In other words, although we admit there is change, we don’t let the change threaten the solidity and the continuity in our mind. We know we’re getting older and changing all the time, but we have the sense that the essential part of me that makes me “me” persists. This is what we call the self, whether we’re talking about a personal self or the essence that we ascribe to a tree, an emotion, or a thought. It holds together and exists on its own because it’s different from me and I can’t see that I’m making it happen. Think about Shantideva’s teaching on anger. He says that when we get angry it’s not like we say to ourselves, “Okay, now I’m going to get angry.” The anger just appears. In that sense, we have a very clear experience of the emotion seeming to have its own power, which is why we feel victimized by emotion, and everything else, too. If you’re mad at me, I see you as acting under your own power, which is separate and distinct from my own power. And this is why I want you to stop. Because then my discomfort—which is attached to your anger—will go away.
This is what we call delusion. When we speak of taking responsibility for our actions, and that the “three worlds are nothing but Mind,” these teachings can be misunderstood to mean everything that arises does so of our own volition. This is not necessarily so. You have made choices in the past that led to this moment, but in this moment you may not be consciously choosing your present circumstance. And yet, it’s still your responsibility. All this is Mind. But it has no intrinsic nature; it has no essence. It has no characteristic that defines it.
When we believe that any given characteristic is intrinsic to an object or a person, we turn them into more wholly objectified things. And we imbue these objects with the power to give us pain and pleasure. From this perspective it makes sense that we spend so much time and energy looking for the right combination of objects—material or non-material. Why wouldn’t we try to collect the ones that are going to give us pleasure and connection and stay away from the ones that are going to give us pain and loneliness? Yet, the Buddha said that such a path cannot lead to liberation from suffering. Master Ching-Ching asked a student “What’s that sound outside the door?” The student said, “Rain drops, Master.” Master Ching-Ching said, “People these days are upside down. They lose themselves and go following after things.”