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A Technique of Living
Leonard A. Bullen
The eighth month
THE BUDDHIST DOCTRINE OF EGOLESSNESS
SELF-ASSERTION, the assertion of one’s own rights and privileges, of one’s importance, and of one’s individual and distinctive existence: this is one of the major modes of instinctive response to many of the circumstances of life. It is one of the prime elements in the search for personal gratification.
It is a never-ending search, this search for personal gratification; for each satisfaction that is achieved is only a temporary one, and sooner or later the search must be resumed. To seek happiness by way of self-assertion, according to the teachings of Buddhism, is the surest way to perpetuate the sorrows and unsatisfactory factors in personal life, for enduring happiness can be found only by breaking free from the false belief in a self separate from life as a whole.
The most distinctive feature of Buddhism is the teaching that the innermost core of individual existence is not a fixed unchanging ego or self but a momentary and ever-changing current of forces. This, if followed through, leads to a policy of non-assertion instead of self-assertion; and therefore non-assertion must be cultivated in the quest for ultimate happiness.
One of the basic characteristics of the world around us is the complete absence of permanence. Some things last a long while, it’s true, and seem to change very little over the years; but nothing is permanent in any true sense. You will find that the fact of impermanence is easy to acknowledge in a superficial way; but you will also find that it’ s very difficult to accept it with all its implications.
We live in a world of impermanence, yet at the same time we try to stave off this impermanence by making our desired things last as long as we can. Growing old, we try to keep up some semblance of youth. While recognising the fact of impermanence, we find it unpalatable and therefore refuse to accept it. Up to a point, we succeed in rejecting it; and to this extent we delude ourselves.
We know, of course, that we must accept some suffering, some pain and sorrow, mixed in with our happiness in this round of birth and death; but knowing of no other existence, we have no option but to keep on seeking for happiness by gratifying our desires. We think that this is the only way in which we can gain happiness; and here again we delude ourselves.
In our efforts to stave off the impermanence always closing in around us, and in our struggle for happiness in a universe of mixed pleasure and pain, we are impelled, much of the time, to assert ourselves and to act from self-interest, not knowing that, in the ultimate, self-assertion is the arch-enemy of happiness. Here, once again, we delude ourselves.
So we are deluding ourselves in three main ways. In seeking for permanence in a world essentially impermanent, we are reducing rather than increasing our happiness. In looking for happiness within the round of birth and death we are looking in the wrong direction. And in asserting ourselves we are doing the very thing that makes complete happiness impossible.
So the Buddha-doctrine states, in effect, that we must understand and fully accept three salient characteristics of existence, namely:
1- the fact that everything in the relative universe is impermanent;
2- the fact that everything in the relative universe is in a constant state of agitation, a state which in conscious living beings may become suffering; and
3- the fact that no being possesses a fixed, unchanging, eternal self, soul, or ego.
You will find that these three characteristics of the relative universe – impermanence, suffering, and egolessness – are of fundamental importance in Buddhism.
The first of them, the characteristic of impermanence, is emphasised again and again, as our attachment to the impermanent keeps us imprisoned within the wheel of birth and death.
The second characteristic, of suffering, is the starting point in Buddhism, for the Buddha-way is concerned primarily with suffering and the cure of suffering. In terms of fundamentals, every particle of the universe is in a state of agitation, and in conscious living beings the higher degrees of this agitation become different degrees of suffering. Some of the lower degrees of this agitation are known as pleasure, and the differences between pleasure and suffering lies in the intensity of the agitation.
The third characteristic, egolessness, is the focal point of the whole of the Buddha-doctrine, the central element in the whole teaching. You can’t understand the Buddha-doctrine unless you understand the meaning of egolessness from the beginning. It doesn’t matter a great deal if you miss the technicalities of the law of action and reaction, or the subtleties of Buddhist metaphysics; but it does matter if you fail to grasp the meaning of egolessness. Everything is focussed on this point, and without an understanding of it many things in Buddhism may fail to make sense.
In the practice of the Buddha-way the emphasis on the doctrine of egolessness is even more important and vital. If you want to practise Buddhism, as distinct from making it a parlour-game like chess, you must focus your attention on the problem of subduing your ego-concept and of realising its falsity.
Following the outer forms of morality is just the first stage of the work. The traditional customs of Buddhism as carried out in the East are conventionally right in their own place, but those customs imported into the West may merely provide side-interests which weaken the attack on the self-concept. Talking about Buddhism until the jaws ache may enlighten others, but too often it mainly functions as a means of self-assertion. None of these things – superficial morality, the observance of customs, and talking about Buddhism – has any ultimate value unless it leads up to the effort to eradicate the self-delusion.
The reason for the supreme importance given to the teaching of egolessness is that the belief in a separate permanent self is the salient point in that basic ignorance which, in Buddhism, is regarded as the source of all suffering; for when the delusion of selfhood is finally broken down the basic ignorance also is destroyed.
This matter of egolessness is really a particular case of impermanence; for it means that a being does not possess a permanent or unchanging soul at the centre of his existence, but consists of an impermanent and ever-changing life-current, which is never the same for two consecutive moments. There is, according to this, no hard core at the, centre of a being’s existence, no eternal soul, no fixed or unalterable ego. In this sense, the self doesn’t exist.
However, to say that the self doesn’t exist, flatly and baldly like that, doesn’t give a true picture. It is much better to say that the self doesn’t exist in the way in which we think it exists. The self doesn’t exist as an unchanging entity, but it does exist as a fluid or fluctuating life-current, an ever-changing stream of existence.
A living being has been described, according to the Buddhist concept of things, as "a flame-like process which burns by virtue of a force peculiar to itself." Note particularly the term "a flame-like process": this expresses the idea very concisely, for you will find that, over and over again, the Buddha-doctrine insists on the dynamic nature of existence, with no static entity to be found anywhere.
This flame-like process (which is the nearest approach to a self or soul you will ever find in Buddhism) is the life-current. In the human being it manifests in a five-fold way. Firstly, it builds around itself a material body. Secondly, by way of this material body it experiences existence in terms of pleasurable feelings, neutral feelings, and displeasurable feelings. Thirdly, it experiences existence in terms of perceptions. Fourthly, it reacts to these experiences by way of volitional tendencies, or determinants, whereby it sorts out the feelings and perceptions and determines lines of activity. And fifthly, there is the basic cognitive faculty functioning as consciousness and also operating on the subconscious level.
In other words, the flame-like process we call the life-current consists of a multitude of components, some material and some mental; these components, for the purpose of analysing the individual human being, are classified into five groups. These five component-groups, which we have just touched on briefly, can be described more fully in the following way.
Component-group 1 – the body. You as an individual human being consist of a mind and a body; and your body, broadly speaking, can be spoken of as the group of material components that help to make up your life-current, your so-called self.
Component-group 2 – the feelings. You are aware of the world around you by way of your five physical senses and also by way of ideas that you build up out of your sense-impressions. In thus becoming aware of a stimulus – that is, either of a sense-object or of an idea – you experience either a pleasant awareness of it, unpleasant awareness of it, or a neutral awareness of it with neither pleasure nor displeasure. This quality of awareness is called feeling, and all pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant feelings are included in this second group of components.
Component-group 3 – the perceptions. In Buddhist psychology there are six different kinds of perception. These are (1) vision, (2) hearing, (3) smelt, (4) taste, (5) body-sense-perception (or, to use the neurological term, somaesthetic perception, including the perceptions of temperature and contact), and (6) mental perception. The word translated as perception embraces also awareness and the faculty that recognises, identifies, and compares the differences and similarities between stimuli.
Component-group 4 – the determinants. The previous two groups of components (the feelings and the perceptions) consist of somewhat passive mental factors. That is to say, the feelings and the perceptions are forms of awareness that occur in relation to the reception of incoming stimuli. In contrast, the fourth group comprises components of an active or dynamic nature. These centre around the volition or will, and determine the person’s activities; and for this reason we can call them the determinants.
There are fifty of these determinants as usually listed, and I do not intend to bore you by discussing the whole lot of them. However, I will mention a few.
The first is contact-awareness, the initial impingement or meeting of a sense-object or a mind-object with a sense-organ and consciousness.
The next to be mentioned is the volition or will. This dominates all the other determinants and to some extent controls their activities, thus influencing the tendencies of thought, speech, and bodily action.
Then there is one-pointedness, whereby the mind is centred on one sense-object or idea at a time. Mental vitality is next, and is roughly parallel though not identical with the nervous energy. The next is attention, the mental faculty which brings a sense-object or idea into the focus of consciousness.
These five that I have just mentioned are present in all forms of consciousness, together with feeling and perception, which make, in all seven universal mental factors.
Others in the group of determinants are application (the initial application of consciousness when a new impression enters the mind); discursion, which is the faculty of searching within the mind for the identification and associations of a newly-entered impression; mental effort; interest; intention; and decisiveness, or the faculty of deciding between two courses of action.
None of the determinants so far mentioned has either a moral or an immoral character. The remaining members of this component-group, however, do have such a relationship, and they are classified into twenty-five morally-skilful determinants and fourteen morally-unskilful determinants.
Included in the morally skilful determinants are generosity, goodwill, and non-delusion; while the morally-unskilful impulses include greed, ill-will, delusion, dogmatism, envy, and anxiety. Another, generally called conceit, is practically the same as the Western concept of the inferiority complex.
You will no doubt see that some of the determinants can be roughly equated with the instincts of Western psychology, the desires and emotions that arise with the operation of these instincts, and the thought-habits that arc built up by the frequent repetition of thoughts.
Component-group 5 – the basic cognitive faculty: In Buddhist psychology the mind – both in the form of full consciousness and in its subconscious functions – is a form of energy, in the same sense in which light and electricity are forms of energy; and, without the presence of this special form of energy, the other mental component-groups could not arise.
The basic cognitive faculty operates in a sixfold way through the various sense-organs. Firstly it operates as visual consciousness when it functions by way of the eye and the total visual sense; secondly, as auditory consciousness through the car and the auditory sense; thirdly, as olfactory consciousness by way of the sense of smell; fourthly, as gustatory consciousness by way of the tastebuds of the tongue and elsewhere; fifthly, as body consciousness through innumerable sensory end-organs of contact, temperature, and other somaesthetic senses; and sixthly, as mind-consciousness – the perception of ideas – through the organs of mind.
All mental states are regarded as having a degree of consciousness, even those states which appear to be unconscious; but in so-called unconscious and subconscious states the consciousness is too low in intensity to register in the memory, and therefore cannot afterwards he recollected.
Now this analysis of the individual being into five groups of components may appear to you to be dry and somewhat overburdened with technicalities, and perhaps rather pointless. But it has a point, and a point that bears directly on the doctrine of egolessness. The point is that each of the component-groups is impermanent, fluctuating, and ever-changing; and in the multitudinous components of individual existence nothing whatever of a fixed or permanent nature can be found.
The first component-group, the body, is changing all of the time, slowly or quickly, growing larger or smaller, wearing out, or repairing itself, getting warmer or cooler, or changing in some way.
The four mental component-groups are equally transient, or more so. The feelings arise and fall away from minute to minute, and the perceptions behave in a similar manner; while the determinants, conditioned by or dependent on the feelings and the perceptions, change accordingly. The basic cognitive faculty, functioning as consciousness, continually changing from instant to instant, is just as impermanent as all the rest.
You can see, then, that the purpose of this analysis of individual existence is to show that nowhere is there any possibility of a permanent self, soul, or ego. A wave arises on the ocean of becoming, and you arc that wave; another wave arises nearby, and I am that wave; while all around us are other waves, other beings, people, ants, elephants, cats, and dogs.
In time, each wave hack into the ocean of becoming; but the forces that comprise it cause a new wave to arise somewhere else. I he new wave is not identical with the old one, but it is not altogether different; there is continuity, but there is no fixed unchanging identity. In the same way, when a being dies, certain of the forces of which the life-current consists cause a new being to come into existence. The new being is not identical with the old one, but the new being is not altogether different from the old one; there is continuity, but no fixed entity.
Since the focal point in Buddhism is the realization that the self is a delusion, the final goal is naturally the annihilation of the delusion. This final goal is the Unconditioned, the ultimate bliss which lies beyond the ordinary happiness of personal life. In a sense it is annihilation, but only the annihilation of the unreal. The Unconditioned is the state beyond words and beyond thought that supervenes when the delusion of selfhood is destroyed; for it is the world of impermanence and suffering that is found to be unreal when measured in ultimate terms.
Now what is the significance of egolessness as far as your daily life is concerned? Its significance is that the self you so lovingly nurture, the ego you love to expand and hate to withdraw, is a delusion and the ultimate cause of your suffering. Every act you carry out on behalf of the self-delusion is just so much energy tipped down the drain. Once you realise this fact of egolessness, once you learn to become constantly aware of it and to discipline your behaviour accordingly, it roust of necessity modify your life-style and enable you to stand up to the rebuffs, neglects, and denials that the world heaps on you from time to time.
The doctrine of egolessness can be concisely summed up in this way:
"You who are slaves of the self, who toil from morning until night in the service of self, who live in constant fear of birth, old age, sickness, and death, receive the good news that your cruel master does not exist."
THE INFERIORITY COMPLEX
You may find it interesting to consider the Western concept of the inferiority complex in the light of the Buddhist doctrine of egolessness. You will recall that, in discussing those components of personal existence that we referred to as the determinants – the active or dynamic mental factors – we mentioned one which is generally called conceit. This determinant, according to the Buddha-doctrine, is of three kinds.
Firstly, there is the conceit which makes one think "I am inferior to another"; then a second form of conceit gives rise to the idea "I am equal to the other person"; and thirdly there is the kind which causes one to think "I am superior to the other."
From this, it is apparent that conceit in this sense means a factor of the mind which not merely makes one feel superior to another (the meaning which is ordinarily attached to the word) but which prompts one to be concerned with one’s own inferiority, equality, or superiority by comparison with another person.
You can see, then, that the meaning of conceit is closely paralleled by the Western idea of the inferiority complex, which arises from one’s own self-centred and pathological concern with one’s inferiority, equality, and superiority as compared with others.
Let’s consider this matter of the inferiority complex as seen from the standpoint of Western thought.
We all know how it feels to be left out of a conversation. We all know what it feels like when others in a group are talking about things of which we know nothing, and what is worse, talking about them almost as if we were not there at all. No one – neither you nor I nor any other normal person – likes to be ignored.
To be ignored when we want to be recognised means to feel inferior.
We all know, too, what it feels like to be painfully self-conscious. You, no doubt, can recall a situation in which you were expected to say something or to do something when attention was focused on you: you halted and you faltered without quite knowing what to say or what to do.
To be given too much attention when you feel unequal to the occasion, then, means to feel inferior.
This means, then, that there are situations in which you welcome attention, because you know that you can deal adequately with the matter in hand. You then feel perhaps a little superior. And there are times when you prefer not to be brought into focus but to remain on the outskirts of things, so to speak.
Sometimes attention shows up your inadequacies and you resent it because it gives you a sense of inferiority; at other times attention shows up your good points, so that you welcome it; it makes you feel superior and important.
Your feelings of superiority and inferiority depend largely on whether or not others applaud you, or at least approve of what you say and do.
Throughout the course of your life, no doubt, you have had experiences in which you have felt inferior, and all these experiences have been built up into a complicated mental structure that is generally known as the inferiority complex.
All of us, as normal people, have some sort of inferiority complex. Your own may be a powerful one or it may be only a mild one; it may be so strong that it dominates you, or you may have learnt to understand and control it; but unless you happen to be superhuman you must have an inferiority complex of some kind. It is a piece of standard equipment in the human mind and it has had its own special evolutionary value in the past.
You seldom hear the superiority complex mentioned. Why? The fact is that the superiority complex – apparently the direct opposite – is the same as the inferiority complex. To want to feel superior is largely the same as the dislike of feeling inferior, and the mental mechanism of the one is the same as the mental mechanism of the other.
Let us consider the meaning of the term, the inferiority complex. Apart from its psychological implications, a complex is a number of things all held together in some way so that they all function as one unit. In this sense you could call a sewing machine a complex, because it consists of a number of parts all held together so that they function as one unit; you could not, of course, call these same parts a complex if they were all piled in a heap.
In its psychological meaning you can take a complex to mean a number of ideas all held together so that they all function as one unit.
One such complex may be related to the aggressive instinct and arouse the feeling of anger. Another complex – or any idea that forms part of it – may set to work the instinct of escape and thus generate some form of fear; such a complex is called a phobia.
Yet another complex may stimulate the instinct of self-assertion and bring with it a feeling of superiority and self-importance, or if it is thwarted, a feeling of inferiority.
The particular instinct to which a complex is related – aggression, escape, or self-assertion, for example – is the binding and co-ordinating element in the complex.
Now when you assert yourself in some way and are thwarted, or when you attempt to display your superiority and fail, you naturally feel inferior, and every such defeat you suffer leaves its vestige in your memory-store.
The sum total of all the vestiges of these thwarted attempts at self-assertion constitutes your inferiority complex. The inferiority complex is not the same as the inferiority feeling, for this is the feeling that arises when the complex is stimulated and then thwarted.
On the other hand, when your inferiority complex is stimulated into activity and this activity is successful, you have a feeling of superiority.
Why should the inferiority complex be as important as it is? In the evolution of man from his pre-human ancestors, we can see that the individual with the strongest instincts of aggression and self-assertion would be the most likely to survive under difficulties. In a fight, the one who is less aggressive is likely to perish. In a scramble for food, those lacking in self-assertion are likely to go hungry, to weaken, and to die.
Aggression and self-assertion are closely related instincts; the main function of aggression is to defeat an enemy or a rival, while that of self-assertion (in part) is to intimidate the enemy or the rival. Self-assertion also has another aspect, for we see it at work in the form of self-display in courtship.
You can see, then, that self-assertion has a survival value not only in the sphere of individual survival, but all so in the sphere of race-survival.
Because your self-assertive instinct is so important, then, your inferiority complex also is important; and because of this, in turn, it has deep-reaching effects on your life as a whole.
THE PRACTICE OF NON-ASSERTION
If you find your inferiority complex has adverse effects on your life, and if you decide to deal with it by some form of mental culture, there is an ancient Buddhist technique which has a direct application to this matter.
A major working principle in Buddhist psychology is to strive always to see things as they really are, to work always for clear discernment as opposed to self-deceit or delusion. The technique used for this clear discernment we know as right mindfulness, and one aspect of right mindfulness is called the detailed awareness of the mental state.
The detailed awareness of the mental state is designed to give increased self-understanding, with specific regard to the emotional quality of various mental states.
This does not mean a theoretical knowledge of what goes on in people’s minds in general, although this theoretical knowledge is sometimes very helpful; it means a detailed and direct awareness of what goes on in your own mind.
It is a sharpened awareness of the emotional quality of each mental state as and when it arises, and also to a certain extent in retrospect. It is a form of self-observation designed to break down self-deceit and to keep the stream of consciousness free from delusion.
The technique consists of the formation of a new habit, the habit of bare attention. Note this term, bare attention; it means attention which is stripped bare of all emotional overtones and under-currents, attention free from bias, free from prejudice, and free from self-deceit.
It is only by bare attention that you call see things as they really are, for emotion clouds and colours your perception.
To form this new habit is not easy. Your mind, as you know, likes to run in its old deep ruts, and it needs persistent self-observation and self honesty to break out of these ruts.
There is no easy way and there is no quick way to form the habit of bare attention, but there is a valuable guide in relation to the matter of the inferiority complex. It is this: every time you feel self-important or superior, you should try to realise that it’s merely a primitive instinct dominating your intellect. When your intellect can dominate your primitive instincts, you will be well on the way - not to a better feeling of superiority - but to true superiority.
As you learn to apply the detailed awareness of the mental state, you will see the part that the self-assertion instinct plays in your own life. You will see that while your inherent tendency to assert yourself in primitive circumstances had a survival value, under the conditions of modern civilisation this tendency can sometimes do more harm than good.
You have seen that when your self-assertion instinct is stimulated it brings about certain activity on your part, and if this activity is successful you tend to feel superior or self-important. But when, on the other hand, this self-assertive activity is thwarted or does not meet with success, you feel inferior.
Time after time in the course of life your strivings towards self-assertion are defeated; time after time your self-importance is challenged, and in consequence you feel inferior and inadequate to meet the challenge.
Now with so many attacks on your self-importance, your strivings are largely motivated by your self assertive; tendencies; but this motivation is largely subconscious.
Many of your strivings against the great outside world are attempts - conscious as well as subconscious to adapt your environment to your own wishes; but the people in this great outside world have their own self-assertiveness, just as self-centred as yours, and, in the mass, vastly more powerful.
The result is conflict, and very often defeat. Another element is added to your inferiority complex; another vestige in the memory-store, being painful, must be pressed down to a level at which consciousness can not reach it.
As a result, either you become more timid or retiring on the one hand, or on the other you develop along more bombastic and self-assertive lines. There will be effects of some sort in your general life-style, tending frequently towards either one extreme or the other, unless very early in life you have learnt how to handle the whole situation.
Undoubtedly there are some occasions on which your self-assertion centres around someone else’s success or defeat. Maybe your young son becomes dux of his school, or perhaps he loses his first job through inefficiency, and so you share his success or failure; but in such cases your feelings of superiority or inferiority arise because something that belongs to you is involved and is an extension of your own ego.
It is your own self that feels superior and enjoys it, and it’s your own self that feels inferior and seeks some way or other to feel superior.
Now it is precisely the . importance of the self to the self that you must break down if you want to deal adequately with the inferiority complex, and for this reason you must realise that in order to get rid of the inferiority feeling you must get rid also of the superiority feeling.
To be free of this feeling of inferiority you must be free of the feeling of superiority.
You will see, then, that the ancient Buddhist teaching of egolessness is very up-to-date; for hand in hand with the deep-rooted belief in the importance of one’s own self goes the equally deep-rooted assertion of superiority.
As I leave already said, it is important to understand the teaching of egolessness if you want to understand Buddhism. On the other hand, whether you believe in this doctrine, merely because it is a part of the teaching as a whole, is somewhat less important. It’s quite unnecessary to believe anything uncritically or to accept anything without thoroughly examining it. What is really important is to realise that you can never achieve any enduring happiness by way of self-assertion.
At the very least, it is necessary to understand and accept the fact that excessive self-assertion causes conflict with others and conflict within your own mind.
On this basis, then, your self-training in this connection is a matter of endeavouring to keep all your actions free – as far as possible – from self-assertion.
You begin by self-observation, for self-observation is the key to self-training. You begin by critically observing your reactions to external events and situations with a view to finding out when and how you assert yourself; and this self-observation must become habitual and continual. You must learn to turn the searchlight of mindfulness on to every one of your actions and reactions.
This increasing mindfulness, this inwardly-directed attentiveness, helps you discover your own mental mechanisms, those of rationalisation and repression, for example, which are motivated by your own reluctance to confront the things in your own mind.
Then, as you gain increased self-understanding, you will begin to see your own self-assertive tendencies as they really are. You will begin to see yourself pushing to the fore in circumstances which give you an opportunity for self-importance, and hanging back from a duty when that duty arouses feelings inferiority.
The increased awareness and self-understanding will act as a brake when you would otherwise seek a superiority feeling, and will spur you on to action when you’ d otherwise hang hack for fear of an inferiority feeling. Superiority and inferiority in the subjective sense – that is the feelings of superiority and of inferiority – will gradually disappear and just as gradually be replaced with a true superiority. And this true superiority will be quite distinct from the spurious superiority of the emotions.
As the work of self-observation goes on, you may find it helpful to exert some disciplinary pressure on yourself; and this self-disciplinary pressure will work in three main directions.
Firstly, in thought. You may be offended, for example, by something said to you, or because you have been left out of a conversation, or because your good qualities have not been recognised. You may tend to brood, to reflect unwisely on whatever it is that has hurt you, to dwell on the incident. Thus you magnify its importance, you magnify your own sense of inferiority, and you magnify your own wish to find a feeling of superiority to displace it.
Secondly, in speech. You may be such a good talker that you are a poor listener, and you may interrupt other people’s conversations in order to have your say. Your speech may be full of self-references: when, for example, if the conversation turns to gardens, you boast about your own garden; or if someone mentions having had lumbago, you set out to show that your own lumbago was far more painful and crippling than was the other person’s. Thus you tend to blowup your own ego with hot air like a balloon.
And thirdly, in action. You may, perhaps, find yourself elbowing to the front because you like the limelight, or else hanging back because of stage fright; both extremes being due to in over-valued ego.
Whether your self-assertion shows itself in thought, in speech, or in action, it’s a potential source of unhappiness in some way or other. It lays you open to hurt feelings or deflation. If you work always towards a progressively increasing mindfulness of all of the forms that your self-assertive tendency takes, coupled with a continued effort to control it as and when it arises, you will attain a calm and balanced state of mind in which feelings of superiority and inferiority have no place.
And as these disappear, so also the consequent outward and inward conflicts disappear.
If you want to place the various things that have been said on a practical basis, I suggest that you set yourself a period of at least a month – or, better still, a period of three months or longer – and during that period set out to discover and to become more aware of the various ways in which your self-assertive tendencies find their expression – expression sometimes in terms only of thought, sometimes in the form of speech, or at other times by way of bodily action.
It is in the daily round of work, your domestic life, and your social contacts with other people that the delusion of selfhood does its damage and it is therefore right in the middle of this daily round that you must take the first corrective steps.
When your self-assertive tendencies are curbed by your own understanding and your own will, it’s good; when they are curbed by fear or by intimidation by others, it’s not so good. You are then not following the principle of non-assertion at all.
However, the essence of the exercise is mindfulness. If you can observe your self-assertive tendencies as and when they arise, so much the better, but, failing that, you can recognise them in retrospect; but the main point is to become aware of them in some way or other.
Place the exercise on a self-disciplinary basis; make a contract with yourself to impose on yourself a small penalty whenever you unreasonably assert yourself, not only in bodily action and in speech, but also in thought.
This element of self-discipline is an important one. You will find that if you merely resolve to correct your self-assertive habits you will be likely to forget your resolution after a while. However, if you make a self-contract and, whenever you find yourself unduly asserting your own importance, you go without cigarettes for a few hours or have less sugar in your coffee, you will be more likely to keep to your resolution.
In this way, you will be using the principle of self-discipline side-by-side with the principle of mindfulness.
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last updated: 03-04-2005