...Buddhism for Urban America
Urban Dharma Newsletter... October 21, 2003
This Issue: Special Issue - The
Self in Christianity and Buddhist
Christian Forums > Buddhism and
2. Self and No Self ...Dharma Talk ...Albuquerque Zen Center
3. A SIMPLE PERSPECTIVE ON 'NO SELF' ...By Upasika Khema
4. The Self in Christianity and Buddhism
5. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week: The North
American Interfaith Network
Book/CD/Movie Review: MY FAVORITE BUDDHIST-CHRISTIAN
BOOKS ...by djgnostic
Christian Forums > Open Discussion
& Debate > Spirituality & Religion > Buddhism
another thread, someone said something like, "I believe
that the teachings of the Buddha were a pointer to the message
of Jesus Christ."
is strange to me. The central theme of Buddhism and the central
theme of Christianity seem to be diametrically opposed. The
aim of Buddhism is to realise that there is no persisting self
(and no eternal soul), while the aim of Christianity (today,
at least) seems to be ensuring the neverending existence of
the soul in Heaven.
my thoughts... the poster that said that was incorrect
but it's a common attitude among all kinds of people, not just
Christians who want Buddha singing for their label. Plenty of
feel-gooders enjoy saying that all religions are basically the
same, and all that.
just a different spin. In both Buddhism and Christianity and
all religion, it's meant to transcend one beyond one's human
condition. In Buddhism the 4 noble truths and the 8 path ways
are meant to do that, just as Jesus teachings as how one gets
to Heaven, through faith and actions.
God and love your neighbor, and the Sermon on the Mount when
put into practical application all transforms the individual
in the here and now, right here on earth, just as Buddhism does.
While Buddhism to me is more a life philsophy, when it's all
said in done that's the bottom line. You and the here and now.
That's the whole point of religion.
morality in practice of Buddhism and Christianity may be similar,
and the transformative effects on a person's life may be similar,
but are you so certain that there is similarity between the
essence of the Christian's spirituality (relationship with God)
and the essence of the Buddhist's spirituality (emptiness and
impermanence)? Buddhism doesn't recognise that fundamental aspect
of Christianity (God/Jesus) and Christianity doesn't recognise
that fundamental aspect of Buddhism (no-self).
I read an interesting essay by a Jesuit (it's always
the Jesuits) priest about a re-examination of Christian concepts
of the soul in light of the Bible, returning to a more Judaic
idea of a person's spirit than Christianity's Greek idea of
an immortal soul. But few Christians would agree with that.
may also be interested in some of the Benedictine writings on
how Christianity has lost it's comtemplative aspect and become
a very legalist tradition.
guy in particular you may want to read about is a Trappist Monk
named Thomas Merton.
are other, perhaps more basic, differences between them. Creator/no
creator, sin/ no sin and so forth.
is, from our view, a mistake to try to form a "world wide"
or "universal" religion. people vary in their capacities
and, according to the Madhyamika school, that is why the different
religious traditions were expounded... each one for a people
in a place and time in which they could understand it.
it is, and I'm assuming you're Mahayana, the goal of bodhisattvas
to liberate all beings, and it is the teaching of Buddhism that
liberation comes only through the prajna that there is no persisting
self. If that's so, then the bodhisattva's hopes will only come
to pass if religions that encourage a belief in individal persisting
selves are gone.
I've read all of Merton's stuff.
worship of one's self is the worship of nothing. And the worship
of nothing is the worship of Hell" -Thomas Merton
people try to forget that Merton was ridiculously Catholic,
however much they want to make him out to be a Buddhist.
see them as two different vehicles seeking the same earthly
paths, under the guise of reaching their perspective destinations.
understand the different nuiances, but my point was the transcending
of the spiritual experience within the our human realm, the
here and now, as what occurs with both and all religions.
that said, I see the Sermon on the Mount as being "no-self"
it's just that it's not taught as a absolute doctrine within
Chrisitianity, even though this is the essense of Jesus...rather
comment on the soul as some seperate entity. I see it as the
metaphysical you, one's, characteristics, thoughts, experiences,
which loses it's existance once we lose our human existance.
Self and No Self ...Dharma
Talk ...Albuquerque Zen Center
we divide our experience into self and world, we see ourselves
as "here" (with a corresponding interior world) and
the world "over there" - outside and around us.
We see our lives as a series of interactions between the outside,
"the objective world," and our interior subjective
this view, our self and our subjective content are almost synonymous.
We feel responsible for our inner world of thoughts, memories
and emotions. Our relationship with the outer world is often
expressed as reaching out and perceiving experience. This viewpoint
is inherently centered on what we think our self does. We believe
our self is an actor on the world's stage.
is an admittedly simple, broad model. Even though it leaves
many questions unanswered, it readily corresponds to our sense
of everyday life. Many people go through life without ever questioning
this basic scheme.
the circumstances of life inspire us to investigate Buddhism,
we will probably bring this distinction between self and world
into our practice and be challenged to examine it. To find peace,
clarity and satisfaction in our lives something must change.
As a first step, accepting various Buddhist beliefs and practices
can have a beneficial impact on our lives. For example, we can
apply the teaching of the Eightfold Path; we can meditate on
compassion and wisdom; we can practice generosity and the other
paramitas. These are all worthy practices. However, until we
examine our underlying assumptions about self, world and relationship,
the strength and effectiveness of these practices will necessarily
be limited. The more completely our understanding corresponds
to Buddhist teaching, the more likely we are to realize the
full benefits of Buddhist practice. Therefore, it is useful
to examine our assumptions in the light of Buddhist teaching.
of the cornerstones of Buddhist teaching is the teaching of
"no self." There is no self in the sense of a permanent
and independent substance within existence. This is true of
all existence, not just the personal self. If we identify our
self with our subjectivity, this teaching can seem terrifying.
We may be afraid that if we let go of our identification with
our thoughts, memories and emotions, we will cease to exist.
But this is not what the teaching implies. It is important to
realize how "no self" shows us a path out of suffering.
all have experiences that we recognize as selfless. Perhaps
when we were listening to music; perhaps when we watch our child
growing; perhaps when we first look into a true lover's eyes.
Any experience that is vital and penetrating is a moment of
selflessness. This is not really an exotic activity, but our
ideas of self keep us from recognizing its everyday occurrence.
make a fist with our hands. With our fist we can do some useful
things, knocking on a door for instance. But when we want to
do other things, caressing our lover's face for example, a fist
isn't very helpful. So we open our hands. Where did the fist
go? "Fist" is simply a concept. It is a description
of activity - bringing our fingers together in a certain way.
"Fist" is not a fixed thing. When our hand comes together
in a certain way, fist appears; when we open our hand, fist
disappears. There is no essence of fist, no fist soul or self.
It is only a concept that describes a certain activity. The
real fist is no fist; what is perceptible, "real,"
is the activity of our hand coming together. When we confuse
the concept with the activity, we become confused and worried
when "something" that was present is no longer here.
We open our hand, our fist disappears, but we are unconcerned
because we understand the nature of "fist." When we
do not understand the nature of self, we may be fearful when
we hear Buddhism proclaim there is no self.
Buddhism teaches that there is no self, it is just like saying
there is no fist. Buddhism is asking us to look beyond the concepts
and ideas of self and realize the activity from which self arises
and disappears. "No self" opens a door for us to discover
our nature through realizing our profound dynamic relationship
with everything around us.
hiking in the mountains. We come around a ridge and suddenly,
surprisingly, we see a magnificent vista. It "blows us
away." The teaching of no self means that in the activity
that we describe as "seeing the vista," the self that
we are is the activity - seeing the vista. In the moment of
seeing (or hearing, tasting, etc.) our self is pure activity.
In this activity there is no "I am" self ("I
am seeing the vista.") There is no self-consciousness;
there is no recognition. In this moment the real self is no
self; there is only selfless activity - "seeing the vista."
Some religions posit a witness, an observer, independent from
the activity. Buddhism rejects this idea - defines it as delusion.
teaching of no self means that the activity of experiencing
is selfless. In extraordinary experiences, such as seeing a
magnificent vista, this may be apparent. But the teaching goes
further. It tells us that the foundational activity of all experiencing
is selfless. Whether tying our shoes, hugging our child, or
driving our car - in all these experiences the underlying activity
this selfless activity our personal self arises. After realizing
the vista, in the next moment we arise, "Ah…beautiful."
In the moment we say, "Ah…beautiful," suddenly
there is self and world, space and time. This is the moment
of recognition, consciousness; this is the human realm of subject
the instant of activity - seeing the vista - there is neither
self nor world; there is only activity. In the next moment self
and world arise together. Whatever the characteristics of this
born self its appearance is transitory. In the next moment a
bird calls, the wind stirs the trees, or a deer catches our
eye; the self and world dissolve into activity, experiencing
the new moment. Appearing, disappearing, appearing, disappearing
- this is the fundamental pulse of personal self.
realm of self and world is the realm of ordinary consciousness:
subject, object, space and time. Most of our efforts to understand
our situation work within this framework. But Buddhism insists
on no self. In Buddhism the essential foundation is selfless
activity. The instance of pure activity, pure experiencing,
is prior to recognition. The subject and object polarity of
conventional experience is secondary to the primacy of activity.
In other words, the essential condition is relating. All living
is relating. All experience of self and world arise from the
foundation of relating.
lives are shaped by our sense of our self. Our perception of
the world, how we cultivate relationships, what we think of
our lives, all depend on how we see ourselves. If we believe
in a substantive self, then self is our starting point for perceptions
and interpretations of experience and relationship. If we believe
in self, then we will attach to self. Standing within our self,
we judge everything: good (to me), bad (to me), beautiful (to
me), and ugly (to me). Direct experiencing gives way to the
world of our interpreting.
moment we act from the standpoint of self perpetuates the belief
in self. "I want this; I dislike that." The course
of our lives is shaped by desire and attachment, fear and confusion.
If we acquire what we currently desire, we are momentarily happy;
if not, then we are disappointed. In the continuing struggle
to maintain happiness or avoid disappointment there is no enduring
peace of mind. We can exhaust ourselves upholding and defending
our self-image, all the while bemoaning our sense of isolation.
When our understanding is based on belief in a substantive self,
then all relationship becomes problematical.
we understand that self is selfless, then our ground, our starting
point, is the activity of relating. We arise from the unity
of relating, we dissolve into the unity of relating. We don't
need to "figure things out." When we don't separate,
we don't need to interpret. When we don't attach, we don't suffer.
Peace of mind does not come from being clever or intelligent,
merely awake. The simple path to clarity is to dissolve our
self into relating.
moment self arises from and returns to selfless activity. The
teaching of no self reminds us of our common origin and destination.
When we practice the teaching of no self, we dissolve the barriers
and distinctions that divide our lives. We reunite with the
activity that is the source of our living. The apparent problems,
conflicts, judgments, and interpretations that dominate our
self's vision pale in the light of our origin and destination.
the realm of fundamental activity there is no self; there is
no world. Self and world arise from this foundation and return
to this foundation. If we are clear in the arising and disappearing
of self, then we can find our way home in any situation. When
we willingly dissolve ourselves into relating, then the subsequent
arising of self can be free from desire and attachment. Peace
and completeness are not distant promises, but the natural condition
from which we arise and to which we return.
personal self that we identify with is an ephemeral appearance
in the activity of life. Clinging to an "I am" self
perpetuates the belief in a separate, objective world around
us. It can create distance in our intimate relationships and
diminish the vitality of experience. When we believe we are
separate from our experience, alone in our relationships, then
dropping our attachments is a long and difficult process. As
we continue to learn that our foundation is relationship, that
from the beginning self and separation are an illusion, we can
step free in a heartbeat. Then the primacy of relationship is
relating and the vividness of experience is experiencing. Many
teachings emphasize that dissolving our illusion of an "I
am" self is the essential practice of Buddhism. We will
return to this insight again and again and again.
critical work we must do is to develop insight into our nature.
When we are empty sky, we are free from boundaries and restrictions.
When we identify our self with subject, object or some idea,
we bind ourselves. When we understand what a fist is, we are
not afraid of losing it when we open our hands.
A SIMPLE PERSPECTIVE ON 'NO SELF' ...By Upasika Khema Sally
of the most complex concepts in Buddhism for most people is
the idea of 'no-self'. We refer to it in the teachings as "there
nothing to be thought of as I or mine". In Buddhism we
also know that we truly understand Dhamma when we see things
as they really are. But is it possible to conceptualize it?
That is, to get a picture in our minds, even if we don't completely
see the reality of it as an Arahant would? We can understand
the concept of greed, anger and delusion. $o could we understand
that there is no self that feels, thinks, etc.?
people I have met, Buddhists, still fret over the concept of
'no-self'. They feel we can't exist or feel or love or create
or work without it. I believe it isri t really that important.
And I believe that it is possible for us to do all these things
without a 'self .
believe that the idea of non-self does not mean non-existence;
it doesri t mean that we aren't here or that we aren't real.
It is an idea of selfishness vs. selflessness. It means that
when we act and interact in the world we are not concerned with
thoughts about our personal being, feelings or even our own
bodies. We act out of compassion or lovingkindness or equanimity
or (sympathetic) joy. It releases us from conceit, anger and
shows us that the world and the universe beyond is nothing more
than the sum of its parts. All the atoms of the universe, in
constant changing states, meet together and form matter. This
matter can be plant, animal, or neither, gas, liquid, solid.
Atoms connect with each to generate life forms that can be visible
the example of a wooden table. A table is nothing more than
several pieces of wood cut into various lengths and nailed or
glued together to make what we call a 'table'. Take those pieces
apart and connect them in a different configuration and you
might have a chair or a crate or a seesaw: but it's still nothing
more than a bunch of cut pieces of wood.
about a film on the movie screen. When we view a movie we believe
it to be a continuous flow of experiences but in reality it
is only a series of thousands of individual images which, when
put in order and fed through the projector, become a flow only
because of the speed at which fine individual images are delivered.
There is no real action going on, the people on the screen aren't
real, there's nothing solid about anything we see.
at the human body. It is nothing more than a mass of atoms attracted
to one another to create blood, bones, muscles, organs. There
are chemicals, enzymes, hormones, and acids in the body and
they all work together. But they are not in our control. In
fact, our bodies are merely machines run by chemical processes
and electricity. The only things we can control are the voluntary
functions of the body: moving arms, legs, sitting, walking,
etc. Even thinking is a voluntary function in the sense that
we can (if we choose to or are capable of it) determine the
outcome of thinking (good thoughts generate good outcomes and
negative thoughts generate unhappy outcomes). When we make a
decision to act, speak or think about something who is doing
it? Who is really deciding or thinking or acting?
we are absorbed in something we enjoy very much, a great book,
movie, building a model airplane, listening to a great speaker,
we speak of 'losing ourselves' to the object. We speak about
not being aware of our surroundings. I see this as a form of
'no-self'. Our focus is on the object and not us.
have minds, they decide, they act, they feel and although they
may have a feeling of 'self' they cannot express it. So why
is it that humans worry that if they have no self they cannot
believe in the world there are two great examples of people
who had no feeling of self and yet created more than any Picasso,
Mozart, or even Einstein.
course there is the Buddha. Everything he did was done out of
selflessness. He acted and spoke with no thought for his own
needs, cares, or pains. He just did; he taught and roused people
to understand what he discovered. He acted purely out of compassion
for others, loving-kindness for others, and equanimity. He knew
what needed to be done and he did it. He did not need to be
concerned with his 'self. It wasn't a necessary part of his
existence. He had a purpose and he was able to fulfill it.
modern times my example of a totally selfless person would be
Mother Theresa. She tended to the sick; her faith was so totally
absorbing that she never gave a thought for her own needs. She
acted because this is what she felt should be done. She helped
others; she was compassionate and loving. She probably never
second-guessed what she did. There were people who needed her
and she was there for them. Yet she accomplished a great deal
in her lifetime and certainly made a mark on the world. If Mother
Theresa had acted with Right Understanding she would have been
believe it is possible to truly understand the concept of 'no-self'.
I think we should stop worrying about it. We should stop thinking
that if we believe in it we have lost something. It's just something
to strive to understand further as we continue to study Buddhist
teachings. Eventually, like everything in Buddhism, it will
come to our clear understanding. Buddhism is a religion of repetition.
The ideas needs to be read and heard over and over again because
we have misunderstood them for so many eons in samsara that
we should not worry about 'getting it' right away. Old habits
die hard. The splendor of Buddhism is that we have the chance
to keep hearing it and practicing and slowly it will come into
our scope of awareness and understanding. Some day we might
even reach Nibbana at which time we will see the reality of
'no-self and say 'Ah, now I've got it'!
The Self in Christianity and Buddhism
philosophy lecture was very stimulating. The student felt compelled
to raise his hand. "Professor, how can I be sure that I
have a self, indeed that I even exist?" The professor smiled
knowingly. He looked the student in the eye and said, "And
who may I say is asking?"
Global Culture and Intersecting Faiths
21st century will most certainly teach humanity that Rudyard
Kipling's maxim "East is east, west is west, and never
the twain shall meet" is incorrect. We are living in an
era of unprecedented intercultural exchange. People throughout
the world have greater access to information about other cultures
than at any point in human history. An aspect of this small
world is an increased frequency of religious dialogue and analysis,
which has resulted in striking shifts in religious understanding
and practices. One effect of this phenomenon is an increased
interest in eastern spiritualism among people outside of Asia.
Today, there are hundreds of thousands of people following Buddhism
in the United States alone, many of them born to families that
were not Buddhist.
books have been written recently with the goal of inducing a
philosophical merger between Christianity and Buddhism, offering
that the faiths are but different paths up the same mountain.
Living Buddha, Living Christ, Going Home,: Jesus and Buddha
as Brothers both by Thich Nhat Hanh, as well as Jesus and Buddha
: The Parallel Sayings by Marcus Borg are among the most popular.
In these books, the Jesus that is represented is the Jesus as
avatar, one among many of history's wise teachers, a sage. He
is said to be more like the Buddha than different. As a gentle
counter to this paradigm, this essay will seek to thoughtfully
and respectfully explore an essential and profound difference
between the Christian and Buddhist faiths - the question of
the nature and destination of the self.
in a Nutshell
brief overview of Buddhism is in order to orient the reader's
basic understanding around its basic precepts and tenets. Buddhism
was founded in the late 6th century B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama,
the Buddha ("enlightened one"). His teachings, called
dharma, offer the essential model of the Buddhist religious
life. Gautama lived a luxurious life, but was reputed to be
grieved by the deep suffering of humanity. He followed an extreme
ascetic path, which lead to his "enlightenment". He
developed an understanding of life that was generally oriented
around ideas that have been codified into four "noble truths"
and something called "the eight fold path". The noble
life is suffering
suffering is caused by craving -- for sense pleasures and for
things to be as they are not
suffering has an end point
there is a means to the end of suffering which is the "middle
way", which declares that no extremes should be sought,
and an "eight fold path" - comprised of right views,
right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood,
right endeavor, right mindfulness (focus in activities), and
right concentration (meditation).
final result of following the Buddhist path to "enlightenment",
or total awareness, in that the self is shed and an individual
ceases to exist, achieving a state called "nirvana",
in which only peace and joy exist.
versus Self Denial
follows are a few statements from Buddhists about the self:
"One of the cornerstones of Buddhist teaching is the teaching
of 'no self.' There is no self in the sense of a permanent and
independent substance within existence." Albquerque Zen
Center - http://www.azc.org/azc/azc-talk-2000-04.html
"What is Buddhism? I think that the most adequate description
is the three Dharma marks; suffering, impermanence, no self.
Of the three only the idea of no self is uniquely Buddhist.
Buddhism's unique contribution to the world is no self yet the
majority of people seek it as a form of self improvement."
- John Hite, http://www.shindharmanet.com/writings/self.htm
"In this sense, the anatta teaching is not a doctrine of
no-self, but a not-self strategy for shedding suffering by letting
go of its cause, leading to the highest, undying happiness.
At that point, questions of self, no-self, and not-self fall
aside. Once there's the experience of such total freedom, where
would there be any concern about what's experiencing it, or
whether or not it's a self?" - Thanissaro Bhikkhu, http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/buddha/Teachings/025-noself.htm
Buddhist doctrine of no-self offers that the self is a passing
locality of impulses, experiences, and ideas, yet in the final
sum, does not exist. Thanissaro Bhikkhu offers a variation on
this theme, declaring that the existence of the self is ultimately
inconsequential to the enlightened mind. The self in Buddhism
is illusory, as is the suffering that the self experiences.
These ideas can be juxtaposed against the Christian profession
of the self. The Christian profession of the self is most clearly
captured in the words of John the Baptist speaking of Jesus,
"He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)
The Christian self is to die to the world, and only then can
it come alive to Christ. It is only after a Christian self joins
Christ in the grave that it can come to new life by being born
again. This theme was aptly summarized by Dietrich Bonhoffer
in The Cost of Discipleship, "Self-denial is never such
a series of isolated acts of mortification or asceticism. It
is not suicide, for there is an element of self-will even in
that. To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more
of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road
which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self-denial can
say is: 'He leads the way, keep close to him'.... The cross
is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which
every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments
of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the
result of the encounter with Christ."(1) The Christian
self cannot be transcended of its own volition, rather it is
to die so that room can be made for the ultimate and eternal
self, that of Jesus Christ. Where the Buddhist offers that the
wise mind will finally see that the self is a non-entity, the
Christian offers that the self is an entity of insufficiency
until it diminishes in the presence of Christ. The Buddhist
seeks to abnegate the self. Cessation of the self is the highest
attainment of the Buddhist faith. The Christian seeks to deny
the self. The death of the self is a joyous event in which a
Christian joins "the fellowship of His suffering"
from which new life comes. These are radically different understandings
of the self, and any attempt at reconciliation of these faiths
must by its very definition put aside this very important distinction.
offer that Buddhism and Christianity are parallel truths is
to take many of the essential doctrines of each faith and discard
them. While there are elements of each faith that are similar
in content and theme, certain of the essential elements are
irreconcilable. From these differences, the seeker of the truth
is faced with a decision - is there a self, what is its nature
and composition, and where is its destination? What is the fate
of the self? These questions are asked that one may pursue an
answer. Seek that answer in truth and in deed, and you will
find the Truth Indeed, Jesus Christ. And make sure you keep
asking yourself, "And who may I say is asking?"
- The Cost of Discipleship, Simon and Schuster, 1959, pages
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Amazon.com - MY FAVORITE BUDDHIST-CHRISTIAN BOOKS ...by
djgnostic, ESL Teacher/reader of religion
Going Home: Jesus and Buddha As Brothers - by
Thich Nhat Hanh (Paperback - October 2000)
comments: inspiration by a master Buddhist monk
Living Buddha, Living Christ - by
Thich Nhat Hanh, et al (Paperback - September 1997)
comments: Thich Nhat Hanh is a master!!!
Buddhists Talk About Jesus Christians Talk About the Buddha
Rita M. Gross (Editor), Terry Muck (Editor) (Paperback - July
comments: acedemic essays by members of each fatih (Crossan,
Borg, Gross, etc.)
The Gethsemani Encounter: A Dialogue on the Spiritual Life
by Buddhist and Christian Monastics - by
Donald W. Mitchell (Editor), et al (Paperback - May 1999)
comments: set in Merton's KY monestary (my home state!!)
A Broader Vision: Perspectives on the Buddha and the Christ
Richard Henry Drummond, Kenneth M. Skidmore (Editor) (Paperback
- October 1995)
comments: definately a BROADER vision.....isn't that why
you're looking at this list????
Buddha & Christ: Images of Wholeness - by
Robert Elinor (Hardcover - September 2000)
comments: author is an ordained Presbyterian minister, a
member of the Buddhist Society, London, and the Society of Buddhist-Christian
Buddha and Jesus: Conversations - by
Carrin Dune, Carrin Dunne (Paperback - September 1994)
The Drum of Immortality - by
Hugh Fincher, Janice Phelps (Editor) (Paperback)
comments: very important for the world!!
The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of
Jesus - by
Dalai Lama, et al (Paperback - April 1998)
comments: views on Jesus from the #1 Buddhist in the world!!
Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings - by Marcus J.
Borg (Editor), et al (Paperback - January 1999)
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