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The Self-Reinforcing Illusion

What nullifies us is chasing after (or running away from) our own projections. We are of course always chasing after (or running away from) our own projections and this means therefore that we’re always being nullified. Inasmuch as we are constantly reacting to our own projections (either positively or negatively) we are in a state of constant self-nullification…



We might naively think that when we are reacting to our own projections then what we have here is a situation in which there is both ‘the self’ and ‘the projections that the self is reacting (either with attraction or aversion) to’ but this is not the case. The reactive self and the projections to which it is busy reacting are ‘mutually conditioning phenomena’, which simply means that the self can’t exist without the projections and the projections (obviously) can’t exist without the self. The two collude in producing each other. So within the terms of the collusion there is both the self and the objects which it reacts to either positively or negatively but outside of this collusion there is neither the one nor the other.



So when I am always chasing after my projections (when I am always reacting to my own mental objects in terms of either like or dislike) then I am ‘lost in a self-perpetuating illusion’. Nothing is happening – it just seems to me that something is. I am lost in the dualistic illusion in which it seems to me that there is both ‘me’ on the one hand and ‘the objects to which I am reacting’ on the other, when in reality these two things (the self and the world with which it is engaging) are mutually conditioning phenomena. There is a kind of feedback loop there, a loop by which two things that don’t have any existence of their own keep on generating the illusion that there are two independent (or self-existent) realities there. Within the subjective context of this closed loop there is ‘me’ and ‘my world’; outside of this (non-existent) loop there are no such two things.



We can also say that within the terms of this collusion, within the terms of this mutually-conditioning duality of self and other, there appears to be the possibility of either gaining ground or losing it (the former being an attractive possibility and the latter an unattractive one). In this closed loop of ‘subjective reality’ there is always going to be this movement either in the direction of gaining or the direction of losing. There are always going to be these two opposed directions. The ‘dualistic illusion’ is actually made up of the (erroneous) impression that there are these two directions in which we can move. The dualistic illusion is made up of [+] and [-], in other words.



When we have been subsumed within the dualistic self-reinforcing illusion of ‘me’ and ‘my world’ then the one thing we simply cannot understand (not on pain of death) is that there are not two different directions here at all. The thing that we simply cannot understand is that movement in the direction of gaining territory (as Chogyam Trungpa puts it) is exactly the same as movement in the direction of losing territory. Gaining equals losing, therefore. We can’t understand that PLUS equals MINUS, that YES equals NO…



This ought to be very clear indeed – a positive feed-back loop is a circle that turns around and around and where there is circular movement there is movement in one direction and there is also the complementary movement in the opposite direction, but both of these ‘movements in opposite directions’ are of course the same movement! When we move in the pleasant or agreeable direction of ‘gaining ground’ then we are moving in the direction of self-nullification, and when we move in the unpleasant or disagreeable direction of ‘losing ground’ we are also moving in the direction of self-nullification. It’s exactly the same situation in both cases therefore – whether I am gaining the advantage or incurring disadvantage I am moving in the very same direction and this is the direction of ‘believing the illusion to be real when it is not.



So whether I believe myself to be gaining ground or losing it it’s the very same thing – both ways I am moving in the direction of believing an illusion not to be an illusion and that’s all we need to know about it. Winning equals losing; ‘going up’ equals ‘going down’. But more than this, we can also go on to point out that even this ‘resolved direction’ (the direction of moving deeper into illusion) isn’t real, isn’t actually ‘a direction’. How can the direction of ‘moving into illusion’ be real, after all? It’s not a genuine direction at all – it’s merely the subjective impression of a direction that seems real to us when we get subsumed within the self-reinforcing dualistic illusion of ‘self’ and ‘other’. There idea that there is a direction to move in is itself the illusion…



Another way of putting this is to say that the frenetic ‘apparently purposeful’ activity of ‘me reacting to my own projections’ isn’t actually any kind of activity at all.  Nothing is really happening, even though it seems very much to me that there is. There is the ‘superficial appearance of activity’ as seen via the point of view of what we might call ‘superficial or shallow attention’ and this appearance functions as a trap because the more I get drawn into it (as I inevitably will do as a result of my reacting) the more real it will seem to me. And the more real it seems to me (i.e. the more of a hold it gets on me) the more strongly I will react. This then is the ‘feedback-loop’ of which we have been speaking.



The self-reinforcing illusion of ‘me’ and ‘my subjective world’ operates as a trap because of the way in which I am (when subsumed within the loop) rendered functionally incapable of seeing that the direction of ‘gaining ground’ is not different from the direction of ‘losing ground’. It is the illusion that these are two totally different directions that traps us because just as soon as we act on this perception we lose the ability to see that there is no such thing as ‘a positive versus a negative direction to move in’. We make it real for ourselves by believing in it; we make it real for ourselves by reacting to it…



The self and its personalized (projection) world seem real to us because our awareness has become infinitely superficial. There is nothing more superficial than ‘the self believing in its own projections’ (which is another way of saying ‘the self believing that the world which was created by itself was not created by itself’). There is activity in the word but this activity has nothing to do with advantage or disadvantage, gain or loss, right or wrong. How could activity in the world have anything to do with advantage or disadvantage, gain or loss, right or wrong? How could we be so utterly ridiculous as to think that it does?



Advantage and disadvantage, winning and losing, right and wrong are our own projections – they don’t exist in reality. There isn’t even the slightest trace of advantage or disadvantage, gain or loss in the real world and yet this is all we are ever concerned with. We’re not just concerned with gain versus loss, we’re obsessed with it. We’re obsessed with trying to get things to work out for us and preventing – if we can – things not working out for us. That’s what life is all about when we’re trapped in the dualistic illusion of ‘self and other’. Life when we’re subsumed within the dualistic illusion is a protracted exercise in futile struggling. It’s an exercise in futile struggling because it’s all about warring opposites – warring opposites that can’t ever actually be separated!



The irony here is tremendous – by struggling to save ourselves we lose ourselves. We lose ourselves to the illusion! This is of course very reminiscent of John 12:25–


Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.


When I strive to move in the direction of (apparently) gaining advantage for myself, or (apparently) gaining territory for myself I am nullifying myself and when I struggle to prevent myself moving in the complementary direction of incurring disadvantage or losing territory I am also nullifying myself. In both cases I am investing in illusion and losing sight of the true reality. In both cases I am putting all my money on a horse that isn’t there. If we put this in terms of game-playing we can say that to strive to win is to strive to not be who we aren’t rather than who we really are – to strive to be who one isn’t is to strive to nullify oneself! We imagine that we are going to enhance ourselves, empower ourselves, further ourselves, promote ourselves, validate ourselves, glorify ourselves etc but all that we are really doing is lose all of our awareness by making ourselves ‘infinitely superficial’  (or ‘infinitely inane / infinitely vacuous’). When we ‘strive to win’ we are in reality striving to lose consciousness therefore! ‘Self-nullification’ simply means abdicating consciousness, and consciousness is what we are!





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