Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Day at the Beach (no-self)

Sister Khema, Meditating on No-Self: Dhamma Talk (Edited for Bodhi Leaves) edited by Amber Larson and Dhr. Seven for Wisdom Quarterly

This is me, myself, and I...and my dog.
In Buddhism we use the words "self" and "no-self," so it is important to understand just what this "no-self" (anatta) is all about even if it is first just an idea.

This is because the essence of the Buddha's teaching hinges on this realization. This teaching is unique to Buddhism. No other spiritual teachers in history, other than buddhas, which are fully enlightened teachers establishing the Dharma in the world, ever come to realize and teach no-self. No philosophers, no thinkers, no debaters, no sages or seers. It may be the only teaching that has no parallel in other philosophies, religions, or doctrines.

Because of the way it was formulated by the Buddha, there exists the possibility of speaking about it. Otherwise, it would not even occur to one that it is true. Much has been written about no-self, but in order to know it, one must experience it. And that is what the teaching aims at, the experience (liberating insight) of no-self, egolessness, impersonality, suchness (utterly altruistic unselfishness).
Look at me, look at my body. This is me.
Yet in order to experience no-self, one has first to fully know what "self" is, actually know it. For unless we do know what this "self" we are slaves to is, the self called "me," "myself" and that grasps at things as "mine," it is impossible to know what is meant by the preposterous/perplexing claim, "There [ultimately speaking] is no self there." In order to give something away, to let it go, to abandon it, we first have to have it in hand. We have to know why we would want to do that.
We are constantly trying to reaffirm self. This already shows that this "self" is a very fragile and wispy thing. If it weren't why would we constantly have to reaffirm it? Why are we constantly afraid of the "self" being threatened, being insecure, worrying that i may not get what it needs for survival? If it were such a solid entity as we believe it to be, as we take for granted that it is, we would not so often feel threatened.
Southern California coast where the salt hits he sand, Point Dune, Malibu (wiki)
I bought all these clothes; they're totally me!
We affirm "self" again and again through identification. We identify with a certain name, an appearance, a memory, a story, an age, a gender, a habit, 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 conventional speech, we have to use the word/concept "self" in that way -- but it isn't only in speech. We really think that that "self" we refer to is real, is enduring, is who we are. We really believe it.

There is no doubt in our mind that that "self" is who we are. When any one 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 [but subtly reinforces the sense of] "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.
But 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.
Money, sex, "I" enlightened yet?
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 were in limbo. This is the reason why it is difficult to stop thinking in meditation. 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 anymore.
Happiness, too, may be an identification. "I am happy." "I am unhappy." Because we are so keen on survival, we have got to keep on identifying... More

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