Earlier this week we discussed Anicca/Impermanence (Anicca Link) and it’s bearing on our life experience as a whole. Now we’ll to the next thing that can make life suck, Anatta. Anatta is usually translated as selflessness, or no-self. Yes you read that correctly, no-self, Anatta… insert Oprah quote “You dont have a self, and you don’t have a self, and you don’t have a self.”. That is not to say you don’t exist but that core of this topic is there is no core to what we take to be ourselves. We as humans, just like all other things or phenomenon, being impermanent, are also devoid of a core.
If we simply examine ourselves this becomes more and more apparent. We take ourselves to be a self or to have a self when in reality we aren’t and don’t. If you were to think of self you’d have 2 real, solid, choices, identity or difference with the body. Meaning you’d either have to identify this ‘self’ with the body or without the body. Identifying the self without the body would raise weird questions of… where does it hang out, how does it get there and how does my ‘self’ manage to come back here from moment to moment. Identifying self with the body makes slightly more sense until we really ponder that one. If ‘self’ is in this rig where does it live? In one place or dispersed throughout. If self were dispersed throughout then tying your pinky finger would equate to tying the whole person. If it lived in one localized spot, that would make more sense but when we consider how the body continues endures. We eat different foods, breathe in different particles of oxygen, expel various wastes, this whole process is a flux. How can something based on an ever changing pile of causes and conditions create a singular unchanging ‘self’? The answer it can’t. We are the result of a succession of moments adding on to the moments before it, like a chain going back into beginning-less time, with no real first point. What we call ourselves is really a process
We are a process more like a flame (this is my favorite analogy to explain the individuation process). Imagine a candle you light the candle and walk away (don’t actually do that… it’s a terrible fire hazard) you come back and look at the candle. Is it the same? Not really, it is a process requiring air, wick, wax etc. all the ingredients are different from moment to moment. How can their product be the same continuous result? The answer it can’t, a math problem with changing variables cannot continuously result in the same answer. Now let’s take this analogy a little further. Let’s say at the end of this particular candle’s life, with the last wisps of flame, you catch the flame to another candle. The process of this flame now has a completely new basis air, wick, wax, all different. The only thing that is constant is the process which only appears as constant, and is actually ever changing. This is my favorite analogy for the process of selfhood because it also explains rebirth. No core, no nucleus, soul, atman, whatever you wish to phrase it, as is not essential to the process of individuation. The Buddha spoke a lot about this topic one of the most comprehensive theories of ‘self’ is that of the 5
The 5 Aggregates could be their own in depth dissertation worthy of a masters in philosophy. To quickly name the list Form, Feeling, Perception, Mental Formations, and, Consciousness. Form being the physical organism, the meat sack we get to pilot. Feeling meaning Good, Bad, or, Neutral. It is the sensation we are met with as we come into contact with outside objects and ideas (not to be confused with emotions). Perceptions are the result of things coming into contact with their corresponding sense organ. For example sights contacting the eyes, sounds contacting the ears, tangibles contacting the tactile areas of the body etc. Mental Formations is a pretty heavy category that houses the emotions but more importantly the factors of will (karma – chosen actions). Consciousness built outta the sweet thinking meat. It processes all the others as well as it’s class of things; ideas, symbols, abstract stuffs, and, so on. The Buddha said that everything you could conceive your ‘self’ to be is in one or more of these categories. All of these things exist… you guessed it… with no ‘self’ or core behind them.
This is a topic that is dear to me, as I spend a lot of time meditating on it. So if you want to discuss it or if you have any questions on the topic feel free to catch up with us in any of the places we social media!