Consciousness as Presence: An Exploration of the Illusion of Self

Buddhist Studies Review 30 (1):113-128 (2013)
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Abstract

Buddhism teaches that ‘self’ as a substantial, enduring entity is an illusion. But for self to be an illusion there must be something in our experience that is misinterpreted as self. What is this? The notion of an experiential self plays an important role in phenomenological investigations of conscious experience. Does the illusion of self consist in mistaking a purely experiential self for a substantial self? I argue against this and locate the source of the illusion in time-consciousness. It is the essence of consciousness to flow, but the flow of consciousness presupposes an experiential present. The experiential present — an abiding sense of ‘now’ — is the dimension through which experiences are experienced as streaming. It is this, I argue, that is misinterpreted as an enduring self. I support my account by arguing that the synchronic and diachronic unity of consciousness can be accounted for in terms of impersonal, temporal experience, and that conceiving of consciousness as the presence-dimension rather than as the I-dimension affords a solution to the brain-bisection puzzle.

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Charles K. Fink
Miami Dade College

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