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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
summer 2005| 50 |buddhadharma I find that the more I am aware, the more my personal story seems utterly unimportant and of no interest whatsoever. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a few memories I can churn up. Yet if I adopt the personal view, if I get caught up in myself, thinking about myself as a real person- ality, then suddenly I find my past tremendously important. An identity gives me the sense that I am a person. “I have a past; I am somebody. I am somebody important, somebody that may not be terribly important, but at least I feel connected to something in the past. I have a home, I have a heritage.” People talk about losing a sense of their identity, perhaps because they’re refugees, their parents are dead, they’re of mixed race, or they lack any clear identity of themselves as belonging to something in the past. The sense of a personality depends very much on proving that you are some- body. You have your education, your race, your accomplishments or lack of accomplishments; you are an interesting or uninteresting person, import- ant or unimportant, a Very Important Person or a Very Unimportant Person! In meditation we are not trying to deny per- sonality. We are not trying to convince ourselves that we are non-people, grasping ideas such as “I have no nationality. I have no sex. I have no class. I have no race. The pure dhamma is my true iden- tity.” That kind of thinking is still another identity, isn’t it? That’s not it. Our practice is not about grasping the concepts of no-self. It is in realizing, in noting through awakened attention, the way things really are. This simple exercise of saying “I am an unen- lightened person” is quite deliberate. You could also say, “I am an enlightened person!” You can choose which you would like to be, enlightened or unenlightened. Most of us don’t dare to go around saying we are enlightened. It’s safer to go around saying, “I am an unenlightened person,” because if you say, “I am an enlightened person,” some- one is going to challenge you. They will say, “You don’t look very enlightened to me!” Whatever you say – “I am an unenlightened person” or “I am an enlightened person” or “I am an enlight- ened non-person” or “I am an unenlightened non- person” – the words are not really important. It’s the attention that matters. I have found this exercise very revealing. When I did it, it became very clear what awareness, apperception, sati-sampajanna, is. Then the think- ing, the perceptions, arose. Deliberately thinking, “I am an unenlightened person,” arises within the awareness. The awareness is not a perception, is it? It’s an apperception; it includes perception. Perceptions arise and cease. It’s not personal; it doesn’t have any Ajahn-Sumedho-quality to it. It’s not male or female, bhikkhu or saladhara (nun), or anything like that. It has no quality on the con- ventional, conditioned level. It is nothing. There is awareness, then “I am an unenlightened person,” and then nothing. There’s no person. You are exploring, you are investigating these gaps before “I” and after “I.” You say “I” and there’s sati-sam- pajanna. There’s the sound of silence, isn’t there? “I am” arises in this awareness, this conscious- ness. As you investigate it, you can question what this is about. Awareness is not a creation, is it? I am creating the “I am...” What is more real than “I am an unenlightened person” is the awareness. That is what is continuous, what sustains, while the sense of yourself as a person can go any which way. As you think about yourself – who you are, who you should be, who you would like to be, who you do not want to be, how good or bad, wonderful or horrible you are – all this whirls around and goes all over the place. One moment you can feel, “I am a really wonderful person.” The next moment you can feel, “I am an abso- lutely hopeless, horrible person.” But if you take refuge in awareness, whatever you are thinking does not make much difference, because your ref- uge is in awareness rather than in the gyrations and fluctuations of the self-view, of your sakkaya- dinnhi habits. Just notice how being a person is like a yo-yo: it goes up and down all the time. When praised, you feel you’re wonderful; you are wonderful. Then, you’re a hopeless case, depressed, a hopeless victim of circumstances. You win the lottery and you’re elated; then somebody steals all the money and you’re suicidal. The personality is like that;