Finding Yourself (Or Not) In Buddhism
February 25, 2011 § 7 Comments
So, you’ve undertaken this journey. This study, this way of thinking, a philosophy, which finally SPEAKS to you. You find thoughts in it you knew you’ve been thinking all along, and you find they’re not just YOUR thoughts, they were also the thoughts of one important person who lived thousands of years ago — his name was Siddharta Gautama. Happily, you read along and learn about the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and slowly but surely, this thing creeps into your consciousness … You realize, there’s no “you” in Buddhism.
You read along and you wonder, WHAT? How could I not be me? How could there be no “me”? “I”‘ve been here all along! Look, “I”‘m still here! See? See that? “Me”! Lookit, there “I” am again! Oops “I” did it again! Here “I” am see? “Me”!
But no, says Buddha, there is no you. The “you” that you think of as “you”, nope. Not there. Not, there, at, all.
And that’s about where I’m finding myself right now in my studies, and BOY is this a tough concept to wrap my head around. It’s an especially tough concept, I think, for most Western-thinkers because of how we structure our idea of ‘self.’Truly, we have a pretty set idea of who ‘we’ are — democrat, republican, Christian, atheist, liberal, conservative, Mom, Dad, Wife, Husband, Brother, Sister, and any combination of those things. We’re any of those things, and that’s it. We don’t really change it. Everything we think and do must fit into the parameters of those things that we’ve identified as part of who that “I” or “self” is.
What I see, though, from what we’ve been reading with the Skeptical Readers of SL book club that I run, is that part of letting go — part of the cessation of ‘dukkha’ or suffering, is understanding this very concept of what is often referred to as ‘no-self.’
Part of understanding the idea of the “I” that we refer to is in taking a look at the Five Aggregates, which I’ve got links to articles and explanations for on my Terminology page. Even with these articles, the idea of there not being a ‘self,’ is really tough to grasp. At one moment I feel like I get it, and the next moment, I clearly do not.
Taking into consideration previous discussions with my virtual Sangha-mates and group discussions, my readings, research, and desperate attempts to wrap my head around this, I’ve come up with this analogy (I need to work in analogies because concepts like this? Yeah, I need to put them into terms I can understand. Remember, I’m SO not academic, ugh.)
“No-Self” is like the color white because …
- just like white is composed of all the colors of light in the spectrum combined, the picture composed of ‘myself’ comes from the Five Aggregates — how “I” react to various stimuli — sensory, mental, etc., makes up the ‘me’ that I know.
- just like the color white, that ‘me’ is not unchanging. It is reflected differently at different times — just like the color white can be on cloth, stone, a flower or clouds, and it’s still ‘white,’ “I” take different forms as well.
So, it’s not really that there’s ‘no me,’ just like there’s no ‘no color’ in ‘white,’ it’s just that “I” am made up of the Five Aggregates, and how that ‘me’ is reflected out depends on, well, the ‘material’ on which they are being reflected by–just like all the colors of the spectrum that make the color (soon to be known by me as ‘no-color’) white. White doesn’t change, just what the white is on.
Uhhhhmmm, so am I even close? This is how far I’ve developed my understanding of this question. I’m hoping that I’ve gotten it, or am getting close to getting it, because understanding this idea of ‘self’ is central to fully understanding the concepts of ‘suffering’ (second part of the Four Noble Truths) and the ‘cessation of suffering (Third Noble Truth).
Understanding the self, and how it clings, and how the idea of self and how it should actually be formed are important parts of the idea of reaching nirvana, nibanna, or however else you say ‘enlightenment.’
Not that I ever really expect to actually REACH enlightenment, realistically speaking, but I would still like a shot at trying to gain a glimpse of it, anyway 😉
So, yeah, if any of you who do read this have something to add, a point to clarify, or a way of making me (and consequently others) see this more clearly, I very much welcome you to share! Thanks 😀