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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 11 36 this sense of self is natural and also innate. In fact, Buddhists would argue that the unitary, eternal, and autonomous self postulated by non- Buddhist philosophers is a mere conceptual construct, whereas the sense of self that we innately possess is natural even in animals. If we examine the dynamic of our natural sense of self, we find that it resembles a ruler presiding over his or her subjects—our physical and mental parts. We have a sense that above and beyond the aggregates of body and mind, there is something we think of as “me,” and that the physical and mental aggregates are dependent on “me” while “I” am autonomous. Though natural, our sense of self is mistaken, and in our quest for freedom from the miseries caused by our self-grasping, we must change our perception of ourselves. Our Sense of Self As long as we cling to some notion of objective existence—the idea that something actually exists in a concrete, identifiable way—emotions such as desire and aversion will follow. When we see something we like—a beautiful watch, for example— we perceive it as having some real quality of existence among its parts. We see the watch not as a collection of parts, but as an existing entity with a specific quality of watch-ness to it. And if it’s a fine mechanical timepiece, our perception is enhanced by qualities that are seen to exist definitely as part of the nature of the watch. It is as a result of this misperception of the watch that our desire to possess it arises. In a similar manner, our aversion to someone we dislike arises as a result of attributing inherent negative qualities to the person. When we relate this process to how we experience our own sense of existence—how the thought “I” or “I am” arises—we notice that it invariably does so in relation to some aspect of our physical or mental aggregates. Our notion of ourselves is based upon a sense of our physical and emotional selves. What’s more, we feel that these physical and mental aspects of ourselves exist inherently. My body is not something of which I doubt the specificity. There is a body-ness as well as a me-ness about it that very evidently exists. It seems to be a natural basis for my identifying my body as “me.” Our emo- tions such as fear are similarly experienced as having a valid existence and as being natural bases for our identifying our- selves as “me.” Both our loves and our hates serve to deepen the self sense. Even the mere feeling “I’m cold” contributes to our sense of being a solid and legitimate “I.” Negating the Self All Buddhists advocate the cultivation of an insight into the lack—or emptiness—of self. According to Hinayana philoso- phers, one works to realize the absence of a self-sufficient and substantially real self. They claim that by developing one’s insight into one’s own personal selflessness through profound meditation over a long time—months, years, and maybe even lifetimes—one can attain liberation from the beginningless cycle of life, death, and rebirth. We shall further explore these ideas in the next chapter. Nagarjuna, the Mahayana trailblazer who established the Middle Way school, suggests that as long as we feel that our parts or aggregates have some legitimate natural existence, we will not be able to completely eliminate our grasping at a sense of self. These aggregates are themselves composed of smaller parts and mental experiences upon which we base ourselves. He argues that in order to gain deep insight into the selfless- ness of person—ourselves, that is—we must develop the same insight into the selflessness of phenomena—the parts we are made up of. He states that regarding what is to be negated— the inherent existence of our own selves and the inherent exis- tence of phenomena—it is the same. In fact, our insight into one will complement and reinforce our insight into the other. A true understanding of emptiness of any inherent exis- tence must touch upon the very manner in which we intui- tively and instinctively perceive things. For example, when we say “this form,” “this material object,” we feel as if our perception of the physical object before us is true, as if there is something that the term “material object” refers to, and as THE FOURTEENTH DALAI LAMA, TENZIN GYATSO, is the spiritual leader of Tibet and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He recently stepped down as leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India. This teaching is from his new book A Profound Mind, published by Harmony Books. (CLOCKWISEFROMTOP)©2005MANUELBAUER/AGENTURFOCUSARCHIVE:NO.3889-13;NO.3889-16;NO.3889-09