True self to No self

Mike Smirnoff, modified 15 Days ago.

True self to No self

Posts: 181 Join Date: 2/6/20 Recent Posts
My last post: 

Logical/mathematical consequences of the law of kamma and re-birth - Discussion - www.dharmaoverground.org

had a logical/philosophical flavor wherein I took the law of kamma and rebirth as described in the Majjhima Nikaya to its logical end, and questioned the  dogmatic beliefs of the empirical scientists (physicists, biologists, but can be anyone, for example, historians) -- these beliefs being that time, space and causality exist independently of the human faculties.

This post has much more an experiential flavor and  time, space and causality are inherent when we talk about experience.

In a previous thread: 

Conventional Reality/Ultimate Reality - Discussion - www.dharmaoverground.org

in the last post, I started off on this. To add to it, I read the first part (first 55 pages in the edition that I have) book `What is Self' by Bernadette Roberts. Brilliant book! She describes the path from true self (unitive phase) to no self -- this is the path missing from the descriptions of Saint John of the Cross. I myself have had experience of God in the center of my heart, and no-self has had some kind of a pull on me, so this description is great. Her own journey of no self she has described in her book  `Experience of no-self,' another brilliant book.

She also raised a question which came up for me a few months ago: Did Buddha, as a Hindu growing up, have a true self experience before he got to enlightenment? I came up with this question because inspite of practicing Buddhist meditations, I got stuck (and the insight stage maps were not making sense), and until I had a true self experience, no-self was not making sense to me, but at this point, I have an intuition of the path forward. My guess is that I have reached the end of the unitive phase (or am towards the end of the unitive phase). In the language of Saint John of the Cross, this would be the end of the dark night of the spirit. This is not to de-ride the Buddhist tradition -- I'm a fan of the Buddha. I'm only describing the experience I have had.

However, in her book `Experience of no-self,' she was much more open about the Hindu and Buddhist traditions; in this later book `What is self,' she has made a caricature of both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. She gives a short description of the Hindu tradition in Part II of the book which I glanced through and at some level, she is reducing the Upanishadic/Vedantic tradition to the true self experience or something similar. She is likely unaware of the devayana and paravidya/samyagdarshan of the Vedantins, and she is also likely unaware of the description of jivanmukta of the Vedantins (for example, the commentary of Sankara on the Badrayana Sutras) -- these descriptions are quite similar to her own experience of no-self in her book 'Experience of no self'. I'm not saying that jivanmukta and her own descriptions of no self are the same -- I don't know yet, I'm not there, but there seem to be similarities -- I'm saying is that she has made a caricature of the Hindu system. I'll also add, devayana seems much similar to the unitive state and also has similarities to what Saint John of the Cross says: according to him, after the unitive state, the final journey is carried on after death, in the devayana, after death, the person goes to Brahma loka where he gets final liberation, whereas jivan-mukta is liberated right here, right now (As an aside, I should add on this point, the Buddhists also misunderstand, who say, that from the Brahmaloka, a person might fall back into any realm, the Vedanta model is different). What I find a little humorous is that the issue she found with Saint John of the Cross, that he left his descriptions mid-way at the unitive state, she is interpreting the Vedantins in the same way.

She has also made a caricature of the Buddhists in the first 55 pages -- though I have not yet read her section on personal discovery of Buddhism.  I will let some one else, more knowledgeable (especially of the Mahayana tradition of which I have not much knowledge) to comment on it.

Maybe I'll add a piece of unsolicited advice for Hindus who got into Buddhist meditations and got stuck: Read the 13 principal upanishads, the Badrayana Sutras and the Sankara commentary to it (and if you have a western education, also the Philosophy of the Upanishads, The System of Vedanta and Elements of Metaphysics, all by Paul Deussen). Considering that one of the primary Hindu beliefs is that of openness and tolerance, that is, God can be found in various shape and forms, I'd also suggest Saint John of Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel and Dark night of the Soul; St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle or Mansions; and Bernadette Roberts' `Experience of No Self' and `What is Self'.

Still, brilliant book and thankful to her for her own experience and the analysis of it in psychological/experiential terms.


Derek2, modified 15 Days ago.

RE: True self to No self

Posts: 174 Join Date: 9/21/16 Recent Posts
Hi, Mike, I agree that BR is a brilliant writer. I also agree that her critiques of Hinduism and Buddhism are based on inadequate study.

I recently wrote a blog post summarizing her life story, drawing on the published works. It seems to me that her combative attitude goes all the way back to her childhood. It has nothing to do with her genuine insight.

In the interview she did with Yoga Journal, she observed that stage theories are only ever "someone else’s retrospective view of his or her own journey." Despite this disclaimer, she generally makes it sound as though spiritual development is a one-dimensional path, and that everyone goes through the same stages.

That's an attractive theory -- plenty of people come up with linear models -- but it doesn't have a whole lot of evidence to support it.
Mike Smirnoff, modified 15 Days ago.

RE: True self to No self

Posts: 181 Join Date: 2/6/20 Recent Posts
Hi Derek,

Thanks for writing. I agree, the path is not necessarily linear. She does mention some no self like experiences in her unitive stage path in one of her books. For me, I think I have had no self like experiences myself, and my path is certainly not linear. However, I have much gratitude for these Christian contemplatives (Saint John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and now, Bernadette Roberts) for their writings -- especially with the kind of background that I have. In addition, a reading and experiencing what is written in the Hindu Upanishads, Vedanta Sutras with Sankara commentary and Majjhima Nikaya has been very beneficial.

I will check out your blog post.

Thanks for writing.

​​​​​​​Mike.

Edit: I read your article in Psychospiritual review. Thanks for the succinct, informative description of these major formative events in her life.

Edit 2: Thanks for the Yoga journal article.

Edit 3: I just read the comments to the yoga journal article that Derek cited. One of the comments makes the same point as me - that she has misunderstood the full Hindu path, and this person does this with the example of Ramana Maharshi.
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Nicky2, modified 13 Days ago.

RE: True self to No self

Posts: 41 Join Date: 4/18/20 Recent Posts
Hinduism didn't exist when the Buddha was growing up. The main religion at that time was called Brahmanism and it followed the Four Vedas. In the Pali suttas, there are actually not that many, if any, noteable discussions with Brahmins on the subject of "True Self". 
Mike Smirnoff, modified 12 Days ago.

RE: True self to No self

Posts: 181 Join Date: 2/6/20 Recent Posts
Nicky2 -- 
Two of the most important Upanishads are Chandogya and Brihadaranyak. Check out Wikipedia and you will see when they were composed. Also, these were the dates of composition -- this suggests knowledge of the same existed much before them. Read them, and you will know what they say. Further, the purpose of the Vedic rituals was also, in part, to connect with God -- I don't think you have ever attended a Vedic ritual and thus you don't know what they do in the heart. Finally, read beyond the Buddhist Pali Canon and you will get a better perspective.
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Nicky2, modified 12 Days ago.

RE: True self to No self

Posts: 41 Join Date: 4/18/20 Recent Posts
Mike Smirnoff
Nicky2 -- 
Two of the most important Upanishads are Chandogya and Brihadaranyak. Check out Wikipedia and you will see when they were composed. Also, these were the dates of composition -- this suggests knowledge of the same existed much before them. Read them, and you will know what they say. Further, the purpose of the Vedic rituals was also, in part, to connect with God -- I don't think you have ever attended a Vedic ritual and thus you don't know what they do in the heart. Finally, read beyond the Buddhist Pali Canon and you will get a better perspective.

​​​​​​​Sorry but a Buddhist takes refuge in the Dhamma and the Upanishads are not mentioned in them. 

It appears you & Bernadette Roberts are referring to things that never existed. 

In summary, it appears Hinduism evolved out of Buddhism rather than Buddhism somehow developed out of or was a reaction against Hinduism. 

There was no Hinduism when the Buddha was alive. 
Mike Smirnoff, modified 12 Days ago.

RE: True self to No self

Posts: 181 Join Date: 2/6/20 Recent Posts
Nicky2 --
Fact remains, 2 of the most important Upanishads and their knowledge existed at the time of the Buddha. I will end this discussion with you at this point —and leave it at that we have different views of history -- and what this view of mine would be, that the Buddha was a Hindu, pre-enlightenment and post-enlightenment, who used different terminology to explain certain things and elaborated on certain other things.
Mike Smirnoff, modified 12 Days ago.

RE: True self to No self

Posts: 181 Join Date: 2/6/20 Recent Posts
God/truth can be found in various shapes and forms, be it Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, or others (too many to name).
Let's try to live with universal love for all people's faiths and views, or at the very least, tolerance of the same.

My last post on this thread. Thanks everyone for the discussion.

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