Joseph Goldstein provides an uncommon sense view of selflessness to help us understand the often vexing notion of no-self and talks about how we can be free from the illusion of self.
This dharma talk from February 11, 2003, at the Insight Meditation Society, was originally published on Dharma Seed.
Selflessness: Uncommon Sense
Joseph begins with an exploration of the nature of the mind, of knowing, and how it’s colored by mental factors such as perception. He talks about how perception needs to be balanced with mindfulness or it can really be a limitation on our experience, keeping us at a surface level. Joseph touches on our deeply habituated perception of the solidity of things, which inhibits us from truly understanding the truth of impermanence.
“As the observing power of our mind becomes stronger through practice, we begin to get glimpses or tastes of what selflessness means. We begin to see that this notion of self is not really what we thought it to be.” – Joseph Goldstein
Sharon Salzberg, Robert Thurman, and Mark Epstein meditate on selflessness in Metta Hour Ep. 107
The World of Concepts (18:30)
Joseph explains the two main causes for why we believe in the solidity of things: the rapidity of change and our superficial perception. He talks about how this tendency to solidify our view of the world through concepts shows up in so many different areas of our lives, including concepts of ownership, time, and self-image. Even things that seem more fundamentally like who we are – age, race, gender, and culture – turn out to be concepts.
“So much of what we relate to in our ordinary, common sense way of living is in the world of concepts, our own mental fabrications. And until we pay careful attention, until we drop down into the secret name of things, we don’t see this.” – Joseph Goldstein
Joseph Goldstein digs deeper into the secret name of things in Insight Hour Ep. 138
The Big Dipper (41:40)
Our deepest conditioning, and the source of so much suffering, is the concept of self. Joseph explores why this concept is so strongly habituated and why we hold onto it so tightly. He talks about how this concept of self is a designation we give to a certain constellation of experience and likens it to the Big Dipper. There is no Big Dipper, there is no self, it’s all just patterns our minds are trained to see.
“Self is like the Big Dipper. It’s a name, it’s a designation for a constellation of experiences. So when we say there’s no Big Dipper, does anything change in the sky? Everything is as it always was. In exactly the same way, our realization of selflessness does not change anything. Our experience is as it always was and will be. We’re simply seeing it in a truer way, we’re seeing it not limited by the conceptual overlay. We’re seeing it as it is. Then we can use the concept when it’s useful, but we’re not imprisoned by it, and we’re not limited by it, and we don’t contract in our identification with it.” – Joseph Goldstein
Ram Dass talks about reducing one’s self to zero in Here and Now Ep. 171
Photo via Gorodenkoff