Monday, March 23, 2015

Habit : the Genesis of Identity

My 2 puppies Itto & Tomoe are charming, smart and very destructive. It is important to keep them busy unless they do stupid things. People are also like this. I try to keep them busy by teaching them different things : walk beside me, stop, sit... etc... I have trained dogs before. Border Collies are smart and easy to train, they want to learn and they want to please.

However, I quickly realized that you cannot train 2 puppies at the same time. It just does not work, and I believe I know why.

Actually, dogs do not really know their names. Nothing happens in Itto's head that tells him he “IS” Itto. Itto does not think “I am Itto”; he has no concept of Identity. 

However, a particular dog will understand a command preceded by his name. But, if other dogs are around and if you do not call the dog's name before giving the command, the dog won't understand.

There is no point trying to teach Itto or Tomoe to answer the command « Sit ». It can be done, but there is no point doing it. You can individually teach each dog to sit. But when both dogs are together and you ask Itto to sit and Tomoe does not sit, she will realize that she does not have to follow the command « sit ». She will get confused, and later will not follow your commands. You will get frustrated, think she is stupid, but really and truly, it is not the dog's fault, it's yours !

So it is necessary to teach each dog separately "Tomoe, sit" and "Itto, sit", This applies to any command: "Itto, come"; "Tomoe, Stay"... Once the dog understands which command applies to him or her, it become possible to have them work together. You can ask one dog to come while the other stays put. That is how shepherd use several dogs to handle their flocks. They always give personalized commands to their dogs.

Itto does not know his name. However, he knows he should sit when he hears "Itto, sit" . This is true of many commands : "Itto, Come" ; "Itto, Walk", etc...

Little by little, Itto realizes that when he hears the sound "Itto" he will  be asked to do something specific. So every time he hears this "Itto", he lifts his ears and focus.

THIS is why we can say the dog knows his name.

Knowing his name is nothing but the ability to react to a sound; the result of a conditioning. This ability is voluntary at the beginning (The trainer triggers it in various ways, this is what dog training is about) and little by little it becomes involuntary: the dog reacts without having to pay attention. We say that the dog knows his name, and who he is, but it is just a pattern of acquired behavior, an habit.

Likewise our personality – our Ego - is the result of such an habitual and cultural conditioning: an acquired behaviour. And this conditioning is so powerful that from an early age we come to believe that this personality is an actual entity, a "Real Thing", and we totally identify to it.

Human mind has a hard time perceiving and conceiving of an ever-changing reality. It loves to imagine immutable things and sort them in categories. 

We call this construct Ego, Soul or Atman.

And we imagine it has a transcendental and eternal nature because we cannot conceive it is just a convention of language for an acquired behaviour.

And this is one of the roots of suffering...

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