The Buddha’s Self Check-How Are You Doing?

The passage below from the Samyutta Nikaya is one of my favorites from the Buddha, because every time I enter deep concentration in meditation, the truth of what he says is demonstrated to me again and again.

Every time you see that any form, feeling, perception, fabrication, even consciousness itself, is not yoursis not who you are—you break free from the clinging and attachment that bring suffering. And far from being annihilation, or nihilism, this meditative insight is actually a powerful skillful means for liberation. Seeing through self-illusions brings a freedom and openness that are so wonderful, they can’t really be described but only revealed in the practice itself.

It’s Not About “Views” But Insight

If you take what the Buddha says below as just abstract, “metaphysical” assertions about yourself, then his statements become just another “view” that you intellectually accept or reject based on your own present views of reality.

But the Buddha isn’t offering us yet another “view” with this teaching. He is inviting us to see for ourselves. He encourages us to enter meditative concentration in order to gain that calm and tranquility that enable us to look deeply into some self-perception, some feeling, some state of consciousness, and discover for ourselves its true nature.

In meditation, find out for yourself: Is this form, this feeling, this perception, this fabrication, this consciousness, really yours or you? Is what we identify with as “me” or “mine” free of stress or dis-ease? Is what we identify as “me” and “mine” stable?  Or does it arise and then pass away? Are you it and is it you?

The Courage to Look Deeply

Again, you can’t really answer these questions scientifically unless you look into them for yourself. It takes a lot of courage to look deeply into everything you identify with, see, and believe! What if you are not who you think you are? What if what you are can’t be identified with anything conditional and yet, nonetheless, is?

If our present sense of “me” and “mine” is painful and full of suffering, the realization that we can totally reassess this self-identification is truly liberating.  We are never locked into some unchanging, unchangeable self, because there is no such thing! Because who we are is actually fluid, we are not stuck forever with some suffering “self.”  The desire to be happy can be the engine of our liberation from all that hurts and wounds us. That is the Buddha’s essential message: yes, there is suffering, but there is an end to suffering!

This is the radical self-examination that the Buddha offers each one of us in this teaching. Why not give it a try? We can’t find out by just “thinking about” who we are. We have to gain the mastery of our minds that allows us to see deeply into things, without all the noise and chatter of our “monkey minds.”

Yes, it’s hard work! But it’s doable!  We can learn!  We can skillfully develop strength of mind, and heart, and character!   We have nothing to lose but our illusions about ourselves and everything to gain in our freedom from suffering!

May this beautiful teaching of the Buddha be an encouragement to all of us to find out what really is!

THE DISCOURSE ON THE CHARACTERISTIC OF NOT-SELF

“Form, monks, is not-self. If form were the self, this form would not lend itself to dis-ease. It would be possible (to say) with regard to form, ‘Let my form be thus. Let my form not be thus.’ But precisely because form is not-self, this form lends itself to dis-ease. And it is not possible (to say) with regard to form, ‘Let my form be thus. Let my form not be thus.’

“Feeling is not-self …. “Perception is not-self …. “Fabrications are not-self …. “Consciousness is not-self.

If consciousness were the self, this consciousness would not lend itself to dis-ease. It would be possible (to say) with regard to consciousness, ‘Let my consciousness be thus. Let my consciousness not be thus.’ But precisely because consciousness is not-self, consciousness lends itself to dis- ease. And it is not possible (to say) with regard to consciousness, ‘Let my consciousness be thus. Let my consciousness not be thus.’

“What do you think, monks: Is form constant or inconstant?”
“Inconstant, lord.”

“And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?
“Stressful, lord.”

“And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: ‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”

“No, lord.” “… Is feeling constant or inconstant?”
“Inconstant, lord.” ….

“… Is perception constant or inconstant?”
“Inconstant, lord.” ….

“… Are fabrications constant or inconstant?”
“Inconstant, lord.” ….

“What do you think, monks: Is consciousness constant or inconstant?”
“Inconstant, lord.”

“And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?”
“Stressful, lord.”

“And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as:
‘This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am’?”
“No, lord.”

“Thus, monks, any form whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: Every form is to be seen with right discernment as it has come to be as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.’

“Any feeling whatsoever…. “Any perception whatsoever…. “Any fabrications whatsoever…. “Any consciousness whatsoever that is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: Every consciousness is to be seen with right discernment as it has come to be as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.’” — SN 22:59 (Samyutta Nikaya)

♥♥♥

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About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

10 Responses to “The Buddha’s Self Check-How Are You Doing?”

  1. How are people themselves? What have you that is not given you? Nothing.

  2. Very interesting, particularly the following

    “Form, monks, is not-self. If form were the self, this form would not lend itself to dis-ease. It would be possible (to say) with regard to form, ‘Let my form be thus. Let my form not be thus.’ But precisely because form is not-self, this form lends itself to dis-ease. And it is not possible (to say) with regard to form, ‘Let my form be thus. Let my form not be thus.”

    I find this very interesting because within my own beliefs, form is created by the soul. The soul as the true self creates a body. This body is an extension of the true self. It is therefore an aspect of self, yet it is not the complete self.

    • Hello Jina! This insight of the Buddha does give one a lot to think about—and has for over 2,500 years now! I’m still seeing more in it as I work and practice in the way I describe in this article.

      I think that even if one has your view about a soul and a true self, you’d probably agree that many, many problems arise because of the degree to which people identify with their physical body and do not see that true self you are talking about. To begin to see that the impermanent, transient, and largely unsatisfactory body is “not self” or is not your “true self” would be a big step toward ending a lot of suffering, don’t you think? I think that is were a Buddhist could join hands with someone who works from the standpoint of a true self and help people break free of their false or totally misplaced sense of self.

      Thanks for your very interesting remarks and for stopping by and taking he time to comment.

      With warm metta,
      Steve

  3. That was a really insightful post!

    Plain and simple awareness is the very foundation.

    The present moment is a beautiful space…

    • Why, thank you Axel, I appreciate your taking the time to say so.

      You last line reminds me of the title of a book by my heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn, called “Present Moment, Wondeful Moment.” If you’re not already familiar with “Thay,” I recommend this book as a great introduction to his skillful teachings. And yes, the present moment is a very wonderful space!

      With all best wishes,
      Steve

  4. Excelent Post! Thank you for sharing this message!

    • Thank you, Thiago! When I have something like the Samyutta Nikaya to light the way, it’s not too hard to be inspired! 🙂

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to post a comment.

      With warm metta,
      Steve

  5. Very beautiful. Thank you.

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