In the Lankavatara Sutra, we learn about two kinds of ego-delusion. In the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta, we get a nice tidy teaching on notSelf. I’m going to bring together a few things from both of these writings and hopefully tie ’em together in a way that helps you see the bigger picture.
If you don’t want to read what follows, listen here:
**This is a short sutta, but I want to make it even shorter. So, I’m going to reword some stuff (stuff that sounds pretty awkward anyway).
The Buddha spoke to the group of five (his first five followers):
“Form is not-self. If form was self, form would not lead to affliction, and we could say: ‘Let my form be whatever I want’, but no one can say: ‘Let my form be whatever I want.’
Control of the other 4 skandhas is similarly limited.
**The five skandhas / aggregates are:
- Mental Formations.
“What do you think? Is form permanent or impermanent?”
“Impermanent, venerable Sir.”
“Is impermanence pleasant or painful?”
“Painful, venerable Sir.”
“So, form is impermanent and therefore painful. Would you say that form is fit to be called mine, or I? Would it make sense to say this is my self? — “No, sir”.
[Because.. who in their right mind would choose to bring this pain upon themselves? If form were self, there would be control. “Self” implies control.]
The same applies to the other four skandhas. The other four aggregates are also unfit to be claimed as self.
“Any kind of form whatever, whether past, future or presently arisen, whether gross or subtle, whether in oneself or external, whether inferior or superior, whether far or near, must with right understanding how it is, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine, this is not I, this is not myself.’
The same is true of the other four skandhas. You are not them, you don’t own them, you don’t even control them.
Hearing the truth, we find that we cling less to belief in the aggregates as self, the belief they are owned by self, and the belief they are controlled by self.
Gnoing the truth, addiction falls away. With the fading of addiction, we attain liberation. When liberated, we gno that we are liberated. We understand: ‘Birth into the addictive cycle is exhausted, the holy life has been lived, what can be done is done, of this there is no more beyond.’
That is what the Blessed One said. The monks were glad, and they approved his words.
Hearing this teaching, the hearts of the group of the five original followers were liberated from taints through having ended their addictive grasping.
Comments on the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta
So, in short:
You are not what you think you are.
Whatever form, feeling, perception, mental formation, or consciousness you can imagine– that is not you.
To hear this teaching and, out of ignorant zeal, to jump to the other extreme of aversion / denial / suppression is unwise. There is a wrong-view here, we are to correct the view, we are not told to entertain more notions, such as the notion of the nonexistence of the self.
We are taught, in the Lankavatara Sutra (Chapter 3):
It is better to cherish the notion of an ego-substance as much as Mount Sumeru than to have the notion of emptiness derived from the self-conceited view of being and non-being. One who is conceited in the view of being and non-being is indeed doomed to ruin. Those who are delighted in cherishing notions of individuality and generality fail to understand that an external world is nothing but Mind itself and has no reality.
Yeah. This is a Mahayana Sutra, and I’m putting it next to a Theravada Sutta– get over it! The teachings are complementary. There is one teaching of the Buddha, explained and understood in a wide variety of ways.
One big ol’ rain cloud waters the jungle! This one source quenches the thirst of all the unique forms of life therein– and each receives water in the way that is appropriate.
Big drops hit the leaves of the trees which form the canopy. They are tough. They break the heavy rain for the medium bushes. The bushes break the fall of the water yet again, it drips down onto the delicate flowers.
I’m showing you that, in a similar way, the one teaching of the Buddha is received in diverse ways by the diverse beings.
I wrote a poem about this, and grabbed the relevant teaching from the Lotus Sutra for you, here.
Also in the Lanka, we hear about Twofold Egolessness.
- Egolessness of Persons
- Egolessness of Things
We learn that this same analysis that is being applied in the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta, can also be applied to things.
*Things are also not what we think they are.
We have a tendency to approach people and things as if they were discrete objects. We have the tendency to believe that things are as they seem. No. They are not as they seem.
All things, and all people, are made of notself elements. Rocks are made of minerals. People receive personality based on their interactions with other people. In both cases, what we refer to is built of causes and conditions which are not self-originated, not self-created, not ‘inherently existing’.
The isolated, inherent ‘self-nature’ of person and things is just a ‘conceptual imputation’. It is just a notion. Truth is beyond human notions. We have a long way to go– we are babies.
The information processing power of the human brain, and therefore our intellectual comprehension, is limited. That is ok. We don’t need to know every square inch of the cosmos– we are the cosmos.
We can look within,
and turn around at our deepest seat of consciousness (this is called paravritti),
to look at our fundamental experience of reality/existence–
and attain Gnosis thereby.
We heard from that crazy oracle at Delphi:
I tell you now:
Gno your notself.
Not with intellect,
but with the deeper heart-mind.