Jack Kornfield is a widely respected author, teacher of Vipassana or Insight meditation, and a founder of the Spirit Rock Meditation Center, http://www.spiritrock.org.
In a classic discussion of spiritual practice in general, and Buddhist practice in particular, A Path With a Heart, Kornfield devotes a chapter, “No Self or True Self?” to the question of identity. Two key points emerge: not to take this too literally, and not to be upset by the concept. He notes that his teacher, Achaan Chah, said, “If you try to understand it intellectually, your head will probably explode.”
Achaan Chah spoke of this paradox one evening in his monastery in a way that was quite astonishing for a Buddhist master. He said, “You know, all this teaching about ‘no self’ is not true.” He went on, “Of course, all the teachings about ‘self’ are not true either,” and he laughed. Then he explained that each of these sets of words, “self” and “no self,” are only concepts or ideas that we use in a very crude approximation, pointing to the mystery of a process that is neither “self” nor “no self”
Another of Kornfield’s teachers, used to laugh at how easily and commonly we would grasp at new identities. As for himself, he would say, “I am none of that. I am not this body, so I was never born and will never die. I am nothing and I am everything. Your identities make all your problems. Discover what is beyond them…
Those teachers and authors I have quoted over the last several posts share an interest in an experience I stumbled into – the seemingly counter-intuitive freedom that comes with relaxing our grip on rigid concepts of what we are and what we are not. At any time this seems troublesome, the real question becomes, who or what feels enhanced or diminished by the words, “self” or “no-self?”
An excellent resource on this and other questions is the Spirit Rock website given above. Under the “Meditation 101” tab is another tab called “Audio Resources,” with links to literally hundreds of recorded talks, given at Spirit Rock and elsewhere, that plunge into seemingly difficult topics like this.