This topic is so important that it may become a precept. It is a lost art, a lost concept of philosophical, ethical and religious activity. In m own life it was once something I embraced, only to slowly lose it over to the Ego. What I’m referring to is the art of humility. Without humility, empathy becomes impossible as caring for others is challenging when the ego is in play. Ego is the adversary to humility. Where the ego inflates the limited self (self as a body), humility raises the great potential in others. Being humble is acting out of interest for the sake of others, while the lack of this is the degree we act in our own self interest.
To understand Self Interest, we need to understand the Self. From my viewpoint and bias, the Self has multiple components. At one extreme the self is identified in its physical manifestation. It is the activity of the body and thought process. It is what most of us call “I” and is left unchecked will focus on its own benefit. In other words, if left unchecked, the limited self will seek wealth, power, and happiness that only satisfies its own needs. We could define that motivation as greed.
The other aspect of Self is the expansive aspect. When we meditate, pray, chant, or practice any similar spiritual practice, there is a feeling of going beyond the limitations of the body. Many stop just as they feel this sensation, but the mystics pushed deep into the feeling – taking it as far as it would go.
For some, the true Self is a soul that wears the body like clothes. For others, the true Self is a perpetual essence of mind stuff that keeps generating a reality based on prior action. For me, I see the true Self as both the body/mind and expansive entity – it is the entire track of everything you can identify as. Regardless the view, it is clear that a spiritual view of life beyond the body, will have a greater concept of Self – an encompassing concept that interconnects with other lifeforms. Nature, other people, spiritual entities… all of this is interwoven into spiritual paradigms. Even the Buddhist, who has no view of God, has a view of interconnectedness with other beings.
Limited Self Interest
For those who identify only with their body, they may be altruistic in their world-view, but that seems quite strange to me. Self interest, when viewed as a body only, would lend to craving, desires and ego manifestations. In fact we see this proof in our world today. Whether we turn on the news, or go into the comments, or browse social media; just about everywhere we go today, we are bombarded with the poison of limited self-interest.
One person screaming on social media about how another person is wrong. Boycott, someone comments in all caps. Others fight back, calling them awful names. Someone releases personal information and then they try and get people fired from their jobs because of an opinion said in the heat of the moment. That anger is but one example.
Consider the greed aspect. Apple releases news of a new iPhone and hundreds of people line up at every Apple store, wrapping around several blocks, just to get their shot at spending over $1000 to buy a new phone. Or consider the Black Friday deals, where people mass at Walmart, BestBuy and other department stores. When the doors open, they run through like wild animals, pushing and shoving. Sometimes they trample each other. Sometimes people die.
Greater Self Interest
When I was a Buddhist, my Lama called the greatest self interest: Enlightened Self Interest. It’s a very good term, but it does hold a Buddhist flavor. To make it a bit more generic, I’m using the concept of Greater Self Interest… and perhaps I should hyphenate it to say, Greater-Self Interest.
The Greater-Self, that expansive sense of Self, acts on behalf of a greater vision. It isn’t concerned with the day to day battles. The greater Self isn’t looking to gain the latest iPhone, or get 30% off on a 4K TV before the next person.
Many people get a taste of this when they have a family. They shift from buying things for themselves, to become a householder – caring for their spouses and children.
Stretching Self Interest
The average person gets a taste of greater self interest, when they grow to care for others. They take a lover, then a spouse, have kids and through it all they stretch their identity further out.
Yet there are always limitations. People who expand their self interest are not always nice people. A half measure often ends up being a poor response.
A nationalist type of person, or a bigot, or a racist, they all have expanded their self-interest to include their nation, or the case of a racist and bigot – their physical characteristics. Those outside this barrier are outsiders.
They’ve stretched and grown their self-interest to be more than just about themselves, but it has not completed. This is a common problem. People stretch to identify their family, and then refuse to help other families. Or they stretch to identify their country, and then hate other countries.
“Why should I help them, what have they done for me,” they question. “We don’t have enough to give, it’s time to stop giving,” they demand.
But is it?
From a materialist point of view there is a certain logic here. But from a spiritual point of view this is not the case.
What is lacking in such a vision, is humility.
Part 2 of this discussion will get to the heart of the matter, discussing what humility is and why it is important.