I Am a Rock

[inspired by Justin’s post Self, No-self, Psychology and Buddhism on Progressive Buddhism]

Carrying around a sense of I-am-me-this-one-separate-thing-now-and-forever,  me vs “that”, “independence”,   is rather like carrying around eggs in a tightly woven basket made only of belief.

The problems with this are:

a) All the eggs are in one basket. Mom said “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!”

b) The basket frequently comes unwoven because all the ends of the threads are tied up all over the place.

c) They are eggs not chickens and have not and cannot develop into anything else.

d) Eggs are fragile so you spend a great deal of time protecting them and worrying about them.

e) The more eggs the heavier the basket.

f) The eggs are not eggs but little soap bubbles of ideas of who’s who and what’s what. They change all the time.  Some break and more are manufactured to maintain the fullness of the basket.

The term self as a locational device for a particular conglomeration of flesh and point of sentience is useful in a linguistic and geographic sense, as is saying that particular head of cabbage has worms in it.  Maybe don’t buy it or clean it before you cook it or something.

In an interview conducted in Austria for Eurozine, the Indian psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar made an interesting statement contrasting the views of ego in the West with that of India.

… with the Indians the boundaries to the ego aren’t as rigid. That comes from the corporeal, the body itself is open. The image of the body that one has in Ayurveda, for example, is that of a permanent exchange between the ego and the environment. If the body is open, the boundaries to the ego are also open. The body forms the basis of the ego. One views one’s body in the same way one views one’s ego, and in the Indian view this ego is more fluid. For an Indian, mental illnesses come from spirits that force their way into the body; one falls ill because of evil spirits. In the West, the ego is a fortress – that’s why in psychology many biological approaches are taken. What happens in the fortress is important and not what comes from outside. Here in the West, it would be considered esoteric to say that sunlight or stones can influence the character, because the view of the ego is different. The exchange between environment and ego is emphasized much more strongly in India.

Kakar has written a great number of books on the psychology of  Indian culture and the effects of globalization on both Indian and Western, particularly European culture.

In a conversation about arranged marriage with a friend a number of years ago this point of Kakar’s was reinforced in a rather interesting way. She said [and I paraphrase as I didn’t record it]:

My life is not my own. I belong to India, to Gharwhal [a Himalayan region], to my caste and gotra [subcaste]. When I was growing up my life belonged to my parents. Then I went to school and it belonged to my teachers and my family. Then I married and it belonged to my husband and now it belongs to my children. In time it will belong to God.

This view did not disturb her in any way. It is how she identifies and defines herself, by her geographic and social placement in relation to that which surrounds her. It is highly relative in contrast to a movable “fortress” of an ego.

To demonstrate in part how this plays out socio-linguistically in Indian society consider the vast array of kinship terms. For example the name for uncle in  English is specifically subdivided so that the terms  one uses for one’s father’s younger brother (chachi) and one’s father’s older brother(tau) are different and these again are different than the way one’s mother’s brothers (mama) are named.  Each relation is named relative to whomever is speaking so everyone has a plethora of relationship descriptors depending on who is referring to them.  This gives a social context to identity.

And as one traces one’s self to a village in Indian culture, no matter where in the world that one lives this gives a geographic context. Ask one of your friends of Indian origin where their village is and I’ll bet they’ll be able to tell you all about it even if they were born in America or elsewhere. They will probably also be surprised you asked since the concepts of home towns are becoming increasingly of use only for sentimental purposes rather than locative purposes in North America and elsewhere. And this is a trend that will likely continue and appear with more frequency in Indian and similar cultures as populations continue to migrate.

In my last post I wrote that Buddhism is not psychology and psychology is not Buddhism. Buddhist explanations of the experience of life are quite different than psychological explanations.

Psychological explanations are given a great deal of credence [synonyms see belief] in the West but consider the following quote from a review of the book  Vishnu on Freud’s Desk wherein Arjun Mahey states:

… Harold Bloom’s incandescent suggestion that Freud is a late event in European shamanism: it’s as a shaman (self-healed soul-healer) that he can be compared, fruitfully, to Indian shamans: the reductive aspects of his psychology bear point-by-point comparison to, lets say, Buddhist meditational grids. One can analogise Hinduism and Freudianism as two systems of thought, then, or allow one to supplement the other rather than aiming at joint dissonance.

I had to laugh at this since viewing Freud, or psychology as a form of shamanism tends to really get the “scientific” community up in arms. But if not that though,  then what is it?

Neuroscientists work around the clock to try to “demonstrate” some theory to explain consciousness or even sentience but as yet to no avail. These differing categories may well supplement each other but they don’t replace each other.

On more practical terms one can consider the ego-view something of a choice-to work on reinforcing, shoring up the fortress or to work towards seeing it as the  inter-fused ebb and flow that  it is.  And inter-fused is a more accurate term than interdependent which still carries some elements of a will to separateness.

Popular Western culture would have us reinforce this separateness in numerous ways. Consider this popular Simon and Garfunkel song.

Though I like the song and understand the sentiment of the desire to alleviate a sense of suffering it’s certainly not how I would choose to live, just me and my ego locked up in a Fortress of Solitude.

There is a choice.

Simon And Garfunkel — I Am A Rock lyrics

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.


I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the words before;
It’s sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

One comment on “I Am a Rock

  1. Friend and stranger, I say, well met, and I hope that will be the impression in this. I think I can see that there is a lot you have wished to say.

    I suppose I should not pose myself up as the surprise monk-in-a-box , to say so. I hope I may respectfully say as much:

    The fortress of solitude is an ideal image, and I think that as an ideal image, it resembles some matters of the monks running off to solitary mountain retreats, such that — as I recall — I have read Bassui commenting about, in some of his teachings (citation: Mud and Water, Wisdom Publications). I wish I was enough of a student of Bassui’s to be able to relate his statements, to those matters, at this time, with such statements of my own as I could be sure were accurate to his, but perhaps I can only come up with my own ideas about it, instead.

    If I recall it accurately, Bassui had addressed namely the *desire* to run off to a mountain retreat — and I think it was approximate to his advice to let go of the overhanging cliff (even enough to climb up it, I would say). It is the desire to retreat, or the desire to read the writings of a Buddhist teacher, or the desire to gain perfect enlightenment, that occurs to the questioning mind, and what is the nature of that questioning mind?

    If I may share a thought to the incidental: I’ve read Yagyu Munenori and Myamoto Musashi recommending that some of their teachings must be “encoded”, as it were. I think it is to prevent an oversimplification – and then, later, inevitable misrepresentation – of the ideas represented in the matters. I think that a similar intention may be represented in more than their writings, and more than the writings of Bassui.

    I’m not sure what I may say to the fleeting crane, and I am aware that I am no master of the winds.


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