What Is The Self?
It's perhaps helpful to reflect that the self is a story, a story made of thought. And so to understand the self we might examine what it's made of, thought.
Thought operates by dividing a single unified reality in to conceptual parts. The noun is a handy example. The self, assigned the noun "me", is one of these conceptual parts, a prominent one in the human experience. This conceptual division process which characterizes thought can explain much of the human condition.
This conceptual division process is what makes us brilliant as a species, because we are able to rearrange the conceptual parts in our minds to generate new visions of how our environment could be, instead of just adapting to what already exists as most animals do. That is, the divisive nature of thought allows us to be creative.
The inherently divisive nature of thought is also the source of what we call immoral behavior. Thought creates the self, which is experienced as being separate and alone, divided from the rest of reality. The self is seen to be very small, in contrast to the rest of reality which seems very big.
This experience of the small "me" being divided from a huge reality gives rise to fear, which in turn gives rise to immoral behavior, and all the various forms of madness which so threaten the species.
This explains why for example, 2,000 years of Christianity in Western culture has been unable to stamp out immoral behavior (even within the clergy) because the source of internal psychological conflict, and the resulting external social conflict, lies deeper than personal choice or culture. Human conflict in all it's forms arises from the divisive nature of what we're all made of psychologically, thought.
Is Philosophy A Second Hand Experience?
I am not a scholar and so can't relate any of the above to either Eastern or Western philosophers. However, it can be argued that referencing these thinkers may be somewhat of a distraction from a real investigation in to the self because, reading this post for example, or anyone's writings, is a second hand experience of reality and the self.
I would imagine that some in both the East and West might suggest that we set the 2nd hand experience of symbols aside in favor of a 1st hand experience of our own mind. At first such an experience might involve analyzing the content of our own personal thoughts, much as a psychologist would do. We might come to see such analysis as really just another second hand experience of symbols, for that is what our thoughts are.
Observation For Itself
If our investigation of self is not to involve the reading of books, or even an analysis of our own thoughts, what then? What's left is observation for it's own value. In this case we aren't observing like a scientist as a means to some other end. We are embracing the experience of observation for itself.
Such a state of observation for itself can empty the mind of content, leading to an experience of nothing. This seems the mental experience which most closely aligns with the overwhelming vast majority of reality at every scale, space.
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