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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
64 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 1 5 we, as teachers or students, spend our spiritual lives offsetting that conditioning and trying to heal from years of judgment. Moving beyond self-improve- ment is an individual decision, and it is often compelled by an urge that comes from beyond our initial intentions. Reaching a point where we genu- inely appreciate who we are is the threshold to lov- ing others, and beyond that, all beings. But whether we take the path of love or the path of wisdom, at some point the sense of self as a separate and abid- ing entity has to be relinquished, and the perception of self and other has to be questioned and released. This requires framing the practice within the con- text of nonseparation and using methods that rein- force that perception. The dark terror of annihilation can arise dur- ing different periods of self-inquiry, and unless the teacher has gone through this phase and can offer the support and confidence needed by the student, the teacher will likely fall back on methods that support the student’s sense of self, which may subtly discourage the student from moving into and through this fear. This step—encouraging the practitioner into the formless paradigm—requires the readiness of both the student and the teacher. If either the teacher or student is unwilling to move beyond methods that reinforce the sense of self, the practice may become circular. The practitioner looks to the teacher for a way through this ter- ror, and the teacher may innocently encourage the student into a deeper expression of self-formation to offset the fear. If the student refuses to move through the fear, then only time and deepening rODnEy SMITh is the founding teacher of the Seattle Insight Meditation Society and the author of Stepping Out of Self-deception: The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self and Awakening: A Paradigm Shift of the Heart. slowly and is an actual perceptual shift toward the formless. The realization of selflessness is a para- digm shift that shatters all expressions of separation and egoic will. It is the encouragement of this real- ization of anatta that may be missing from some of our teaching. In teaching anatta, there is a paradox that chal- lenges us from the beginning. Realizing emptiness requires a firm and stable orientation of our place in the world as well as a deep understanding of the conditions that form the sense of self. Students seem to need a steady foundation to stand upon before they undertake an inquiry into the formation of who they are—and it is here that our teaching may get caught in a repetitive circular motion. As Insight teachers, we may place too much emphasis on steadying the ground of the student through self-acceptance and self-love because of the underlying pain of unworthiness that drives much of our culture. We do not seem to place as much importance on how that pain is derived from self- formation. Some of us remind the student that the gateway to perceiving emptiness is a firm founda- tion of self-appreciation, but we may not encourage the student to move through that gate and beyond. We are a self-critical culture, and most of us hold a lifetime of psychic scarring from the influences of our surrounds. It is completely understandable if The dark terror of annihilation can arise during periods of self-inquiry, and unless teachers have gone through this phase themselves, they will likely fall back on methods that support the student’s sense of self. ellenmccoWn