One of the more difficult aspects of Buddhism to grasp, especially for Western Buddhists, is that of “No self”. That’s how the Pali word ‘Anatta’ is often translated. And that threw me for a loop at the start of my journey. Like many others, I reasoned that there must be a self, or who is sitting here?!
The better translation is “not self”. That’s something I can more easily get behind–because of dependent origination. Everything is dependent upon everything else. There is a fancy word for dependent origination in the Pali language: Paticca-samuppada, (Pali: “dependent origination”). It just means that all phenomena arise in dependence upon other phenomena “if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that …
The other thing that confounded me is the truth that “nothing is separate.” Huh? I am in the den and my wife is in the living room. ‘What you talkin’ ’bout Willis?
It’s pretty simple; there is separation, but nothing is separate.
The Buddha taught that “me” concept, and all that it brings–judgment, conclusions, labeling, categorizing as “good or “bad” is just ego talking. It’s extra.
As Sunada Takagi so eloquently put it:
At some point in our practice, we begin to let go of our grasping to uphold “me” as something opposed to “the world out there.” We start subtly shifting away from being dualistically MINDFUL OF various things to sensing that we are just awareness itself, inseparable from our surroundings. We stand naked just as we are, the pure potential present in us right now, and flow intimately with the world as it is. That’s the real gift of mindfulness — to feel so confident and in harmony with the world that we can trust and let go of our lives to it.
She goes on to say “The thing is, we’ll never find anything we can nail down as “who we are.” That’s because everything we come up with is superficial and impermanent. There really isn’t anything we can point to within ourselves that we can confidently say is a core essence that will never change.
I was wasting my time thinking “no self, eh? Well, smartass, who is watching the TV if it ain’t a self”!
I’d say “now we’re getting somewhere”, but that is what Chogam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of Shambhala Buddhism, called ‘Spiritual Materialism’. That blasted ego thing again.
That’s kind of like the doctrine of emptiness, but that’s a post for another day.