THE NOT-SELF

a monk (2)

There is no me. There is no you. There are no them.

During his second sermon, after being enlightened, the Buddha gave his discourse on Anatta or the Not-Self, and he instantly liberated the monks in attendance at that time. The Buddha does not explicitly say that there is no self in his explanation but that is how the followers broadly interpret it, and of course, there are alternative interpretations.
The concept of not-self is something that I’ve just learned in my recently completed course on Buddhism and Modern Psychology, taught by the world-renowned thinker, author and teacher Robert Wright. It is distracting me to no limits because I don’t fully understand it. I think there is the same person inside me since I was a little girl. So, maybe I can organise my thoughts on this impossibly difficult topic by writing about it.
To start with some background, Prince Siddhartha, after being disillusioned with his world, left his palace to find the absolute truth. He practised hard penance, like surviving on a single grain of rice, which almost killed him but the truth remained elusive. He told his five friends who were practising with him that this is not the way and he started preparing his body for deep meditation. His monk friends were distraught to see this, and so they left him and went to a place now called Sarnath. Siddhartha, determined to find the truth, meditated without getting up from under a Banyan tree. He finally found the truth and became ‘the Enlightened One’ or the Buddha. He tried to impart his knowledge to ordinary people but they could not understand him; they even laughed at him. He had to find his five friends again who had the mental ability to grasp this knowledge. And so he travelled to Sarnath, and that is where he gave his first sermon.

In his first sermon, the Buddha gave the four noble truths, which roughly are-
-Life is Dukkha …means sorrow, grief, difficulties
-Dukhas are the results of cravings or clinging to material things and emotions.
-Giving up on cravings and clinging will help us to overcome our dukhas.
-Follow the eightfold path to find Nirvana.

And so we come to the second sermon and the discourse on Not-Self.
The Buddha said that ‘the Self’ must have two qualities to be in charge. It must always be in control, and it must have permanence. He gave five aggregates which together constitute everything that can be there to a human being. He pointed out that since all these aggregates are impermanent and not at all in control, the self cannot reside in any of them. And so we conclude that there is no self.
The five aggregates are-
Form or the human body
Feelings – pleasant, unpleasant
Mental Formations which include emotions, volition, desires etc
Perceptions
Consciousness
For each one of these aggregates, the Buddha said-
This is not mine
This I am not
This is not myself”.
He asked if one can say that may his body be like this or that or may my feelings be only happy.
One would say that consciousness is the strongest contender for the claim to be the self but even that is not immune to impermanence. A good orator can change the thought process of a vast number of people with one compelling speech.
It is said that this knowledge cannot be taught and it is impossible to understand, and the only way to comprehend it is to experience it. Those who meditate seriously vouch for this fact. During meditation, they say, the boundaries of their bodies and the space surrounding them are not so clearly marked. There is emptiness, and so there is nothing to merge with, but also they are present in everything. They think that if more and more people meditate, there will be no war because how can you cut your own hand?

There is a lot of support for the concept of Not-Self in the modern psychology. In 2013, Douglas Kendrick introduced a modular model of mind in a book called The Rational Animal. According to this book, there are seven modules of our mind which influence us all the time. All the seven modules are equally influential, and they constantly compete with each other to take control of our mind. Which module gets to control us depends upon the stimuli that we receive from our environment or our own body. For example, if there is a life-threatening situation, the self-protection module takes over. Does that mean that there is no entity in charge of our mind or body?
Willem Kuyken, the professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford, thinks that the Buddha, Siddhartha, was a scientist, psychologist, genius, reformer and a social activist. He studied and understood the human mind 2500 year before anyone even thought about doing so.
The Buddha wanted to end the suffering of his friends and the people at large. If he could convince them that there is no self inside them, the clinging and cravings would become meaningless; which in turn would lead to liberation from dukkha.

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We are unaware of being unaware

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According to a study, we spend 47% of our time in mind wanderings. So for almost half of our lives, we are not there. It is easy to while away our time in day dreaming and be on the autopilot when we are not doing something in particular.
We need to transform the way we engage with our world by being more mindful. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is an authority on this subject says, ‘mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally. Mindfulness requires us to make an effort to notice things as they are, to hear the sounds, and to be aware of how we feel inside our mind and our body.
Try to be more observant on the next time you take a walk. Perceive without judging the people who pass by… strangers, acquaintances who wave and say hello, the trees, the flowers, the sidewalk, the traffic… If some thoughts arise, welcome them and then let them go to focus back on your walk.
And remember to be kind to yourself. You are not doing it wrong or failing in any way. All you need to do is to invite your attention back and start afresh.

 

 

Matsuo Basho

japanese garden

Three of my most favourite Haiku from the Master himself.


Wrapping dumplings in

bamboo leaves, with one finger,

she tidies her hair


 

The old pond

A frog leaps in

The sound of water…


 

Won’t you come and see

the loneliness? Just one leaf

from the kiri tree.

 

Shame Vs Kindness

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Shame shuts down the growth and learning centres in our brains.
This is something that parents, teachers, instructors, and trainers must know. We use shame mixed with all kinds of insults…You are not good enough…You can never learn this…You spend too much time on the net…You are wasting away your life…Your room is a mess.
The reason behind these reprimands is that maybe these will motivate the learner to work harder and show some improvement.
Not just with the others, we often use shame on our own selves. Are there things in your past that you feel you should have done differently? How many of us feel that we are not living our lives as perfectly as we planned them?

Brain scans have shown that the feeling of shame releases hormones that can shut down the learning centres in our brains. Our minds go numb and blank. We are more likely to give up rather than focus our attention on the task in front of us.
Shame never works.
So, what works?
Kindness
Kindness works. Kindness floods the brain with dopamine which can turn on those learning centres again helping the learners to show better results.
We also need to be kind to ourselves. Only kindness to our own selves can give us the courage to look back at things in our past that we are not very proud of. Also, with kindness, we can accept our present as the best versions of ourselves.

So when parents and teachers try to make children feel ashamed for their under-achievements, it is just for their own satisfaction. It serves to release their own anger and disappointment. It does absolutely nothing for the receiver.

Try giving kind attention to see the positive changes.

 

I Hate Nelly

All she had to do was to open her mouth and say-

-Hey Heathcliff, can I get you something?

-Looking for something Heathcliff?

-Oh look Cathy, Heathcliff has just walked in (and now sitting behind you listening to your idiotic ramblings)

-Take my shoe Heathcliff and hit me over my head with it so that Cathy will know that you are here.
But what did she do instead? Nothing!!!

Kept quiet and set off a series of events that would destroy so many lives.

#WutheringHeights #EmilyBrontë
#Heathcliff #CatherineEarnshaw

 

Hey Dad

dad

On this Father’s Day, I can recall the best birthday I’ve ever had because of his presence and the gift that he brought with him.

I was at my Nana’s house. A beautiful village…up in the hills

It was my birthday but everyone was distracted. There was a wedding that day in the family. That’s why we were there. My dad couldn’t come because he was busy with his work. I wasn’t very happy about the whole thing.

I was sitting at a table looking down, sulking and ignoring everyone and feeling kind of sad. I look up and saw my dad holding a gift for me. He had come just for my birthday. I snatched the pretty box from his hands and tore it open. There was this dainty blue frock with frills, ribbons

Thanks, dad for these memories. The gift still makes the most blissful picture in my mind. I pray that you have a long, healthy and happy life.

Happy Father’s Day!

Waiting

waiting

You are gone

I retrace your steps on the street

And in my mind

I stand at the spots where you paused

to take a call

and where I used to wait

for you

I can imagine you walking

towards me

I’m a nervous wreck

You are passing by now

You say hello and I just manage

a smile

You’re walking away now

from me

I’m hoping that you’d turn

give me another look

You don’t

You keep walking

I’ll keep waiting

 

The Presence of Mind

buddha 2

The mind wanders out of control. It is comparable to muddy water. Let it rest for long enough and everything floating in it slowly begins to settle down. The water becomes clean, clear and still.

We have random thoughts, feelings, ideas, problems and their solutions flashing across our minds at lightning speed. All this leaves us in a confused and stressed out mess. Our mind takes us either back into the past or future.

According to Judson Brewer, a research scientist, when we are not doing anything, in particular, the default mode of our mind take over and it starts to wander away from where we are. By practicing mindfulness we can be more and more in the present and see things as they are.

By practicing mindfulness we can be more and more in the present and see things as they are.

Be mindful

Stay focused

Be in the present but without judging.

Try not to think about whether you like something you see or you don’t or how it could be improved.

Just be observant

Just be there…