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My dogs have personalities. Each distinct. They show emotions: joy, frustration, excitement, anger, fear, anxiety, affection, and although I haven’t seen it with these guys yet, sadness. All emotions we have.
What this shows us is that there can be emotions and even personality without the person. We, humans, tend to identify ourselves with the emotions and thoughts that we have. We personalize them, own them, and by doing so run the risk of being owned by them.
Each emotions serves its animal host an adaptive function. For us human animals, they can continue to serve useful ends without the personalization.
Emotions are information. Something is happening that we need to respond to: move closer or get away. Emotions may also be a signal that something is out of balance and the intense energy of the feelings declares that something requires our attention.
We can be agentic without being agents. That is, we can be intentional, successful, and enjoy life without that personalized personality. The difference between acting like an agent and being an agent is the difference between anguish and peace. When we personalize things we give suffering a place to take hold.
As agentless agents, we can be secure in the world without spending all our resources on the defense budget. What we are trying to protect, after all is only a fluid, ever-changing collection of experiences. You can’t dig a moat around that. You can’t put walls and soldiers around that flow of process.
Here is another metaphor. It’s like the difference between telecommuting and a brick and mortar office. Telecommuters accomplish business and do so through the processes of communication. You can do the same things in an office building but you also have to pay rent and utilities. It’s the difference between fluid action and a thing. Things are cumbersome. When we personalize our emotions and personality we become thing-like and likewise cumbersome and high maintenance.
Dogs are great at living in the moment. They can be frustrated and angry one moment and engaged in reckless abandon play the next moment. Their inability to create an edifice of self allows them to release into the moment. They don’t have brick and mortar personality.
Of course, the Buddha said these things with the metaphors of his time. It’s what he meant by anatta or anatman–not self.