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The Buddha

When I wrote, “Not Self is Where It’s At,” I meant it.

The world is full of paradoxes, so the teachings of the Buddha are as well. The teaching on Not Self is perhaps the most important, and most paradoxical, of the Buddha’s teachings. Several Buddhist teachers say that awakening occurs when the wave realizes that it is water. An amusing way to state a version of this paradox, in the modern United States, is to say that you are unique and special, just like everyone else.

The point is that you are not unique and special. You’re a wave on the ocean, made of water, like the rest of the waves. More accurately, we all really are made of the same chemical elements as all of the rest of the impermanent world we live in. The elements themselves may be enduring, or the quantum physics that lie beneath the atomic level, but the apparently infinite objects they combine themselves into, from rocks to humans, are impermanent. They arise and fall away according to the laws of nature, which do not need you and me as individuals to function.

The deeply paradoxical part is that we have no choice but to focus our individual attention single mindedly in meditation until our awareness becomes aware of the infinite character of awareness and we dissipate into it.

Again, one helpful way to think about this (although you have to experience it, not just think about it) is to notice that all of the important bodily functions — your respiration, heart beat, digestion, etc. — do not need you to think about them or participate actively in them to function. Maybe you can remember how old you were when you learned that you have a heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, but you certainly had been alive because of the operation of those organs for some significant period of time before you learned it. Humans existed as a species for millions of years before we identified and named them.

Basic chemical reactions, to say nothing of chemical elements, plainly do not need any human help to function as they do. We have enormous capacity now to manipulate them for various purposes, but most of that capacity came into existence in the last four hundred years or so. They are the basic mechanism that created us as a species.

Sorry. You’re just not that important. Neither am I, of course.

So go meditate yourself to Not Self.

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Written by

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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