Ayya Khema explains why we won't find what we're looking for.
While we still have our “self ” intact, that’s the one we love best. We won’t find anybody who will love us as much as we do ourselves. Yet, because of our ego delusion, we believe that there must be somebody like that somewhere. In reality we should look at this search in a different way. We shouldn’t try to find somebody who will help us to support our self-delusion but rather someone who will help us to get rid of it. That can be the Buddha and his teachings, because such is the essence of the dhamma.
Introspection shows us the difficulties in making the self solid and secure. In fact, this is such a burden that we cannot be deeply happy. We can be pleasurably excited, but complete happiness is not possible with a view that needs constant reinforcement. We are not satisfied with telling ourselves how wonderful and clever we are. We need another person to reinforce and support this view.
The bigger our self-image is, the easier it gets knocked down. We often believe that it is sensitivity when our feelings are hurt, but it just means that we are self-centered and want to protect our threatened ego.
To look for total satisfaction in oneself is a futile endeavor. Neither satisfaction nor self really exist. Since everything changes from moment to moment, where can self and where can satisfaction be found? Yet these are two things that the whole world is looking for and it sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it? But since these are impossible to find, everybody is unhappy. Not necessarily because of tragedies, poverty, sickness, or death: simply because of unfilled desire. Everybody is looking for something that isn’t available. It’s worse than looking for a needle in a haystack; at least the needle is there, even though it is hard to find. But satisfaction and self are both delusions, so how can they ever be found? Searching here and there keeps everyone busy on this little globe of ours. If we were to stop looking for satisfaction for the self, we would have an immediate lessening of dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), since dukkha arises only from wanting something. Also our self-concept would be minimized, as ego is no longer constantly in the forefront of the mind.
To get to this enormous root system that entangles us, we have to use mindfulness. The reason we find it so difficult to be really mindful is the fact that true attention shows us that there is no person, only mind and body. It is like coming up against a wall and instead of digging through that wall, the mind veers off and doesn’t want to know anything further. True mindfulness has arisen when there is only the action but no doer. With divided mindfulness we experience both, the one who is mindful and the one who is being watched. If we use precision in our attention, we see—even if only for a moment—that no person is embedded in our mind/body process. We can never forget that experience.
From Within Our Own Hearts, © Ayya Khema. Published in 2006 by the Buddhist Publication Society. Used with permission.
Image: everyday garden: containment—concept, Francis Baker, 2003, cyanotype on vellum. © Francis Baker