from Rev. Matthew
Welcome all - Many fun things happening at RBC. Chanting, Meditation and Book group. Men’s group was last week and women’s group is next week. We made progress on the new sign. Re-modeled much of Hiroma Kitchen and weeded! Sometimes Rev. Shelley suggests we rename RBC - “Our lady of the perpetual project”. But stuff’s gotta get done- Right?
Starting with a story - The apricot and plumb blossoms remind me of growing up in Marin county. In the Spring we used to climb and climb among the blossoms. One time we wanted to make a rope swing. The only rope we could find was tied and tangled on another branch. I remember sitting there and trying to untie the rope. I was in 2nd grade so it was like trying to untie the Gordian Knot. Anyway no short cuts, I had to untie it to have a long enough piece to swing by. I tried pulling and prying with a stick. That didn't work - I think it made things worse. Then I tried working the rope back on itself. I was in mid knot so that didn't work. Then I tried working it backwards from the free end. That seemed to do the trick. And we made the swing. The puzzle of non-self is like a knot. Forcing and pushing doesn't solve the puzzle. Gently loosening is the best.
The Buddha taught about Anatta - non-self - In a world where all other world-views assumed a permanent eternal unchanging soul was in every being. Buddha realized that what we feel is actually a delusion of self. When we live this way we are not joyful. He taught that if we wake up to the true reality of things - realize selflessness - troubles will fall away and joy flows in. Why is this so and what can we do about it?
The selfie-ness is the cause of Anger - Craving - Jealousy- Pride and Ignorance. Ignorance is the worst - the root cause of the delusion. We don’t know who we are. We are ignorant of who we are and we identify with this presumed “self”. Right now we all have the feeling “we are here and we are listening to the Dharma talk” - what we call identity is formed around our name, our job, our likes and dislikes - we strongly identify with this construct. It drives our choices in life. The trouble is identifying with the attitude of I-Me-Me-My divides us from reality. We feel as though there is duality in the world - us and them - When really there is oneness. In large part we believe in the self. The self is the experiencer of pain and pleasure. As long as we believe there is someone - Me - here who experiences the pleasure and pain we will continue to have difficulties. Under the feeling of self we are in a state of constant bouncing between the two - between the wanting and the not-wanting. This makes for a very agitated being. Constantly bouncing back and forth between the two. Always waiting for the next shoe to drop is a hard life. We can’t find peace Joy or- Equanimity that lasts.
The Buddha recommended that we examine life. Why do we feel this way? Where does this “I-me- me-my” that we feel reside?
Is our name our self?
We are very attached to names - we are frustrated when someone misspells it, or when another person has the same name - its a little befuddling. “Hey - buddy that’s my name”. Its almost like we lose our identity if someone has the same name as us. Well - yes - identity is separate and the world is not. The Buddha wants us to look at things - closely and calmly - are we really our names? No.
Many people have changed names and they are still apparently the same person? When I was ordained as a priest I got a new name - Shaku Shu Nen - it means Wisdom of the Nembutsu - having this other name doesn't really change who I am. It didn’t make me wise when I got that name. Maybe they wanted me to work toward that and I do try.
What about the Body? Maybe the body is the place where the “I-me- me-my” resides. When we look at a picture of our selves 15 years ago. Is that the same you that is you today? Well the cells are all replaced - blood cells last about four months. The grandad cells are the bone cells they live for about ten years. My point is that after 15 years there is very little - of that previous you alive there any more. And don't forget. there are more living organisms in and on your body than there are people on planet earth. They live and die every day. Is this colony “me”? With constant change how can the body constitute the permanent self?
The Buddha saw that we are actually constantly re-constituted from five categories of stuff - really they are Heaps-of-Stuff - what he called the 5 skandas...
form feeling consciousness perception mental-formations
Say them with me …
form feeling consciousness perception mental-formations
He taught that when a sense organ comes in contact with a sense object - like when your nose comes in contact with the aroma of fresh baked bread - consciousness arises. Once this happens we have a feeling about it - feelings come in three types Pleasant feeling, Unpleasant feelings, and Neutral feelings. Notice this is before we know what is is. The we experience perception - nose consciousness recognizes the smell as baking bread. Then we experience what the Buddha called Metal formations - all the ways we react to a sensation process - mentally - so our wholesome or unwholesome intentions that arise in response to the sensation process. “I want bread”, “I want the bread with butter”, “Where’s the butter”. These metal formations are the habitual intentions that lead to actions of body speech or mind - they lead to our Karma. This Metal formations stuff is where we develop all our ideas, opinions and prejudices - it is the place where we develop positive qualities of mind - or not. This is where we have some measure of ability to shape our metal habits and the person we want to become. The Buddha described about 51 different metal formations we experience. [not going to list those]
This is important because the Buddha shows us that we are not at the mercy of our previous actions, we have a measure of control to influence our impulses and intentions as they arise. But habits of mind are hard to break. These five aggregates all occur interdependently and are changing from moment to moment. No one of these is the self. The self we identify with is really the confluence of these five heaps of stuff. And my five heaps of stuff are at times intermingled with the heaps of stuff that constitute you. And the room and the world and the solar system all intermingling and inter-being together.
If we develop some awareness of this process of the becoming of the self in each moment, we can change and direct our self in a wholesome way. We can decide whether or not to we act-out when someone at work makes a snide comment - or we can develop the habit of responding with forgiveness when faced with a challenge. If we understand this teaching, we kind of de-personalize the thought. We won’t see the thought as “my thought”, instead it is the thought arising. If its not my anger, then I don't have to go to the mat for it. Do I. I can walk away. Or engage constructively.
This teaching shines the light of day on the workings of the false self - the delusion of self. And the great thing about delusions is that they are like vampires - they wither in sunlight. This helps us see thoughts and impulses for what they are just the heaps of stuff happening and not “our precious identity” that must be defended. We can become peaceful observers of the unfolding of the mind. This brings calm and joy where there was agitation and difficulty. Belief in this permanent and inherently existing self brings suffering. Freedom from this delusion brings joy.
The Buddha used the common example of a car - well he said chariot - A car is made from different parts - chassis, wheels, engine, glass - there is no real one thing that is CAR there. It’s just an assembly of parts. The self is like that - its all these different processes happening together that seems like something solid and permanent - but its not - really. We are bound by this delusion. We are constrained by the misperception that we are a self. We can only go so far. We can’t grow and become as sentient beings. Because we are bound to the “I- Me-Me-My”. Believing like this we are limited and constrained in a world that is open and free. Being limited in a free world is not joyful. We can be joyful if we let go the self and leave the self behind. That is what the Buddha wants us all to do. He wants all sentient beings to do that.
All of them. Everywhere. Yes - You too.
We are not our body. We are not our thoughts. We are not our feelings. We are not our perceptions.We are not our mental formations. If realize that, we can be freed from clinging to the idea of self - and the difficulties of life end.
“HE hurt ME” “YOU took MY thingy away” “THEY forgot MY promotion”. “THEY did this to ME”- none of these work anymore. They stop making sense. If you remove “I- ME-ME-MY. In fact the seem pretty silly. Equanimity comes and joy flows in. We can be at peace. When we focus on these thoughts, we spend all our time agitated, clinging to the “I- ME-ME-MY”. Imagine trying to hold onto the water in a stream - hands clenched and grasping onto the water that slips between our fingers at every instant - a very frustrating experience - add to it that we actually believe our life depends on this grasping and the opportunities for Joy are far between. Stress tension, and anxiety comes from this clinging - grasping - suffering and Dhukka result. If we can let go that clinging. Open our hands in the cool water of the stream - feel it flow over us - Real clarity flows in. Peaceful and calm become easy and accessible. This has happened to us all from time to time for brief periods. Our judgement becomes realistic instead of skewed. Relationships become whole instead of “sided” and dualistic - Us and Them goes away. One Buddhist teacher in Thailand says it this way...
If you let go a little, you will have a little happiness.
If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of happiness.
If you let go completely, you will be completely happy. -Ajahn Chah
Sometimes when we talk about letting go the self. People worry that this is somehow dangerous or suicidal. “If my clinging to self was gone would would I have reason to eat? or even get up in the morning?”
The example of the Buddha is clear. He didn't disappear or turn to smoke. He became a wonderful compete person. Joyful and kind. He still had form - feeling - perception - mental formations - and consciousness. He just didn't identify with them. The thought that I am this body, or I am this thought, or I am this gender...I am this whatever was gone. From the Bahuna Sutra...
"Freed, dissociated, & released from form, the Tathagata dwells with unrestricted awareness. feeling... perception... fabrications... consciousness... birth...aging... death... stress... defilement, the Tathagata dwells with unrestricted awareness.
"Just as a red, blue, or white lotus growing in the water, rises up above the water and stand with no water adhering to it, in the same way the Tathagata — freed, dissociated, & released from these ten things — dwells with unrestricted awareness." -Bahuna Sutta
The Buddha lives like we do, but without clinging to the self ideas. Freed and aware in joy and compassion. We aspire to this realization. We are all capable of this realization. We all have this Buddha nature inside of us.
How do we get there? What is the path?
The path has eight aspects - like the spokes of this wheel - Understanding Thought Speech Action Livelihood Effort Meditation and Concentration.
This constitutes what we call Buddhist practice. Living life in a Buddhist way. What we find is that the illusory self - really a delusion of self - when it is looked at with any effort, tends to weaken. It wilts a bit when examined. It fries in the bright light of understanding. Dogen Zenji said it this way…