For a while now I hold that in order to understand an-atta one should know what ‘atta’ actually meant in the suttas. Focusing on a contemporary discussion on identity and leaving aside historical notions of self-construction it might prove beneficial to spell out where we are actually stuck in our spiritual practice of dis-identification today.
I would like to ask contributors to avoid Pali jargon and use everyday language to locate the discussion in the present…
To start with myself, I can’t help but being essentially concerned with the body, be it for food, sexuality or comfort. I don’t particularly enjoy the ‘satisfaction’ (or rather ‘neutralization’) of these desires, but it feels like the dissatisfaction in them touches an essential layer that defines me.
Then there is a social desire, to interact with ‘others’, to experience them and get acknowledged by them. Meaning, sometimes I just want to go out to talk to people. Even though I am quite a standard hetero model the male identity is not important to me.
So there is a ‘me’ in intentional motion, in wanting to get rid of a lack - or more commonly, in ‘desire’. But there is also a quiet de-facto ‘me’ where I don’t consciously see a desire at work: in the thinking process and in experiencing in general. I can’t shake off the impression that ‘I’ experience, as if there is a sensitive membrane that is inaccessible to practice and that reigns over it all from the background.
So if I was pressed to define what my essence is, it would be this: bodily desire, social desire, and conceptual conscious experience. None of those btw I think in any way to be permanent or blissful, so it’s not open to the standard sutta-refutation-strategy, but nonetheless, this is where as a contemporary seeker my ‘I’ is located.
I’d be very interested in the way you guys put it, be it seemingly similar or very different…