“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.

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5 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.

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