The Higher “Self”
Man is dragged hither and thither, at one moment by the blind instincts of the forest, at the next by the strange intuitions of a higher self whose rationale he doubts and does not understand. —Loren Eiseley
Never travel faster than your guardian angel can fly. —Mother Teresa
Not long ago a person asked me if I had experienced anything paranormal when I was a monk. Strangely, most of the experiences I have had that might qualify as paranormal have been while I was a layman, both before and after my thirty years in the Sangha. For some reason, when I was asked this question a sort of event that has happened before and during my monkhood came to mind: At times when I have been in a very dangerous situation and close to death, potentially, I stop thinking, my mind becomes crystal clear, and my body seemingly automatically does whatever is necessary to keep me alive, and only after the danger is past, generally after a few seconds, do I begin thinking again and resume a “normal” state of mind. As a young man this usually involved driving too fast and hitting a patch of black ice, causing my vehicle to start sliding out of control. When I mentioned this to my questioner, another man participating in the discussion, who had seen military service and had been in battlefield situations, remarked that the same sort of thing had happened to him in very dangerous predicaments. Also my fiancée told me once that this has happened to her also, in one case when the saddle on a horse she was riding came loose and she was hanging upside-down from its body as it ran through a forest.
One such event that happened when I was a monk in Burma, the most recent time it has happened (largely because I am not flirting with death nearly so much as in my younger years, except maybe by eating lots of carbohydrates), has been described by me recently in a video, soon to be uploaded onto Bitchute and YouTube. It is a video recounting all the paranormal events in my life that I remember—so again, I am assuming that such events are indeed paranormal or “supernatural.” Anyway, it involved me losing my footing on a very steep slope in a forest at night after I had climbed the slope in order to put out a fire. As soon as my footing was lost and I fell on my back and started tobogganing down the hillside, that silent crystal clarity came over my mind, and my body automatically did whatever was required to keep me alive: I spread-eagled to maximize drag and slow my downwards course, I let go of a bamboo pole in one hand but kept a firm grip on the candle in the other hand (if I lost THAT I’d be stuck on the hillside all night, being unable to see my way to continue climbing down), I grabbed at every vine as I slid past (though all of them broke), and so on. Only after one foot stopped against a clump of bamboo did I resume a more or less normal state of mind, along with thinking.
It may be, for all I know, that scientists have studied this sort of phenomenon and have a purely mundane explanation for it. It may be that one enters a very heightened, almost mystical state of consciousness in very dangerous situations that, it may be, uses much more energy than does the normal waking state, which could explain why we are not in that state all the time. Usually being semiconscious is good enough for us to survive and reproduce, biologically speaking. But the absence of thinking, the body automatically doing whatever is required, as though some higher power has taken control, and the feeling that the state, almost a mystical state, is always there, in a kind of detached or latent form, suggests to me that it is not entirely a mundane way of being.
In fact I would guess that this is a bit of circumstantial evidence for some kind of higher self or “soul” which lets us act according to our ego’s thinking mind and habits and defilements, but which steps in, so to speak, to protect us when our time for dying has not yet come. That would account for the intuition that it is always there. We just don’t notice it because it is outside the sphere of our thinking and feeling ego. A Christian might consider this evidence of an eternal soul, or maybe even of God or some saint or angel interceding to protect us. A pagan likewise might consider this to be a god or guardian spirit protecting us. But although a Buddhist might be able to accept the possibility of a higher being like a deva stepping into our situation to protect us, that same Buddhist would probably balk at the idea of a higher self or soul. Basic Buddhist orthodoxy denies the existence of a higher self or soul—of any self really.
I used to think about this rather a lot, and it still strikes me as odd. From a philosophical perspective a Buddhist can say that neither a self or a soul exists in ultimate reality; BUT, from a mundane, conventional perspective a self certainly can be said to exist—but still not a soul. Devout, orthodox Theravada Buddhists cannot accept the existence of a soul, or a higher self, even from a conventional point of view. This strikes me as possibly some sloppy thinking. Why not accept a soul in a conventional sense, while admitting that it isn’t ultimately real?
It may be that Seth, a multidimensional being supposedly channeled through a woman named Jane Roberts back in the 1970s, is right when “he” posits the existence of an “Overself” which contains within it all the existences we go through in the round of rebirth. (One problematic aspect of this is that it would contain our final existence, the existence in which we become enlightened and leave Samsara. Maybe that would be the temporal end of that Overself.) If we assume that Einstein was more or less correct, and that time is the fourth dimension essentially no different from the three dimensions of space, then such a being would seem more possible. One simile for it that I recall is that each of our lives would be like a finger on a hand, with the Overself or “soul” being like the entire hand, including all the fingers. After one dies, according to the theory, one re-merges into the higher self and then begins preparation for the next life. But that too is unorthodox heresy, pernicious wrong view, for a devout Theravada Buddhist.
Although some Pali texts describe how rebirth functions very differently from this, and nowhere that I know of is the existence of even a conventional, virtual soul endorsed in those texts, the whole idea of a higher self would become significantly less heretical if we accept that the entire phenomenal universe, Samsara itself, is a manifestation of delusion. Individuals and selves clearly seem to exist from our samsaric perspective, but no self, including a relatively higher Overself, would be ultimately real. It too would be conditioned, impermanent, and ultimately Void. (There is the idea that any entity which transcends our three-and-a-half dimensional universe would transcend impermanence, though it still would have a beginning and an end in the dimension of time, as with any other dimension.)
So I am open-minded about the idea of a higher yet still samsaric and ultimately unreal higher self or soul. Hindus obviously endorse the notion, let alone all the Abrahamic folks insisting upon an eternal individual soul. It does help to explain certain things, including my own intuitions, and that seeming higher power that takes control of my body when I’m hurtling towards death.