illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Zen regularly talks of "True Self", but Zen is a Mahāyāna tradition, acknowledging "emptiness of essence" in general and 'selflessness' in particular… So what could possibly be a self-less true self?
As a Buddhist tradition, Zen focuses on the cessation of lust, aversion and ignorance… This in particular includes the cessation of a root delusion: the sense of self. Although we experience a sense of self, it is born from an appropriation mechanism: there is an experience, it seems the experience is not shared exactly the same by another consciousness so I appropriate it as 'mine', but a 'mine' requires a 'me' to attach it to, so I create a narrative about who I am… But if I attempt to find such a 'me' without associating any experience to it, it is actually un-findable: the self is context-dependent, empty of inherent existence.
To understand this is one thing, to live accordingly, to 'experience' accordingly is another… The attainment of selfless is when you can experience without appropriating: the cessation of clinging is the removal of the cause (as in cause–effect) of the illusion of 'self', thus the removal of the cause of unsatisfactoriness.
When we cultivate selflessness, there are a few traps and tricks that the ego uses to try and maintain another notion of 'self' instead of dropping the notion altogether. The ego sees selflessness as a threat of annihilation (due to ignorance, because once she attains selflessness, she actually realises that she doesn't vanish in thin air! She simply relates to phenomena differently, without obsessing about "what can this do / mean for me, me, me?").
But let's assume for a moment that one doesn't fall in the traps and tricks (e.g. does not replace the self as an entity by the self as a process, reifying a 'process' of consciousness, assuming it to maintain an enduring identity through time…). Let's assume that one attains selflessness: she doesn't just intellectually 'understand' it, she lives accordingly, she 'embodies' —or 'realises'— selflessness.
How can we characterise such a person? Lust, aversion and ignorance have ceased. What's left?
The illusion of a self ceased; the narrative, empty of essence, about "who am I?" ceased. What's left?
Since she didn't vanish in thin air, what's left without the delusional overlay would be the "True Self"!
Obviously, in the absence of lust, aversion and ignorance, this True Self actually embodies an appropriate response to whatever the situation at hand requires. The focus on "me, me, me" ceased, the attention can be directed on inter-dependence and on things as they are. The True Self is conditioned by a context, hence empty of essence… Having dropped the illusion of independent, inherent, enduring existence, having dropped the arrogance of "me being relevant" or "me making a difference", the True Self is selfless!
But it exists, and it is without ignorance, so it embodies wisdom: not some stuffed wisdom found in a book, but a visible wisdom (not vanished), a responsive active wisdom born out of understanding what a situation requires, aware of causality, aware of constraints and conditions, but also aware of the illusory nature of narratives that limit most sentient beings to 'roles' but may be dropped and let freedom be reclaimed (gplus.wallez.name/FPEVMSG6uia)!
The True Self selflessly embodies wisdom in the form of appropriateness and responsiveness… a combination that usually manifests in the form of generosity (gplus.wallez.name/Z38n35NGvyB), compassion, loving-kindness (gplus.wallez.name/XJ9SpiEeA2q), perseverance, patience, etc — a perfection of wisdom that allows the perfection of all other wholesome, inclusive, qualities (gplus.wallez.name/FE7UwdSnTXq).
The pedagogical advantage of the teachings on the True Self is that your delusional ego might resist the teachings only a little (as it will fear annihilation much less than with the teachings on selflessness). That's a good "expedient means" to avoid erecting barriers and strongholds on the way, but selflessness is what it ultimately is! Only this teaching on the True Self lists the associated qualities, and they don't sound too bad, do they?
#Zen #Buddhism #Dharma
image: "Komoriuta" © , 2008