Searching for No Self

Presented by: 
Ed Parker

I see this old fat man in the mirror and know that smiling glassy face is just a passing moment, the last of many. So many faces have looked back at me. The bloodied face of a youth learning to shave; the face my wife married. Now, they are gone and no matter how hard I look, I just see this face. However impermanent, this face, this sense of self has been my closest companion. This self I talk to when no one else will listen. This well into which I drop stones of wisdom. How critical this self has become, so unwilling to hear reasons or excuses. It hides from me what little it knows and mocks my passing certainty. Worse, it tells me there is no one there. It tells me there is no self, no good, no evil, only this sense of being. How rude this thought, that all I have ever been has just this moment passed and gone. I live in this moment and leave behind not even an echo. In being, in this instant, our lives are lived and continuously transformed. Our being is the action of life reflected in our awareness of its passing. How can I know this self who exists only in reflection and memory?

As Buddhist we ask, “What am I?” The answer is: no one, nothing. There is no what - there is only what we do. As Reverend Saito once said, “we are verbs, not nouns.” There is no self that does this and that, there is only action interacting with causes beyond our knowing. We live in a world of multiple causes, the push and pull of which fashion and refashion our perspective on reality. None of us are truly aware of all the causes behind our actions. In our blindness, our actions are often clumsy and misguided causing great turbulence in their passing. Odd, that in our stream of consciouness it is the turbulance that stands out the most. Still, we are judged and we judge ourselves by our turbulance. When we see our actions fully, without dread or pride – ah fool that I am - When do we ever see our actions fully, without dread or pride? We see, learn, and act in a continuous cycle of wishful thinking, dread and delusion. What can we know of a reality that changes, as our perceptions of it change? We are kayakers shooting the rapids of life. We cannot stop even in death, for this turbulant moment carries us onward. For this reason Sakyamuni said there is nothing about him that was permanent.

Permanence is illusion. For this reason Shinran said that because he was incapable of being consistingly good, he must be evil. He said this knowing that there is no good or evil, only actions. Our actions exist in a state of flux, constantly changing, where is the good, which is the bad? They are just words we use to judge our actions, affirming the acceptable and praise worthy, denying the unacceptable. What logic can reveal what we refuse to accept? In accepting our actions as actions taken, words said, thoughts, thought, and gone, we are transformed and freed. How can we learn if we cannot accept that we are imperfect at best and subject to making any given situation worse?

We think dualistically, judgementally. We see something and immediately label it this or that, good or bad. In short, we create meaning and superimpose it on reality. Remember, we think using symbols, words that represent something else, something it’s not, which by its very nature makes it confusing.  It’s all part of the human package. It may be necessary, it may be required, but it’s not reality. How can we not have delusions, attachments and spiritual ignorance? We are constantly in action, swimming in the flood of life, and we want to slow it down, make sense of it all. We grasp the froth from the turbulance of our passing and hold on to our success and failure. We form our reality from froth. Saying, these moments are who I am, gives us the illusion of being in control. It’s how we define ourselves. It’s how we define others. It is the most human thing that we do. We all do it and we can’t over come it, not completely. Our foolishness keeps coming back,mocking us. How can we not have compassion for others?

Each of us is striving to understand our self as an object, and this pushes our true self, the action of our being, away. We must accept that this confusion of being subject and object at the same time is the basis of the human condition and be compassionate. It is simply part of our foolish being. We are what we do, and what we do is always being done, forming the basis of what we do next. There is no going back to fix anything. And there is no stopping. We are in a constant state of flux and impermanence: constantly doing; never done, never complete.

Striving to understand our true self as anything other than the on going action of being, leads to frustration and suffering. How can any of us say that we know anything, that we are this or that? This is the truth we all must face, and it is difficult. How can we not have compassion for others?

We are on the cutting edge of now, thinking of the past: our past success, our past failures.  We must let them go and deal with this reality, now? The past is only memories, created reality from a point of view that may never have existed. Our insistance on recreating them, over and over just adds to our delusion and attachment. It is difficult being a human being.

We can’t stop being human, but we can lessen the suffering caused by the beast: Be aware of what you do. Take responsibility for what you do. Accept the limitations of analysis and reason. Cultivate a sense of humor. We are finite beings in an infinite world. How can we not have compassion for others?

Our true nature is that of a seeker. In seeking to know our true nature, we discover our absolute ignorance. Our symbolic knowledge is simply limited, inadaquate. How can we experience a reality that is beyond our ability to express? We know, without knowing how, that it is there. We keep tripping over it. In accepting this truth, we find Amida Buddha.  In the endless light and life of Amida Buddha, our true nature is revealed. In the light of Amida’s compassion, we are all transparent and foolish. We must accept our foolishness, see through it and move on. Truthfully, we are all doing the best we can. How can we not have compassion for others?

This is the Dharma of Shakyamuni and Shinran, as I understand it. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts with you.

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