarily, that the "old man" or "old self" in us is false or illusory, but that it is sinful, disordered, build out of bad habits and false beliefs. So, again, I suppose that for contemplative Christians the idea of "falseness" of their old self may lead to attempts to treat it as an illusion, as a mistake. And de Mello, Rohr and others are there to say: "Yes, of course, Jesus said: Forgive them for they don't know what they do, sin is a mistake, ignorance, lack of awareness!". It is not. If we really don't know what we do, we do not sin. Sin requires knowledge and free decision.
So my thinking, for now, leads me to the point where I see reasons to use a METAPHOR of the "self" or the "system" for our fallen soul: we can more biblically say that we have in us the old man instead of the new, or we are clothed in flesh instead of Christ etc., but also I'm convinced that ambiguity and vagueness of "false" and "self" in the false self notion can be misread, misleading and is certainly used by non-dualists to preach their version of the Gospel.
Maybe we could reflect a bit on St. Paul's idea of "two men" and what it means for our spiritual practice and life?
Another thread is my question to you, Phil, and your concept of conditional love. Do you want to say that all personal sins, psychogically and spiritually, stem from some basic feelings that we are not accepted and loved as persons? If so, I'd like to challenge that a bit :-).
Mt., I have no disagreements with your main points, which are are all well-reasoned. I could live and teach just fine without ever using the term "false self" again. It's just that it's "in the air," so to speak, and somewhat ambiguous (especially when contrasted with True Self). I think Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington are most associated with popularizing the terminology, and largely to try to connect with a generation that resonates more with psychological language than traditional, ontological concepts. It's obviously caught on, as the terminology is everywhere, though its meaning is imprecise, which is one of the reasons I wrote my book.
A few unorganized points, which I will enumerate for reference purposes.
1. "False self" as I use the term is not a real self, as I've noted above, but it can take on for us the experience of an identity in the Ego's investment in self-image and persona. For those caught up in this (and they are legion), it's easy to see how this would be what they called self. Many classical spiritual writers used the term self in reference to this. So even though it's not really a self in an ontological sense, we experience it as "who I am or hope you will believe I am."
2. The identity experience described above is obviously rooted in beliefs that are "false." Who we really are is not this idea of ourselves we've fabricated and projected to gain approval, admiration, control, etc. Who we really are is the image and likeness of God that is reflected in each of us, and this is mystery.
3. It would also be appropriate to use the term True Self in reference to this image and likeness of God within. I know the term resonates with the Hindu Atman, but that need not be the case, especially if we are contrasting it with the false self.
4. I noted in an earlier post that our first parents had no false self system and yet they sinned. It is perhaps because their sin was so freely and willingly chosen that its consequences to the race have been so disastrous.
5. I understand the false self system to be a consequence of Original Sin, creating fragmentation and disorder in the soul, biasing us unto self-sufficiency, and obscuring the reflection of God in the soul. This weakens the soul and its spiritual powers, making us more vulnerable to sin. This understanding resonates with the traditional understanding of the consequences of Sin and even Paul's reflections in Romans 7.
6. Moral culpability presumes making an informed, free choice, but we can sin without making such a choice. Most sin is committed out of ignorance and weakness, but it is still sin and the individuals are responsible for these actions because they committed them. Certainly, when preparing for Confession, we should be willing to confess them all.
Maybe those points help to clarify at least my approach to this matter. I surely cannot speak for Rohr and others, who have seemed to me as well to insufficiently nuanced their terminology.
One remark re.6.
I don't think that knowledge and free choice require conscious deliberation and a sense of choosing. Many choices that are "informed" and "free" we make in quite a spontaneous fashion. Driving a car is full of free choices based on processing a lot of data, but we feel and are fully responsible for them. But there is a sense of letting ourselves be on a "automatic pilot" of superficial life, where we go from one sin to another. Perhaps that is what you mean by sinning without full knowledge and choice.
Something like that, Mt. Driving is a choice that "plugs in" a set of skills that we have mastered and which function somewhat automatically, even to the point of raising awareness when more concentration is needed. Habitual sin doesn't usually entail such a conscious choice, though we cannot ever say that a person is totally unconscious or not responsible for their actions (except in very rare situations). Habitual sin usually entails addictive behavior and a conscience that has become dulled. We do not even consider whether the act is wrong or harmful; we just let ourselves go into it.
All I want to know is how to be simple like my cat! My cat has no false self. It is quite free, just being, no pretences. I feel certain he is quite a happy chap. An innocent creature. Is that what a true self looks like? I strongly suspect so. I have been in such a "place" a few times in my life, and I can honestly say it was the times I have been genuinely, truly happy. No striving, though doing a lot. better maybe to say, no emotional focuss or intense energy in a goal. Or no genuine sense of "lacking" something.
The problem I have is that I cannot get into this state at will. I try and try and try. it seems sometimes it just hppens . If only someone could get it down to a step by step process, like a recipe. I would not leave it, I don't think. But maybe I would!
When I think true self and false self, what comes to mind is this experience about 5/6 years ago, nursing a heart-wound (heart-break) basically grieving. Then it occurred to me in the process that the picture of myself in my head, I always thought was me, was not me. it occurred to me that the creature of God--real me--was something different from this me that was my own creature or creature of my mind. I therefore resonate with what Merton says in Mt's paraphrase of him: the false self does not exist because God does not know it. The thing that exists is the real me, the concepts are my own creations. In fact, I feel that fantasies are somewhat a rejection of God's actual gift to me, rejecting my actual being and my actual life in this moment, or even the life I have already lived, wishing I had lived a different life. All in search of a phantom or bunch of made up pictures in my head.
I didn't even know how much self-rejection I had even after the experience, until recently. I now practice embracing my self with ecstatic happiness and saying to God, "Thank you! Its great, I absolutely love it". When I can do that--- from the heart ---I know a very immense happiness, freedom and loss of all fear or insecurity. I only wish we could do it like setting up a tv, in a way that works every time.
Phil, I suspect that shame is the central emotion behind the false self, like love or openness is the nature of true self. Wht do you think? Its not only true in my experience of my weaknesses and sinful tendencies but I think that the story of the fall points to it. Adam and Eve experienced shame as an immediate consequence of sin. I think that it was right then that their false selves were born and they could no longer "be" the way they were before. The loss of innocence that had them hiding from God and each other. Or why God asked them "who told you that you were naked?" I think that they had developed unnatural self-concepts that made them consciously self-focused in unnatural ways and self-rejecting in unconscious ways because they were now engaged in "managing" the perceptions others--even God--had of them, which is a preoccupation of false self, making up ourselves instead of expressing without fear all that God has invested in us, our being.This message has been edited. Last edited by: St. Rubia,
My understanding of false self is much as you describe, St. Rubia -- a system of beliefs and desires that are compensatory for shame, thus biasing the Ego to try to "obtain" approval and worth through "doing, getting, having, etc." Self-image/concept, which is rooted in the memory is also biased by all this. It's not so much that this "idea" of ourselves is untrue, it's just that it's an "idea" and not the true, mysterious, subject-of-attention that we really are.
I am not so inclined to speak of a true self, but it could certainly refer to that subjective "I" mentioned above as well as to an Ego authentically striving to understand oneself and reality, and to make responsible choices. Such an Ego would still be attuned to self-image, but would be unattached to promoting or defending it.
More on this topic in a post below. Just wanted to acknowledge your fine reflections.
Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04gdsFt_zDY which is an excerpt from a dialogue between Fr. Thomas Keating and Ken Wilber (and the audience).
At around 2:15, Keating begins to speak of our fundamental problem being "the separate self sense."
This is the basic source of every human problem. It's the source of sin in the sense of missing the mark, because it's the separate self sense that deposes reality and the truth and creates our own self and ultimately our own hell if the self we're developing goes to the extreme of selfishness. . . So on the one hand you have this basic oneness of everything . . . and the basic issue of separating ourselves from that oneness, which means we're separating ourselves from our true self and from everybody else and from the cosmos in varying degrees in which we sin, meaning miss the mark. . . So the separate self sense is what all the religions are trying to cure, as far as I can see, and all the consequences of that development, which, psychologically speaking, have been researched in our time . . ." He goes on to speak about the lower energy centers (security, pleasure and power) giving rise to the selfish Ego . . .
Wilber nods approvingly throughout.
This might not be a bad way of speaking about sin to Buddhists, but it doesn't connect well with traditional Christian thinking about sin. I'll enumerate a few thoughts in no particular order of importance:
1. It would seem that the "separate self sense" is inevitable to a rational creature, who recognizes that there are different individuals and creatures, oneself being part of the mix. If you push this idea to the limit, it would seem that Keating is lamenting the development of personality, individuality, and all that goes with it, including the possibility of being-in-relationship with others, creative achievements, and moral action.
2. "Separate" doesn't necessarily mean "separate-ed" in the sense of isolation or alienation. It can also mean "distinct-from," the awareness of which is not in any way a sinful situation.
3. In Christianity, loss of the sense of oneness (Eden) is a consequence of willful disobedience -- a moral act! -- and not a developmental outcome like individuation. Willful desires are the problem, which Buddhism affirms as well. Such desires aren't necessarily about perpetuating a "separate self sense," but about seeking happiness in the wrong way and in the wrong places.
4. Distortions of identity are as much a consequence of disordered desires and actions as vice versa.
5. In Christianity, the way to oneness with God and creation is not a matter of deconstructing the separate self sense, but of coming into living contact with God's love, which embraces and affirms all of creation.
6. Christian spirituality affirms unity and individuality, and enables one to experience both simultaneously. Love differentiates as it unites.
I have deep respect for Fr. Keating and his life's work, but I don't much like the approach he's taking in this dialogue.
Is the sense of self as a separate self innate or acquired?
By which I mean is it the society/family group etc in which we are born that trains us to think of ourselves as a separate self?
Oh yes, Phil. I definitely don't believe that the true self is the same self (ultimately) for all humans or all things like new agers seem to say. But I do believe in a false self and true self.
The one is false precisely because it isnot the self: it is merely a bunch of beliefs/perceptions that are not recognized as such. To me, though, there is indeed a true self in the sense of the thing/creature with ontological existence that I am. Its not an idea that I have, its the idea that God himself has, which actually exists because God is the creator.
This means that the self-concept is not the real self, even if positive (that is, even if not based on all sorts of lies or false beliefs, which when it is, is what we dub the false self). It is still a concept at the end of the day--that is what it is, it is not us.
In fact, I believe false self happens when we "forget" that it is a concept and start to believe that it is really us or that it really exists, which unfortunately happens as soon as we develop the ego or sense of individuality for most of us. We believe it so real, that we make it an object of love or self-gift...an idol. Many of us, like me, take years and a great deal of hard knocks just to "see" the simple reality that this is a concept: "I" am something entirely different, I am God's idea, not my own.
The difference is not mere semantics. God is capable of giving life (existence) to his ideas. Anything that exists is an idea of God that lives and moves and breathes and is. In fact, do not the saints (church?) say that in God, there's no difference between the idea he has and the creature because God beholds it directly as it is?
But this self-concept I have is a product of my own mind. Its the way my mind "knows" things. But see, I don't know everything about myself like God knows me. On top of that, my intellect is fallen. Products or concepts of my mind are bound to fall far short of the "me" that I really am, no matter what I do. Therefore I regard even the healthier self-concept in a sense as false also, but only to the extent that it is not fully representative of the truth it signifies. It is supposed to say to my mind, "This is me", but of course, it is far short of "me". Even when healthy, it is not "me" or fully telling the truth of "me", it is always telling a half-truth.
I therefore think the false self is what happens when one fails to realize this truth about the self-concept and ourselves, and to distinguish the "who" that we know of ourselves and the "who" that God knows when he is beholding us, always. When we are healthy, the self-concept is acknowledged as an imperfect snap-shot of ourselves taken by the "knowing" part of us that knows things by forming images/copies of them (in conceptual form) and representing them to the mind when we turn our attention to these things especially when they are physically absent from us (from the senses).
What I do not know and can only speculate on, is how this works/worked in unfallen humans, like the pre-sin Adam and Eve, and Christ and his blessed mother (new Adam and Eve).
And another thing, what is the difference between the false-self system and genuine spiritual pride that, for example, fallen angels have?
"I" am not meant to be my own "target" (object) for self-gift or love in the Christian sense, am I? Seems sometimes it is what I try to do with the false-self system: to make my own self my beloved. I think no true love is there at all. I (should) when healthy, look on out-wards to the "other", something that can actually receive "me" as a gift, which means it must be outside me or other than me. But not towards an "other" that is only really me or that does not actually exist and therefore does not deserve love at all.
Of course its not "really me", which is why the attempt at making ourselves the object of our own love makes us miserable, methinks. We cannot truly love ourselves in the Christian sense. When we attempt to, we fail because the thing we love is not us, or when it is "us" then this is not self-gift, because the receiver is getting what it already has/is---itself. Whatever that is, it is not love. We can only love "other" according to the meaning of love in Christianity. God has three "others" in himself that are capable of love and this is mystery, but we ourselves have only one true "I" that must find the "other" outside its own being, and not make its own being or a concept of its being the receiver of this kind of gift.
So I guess the self-love I spoke of earlier, the embracing of the gift God gives me right here and now, my being, this moment, my experience, the world around me, this is something necessary for my own happiness and well-being and maybe even for enabling me to love properly, but it is not love as Christians speak of love. It is not charity. When I say "Thank you lord! Its perfect, I love it", my act of love is--or should be--directed at that "Lord" whom I am grateful to, but not to the gift, even though I tell him in gratitude "I love it". The better way is to say I rejoice in the gift. I guess that's why our saints and I think even the church describes it as an exchange, God gives me himself and I give him myself, or I give God myself and he responds by giving me himself. Christian love can only be paid with another act of love which can only be directed at an other.
But in the false self, I attempt to create this relationship with myself? Or with a concept of myself? Or perhaps what I describe here is not the false-self system at all, but good old fashioned, diabolical pride.
Satan cannot have a false-self, his intellect is or was pure and he is not confused about who or what he is. He just chooses to totally and absolutely and knowingly make himself--his real self and not a concept--the only object of his love, and totally rejects "other" and all "others" starting with God himself. This is what "I will not serve" means, I think. It means "I will not love another". And that, I suppose, is hell itself.
Since our false selves are the result of his temptations and trying to get us to make the same choice as he did, perhaps they are themselves the half-way road to that total diabolical act of rejection of all that is not me.This message has been edited. Last edited by: St. Rubia,
I think your reflections touch upon something crucial. Surely Phil will answer them, but I hope it's O.k. if I just briefly point out to something.
Your remark that fallen angels do not have false self seems to me very accurate. I'm taking this as another argument for not using "false self" (although I don't want steal your arguments ;-)). It seems that what people try to describe by using "false self" is a system of false and detrimental REPRESENTATIONS of reality. Angels, according to St. Thomas, also know through representations (in his language, "forms"), but their representations do not distort reality and are accurate, and infinitely more complex (the higher the angel, the more complex and simple at the same time their cognition is). Our representations of ourselves, others, God are distorted, because we have to think, to reason in time, by joining concepts together. This is vulnerable to constant mistakes. I guess the theologians believed that, nevertheless, demons' cognition is somehow distorted, that is, less sharp because their hatred makes them in a way forget what they otherwise clearly know.
But there is a conception which does not separate angelic and human sin, and does not use the false self notion. That is, St. Augustine. He believed that we naturally love God, love ourselves and love our neighbors. He quotes, of course, "love thy neighbor as yourself" - which implies that there needs to be self-love. For Augustine self-love is not sinful per se, since he believes that God is an example of pure self-love as well as other-love (after all when the Father loves the Son, it is also self-love, since God is one substance). The difference between sinful love and good love depends on whether there is ORDER in our love or disorder. Basically, there is sin, if (1) we love ourselves or others too much or (2) in our love we prefer lower beings over higher ones (e.g. we love sensible pleasures more than virtues). Augustine also uses the notion of "loving things in God" - it means that we truly and orderly love ourselves or others, if we love them in God, that is, as you pointed out, we are aware of their arising out of his love and we are aware of their place in the universal order. We love God in them and them in God.
I guess you won't agree with that, but Augustine would say that what you call "false self" is just a habit of loving in an disordered fashion. There is an aspect of ignorance or falsehood in this, since if we make ourselves or sensible beings "gods", by loving them too much, our intellect is deeply mistaken, since they do not deserve to be loved in this way. But there is also will clinging too much to things. The theologicla virtue of charity is called by Augustine "the order of virtues" - that is, if we possess charity, everything in us becomes well ordered. We love ourselves, others and God just as we should, not too much, not too less.
Fallen angels are deeply disordered, since they put their own selves above God and have an excess of self-love along with the lack of other-love. They cannot, however, love material world and sensible pleasures, cause they don't have bodies.
Tarantella, the development of the sense of a separate self appears to be hard-wired into architecture of a human being. It develops over the first two to three years of life. Important steps along the way are object permanence (at 4-6 months), the passing of the smudge test (around 18 months), and the acquisition of language (21 months onward). While language is acquired, the ability to do this acquisition is innate. Some children pass through a stage of illeism (referring to themselves in the third person), but by age three the "I" word has permanently entered their vocabulary.
Echoing Derek's point, here's a paragraph from my book, God and I: Exploring the Connections Between God, Self and Ego."
The "separate self sense" is innate and inevitable. Of course, its interaction with culture plays a significant role in its development and expression. Some cultures encourage individual expression, others suppress it to some degree.
St. Rubia and Mt., those are very fine reflections you share. I don't really have much to add to what you have written. I'm not really seeing any conflicts between the traditional understanding of sin, sin-bias, and the understanding of false self I have expressed (to which St. Rubia seems to concur, for the most part). Granted, beings without false selves (e.g., the first humans, angels) can sin, but that doesn't invalidate the understanding of the false self as a consequence of psycho-spiritual woundings that biases us unto selfishness and delusional beliefs about who we are. Mt., you seem to be more comfortable using other terminology to account for this bias (Paul simply uses "sin" in Romans 7), but I have not picked up from your posts that you have deep disagreements concerning the existence of this phenomena St. Rubia and I are calling "false self." You also don't like the implied contrast with "true self," which resonates with Easternish notions. I empathize with that.
So are we all agreed that "separate self sense" is not the best way to explain false self, sinful orientation, etc.? The nuance I would add to Keating's teaching (which he alludes to but doesn't develop in that youtube) is that the "separate self sense" strongly attached to promoting self-image with motivations fueled by fear and shame get to the heart of the matter. In acknowledging this, we recognize that the "separate self sense" might also be developed in a healthier, more loving interior environment, with less attachment to self-image. Self-image per se is not a bad thing; it can be transformed by grace to reflect more accurately God's vision of who we are.
Augustine, Aquinas and earlier writers didn't have access to empirical psychological research, and so used a more philosophical and theological language to explain human sinfulness. I don't see it as an either/or situation, however. Their approach complements the more psychological explanation, don't you think?
At about 11:00 in the youtube referenced above, Wilber notes:
The witness is the divine in you. It's that ray of the divine that, no matter how hard you have contracted, you can't squeeze out. That's the unavoidable part of spirit, and that part is not hard to attain. It is impossible to avoid. It's the witness in you right now that's hearing and seeing everything that's going on. That is a ray of the divine, is pure spirit in you, your own transcendental Self. And as you rest in the contemplative practice, you're strengthening that muscle - transcendental weight-lifting. . .
OK, that "witness" which Wilber considers the divine is an attribute of the human spirit in my understanding. It's really simple awareness, or non-reflecting awareness, and we can account for it using Thomas Aquinas' understanding of the soul as a spirit.
But you can see, here, how Wilber conflates this most basic aspect of human consciousness with the divine. Keating considers this experience to be our own spiritual awareness in some of his teachings, with the divine being a deeper, more interior experience. Unfortunately, he did not say anything about this in his response.
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04gdsFt_zDY for the youtube.
Separate... I sense that people are using this term in different ways. First of all, it's only reasonable that human beings develop mental representations of themselves as distinct from their environment as well as subtle or gross feelings of being distinct or separate. After all, we are individual spirits, embodied spirits. If my body dies, I die, even though not all of me vanishes into thin air. If my body or psyche is attacked, I am hurt, even though there is sth in me that is at peace etc. So our separate self sense is adequate representation of our reality. I as Mt or you as Phil, we are not, as Zen says, "trees, and clouds, and walls, and roofs". Our spirit may experience itself as everything that it perceives, but this is experience, not ontological reality. So separate self sense was given by God for purpose of self-preservation, resposibility and just because it is true.
However, I suspect that when St.Rubia says "separate self sense", just as Keating and Wilber in thid video, they mean sth more. Separate tends to mean sth that is kind of walled off or distanced or hostile even. When Jim Marion said in his dialogue with Phil that he makes God and human beings separate, because Phil insisted on ontological distinction, Phil replied (which I love by the way) that he is fully aware that he is not his wife, but he wouldn't describe their situation as "separation".
So what we mean by separate? Ugly alienation from God and others, causing violence, as Keating amd Wilber suggest, or just a pretty accurate feeling that I am me and you are you?
Merry Christmas, everyone!
One certainly has to give Keating, a Catholic priest, the benefit of the doubt and presume that he accepts basic Catholic teaching on God and creation, sin and so forth. An on-stage discussion with Ken Wilber is also not the best venue for teaching (Wilber always inevitably reformulates the discussion in terms of his own approach -- e.g., Witnessing self, etc.) Still, it would seem that he could do better than "separate self sense" to express what is fundamentally wrong with human beings. Taken along with his "There is no other" statement at the beginning of "The Rising Tide of Silence" DVD (see youtube for the preview), he leaves himself open for misunderstanding.
Re. Jim Marion -- I've never understood why "separate" in the sense of distinct is such a difficult concept (as though the only way we could be united with God would be to obliterate ontological distinctions). It seems that at the heart of interreligious dialogue is the understanding of how God and creation are related.
I wanted to add something to the psychological dimension of the self. In late sixties there seemed to be a general agreement that the sense of the self separate from the mother or the self image distinct from the mother image arises towards the end of the first year, while before there is a lack of differentiation (which American psychoanalyst Margaret Mahler called normal autism and symbiosis phases of development). But it doesn't seem to be the case. The body of evidence in the late 70ties and early 80ties proved that infants have far more cognitive capacities than we believed. Probably the sense of separate self appears very early, in the first weeks of extra-uterinal life. Below a passage from a book by Daniel Stern, a piece of data confirming his thesis that infants are aware of the self distinct from the environment very early:
"Several years ago a pair of “Siamese twins” (Xiphophagus conjoint twins) were born at a hospital near the university where I teach. These were only the sixth set of twins of their kind reported in the world literature. They were connected on the ventral surface between the umbilicus and the bottom of the sternum, so that they always faced one another. They shared no organs, had separate nervous systems, and shared essentially no blood supply (Harper et al. 1980). It was noticed that very frequently one would end up sucking on the other's fingers and vice versa, and neither seemed to mind. About one week before they were to be surgically separated at four months of age (corrected for prematurity), Rita Harper, Director of the Neonatal Nursery, called me because of the potential psychological interest of this pair. Susan Baker, Roanne Barnett, and I had an opportunity to do a number of experiments before surgical separation. One experiment bears on volitional motor plans and the self. When twin A (Alice) was sucking on her own fingers, one of us placed one hand on her head and the other hand on the arm that she was sucking. We gently pulled the sucking arm away from her mouth and registered in our own hands) whether her arm put up resistance to being moved from her mouth and/or whether her head strained forward to go after the retreating hand. In this situation, Alice's arm resisted the interruption of sucking, but she did not give evidence of straining forward with her head. The same procedure was followed when Alice was sucking on her sister Betty's fingers rather than her own. When Betty's hand was gently pulled from Alice's mouth, Alice's arms showed no resistance or movement, and Betty's arm showed no resistance, but Alice's head did strain forward. Thus when her own hand was removed, the plan to maintain sucking was put into execution by the attempt to bring her arm back to the mouth, while when another person's hand was removed the plan to maintain sucking was put into execution with the movement of her head forward. Alice seemed, in this case, to have no confusion as to whose fingers belonged to whom and which motor plan would best reestablish sucking.
We were fortunate to come upon several occasions when Alice was sucking on Betty's fingers while Betty was sucking on Alice's fingers. The same interruption of sucking manipulation was performed, except doubly and simultaneously. The results indicated that each twin “knew” that one's own mouth sucking a finger and one's own finger being sucked do not make a coherent self. Two invariants are missing, volition (of the arm) as we have been talking about it, although this cannot be proved, and predictable consequences, which we shall address below. This aspect of agency, the sense of volition, must occur very early during the newborn period, since the infant's repertoire of action is not all reflexive even at birth. To the extent that the newborn's behaviors are to a considerable extent reflexive, the sense of volition will not be an invariant of movement. Sometimes it will be there, seen in such voluntary movements as some head-turns, some sucking, most gazing behaviors, and some kickings. Sometimes it will not be there, when a behavior is fired off reflexively; such behaviors include many arm movements (tonic neck reflexes), head movements (rooting), and so on. Until the proportion of all self-action that is reflexive becomes quite small, the sense of volition will be an “almost invariant” of self-action. By the second month of life, when core-relatedness begins, this is certainly the case." (D. Stern, The Interpersonal World of the Infant, 1985, pp. 78-9.)
Well, I'm not sure if we can presume that those girls possessed "separate self sense" in any meaningful sense of the term. But surely there was a cognitive capacity to distinguish one's own body and agency from another's. That's pretty big deal for the infant. Of course, I'm aware that non-dualists do not deny this kind of agency, but Keating seems to believe that kids somehow are "conditioned" to feel separate from their evironment. It doesn't seem to be the case.
That reminds me.
I can't remember being born per se but I can recall a memory of being in greyness and then there was an idea that I was a man, an old man with a balding head, Which I knew because my right hand was cupped round the back of my up tilted head whilst I was joyfully laughing, I could hear the laughing, then greyness, then nothing.
This sequence repeated several times and the feeling of joyfulness filled me whatever I was.
Then there came a time when the noise of my laughing was replaced with a rather raucous noise which wasn't like that experienced before.
This laughing old man part of me seemed to sense something and went away and never came back after then. In fact I completely forgot about the episode till my adolescence.
How much does the mind(s) of those around us affect us before we are born?
Tarantella, I'm not sure if you're saying that this was a very early childhood memory or when it occurred. It has a kind of dreamlike feel about it. I would suspect that the minds of others influence us in subtle ways before we are born. Certainly, the thoughts and emotions of the parents influence the fetus.
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Mt, that's a very interesting situation reported on by Daniel Stern. I hope they were able to separate those two infants and that they're doing well.
We've raised three children and are now grandparents of four. The youngest is 3.5 months, and she has "found her voice," making all manner of sounds. It's pretty clear that she knows she is the one doing so, as she responds to people talking to her, fussing over her, singing, etc. Very cute! A few weeks ago, I don't think she knew that she was the agent of her sounds or movements. She would watch her hand as though it were some random object. Now, she reaches out and grabs for her bottle, and even holds it herself. Parents can sense when this separation is happening, even though the baby is radically dependent on them for months to come.
Yes, that kind of ambiguity is why it's not a good descriptor of human brokenness/sinfulness, as it too easily conflates healthy/normal and selfish/sinful tendencies. I'm not a scholar of Buddhism and Hinduism, but have read widely of their beliefs and spirituality and dialogued with enough people from those religions to know that they regard one's sense of individual personhood to be an illusion and primary obstacle to enlightenment. They don't just mean what I would consider an Ego attached to self-image, and/or in the grip of shame-based conditioning. The Buddhist teaching on no-self actually refers to non-Atman, the loss of even a "True Self." It's nada. Zero. Zilch. But also oneness and bliss. Nevertheless, Siddhartha Guatama taught, ate, interacted with others, occupied his own body, and eventually died. How can one not recognize a person, there?
I cannot conceive of a situation where an individual subject-of-attention (an "I") is permanently lost, at least on this side of the grave. Granted, certain drug experiences, brain injuries and diseases, and a few other circumstances (including some meditative techniques) could reduce or even obliterate this sense, but I see no implications for ontology, there. The soul requires a healthy body/brain to express itself fully. Experiences of oneness where there is no sense of self or "I" are generally short-lived, and those who undergo these (I've had numerous such through the years) somehow manage to interact, relate, drive, not walk into walls, etc., and eventually tell the tale. "I" is there, though non-conceptually and non-reflectingly, perhaps in a manner that we will experience at death.
So I don't think we can use experience alone to shed light on this issue. Revelation is necessary here, as in so many other areas, and the Resurrection of Christ sheds brilliant light on this topic. So do the doctrines of Trinity and Communion of Saints. I take these to be higher truths than my personal experiences, or the testimony of Buddhists and Hindus concerning individuality and personhood. If God is indeed Love, then love requires others, and the more the merrier. The more the "other" is "him/herself," the more loveable he or she is.
Hello, Mt. I believe there may be a slight misunderstanding. I suspect you meant to write "Tarantella" there and not St. Rubia because I don't believe I have used "separate self sense" anywhere.
My views agree largely with Phil's. I don't know Keating or his views and have not seen the videos Phil posted yet, but his commentary gives a good idea what the issue is.
To clarify my views: For me, the whole new agey business of "We are all God" or "We are all ultimately one self" is not worth much consideration, because that's simply something I cannot believe in. When I speak of "true self" I am speaking of an individual, created by God with its own limited but true existence. Like I said, a God-idea. To me that's what creation is...many God-ideas with actual being, given by God as total gifts. False self is rejecting these God-ideas (or even God-gifts) for our own ideas or ideas we have received from the social world. If these man-ideas are in contradiction with the God-idea, they are false. If they tell us we must earn our existence in this world, for example, if they tell us our worth is based on anything at all other than the simple fact of our existence (incontrovertible proof that God thinks we should be here!) on the truth that God not only made us but is at each moment keeping us in existence, choosing to have us be, if they say something else then they are false and we must work towards eliminating them or we will never know any true natural happiness in this present world we are right now.
Phil, about Buddhist and Hindu experiences verses objective truth. I tend to be open to these experiences, when they deeply resonate and ring true to me (some of them) while I regard the "theories" that accompany them (like "no-self" or "only one self for all of us") as wrong. I accept the Christian theory of reality, not the Buddhist or Hindu theory, which I belief are off-the mark where they contradict Christianity. I can respect other people's spiritual experiences without adopting their theories which are not based on revelation but their own attempts at explaining their experiences with limited tools.
About the experiences of loosing one's sense of individuality, I believe our own saints have something like that in the higher stages of the interior life, especially during an ecstacy. I believe it is only an inability to focus on oneself because one is so powerfully attracted by God's beauty and goodness that for that moment he can see, hear, think, regard nothing else but God, so consciously, one looses oneself in a way.. I had a small experience like that many years ago, the only one in fact, which felt to me like being "arrested by beauty" and loosing momentarily the ability to love or consider anything else at all, including myself, except that which one is beholding, and the sense that it was completely transcendent...not me, by a long shot. After that, I was able to understand at least a little, what some of the mystics were talking about...much still remains mysterious. I have no idea if this is what Buddhists and Hindus experience but upon reflection it does not seem that the person experiencing this disappears, it is more that he is absorbed in another completely for a short moment. His will and attention are arrested by something powerful outside the person.
Again, about the oneness with the rest of creation, or no separate sense of self. To me, it means something more like natural relatedness or a sense of at-homeness with what exists, no sense of alienation. I guess it is the opposite of fear, more like being deeply and naturally secure in the world (the one that God has made, which is real...not the social world of emotionally and psychologically damaging beliefs coming to us from society 247)So perhaps separate is the wrong word and security and deep sense of belonging with the world around us is a better description than "oneness".
St. Rubia, sorry for my mistake!
When I'm reading your views on the false self, I agree completely with you. I like the idea of God's idea of individual very much. It is, however, not identical with what Phil in his book calls the "Self". Merton once said that the true self is not something different from the body, emotions or psyche, but the totality of it seen as a whole. It sounds like a "God's idea" about us. It is not the "witness" of experiences.
I also agree with you that the language of belonging, relation seems to be much better than the language of "oneness". Actually, people use "oneness" very often to speak about relations and harmony. Is there really someone who is sure that he "is" trees, walls and mountains? Apart from some schizophrenics. Perhaps "the whole" is also a good term for describing what you're speaking about.
I experienced many times the sense that could be expressed as "there is not one thing in the whole world" or a different one: "there is no way to see this person/thing as existing separately from other persons/things". I also many times saw things as a very thin veil, without "substantiality", with a sort of crystal, empty space-light pervading it all. I guess those experiences could be expressed as "everything is one" or "there is only One". Those are good, beautiful experiences, important, with good fruits. But non-dualists make an ideology out of it and if you dare to say that there are substantial differences between persons or God and his creatures, you are ultimately considered to be some spiritual "retard" who is not initiated into higher mysteries...
By the way, Wilber and others would certainly argue that Mother Teresa of Calcutta is "enlightened", because they cannot envisage someone with such love and service to others without a "deep insight". Well, I've read carefully her letters, in which she describes the dark night in which she lived for years. There is no one sign of her having enlightenment experiences or oneness with the world etc. I guess that she would mention this somewhere, if she had, for instance, "no-self" experience. Apart from rather typical Christian experience that the poor are Christ and one time when she says that words such as "God" or "soul" sometimes don't have any meaning to her. but it's not enough to make out of her another "enlightened being". No-one is willing to admit that there is another deep experience, with enormous fruits, which is not enlightenment.
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