Identifying self with the body makes slightly more sense until we really ponder that one. If self is in this rig, where does it live?

By J. Martin

 

 

 

 

See Part One here

Earlier, we discussed Anicca/Impermanence and its bearing on our life experience as a whole. Now we’ll to the next thing that can make life suck, Anatta.

Anatta is usually translated as selflessness, or no-self. Yes, you read that correctly—no-self, Anatta. Insert Oprah quote, “You don’t have a self, and you don’t have a self, and you don’t have a self.” That is not to say you don’t exist but that core of this topic is there is no core to what we take to be ourselves.

We humans—just like all other things or phenomenon, being impermanent—are also devoid of a core.

If we simply examine ourselves, this becomes more and more apparent. We take ourselves to be a self or to have a self when in reality we aren’t and don’t. If you were to think of self, you’d have two real, solid choices, identity or difference with the body. Meaning you’d either have to identify this “self’” with the body or without the body. Identifying the self without the body would raise weird questions of: Where does it hang out? How does it get there and how does my “self” manage to come back here from moment to moment?

Identifying self with the body makes slightly more sense until we really ponder that one. If self is in this rig, where does it live? Is it in one place or dispersed throughout? If self were dispersed throughout, then tying your pinky finger would equate to tying the whole person. If it lived in one localized spot, that would make more sense but when we consider how the body continues endures.

We eat different foods, breathe in different particles of oxygen and expel various wastes. This whole process is a flux. How can something based on an ever changing pile of causes and conditions create a singular unchanging self? The answer—it can’t.

We are the result of a succession of moments adding on to the moments before it, like a chain going back into beginning-less time with no real first point. What we call ourselves is really a process.

We are a process more like a flame (this is my favorite analogy to explain the individuation process). Imagine lighting a candle and walking away (don’t actually do that… it’s a terrible fire hazard), and then you come back and look at the candle. Is it the same? Not really—it is a process requiring air, wick, wax etc. All the ingredients are different from moment to moment. How can their product be the same continuous result? It can’t; a math problem with changing variables cannot continuously result in the same answer.

Now let’s take this analogy a little further. Let’s say at the end of this particular candle’s life, with the last wisps of flame, you catch the flame to another candle. The process of this flame now has a completely new basis air, wick, wax, all different. The only thing that is constant is the process which only appears as constant, and is actually ever changing. This is my favorite analogy for the process of selfhood because it also explains rebirth. There is no core, no nucleus, soul, atman, or however you wish to phrase it, as is not essential to the process of individuation. The Buddha spoke a lot about this topic , and one of the most comprehensive theories of “self” is that of The Five Aggregates.

The Five Aggregates could be their own in depth dissertation worthy of a masters in philosophy. To quickly name the list:

  • Form
  • Feeling
  • Perception
  • Mental Formations
  • Consciousness
Form is the physical organism—the meat sack we get to pilot. Feeling meaning good, bad, or, neutral. It is the sensation we are met with as we come into contact with outside objects and ideas (not to be confused with emotions). Perceptions are the result of things coming into contact with their corresponding sense organ. For example sights contacting the eyes, sounds contacting the ears, tangibles contacting the tactile areas of the body etc. Mental Formation is a pretty heavy category that houses the emotions but more importantly the factors of will (karma—chosen actions). Consciousness is built outta the sweet thinking meat. It processes all the others as well as it’s class of things; ideas, symbols, abstract stuffs, and so on.

The Buddha said that everything you could conceive your “self” to be is in one or more of these categories. All of these things exist—you guessed it—with no self or core behind them.

 

Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall

 

J. Martin is a a 32 year old father of three and has been married for 13 years. He was a mechanic for 15 years, then his true calling found him and he became a firefighter. He has been a practicing Buddhist for nine years, including two years of meditation class at the Theravada temple near his home. His teacher moved on and before he did he told him, “Remember, I don’t teach students, I teach teachers. So do something with what you’ve learned.” So J. went to do what he could to further the meditative arts. Check out his blog, The Unusual Buddha.

 

Did you like this post? You might also like:

 

A Little Buddhism 101: How Buddhism is Like Baseball

  By Sensei Ken Madden Rather than talk about Buddhism, let’s start by talking about you. Why are you here? Curious? Want to become a monk, giving up all material goods, pleasures, and separating yourself from your relationships? Perhaps...

Do Criminals Deserve Compassion Too?

   By Sherrin Fitzer  Would you have compassion for an elderly woman who is getting out of prison and has nowhere to live? She’s had hip replacement surgery and walks with a walker. Because she is “maxing out”---which means she did her parole time in prison---the...

The Mindful Writer. {Book Review}

  By Dana Gornall   I was sitting on the bed in my bedroom folding an overflowing basket of clothes, when I heard my son in the other room talking to his friend. Kids don't really talk on the phone these days---they text and snapchat---but he was playing a...

First World Problems & the Loss of Human Connection

By Alex Chong Do Thompson A few years ago, it was common to see people complain about #firstworldproblems. For example, someone may have posted on social media, "My phone charger won't reach my bed. So I can't check my messages in the morning without getting up....

Comments

comments