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Buddhadharma : Summer 2012
26 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 2 analyze our experience, and he set out a path for people to find freedom and liberate themselves from suffering. The goal of this analysis was to show us that our life experience is fleeting, impermanent, and unstable. But the Buddha didn’t usually just tell people that our life is fleeting, unstable, and impermanent. He usually emphasized a way of looking at experience so that the fleeting, unsta- ble quality of life would be discovered. And he taught this analysis so that we would see not only that our experience is fleeting, but also that there is no receptacle, or container, or supervisor, or controller, or possessor, or pilot in addition to the fleeting elements shown by the analysis. This process of analysis also looks at the dif- ferent moral qualities of our experience to see whether our behavior is tainted or pure. Tainted means different things to different people, but the question is simply: Is our activity, our living right now, oriented toward gain and loss? We look to see whether our activity is oriented toward gain and loss or is free of concern for gain and loss. This analysis of the moral dimension also reveals that the concern for gain and loss is based on the idea of self, but there is actually no independent self in this field of experience. If I see that what I’m doing is concerned with gain, I will discover that I think there is a controller, a supervisor, a possessor, a container of the multiplicity of ele- ments of my experience. And because I think that, I’m concerned with gain and loss for that controller, for that owner, for that independent self, and that makes me suffer. The more we analyze our experience, the more we see this idea of an independent self that arises with concern for gain and loss, and the more we come to see that such a self cannot be detected in actual experience. There is the idea of a control- ler, but the controller cannot be found. There is the idea of a container of our experience, but the container cannot be found. There is an idea of an owner of our experience, but no owner can be found. “Owner” goes with concern for gain and loss and turmoil and suffering. “No owner” goes with no concern for gain and loss and with true freedom. This is what the early teachings of the Buddha were about. We can also look at what helps us pay atten- tion to what’s going on, and this too helps dis- abuse us of the idea of independent existence. This analysis purifies the mindstream. It helps us see more and more clearly the absence of anything permanent or independent. This first turning of the wheel was addressed to the per- son looking at self; someone looking at her own experience, purifying herself through moral anal- ysis and through the analysis of empirical experi- ence, and becoming personally liberated in that process. The first turning was personal and con- ceptual, and it produced individual liberation. As things came up in his interaction with people, the Buddha was happy to teach individual people this logical conceptual path to personal libera- tion. It was a path that helped people become free of suffering and live in the world as a pure experiential event. It helped them drop the belief that they were separate from other beings or, for that matter, that they had any independent exis- tence at all. The first turning of the wheel was for the purpose of individual liberation, and the Buddha was quite successful. Many people who listened to this teaching, understood this teach- ing, practiced this teaching, became purified of their false beliefs, and won personal liberation. You could say the Buddha was a revolution- ary, but you could also say he was a great flower- ing of the Indian religious tradition. One Sanskrit scholar told me that if you look at all the words the Buddha used in his teachings, you find that almost none of them were new. Wherever he was, he used the language of the culture. The only new word the Buddha used that wasn’t just common Indian religious language was bodhisattva—that one word. Otherwise he was using the words of the culture. He shared a lot with other yogis. You can see he had great yogic powers, but others had yogic powers too. He could see where people were coming from and where they were going, but other yogis could too. But his interpretation of this process of change—particularly in terms of his understanding of the self—was a little bit different from everyone else’s. As far as we know, nothing like it had been seen before. And the way it was taught after his death became even more subtle still. People in India during Buddha’s time weren’t ready to hear all the implications TENSHIN REB ANDERSON is a senior dharma teacher and former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center. He was ordained by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in 1970 and is the author of Warm Smiles from Cold Mountains and Being Upright. This teaching is from his new book, The Third Turning of the Wheel, published by Rodmell Press. RENSHINBUNCE