What Is You, Yours Or Your ‘Self’?

photo of man looking at the mirror
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The fundamental delusion
is the hardest to dispel
– your sense of ‘self’.

— Stonepeace

In the Theravada tradition, the Anattalakkhana Sutta (Discourse on the Characteristic of Non-self; 无我相经) was the second sermon delivered by the Buddha after his enlightenment, after which, all of his first five monastic disciples attained self-liberation (Arahantship; 罗汉果). Though briefer than his previous sermon (Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta; 初转法伦经), which outlined the structure of all his later teachings, it contains the ‘heart’ of the Dharma (truth; path to truth) that leads to self-liberation, while the Heart Sutra (心经), which is somewhat similar but more extensive in nature contains the heart of the Dharma that leads to total liberation (Buddhahood; 佛果). In this sutta, he analyses the constituents of our being (i.e. body and mind 身心) to be the Five Aggregates (五蕴), thereafter proving each aspect to be impermanent (Anicca; impermenance; 无常), subject to dissatisfaction (Dukkha; suffering; 苦) and therefore inapt to be identified as ‘self’ (thus Anatta; non-self; 无我).

The Buddha started by stating that our first (physical) aggregate of form (body; 色) is not self, because if it was, we our’selves’ would be able to ensure that it does not lead to any ‘dis-ease’, while being able to will it to change in any manner we wish. E.g. we would never be sick and could even sprout wings if we want. Conversely, precisely because form is not self, it does lead to dis-ease and none can will it to be the ideal way one wishes instantly. Even the greatest efforts do not always work, while the body will eventually let us down. Likewise, our mental aspects (other four aggregates) of feeling (受), of pain, pleasure or ‘neither pain nor pleasure’, perception (想), from biased predispositions, mental formation (行), which are volitions or intentions, and consciousness (识), which is the ability to be aware through the senses are all not self, because they too lead to dis-ease, while not being fully changeable or controllable at will.

The Buddha next asked the monks if each of the aggregates is permanent (constant) or impermanent (changing). Realising that they are impermanent, he asked if that impermanent is dissatisfactory or satisfactory (for refuge). Realising that they are dissatisfactory, he then asked if that which is impermanent and dissatisfactory is fit to be regarded as ‘mine’, ‘I’ or ‘self’. To that, they replied ‘No’. The Buddha concludes that none of the aggregates in the past, present or future, gross or subtle, internal or external, common or sublime, near or far should be regarded as ‘self’, while one who realises this fully will be disenchanted and not cling to them, thus attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Thus were the Three Marks of Existence (三法印) or the Three Universal Characteristics of Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta taught.

Perfect non-self wisdom leads
to perfect selfless compassion.

– Stonepeace


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