“He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye.”

This one was passed on to me today on Google+. It’s cited in many books as being by the Buddha, or as being attributed to the Buddha.

You’ll find it in:

  • Richard Hooper’s Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Lao Tzu: The Parallel Sayings (page 73)
  • Loren E. Pedersen’s The Soul Grows In Darkness (page 270)
  • Marilyn J. Awtry’s River of Life: How to Live in the Flow (page 109)
  • Mary M. Bauer’s The Truth About You: Things You Don’t Know You Know (page 43)
  • Cheryl Trine’s The New Akashic Records: Knowing, Healing & Spiritual Practice (page 268)
  • …and many, many more.

It doesn’t take much research to find that this quote originates from the Hindu classic, the Bhagavad Gita, in the translation by Shri Purohit Swami (1882 – 1941). In a fuller quotation it’s:

“He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye; he who sees Me in everything and everything in Me, him shall I never forsake, nor shall he lose Me.”

With the additional material it should be clear that this is in no way a Buddhist quote, being inherently theistic. But even the part being passed around has a different tone and very different content from the Buddha’s teaching, at least as found in the Pali canon. The Buddha never refers to a “unity of life” and although he encourages us to recognize that we are all alike in the we all wish to be happy and to avoid suffering, he doesn’t encourage us to see ourselves in others in a literal or ontological way.

The Buddha’s view regarding the self was that we should simply drop all views regarding the self! This includes dropping the view that the cosmos is the self. In the Water Snake Simile sutta linked to in the previous sentence, there’s the following exchange:

“…do you see a clinging to a doctrine of self, clinging to which there would not arise sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair?”

“No, lord.”

“Very good, monks. I, too, do not envision a clinging to a doctrine of self, clinging to which there would not arise sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, & despair.”

The Buddha of course uses the language of “self” — myself, yourself, oneself, etc. — as a matter of grammatical convenience, but does not cling to the idea that there are selves. Nor does he cling to the idea that there are not selves. Views about the self are simply let go of, and we are encouraged to live without reference to a sense of self. This is rather a radical view, and one that’s hard to get our heads around. It’s not easy to explain, which is perhaps why I ended up writing around 105,000 words on how we can come to live without clinging to a sense of self.

7 thoughts on ““He who experiences the unity of life sees his own Self in all beings, and all beings in his own Self, and looks on everything with an impartial eye.””

  1. Ultimately, in Hinduism, we are also taught that there a place beyond both the sense of cosmos and the sense of self (but the ‘self’ and ‘cosmos’ being one precedes that).
    The theism is entirely metaphorical, to me.

    1. I don’t really know very much about Hinduism, I’m afraid — not even enough to be sure I understand what you’re saying here!

  2. Also Hinduism distinguishes between the small self – the erroneous (as Buddha says) sense of individuated ego – and the greater ‘Self’ which is the awareness or consciousness that pervades all, or perhaps precedes or lies beyond all – and therefore includes all ‘selves’ (and everything else in the cosmos). It also teaches, as I understand it, that this is beyond all concepts and cannot be known except by experience.
    Surely the ultimate truth is the same regardless of which metaphors and approaches to knowing it each ‘religion’ uses?

  3. What I am saying is that Hinduism teaches just as radical an ‘idea’ about not clinging to any concept of self (but you are suggesting here that somehow Buddhism differs from the teaching in this classic Hindu scripture).

    1. The Buddha suggested that any view of self, including the view that we are part of a greater Self, such as you describe, is based on a delusion and is therefore a source of suffering. I believe that’s different from what Hinduism teaches.

  4. It seems to “me” (if you want to call me that….lol) that you do not understand the Buddha’s ultimate teaching on non duality.
    All the word games were dropped by the buddha because they lead the ego/mind away from seeing the unity of all things
    Or as the buddha put it “nothingness.”
    Or as osho put it no-thingness
    OR what Lao Tzu calls the tao
    OR as jesus called it “God”
    All these teachers are the one consciousness expressing truth threw the cultural vails of the historical timeline
    All words are just that words…..Truth is not found in the words
    used to point at it.

    Our identification with a separate self leads us to suffering
    Because we are all connected to the one self. The mind’s job is to separate the world into bite sized pices so that it can digest all the information coming in threw the senses.
    The unity of all is the truth!!!!
    Buddha did not write his teachings down because he new that people would twist the words to fit into a view point that would support their own.
    Do you identify yourself as an atheist ?
    Once you see threw the the mind and all its games you will not get caught by these bite sized games of relative truth.
    You will be liberated from yourself. And it’s point of view
    And reside in the kingdom of heaven/nirvana
    Goodluck

    1. I’m sure that you’re fully enlightened you understand nonduality much better than I do.

      However I’m not sure you are familiar with the Buddha’s teachings, where he explicitly rejected the idea of reality being a oneness or “unity of all things,” as you put it.

      I think it’s always best to look at the Buddha’s teaching experientially rather than ontologically. He certainly seemed to encourage us experientially to drop the concepts of a subject and object, and so he taught a kind of experiential nonduality. But fundamentally reality is beyond words, and so ontological terms like “nonduality” and “oneness” fail.

      “Buddha did not write his teachings down because he new [sic] that people would twist the words.” I suspect the Buddha didn’t write things down because he couldn’t write. Or at least there’s no shred of evidence that he could write, so I think it’s safe to assume he couldn’t. The spoken word is even more prone to being twisted than writing. Once words have been spoken there’s no way to confirm exactly what they were, while one can do that with writing, even if interpretations may vary.

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