Letting go of Self

As I left my house last Tuesday, I couldn’t help but smile from ear to ear—the air was no longer bitter and the birds were out!

Snow drip off branches

Birds roar—

The sun rises

Something that I’ve been recently really trying to grapple with, and has been brought up in class, is the notion that Self is an illusion.  Recent strides in cognitive sciences and computer science points to this notion more and more, yet it’s crazy to me that the Japanese have concluded this hundreds of years before without peering into such technologies!  The Buddhist term, anatman, refers to this concept of no-self (Inouye 31).  It is much easier to grasp that everything in our world is changing; we are constantly observing it, constantly reminded of it.   However, when it comes to ourselves, we like to think that something about us remains the same, a certain essence that is “lasting and can stand on its own” (Inouye 32).  The logic follows from anitya, the notion of impermanence, that since everything is changing, including our understanding of change, we too are changing and “conditional” (Lecture 1/28, Inouye 31).  Buddhism’s Vimalakirti Sutra explains the physical body, and therefore also “self” as, “It has no individuality as the fire has none. It has no durability as the wind has none. It has no personality as the water has none “(Tsunoda, de Bary, Keene 103).  What troubles me about this is that when there is lack of Self, there is also lack of Other.  If everything is one and the same, how is it that I feel relatively distinct from this table, or my computer? Or a relative sense of permanence since it seems from day to day, others recognize me as Nikita.  It makes sense, though, why accepting the idea of anatman is beneficial—from it arises “an acceptance of the mutability of all things” (Inouye 32).  Not only are we affected by our environment, but also are the environment—everything is one and the same—“neither master nor Man dominates the other” (Inouye 34).  Then people would not go to war with one another, since it would harming an extension of self, which is other, which is everything.  People would be humbled, not only by other people, but by everything surrounding us—the trees, the wind, the sun. There is something peaceful about being boundless, but also leads to me having an existential crisis.  Alas, I guess it’s something “I” will have to work on throughout this semester to achieve.


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2 Responses to Letting go of Self

  1. I share your attraction and hesitation to anatman. Having no self, “I” am infinite. This brings abundant compassion and peace. But at the same time, it contradicts my very perception of reality which is rooted in self. Where do all the experiences, understandings, beliefs stem from if not from a individuated self? There is some kind of paradox here that I am still grappling with.

    Your poem is awesome, I felt the same way on that day. The bird’s roar expresses your feeling so perfectly.

  2. I totally relate to this. Having studied the same things I find it so incredible that the more we learn about the brain and consciousness the more questions it reveals. Trying to model human behavior in terms of computer science makes me feel like I too am just a bunch of hard coded instructions that produces certain outputs depending on what inputs (or environment) I get. It’s so crazy!! And impersonal. The idea of an boundless existence is pretty beautiful, and I love your final description of how positively it could affect the world. I find myself getting so fed up with the dominant individual-centered theme of our country.

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