Saturday, January 8, 2011


Self can come off as the four-letter word of Buddhism, at times... It's been an ongoing process trying to understand a skillful-view of the self. Somewhere along the way, I developed the thought that if I wanted to advance, I had to entirely dispose of anything to do with self, but lately I've rethought this view.

I understand selfishness will not get you anywhere down the path, and the more you open yourself too others, the closer you will be to understanding non-duality (I think... can't claim to know too much, at this point).  But there is still the obstacle of having this body that needs to be fed, that needs sleep, and a certain amount of nurturing. There is still this ox of a mind and ego that require herding. Wouldn't I be equally mistaken to think that I should completely ignore the self as opposed to spoiling myself and chasing my every desire?

One of the Buddha's first steps toward the Middle Way was accepting a bowl of food, to nourish himself. The prayer for Loving Kindness begins with directing love within, towards the self. The difficulty I've found is, in turn, using that nourishment for the benefit of others, or drawing the line between loving myself and narcissism.

Even within my practice, there are certain apparent contradictions I must overlook. My practice began with a complete concern for my peace of mind. Eventually, I learned that my happiness is better manifested not through a concern for myself, by a concern for others. Once that realization is made, how can I claim that anything I do for you, or anything else is truly selfless?

But why do I need to claim such a thing? It's really a moot point.

I read a long time ago that one should dedicate any merit one receives to the world. And the any merit one receives from that can also be given away. If there's any concern that your practice is selfish, that should help fix it!

In very brief flashes of understanding, what struck me was that being concerned with self and others was really just me creating duality. There isn't me happy, or you happy, there's only happy. Sidhartha's journey to Buddhahood (unlike mine) wasn't propelled by a desire to understand his own suffering, but to understand suffering, for everyone.

These are just my thoughts, I don't have much to back them up with. I'd really like to hear other people's experiences...


challenges of learning to live selflessly



  1. Self isn't a problem. A self is a useful tool for navigating the world. It comes in handy, especially, when dealing with others. "Where's my hat?" "Who wants soup?" "Stop hitting me!" These are meaningless if not backed by the idea of a self to whom "my", "who", and "me" refers.

    Self is a tool mind creates, not something we find. This is the important part; mistaking the self as something real, like a hammer, existing independently of our mind, and then identifying with it, is a problem. Once we've identified with this self, we're bound to protect it, worry about it -- to suffer for it. When we see it as it really is, conditioned, dependent on mind and body, an empty idea, it's not so important how it's viewed by the world, how much money it makes, who loves it and who hates it, how much blame or fame it receives, whether it is treated fairly or unjustly punished. That's some freedom.

  2. "If you pay attention only to emptiness and ignore the material world, or if you ignore your present circumstances, saying 'Everything is impermanent' or 'There is no self', then this is not the middle way. If you see only one side but not the other side, then you have deviated from the middle way, without which there is no enlightenment."
    - Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim, 'No River to Cross', chapter 7.

    Good job old Sidhartha did accept that food, else he'd never have reached his insights under the Bodhi tree and never have given a teaching. And did he enjoy that meal? I bet he did, even as he ate for the benefit of all.

    Great post, great questions, thank you.

  3. [...] last weeks post, self/others, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss some of the obstacles I’ve encountered in [...]