Anatta: No-Self

Part Two No Self,

Patrick wrote: ".....This life is not a drill, Everything counts. All beings are owners of their Karma."

BB re: I cant say I see it, If I have no self, there is no-self to have a Karma. Oh I don't doubt that I can set create a chain, that will be realized by some other momentary self, years or lifetimes down the chain of manifestation. Yet that self will be like me, a No Self, so again I don't know why I should be concerned with the welfare of that illusion, any more than you should be concerned with the welfare of this one......"

Patrick Replied "Once again suggesting care with our words, the teaching on self says this body is not the self. Any part of it which we may conceive is not "my self." You can cut off any part of the body and see that that was not the self that was removed. I am still "my self" even after else is removed. It is not that you "have no self" but rather that you simply "are." You are your self and that self indeed has it's own Karma. There is self. I perceive self as that basic, primordial energy form that is life.

On this I would agree with you, in fact it is a vision not unlike my own, that we are all part of the overall primordial energy. Call it Atman, Brahmin, or Chi, but again I would have to say that your teachers vision, is rather some distance from the translations that I have encountered elsewhere, even if it is a vision I find that makes more intuitive sense.

Returning to Smith and Novak* again, pg 54, " The most startling thing the Buddha said about the human self is that is has no soul. The Doctrine of anatta (literally "no-self" ie no everlasting, unchanging personal identity.) <small snip …> His denial of spiritual substance - the soul as a ghostly wraith within the body that animates the body and outlasts it - appears to have been the chief point that distinguished his concept of transmigration from prevailing Hindu interpretations. <…> He used the image of a flame being passed from candle to candle As the original flame, the connection would appear to be a causal one, in which influence was transmitted by chain reaction, but without perduring substance.

Moving on to Page 56. The denial of Spiritual Substance was only an aspect of Buddha's wider denial of substance of every sort. Substance carries both general and specific connotation. Generally it refers to something relatively permanent that underlies surface changes in the thing in question; specifically this more basic something is thought to be matter. The psychologist in Buddha rebelled against the later notion, for to him mind was more basic than matter. <…> It is impossible to read much Buddhist literature without catching its sense of Transitoriness (anicca) of everything finite, its recognition of the perpetual perishing of every natural object. It is this that gives Buddhist descriptions of the natural world their poignancy.

Snow falls upon the river,
White for an instant then gone forever.

<…> But why did the Buddha belabor a point that may seem so obvious? Because he believed we are freed from the pain of clutching for permanence only if the acceptance of continual change is driven into our very marrow. Followers of the Buddha know well his advise:

Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp - a phantom and a dream.

They go on to speak of reincarnation again, does a person continue after death. But as the flame of a candle may be passed to another candle so is rebirth, but for the Buddha who as extinguished the flame of desire there is no rebirth, is close enough to the text for the moment.

Ok I have quoted others at some length, but I wanted to be clear where my vision of this Idea of anatta is coming from.

Ironically it is exactly these things,

Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightening in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp - a phantom and a dream.

And so many others like them, that inform me that rebirth is a gift to be celebrated, not a doom to be avoided. And yes I do believe in reincarnation and Karma.

Of reincarnation I can only say, that I have for years engaged in what I might best describe as Meditative fiction. That the stories that come to me in a given state of mind, are not the stories that I would write, but seem to be given to me by another voice, a woman's voice, A loving and passionate creature that in so many ways could hardly be more unlike me in this life, but who I feel was me or remembers me in other lives. I believe in the vision of the Ba and the Ka, and this Ka is but a suit of clothes, and outfit (that has never really fit.) that I have been given to walk this earth in this time. But she, (the Ba) remembers other outfits, costumes that fit her better, and where a joy to wear, and wake in, to hold up to the mirror of lives past, these she shares with me through the vehicle of meditative fiction.

This is not all "Just" belief, for it is simply true that I have a demonstrated talent for divination with the cards, and when I read for her, the cards tell a rather consistent story. It is also true that having been raised in a haunted house, my personal experience of the Wraiths we sometimes leave behind us after death assure me the Buddha was not completely on point in this regard. The self surely leaves its echo behind sometimes, and sometimes that echo can give voice great pain.

For me the most powerful thing of all, will always be that I have simply felt my soul, felt it in every fiber of my being, because I have felt it struck a ringing blow and that memory will last me the rest of my life. Leaving me as sure of the reality of my energetic self as I am of the back of my hand.

So if the Candle flame, remembers all the Candles that went before it, is it really any different to the flame that it is not in fact that original flame. I understand and accept as wisdom the Buddha's vision that it is through attachment that we draw pain into our lives, and pull the axel of our world out of true.

It is simply the concept of "no-self" that at the end of the day I find ultimately very unsatisfying When we speak of the Buddha, we speak of a person. We feel we have some grip on his story, as Siddhartha a Papered Youth, a Seeker for Truth, His moment of Enlightenment, his life after as a The Buddha. We don't actually think of these are separate persons, nor, as a collection of "Processes" that we round up into a set called the Buddha, the way the Dallas Cowboys are a set individual players. No we think of this man as an individual, who might be reborn to us even today, had he not achieved Nirvana

In the Mahayana tradition, who are even more strict in their collective vision of the "no-self", we (ironically?) find not only the Buddha, but a whole pantheon Bodhisattvas such as Tara, Sarasvati and Kuan Yin, who we again think of as persons. Beautiful, compassionate, enlightened persons, but persons non the less.

I accept in the moment of his awakening, that the Buddha saw through the Ba, the Ka, and all other visions of Self, and perceived us exactly as he described. Remembering we are speaking of a person of perhaps perfect integrity. So I do not doubt he shared with us, his vision as best the limits of time, and language allowed him to communicate with the rest of us still in Samsara.

But as a person living in Samsara, it seems to me this is not a idea we can actually live with-in, we can see the argument intellectually perhaps, but step outside of the monastery, when you meet me, or I meet you, when we consider the Buddha, or contemplate the Bodhisattvas we find ourselves dealing with the Individual again, as an actual Self, not as a fiction, illusion, or collection of processes.

Now that this self, may not be an independent, nor eternal thing, I more than accept that reality. It is also true that what the self ultimately is, is not readily obvious, returning to my modest vision of a little Chi Snowflakes, floating in the winds of the larger Storm. We certainly are ephemeral and blessedly so, because it gives us the opportunity to grow. Without Change there is no growth, without growth, Karma would be a universal cruelty, without hope of justice. So while it may be, and I expect that it is, that in time, this little Chi snowflake will return to the sea, to the bosom of Momma-Nammu, that is no bad thing.

In the mean time, rebirth will remain a gift, that allows us to tread the gardens of Momma-Ki.

Ama tu ANKI, BB.

GTS Members, If you wish to further explore the concept of Emptiness and no self this essay might interest you.

Ama tu ANKI, BB.