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Something that interests us all is ourselves - because we are the subject and
main focus of our lives. No matter what you think of yourself, there is a
natural interest because you have to live with yourself for a lifetime. The self
view is therefore something that can give us a lot of misery if we see ourselves
in the wrong way. Even under the best of circumstances, if we don't see
ourselves in the right way we still end up creating suffering in our minds. The
Buddha was trying to point out that the way to solve the problem isn't through
trying to make everything right and pleasant on the external dimension, but to
develop the right understanding, the right attitude towards ourselves, and to
overall just do what we can. Living in the US at this time, we expect comfort
and all kinds of privileges and material comforts. This makes life more pleasant
in many ways, but when our every need is provided for and life is too
comfortable, something in us just doesn't develop. Sometimes it is the struggle
through hardship that develops and matures us as human beings. But when we give
up or surrender to restriction and to restraint through wisdom, we find
liberation. Life is the experience of restriction and restraint, being born in
our own skin and having to live under the laws of nature. Mentally we can fly to
the sky, but physically we are bound to limitations that get more and more
restrictive the older we get. This isn’t seen as suffering by us because
that’s just the way things are. The sense of oneself is something that we are
aware of when we are children; when we’re born there is no sense of a self as
being anything. As we grow up we learn what we are supposed to be, if we are
good or bad, if we are pretty or ugly, if we are smart or stupid. So we develop
a sense of ourselves. Even when we get older, sometimes we still have very
adolescent attitudes or childish emotional reactions to life that we have been
unable to resolve except by suppressing or ignoring them. There is one way of
talking about the self that makes it sound very doctrinal. It seemed to me that
Buddhists can sometimes say that there is no self, as if it was a proclamation
that they have to believe in; as if there were some higher being saying
"THERE IS NO SELF BOYS AND GIRLS!" It doesn't seem true to just go
announcing that there isn't any self- because what is this experience that we
are feeling right now? Where I am now there seems to be very much a sense of
oneself. I’m feeling, I’m breathing, I see, I hear; I react to things -
people can praise me or criticize me and I feel happy or sad. “ ‘All states
are without self’, when one sees this in wisdom, then he becomes dispassionate
towards the painful. This is the Path to Purity.” (134 Rahula) So if this
isn't me then what is it? And am I supposed to go around as a Buddhist believing
that I don't have a self? Or if I am going to believe, should it be in something
like God where I can believe that I have a self, because then I can say things
like "my true self is perfect and pure" even if it’s not? That at
least gives me some kind of inspiration and reason to live my life, rather than
saying that there is no self and no soul, leaving a total of zero possibilities.
These are just examples of the use of language; we can say “there is no
self” as a proclamation, or "there is no self" as a reflection. The
reflective way is to encourage us to contemplate the self. The Buddha was
pointing to the fact that when we really look at these changing conditions that
we tend to identify with, we can begin to see that these are not self. What we
believe in is not what we really are: it's a position, it’s a condition,
it’s something that changes according to time and place. Each one of us is
experiencing consciousness through the human body that we have. There are
moments in our lives when the self does stop functioning and we get in touch
with the pure state of conscious experience. That is what is known as bliss. But
when we have those blissful experiences, immediately the desire to have them
again takes over, and no matter how hard we try to have it again, as long as
we're attached to the view of wanting bliss again, we will never get it. But in
this state of attentive awareness, we begin to see what is actually taking
place, then we can let go of the causes of our suffering. We see how it actually
is, and we have that intuitive wisdom to let go. So in this life as a human
being from birth to death every moment is an opportunity for understanding in
the right way.
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