No Self as an escape

 

One of the dynamics in the nondual and Advaita world is to use the idea of no self as an escape. As a way to not have to feel what’s here.

This can happen in a few different ways:

The idea and wish for no self can be an escape.

The idea of how it will be to realize no self can be an escape.

The idea that no self is realized can be an escape.

The idea that no self is already here can be an escape.

Resting as awareness, as opposed to its content, can be an escape.

We may think that if there is no self, and we realize it, then there is no painful self. We are free from this painful self, and free from having to feel what’s here. Free from having to feel the pain.

I am not saying that there is or isn’t no self. Either is true in it’s own way.

I am just saying that clinging to any idea – including ideas about no self – is a way for the mind to try to find safety, and avoid feeling what’s here – the discomfort, the unease, perhaps pain.

There is nothing wrong here. It comes from deep caring. It’s innocent. We all do it, at least sometimes and to some extent. And it’s good to be aware of.

Here are some way to explore or soften this:

What would I have to feel if….? (If there isn’t no self. If there is no escape.)

Rest with it. Rest with the fear of feeling what’s here.

Inquire into the beliefs. What do I fear would happen if there isn’t “no self”? If I can’t realize it?

Inquire into the velcro. Look at the images, words, sensations. Ask simple questions to see more clearly what’s there. See if you can find “no self”, or realization, or a threat if there isn’t either, or a command to not suffer, or not feel discomfort, or escape.

Find kindness for it. Hold it in kind presence.

Note: I just overheard a conversation on a similar topic where two people identified with stories about awakening, and defended that position. As soon as that’s happening – and I do that sometimes too, at least in my own mind – it’s a sign that the mind is trying to find safety in an idea, a conclusion about how things are. Again, nothing wrong here. It comes from deep caring. And it’s good to notice, and perhaps rest with it, find kindness to it, and explore what’s there through inquiry.

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No-self & self

 

I read Nondualism: A Brief History of a Timeless Concept by Michael Taft, and thought it was very good.

One of the topics was self vs non-self, and I see that both have validity for me, in their own way. Reality seems to embrace both ends of any (imagined) polarity, and is also more than either, and less than either.

No-self. When I look, I cannot find a self. I look at images and words, and feel sensations, and cannot find a self here. I cannot find a self outside of what’s made up by words, images, and sensations. I cannot find a general self, and I cannot find specific selves – such as the body, deficient selves, or inflated selves. I also cannot find a “Self” as what I am, as awareness, or Spirit. It’s unfindable. (Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, only that it’s unfindable when I look systematically and thoroughly.)

Self #1. There is also a “self” here as what I am. As that which all experience happens within and as. As that which my world – my field of experience, the outer and inner world – happens within and as. That which a thought may call awareness, or presence, or Spirit, or even Brahman (if it wants to be more grandiose). This is the “ground of being”, the “ground” of any experience which also makes up any experience. It’s a “self” without an “other”, or which includes any ideas of a me and other, an outer and inner world, and any other content of experience. (I don’t like calling it a “self” since that word is often understood differently, as something separate and with an “other”.)

Self #2. This is the conventional self, our human self. The self that is a whole that includes (what we call) mind and body. The self that has an “other” in the wider world and other beings. The self that can be more or less healed, mature, and aligned with reality. (A reality that keeps revealing itself to us.)

So there is a self here, in two ways, and there is also no self to be found. Reality is more than either or all of these descriptions, it’s richer and fuller. And reality is also less than either or all of them, it’s simpler and more immediate than these ideas.

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No self?

 

I have familiarized myself somewhat with neo-advaita approaches, and see what many point out: it’s easy to get hung up on ideas and concepts, and invest these with a sense of reality – perhaps in an attempt to find a sense of safety and security. (And avoiding feelings that appear uncomfortable.)

For instance, some folks – both teachers and students – talk about no self and emptiness as if these are real and somehow inherent in life. There is identification with these ideas. Sensations are velcroed to words and images, giving them a sense of reality, solidity, meaning, and a charge.

If I look for no self, or emptiness, or awareness, what do I find? Can I find it outside of words, images and associated sensations? (And what do I find if I look for their companion ideas…. Can I find a self outside of words, images and sensations? What about reality? Solidity? Matter?)

Also…. can I find a self that sees through this? A self that “gets” it? Someone else who don’t?

Where do I “land” to find a sense of solidity or security?

Whatever I “land” on, can I find it? What do I find in words, images and sensations? Can I find it outside of these?

Living our history

 

We live our history, before and even within awakening. We can’t help it since that is all our human self has to go by.

And when others live from a conditioning that is quite different from my own, it is easy to notice that we all live from our own history.

Here is a good example for me:

Two spiritual teachers appear to sometimes live from the story they should have told me. In one case, they should have told me about no-self. (That it can be recognized.) In the other case, they should have told me about the dark night. (How stark it can be.)

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No Self in several ways

 

There is no self in several ways….

First, in the sense that there may be a me + I here – a human self with identities and roles, and gestalts of a doer and observer – but is that what I am? Through investigation, I may find that all of it happens within content of experience, as any other content of experience. It comes and goes. It is not what I am, independent of whether there is identification with it or not. So there is a self here, as a me + I, in a conventional sense, but it is not what I really am.

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Reversals and the Middle Way

 

When I read Ordinary Extraordinary’s excellent post on emptiness, I was reminded of how well reversals fit in with the Buddhist Middle Way. They both reflect the same insight, so it is not surprising: any story is only a relative truth, and each of its reversals have truths to it as well. And, when they all cancel each other out, we can taste the inherent neutrality of any situation… emptiness dancing, God’s will, God expressing, exploring and experiencing itself.

There is a self: Yes. (a) There is indeed the appearance of an individual human self and soul, as a holon in a much larger holarcy. Through an overlay of stories, we can differentiate within the world of form, split it up freely in any size and shape, and individuals are one of the things we can differentiate out. And (b) there is a Self… as Big Mind, Brahman, Tao… The Self absent of an Other, not any more or less identified with any aspect of the field of awake emptiness and form.

There is no self: Yes. (a1) Within the seamless world of form, there is no separate self. We can differentiate out an individual human self and soul within this seamless world, but there are no absolute boundaries there. Any boundaries come from stories alone. And (a2) all forms are no other than the brilliantly clear and awake emptiness itself, which is inherently absent of any separate self… no boundaries, no beginning, no end, timeless, spaceless, allowing any and all forms… And finally, (b) there is no Self. Any self requires an Other, an in the absence of an Other there is no Self either.

There is an I: Yes. (a) When there is an identification with one region of form, the sense of I is placed there, making the rest of the world of form (and the rest of Existence) appear as Other. This creates the appearance of a separate I. (b) There is an I, as the awake emptiness and form itself, as Big Mind, Brahman, Tao… This is the I without an Other. It is the same I as under (a), but now clearly realized to have no Other, and not more or less identified with any aspect of the field (of awake emptiness and form) than any other.

There is no I: Yes. (a) There is no separate I anywhere, no I with an Other. Only the appearance of it, when there is a belief in the story of a separate I (self), and the field is split into the appearance of I and Other. (b) There is no I even as the I without an Other, because without an Other, no I either. There is only what is… the field of awake emptiness and form, already and inherently absent of any center and any separate self or I.

None of these stories are absolutely true, yet they are all relative truths… each with a grain of truth in them. Together, they fill out the picture within the realm of stories, and they also point to that which is inherently free from (and prior to) stories.

Union, dissolution and no self

 

When we take ourselves to be a separate self, an I with an Other, then any talk of selflessness sounds mysterious, or even deluded, and maybe as a reference to some sort of annihilation or dissolution. (The best we can hope for is a union with the absolute, an I here in union with God as Other.)

But even a mild taste of selflessness, for instance through the Big Mind process or the headless experiments, shows this to not be the case. The only thing that is different is that the sense of a separate self, placed on this human self, is gone. What is left is what is always there… this wide open field of what is happening right now, as awake emptiness and form, yet with absolutely no center and no separate self anywhere.

As Meister Eckhart said (paraphrased): when I am gone, God is.

Apart from tasting it on our own, maybe the simplest way to look at it is that God is all there is. God is awake emptiness and form, an I with no Other anywhere.

This awake emptiness temporarily takes itself to be a small segment of form, most typically this individual at the human level, and sometimes even at the soul level. There is a belief in ideas, including the idea of a separate self and various identities defining who and what this separate self is. The seamless and centerless field is now split into an I here, located in the region of the perceptual center of this human self, and Other out there, as the rest of the world.

When it awakens to itself as this field of awake emptiness and form, absent of I and Other, then it sees that the whole sense of a separate self only came from taking an idea as true. It temporarily took a relative truth, the existence of a somewhat separate individual at human and soul levels, and tried to make it into an absolute truth, and in the process gave birth to a great deal of drama and excitement. The whole human drama, as we know it from our own lives, societies and cultures, all came from this temporary misidentification.

Nothing is annihilated or dissolved, apart from the taking of a relative truth as an absolute. This individual is certainly still around, at human and soul levels, with all its sensations, thoughts, relationships, actions in the world, and everything else. The content of all of this does not need to change. The only thing that changes is the sense of a separate self placed on this perceptual center, which, when released, reveals the wide open field of all of it.

The bottom drops out of it all, revealing only a field of awake emptiness and form, without a center, absent of an I with an Other.