Gil Fronsdal – BHNN Guest Podcast – Ep. 04- Non-Self and Self

self

Gil speaks about the concept of self and non-self. For all the teachings of non-self (anatta) in Buddhism, there is also the concept of the great self (mahatma). Early texts show the character of the Buddha as someone with a very advanced self-concept. He had a strong sense of identity and gave accounts of his experiences and spiritual capacities in the first person.

What is the relationship between being spiritually awake and the concept of self? Gil explains that early Buddhist tradition did not try to answer the question of “who am I” initially. Instead, it raises other questions such as “what is freedom?” What is it to be psychologically and spiritually free from the shackles of our own mind? The beginning of wisdom is recognizing that our mental traps exist in the first place.

The ancient tradition teaches us to develop our self as an island refuge. From this refuge, we may observe the deceptions and patterns of our mind. Understanding how we are caught in our own traps allows us to overcome them and become free from the vise of self.

 

Show Notes

 

04:00 – The Buddhist conception of non-self is a bit confusing. What self can realize the non-self? Gil reads a passage from a therapist who witnessed this confusion at an academic conference on Buddhism, science, and psychotherapy.

What the early texts show in the character of the Buddha is someone with a very advanced self-concept. He was confident of his knowledge and expressed himself with conviction. When he spoke of himself in the first person, he did so with clarity.

The Buddha had a strong sense of identity and knew very well who he was. He gave firs person accounts of his life experiences and his spiritual capacities. It is clear that the Buddha’s “self” as this concept, as psychology understands it, was fully functional and remarkably well developed.

7:50 – What is the relationship between being spiritually liberated and the idea of self? The early tradition did not try to answer the question of “who am I” initially. Instead, it raises other questions such as “what is freedom?” What is it to be psychologically and spiritually free from the shackles of our own mind?

09:40 – It is said that there are three movements to resolving the issue of self. One is to regress into a childlike innocence where there are no problems, despite the reality of things. Another is to claim that there is an essential soul or true being which becomes a sense of security and refuge.

The Buddhist approach is neither of those two; rather it is to cultivate and develop a strong sense of self and inner capacity. The ancient tradition teaches us to develop our self as an island refuge. From this refuge, we may observe the deceptions and patterns of our mind. Understanding how we are caught in our own traps allows us to overcome them and become free from the vise of self.

18:50 – It is much harder to see how we limit ourselves than it is to see the same thing in other people. Part of the function of meditation practice is to help us to see that. Unfortunately, the way we view this is in how we hurt. Much of the suffering and pain that people experience has a connection to our self-concept that we carry with us.

A part of Buddhism that is less attractive is the honest assessment of one’s self and seeing how it all work. We must be careful doing so in the context of kindness and possibility, not just to rub salt in the wound of our own shortcomings.

24:00 – One of the aspects of the teachings of non-self is the teachings around conceit. Part of the function of the path of practice is to lower the flag of conceit. So what is the juxtaposition between having a strong sense of confidence without it being conceit. Part of this practice is learning to be yourself in a confident way, free of vanity or arrogance.

One of the possibilities, in relationship to the sense of self, is to develop a stronger sense of self-understanding. In the sense that, we understand what our reactions, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs are.

30:50 – Part of having this kind of integrity is taking responsibility for our reactions. How often in life have we heard or thought, “You made me angry?” No one makes us angry or causes us to do something involuntarily.

Someone who knows themselves well will not blame anyone else for being angry. Another person may have created the conditions for our anger, but it is up to us how we react to those conditions.

33:45 – When we have the feeling that we are not enough, anything to the contrary is met with resistance. Often our minds and awareness are closed and cause this kind of resistance to the truth. When our minds are at ease, other capacities that we have may respond to the situation instead.

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