The painful delusion of selfishness

What if the self you try to protect, the ‘thing-possessor’, is an empty myth? Photo by Niclas Gustafsson on Unsplash

It seems as though you would be happy grabbing things to yourself.  And so you try to gather money; you gather friends; you gather resources; you gather praise.  But it doesn’t make you as happy as you thought you would be.  Worse still, the harder you try to gather money, the more it fritters away; the harder you try to gather friends, the more they disappear; the more you try to gather resources, the more they deplete; and the more you try to gather praise, the more you seem to attract condemnation.

What is happening?  Many people, at this point, collapse in a heap of breakdown.  ‘The world is cruel,’ they say.  ‘People are so mean.’  And they then spend inordinate amounts of time phoning up their friends and complaining about it.  ‘I was talking to so-and-so yesterday, and they were so mean to me,’ they say.  Soon, their friends stop taking their calls.  These same friends have tried to talk about their own problems sometimes, but have been met with a barrage of ‘Oh, that reminds me of a problem I have…’  All problems are boxed and packaged so that they can be presented from the point of view of this one sufferer, who cannot escape their own suffering.

I repeat, what is happening?  What is the mechanism by which a person can get so involved in their own problems, that they cease to be able to deal with anything else, and collapse in a heap?


The biggest mistake such people make, is that they take themselves too seriously.  That is to say, they look at their finances, their friendships, their resources and their reputation, and they actually believe that money, people, resources and reputation BELONG to them, and MUST belong to them, as a first principle.

Unfortunately, this is a factual mistake.  When we say ‘my’ money, ‘my’ friend, etc., we are invoking an untrue myth.  Actually, the money is not ours.  A simple contemplation of the facts of life – that, in the end, we die – should confirm to us that there is no point in insisting that we can accumulate such things in any lasting way.  And the friends are not ours.  Observation of human behaviour should tell us that people are attracted and repelled like the wind, and we cannot rely on friendships as an inalienable possession.

In short, there is no self that is the owner of such things.  If we examine the truth, we will discover that the self we thought we were protecting, by amassing such possessions, has no continuity, and – worse still – doesn’t even exist!  The self, the ‘thing-possessor’, is just a label, no more.


The good news is that this means there is a way out of the suffering caused by clinging to the self, and trying to amass possessions to it.  This also means, fortunately, that there is a way out of all the associated uncomfortable emotions and behaviours, such as jealousy, envy, possessiveness, vengefulness, anger, and many forms of depression.

This is the bit that many people trapped in selfishness will not like.  Here it comes…

If we are desperately unhappy about our finances, our friendships, our resources, or our reputations, then all we have to do to be happy is detach ourselves from our finances, our friendships, our resources, and our reputations.

This will free us from the obsessive rumination that exhausts our mind.  We need to be able to set aside these concerns, so that we can be happy.

This makes no sense to the person obsessed with accumulation.  They are so fixed on winning this invented game, that they cannot open their minds to the possibility that it might be just that – an invented game that they can set aside.  They are trapped on a wheel of discomfort.

But to the person who wants to wake up, it makes sense.  Slowly, but surely, we can train our minds to understand that our circumstances are merely labels, and that our selfish intentions are merely emptiness.  Our selfishness is not evil – it’s simply a delusion, a mistake.  We are free at any time to acknowledge the mistake, and become free of our obsessive concern for ourselves.