A Teaching on No Self...
by Ven. Dr. Karuna Dharma
Twenty-five centuries ago when the
Buddha turned the wheel of the Dharma and began to teach,
he presented a philosophy which differed significantly from
the current belief systems of India, by presenting a profound
spiritual path, which had at its very core a denial of God
and soul. The Buddha proclaimed the three characteristics
of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and insubstantiality
(anitya, duhkha and anatman)
These three charcteristics are seen
as applying to all phenomena. The one great law of the universe,
then, is change. Phenomena come into being, mature and disappear.
They are the result of conditions; when the conditiions
change, they also change or disappear. Even those things
which appear as permanent are impermanent. Entire universes
come into being, mature and disintegrate. Buddhism does
not recognize a primal cause, nor does it recognize the
existence of a permanent, unchangeable substance in anything.
Rather, it sees all things as constantly changing, as conditionally
created. The constant creation and modification that occurs
is seen as being the natural result of the influence of
all beings that live within that sphere. We, then, along
with all other beings, create our own world. This is sometimes
called collective karma or collective action. There is no
beginning and no end to this process which continues endlessly,
because desire and aversion, which is followed by craving
and clinging, produces the constant re-enactment of bringing
into existence all manner of things, physical, mental and
Things do not exist because they
have an innate quality to them. Rather, they come into existence
because they have no innate quality. They are created out
of our own desires. Because there is no fixed quality to
anything, anything can be created. Each creation carries
within it its own seeds of destruction, because the conditions
which brought it into existence cannot continue ad infinitum.
So there is the endless round of process of production and
extinction, fueled by desire, which arises from a profound
ignorance of the conditionality of things, of what causes
our own suffering. This ignorance comes from a basic misunderstanding
of the nature of all things. The mistaken and fabricated
notion of an ego creates within us a need to make permanent
those things which we desire. Since we desire more than
anything immortality, we will create the notion of an immortal
self or soul. This belief in an immortal soul is viewed
as the cause of the endless round of our unsatisfactory
then, sees all beings as a result of conditions. The
human is viewed as being
a collection of five conditions, called skandhas. These
are body-form (rupa), sensations and perceptions (vedana),
conceptions (samjña), karmic predilections or tendencies,
or habit energies (samskara), and basal consciousness (vijñana).
All five of these conditions are necessary for a sentient
being to exist, These are cleary all conditional. When
person dies, these five skandhas break apart and disappear.
There is no substrate or bit of divine substance, no personality
or soul which remains.
The Buddha explained that we should
not become too attached to our bodies and their sensual
experiences and thoughts that arise from them, because the
attachment to our bodies and to life causes us great duhkha,
suffering and misery. Sense contact brings us sense experiences
which we then term as desirable or undesirable. From this
judgment arises the desire to re-experience similar sensual
experiences, which lead directly to attachment. This attachment
then leads to a great thirst or craving for the experience.
Soon we are entrapped in the need to continue such experiences,
for we feel we need or want them. But all experience is
very momentary. Hardly have we grasped onto one, when it
disappears and a new attraction grabs our minds. Soon we
are enmeshed in a great, complex web of desire, all of which
is very transitory, and thus unsatisfactory.
The Buddha stated that for us to
become free from the constant round of rebirth and suffering,
we would need to realize the changing nature of things in
its true perspective, so that we could free ourselves from
the need for certain experiences, attachment to self and
to the illusion of permanence.
of the major causes of duhkha is our puny attempts to
make impermanent things permanent.
We want to amass and hold on to things which please our
ego concepts. We strive to hold on to youth, to wealth,
to fame, to romance. All of these experiences are fleeting.
They arise, mature and disintegrate. It is not change
which causes the greatest pain, it is our resistance to
this change that causes the real duhkha. The Buddha again
and again explained: "Impermanent indeed are all conditioned
things; they are of the nature of arising and passing
Having come into being, they cease to exist. Hence their
pacification is tranquility."
He urged his disciples to truly
understand the ultimate nature of all things, that is their
impermanence. He had his disciples meditate upon the disintegration
of things, including their own bodies, in order to try to
break their inordinate clinging to objects of all kinds:
physical, vocal or mental.
Once the individual truly sees that
things cannot be grasped for more than a few moments, then
these unhealthy attachments and aversions can be given up
and the practitioner can be freed from the enslavement he
has produced for himself.