Non-religious Buddhism and neuroscience agree on this: there is no such thing as a "self." Meaning, there isn't an "I" who is separate from "me," a soul separate from body, a mind separate from brain.
Understanding this -- no, more, intuitively experiencing the truth of this -- cuts through mountains of religious, spiritual, mystical, and philosophical crap. It also makes life way simpler.
It's crazy that we humans look upon ourselves as if we are an object to be manipulated, like a smart phone or chainsaw. We're always asking ridiculous questions like, "Why don't I feel better about myself?"
There is just feeling. This is Buddhism 101. Also Neuroscience 101.
Nobody is sitting inside your head watching your brain do its thing. You are your brain doing its thing. Part of that thing it does is generate self-reflective complexity. (See my post, "What we are: a strange loop in an ego tunnel.")
Thus spirituality, a word that should be done away with but won't be anytime soon, has two basic directions -- one truthful and one imaginary.
The truthful way to go is founded on a recognition of no-self, thereby melding the best of ancient traditions like Buddhism and Taoism with findings of modern neuroscience. The imaginary spiritual path envisions an enduring self at the end of the road, an eternal soul, a timeless drop in a divine ocean.
Such is what Chögyam Trungpa critiques as spiritual materialism. Or spiritual egoism. Most religions, whether of the Eastern or Western variety, fall prey to this. They teach that we humans aren't our bodies, nor our brains.
Rather, our essence is something indestructible and eternal, not subject to the laws of nature that govern the observable cosmos.
This leads to the mistaken belief that "I" am separate from "me." Some ethereal consciousness, my deepest reality, is able to look upon other aspects of me as if it were a mountain top observatory studying far-off stars.
Not true, says Trungpa. Here are some passages from his book, "Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism."
This is the self-consciousness of watching yourself, observing yourself unnecessarily. Whatever we do is constantly being watched and censored. Actually it is not Big Brother who is watching; it is Big Me! Another aspect of me is watching me, behind me, just about to strike, just about to pinpoint my failure. There is no joy in this approach, no sense of humor at all.
...There is a sense of seeing oneself as an external object, which leads to the first notion of "other." One is beginning to have a relationship with a so-called "external" world.
...Once we have taken away this preconception of the existence of mind and reality, then situations emerge clearly, as they are. There is no one to watch, no one to know anything. Reality just is, and this is what is meant by the term "shunyata." Through this insight the watcher which separates us from the world is removed.
...When we experience shunyata, we are completely involved, without the subject-object division of duality. We are also free from confusion.
This sounds a lot like the flow so beloved of athletes, dancers, musicians, and indeed, all of us. In our most joyous and productive moments we aren't aware of our awareness, of acting out our actions, of being mindful of our mindfulness.
We're just doing and feeling whatever is being done and felt. Pretty damn simple.