The inexistent self of Buddhism, and the trans-personal self

The inexistent self of Buddhism: a brief description

In the Buddha’s Discourse on the Not-self (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.059.mend.html), he stated the reasons for his claim about the non existence of any self. Shortly, Buddha says us we human beings are the result of five aggregates. The impermanence is a key concept of Buddhism doctrine, also used in the Four Noble Truths (see, for example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Noble_Truths) for explain the roots of suffering.

Then, the argument of “there is no self” is:

  1. The five components are impermanent.
  2. If there was a self, it would be permanent, and the self has the control over the five components
  3. A person is no more than the five skandhas (this is the exhaustiveness claim).
  4. Therefore there is no self.

The prior argument has, from my point of view, one weak premise: the third; are we sure we are no more than the aggregate of five skandhas?.

And also the second premise contains a weak assumption: the control; we can live a state of consciousness in which we are mere observers, no taking control of the flow of things.  The weakness of this two assumptions, “a person is no more than their aggregates” and “the self are the controller of the aggregates” are two reasons that support an alternative position: there are a permanent self, an “I”, beyond the aggregates, and this “I” is not controlling anything, on the contrary, is a mere observer, untangled from the world.

Let me distinguish two levels of self: the psychological (the personality) and a transcendent one. For me, Buddha refers only to the former. The second self, the transcendent, is the one which we pay attention now.

And “I” that takes no control

We must be able to let things appear in the psyche. For us, this is an art which most people do not know anything. We are usually interfering, helping, correcting or denying, without letting the psychic process is developed in peace“. – Carl Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower, 1962, pg. 93

Jung speaks of a mind that does not interfere or react with the contents of consciousness, an idea that reminds us to the modern definition of Mindfulness: when we simply observe, without interfere, a deeply therapeutic result occurs, a relaxation in the experience of the moment present, and cease trying to control everything. We realize that if we stop fighting for control, the world does not fall apart, and we still are somebody, we accept the conditions of life, and found a new source of satisfaction.

The meditative traditions continue where psychoanalysis ends … we cut the roots of the reaction … That eliminates much suffering. Then you become master of your own mind and experience.” – Daniel Brown, MindScience.

As Buddha said, the liberation of the automatic process of reaction for control things brings us peace and relieve us of a big piece of our suffering; yet when nobody controls anything, we still feel we are somebody. Who we are?

An “I” that is only an observer, not implicated in then world

Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled. – Bhagavad Gita –

The second Buddha’s weak argument is about a self formed exclusively by the sum of the five aggregates, so is a material “I”. There are many spiritual traditions that claims the contrary, like the classic Hinduism, but nowadays even in the field of Psychology we can find alternative approaches:

Transpersonal Psychology is concerned with the study of humanity’s highest potential, and with the recognition, understanding, and realization of unitive, spiritual, and transcendent states of consciousness. – Lajoie, D. H. & Shapiro, S. I. “Definitions of transpersonal psychology: The first twenty-three years”. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 24, 1992

There are other higher levels of personality which all of us also have, less or more developed: higher affectivity and higher mind. The last is characterized for not be centered on the individual, but on the knowledge itself, we can say: on the truth. Is impersonal, not interested in personal ideas and opinions but in see things as really are.

On the higher affective level there are not personal reactions against external data, instead, the good, the goodness, are perceived as universal facts; when we contemplate a beautiful landscape the sense of harmony and grandiosity is universal, the same for all. All of us have such level, more or less developed.

Conclusion

I think, basing on other traditions, modern Mindfulness meditation, and also on Trans-personal Psychology, that we can live at higher level than our habitual “I”, our individual personality, who, like Buddha states clearly, is only a virtual being, the result of the sum of impermanent aggregates; instead, we can live as a higher “I”, that can retain the sense of be somebody while at the same time is living a whole connection, a trans-personal feeling.

Identification of the person with ideas, thoughts, opinions

The problem of identification with personal ideas

There is an automatic process that occurs very often among us is: I discover an idea that can be self-make or created by others and accepted by me, which I see as correct, as some; then that idea is attached, built, mixed with my personality, my sense of self. It is a natural process of the human psyche, in fact the ego itself is a mixture of intertwined together ideas, so this process is part of the creation and maintenance of ego.

The problem is that ideas, however good they may seem, are always partial, contain a partial truth, a point of view. But our ego needs to feel stable, seeks to be; basing their existence on partial ideas, he gets into trouble, as any external event that denies the accepted idea will produce a feeling of destruction of the structure of the ego, which feels like self-destruction due to identification mechanism. This is an exact process, so as it happens.

Perhaps it will seem to exaggerate, but the problem posed is, or may be, serious or very serious; depending on the level of identification that we have, how well or how badly structured that is our psyche, and external events, denial of ideas that have integrated into our sense of self it can be from merely a temporary discomfort to a catastrophe, well for us, or for anyone who it has been guilty of denying our beliefs.

This is clearly seen when one has formed an idea of how life should be: for I have a good job, good friends, a stable family, etc. If that idea becomes integrated with our sense of being, and so it does not get to even partially fulfilled, we feel denied, unsuccessful, and we fall into depression, one of the most widespread diseases in developed societies. In contrast, in countries that maintain permanent armed conflict, where life is very hard, is virtually unknown psychic depression; people who have to survive day to day do not plan anything, do not think of idyllic lives, and therefore can not identify with these ideas, that all they would do is add more suffering to which they have.

Also clearly it is seen in the process of identification with ideologies; in this case there is a structured set of ideas, rather dogmatic body, but remain partial, and are accepted and integrated deeply into the personality. Consider for instance religions, and also in, economic, moral or political ideologies. And think how many misfortunes, conflicts, wars and horrors we have suffered and still are suffering, due to the blind application of ideologies. In the extreme case, the identification is so strong that any individual who does not agree with the ideology is seen as a danger, as an enemy of our very existence, as someone who must be converted or destroyed. Therefore it is a very serious issue.

cruzads

Crusaders (“Christian warriors”) against Mongols in the religious wars of X-XII centuries

 

Fixing the issue

Why does it happen this identification? It is an expression of natural law: biological evolution has created complex beings, formed by billions of individual cells, which tend to be self-conscious, to be “somebody”. In the present course of our evolution, identification is with the mind rather than the body. There is a natural demand for be somebody, but who? It is this tendency to satisfy the demand to be someone that brings us to build an ego from ideas: I am so and so, I’m an engineer, I’m agnostic, I am … In fact we are nothing of all that, we should say: now I have a name, a profession, a belief … but are variable, if you ask me in ten years may have changed all that.

If when I meet with an idea, rather than accept it and incorporate it into my being, I meditate on the truth itself, my intuition of truth, which that idea is just one way, one aspect, then my view will be wide and I can accept other different ideas, and in the event that the original idea is diminished or denied will not affect my sense of being, I will not need to defend it, nor do I feel offended or lowered. There will not be any discomfort, resentment, frustration.

And this attitude will have a second effect, as important or more than the first: in doing so, I’ll discover as a being that is beyond ideas, however good they may seem. I will not confuse me with things, with states, with ideologies. I will realize that I am independent of all that, I simply am, no more. And no longer we suffer or will suffer more, by partial ideas. The same ego is weakened, it will not disappear, but lose strength, and can no longer take control, rather it will control us, and we will use it as a means of expression of our being.

I can not stop repeating the importance of this dis-identification: if formal education to include in their programs the development of this vision, so to be free, not tied to ideology, and did well, believing in what he does, putting the necessary resources, imagine the reader the social transformation that we would see in just a few years. The effect it would have on the conflicts we now have worldwide. It would be revolutionary. We will be peaceful beings.

Paloma Pau

The way of knowledge

Desires and knowledge

According to the ancient Vedas, we have a soul, and such soul has four distinct desires. The first is dharma, the desire to fully become who we were meant to be, the longing to achieve our highest state of well-being to fulfill our destiny. The second desire is artha, the desire for the material means (money, health) necessary for fulfill our dharma. The third desire is kama, the longing for pleasure in any and all forms. The fourth is moksha, the desire to be free from the burdens of the world, experiencing spirit, to achieve lasting peace and a state beyond the reach of the other three desires.

The more separated from the whole we feel, the more egoistic will be our desires. Our knowledge of the world depends on our mind (manas), and also the fulfilment of our desires; when the mind is exclusively dedicated to fulfil egoistic desires, the knowledge is lower, indeed is ignorance. One of the schools of classical Yoga, Jnana Yoga, aims to develop higher, true knowledge. Is the way suitable for intellectual people. In ordinary people mind is so dedicated to fulfil selfish desires than become entangled with them, making a mess named kama-manas, “desire-mind”.

A short tale

Once upon a time, in the Indian part of Punjab region,  there was a young promising teacher of University, doing his post-doctoral stage: Harmanpreet, who was both a very clever man but also a follower of ancient traditions, he meditated every morning for half an hour and also use to read spiritual books. Moreover, he had a mystic temperament, he can feel joy deeply and also he can feel sorrow very deeply, more deeply than the average person, because they was more sensitive and clever. Harmanpreet was also an amorous man, that is, strongly disposed to romantic love, considered for him the highest form of love while we are in the world. He had fallen in love sometimes since their adolescence, but nothing serious.

It was the first year in  the University for Advita, a girl belonging to the low Indian caste named Shudras. Her family was a very conservative one, but also they had a strong ambition, a will of become respected in spite of their caste; the father was a respected engineering, and he wanted all their sons and also daughters had also a career, and a good job. In the Hindu tradition Advita was starting to be marriageable, so their parents started to think about, despite she was not interested at all in such subject, she was only nineteen years old.

It happens that Advita felt attracted by Harmanpreet, one or her teachers; he was so polite and clever … Soon she look for him in Facebook and ask him friendship. Harmanpreet wondered a bit, is not usual such event, a student asking friendship with a teacher, but at last he accepted. Next night, after dinner, while Harmanpreet was working on his laptop, Advita opened a chat with him, and ask him about some academic topics, starting a chat that prolonged for two hours; the two young talked about music, travels, movies, etc etc. When chat was over, Harmanpreet felt a smooth excitation, a sense of happiness, it was a very nice chat. Next weeks such chats became common, strengthening the new friendship. Slowly, almost unwittingly, such chats became the most desired times of the day. In classroom both kept their composure, they  greet with a smile, no more.

At last Harmanpreet noticed he was deeply in love with Advita, a love strong and deeper than any other he was experienced before, so he started to make plans: he imagined being presented to her parents, who sure would be happy because he was a promising teacher, also imagined a very happy, joyful life. But when the young teacher opened their heart to Advita, problems started: their parents never will let her marry with somebody that was not their own choice, arranged with the family; even more, both young was of different castes: Harmanpreet was a brahmin, the higher caste, while Advita was a Shudra, low caste. Advita’s parents was against mixed caste marriages. Being Advita  educated in obedience and respect, also considering family the most important thing it the life, any dating with Harmanpreet was closed.

So Advita started to avoid Harmanpreet, chats was over, even she didn’t greet him at class, ignoring him, although she also loved him. When Harmanpreet accepted such way, ignoring her, then the girl felt stupid herself, and looked for him with her best sonrisa, trying to keep the friendship, then Harmanpreet regained hope, trying to go further, causing the reaction of Advita, who moved away again. Such cycle happened and happened, causing a lot of suffering to Harmanpreet, who even felt ill, feverishly.

He started to meditate in the situation, reflecting, even contemplating the situation, looking for relief. While meditating, he stopped their mind from wandering, and contemplating the facts from a mindfulness state. One day he was contemplating the fact: “when I try to get close to her, following my strong desire for her, she go further, and when we relax my desire, waiting nothing, then she returns, giving me their friendship“; suddenly he had an insight, “selfish desire for her is not love, on the contrary, my desire prevents her love”  and at the same time, he noticed a strange feeling of let go, something released from him. At that very moment the longing for a romantic love was dissolved  for the insight, because he realized passionate love was not the higher kind of love, indeed, the higher love is the unattached one, when we are able to give without expect anything in return: True Love is what remains when the selfish passion ends. And Harmanpreet ceased to suffering, entering in a peaceful loving state.

The desire that Harmanpreet felt was very strong indeed, covering the four Vedic desires: he experienced dharma, the longing to achieve their highest state of well-being and fulfill their destiny, thinking Advita was the way for achieve it; also he experienced artha, the desire for the material means, thinking about Advita as it; evidently he also experienced kama, the longing for pleasure, and until a certain point also experienced moksha, the desire to experiencing spirit, to achieve lasting peace, imagining he will feel the higher kind of love through Advita. After the insight, such desires became highly purified. Harmanpreet now only wants the best for Advita, also the best for all the people around; he himself had pure Love in their heart, waiting any chance for share it with anybody, without  expectations. Such state is blissful. Harmanpreet is now a  Jnana yogi, he has higher knowledge about life and love.

Evolution

Last week was not a good one for my wife, so also not for me: after two years of disease, she became worst. Slepless nights, worries, go to work with headache, and a sense of frustration , also negative thoughts, like “I can’t do anything more, I abandon, I can’t … etc”. I realized one thing is to be able for contact, for touch, our inner peace, which lives within us, always stable, always peaceful, and other thing is to be able of act and think positively in front  of  a storm. I can “visit” the peace, for rest, but the world still are a hard, dangerous site.

Family gathered for dinner, we usually watch TV, bad habit, I know it, but we do it. Watching a documentary about a filipino woman, married, poor, who went to Saudi Arabia for work as a cook in a house, the owner threatened her with a knife, rape her, she became pregant, then she had to escape from the country like a criminal due to the laws there, which condemn with jail any pregnant unmarried woman without further consideration … not a good documentary for improve mood.

Opening the doors of mind

Later, I scanned the channels looking for something better for my mood, and found a cartoon movie, “Prince of Egypt”, I have watched it yet, but I decided to stay for a while. The main character, Moses, is hosted in a desert tribe; he’s is discouraged, he feels his life is worthless, and the life has no sense. An old tribe sage noticed it, and started to sing:

A single thread in a tapestry
though its color brightly shines
can never see its purpose
in the pattern of the grand design

At this point I started to pay attention, because something resonates within me, my mind state was similar to Moses …

And the stone that sits up on the very top
of the mountain’s mighty face
doesn’t think it’s more important
than the stones that forms the base

Yeah , I think so, each of us has a role in this play that is life, and all are important …

So how can you see what your life is worth
or where your value lies
you can never see through the eyes of man
you must look at your life
look at your life through heaven’s eyes

Aha … but, what is “heaven’s eyes”? for me, is a look from an open, clean, illuminated mind. A little mind is always a closed one, watching only a little bit of the whole, but, in their ignorance, judging the whole based only on a small part. It was like a breath of fresh air for me. I “only” can love and support my wife, I can’t do any more, but is not a little value act at all, even seeing she are still bad.

Evolution

Should a man lose everything he owns
has he truly lost his worth
or is it the beginning
of a new and brighter birth

Indeed, all the brutality of this world, the unfair laws, the oppression, brutality, wars, violence, etc, etc, are the expression of Natural laws through the human mind. Why on earth the mantis devours her consort? In Nature, the weak perish, nobody help the sick, nobody care the wounded, the hungry. Violence is a natural instinct. As a specie we already are rational animals: the instinct of the jungle lives within us, moving our thoughts; that’s why all the violence in our world, is the natural one but rationalized through our intellect. But also we have the ability of transcend our instincts, so our advanced societies offer protection for the weak, for the ill. Our potential is unlimited, because we have not only an intellect, but also a spiritual facet. Even now a days we the humankind have coined a new concept: spiritual intelligence, did you have heard it before? I think is really great that exist such concept, because it means our higher spiritual possibilities are no longer  ill-defined, or just religious stuff, but clear concepts and, more important, skills we can develop.

No life can escape being blown about
by the winds of change and chance
and though you never know all the steps
you must learn to join the dance
you must learn to join the dance

Yeah, let’s dance, the dance of life, even unknowing all the steps, is the only way for learn to dance.

So how do you judge what a man is worth
By what he builds or buys
You can never see with your eyes on earth
Look through Heaven’s eyes, look at your life
Look at your life
Look at your life through Heaven’s eyes

The source of emotions

sat-chit-ananda

Two constellations of emotions, and their origins

I’ve reading a book, a scientific one, about emotional intelligence, in which emotions are classified in two big classes: positive emotions, giving us welfare, and negative emotions, giving discomfort. In each class there are three main emotions: happiness, love, joy are positive, angry, sadness and fear are negative. All other emotions, about three hundred are listed in the book, are derived from such six main ones.

 

A statement caught my attention: “is easy to fall in the constellation of negative emotions, and in the other hand positive emotions can’t last for a long; we need strive, putting our will in it, for stay in positive states; is like any ‘gravitational force’ pull us down towards the circle of negative emotions“.  Immediately I thought: “such negative gravitational force must be our mind, because ultimately only the mind is the root of suffering. On the other hand, logically, maybe the positive emotions have their source beyond the mind. I’ve become excited with this thought, so I took a sheet of paper and drew some schemas, trying to relate the two classes of emotions with their sources, using the ancient knowledge about the hidden nature of human being. The final schema is the one represented above this lines. As far as I know, there are not any other explanation linking emotions with ancient wisdom. Let me explain the diagram.

Above all states there are the higher Self, with three fundamental attributes: Sat, Chit, Ananda, or Existence, Consciousness, and Bliss. In such primordial high level there aren’t duality: all is one. Below this level we find the mental plane and the duality induced by mind; as we descend the matter is densest, from higher mind to the low mind and matter, that is, intellect and physical body. Intellect creates the ego, and also is the source of all negative emotions, which I draw at low level, as part of the body, because at this level we have to talk in terms of body-mind. Indeed, any negative emotion affects directly the health of the body. At the same time, intellect comes from the Chit attribute, meaning the awareness of the mind is merely a reflect of the higher non dual and absolute awareness named Chit.

 

On the other hand, I drew the positive emotions above, near to the higher non dual plane; even one of them, happiness, crosses partially the non dual plane, because while we still are  in the material world we are able to experiment the bliss in the Samadhi state. In the diagram, the source of all positive emotions is the attribute of the Self named Ananda (absolute bliss). That’s why positive emotions can’t last for a long … while we we remain identified with our mind, which only can produce negative emotions. In meditation we can transcend the mind, and in natural way we can experience, at some degree, bliss, expressed if the form of positive emotions. Of course there are also relations between positive emotions and intellect, but the message here is intellect is not the source.
I think the diagram has important practical applications; every time we feel bad emotions we can think is due our strong identification, in such time, with the ego-intellect, because is the source of such emotions. We know why, the mechanism of suffering. Then, also the solution is clear: stop the mind. Obviously, we only can stop the mind at will if we have the proper training for it: if we are experienced meditators, then we can. 

 

A single understanding:
“I am the One Awareness,”
consumes all suffering
in the fire of an instant
Be happy.
– Ashtavakra Gita –

You were not expecting, and yet happened

You were not expecting, and yet happened
Your life was “solved”. No problems. All is right.
You had two houses, two cars, a good job, family, etc. etc.
Your future didn’t have any surprise, only grow old, slowly.

Yet looking carefully, you could see there was insatisfaction.
But you was anesthetized by the daily routine, you were not able to realize the insatisfaction, it was subconscious. Moreover, you didn’t want to see it.
So seemed your life was decided.

And then, you met someone. And your established points of view start to change.
Slowly, your mind become open, and you become able to see your life as really is: incomplete.

You know, the truth is tough: now you know, now you need change all, but is so difficult. How you can change all without damage your family? Impossible.
So the suffering starts his job: you feel like pulled by two ropes in contrary directions, with enormous strength, one want to keep your life, want don’t damage your beloved ones, the other want freedom, want fulfillment of your old dreams, almost forgotten, this dreams now are knocking your door, they claim answers.

The pressure and the suffering increases, the personality starts to crack, and eventually, collapses, unable to give protection against the pressure of your contradictory desires. Someone had to give.

That day, something die within you, and you reborn again as someone different. Your old desires, and frustrations, dissolved. For some time, only a void remain there, an unpleasant sensation. But Nature is wise, and he always put something for fill the void, in this case, Nature replaces desires with peace, only peace, yes, but a impressive peace, deep one, unlimited one. And suffering stops.

Living without desires
You ask: is possible to live without desires? Well, yes, but is incompatible with to have an ego, because both are non separables. So the end of desires implies the death, or the weakening, of the ego.

To live without an ego, or with a weak ego, implies to start to feel the unit of life, the unit of the existence. Also, you become able to feel your real self, beyond your body and mind. This inner self was there when you were a child, a teenager, and adult; years only add stuff to your personality, but the inner self is the same. So you meet yourself. The most important meeting.

The inner travel starts, is not a travel for weak people, because it destroys your world. Really, spirituality is a destructing way, your points of view, your ideas, concepts, even you own image about yourself, are destroyed. You reborn again. You know, there are a lot of spiritual paths, from Sufis up to Zen, from Taoism up to Hinduism … but the aim is always the same: destruct the ego, the lower self, know the inner real self, beyond dualities, aligned with all the creation, free of selfish desires. And this is only the first stage of the travel.

Comments and questions about this inner travel will be well received 🙂

Living the death

Yesterday morning my father-in-law, that is, the father of my wife, and the grandfather of my son, was cremated. It was three sad days, since we received the notice of his sudden death, after their breakfast, while he still was on the table.

We received many visitors while we was in the wake ceremony, relatives, friends, friends of relatives, friends of friends, etc. I have seen again  faces that I had not seen in decades, some of them so aged that at first sight I cannot recognize them. Some of them saying I not changed at all in all these years, obviously a false assertion. Some of them saying we could meet again more frequently, another doubtful assertion.

But, over all this, there was the illusion of separation between us and the deceased. I say illusion because I’m absolutely convinced about the continuity of life, for me death is only  a big change, mostly a physical one, because the person still is the same after death, at least for a while. Yet in my current state I can’t see it so clearly, not enough yet to bear with the sadness and tears of the people surrounding me, so I have had short intervals of deep sadness. So, another time, life give me another lesson, about my current development.

And yesterday at evening, at home, seeing the news, with the remember of these sad days so fresh in the memory, the quick succession of bad, very bad and irrelevant news, such as the loss of an aeroplane with more two hundred passengers, followed by the scenes of Russian force invading Crimea, followed by the last results of football championships, made me feel so far away, and remembered this word: Samsara. 

Later, at night, I realized that lately, each sad fact of life, each delusion, makes me more committed to the spiritual way, the Dharma, to the way of end of suffering. Indeed, this way are becoming the first priority in my life. And this is not a selfish way, not at all, because I want to better help  people to overcome their suffering. I hope so.

Dedicated to the memory of Julius.