Thursday, December 15, 2011

Self-Improvement III

Scott Bradley

In the previous post I proposed the direct action of a meditative method for doing an end-run around the egoic-self. But this might also be complemented by another, less dramatic approach.

This second course of action is more Confucian in nature. One cultivates oneself to no-self. Through introspection, knowing oneself, one discovers and exposes the workings of the egoic-self and, in doing so, realizes both intellectually and practically another way of being. Even some Zen masters advocate such an endeavor, telling us to 'step back', discover what makes us tick, and by these acts of self discovery get faint glimpses of the other shore. The actual leap to that shore may be sudden and non-causal, but somehow tiny, incremental approximations seem to make a difference in terms of personal growth and preparation for such a leap.

Although this course seems even more susceptible to the co-option of self, I don't think that is necessarily the case. Indeed, since it is much more concerned with discovering the wiles of self, it may actually be more able to keep it in the light. We tend to have an all-or-nothing, black or white, attitude to self versus no-self. We are either the one or the other. And though, like the concept of ‘enlightenment’, this may ultimately be the case, I think we must also allow for the paradoxical, irreducible nature of life which never resolves to easy formulas. Even if we assume that all we do is permeated through and through with the motivations of self, the act of shining a light on it is itself a form of transcendence.

To be aware of our folly and to laugh at it, is a quantum leap beyond being entirely unaware of it. Similarly, to hurt someone and regret it is evidence of a greater sense of self-awareness than to be oblivious and altogether unrepentant. It is this self-awareness that facilitates the dialectic in which growth takes place.

My project of self-improvement-through no-self, therefore, attempts to follow these twin courses — the work of meditatively discovering and becoming what in me is the true self, no-self, and of cultivating an understanding of the self that I behaviorally am and dialectically growing thereby.

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


  1. "We tend to have an all-or-nothing, black or white, attitude to self versus no-self. We are either the one or the other."

    I suppose --yes, I do-- that we are both, not either/or. Like yin/yang, in a particular Chinese way one is 50 percent self, 50 percent no-self. While I am alive, living in this body with the sensory apparatus that lets me perceive the material world, I have a kind of self; when I am dead, goodbye to that self, hello to something different. I think the practices --should one choose to do them--are to prepare us for that eventuality.

  2. The words no-self, for me, seem somewhat misleading to my experiences in life. I use these words to reference a direction a person's life can move towards but not necessarily a determined target that needs to be attained. I do resonate with your two-way approach Scott.


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