No-Self is actually an artifact from trying to map polydimensional identity in a normal space-time framework. As long as we are dimensionally ignorant, we will only be distorting reality when we try to resolve ontological paradoxes using inappropriate modelling.
FOR MOST OF US, if we are honest, life feels like a prison: we are born, live 80 or so summers (if we are lucky), and then die. And during the latter part of this short existence, we find ourselves trapped in a deteriorating body, one that increasingly does not reflect who we think we are.
This situation is so unsatisfactory, that we pursue endless distractions in an effort to deny this situation. After all, when faced with life in a maximum-security facility, without any chance of parole, we naturally grab any opportunity to get your mind off the reality of the situation.
There are two other ways of coping with life in prison: we can believe in a supreme jailer who will let us out of prison at the moment of death when our time is done (the theistic approach), or we can deny the existence of the prisoner or self altogether (the non-theistic approach). The non-theistic approach, which forms the basis of Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, is considered more sophisticated because it has a rational basis, whereas the theistic approach, which forms the basis of all other religions, is based on irrational belief in a supreme being or beings, and so is more difficult to adopt if you are a modern sceptical person without a religious upbringing. This is why interest in Buddhism and Advaita is rapidly increasing in Western countries at a time when traditional religious adherence is on the wane.
Teachers, like the Buddha and Shankaracharya, gave us a way to cope with life in a prison by facing this predicament head on and rationally. It is a brutally honest and stark approach that fully acknowledges "the wisdom of no escape." And in that acknowledgement of life's ultimate futility, we learn to give up pursuing fantasies of freedom, and focus instead on changing our reaction to the prison situation by negating the self: negate the self and a prison is no longer a problem! So Buddhism and Advaita are systems of denial: denying the self which in turn denies the predicament the self finds itself in. When denial is complete, we are labelled enlightened or awake. In this way, Buddhism and Advaita offer the best rational coping strategy for life in a cage. (If you are less rational and more attached to self, then theistic religions can be much more comforting.)
This negation of self is based on a thorough and rational investigation of prison life using common sense. And this invariably assumes a four dimensional space-time perspective (3D space and 1D time). So by trying and failing to pinpoint "self" in 4D space-time, its objective existence can be dismissed. But whilst the objectivity of self is scrutinised, the dimensional nature of reality is not. The 4D space-time paradigm is so obvious to us that it is hardly ever questioned. We accept it on faith. So non-theistic religions are not actually faithless, but require faith in a 4D space-time perspective. Question the dimensional structure of reality, however, and suddenly many of the rational arguments used in Buddhism and Advaita fall apart. The simple fact is that self-negation requires a 4D space-time framework.
It can be difficult to grok more than four dimensions because we live in what appears to be a 4D world. Our realitymaps are all 4D (except those used by physicists). However, by using a thought experiment familiar to physicists to understand higher dimensions, we can at least gain some understanding of higher-dimensional perspectives. In this thought experiment we imagine a two-dimensional space called Flatland with the usual extra time dimension added in as well.
In Flatland, everything happens in a plane. But what happens when a higher-dimensional object, a sphere, moves through the Flatland plane? From a Flatlander's perspective, a dot suddenly appears out of nowhere, grows to a circle and then goes back to a dot before finally disappearing. This might appear very mysterious to to a Flatlander, but if we understand higher dimensions then we realise that the explanation is not so mysterious after all. It just requires an extra dimension to make sense of things.
Now imagine that a spiritual Flatlander is investigating "self", and let us assume the self in question is actually a three-dimensional object located above the Flatland plane. In this case, the self cannot be located in Flatland at all, so a rational Flatlander enquiring into the nature of self must conclude that it does not actually exist, despite feelings that it is there, feelings that would then be dismissed as fantasy. On that basis, a whole belief structure is formulated on the non-existence of self and the emptiness of reality. Flatland Buddhism and Flatland Advaita are born!
The non-existence of self could therefore just be an artifact of squeezing a higher-dimensional reality into a lower-dimensional framework. So negating self because it cannot be pinned down in the normal space-time framework is an act of faith, faith that our dimensional mapping is accurate enough not to throw up errors or distortions. In the same way, accepting the existence of a higher-dimensional self — polydimensional identity — that cannot be mapped in lower dimensions is also an act of faith. But at least this assumption is congruent with our feelings and intuition.
Feelings and intuition are interesting because they often convey information from outside space-time. We get hunches about the future or about different places we have never visited. This implies that these "energetic proddings" come from a higher-dimensional perspective, but they are notoriously difficult to pin down because our minds struggle to interpret them through our normal space-time paradigms, so they can often end up vague and indefinitive (as any psychic knows).
So because our feelings convey a sense of self… because we feel that self exists… implies that self could well be higher-dimensional as it cannot be located in the lower-dimensional realms. And this would be the reason it is so difficult to pin down: not because it doesn't exist but because it is higher-dimensional.
Of course, there will be those reading this who dismiss this as just mind stuff. But why should mind be dismissed when it comes up with a higher-dimensional self, but embraced when it is used in the process of negating self? This is because existence or non-existence of self is a belief. Nothing more and nothing less. And when we investigate our minds, that belief is in the background determining the course of our investigation. If we look to negate the self, then our investigation is undertaken in a rational space-time context, and, hey presto, self disappears and our belief in non-existence of self and emptiness is confirmed. On the other hand, when we look to ratify the self, we focus more on feelings so that a higher-dimensional context is given to our investigation, and, abracadabra, self is verified, at least to ourselves.
Buddhism and Advaita were formulated many hundreds if not thousands of years ago, at a time when we did not have the imagination to understand higher dimensions. Instead, those higher dimensions were represented shamanically, as multiple space-time worlds (such as the Upper World, Middle World and Lower World of standard shamanism). As non-theistic spiritual beliefs were a response to the seeming complication of shamanism — with its plethora of worlds, spirits, gods, demons etc. — these other worlds were rejected, pushing Buddhism and Advaita into a single space-time dimension and thus rejecting self altogether.
Advaita is particularly interesting as its primary belief is not so much the absence of self, although this is certainly one of its deductions, but the absence of all separation: Advaita is the Hindu philosophy of absolute unity. However, it is only when that absolute unity is realised within a space-time framework that emptiness is the outcome. This is because of our inability to adequately map higher-dimensional aspects into a space-time framework. It doesn't work and the higher-dimensional baby ends up being thrown out with the lower-dimensional mapping bathwater.
The problem with feelings is that they cannot be easily negated, and so both Advaita and Buddhism try to pull the reality rug from underneath them by focusing on the awareness through which feelings arise. This is a very masculine or patriarchal way of dealing with life, but we must remember that Buddhism and Advaita were mostly formulated by men in patriarchal societies. Feelings were regarded as messy and complex, emotions of the feminine, and best kept at arms length by dropping into pure awareness. But what is pure awareness?
Pure awareness, or the awareness of awareness, is the conscious medium in which everything happens. And it arises because everything is ultimately consciousness, not objective matter. The magic happens when we are aware of awareness AND ALSO aware of the movement of our minds. It is the synergy between the two that brings our world alive in consciousness. Without a strong medium of awareness, what we focus on remains largely unconscious and we easily descent into chaos and confusion, unable to live polydimensionally. But awareness that refuses to be sullied by the mind brings only empty stupefaction, and once again we are unable to live multidmensionally. Only by taking the liminal position that includes awareness and the movements of our minds can we access the full scope of what it is to be fully conscious AND alive.
We must go beyond emptiness to higher-dimensional perspectives if we are to move forward as a conscious species. Buddhism and Advaita are popular at the moment because they rightly throw out "childish" perspectives of selves and supreme being(s) residing in 4D space-time. You really have to believe in fairy tales to accept lower-dimensional existence of what are clearly higher-dimensional aspects of consciousness. And this is why these non-theistic spiritual perspectives are popular with atheists and sceptics.
But if a dimensional approach to ontology reveals the possibility (indeed probability) that "self", whatever "it" is, is higher-dimensional, then it is entirely possible for a higher-order consciousness or "being" to reside at even higher dimensions, from a position that regulates and facilitates selves at lower-dimensional levels. This higher-order consciousness could be called "God". (Contemplating the existence of God might seem unsophisticated or naive, but it would tie in quite nicely with modern physics which acknowledges at least 10 or 11 dimensions.)
So the next time someone tells you about the non-existence of self and the naivety of those that believe in God, just remember that the speaker holds the belief in a 4D space-time framework that is distorting the true polydimensional nature of All-That-Is, stripping it of its richness and leaving emptiness as the only certainty. This is not ontological sophistication but dimensional naivete, the same naivete displayed by the masses who believe in self and/or God but squeeze them into a 4D space-time framework. The ignorance goes right across the board.
Life can certainly feel restrictive, contradictory and empty when we try to make sense of it in a 4D space-time framework, but changing from a theistic to a non-theistic belief system actually makes little difference. The standard psychological coping strategies for accepting our perceived limitations — the prison we find ourselves in — is either to believe (or try to believe) in release upon death, or to take a position of delicious denial. Some do not adopt coping strategies at all and accept death as the end of their consciousness.
But the key to releasing us from this prison is to take a dimensional perspective. This way, we can open to the possibility that the prison does not exist at all whilst keeping our rationality intact. Remember that sphere moving through Flatland? It grew from a point to a circle and then back to a point before disappearing. From a Flatland perspective, that was prison — a limited life between birth and death. But from a higher-dimensional perspective, that sphere was just happily moving along its merry way, beyond birth or death.
We are infinite beings, but that unlimited nature can only be truly appreciated from a higher-dimensional perspective. If we persist in using our space-time framework, then acknowledgement of that infinite nature will unfortunately only feed the ego.
From a dimensional perspective, the ego is the self viewed from a 4D space-time framework. Much of Advaita and Buddhism is about moving past the ego by directly seeing its illusory nature. But the reason it is illusory is because it is a dimensional distortion: self is there but not there at the same time as it resides in higher dimensions. In modern Advaita, the paradox is resolved by dismissing the self entirely; in Buddhism, the paradox is somewhat acknowledged, such as in the Heart Sutra:
"Form does not differ from Emptiness
And Emptiness does not differ from Form.
Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form.
The same is true for Feelings,
Perceptions, Volitions and Consciousness."
That said the whole heart of Buddhism is the acknowledgement of suffering or unsatisfactoriness - dukkha. But this suffering is not inherent to our existence, but inherent to our dimensional mapping. As long as our polydimensional identity is being mis-mapped into a 4D space-time framework, we are going to feel unsatisfied, and that unsatisfactoriness will lead to grasping and desire. So getting past suffering is not so much cooling the fires of desire, but learning not to use restrictive realitymaps. These are the real root of suffering. Desire and ego are just symptoms, not causes. If we refuse or do not have the capacity to give up that restrictive worldview, then the Four Noble Truths apply and the Eight Fold Path is necessary. But if we are able to realize our higher dimensional nature, which is our spiritual birthright, then the unsatisfactory nature of our existence evaporates, and we naturally act ethically without the need for rules and instructions because we realize our intimate connection to all things. We become acutely senstive to all other beings.
Letting go of ego just means letting go of space-time mapping of self. It does not require denial of self altogether (unless we remain in a 4D space-time framework). And in the same way, letting go of emptiness also means letting go of space-time mapping. So authentic spiritual growth actually involves moving beyond both ego and emptiness to a higher-dimensional synergy. It might sound paradoxical because emptiness is often considered the antidote or inverse of ego, but it is a sort of ultimate Hegelian dialectic, where thesis (ego) and antithesis (emptiness) are reconciled to a higher-dimensional identity that we access through feelings.
This might all sound a bit philosophical, but it is actually an antidote to the distorted rationalisation at the heart of non-theistic spirituality. (The same rationalisation, as mentioned earlier, that makes Buddhist and Advaitic outlooks seem so reasonable and therefore attractive to the modern sceptical mind.) Dimensional considerations put feelings and intuition right back into the heart of the spiritual outlook, so that we no longer need to play this game of emptiness, a game in which we are forced to deny central aspects of our experience and identity.
Ultimately, it comes down to how comfortable we are living with ontological paradox, which, although an artifact of restrictive dimensonal mapping, still holds a level of truth for those embedded in 4D space-time frameworks. (In the same way, although the wave-particle paradox of quantum theory agrees with experience in space-time, it could still be resolved at higher-dimensional perspectives.) Paradox offers a clue to dimensional distortion.
For example, all consciousness is one and yet it expresses through many separate selves — the one and many paradox. We just have to accept it because it agrees with our experience. Sometimes we feel as one and at other times we feel separate, and often both at the same time! But trying to resolve this ontological paradox by insisting that everything is one and that individuality is an illusion requires a major denial of our experience.
Similarly, just because the self appears to be both real and empty does not mean that we need to completely reject or accept it. (In much the same way, the particle/wave duality of light is, albeit reluctantly, accepted by physicists, despite representing an annoyingly irrational and counterintuitive worldview.)
It is more of a masculine trait to reject paradox and contradiction, pushing for lower-dimensional resolution, whereas the feminine aspect of our consciousness, which is more comfortable with the world of messy feelings, is quite happy with contradiction and paradox. For this reason, our entry to a higher dimensional understanding is always through evincing the feminine principle. (This applies to both men and women: the number of women these days who reject the feminine principle is staggering!)
Shakti appreciation allows us to ride the divine kundalini up through the dimensional levels so that eventually we are able to fully realise our true polydimensional identity. But if paradox is rejected in favour of a consistent but distorted reality — if we completely reject self and embrace only emptiness — we are likely to find ourselves prisoners once again, this time of the emptiness we foolishly equated with freedom. Many people get lost in the wastelands of empty being because they feel they ought to reject every vibrant aspect of life because it might, horror of horrors, evoke personal identity which would throw up an uncomfortable paradox in a space-time world where everything is one, and it would strongly challenge their spiritual ego.
We must have the courage to accept all aspects of the divine kaleidoscope that is life if we want to mature spiritually, and learn to live with ontological paradoxes. That is actually the best way to move beyond restrictive self-definitions. Life can certainly be messy, but it is also delicious when lived with polydimensional passion!