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Thread: The sense of Identity

  1. #1 The sense of Identity 
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    I think it goes without saying that this is an important part of each and every one of us.

    In some Eastern religions I understand it is an injunction to overcome it and so it seems to be considered "bad" in their lexicon (sorry no citations but I am sure I have heard this).

    We have the common expression of being "up one's own arse" which seems to take a similar view of the situation (= bad) .

    And yet I wonder if a loss of identity can be viewed as some kind of a catatonic state (people have described the process where they loose companions and relatives in mental generative diseases such as Alzheimers
    and there seems to be precious little silver lining although I have no first hand knowledge here).

    So is "identity" a 2 edged ,or multi faceted sword or is it more like on on/off switch in the life of the individual?

    Should we (can we ) be encouraging some aspects of it while discouraging other aspects?

    As a last speculation can "identity" be viewed as "illusory" just some kind of a balancing act to allow us to orient ourselves in society?

    Perhaps there have been countless studies on the subject that I am unaware of but if so I don't feel that they have been popularized since all I really have learned about this is in a kind of piecemeal ,incoherent way

    EDIT: Well I can see there was an (very much) earlier thread with the same title more or less and perhaps similar questions.

    Our identity

    No matter .Perhaps I have approached the subject from a slightly different angle.


    Last edited by geordief; July 9th, 2014 at 06:38 AM.
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    Forum Masters Degree DianeG's Avatar
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    Buddhism emphasizes impermanence, that everything changes and undergoes transformation. And they also encourage people to believe that other sentient beings are just as important - the world does not revolve around oneself. So, I suppose it could be threatening to the concept of identity or ego.. But I don't know if Buddhist philosophy is really about a loss of identity, or more of an attempt to open up the psychological umbrella to cover more area.

    A pregnant girl friend of mine confided that she was secretly worried that she was too self centered to have children. I said, well, it's odd, when you have a baby, they feel so apart of you that your "self" just gets bigger. Your identity umbrella opens up to include them as well.


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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    .. But I don't know if Buddhist philosophy is really about a loss of identity, or more of an attempt to open up the psychological umbrella to cover more area.
    That rings very true.I am surprised I should have equated a "loss of identity" with some kind of an on/off switch in the mind.

    I suppose people who suffer amnesia set about "regrowing " a new sense of identity immediately (in the same way as we must all be adding to our own continuously I suppose ?)
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    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    Buddhism emphasizes impermanence, that everything changes and undergoes transformation. And they also encourage people to believe that other sentient beings are just as important - the world does not revolve around oneself. So, I suppose it could be threatening to the concept of identity or ego.. But I don't know if Buddhist philosophy is really about a loss of identity, or more of an attempt to open up the psychological umbrella to cover more area.

    A pregnant girl friend of mine confided that she was secretly worried that she was too self centered to have children. I said, well, it's odd, when you have a baby, they feel so apart of you that your "self" just gets bigger. Your identity umbrella opens up to include them as well.
    There is a beautiful Buddhist meditation on this. It is to imagine of someone you love and wish the best for, and feel your feelings on this, then extend them to yourself, then to all people and all beings and to everything everywhere.
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    Quote Originally Posted by geordief View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    .. But I don't know if Buddhist philosophy is really about a loss of identity, or more of an attempt to open up the psychological umbrella to cover more area.
    That rings very true.I am surprised I should have equated a "loss of identity" with some kind of an on/off switch in the mind.

    I suppose people who suffer amnesia set about "regrowing " a new sense of identity immediately (in the same way as we must all be adding to our own continuously I suppose ?)
    You know another thing that your question made me think about was something that happened a few months ago. I was sorting things for a yard sale and found an old letter in an old suitcase. My mom had written it to her mom around 1956. She had just gotten married or maybe was about to get married. She was in university and my dad was in the navy, almost finished with his enlistment. They had just picked out an apartment which she described in detail, even drew a little floor plan for her mother, and talked about the curtains she planned to make, and the colors they picked out to paint the rooms. She said the tiny apartment was just perfect for them. She sounded so young, so happy and optimistic. And I thought when I finished reading, "I don't know this girl who wrote this letter." (My parents, much as I love them are, well, old and cranky, and nothing is ever "just perfect." )

    The letter made me think that identity - some core element of the self that never changes - is kind of an illusion. I am not really the "same person" as that infant or that eight year old or that young woman in my photographs, or the old lady I will some day become. It's kind of irrational to fear death because in a sense our identity has already "died" many times, being so slowly yet completely transformed as to be almost unrecognizable.
    Last edited by DianeG; July 10th, 2014 at 09:19 PM.
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    I remember an old friend of mine some 40 years ago asking the little group we were if we felt that we were the same people as we were a few years earlier (a question that surprised me then).

    And so I think your wondering is extremely common (even if I have a very strong and possibly wrong predisposition to "believe" that I am in fact one and the same person).

    Your own story makes me think about the plot for the Bridges of Madison County as that is more or less the exact basis of the film .

    Without having read the book in its entirety and no longer able to recall what it was about I also wonder if Proust's "A la recherche du temps perdu" may also involve the same topic because the opening lines involves the narrator's thoughts being brought back to an earlier time as a result of biting into a madeleine biscuit.

    Maybe it doesn't I just don't remember.

    I don't know if it is just anecdotal but I have heard a few times that when a man dies his last thoughts are of his mother-perhaps an attempt on his part to gather up his loose identity strings .

    btw I think your " It's kind of irrational to fear death" is logically tautological if you see what I mean.
    Last edited by geordief; July 11th, 2014 at 05:33 AM.
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mayflow View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by DianeG View Post
    Buddhism emphasizes impermanence, that everything changes and undergoes transformation. And they also encourage people to believe that other sentient beings are just as important - the world does not revolve around oneself. So, I suppose it could be threatening to the concept of identity or ego.. But I don't know if Buddhist philosophy is really about a loss of identity, or more of an attempt to open up the psychological umbrella to cover more area.

    A pregnant girl friend of mine confided that she was secretly worried that she was too self centered to have children. I said, well, it's odd, when you have a baby, they feel so apart of you that your "self" just gets bigger. Your identity umbrella opens up to include them as well.
    There is a beautiful Buddhist meditation on this. It is to imagine of someone you love and wish the best for, and feel your feelings on this, then extend them to yourself, then to all people and all beings and to everything everywhere.
    Yes, that is a nice meditation. Almost like doing stretches in yoga, an attempt to extend your compassion for others a tiny bit more with each thought. I was only able to have one child, but it, too, expanded my sense of self and love. I know that biology and evolution pumps you full of nurturing and protective hormones, but from a more spiritual point of view, it was a lesson in "this is what it feels like to love unconditionally, without expecting anything back" and I'm glad I didn't miss out on that opportunity.
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    This passage gives an example of what love is. This is not a perfect example, but for want of a better example the Buddha has chosen the love of a mother. He says in the Metta Sutta: 'Just as a mother, even at the risk of her life loves and protects her child - the only child - so let a man cultivate this Universal Love - towards the whole universe; below, above, around, unstinted, unmixed with any feeling of opposing interest. Let him remain steadfastly in this state of mind, all the while from the time he awakes, whether he be standing, walking. sitting or lying down. This state of heart is the best in the world'.This is the model held up by the Buddha to the world. This is the ideal of what man should be to man. This is the appeal to every heart. It is a service for all in the form of a mother's love. Does a mother merely radiate her love in the bringing up of her child? Can any one express this deathless love of a mother for her child that she has within her heart? If you consider a mother's love for her child you will find that it is boundless. Therefore it is called 'Appamana' in Pali. It has no limit.
    The love of a mother who has only one child is the example chosen by the Buddha. Imagine a mother's love; when a child is hungry she is watching carefully to feed it before it asks her for it. When the child is in danger, she will risk her own life. Thus in every way she helps her child. Therefore the Buddha asks us to love all beings as a mother loves her only child. If we can do it even up to a certain extent, I think the world will be a different place - happier and more peaceful.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mayflow View Post
    This passage gives an example of what love is. This is not a perfect example, but for want of a better example the Buddha has chosen the love of a mother. He says in the Metta Sutta: 'Just as a mother, even at the risk of her life loves and protects her child - the only child - so let a man cultivate this Universal Love - towards the whole universe; below, above, around, unstinted, unmixed with any feeling of opposing interest. Let him remain steadfastly in this state of mind, all the while from the time he awakes, whether he be standing, walking. sitting or lying down. This state of heart is the best in the world'.This is the model held up by the Buddha to the world. This is the ideal of what man should be to man. This is the appeal to every heart. It is a service for all in the form of a mother's love. Does a mother merely radiate her love in the bringing up of her child? Can any one express this deathless love of a mother for her child that she has within her heart? If you consider a mother's love for her child you will find that it is boundless. Therefore it is called 'Appamana' in Pali. It has no limit.
    The love of a mother who has only one child is the example chosen by the Buddha. Imagine a mother's love; when a child is hungry she is watching carefully to feed it before it asks her for it. When the child is in danger, she will risk her own life. Thus in every way she helps her child. Therefore the Buddha asks us to love all beings as a mother loves her only child. If we can do it even up to a certain extent, I think the world will be a different place - happier and more peaceful.
    Honour thy mother and father. You have told me who my mother is, now what about my father?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robittybob1 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Mayflow View Post
    This passage gives an example of what love is. This is not a perfect example, but for want of a better example the Buddha has chosen the love of a mother. He says in the Metta Sutta: 'Just as a mother, even at the risk of her life loves and protects her child - the only child - so let a man cultivate this Universal Love - towards the whole universe; below, above, around, unstinted, unmixed with any feeling of opposing interest. Let him remain steadfastly in this state of mind, all the while from the time he awakes, whether he be standing, walking. sitting or lying down. This state of heart is the best in the world'.This is the model held up by the Buddha to the world. This is the ideal of what man should be to man. This is the appeal to every heart. It is a service for all in the form of a mother's love. Does a mother merely radiate her love in the bringing up of her child? Can any one express this deathless love of a mother for her child that she has within her heart? If you consider a mother's love for her child you will find that it is boundless. Therefore it is called 'Appamana' in Pali. It has no limit.
    The love of a mother who has only one child is the example chosen by the Buddha. Imagine a mother's love; when a child is hungry she is watching carefully to feed it before it asks her for it. When the child is in danger, she will risk her own life. Thus in every way she helps her child. Therefore the Buddha asks us to love all beings as a mother loves her only child. If we can do it even up to a certain extent, I think the world will be a different place - happier and more peaceful.
    Honour thy mother and father. You have told me who my mother is, now what about my father?
    Buddha nature is your true nature - then you have no mother and no father for you are of the unborn and undying nature. That is the essence of the absolute - but there is also the relative - in which sense I think your Father is who you see him to be.
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