Tuesday, December 20, 2011

True Self Is No Self

Scott Bradley


"True self is no self" is, I believe, a truly insightful and helpful formula by which to glimpse the reality of transcendence. It is also, in some sense, nonsense. I say this because, despite our having received it from those who might have actually experienced it, we cannot know this. Nor can we know what it means unless we ourselves have experienced it. Nor can we know that it has any correspondence whatsoever to reality. They are, in the end, just words. Nevertheless....One of my favorite words.

I speak a lot of Zen, but there is a very real sense in which I have not a clue of what Zen is. This is what Zen teaches. It is also the case that among the millions of ardent Zen practitioners there are very few, if any, who know what Zen is. This is also the teaching of Zen. Among all the roshis, the masters of Zen, how many know what Zen is? Some ancient masters tell us that even satori does not disclose what Zen is.

There is always more (or less) to experience (or not experience). Yes, they do speak of a final state of complete awakening. Did they experience it? Or did they simply believe they experienced it? Or did they simply want that it should be true and thus imagine it? We cannot know. Unless, of course, we experience it. I have not, and thus I remain skeptical. But not cynical (I hope). Skepticism can be openness. Openness requires non-attachment to any idea or formula. Openness is sunyata, emptiness.

Speaking of Madhyamika, the Middle Way of Mahayana Buddhism, Murti says, "Criticism is Sunyata — the utter negation of thought as revelatory of the real." (The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, quoted by Thomas Merton in The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton) For those of you quick of critical mind, he also adds, "Sunyata is the antidote for all dogmatic views, but him I call incurable who takes sunyata itself as theory." Yet words can only ever lead to infinite regress.

The way is empty.

True self is no self. If this is true, it is because there is no self to find. We might look for our true self, but whatever we find will not be it. To truly know one’s self is to know this, and to know both that and how self is ultimately an act of denial of this simple fact. Neti, neti. Not this, not this. This is the Middle Way, the way that attaches to nothing.

Personally, I say "not this" to every proclamation of Universal Mind, Universal Self, and I AM. They are, for me, the proverbial "pots of buddha flesh", consolations for the proposed loss of self; a proposal rendered void thereby. It is not that these things cannot be so, but that they are not so for me. Nor do they, as concepts, endure the radiance of sunyata.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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