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Buddhadharma : Summer 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 20 0 9 88 If we are searching for an essential self that is objectively and intrinsically real, we must determine whether such a self is identical to the aggregates or is something separate from them. If the self were identical to the aggregates, then, like the aggregates, the self would be subject to arising and disinte- grating. If the body undergoes surgery or injury, for example, the self would also be cut or harmed. If, on the other hand, the self were totally independent of the aggregates, we could not explain any changes in the self based on changes in the aggregates, such as when an individual is first young and then old, first sick and then healthy. Nagarjuna also is saying that if the self and the aggre- gates were entirely distinct, then we could not account for the arising of grasping at the notion of self on the basis of the aggregates. For instance, if our body were threatened, we would not experience strong grasping at self as a result. The body by nature is an impermanent phenomenon, always changing, while our notion of the self is that it is somehow changeless, and we would never confuse the two if they were indeed separate. Thus, neither outside the aggregates nor within the aggre- gates can we find any tangible or real thing at all that we can call the self. Nagarjuna then writes: If the self itself does not exist, how can there be “mine”? “Mine” is a characteristic of the self, for the thought “I am” immediately gives rise to the thought “mine.” The grasping at “mine” is a form of grasping at selfhood because “mine” grasps at objects related to the self. It is a variation on the ego- istic view, which sees everything in relation to an intrinsically existent “I.” In fact, if we examine the way we perceive the world around us, we cannot speak of good and bad, or sam- sara and nirvana, without thinking from the perspective of an “I.” We cannot speak of anything at all. Once the self becomes untenable, then our whole understanding of a world based on distinguishing self from others, “mine” from not mine, falls apart. Therefore, Nagarjuna writes: Since self and mine are pacified, one does not grasp at “I” and “mine.” Because the self and the mine cease, the grasping at them also does not arise. This resonates with a passage in Ary- adeva’s Four Hundred Stanzas on the Middle Way in which he says that when you no longer see a self in relation to an object, then the root of cyclic existence will come to an end. One who does not grasp at “I” and “mine,” that one too does not exist, for the one who does not grasp at “I” and “mine” does not perceive him. ➤ continued from page 35