Sunday, July 16, 2006

No Self

When the Buddha confronted the question of identity on the night of his enlightenment, he came to the radical discovery that we do not exist as separate beings. He saw into the human tendency to identify with a limited sense of existence and discovered that this belief in an individual small self is a root illusion that causes suffering and removes us from the freedom and mystery of life. He described this as interdependent arising, the cyclical process of consciousness creating identity by entering form, responding to contact of the senses, then attaching to certain forms, feelings, desires, images, and actions to create a sense of self. In teaching, the Buddha never spoke of humans as persons existing in some fixed or static way. Instead, he described us as a collection of five changing processes: the processes of the physical body, of feelings, of perceptions, of responses, and of the flow of consciousness that experiences them all. Our sense of self arises whenever we grasp at or identify with these patterns. The process of identification, of selecting patterns to call "I," "me," "myself," is subtle and usually hidden from our awareness.-Jack Kornfield, A Path with Heartfrom Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith, a Tricycle book

My mind understands, but my heart does not. Or it does only a little during fleeting moments. If my heart understood deeply and permanently, what difference would it make in my life and in the lives of those around me and around them? And how would my heart as well as mind reconcile the Buddhist understanding of no self or anatman with the Hindu and Buddhist understanding of atman? And what difference would it make if they could reconcile the two?

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