Sunday, April 19: not self

Sangha,

the full (as opposed to intellectual) understanding of not-self has profound implications. A lot of emotional struggle (via anxiety, avoidance, anger, grief…) occurs when we/our lives do not match our ideas about ourselves (“I’m a trustworthy person”, “I’m kind”). Ideas about ourselves can limit us, too.

By understanding the principle of there being no solid unchanging “self”, we can free ourselves – to grow, to meet life’s challenges, to become who we want to be.

This teaching doesn’t mean that you disappear, or you’re supposed to only go with the flow. It gives you a more accurate understanding of the world from which you can better live your life.

My favourite example is to consider taking apart a car. All the pieces are now piled or scattered around the driveway. Do you still call it a car? With the car assembled, and looking like a car, can you point to one piece and call it car?

Likewise, I am Annamarie. But I am a sum of the parts. Say I have surgery and some non essential organ is removed. Is the organ called Annamarie? No, of  course not! When I was young, I didn’t like talking to strangers (shyness) and I couldn’t sleep at a friends house. But that changed. Am I annamarie?

Keep watch for examples of when you’re holding onto a firm idea of yourself. And review again Ian’s post from last week.

See ya Sunday and let’s discuss <3

2015.04.12 — Mindfulness of wisdom, part 1

In the threefold training, the Buddha outlines three aspects of our lives that we should cultivate in order to find awakening.  These aspects are 1) the way we conduct our lives, 2) how we view the world, and 3) how we train our minds. The past few weeks, we have been working on the first aspect. It’s time we move on to the second. The wisdom aspect has two components: our understanding of how the world works and our intention of how we live our lives.

This week (and probably several after), we’ll talk about our understanding of the world. The central teaching the Buddha offered us about how the world works is called “anata,” which translates roughly to “not-self.” This is often the hardest thing to understand on a experiential level. The idea is this: there is nothing (i.e., no thing) in reality that is fundamentally separate from anything else. The reality of anything that you experience depends upon certain causes and conditions to be in place. One of my favourite examples has to do with our parentage. Although we may not want to think about it, our very identify (our “self”) depends upon the day of the year, time of day, and sexual position in which our parents conceived us. If a different sperm fertilized the egg, we wouldn’t exist. Another, less emotionally charged example is a piece of paper. The paper could not exist unless the particular tree that was used to create the paper also existed.

The other side of this “not-self” coin is that all of us are fundamentally interconnected with everything else. Think, for example, of how when people you really care about are upset that it upsets you. Same when they are happy. It is interconnection that makes all of our social interactions meaningful. The only reason we are interconnected is because our “selves” are not solid and autonomous. Think about that. A self, in this framework, is something that can be separated from everything else. The Buddha would emphasize that no such “selves” exist.

For this week, I challenge you to think about situations where you have a very clear distinction between ‘you’ and things outside of ‘you’ and try to think about it from the point of view of interdependence/not-self. Here is one example: electricity. For me to have electricity to power my bedside lamp, all of the previous pre-historic life forms must have existed. There corpses must have been transformed into fossil fuel. The infrastructure for extracting the fossil fuels and using them to create electricity must exist. Additionally, the infrastruction for delivering the electricity to my house and, eventually, my lamp, also has to exist. See if you can come up with your own examples of how interconnected you are with everything else. Alternatively, see if you can identify any thing that can be said to exist separately from anything else.