Buddhism, Its Elemental my dear Watson….Part II, The “self”

Buddhism, Its Elemental my dear Watson….Part II, The “self”

“The Mahayana schools that acknowledge a distinctive mental relationship to body senses also described it in other terms, differentiating between mental activity that receives and organizes sense impressions (the Mano) and that which is cognized (the Manas)- in other words” the mind which “spoke” to the body and the mind which spoke to itself. The Theravada did not emphasize such a differentiation and did not use a distinctive term for what was, in the Mahayana, called Manas.”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


Buddhism is different than most other religions in that it does not remain static, it is dynamic.  The Buddha called on us to question all teachings, to ponder, evaluate, and meditate on them in order to prove their truth to ourselves.  He said that even if it was something that he did not teach if we put the teaching through this same process and we could determine it to be true, it was true! As such Buddhism has been under constant development since the death of the Buddha.  What I find interesting is that there has been very little “new” teachings added to his Dharma.  The vast majority of the development has been an elaboration of his core teachings.  You can determine this by correlating his core teachings against the teachings of the Mahayana or the Vajrayana and you will generally find that they agree and are not opposed.


Get it over, do the eye roll!  Can’t we Buddhists talk about something else?  Why is there so much attention paid to understanding the “self”?  If it is explained to you that our notion of our “self” is an illusion and does not really exist you can say “Yeah that makes sense”, simple huh?  The problem is seconds after you say this you go right back to feeding the self what it desires!  Nothing has changed!  The “self” is much more cleaver than that.


“We also perceive that Mind is like a dragon which requires constant food.  If we withdraw its meals, it gets angry, restless, and upset. Eventually it tries out various strategies designed to bring in meals. However if we persist, we come to realize that the dragon only exists because of its hunger for the possibility of food. If that possibility dissolves, so does the dragon.”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


“Such a “self” cannot easily be comprehended or experienced except in the most general and vague manner, for it creates a skillful camouflage of sensation and ideation which all but the most experienced would actually believe constitutes its real nature!”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


The “self” is a hard nut to crack. “It” wants to exist, “it” has “existed” ever since “you” were born, “you” have re-enforced “its” existence for that same amount of time, “you” like “yourself”, “you” want to protect “it”.  It is kind of like being a kid and your parents telling you to throw away your favorite toy!  No matter how much you want to obey, you just can’t do it!  You look for another way out, try to find somewhere to hide it, do anything but actually let it go.

I believe that the Buddha and the enlightened teachers that followed him understood this.  This is why if you look at any Buddhist practice deeply you will find that it is pointing to this very idea of the illusion of the “self”.  Why is it so difficult?


“One should think it self-evident that Consciousness of personal identity presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute, personal identity, any more than knowledge, in any other case, can constitute truth, which it presupposes”

Bishop Buttler, the works of Joseph Butler


It is rather like a spinning top painted with the colors of the spectrum. When it is spun around fast all the colors blend into one color alone-namely white. The color white is like the “self” of consciousness. It appears to be quite constant and continuous. However when the spinning top slows down and finally halts, all the different colors reappear and we realize that the white color was illusory.

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


As much as all the new age teachers would like you to think meditation is not about feeling good or stress reduction. Those are side effects of meditation.  Meditation is a practice that makes you directly confront the notion of the “self”.  To face what “we” are all afraid to face.


It is no wonder that the average person finds it difficult to practice any form of meditation, and finds self-observation even harder. If one succeeds, even to a small degree, the habitual patterns of consciousness will reappear, making it seem very attractive to desist from further attempts.

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


In order to maintain its position vis-a’-vis the outer world the mind requires a baseline (or reference point) from which to work, and to this end forms the “self” to centralize its activities.

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


Buddhism is not just a faith or a religion, it is first and foremost a practice. Did “you” ever feel like you were fighting your “self” in your practice?  Well……you are!  You always have been since you picked up your first book on Buddhism or attended your first Buddhist lecture, or meditation session. This is why Buddhism is a practice and you never know when or if that practice will ever be complete.  This is a good reason that Buddhist should not be like other religions and judge people on how Buddhist they or their actions are.  We are all in the same fight, a fight with ourselves! It is also why we cannot give up on the practice.  Buddhist practice is often compared to a light that we are shining in the darkness.


Unlike Psychology, the Buddhist ontology of consciousness arises from direct experience and in Buddhism we find out about the minds patterns and activities predominantly by direct, personal, observation.

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


“The ego is like a black mouse in a black colored, darken room.  You are seated in a black chair in the center of this room and have a small black torch (flashlight). Every now and then you hear a noise and flash the torch to see what the noise is, but the mouse hurries away. Your torch beam is very small and you cannot discover the mouse’s whereabouts. Only its sound tells you the mouse is there. As you grow more skillful, your torch beam grows bigger, and the mouse has to run more quickly to escape your beam. Its speed increases and increases as your beam grows. The mouse gnaws at the chair and tries in other ways to distract you. If you continue, your beam grows larger and larger until the mouse cannot escape it any longer. Finally, when you have the torch at full beam width, the whole room is bathed in its bright light and the mouse cannot escape it. When this occurs the mouse will evaporate into nothingness.”

Nagaboshi Tomio, The Bodhisattva warriors


All the different traditions, The Hinayana, The Mahayana, The Vajrayana are just in reality different practices that have been refined over time to point out the same truths about the nature of the self.  They are in and of their-selves Upaya (Expedient or Skillfull means).  No one of them is the right one.  They are not opposing.  They only really differ in methodology of practice to get at this difficult notion.  Once the nature of the “self’ is understood it removes the obstructions that stop our compassion and understanding for all the beings of the universe.  The “self” gets in the way of our understanding of truth, of our true Buddha Nature.  We Buddhist are always looking for that higher level maybe even mystical teaching.  I am here to tell you that the teaching on Anatta (Not-self) is above all the teaching that all the Buddha Dharma hinges on.  So look no further.

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