Friday, July 20, 2018
Meditating on No-Self
Sister Khema (originally edited for Bodhi Leaves from the Buddhist Publication Society via accesstoinsight.org); Sayalay Aloka, Dhr. Seven (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Meditating on No-Self: A Dharma Talk
In Buddhism we use the words "self" and "no-self." It is important to understand just what this "no-self" (anatta), is all about, even if it is first just an idea, because the essence of the Buddha's teaching hinges on this vital concept.
And in this teaching Buddhism is unique. No one, no other spiritual teacher, has formulated no-self in just this way. And because it has been formulated by the Awakened One in this way, there is also the possibility of speaking about it.
Much has been written about no-self, but in order to know it [to directly experience and be liberated by insight into it], one has to experience it. And that is what the teaching aims at, the experience of no-self or selflessness.
Yet in order to experience no-self, one has first to fully know self. Actually know it. But unless we do know what this self is, this self called "me," it is impossible to know what is meant by "there is no self there." In order to give something away, we have to first fully have it in hand.
We are constantly trying to reaffirm self. Which already shows that this "self" is a very fragile and rather wispy sort of affair, because if it weren't why would we constantly have to reaffirm it?
Why are we constantly afraid of the "self" being threatened of its being insecure, of its not getting what it needs for survival? If it were such a solid entity as we believe it to be, we would not feel threatened so often.
We affirm "self" again and again through identification. We identify with a certain name, an age, a sex, an ability, an occupation. "I am a lawyer, I am a doctor, I am an accountant, I am a student." And we identify with the people we are attached to. "I am a husband, I am a wife, I am a mother, I am a daughter, I am a son."
Now, in the manner of speech, we have to use "self" in that way -- but it isn't only in speech [and enlightened people who have seen and KNOW that there is no-self can use the conventional expression "self" with no confusion whatsoever, but we when we hear the word "self" assume it has to refer to some real entity].
We really think that that "self" is who WE are. We really believe it. There is no doubt in our mind that that "self" is who we are. When any of these factors is threatened, if being a wife is threatened, if being a mother is threatened, if being a lawyer is threatened, if being a teacher is threatened -- or if we lose the people who enable us to retain that "self" -- what a tragedy!
The self-identification becomes insecure, and "me" finds it hard to say "look at me," "this is me." Praise and blame are included. Praise reaffirms "me." Blame threatens "me." So we like the praise and we dislike the blame. The ego is threatened. Fame and infamy -- same thing.
Loss and gain. If we gain, the ego gets bigger; if we lose, it gets a bit smaller. So we are constantly in a quandary, and in constant fear. The ego might lose a little bit of its grandeur. It might be made a bit smaller by someone. And it happens to all of us. Somebody is undoubtedly going to blame us for something eventually. Even the Buddha was blamed.
Now the blame that is levied at us is not the problem. The problem is our reaction. The problem is that we feel smaller. The ego has a hard time reasserting itself. So what we usually do is we blame back, making the other's ego a bit smaller, too.
Identification with whatever it is that we do and whatever it is that we have, be it possessions or people, is, so we believe, needed for our survival. "Self" survival. If we don't identify with this or that, we feel as if we are in limbo. This is the reason why it is difficult to stop thinking in meditation. Because without thinking there would be no identification.
If I don't think, what do I identify with? It is difficult to come to a stage in meditation in which there is actually nothing to identify with any more. Happiness, too, may be an identification. More