Monday, February 28, 2011

What are you really afraid of?

Reposting this as there seems to be some error in earlier post, dunno how to remove the white background. Anyway timely to revisit this now.

A well written essay exploring the false-ego and Dhamma of Anatta.

What Are You Really Afraid Of?

David R. Loy argues that our true fear is not of dying but of not existing in the first place.

By David R. Loy

For the most part, we experience ourselves as stable and persistent beings, apparently immortal; yet there is also a sneaking awareness of our impermanence, the fact that “I” am growing older and will die. The tension between these two conflicting perceptions is essentially the same one Shakyamuni Buddha himself felt when, as the myth has it, he ventured out of his father’s palace to encounter for the first time an ill man, an aged man, and finally, a corpse. While most traditional religions resolve this tension by claiming that the soul is immortal, Buddhism does the opposite. Not only does it accept our mortality in the usual sense, but it also emphasizes the doctrine ofanatta, or “no-self.”

Anatta is central to Buddhism, and is closely connected to another fundamental Buddhist idea: dukkha. Dukkha is usually translated as “suffering,” and is understood more broadly as frustration or unhappiness. Although psychotherapy today has more specific insight into the dynamics of our mental dukkha (repression, transference, etc.), Buddhism points more directly to the root of the problem: it is not death that underlies our deepest fears and mental suffering, but the more immediate and terrifying suspicion that anatta gives rise to—that “I” am not real right now. This suspicion appears in us as a sense of lack and motivates our compulsive but usually futile attempts to ground ourselves with a fixed, unchanging identity. Traditionally, religious institutions reassured us that this sense of lack will be resolved, and local communities provided a social home and role that made us feel more comfortable with ourselves. Today, our more individualistic culture means it is my own responsibility to ground myself—hence the ferocious competition for fame, money, sex appeal, and other things that, it is believed, will make me “more real.”

How is it, then, that we make this mistake, and where does it lead us? Buddhism, it turns out, both describes the problem and offers a solution.
According to buddhist teachings, the sense-of-self breaks down into sets of impersonal mental and physical processes, whose interaction creates the illusion of self-consciousness—leading us to believe that consciousness is characteristic of a self.

But consciousness is like the surface of the sea, dependent on unfathomed depths that it cannot grasp because it is a manifestation of them. The problem arises when this conditioned consciousness wants to ground itself—to make itself real; it cannot succeed, however, any more than a hand can grasp itself, or an eye see itself. Its perpetually unsuccessful effort is shadowed by a sense of lack, which we experience as the feeling that “there is something wrong with me.” In its purer forms, lack appears as what might be called a generalized guilt or anxiety that gnaws on one’s very core. For that reason such guilt tends to become guilt for something, because at least then we know how to atone for it. And free-floating anxiety becomes a fear of something, because that way, we have something to defend ourselves against. Often, we look for objects—material wealth, status—in the outside world to protect ourselves against the invented causes of our distress.

But the problem is that no object can ever satisfy us if it is not really an object that we want. When we do not understand what is actually motivating us—according to Buddhism, our desire to become real, which is essentially a spiritual yearning—we end up compulsive, grasping repeatedly at what cannot fulfill us. According to Nietzsche, someone who follows the biblical admonition literally, and plucks out his own eye, does not kill his sensuality, for “it lives on in an uncanny vampire form and torments him in repulsive disguises.” Yet the opposite is also true: those of us who think we have escaped such a spiritual drive are deceiving ourselves, for the drive to escape our lack and become real still lives on in uncanny secular forms that obsess us as long as we do not know what motivates us. Even fear of death and desire for immortality symbolize something else: they become symptomatic of our vague intuition that the ego-self is not a hard core of consciousness but a mental construction, the axis of a protective web spun to hide the void. Thus, those whose constructions are badly damaged, the insane, are uncomfortable to be with because they remind us of that fact. We turn away from what is in front of us.

As Ernest Becker wrote, “The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation [lack]; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive.”
According to otto rank, contemporary man is neurotic because he suffers from a consciousness of sin just as much as premodern man did, but without believing in the religious conception of sin, which leaves us without a means to expiate our sense of guilt. Why do we need to feel guilty, and accept suffering, sickness, and death as condign punishment? What role does that guilt play in determining the meaning of our lives? As Norman O. Brown remarks in Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History, “The ultimate problem is not guilt but the incapacity to live. The illusion of guilt is necessary for an animal that cannot enjoy life, in order to organize a life of nonenjoyment.” Even a feeling of wrongdoing gives us some sense of control over our own destinies because an explanation has been provided for our sense of lack. We need to project our lack onto something because only in that way can we get a handle on it.

In contrast to the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism does not turn the sense of lack into an original sin. The Buddha declared that he was not interested in the metaphysical issue of origins, and emphasized that he had one thing only to teach: how to end dukkha. This suggests that Buddhism is best understood as a way to resolve our sense of lack. Since there was no primeval offense and no divine expulsion from the Garden, our situation turns out to be paradoxical: what ails us is the deeply repressed fear that our groundlessness, or no-thing-ness, is a problem. But when I stop trying to fill up that hole at my core by making myself real in some symbolic way, something happens to it—and therefore to me.

This is easy to misunderstand, for the letting go that is necessary is not something consciousness can simply do. The ego cannot absolve its own lack, because the ego is the flipside of that lack. When generalized guilt is experienced as the feeling that “something is wrong with me,” there seems to be no way to cope with it, and usually we become conscious of it as the neurotic guilt of “not being good enough” in this or that particular way. The Buddhist path challenges us to respond differently. The guilt expended in these situations is converted back into the simple feeling of guilt, and rather than find an object for it, we simply endure it, and do not invent stories about ourselves to protect ourselves from it. The method for doing this is simple awareness, which meditation cultivates.

Letting go of the mental devices that sustain my self-esteem, “I” become more vulnerable. In that state, there is nothing one can do with the guilt except be conscious of it and bear it and let it burn itself out, like a fire that exhausts its fuel, which in this case is the false sense of self. If we cultivate the ability to dwell in it, then ontological guilt, finding nothing else to be guilty for, consumes the sense of self and thereby itself, too. From this Buddhist perspective, our most problematic duality is not life against death but self versus nonself, or being versus nonbeing. As in psychotherapy, the Buddhist response to such dualisms involves recognizing the side that has been denied. If death is what the sense of self fears, the solution is for the sense of self to die. If it is no-thing-ness (the repressed intuition that the self is a fiction) that I am afraid of, the best way to resolve that fear is to become nothing. The thirteenth-century Japanese Zen master Dogen sums up this process in a well-known passage from Genjo-koan:

To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.

“Forgetting” ourselves is how we lose our sense of separation and realize that we are not other than the world.

This type of meditation is learning how to become nothing by learning to forget the sense of self, which happens when I become absorbed in my meditation exercise. If the sense of self is an effect of self-reflection—of consciousness attempting to grasp itself—such meditation practice makes sense as an exercise in de-reflection. Consciousness unlearns trying to grasp itself, real-ize itself, objectify itself. Liberating awareness occurs when the usual reflexivity of consciousness ceases, which is experienced as a letting go and falling into the void. The ninth-century Zen master Huang-po wrote, “Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real dharma.” Then, when I no longer strive to make myself real through things, I find myself “actualized” by them, says Dogen.

This process implies that what we fear as nothingness is not really nothingness, for that is the perspective of a sense of self anxious about losing its grip on itself. According to Buddhism, letting go of myself into that no-thing-ness leads to something else: when consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail, I become no-thing, and discover that I am everything—or, more precisely, that I can be anything. With that conflation, the no-thing at my core is transformed from a sense-of-lack into a serenity that is imperturbable because there is nothing to be perturbed.
David R. Loy, a professor in the faculty of International Studies at Bunkyo University in Japan, is the author of the forthcoming book The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory (Wisdom Publications, July 2003). This essay is an adaptation of material that originally appeared in his book A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Right View

my post in on the right view of Anatta.

just half a cent worth.
the term used commonly, no-self, will be discerned differently.
on the literal front, it points to the annihilation of the self; the non-existence of a person. this is the view of the logic mind, and the subjective view is the basis from which such an understanding arises. 
when the process is first seen, there is a sense of detachment from phenomena, in the form of a witness observing the arising and falling. 
onwards, it is observed that even the witness is just a mirage, dependently arisen from the different thoughts that arised, in turn arisen from the conditions that are present. there's a sense of freedom in knowing and allowing the sense of self to come and go. sometimes this sense stays longer, depending on what we're doing on hand, as well as the habitual tendencies. but generally the view can be 'accessed' with ease.
in a sense, one can intuit that the sense of self is already no-self, in all aspects of the language.
feel free to add pointers, correct this view if it's wrong.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Teacher and the Student

What roles do we play in any relationship with another person? 

I mean if we were to randomly pick any person and consider the roles that are being played in that relationship, the emotions present in that relationship, the strength of that relationship, what can we say about purpose or usefulness of that relationship? 

Can we pick out certain roles that are inherent in every single relationships, considering communication patterns, influences, environment.

In my practice, I've come to realize that with every single person I come into contact with, I'm playing the roles of both the student and the teacher.

Every relationship reflects the inner state of our minds. When hateful actions are directed at me, it means hateful thoughts have arise in the my mind. In knowing this, I am the student, carefully observing the actions and thoughts that are present at this moment. In my response, I am the teacher. The response I choose will represent the lesson that the student in front of me can learn.

How are lessons from these interactions learnt?

They are best learnt when the ego is allowed to get out of the way; when we see through the illusion of self projected by our thoughts. When this is not done, any communication is just another soliloquy playing itself out in our minds then carrying out into our response.

My response of choice is the Truth. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who Am I?

Here I'm going to attempt to write on this topic which will sound like cryptic nonsense to many people. However it is true that nothing ever happens by chance, and so if you are reading this I'm pretty assured in time to come this will make sense like a lighted bulb in a dark room.

An important note here:

There's nothing nihilistic or escapist in this understanding. This simple practice of questioning 'Who am I?' will inevitably lead one to realize the inseparability of this life and the world. A sense of radical freedom will result, and one will, upon maturing of insights, engage the world with a more positive mind frame. This, I guarantee. 

Who am I?

During the first year of my practice. I constantly asked this question every day; in the car when driving, walking, Meditating, taking a shower. Whenever this question was asked, the automatic response will be ' I am Nick', without a doubt. And following on will be this response 'No I'm not!', I had been reading extensively and chanced upon some zen verses with the phrase 'not I, me nor mine' and literally took this into the practice.

Honestly, when viewed with conventional lenses, here was one crazy bonker walking around questioning his own identity and existence. Relying only on faith and intuition, I carried on this exercise for quite awhile.

I shall not continue to describe the course of events and experiences for it will take forever. However I will instead like to write on the significance of this question.

Do we really know who we are? Or the person beside you? Or that irritating person we do not like? The person I love now? How very sure are we?

Looking at this screen on my writings, who is it that is giving rise to the thoughts 'This is nonsense'? Where did these thoughts come from? Did YOU write these thoughts consciously?

If not, then who was it that was thinking these thoughts? Is there another man in the head working in a cockpit controlling this Mind and Body like an aircraft?

Does our intuition tells us there is something bigger here. Something that is only accessible if we can allow all the chatterings in the head to ease for awhile. But NO, the chatterings will Not stop. The more you want them to, the more they come along. Is it really Me thinking thoughts, or thoughts thinking Me?

So. Admit it. You are not in control of thoughts. We can direct them in a certain direction when needed, but most of the time they direct us.

So if we can't control our thoughts most of the time, WHO is controlling them? Is there anyone else controlling my thoughts against my will?

What if?

What IF, there is Nobody here. No Inherent, Independent Personality existing within this body that is in control.

That this feeling of Me which I am feeling now is a mirage projected by the thoughts, and are not substantial in any way.


In Thinking, only Thoughts, no Thinker,

In Listening, only Sounds, no Listener.

Everything we can feel, hear, see, taste smell and think are dependently arisen with external/internal conditions without a separate agent in this body controlling. Empty of inherent existence, yet Full in experience.

Emptiness in Form, Form in Emptiness.

Everything is already Anatta in nature, perfect in their conditions within this seemingly imperfect world.

So 'Who am I?'

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Empty Boat

If a man is crossing a river and an empty boat collides with his skiff, even though he is a bad-tempered man he will not become very angry.

But if he sees a man in the boat, he will shout at him to steer clear. If the shout is not heard he will shout again, and yet again, and begin cursing. And all because there is somebody in the boat.

Yet, if the boat were empty, he would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat crossing the river of the world, No one will oppose you. No one will seek to harm you....

Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.
Chuang Tzu

Thanks to Sinweiy for posting this in the forum.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


if i were to count the number of items i throw away everyday as rubbish, i believe the number will be astounding. at work, at home, on the streets; items that were used, useful yet unwanted. we throw most of these away. some (for some most) items are of particular sentimental value, usually despite of their expiration. these are stashed at home and proudly declared as my personal collection. they serve no purpose other than as triggers for fond memories of a past, or as reminders of a misfit. im happy to see that i have less of such items now, slowly one by one as i clear my room they get their goodbyes and transmigrated. 

Most thoughts that arises during our waking moments are like these items. The useful thoughts are soon forgotten and thrown away, leaving behind the useless ones that stick like superglue. And these are the nasty ones. They invoke the wrathful emotional sensations that leads to endless ripples in the mind frame, as they take their places happily in the deepest trenches of our inner psyche. They become conditions for actions that are more often than not redundant, irrational, or at it's worst drastic and harmful. To throw these away is not easy, more difficult than to delete that old photograph. And when I felt they are no longer featuring in this motion picture anymore, they spring a surprise ambush as a stern reminder of our humanity. At least the photograph I threw away won't return and laugh at my pitiful state. I'm happy to see that I have less of such thoughts now, as one by one I embraced them and allow them space to stage their playful acts. 

The mind is one big rubbish dump, and the act of throwing away unwanted rubbish is meditation. In this simple breathing exercise, I've clearly seen the items clinging on for their dear lives, in a last ditch attempt to reassert their existence. Yet they have no substance, and are just a mirage that fades away when attention is focused on them. This process has to be repeated until one by one the rubbish run out of resources. 

Just as I refrain from buying new items and accumulate more unwanted items, there is a similar refrain from acting that will lead to new traces of unwanted thoughts. The volition is strong, and some items have yet to expire. They will just be allowed to run their full course into oblivion.

At this point, one clinging item is in the limelight after a peaceful settlement with a previous attachment rendered it powerless. In these past few years, it has gone one big circle and is now at the starting point again, ready to spring off the grid. 

After it has completed it's race, still it will be back to the dump. But meantime, it's allowed to stay as long as it wants.

This Heart's last stop shall be here. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Noah Levine

A good sharing by Noah Levine. He's put it across spot on: Buddhism is not a religion, nor is it a philosophy. Buddhism is a life experience.

Thanks to Dean Crabb for sharing this on his blog.

This is the first time i see a Buddhism teacher with a hell-biker look, quite refreshing i must say haha.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


first contact in a long time,
and familiar memories arise.
only now they are seen through different eyes,
so pain just passes by.
there is knowledge of this subtle attachment;
a knot to be untied.
yet all are already perfect the way they are
in this very imperfect life.