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Metta and the practical limits of self-immolation...

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The mummified body of a monk who performed Sokushinbutsu, a type of slow and painful ritual self-mummification / suicide once practiced in Japan as a path to Buddha-hood. Fasting to death for spiritual reasons is still quite common in Jainism, where it known as 'Santhara', it is arguable that the middle-way emphasis in the pali suttas was a reaction to the extreme practices of the Jain contemporaries of Siddharta.



I am not bringing this up to disparage these spiritual practices, but rather because developing such an understanding of the limits of self-immolation within life has been important to me in order to develop 'metta'. No not the warm fuzzy feeling in the chest type of meta but more like a bemused empathy towards others. And also because there is some debate in the practical dharma scene about the nature of 'true' enlightenment and self-immolation.

A common thread running through virtually all discussions of enlightenment in virtually all different traditions is the loss of the normative sense of self identification.

Every stage of further self-relinquishment, past the preliminary dark night struggles, makes one's experience of life progressively more peaceful and more content.

Even ordinary folk who do not practice systematic deconstruction of the self via mental exercises or engage in spirituality, who go through the average process of human maturity will notice that subliming the self for a larger cause or passion results in a reduction in personal suffering.

Those of us engaged in the pursuit of enlightenment, seek to explore the limits of such self-relinquishment through vigorous and systematic means.

One might experience the temporary ceasing of experience during a fruition.

One might experience the loosening of the self as seen on subsequent paths under Vipassana practices.

One might further experience the perpetually nascent, ahedonisticaly perceptual, and verbal thought based self of the successful AF practitioner.

One might experience the emotional agony, fear, affective possessiveness of the untrained mind.

One might experience the ongoing bliss of the fading of the senses themselves while staying alive (see Bernedette Roberts' ascension phase).

One might experience infinite number of different states of consciousness.

However through all of this 'one' still remains. At the limits of self-relinquishment it becomes evident that total self-immolation is impossible in life, but inevitable in death. By no means am I advocating suicide as a means of enlightenment. Suicide is redundant. Death is always a certainty. Life never is.

The point is that it cannot be said that one mode of perception in life is objectively preferable to the others. Subjectively of-course there will always be preferences, but these aren't a big deal. And shouldn't be treated as such.

RE: Metta and the practical limits of self-immolation...
Answer
1/15/12 4:45 AM as a reply to (D Z) Dhru Val.
D Z:

One might experience the ongoing bliss of the fading of the senses themselves while staying alive (see Bernedette Roberts' ascension phase).

What do you mean by 'fading of the senses'? Roberts' ascension phase (death of christ->Godhood), as I understand it, is the end of reflexive consciousness, i.e. just the senses.

RE: Metta and the practical limits of self-immolation...
Answer
1/15/12 8:31 AM as a reply to (D Z) Dhru Val.
D Z, it sounds like you think there is such a thing as a self to be relinquished, and it further appears that you see it linked to the mere fact of experience.

I would suggest that an experiential analysis of the cause of such a belief would benefit your vipassana practice.

RE: Metta and the practical limits of self-immolation...
Answer
1/15/12 10:04 AM as a reply to (D Z) Dhru Val.
However through all of this 'one' still remains. At the limits of self-relinquishment it becomes evident that total self-immolation is impossible in life, but inevitable in death.
Hello D Z -

This above excerpted statement contains personal assumption regarding topics that cannot be externally verified. There are persons who have noted their self-immolation and extirpation of self (DhO) and, generally, some theistic traditions convey that self/Self remains after death.


I am not bringing this up to disparage these spiritual practices, but rather because developing such an understanding of the limits of self-immolation within life has been important to me in order to develop 'metta'. No not the warm fuzzy feeling in the chest type of meta but more like a bemused empathy towards others. And also because there is some debate in the practical dharma scene about the nature of 'true' enlightenment and self-immolation.

(...)

The point is that it cannot be said that one mode of perception in life is objectively preferable to the others. Subjectively of-course there will always be preferences, but these aren't a big deal.
The fine work of one's own thin foot trails is required whether one starts on an idealogical superhighway (e.g., the Jainist or Japanese practices you mention) or not.

EDIT: why have you come to think of metta as like a bemused empathy?

RE: Metta and the practical limits of self-immolation...
Answer
1/15/12 5:17 PM as a reply to Pål S..
Pål S.:
D Z:

One might experience the ongoing bliss of the fading of the senses themselves while staying alive (see Bernedette Roberts' ascension phase).

What do you mean by 'fading of the senses'? Roberts' ascension phase (death of christ->Godhood), as I understand it, is the end of reflexive consciousness, i.e. just the senses.


Her earlier books don't talk about the asecension phase.

Just the senses, would be her ressurection phase...

Roberts, Bernedette. 'What is Self'. Pg 182
Bernedette Roberts on Ressurection Phase:
Initially life with the senses only is spectacular and indescribable; it might be compared to seeing the universe in ecstasy. Everything glows with the brilliance and marvel of God; everything gives way to this indescribable divine.


In the book 'What is Self'. She then further describes an Ascension phase, which doesn't seem compatible with sensory experience...

Roberts, Bernedette. 'What is Self'. Pg 186
Bernedette Roberts on Ascension Phase:
This condition, however, is incompatible with continued sensory existence or bodily functioning. Like an anesthetic, it closes down the senses; at one point the air became so heavy and condensed that continued breathing was all but impossible. If, at this moment, the air had not thinned, there would be no body
remaining to give this account.


This was not a permanant thing, she returned to the pure sensory experience afterwards. But she describes the pure sensory experience as being 'god-awful' by comparison to the ascension.

RE: Metta and the practical limits of self-immolation...
Answer
1/15/12 4:32 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
D Z, it sounds like you think there is such a thing as a self to be relinquished, and it further appears that you see it linked to the mere fact of experience.

I would suggest that an experiential analysis of the cause of such a belief would benefit your vipassana practice.


Not sure what manner of experiential analysis would be of benefit. The point is that there are varying standards for what constitutes a 'self'.

I understand the no-self of vipassana, but it doesn't go all the way. There is still sentience. There is still something it feels like to be 'me' subjectively. The same way there is probably something it is like to be a fruit bat, or a lion.

By contrast it is hard to imagine there being something it feels like to be a cellphone or some other non-sentient object. A cellphone doesn't feel pain, it doesn't care if you break it, it doesn't know anything.

There are various standards that one can have for defining the 'self/Self'. What I am suggesting is that if this type of bare sentience is viewed as self then the only way to be rid of it is in death.

This above excerpted statement contains personal assumption regarding topics that cannot be externally verified. There are persons who have noted their self-immolation and extirpation of self (DhO) and, generally, some theistic traditions convey that self/Self remains after death.


Correct, this is a personal assumption. Don't mean to impinge on any religious beliefs regards to an afterlife, reincarnation, etc.

The people on DhO who have described there 'self-immolation' still describe having sentience with regards to things like being able to feel physical pleasure or pain, comfort and discomfort.

While they have deconstructed the self to a far greater extent than the norm, it is clear that they do experience reality in some way.

EDIT: Daniel talks about this more eloquently in the MCTB section on 'full enlightenment'
MCTB: Death and Full Enlightenment

It has been important for me in understanding metta.

EDIT: why have you come to think of metta as like a bemused empathy?


Bemused because it evident through meditative practice that the things that people suffer over in life are quite mundane and certainly not worth suffering over. This understanding resulted in an indifference towards suffering rather than empathy or compassion.

A recognition that the 'enlightened' states in life have more subtle but equally mundane (from the point of view of an incomprehensibly large universe) preferences, leads to a sort of humility. This then leads to more unconditional empathy for sentient beings.

In more personal terms it has meant, a greater concern to the ethical treatment of animals in terms of dietary and lifestyle choices.

RE: Metta and the practical limits of self-immolation...
Answer
1/15/12 7:28 PM as a reply to (D Z) Dhru Val.
D Z:
End in Sight:
D Z, it sounds like you think there is such a thing as a self to be relinquished, and it further appears that you see it linked to the mere fact of experience.

I would suggest that an experiential analysis of the cause of such a belief would benefit your vipassana practice.


Not sure what manner of experiential analysis would be of benefit. (...) There is still something it feels like to be 'me' subjectively. The same way there is probably something it is like to be a fruit bat, or a lion. (...) What I am suggesting is that if this type of bare sentience is viewed as self then the only way to be rid of it is in death.


In the past I would think things such as "I have a soul / individual identity, and I assume other people do as well, although I can't perceive it directly; what is theirs' like / what is it like for them to have a soul or individual identity?" and I would get some intuitive sense of what their perception of their 'self' must be like. However, if I was more discerning at the time, I would have realized that the intuitive sense of the other person's 'self' was the same perception as my sense of my own 'self'; i.e. the idea "other people have selves" was understood in reference to my own experience of 'self'.

Perhaps something similar would work for you. When you think about bare sentience and find it plausible that there might be a sense in which bare sentience would be considered a kind of self-hood, what perception comes up in relation to the experience of finding it plausible?

RE: Metta and the practical limits of self-immolation...
Answer
1/16/12 9:17 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:

In the past I would think things such as "I have a soul / individual identity, and I assume other people do as well, although I can't perceive it directly; what is theirs' like / what is it like for them to have a soul or individual identity?" and I would get some intuitive sense of what their perception of their 'self' must be like. However, if I was more discerning at the time, I would have realized that the intuitive sense of the other person's 'self' was the same perception as my sense of my own 'self'; i.e. the idea "other people have selves" was understood in reference to my own experience of 'self'.

Perhaps something similar would work for you. When you think about bare sentience and find it plausible that there might be a sense in which bare sentience would be considered a kind of self-hood, what perception comes up in relation to the experience of finding it plausible?


One sort of 'self' emerges from a sort of an unconscious pattern recognition the brain does with the 6 sense doors. And paying attention to these doors we can prevent that from arising.

We can call this no-self relative to an average person's experience of reality.

But to set the bar higher, this doesn't solve problem of the senses themselves. Why do things appear at all as opposed to a cessation of all experiences ?

Since most practices seems to consist of training in different ways of paying attention to some aspect of the senses, this seems like an impasse within life.

Nevertheless investigating the sentience in the way you suggest has resulted in some promising if strange experiences, too soon to make a comment though.

RE: Metta and the practical limits of self-immolation...
Answer
1/17/12 7:43 AM as a reply to (D Z) Dhru Val.
Yeah, I thought of doing Sokushinbutsu because of how great it makes my skin look when I do it, but I am still waiting for "the hobbit" movie to come out, before I engage in this venerable form of suicide.

Amazing they already had shades back then! emoticon