What creates the concrete sense of identity that we are so addicted to is playing the waiting game. That’s why the waiting game is so very important to us, although we wouldn’t of course see it like this. We don’t see it like this at all, obviously enough!
Krishnamurti says that a person who is seeking a reward in is never free and this – although it may not seem like it – is another way of saying that seeking a reward is our way of creating that concrete identity. Seeking a reward (or chasing after a goal, as we could also put it) is what playing the waiting game is all about.
When we are playing the WG then of course we’re not free – we’re fixated upon a specific outcome. We’re tied up. This is like being in the GP’s surgery waiting to be called in by the receptionist – we can’t just wander off somewhere doing anything that may come into our heads – we are constrained to stay where we are and wait for our turn to see the doctor. Our job is to wait, and that means that we aren’t free.
This is easy enough to see but what isn’t so easy to grasp is why waiting generates ‘the concrete sense of identity’ (or why ‘striving to attain a goal creates the concrete self’, which is an equivalent statement). How do we get to assert such an odd thing? Another way of putting this would be to say that what creates the concrete sense of self or identity is ‘being stuck in our heads,’ and this is a good bit easier to see. When we’re stuck in our heads (or caught up in our thinking) then we simply can’t help ‘creating that narrow viewpoint that we call ‘the self’! This is what neurosis is all about.
Suppose I am focussed upon some goal or other (which is of course a very normal thing) – in this case I am most definitely caught up in my thinking since goals are thoughts! When we’re in goal-orientated mode then we’re stuck in our heads and there are no two ways about it. But when I’m operating within the realm of thought it’s not just the case that I am ‘focused on the goal that I am trying to realise,’ it’s also the case that I’m focused (or ‘fixated’ might be a better way of putting it) on ‘the one who is to attain the goal’. The goal is meaningless without the one who is hoping to attain it, after all.
We can’t see it, but the goal and the one who chases the goal are the two sides of the same thing. There can’t be any such thing as a goal without the one who has the goal and – much less obviously – there can’t be ‘a concrete self’ without the concrete self in question having some sort of agenda, some sort of goal or expectation with regard to life in general. When we drop all expectations then we drop the concrete sense of self and this is an experiment that anyone can make, at any time. When there is no ‘striving’ then there is peace, but if there is peace then there can be no self-concept. If there is no goal then there can be no self-concept.
To drop our agendas is also to drop our self-concept therefore and this is why it is not such an easy thing to drop our agendas, even though it sounds like it should be. This is not such a straightforward thing at all and the reason it isn’t is because – on a very deep level – dropping the self-concept is not something that we are all keen to do! Letting go of the self-concept is something that we have optimal resistance to – for ‘the self to let go of the self’ is actually completely impossible because ‘the self’ equals ‘hanging on’, because ‘the self’ equals ‘striving’.
The SC is the basis for our orientation in life, after all; just about everything we do in life is done on this basis and so if (all of a sudden) we were to discover that the basis we are using so habitually, so automatically, isn’t solid anymore (or isn’t there anymore) this would be radically unsettling for us. It would be radically disorientating. What’s more, everything we perceive and understand is perceived and understood by the viewpoint of the concrete self, and so we are naturally enough not in any great hurry to have our familiar viewpoint taken away from us. That’s our only way of making sense of things – that is ‘our map’ and our ‘rationale for action’ all rolled into one.
We are therefore unfree in the sense that we are not able to let go of this familiar viewpoint. It’s not just that we find it very difficult to let go of the SC (as we have already said) we actually have maximal resistance to that eventuality – we will cling onto the SC to the very end. The greatest fear we can ever know is the fear of losing this viewpoint – for us, to lose our habitual basis for perceiving the world is the very same thing as ‘not existing’ because we cannot imagine any other form of existence. As Krishnamurti also says, it’s not that we are ‘afraid of the unknown’ so much as we are ‘afraid of the known coming to an end’.
We’re not free to look at the world in any way other than the self-centric way therefore and this is the profound lack of freedom possible. We’re not free to see the world in any other way than the way in which it is presented to us by the self-centric viewpoint and the crunch here is that this is an entirely arbitrary perspective. We assume it as our basis and then having done so we’re not free to look at things in any other way! We become frozen in other words. This very, very narrow and inescapably biased viewpoint (which is the outlook of the concrete or defined self) is now the only way we have a perceiving anything and yet this constrained or conditioned viewpoint mode of perception isn’t actually real. It’s only arbitrarily real, which means that it isn’t real at all. It’s only true because we have said that it’s true, it’s only real because we have chosen to look at things in the way that makes it seem real.
Herbert Guenther and Chogyam Trungpa (1975, p15-17) are talking about this ‘narrowing’ process in the following passage from The Dawn Of Tantra :
The process of transformation which we have described is one of growing narrowness and frozenness. We are somehow tied down to our senses, to the ordinary mode of perception. We dimly feel that something else might have been possible. If we try to express this situation in traditional religious terms, we might say that man is a fallen being. But here he has not fallen because he has sinned or transgressed some commandment coming from outside him, but by the very fact that he has moved in a certain direction. This is technically know in Buddhism as bhranti in Sanskrit and ‘Khrul-pa in Tibetan, and is usually translated as “error”. But error implies, in Western thinking, culpability; and there is absolutely no culpability involved. We might tend to feel that we could have done otherwise, but this attitude simply does not apply here. The process is a kind of going astray which just happens. The idea of sin is irrelevant.
This situation of ‘being unable to drop a viewpoint which isn’t actually true’ is therefore a very regrettable situation to be in (even if there’s no one to blame for it) – we are ‘wedded to the unreal’ and this isn’t a marriage that we have any choice in and this can hardly be seen as ‘a good thing’. Not to beat about the bush too much, we’re compelled to believe in ‘an illusory view of things’ and this is a state of mental slavery that doesn’t actually bring very much (if anything) in the way of benefits with it. We are basing our whole life on something that we can’t see to be our own arbitrary construct (something that we have accidentally ‘made up’) and this translates as folly. This situation is what we have been calling the Waiting Game – when we play this game then we can’t go anywhere else (or do anything else) because we are ‘waiting for something’ – we’re either waiting for something that is going to improve our situation as the concrete self or we’re waiting for something that will disimprove it. Good versus better, better versus worse is the polarity that we are caught up in, therefore.
We’re waiting for either the good or the bad thing to happen, depending on whether our outlook happens to be upbeat or downbeat. In the first case we are in the state of euphoric anticipation whilst in the second it is dysphoric anticipation that we are experiencing, but there were point we’re making here is that the concrete self has to be in either one state or the other. It has to be in the attached (or biased) state in other words. There’s no such thing as ‘an unattached self’, a ‘self which is blessed with the virtue of equanimity’.
This is the bit that doesn’t make any sense. ‘Suppose it’s neither’, I might ask, ‘suppose I am neither looking forward to something good happening nor worried about something bad happening? What happens then?’ This state of affairs is of course perfectly possible but the thing about it is that when I am not looking forward to anything (when I’m completely ‘in the moment’) then there is no longer any such thing as a concrete sense of self!
The CSOS is a function of us projecting the system of thought ahead of us (or retrojecting it behind us); as we have been saying, this is what creates it in the first place. We’re ‘attached’ to our ideas, either positively or negatively. If I’m not projecting my idea of myself into the future (or into the past, because that works it works just as well that way too) then there is no more ‘me’, no more ‘self-concept’. We think that goals are good, that planning ahead is good, but that is only because our secret agenda is to continuously maintain the apparent reality of the concrete self – which is the ‘unfree’ self, the self which is both controlled by its desires and fears and created by them…
Credit for image: JASON CONNOLLY/Getty Images