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Personal Realization Part 1 - No Self

Updated: Apr 29, 2022

"All Bodhisattvas should delight in the personal realization of Buddha knowledge." - Buddha

This statement by the Buddha, as far as I know, appears in only one Sutra. And, bear in mind, there are approximately 48,000 sutras. So, why is this one so different and puts forth a phrase that seems to appear nowhere else?

From the first time I read that phrase I was captivated. In a spiritual tradition whose central theme is "no self" the use of the word personal grabbed me. What in the world does that mean?

Buddhism, especially Zen, is non-dual. It recognizes that all form, however solid it may seem, is but a momentary confluence of events, a fact now accepted by science 2500 years later.

"Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real." - Niels Bohr, Co-Creator of Quantum Physics

There is nothing permanent about the self as we normally assume. In fact, it is not a thing at all. It is a temporary state of the environment. Like a cloud appearing in the sky is the momentary intersection of moisture, wind and fluctuating temperature, so is every form in the universe simply the state of things in the moment.

Nothing has an inherent self. That is, nothing has innate, objective existence. Everything is a momentary manifestation of invisible conditions. Like your computer screen, refreshing itself 60 times a second gives you the illusion that your beloved wallpaper is a static picture. In fact, there is no thing there, Just an endless stream of fleeting images. which the mind solidifies into a thing.

The angel is real in the mind but not the sky

It's like seeing an angel in a cloud, or mistaking a rope for a snake, the form we perceive is nothing but a projection of the mind. MIND ALONE MAKES FORM.

There is no form in reality and, when I say this, I am including you and me. To put it more accurately, this includes who you think you are. The sense of human identity or ego, is no more substantial than the angel you see in the cloud.

For all intents and purposes, the you you think you are has no more factual existence than a fictional movie character. We could talk about Luke Sykwalker or Darth Vader at great length (many people do.) That talk can get very emotional, even heated. Yet those characters, as dear as they are to us, and as alive as they are in our imaginations, do not exist as a "self." They only exist in the mind. They are thoughts not selves.

Does that make them somehow less? Are they less dear? Less provocative? Less interesting and engaging? No. In fact, it sets them free from our normal mundane boundaries and lets them wander through a galaxy far, far away, the galaxy of limitless possibility. It allows us to express ourselves in characters and roles and relationships without getting bound by them.

When Buddha says, "there is no self" he does not mean you do not exist. That would be self-evidently absurd. Obviously you exist or you wouldn't be reading this blog. And I must exist or I wouldn't be writing it.

But AS WHAT do we exist?

What is personal realization?

To what is Buddha referring to?

If there is no self, then what person is he talking about?

What makes a "self?"

Stay tuned for part 2...


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