Self Help for Non-Self
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…
“To study the Path is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things”
― Dōgen Zenji
Applying Buddhist teaching is an ongoing process. Untangling and untying the knot of self takes time. Being a Buddhist is not an end, its a process. Sometimes in my interactions with folks from other traditions I run into the Rabbi. The Rabbi is always after me about not being a good Buddhist. I should do this and I should be active for that cause. He seems to not understand that I am not The Buddha, I am a Buddhist. I am not responsible to perfection, rather I completely acknowledge my bombu nature and walk a path toward wisdom and compassion. We need to recognize this is a very difficult process. It goes against our programming. Modern culture is absolutely opposed to the Buddha’s insights. We walk this way against the stream.
The “Self Help” the title of this talk refers to is this process. Help the self melt. We engage in the process of gently and compassionately calling-the-self-out for its actions and habituating away from “I-Me-Me-My” mode in a real human life. That is the Buddhist path.
How do we do it? Sometimes we say that the first practice in Buddhism is Dana - Selfless Giving. Generosity is a self melter - Self grows through possessiveness. Like a knotted fist: when you open the hand to give, there’s no more fist—no more self. Giving untangles the knot of self.
We can give so much in our life - many opportunities to untangles the knot of self. For example, you can give time, helpfulness, donations, restraint, patience, non-contention, and forgiveness. Any path of service - raising a family, caring for others, many kinds of work - incorporate generosity. We also give to the temple. A lot of traditions do.
I asked an LDS friend how they did Dana in their tradition. He said they had an institutionalized tithe. They bill the members 10% of their annual income on a monthly basis. He said it was from the bible somewhere. I’m not a bible scholar, so I take him at his word. But 10% - ouch.
So then I asked the Imam at the NNMC how Dana was handled in their tradition. He explained that zakat was a Pillar of Islam. All things belong to Allah, wealth is just held by human’s in trust. Zakat means ‘purification’. The Kor’an is quite technical. It says the percentage a believer should give is calculated as follows - Of the gold, silver, and cash funds that have reached an amount of 85 grams of gold and are held in possession for one lunar year; 2.5% percent and should be given those in need. “We can also give more if we like” he said...Pretty clear.
In Buddhism we have our tradition of Dana. We give our gift of money or time and value flows from our regular life to the spiritual realm of the Dharma. It is a selfless gift received selflessly. We see selfless giving in many forms throughout our community. Members are fixing things, improving things every week. Selflessly giving their time and skills. We saw Mike and Steve and Chris this week - Thank you. Giving untangles the knot of self.
Selfless giving also happens when temple members give money to the temple. Yes, I did use the word ‘money’ and NO, religion is not just about money. I know that some of you probably left their old spiritual home because of money talk that got out of hand. But, we have to occasionally talk about...it. New people often ask - How does this place sustain? Some assume we are supported by the HQ temple in Tokyo. We are not. And we do not pay annual tribute to them either. We are independent.
Remember, money is not thought of as evil in Buddhism. It represents value and opportunity to support the Dharma. Everything we have in the temple is the result of members and friends sharing some of their money with the rest of us. That is why we have heat in the temple. Someone gave so we could pay the heating bill. The same for the water and the lights. Even the priests small salary is the result of members and friends practicing Dana. Every single thing, even the tiny push-pins in the bulletin board, are there because of Dana. When I look at this place and think about that, I’m humbled and grateful to be with you.
Doug Erwin was kind enough to spearhead getting the little payal “donate” button on the website. So its even easier to give Dana. As a matter of fact there are new QR codes on the Dana boxes to make a small donation with your phone super easy. If you don’t know what a QR code is…..just don’t worry about it.
The point is that members donate regularly and that sustains the temple. All the members make a simple pledge for annual Dana, some give this at one-go in December, others through monthly gifts. Even if we do an annual donation, we still give something in the Dana basket each time the basket is out. At meditation, or at the service, or book group or at Shin Buddhism 102 Class [next week]. When we receive something from temple, we always give back in this way. Buddhists have always chipped away at the self in this way. Self help for non-self.
In my examples of other traditions they had ready formulas on how much is right. We have our system of juuuust right to guide us. Like the tuning of a guitar string. If I give so much that I am short on money in my everyday life that is too much. If I give an amount that is inconsequential, that that is too little. It will have no self-melting effect at that level. Juuust right is in the middle there and has the best effect. Not too much, but it should be noticeable to have positive effect on the self.
Another self help for non-self - Healthy Humility - that is a self melter.
Most of all, self grows through promoting self-importance; it’s antidote is healthy humility. Being humble means being natural and unassuming [not being a doormat, ashamed, or inferior.] It just means you’re not setting your self above others. Humility feels peaceful. You don’t have to work at impressing people, and no one is at odds with you for being pretentious or judgmental. When we bow. We are briefly experiencing this humility. We bow to the Buddha nature in the other person. Some folks are uncomfortable bowing more than ever so slightly. Try it. Its ok - its good. Nice big bow from time to time. When we offer incense, the bow there is bowing before the Wisdom and Compassion of the UNIVERSE, go ahead and bow.
In the Shoshinge chant we repeated the line - “Namua Amida bu” many times. And each nembutsu section ends with an extra Namu. This is the act of bowing down and taking refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Something like…
I take refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe.
I take refuge in the wisdom and compassion of the universe.
I take refuge...
This is a self-melter.
There are many of these traditional practices….
Let go of being “special”.
See the big picture in mundane moments
Stop identifying with objects
Relax About What Others Think
We will look at these another time. I want to conclude with a quote from Albert Einstein. He wrote to a father who had lost his son…
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. “
The Buddha’s teaching does not justify the self. But neither does it demean or suppress self. We don’t make self special - it’s just another mental pattern arising in our mind stream - not different or better than any other mind-object. When we ease off on the selfi-ness we center on openhearted spaciousness, goodwill toward our own thriving, and contented peaceful relationships with all other beings. With a substantially diminished self we are free to be healthy and strong and live. To be caring and kind. To awaken, abiding as radiant, spacious, loving consciousness. To feel protected and supported by the universe. To be happy and comfortable, serene and fulfilled. To live and love in peace.
Let's do a little self melting by wishing well to all sentient beings in the universe - just repeat after me...
May they be happy;
May they be free from harm:
May they receive boundless compassion;
And may peace and harmony fill their heart ...
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