I love this chapter.
I love this chapter.
First, Uchiyama did a great job of translating the bit from the Samyutta Nikaya in a way that I could understand (at least intellectually).
Many moons ago, I read TNH's The Heart of Understanding (his teaching on the Heart Sutra), and like that work, this book provided me another perspective on the interdependence of things and, relatedly, their insubstantiality.
" . . . to view that all things exist is one extreme; the view that nothing exists is the other extreme." The middle way is not some arbitrary point in between but an acceptance of both things as simultaneously true. Is that your understanding?
Beware: what follows is yet another musical analogy. Forgive me.
One of the traits of the maturity-level of the 18-21 year olds that I teach is that they do not like gray areas or contradiction. I try to break them of this early on because the arts, particularly music, have a way of being about grayness and contradiction. For instance, when I was a sophomore in college my piano teacher was trying to teach me about reharmonization, a practice that is fundamental to understanding the improvisations of post-1960 jazz musicians. He said, "F7+11 is the same as CminMaj7, right?" And I just looked at him thinking, "No, F7 is F7 and CminMa7 is CminMa7. How can two different things be the same thing?" It turns out, he was right. In spite of having different names, they are the same. On one level (we'll call it the common-usage level) they are different, but in a broader perspective they are interchangeable. Without this concept, the last 50 years of jazz would be entirely different. Jazz musicians have to hold onto concepts, like chords, loosely or they will box themselves into a zone of rigidity where creativity is difficult. So, the point of this rambling digression is to say that concepts are useful on one level, but the looser we hold to them, the more creatively we can respond to the given situation. The accomplished jazz musician performs with no preset agendas, no resistance, just simple action in response to the environment. I think it is all, somehow related to Uchiyama's writing. Sorry if I am not making the point clearly.
[If you buy that jazz is truly about being in the moment and learning through rigorous practice how to do so, you may rightly ask, "Why, then are so many jazz musicians poorly-functioning, self-desctructive types?" My thinking is that they are seeing/living reality/life in a profoundly deep way, BUT there are no precepts to guide them. Insight minus precepts is a dangerous game. I've heard Jundo say similar things and I agree.]
I loved the flame analogy on p. 99. A flame is just a flame, but it is also a process entirely dependent on the fuel sources, a catalyst to get the flame going, etc. It is still just a flame, but it is also the oxygen in the air, the wax, the wick, the match that began the process, the energy of the people who made the candles, etc, etc, etc. It is all tied up together.
from one of my songs:
Everywhere you look, you're only seeing you
It's all hooked together, like you and that tattoo.
If you really want to find something that's true,
Just sit and you'll see it too.
Reality is in the middle
Between all extremes
Somewhere right in the middle
Of starvation and dreams.
The link is here if you want to check out the tune.
http://www.billswann.com/audio/BILL_SWA ... Middle.m3u
BTW--So that you understand, I am not using this forum to promote music sales. I will gladly send free CDs to members of the sangha. Call it a dharma discount.
p. 101 " . . . despite the fact that we latch on to our ideas of being or nonbeing, taking the Middle Way means to demolish all concepts set up in our minds and, without fixing on reality as any particular thing, to open the hand of thought, allowing life to be life."
My 3 year old daughter just said to me less than five minutes ago: "Daddy! I was trying to draw an 'S' and I drew a '2'!" How's that for not holding onto concepts and allowing what happens to happen. She was letting go of goals and rejoicing in the action of life. My greatest teachers . . .
PS--I promise to be more concise next time. Just in a "talky" mood today.
Bill, Love your song!
I liked the flame analogy too. Does this mean that the "I" is a side effect of the interaction/interdependence of all things? Yet the observer can watch the flow and interaction as long as she does not fixate on an individual point or position? Or is the observer the interdependence, the flow itself?
I have a feeling I'm thinking too hard about this one. I see every day the interdependence of everything. And I know enough physics to think this is true. Yet, I am not clear on how one lives in relation to this interdependence. Does eliminating grasping put out the flame?
There are many interesting things here.
Hi Linda,Originally Posted by lindabeekeeper
The bit about side effects reminds me a view in philosophy called 'Epiphenomenalism' (Just in case anyone is interested ) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphenomenalism
And the way science seems to divide everything into a subject and object, observer/observed, can give us a false view of reality IMO.
I think that Uchiyama means that we are the flame, but he is pointing out the insubstantiality of the self and its interconnectedness and dependence on everything else around it. I love this section too.
I got into Buddhism through a study of 'Personal Identity' in philosophy. The 17th century philosopher, David Hume ".....pointed out that we tend to think that we are the same person we were five years ago. Though we've changed in many respects, the same person appears present as was present then. We might start thinking about which features can be changed without changing the underlying self. Hume, however, denies that there is a distinction between the various features of a person and the mysterious self that supposedly bears those features. When we start introspecting, "we are never intimately conscious of anything but a particular perception; man is a bundle or collection of different perceptions which succeed one another with an inconceivable rapidity and are in perpetual flux and movement"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_i ... losophy%29
I had never even thought about that but it seemed plausible and fascinating. I found that this idea is found in Buddhism, so I started reading books about Buddhism. I think that the idea of possessing some kind of fixed self is a very strongly, deeply conditioned idea in us in our society, and hard to shift, and is one of the greatest barriers to awakening from our delusions, and also causes most of our suffering,
Guys, truly interesting comments, I will check out the links - thanks!
Bill, IMHO you were quite clear about the point.
The idea behind the chapter is what brught me to Buddhism (the second) time. I read an article in Modern Painters on a couple of British documentaries, one of them being "The Unknown White Male". The 35-year-old guy woke up one morning in New York with his entire memory erased. He remembered the capital of France but didn't remember his family or the sensation of snow against his skin. One of his old friends from London made a documentary in which he was following the way the guy was reconstructing his old life and making a new. Now that Bruce did not remember his old habits and preferences, he was a different person! His old buddies from London wanted their old Bruce back (the one who loved fottball) but Bruce himself said he did not miss his old self - he did not know what it was like to be him before. The old Bruce had been self-assured, abrasive while the new one was sensitive and thoghtful and suddenly curious about existentialist philosophy; even his photographic skills sharpened, too (according to his teachers).
Memory that connects single experiences of ourselves and the world into one chain, makes us believe there is this one solid entity, we are THIS way (the way we normally act or re-act). Memory is an awfully helpful tool to have for survival but we get attached to the memories and make them predetermine the next step: I am this way therefore I act like this now. This documentary started me thinking on the topic (Swedish television showed it shortly after I read the article as part of the evening devoted to the topic of memory loss).
I included the comment to John's post to the thread on the previous chapter as I think it fits in here.
I guess they are so fast because just like your instincts tell you to be cautious of those small creeps, theirs tell them to run as soon as they sense the presence of a moving mountain . I was wondering how much of the repulsion and fear we feel as the first reaction toward those creeps is the result of the evolution and how much is due to the learnt behaviours. On few occasion I noticed how children could be quite curious but not afraid of the creeps which then means we learn to "hate" those small guys by observing the way grown ups are behaving. Many kids stay with their moms as infants and later are cared for by other females at the day care centers. It is my observation that many females in the West tend to freak out at the site of an innocent spider and react as if the insect was truly posing a threat. Probably partly that is the result of the way females were brought up in the Western society when they were "supposed" to be afraid of those ugly creatures and behaving as a lady would even include fainting at the site of one. :lol:
Yes, but big black spiders - I don't want them running over my face when I am in bed. :shock: I try to get them to run up a cone I make with newspaper and then throw them outside but they move too fast sometimes.
I was taking this (the strong reaction) for granted as a part of my self but when I started meditating and observing the mind and the way it works, I soon noticed that those were not my reactions but rather the patterns of behaviour I adopted at some point as mine. This amazing for me insight made me feel closer to all parts of nature. I also realise now that even a spider just IS and does what a spider does which automatically brings me to treating even a spider with respect, not fear. I now take one... spider at a time. :wink:
I see myself as something in the world which changes as time goes by but which has certain characteristics that identify me uniquely, so that my current state is always linked to what I was before. From a physical point of view I am changing yet there are certain aspects of me that have existed since even before I was born, for example my DNA signature. From a mental point of view I am changing but someone who knew the 20 year old me would now see an older version of me, not a completely different person. In fact I would say that as I grow older the sense of "me" strengthens because my habits and thought patterns grow deeper and more strongly defined in my brain as I mature.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your distance from Buddhist doctrine may well be an advantage, insofar as it affords you a fresh perspective.
As a way of pursuing your inquiry, I would suggest asking yourself which particular aspects you would perceive as your continuing self. Your physical features? Your gait? Your DNA? Pursuing that line of inquiry, you might then ask whether the entity you're calling your self can be equated with those aspects. Are you your DNA--and nothing more? Your changing cells? Your ideas and changing emotional states?
A more traditional approach, so far as Rinzai Zen is concerned, would be to listen to a sound in your environment and ask, repeatedly, "Who hears the sound?" If you continue over time to ask that question, you might find that the self that you've identified as your own is more of a construction than a verifiable reality. In any event, you may make some important discoveries.
I don't think that Buddhist doctrine in general denies the existence of a self, though certain schools may do so. Rather, in Buddhist eyes the self is seen as a kind of event, void of an intrinsic, fixed, or continuous identity. One Zen teacher likens the self to a whirlpool in a stream. It exists all right, but it is neither solid nor permanent. And the notion that one owns it is both a delusion and a cause of suffering.
Ben - thanks for your reply. I will think about the points you suggest.
I don't get the analogies of the flame and the whirlpool that have been mentioned in this thread because in both of these cases there is nothing in them that lasts for more than a moment or two. They are random shifting patterns in some other substance. However I feel that my mind and body exist over long periods of time, gradually changing in some ways but not changing in other ways, until I die. Lots of different things about me combine to give a sense of self, to myself and others, that persists over a long period of time. There is nothing to link the whirlpool or flame of one moment with the instance a few seconds ago but that is not the case with my mind/body, as I see it.
I'm not giving up on this because it's not something I can just take on faith as an elegant intellectual theory. I need to see it more fundamentally to understand why it is so important to the Buddhist way.
Meanwhile back to zazen before anyone says "just sit"
Originally Posted by Shiju
This triggered a memory ( :? ) of a tv documentary I watched a few years ago about a guy who could only remember things for a few seconds. His life was a nightmare of frustration and despair because of this. There was no continuity to what he was doing. He could not function without continuous help from other people.
Irina - I can see what you are saying about how we should not allow memories to predetermine our next step in life at every moment, that we might conceiveably come to see that we are free at each moment despite the accumulated baggage of our lives leading up to each moment. But for me this is not incompatible with having a self which exists and develops over long periods of time.
Originally Posted by CinnamonGal
Charles wrote,Are we not also shifting patterns of substances? Don't lots of different things combine to manifest a tree, a dog, a coral reef, a galaxy? In the Grand Scheme of Things, do our individual human selves subsist much longer than a flame or whirlpool when these are compared to the longevity of the sun?I don't get the analogies of the flame and the whirlpool that have been mentioned in this thread because in both of these cases there is nothing in them that lasts for more than a moment or two. They are random shifting patterns in some other substance. However I feel that my mind and body exist over long periods of time, gradually changing in some ways but not changing in other ways, until I die. Lots of different things about me combine to give a sense of self, to myself and others, that persists over a long period of time. There is nothing to link the whirlpool or flame of one moment with the instance a few seconds ago but that is not the case with my mind/body, as I see it.
I think the only difference between ourselves and other phenomena is our own vantage points.
Perhaps the idea of a self is a handy fictional device that allows is to make decisions about what we should do in daily life. We make up a persona for ourselves based on how we reacted and acted before. We are continuously defining and redefining ourselves -"I'm not the kind of person who would do X....." We also tend to assign fixed selves or personalities to others based on how they have acted in the past, and that lets us make allowances for them, plan how we should act with them. But we have to also recognise that this is only a fiction and try not to freeze people into our conception of them, as the man's friends that Irina mentioned tried to do. If you look for this self , where is it? It isn't in memory, nor in psychological continuity - since we are always changing (I am certainly not psychologically the same person I was when I was 5 years old). Nor, obviously is it found in any kind of bodily continuity since are cells are also being renewed.Originally Posted by CharlesC
I was awake very early again this morning thinking about the problem of the existence of the self. Luckily when I woke this time I discovered I had a solution that works, at least for me, involving the concept of two selves, the Real Self and the Imagined Self.
The Real Self is the body-mind which started developing from the moment I was conceived. Although it is constantly changing and dependent on myriad external influences, it has a continuous existence, and is uniquely different from all other body-minds. As it grows older its personality gradually becomes richer and more complex as layers and layers of experience are recorded in the physical structure of its brain. At every moment it is always dependent on its previous state. It can never choose to suddenly be something different.
Rather than the whirlpool or the flame, the Real Self is like a tree, growing from a seed into a sapling, developing into a magnificent complexity and beauty over the years, living a life on interdependence on factors such as where it was planted, the amount of rain and sunlight it receives, the prevailing winds, and so on, until lightning strikes, it is chopped down, it is fatally diseased, or just falls to pieces; yet always expressing its own nature as it grows.
On the other hand the Imagined Self is a set of mental constructs which develop during childhood. The main concern of the Imagined Self is control. It does not want to believe that it is dependent on the world and other people because it fears that they will harm it, that there is a power struggle between the Imagined Self and everything else. The Imagined Self even tries to pretend that it has control over death, living as if it will not die someday. It desperately sustains itself with frequent sensual experiences and many material possessions, or even by indulging in self-pitying misery.
The Imagined Self despises or hates the Real Self. It may try to pretend that the Real Self does not exist because this allows the Imagined Self to believe it is free from contingency, in particular the current state of the Real Self which has developed over so many years. The Imagined Self may even grasp at some idealistic spiritual practice to help it pretend that the Real Self does not exist.
The Imagined Self does not want to accept that at every moment it can only be the Real Self, over which it has no control. The Imagined Self thinks that it can be whatever it wants to be and so it believes in its own fictitious permanent existence because it wants complete control, even over death.
The Imagined Self is like an uncontrollable weed which suffocates the Real Self yet at the same time it is part of the Real Self. Maybe zazen allows us to trim back the Imagined Self so that it plays its own part in the beauty of the garden without overpowering all the other plants.
I can only imagine how insecure that guy must have felt, all the time having to re-discover all those things that make our existence more or less stable.
In your eralier post in this thread you wrote:Irina - I can see what you are saying about how we should not allow memories to predetermine our next step in life at every moment, that we might conceiveably come to see that we are free at each moment despite the accumulated baggage of our lives leading up to each moment. But for me this is not incompatible with having a self which exists and develops over long periods of time.
The body and mind exist but say memories alone do not constitute your SELF as such, do they? That I have acted a certain way (or am more inclined to act that way) does not make me this or that kind of person, does it? In each and every moment I get to choose what kind of person I am if I am fully present and don't go on auto-pilot. What if we use memories to prevent us from hitting the same wall twice and not use them as blueprints for future actions. Besides, memories are never really true, they are always tinted with our emotional state. Does it make sense?However I feel that my mind and body exist over long periods of time, gradually changing in some ways but not changing in other ways, until I die.
Sorry, I have to round off here: I have a guy standing behind waiting to change the PC monitor. :lol:
Charles, maybe you have to give up the idea of solutions and things that work for you and just stay open to what is in the present moment. I had a debate about the idea of self with some guys on a philosophy forum a while back. I noticed a view kept coming up that things have to make sense. Why? The world is a pretty crazy place if you ask me. Philosophers like Camus have noticed the absurdity of life. Another was that they had to make sense to us humans - which is a bit anthropocentric,Originally Posted by CharlesC
I had to interrupt my train of thought earlier. I can see what you mean. You see continuity but in what? If you ask the What- is -the-self question what would your answer include? I guess you would list a number of things you mentioned before: mind, body, memories and a number of others. But what are those if not aggregates? Just like furniture (or what is left of it :wink: ) - a sitting bag, an arm chair, a bookshelf - are the aggregates of my room. Ok, what remains if you remove all those aggregates? In Western philosophy it is understood that if you remove the aggregates what remains is the essence of the room. Buddhists that have attained realisation confirm that if you remove those aggregates of the self (that you admitted are changing all the time :wink: ) what remains is... nothing. And... everything! :lol: And precisely because you have this everyhting you are not so very different and separate from the person next door.
Can it be that what we call the "self" is nothing but a bag of skin and everything inside so naturally we feel we are separate from "other walking bags" and all living creatures? And naturally when we look for happiness we search outside.
We also learn to believe that only the things that we see exist. You see the flame and you don't doubt its existance but once it is extinguished you see no continuity in it. Do things stop existing just because they loose their current form/state and we no longer see them? Is this a fact?
Does water stops existing once it evaporates from the surface of a flower outside my window where it landed as a drop of dew or does it just change its state? Maybe there is more continuity in everything around us than we can ever imagine? Where is this little drop of water now? Possibly it landed on the soil of Italy and irrigated it, nurishing the grapes that I will be tasting in form of Italian wine next year?
In other words:
You are me, and I am you.
Isn't it obvious that we "inter-are"?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.
I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy
~Thich Nhat Hanh "Interrelationship"
1989. Written during a retreat for psychotherapists held in Colorado
in response to Fritz Perls' statement, "You are you, and I am me, and
if by chance we meet, that's wonderful. If not, it couldn't be helped."
Hi John – I take your point. However I'm keen to understand interdependence and non-existence of the self because they seem to be central to a lot of what Uchiyama is talking about and of course central to Buddhism. It bugs me that I am following a Buddhist practice yet I can't grasp some core Buddhist concepts. I'll put these questions to one side for the time being – once I have replied to Irina that is :-) – but I'm hoping something will sink in while we study the rest of the book.Originally Posted by John
Hi Irina - thanks for giving me more to think about
If the self is non-existent, who or what is doing the choosing about what kind of person you are? If we are nothing but a bunch of aggregates which are interdependent on everything else then maybe once we saw this clearly we would give up trying to choose and just live the life of who we already are. Perhaps by doing zazen we learn to drop these thoughts of choosing which lead to so much dissatifaction and live in our natural state which is (hopefully!) full of joy and compassion?Originally Posted by CinnamonGal
Yes, I do see continuity but I think I am beginning to understand that it is continuity that only exists in dependence on other things. There is nothing that exists separate from everything else, no essence as you put it.Originally Posted by CinnamonGal
The poem by Thich Nhat Hanh presents a beautiful vision of what might be possible.
Wow, great discussion going on here. I’m a bit behind on the book, so please forgive me if I throw something in which goes back to the text. Please carry on and just ignore me. :wink:
Yes, this is very true. It’s a simple, but powerful statement which can be used as a basis for explaining numerous aspects of our Practice. Traditionally it applies to the 'glue' which holds together the 12 links in the chain of co-dependent origination, but it can also be used to explain no-self, impermanence, the Middle Way, emptiness, etc. There’s one thing to beware of as it’s expressed here, however. It’s not the case that ‚this‘ causes ‚that‘ to exist/arise, but rather it is a condition. For that reason, a better translation might be "When this exists, that exists; when this arises, that arises". For example, one could say that when life exists, death exists, when there is life, there is death. However, this doesn’t mean that life causes death. Life is perfectly life as it is, death is perfectly death as it is. Life does not become death, death does not become life, and yet life cannot exist without death, nor death without life.Originally Posted by Uchiyama Roshi
For Dogen Zenji, the same applies to delusion and enlightenment. It is not the case that we strive to eradicate delusion once and for all in favor of enlightenment. Without delusion, enlightenment cannot exist, just as light alone is useless unless there is darkness to illuminate. Awakening is not a matter of sudden vs. gradual, or before vs. after, but rather it is a continual dynamic interplay between the two which realizes the nondual by virtue of these two interdependent aspects. In a previous chapter of this book, "Waking up to Zazen", Uchiyama Roshi describes this in his own words as follows:
GasshoOriginally Posted by Uchiyama Roshi
I like Barry Magid's take on this, derived from Wittgenstein, about the way words mislead us into believing that the things they represent are more substantial than they are:
Gassho,“.....A substantive [noun] misleads us into looking for a substance." Wittgenstein called this "Socrates' Problem," because Plato famously had Socrates ask how we can understand the meaning of the word "good" in all its various contexts (a good man, a good hammer, a good meal, a good life etc., etc. ) unless we understand what the "Good" is in and of itself.
To Wittgenstein's list of misleading substantives, Buddhism most notably would add the word "self." Buddha's declaration that the self is "empty" is exactly Wittgenstein's point about time and truth and the good and so on. To say the self is empty doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Rather, emptiness means that the self has no fixed, inner non-changing essence that defines it. Self is a myriad. We can use the word to cover both our sense of extension over time - the feeling that somehow I'm the same person I was as a child - and for the constantly changing ungraspable flow of consciousness. Which is the "true" self? That question, the basis for so many koans, immediately leads us astray. "Self" is not a single thing in a thousand guises; it is the thousand guises themselves. To understand the self is to allow ourselves to experience the full range of its seeming contradictory manifestations. Now this, now that. Only when we try to grasp an essence or assert the priority of one aspect of self-experience over another do we find ourselves entangled philosophical brambles with very real emotional thorns.
Wittgenstein repeatedly says that the job of philosophy is not to answer questions like these, but to dissolve them, to show that they are nothing but pseudo-problems thrown up by particular aspects of our language……
This is a good one :lol: One could say it is just the mind but I know from personal experience that the emotional state and the way I am able to reason and therefore the decisions I make in each particular moment to a large degree depend on the body (even what I ate or better example yet when I am very hungry adn blood sugar is low so the primary brain kicks in and makes me get something, in winter it can be the shortage of the sun light and vitamin D). So I guess it would be all of those aggregates together. :roll:If the self is non-existent, who or what is doing the choosing about what kind of person you are?
I believe that compassion is a bonus: once you realise you share a lot with the person you meet in the street (a LOT :wink: ) you cannotbe compassionate. I guess what one needs then is to learn to be compassionate to oneself to begin with (in Vipassana during the Meta Meditation the meditator usually wishes herself/himself peace and health etc to begin with).not
Thanks for bringing this up, Charles. :lol:Yes, I do see continuity but I think I am beginning to understand that it is continuity that only exists in dependence on other things. There is nothing that exists separate from everything else, no essence as you put it.
In the absence of the essence, let us sit with what is. :-)
Yes - that's the big question, Charles. If there is no-one there how do we, or can we, make any choices at all? :? What Irina says seems right to me - what we do is so determined, even the way we reason about things depends on our educational background. But there is awareness arising out of these aggregates? Jundo might say we simultaneously have free will and are also constrained by the 'chain of co-dependent origination' as Kenneth puts it?Originally Posted by CinnamonGal