Sunday, May 22, 2011

First Know Thy Self

It has taken me a while to get the Buddha's teachings about anatta, or 'not self'. Gil's talks have been extremely helpful in that regard, and have helped shed light on my personal experience. 

This morning, I came across this gem from Ayya Khema, in Meditating on No Self:
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.
Makes so much sense!

The naive deluded mind hears 'not self', and 'emptiness', and rushes to try to experience no 'I', no 'me', no 'self'. And gets confused, and scared during this paradoxical manifestation of yet another 'self'-created experience. 

Rather, let us spend time with the 'self' as we know it, and let us watch it dissolve under careful observation. Realizing that this 'self' is a pure product of our thinking mind, and our view of the world as a solid, continuous entity where past, present and future collide. 

Sitting, walking, standing, lying down, being present for what is.

14 comments:

  1. How easy it is for our intellects to get tangled up in self, no-self, no self, no no-self. Time for a deep breath...

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  2. I know this is not quite where you're coming from on this, but I had to find my own solid ground to stand on before I was able to start looking at the true nature of myself. From an emotional healing/recovery point of view, we have to start from a place of stability, of knowing and being OK with who we are before we begin this kind of exploration. Otherwise we could get ourselves into some trouble!

    But once we've gotten to that place of OKness...let the fun begin!

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  3. That's a very good point, Chris. And the reason why undergoing psychotherapy can be a great preparation for the Buddha's way. It has certainly been the case for me.

    Not that this is a linear process in any way. The old wounds do resurface, but one is able to experience them differently.

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  4. I think the term "no self" is the confusing part. The best descriptions I have heard and the easiest to observe and get focus on the fact of the ever changing nature of what we see as self. When we look at the self it is so slippery, not solid, that it defies pinning down.

    And yes we need to have a self confidence that fuels our life and practice in a way that has nothing to do with our ego.

    Ah, words, they too are slippery little characters, that add to the fun.

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  5. You are right Carole. One word, different meanings. Also confusion between absolute and relative truth. Right now, 'I' am relating to 'you' in relative, everyday realm. When sitting, there is the chance of getting closer to the absolute truth of just now, and moment to moment experience.

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  6. This reminds me of how I couldn't recover from an eating disorder until I stopped criticizing myself for having an eating disorder. I had to let go of "getting rid of it" and get to know it and understand why I was doing it. And that is when I finally learned to let it go.

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  7. Thank you Mandy. That's a great analogy. And a reminder of the power of accepting what is, regardless, without letting the thinking mind trying to impose its own view of what the reality ought to be.

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  8. I think it's important to actually experience this for ourselves rather than conceptualize or think that we get it. I say this for my own benefit as I certainly can get caught up in a 'oh, yeah, that makes sense' without actually experiencing it for myself. How do we experience it then? Through contemplation and playful inquisitiveness. When we are meditating we can ask ourselves who this self is? Who is it that's experiencing what is happening? What is the self and where exactly is it located? I've been incorporating this into my practice and I find it very helpful in gaining a glimpse of 'no-self'

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  9. Yes, Nate, a combination of direct experience and also knowledge gained from skillful teaching. Recognizing what we meet. Intrusions from selfing mind with thoughts that clearly do not belong to this moment. And the resulting suffering, in the form of bodily tensions, constrictions. Clinging . . .

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  10. No self, can best be accessed by relaxing all stories, the intellectual need to figure it all out— is put to rest...maybe it can be 2 seconds, but the body will remember this if you do again and again.
    It can be done anywhere.. anytime, but for some the shear exhaustion of thinking while meditating will allow some space between thoughts....that sticky little labeling we often do of every experience.

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  11. If I have no "self" do I cease to exist? Obviously not as I am here and exist without a "self" as says the Buddha. What we refer to as "self" must then be a fabrication of the mind differentiating itself from external phenomenon in order to go about it's function of "thinking". Which brings us to the question of duality? I feel a headache coming on, can we talk about something else? :)

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  12. Thank you Was Once. Agree with you that the realization of no self is an embodied experience, leading to insight, that can then, incidentally be reflected upon, as here. The most profound experience for me is of the connection between the presence of suffering and selfing taking place. When sitting perfectly still, with gentle Spring breeze caressing my cheeks, where does the constriction and the pain come from? usually thoughts, emotions about 'me' in relation to past or future . . .

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  13. Pete, thank you for demonstrating a bit of selfing at work :)

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