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Buddhadharma : Fall 2018
62 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY Of the many teachings of the Buddha, anatta, or selfless- ness, may be the hardest to understand. While we can all relate to the experience of dukkha, the ultimately unsat- isfying nature of changing phenomena, and can observe first-hand the truth of impermanence, the concept of no-self is counterintuitive to our lived experience. Most of our lives revolve around the strongly conditioned belief in a self, with much of our energy devoted to gratifying it, defending it, aggrandizing it, and even at times disparaging it, all without even knowing quite what it is. As the great Tibetan Master Dilgo Khyentse wrote: The idea of an enduring self has kept you wandering helplessly in the lower realms of samsara for countless past lifetimes. It is the very thing that now prevents you from liberating yourself and others from conditioned existence. If you could simply let go of that one thought of “I,” you would find it easy to be free, and to free others, too. The great surprise that comes with deepening insight is that the self is not something in and of itself; rather, we create the felt sense of it moment to moment. To help make sense of this, I like to use the analogy of the Big Dipper. On a clear night, we can look up at the sky and readily pick it out. Though that particular pattern seems to jump out at us, in reality there is no Big Dipper. What we see are only points of light—distant stars—in a fixed relationship to one another. We then create an image and concept in our minds, overlay- ing the bare experience of seeing. This points to our profound and commonplace conditioning of reifying patterns into things. Like the Big Dipper, the self is a concept we take for granted, but one with no intrinsic reality outside of our own mental constructs. photo previous page | Alex Wong / Unsplash