An excerpt from Pain and Suffering in Buddhism. Expected release late 2016.
Approx. 75 pages
How Can We Reduce Suffering?
To relieve ourselves of suffering, we must first understand what, inside us, is suffering. We must think about who we believe we are. What inside of us, makes us think, “This is me?” In Western terms, we call this “ego.” In Buddhist terms we might say “anatta.”
The ego (or anatta) contains the code for what and who we think we are. For Buddhists it’s the product of the Five Skandhas or the Five Aggregates, which consist of;
Form. The body and all the sense organs (ears, eyes, tongue, touch, smell)
Sensation. The feeling that an object or situation is good, bad or neutral.
Perception (Cognition). Being able to determine the existence of, say, a tree or the sound of a bell.
Mental Formations. Thoughts, opinions, mental habits, preferences, aversions, etc.
Consciousness. That part of us which discerns or supports all experience.
Ego is how we recognize ourselves. Our ego is an ever changing pool of information, experience, mood, desire, pain, pleasure and a hundred other experiences that come to us through our senses, filtered by the other four elements of the skandhas. By looking into the pool, we see who we think we are. We see our ego.
Of course, as our experiences, moods, desires, needs, experiences, etc, alter and shift over time, so too will the perception of ourselves change, but don’t forget, we are still a product of our skandhas and until that changes we are destined to experience a relatively narrow band of who and what we think we are. When we experience threat to our ego, when something comes along that interferes with the picture we’ve created of ourselves, we suffer.
Who we think we are – how the ego identifies us as ourselves – is the manifold permutations of our ever changing experiences and thought processes based on our skandhas. In a very real way, our ego is a manifestation of our skandhas.