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For those new to "Non-Self," please see http://plus.google.com/u/0/112552063323035600956/posts/3aJ7gaLuECz and http://plus.google.com/u/0/106651989741536097256/posts/drvMKK3Tw2H
June 20th, 2012
For those new to "Non-Self," please see http://plus.google.com/u/0/112552063323035600956/posts/3aJ7gaLuECz and http://plus.google.com/u/0/106651989741536097256/posts/drvMKK3Tw2H
and possibly http://www.theravada-dhamma.org/blog/?p=9423 .
For the others ( #buddhistcircle ...), and at the risk of severe misunderstanding —leading to misguided relativism, nihilism and confusion,— please continue reading...


Clinging to a sense of Self is a major cause of suffering.

It doesn't make much difference whether I cling to being a winner, a survivor, a looser or a victim... a good person, a bad person, an average person...  Clinging to a labelled Self only serves a sense of entitlement, e.g. "nothing too dramatic should hurt me, I'm just the average Joe, why is this happening to me? I don't deserve this!"  Often, clinging to a labelled Self is also an attempt at manipulating others for selfish interest, from others 'having to' accept my actions because "it takes what it takes," to others 'having to' accept collective guilt and display compassion and take care of me (no matter what they've gone through themselves, which is of no interest to my 'victim' ego at this point). It's always about me, me, me and, like the rest, 'clinging to a sense of Self' is about what this may do 'for' me. ( see http://www.theravada-dhamma.org/blog/?p=9423 )

However, no one is ever safe: a winner never has enough success to feel safe, a survivor never has independence enough to feel safe, a looser never has confidence enough to feel safe, a victim never receives enough love to feel safe... There is no safety. There is no entitlement one can count on. Clinging to a sense of 'who I am' (whoever that is) will not prevent dissatisfaction, frustration, anxiety, worry, loss... sickness, ageing and dying... suffering. No matter who one imagines one is (and what one is entitled to), reality will not respect the little box thus made up.
Self-interest is doomed to fail because there is no Self.

The sense of Self is an illusion. Like any illusion, it is a construct of the mind, based on patterns, anticipations and expectations. Like many theories, it may prove useful as times but that doesn't make them 'true,' only useful. Models, theories, equations and explanations are just that; they're not reality in itself, even though they may help deal with it ( only up to a point, that's the key!).
I am not the same person as I was when only 1 day old (most of my body's tissues are under constant and non-identical renewal, and the notable potential exception, the cortex, keeps adjusting connections —learning— i.e. continuously changes too). I nonetheless construct a sense of identity instead of a much simpler, weaker, continuity. Such delusion covers up a contradiction: whatever happens, the sense of Self adapts and makes a different version of the "same" identity! This is only possible because there is nothing solid in the Self; anything can be incorporated in, or dropped from, the sense of Self. Rather than from the body (too easily bruised or sick, ageing...), the sense of Self reifies itself from malleable, feeble, habits: job, relationships, hobbies, beliefs, preferences and even personal history (one decides which perspectives and parts count as personal history, and which perspectives and parts are irrelevant, and makes it a habit to tell 'history' based on such decisions). I stick to my tendencies until I decide my self-interest dictates otherwise. I often stick to unhelpful habits simply because I'm afraid of the unknown, so I decide it is safer to stay with the devil I know... Although all such habits may, and probably will, change (including my personal history (as grief, forgiveness, therapy or the switch from 'victim' to 'survivor' often illustrate)), the sense of Self nonetheless persists. The continuous update of the illusion doesn't make it less of an illusion.


'Relative teachings' often sound at odds with 'ultimate teachings' so, because so few live in constant mindfulness of Non-Self and because theories may be useful at times, can one build a beneficial sense of Self?

"Clinging to a sense of Self is a major cause of suffering" simply comes from "clinging causes suffering": there's no difficulty, when useful, with modelling a continuous fluid process (nothing fixed) as a solid ( my reified Self ). We do so all the time, e.g. when calling a flow of water, a "river." Facts related to the illusory nature of such reification —the water constantly flows, no given molecule of water is a permanent constituent of the river, erosion and river deposits constantly change the shape of the stream— do not impede the usefulness of the 'fixed' model "up to a point" e.g. to build bridges. The difficulty born from "clinging to a sense of Self" is in the clinging, not so much in the sense of Self. To fall back on a classic example given by the Dalai Lama, a strong sense of Self can give the confidence and courage to try and reach Buddhahood... However, it sounds questionable that one should cling to "I'm not worthy to be a Buddha yet" or to "I'm worthy" ("how comes I'm not a Buddha yet? what have I not done?"). A useful sense of Self is the very understanding that there is nothing solid in the Self, that you can let go of everything (incl. the clinging to existence and the death-wish): "I can turn unwholesome habits around, I've done so before; my existence continues regardless of how much change occurs in 'me;' (so) I can change and I don't need to cling to anything; (hence) I can realise Enlightenment." A constructive sense of Self doesn't reify the Self; it takes it as a process, a journey. This process exists but, as a process, it has no solid part independent of the rest of existence; the doctrine of Non-Self only tells you that existence precedes essence and that the Self has no essence, only existence (as a very real illusion, or as a model useful at times and not so useful at other times).

Consolidation of the practice, gaining confidence or deeper understanding or insights, resting and recovering, etc, are also processes... Existence is not about rushing a unique process ('the' Self) to a destination: parts of journey take more time than others, and orthogonal complementary processes may be as necessary as any other. 
For the avoidance of doubt, nirvāṇa is unconditioned (in particular to a prescribed path, or to a location) so it is not a (final) destination, for any process (or entity). Nirvāṇa is not absolute and fixed, "all dhammas (incl. nirvāṇa) are without Self"... Simply remember the Buddha himself: he lived for 45 years after reaching nirvāṇa, so nirvāṇa was only a stepping stone to the rest of his existence...
"How can I help?" is often presented as a good 'deepening in movement' practice.

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