Still Struggling with No-Self

Robin Woods, modified 7 Years ago.

Still Struggling with No-Self

Posts: 155 Join Date: 5/28/12 Recent Posts
I feel like I've made some real progress with insight and general mind-quietening/happiness lately but I'm still struggling with understanding the No-Self characteristic and I wondered if you guys could help me out?

I sneezed the other day and realized that 'I' didn't sneeze at all, as I had no control over it, even though an observer would have said that 'I' sneezed. Is the thing really to do with control? I've also started to become aware of all kinds of digestive sounds (an unexpected benefit of mindfulness practice!) over which I have no control, even though they're emanating from the centre of my field of awareness so are kinda coming from 'me'? Obviously, the same is true of thoughts - I have no idea (or choice in) what's going to come up next. Is this the sense in which they're Not-Self, even though they obviously relate to 'my' life? I've recently started to become conscious of having other people's thoughts(wtf !??) in the weird hypnagogic phase before sleep, but that's probably another story....

On a related note, is the 'Big-Self' that some spiritual types talk about where your sense of self extends to the limits of your sensory field - up to the clouds in the sky and out to distant sounds? or does it mean something else entirely?

Apologies if some of this is really obvious but thoughts about it are really disturbing my practice at the moment.....
thumbnail
Richard Zen, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Still Struggling with No-Self

Posts: 1624 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
This thread helped me a lot:

how to get to 3rd path

1) Continuing to practice, and by that I mean directly seeing things arise and vanish on their own over there, however you can do that. Noting is good, direct observation of all the complexity is better, though using noting to ease into difficult patterns of sensations can be useful.

2) Going wide and through: as third is more spacious, more about dissolving a significant chunk of what seems to be observing, doing, controlling, analyzing, and the like, you both have to take on more of the sensations that seem to be all of that, which they aren't, and also see how to dissolve the artificial boundaries that seem to delineate that from everything else, meaning the rest of what happens in what seems to be space. Play on that line: how do you know what the edge between what seems to be you and not you is, viscerally, perceptually, vibrationally, texturally, geographically, volumetrically? Any quality that you notice seems to really feel like it means it is you, see the Three Characteristics of that.

3) Dismiss ideals and the patterns of ideals about what you think this stuff will do as more sensations to observe. If you can do this at the level of fluxing, shifting patterns of suchness, that is easier, but whatever level you find yourself at is the level that you can work with, as it is all the same from that point of view, and knowing that simple fact can help a lot.

4) Really allow the thing to show itself. Really allow luminosity to show itself. Really allow things to just happen as they do. Less control, more direct understanding of that natural unfolding, more noticing how the sense of control occurs at all, what it feels like, how that set of textures and intentions set up a sense that there is a you that is doing anything and how obviously wrong that is. Feel into what seems to be looking, asking, wanting, expecting and vipassanize all of that: not forcefully but skillfully, subtly coaxing those patterns into the light of awareness that sees through their clever tricks, almost like you have to look just slightly to the side of the Pleiades to see them as clearly, almost as if you have to sneak up on them so gently that they don't notice it and can be caught unawares, except that sneaking process is what you are trying to sneak up on.

5) Notice that you can't do anything other than what happens. Try. See how those patterns occur. Try to do something other than what happens. It is preposterous, but when you try it, there are patterns that arise, patterns of illusion, patterns of pretending, patterns that if you start to look at them you will see are ludicrous, laughable, like a kid's fantasies, and yet that is how you believe you are controlling things, so try again and again to do something other than what occurs and watch those patterns of confusion and pretending to be in control that arise and you will learn something. This is an unusually profound point.

6) Really, really keep the Three Characteristics in all their profundity as the Gold Standards for whether or not you are perceiving things clearly, and each moment you aren't, notice why and debunk that right there, and then do it again and again and again, as it always takes more repetitions of that process than people think it should, and so many get psyched out, when it may have not been that many more iterations of the process to have succeeded in locking that in as the way of perceiving things permanently.

7) Feel the going out into new territory with its confusion, tedium, frustration and creepiness as the thing itself: that which wants it to be known, mapped, predictable, safe, familiar is part of the thing that you need to see as it is: see those patterns in the head, chest, stomach, throat, etc. as more shifting, fresh patterns: that freshness keeps you honest, keeps you really paying attention in that slightly violating, slightly personally-taboo way that really helps in the end.

8) If you are familiar with the vipassana jhanas as living, familiar, felt things, then realize that Third has elements of the Third Jhana, wide but somehow there is something creepy about it, as it violates the center in a more full-time way than the earlier paths do. The more you have a tolerance for something in that letting go through-to-the-bone creepiness and can see the good side in that, the width, the spaciousness, the naturalness, the directness, the completeness, the fullness, the now-ness of it, the better you will do. It is a more sophisticated way of perceiving things, more out of control, more brave, more free, requiring more trust, more openness, more acceptance, being more down to earth and also more diffuse at the same time, which is an odd juxtaposition of feelings to get used to, but it is worth it.

9) If you have 5th, or even 4j.5j, meaning the spacious aspect of 4th that is not truly formless but still quite open and wide, that is a really good pointer, just allow it to also go through anything you think is you, working on that seeming boundary line, as above, but allowing it to breathe, to flux, volumetrically, like moving blobs of space with texture all together, all of them just the natural world doing its rich and empty thing.


Basically daydreaming about likes and dislikes and the natural effect of emotions and chemicals released based on them feels like a separate self. Thoughts pretend to do things the body is doing (including to pretend to be consciousness).
Robin Woods, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Still Struggling with No-Self

Posts: 155 Join Date: 5/28/12 Recent Posts


5) Notice that you can't do anything other than what happens. Try. See how those patterns occur. Try to do something other than what happens. It is preposterous, but when you try it, there are patterns that arise, patterns of illusion, patterns of pretending, patterns that if you start to look at them you will see are ludicrous, laughable, like a kid's fantasies, and yet that is how you believe you are controlling things, so try again and again to do something other than what occurs and watch those patterns of confusion and pretending to be in control that arise and you will learn something. This is an unusually profound point.




haha - I can't stop laughing. Talk about what I wanted/needed to hear. This exact thing started intuitively coming up for me at the gym the other day. I was trying to prove to myself that I had free will by going on all the more stupid, weird machines. And yet every time, there I found myself, on the stupid, weird machines...

Thanks Richard!
thumbnail
Brian Eleven, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Still Struggling with No-Self

Posts: 221 Join Date: 9/14/10 Recent Posts
Robin Woods:
I feel like I've made some real progress with insight and general mind-quietening/happiness lately but I'm still struggling with understanding the No-Self characteristic and I wondered if you guys could help me out?


Robin,

My own limited personal experience has been that "struggling with understanding" has only prevented me from seeing clearly. Choose a practice that works for you, do that practice every waking moment(to the best of your ability), allow whatever happens to happen. The understanding can only come when the struggle for it ceases.
A tense and grasping mind cannot see what is right in front of it. The mind needs to be quiet, even silent, and relaxed. When the mind stops, even for a short time, what is becomes obvious.

This is only my own experience and I make no claim to be at any level or attainment. If this is not helpful, please ignore it.


Metta,

Brian.
thumbnail
Fitter Stoke, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Still Struggling with No-Self

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
The best explanation of the Buddha's anatta doctrine was given by the Buddha himself in the Pa├▒cavaggi Sutta (aka: the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta). As compared with other explanations of this idea, the Buddha's own explanation is incredibly clear and straightforward while remaining profound. (Along with the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Pa├▒cavaggi Sutta is considered the earliest teaching of the Buddha, and together they describe the whole teaching in a nutshell. Therefore they're worth returning to repeatedly in order to get the grand perspective.)

The basic argument goes like this:

If something is inconstant and a cause of stress, then it can't be you.
But the five aggregates (feeling, form, perception, consciousness, and mental formations) are inconstant and causes of stress.
Therefore, they can't be you.

If something isn't you - it's not identical with you, it's not a container for you, and it's not contained in you - and if it's never going to bring satisfaction, then you should develop dispassion for it. This will lead you to stop clinging to it. Once you've stopped clinging, you can experience the end of becoming (stream entry or more).

To me at least, this formulation makes a lot more sense than other explanations I've heard given. But obviously your mileage may vary.

But notice here the role played by "not-self". It's a means of developing dispassion for the five clinging-aggregates. And inconstancy (anicca) and stress (dukkha) are means of perceiving anatta. The instruction is to learn to see things a certain way so as to make release more likely.

On a related note, is the 'Big-Self' that some spiritual types talk about where your sense of self extends to the limits of your sensory field - up to the clouds in the sky and out to distant sounds? or does it mean something else entirely?


I have no idea what these teachers are talking about. I've practiced a lot, and I've never encountered any "big self". The Buddha never taught a doctrine of an infinite self. All he ever has to say about an infinite self is that it would be stressful in just the same way as a finite self would, and therefore you should train yourself to see things as not an infinite self, not in an infinite self, and not containing an infinite self. (link) Of course, this doesn't mean the big self or infinite self doctrines are wrong, just that they're definitely not part of the Buddha's dhamma.
thumbnail
Fitter Stoke, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Still Struggling with No-Self

Posts: 489 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
P.S. - A more modern way to look at it - but which also seems to work - is to recognize in each moment that if something is an object for you, it cannot be you. This is the way Kenneth Folk explains it, which he may have gotten from Ken Wilber, who seems to have gotten it from German Idealism, which itself is not the dhamma but seems to have some ideas that are consonant with it. So you systematically take everything in experience as object, thereby disidentifying with it. One way to do this is through the noting procedure. You give a name to each sensation, thereby seeing it as object, as not-me. As the noting becomes more comprehensive and includes more fundamental mental states like attention, concentration, intention, and the like, release can come about that way.
Matt L, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Still Struggling with No-Self

Posts: 41 Join Date: 11/4/10 Recent Posts
I think the direct pointing approach is excellent for providing insight into this characteristic; although this is not the first way it developed in my experience.

I think the doing of mindfulness is excellent and you're obviously getting the hang of it - this will support any and all practices you do (and then some). When you see that your stomach is grumbling or thoughts are simply there but they both appear to be coming from your centre of awareness described as 'me' or 'my life' you should take this a step further but look at things in the exact same way. For example, stomach grumbles -> where does 'stomach grumbles' come from -> recognised as coming from 'me' or 'my life' but appear to have no control -> where does 'me' and 'my life' come from -> what is the answer to that? (look here in the same way as you notice stomach grumbling/thoughts there) -> continue ad infinitum -> stop whirlpool and do the doughnut.

Any realisation is inherently challenging to articulate in words without the reader having personal points of reference upon which to draw. This isn't because it is something special to this particular situation as relatively similar situations occur in day to day life frequently. A semi-useful analogy that I have seen is describing wetness to someone who doesn't know what water is. A more practical but a further step divorced example might be a graduate mathematician illustrating the finer points of their thesis to an HR interviewer.

However for me, the Big-Self was what developed shortly after the self 'popped' and was basically an immature mind's response to an event it couldn't conceptualise. Your description of Big-Self is basically how it goes, I didn't really label anything as sensations previous and so didn't describe it in such terms...for me it was a boundlessness with no differentiation between what was previously considered to be me and what was previously considered not-me - a huge non-differentiated playground. Walking along the street the feeling is like walking through yourself, except there is a basic absence of the idea that you're a 'yourself' at all and no consideration given to the previous idea. I rarified the experience for a long time and it pops up now and then. This probably seems like confusing wordplay, but I suspect you will get it sooner than later.

I'm not a baked potato - I and me are still there, its just they're out in the open, walk upon the shaky ground of conditions and are recognised as such in a straight forward everyday obvious way.

Breadcrumb