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No Way to Locate Yourself
Gwen: Dear James, what do you say to the materialist who believes that the self is not beyond and outside of the brain but is the observing ego inside the mental construct?
Ram: The problem with the materialist argument is that you cannot have a conscious being inside a mental construct. It is the other way around.
The brain is part of the body. And I am aware of the body. The body appears as an object in the mind. It is a mental construct. Conclusion: the body is in the mind, not the mind in the body. I am before and beyond the body AND the mind because they are both objects of my perception. I can observe thoughts and I can observe the body. From the perspective of Vedanta the ego is only a thought, an identification of the self, awareness, with the body and the mind. It separates pure awareness into apparently different beings. It says “this and that.” It identifies with memories and all other kind of thoughts. A baby doesn’t have this thought. When the I-thought appears the first time the baby is fascinated by the funny thought of I and mine. It uses it very often, so it becomes stronger and it starts to believe in it: “I am Gwen, I am so big. This is my puppet, my room, my mom.” That is ego. But it is nothing other than an observed thought. Whenever you say “I” there is something before and after the thought of I. That is the self.
Gwen: My friend, who is also a therapist, has it that the definition of insanity is the loss of the observing ego. As a psychotherapist myself I can understand how my friend can organize her thinking that way, but even after clearly defining what is meant by the term “self” and what is meant by the term “observing ego.”
Ram: We have a language problem, I think. The observing ego is probably what you mean by the self, awareness, which can never be lost. Again, ego is only a thought. If the ego is not functioning, the mind is lost in vastness because awareness has no way to locate itself and the person cannot function. It will need to be fed and clothed, etc., because without ego awareness doesn’t know where to put the food. The observer of the ego is the self. It can never be lost, because without it there wouldn’t be a world to observe.
Gwen: And what is meant by the term “superego,” I can’t explain to her how it is that I know that the self is not the same as the observing ego.
Ram: I don’t know about the “superego” but observation takes place in the mind. Perception happens in the mind. Senses report to the mind and perception happens. The self is illumining the mind, but the mind does not illumine the self. For it the self is only an idea. The self is subtler than the mind. So, yes, you can say the self is witnessing or observing, but that is not really true. Not as a doing. Doing implies duality. It is difficult to describe. It would be better to say that witnessing happens. The self is beyond observation. The self is not observing, it is not doing anything. Observation happens in the light of the self as it reflects in the mind.
Gwen: Right now I am happy and full, so I become disinterested in the dialogue, but I also see that I lack the ability to show the difference and since this is my field and many of my friends are therapists, I would like to know how to explain this. And before you even go there… “get different friends” is not the answer I am looking for.
Ram: It is very difficult to communicate with people who do not know the self, Gwen. The big issue is language, what the terms mean and how they are used. For them to understand what we mean, they would have to subject their minds to the whole vision of Vedanta, the vision of non-duality, because reality is a complete, complex whole that is only really understandable from the point of view of awareness. Psychology has isolated a small fraction of the big picture and developed a very limiting language that keeps it locked in its own world.
Gwen: I love you, Rama.
Ram: I love you too, Gwen.