I assume most of us in moments of contemplation wonder who we are. Sure, we have our given name, gender, personal history, ideals, likes and dislikes to cleave onto, which create and maintain our “illusion of self”, as Buddha pointed out in his 2nd Noble Truth. How tenacious our innate insecurity impels us to hold on to these tangibles determines the strength of our “illusion of self” (ego). However, as our grip on these tangibles loosens, who are we then? Emptiness becomes a deepening visceral reality that accentuates this question. In fact, emptiness is the mother of all questions… Why? Who? What? When? Where? So who am I?
Google [The vast virome] for a real eye opener, even to those of us who already feel deeply connected to nature. This puts a tangible face to that intuition. The question is, can you love the eco-system that you are? This is not the same as loving yourself. Indeed, the more you love the eco-system you are, the less of yourself left over to love. Thus, it is easy to see why loving the eco-system you are might be difficult.
Buddha’s 3rd Noble Truth (p.604) offers a way to tone down your self’s illusion, if not “conquer self” altogether. Just how does one do that? The “illusion of self”, we are told in Buddha’s 2nd Noble Truth, is a result of our attachments in life.
The Second Noble Truth is the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is lust. The surrounding world affects sensation and begets a craving thirst that clamors for immediate satisfaction. The illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things. The desire to live for the enjoyment of self entangles us in a net of sorrows. Pleasures are the bait and the result is pain.
Presumably, letting go of attachments is the obvious way to conquer the self. Let go of everything and there is no energy left to create and maintain an “illusion of self”. Now, if we actually had free will, we could snap our free-will-fingers and let go of everything… non-attachment here we come.
We can’t just eliminate these causes to “conquer self”. Doing this leaves a gaping hole and Nature abhors a vacuum. We biologically need to feel our being is real, and holding onto ‘things’ accomplishes that. Grasping to our mother as infants served that purpose. As adults, we end up chasing all sorts of things upon which to grab hold.
A common assumption in Buddhism is that once we have developed a genuine understanding of the causes of suffering, such as craving (tanha) and ignorance (avijja), then we can eliminate these causes and thus be free from suffering. This sounds wonderful, as does the Christian views of Heaven. Sure, Buddh-ism may even be a little closer to the truth, at least to the cause of suffering. It is in eliminating suffering where Buddh-ism takes it too far.
Revealing Nirvana or Heaven to be the fantasies they are doesn’t mean we need throw up our hands and jump off the cliff in despair. Simply appreciating the underlying biology acting upon human perception can be most helpful. The colors I see, the flavors I taste, are born of biology. They are not realities in their own right. An increasing awareness of deeper and broader ways of nature has a liberating, detaching effect upon self… “I” am nature.
This is where loving the eco-system you are comes in handy. Alas, loving your eco-system is not as easy as it may sound. The illusion of self takes up all the oxygen. You can’t just drop the “illusion of self” and replace it with the idea of the eco-system. It must feel real — just as real as the self feels. It is a Catch 22. You can’t rid yourself of self. That is like committing self-suicide. On the other hand, you can’t genuinely perceive yourself as an eco-system without the ego dropping away.
I‘ve found letting go of self to be a gradual process. Lifetime gradually weans us of the things to which we grasp onto throughout life. This slowly makes space for a more inclusive sense of self — in this case, an eco-system. The beauty of this research is that it points out who we actually are. It is not me; it is we.
The most abundant inhabitants of what many researchers are calling “the human ecosystem” are the viruses. So Pérez-Brocal reasoned they were worth a closer look.
Viruses are deceptively simple organisms consisting of genetic material packed in a protein shell. They are tiny and can’t replicate on their own, relying on human or other cells to reproduce.
And yet, scientists estimate that 10 quintillion virus particles populate the planet. That’s a one followed by 31 zeros. They outnumber bacteria 10-to-1 in most ecosystems. And they’re ubiquitous in and on humans.
Pérez-Brocal and others are learning that viruses, once seen only as foreign invaders that make people sick, are an integral part of human biology. Some cause major diseases, including influenza, AIDS and some cancers. Others, conversely, may promote health. Some may even help us gauge how well the human immune system works.
The study of people’s resident viruses, known collectively as the human virome, is “a whole new frontier in the understanding of humans,” and could become important for the future of medicine, says Forest Rohwer, an envAs scientists take a census of the virome, they’ve begun to reveal these kinds of unexpected partnerships, but the work lags far behind that of the rest of the microbiome.
As scientists take a census of the virome, they’ve begun to reveal these kinds of unexpected partnerships, but the work lags far behind that of the rest of the microbiome.
“We know a lot about the bacteria that inhabit humans,” says David Pride, an infectious disease doctor at the University of California, San Diego. In comparison, “we know absolutely nothing about the viruses.”
Not that scientists haven’t been interested in viruses. Until recently there was just no good way to identify them, an important first step toward understanding the biology of health and disease. As a consequence, virome research is in its infancy.
The human ecosystem Most identified DNA sequences floating in our blood plasma belong to viruses. Some unknown sequences may also be viral.
To figure out which viruses are friends, foes or neutral passengers on the human body, scientists first need to identify them. Researchers still aren’t very good at recognizing new viruses, says Brian Jones, a molecular biologist at the University of Brighton in England. Hence the large pool of unknown samples in Pérez-Brocal’s and other researchers’ virome studies. But even if scientists improve their identification skills, it may take a long time to figure out what the viruses are doing in the body.
Based on what researchers have learned so far about the virome, Jones is convinced that viruses and other microbes “should be viewed as a part of us rather than something that lives in or on us.” They are part of the puzzle, the intricate ecosystem composed of human and microbial cells, all pushing and pulling at one another and subject to local conditions, such as diet and environment.
If he’s right, then knowing our viruses might help us know ourselves.