The Self-defeating Quest for Self
It is partly due to the ‘endless’ clinging to self-delusion, to constant wondering about the nature of the ‘self’, which is really an illusion, that perpetuates our rebirths in Samsara (via attachment to this non-existent ‘self’). The subtlest attachment we have to the idea of ‘self’ will lead to rebirth because rebirth is due to attachment. Because the search for ‘self’ is a futile one, as long as one searches, one will be reborn to suffer (experience Dukkha). One should instead meditate to realise there is no ‘self’, and thus end the pointless quest for ‘self’. The fermentation of speculative views on ‘self’ are really worthless because it leads neither to the knowing (understanding) nor seeing (experiencing) of the truth (of non-self).
Thus, the focus of Buddhism is not on where or what is this sense of ‘self’ that we have from life to life, but to end painful rebirth due to attachment to it. One who has a strong sense of ‘self’ might think the path to enlightenment is to realise this ‘self’, but it is this unskilful attachment that keeps one away from enlightenment. Throughout our rebirths, the potential for Buddhahood is never lost. In this sense, though Buddha-nature is not a ‘self’, to become Buddhas is to realise our ‘true self’ which is still non-self.
One of the first concrete steps (i.e. becoming a stream-winner) towards enlightenment requires the breaking of the fetter of belief that there is a ‘self’ within our mind and matter. Though this is not total realisation of non-self yet; it is the catching of a good first glimpse of non-self – which provides adequate preliminary knowing and seeing of Anicca (impermanence) and Anatta (non-self). It illustrates the important truth that if one still clings heavily to self-delusion, one has not made truly solid advancement towards Nirvana yet.
Should We Strengthen Our Sense of ‘Self’?