Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summary of Video June 12, 2009

Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness
Second half of Talk #1: Emptiness of Self

The meditation begins with the selflessness of person; clinging onto oneself as “me, I.” And then we work on the meditation regarding outer reality. The reason why such a self of individual does not exist as permanent, singular, and autonomous is because the self of individual is made up of the five skandhas (aggregates) -- body and mind. Form skandha is body and the rest is mind: feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness. They are all different aspects of mind. Therefore we have to contemplate, when we say I, we are usually referring to one of these five.

Like when we have a strong, migraine headache, we say, “I don’t feel well.” The “I” has now become your head or your body, the form skandha. So we perceive the skandha as form as self of person.

When you cut your vegetables and accidentally cut your finger, you say, “I cut myself.” So “I” refers to your body, your fingers.

With the rest of the skandhas as well. When we feel well, we say, “I feel well today.”
Or seeing a flower, “I see a flower.” So I becomes perception or eye consciousness.

So we move around... "I" becomes one of the five, but we see it as one solid self of individual.

When you look at that, it has all five parts known as the five aggregates, five skandhas. When you look at these, say, the skandha of form, such as this body... it is changing all the time. It is momentarily changing. When you don’t see these moments of change clearly, we cling onto them as one. And we get the idea of clinging onto self as permanent. We feel, “I am the same person I was ten years ago.” Showing a picture, you may say, “This is me when I was two.” Mini-me.

This is a misconception of time. It is all individual moments. Everything exists no more than a moment.

We have plans like, when I retire, I will do thus and so, thinking it is the same me doing that, yet we are going through momentary changes all the time.

So we need to look at each skandha in light of the three forms of ignorance -- permanent, singular, and independent -- and meditate on them.

The third form of ignorance may be the hardest to understand, the notion that we cling onto ourselves as autonomous or independent entities.

It is easy to understand how we cling to our continuum as something permanent. We think there is something called a continuum, and on the basis of that we have clinging onto self as permanent. But if you look at each moment, you don’t find a continuum.

It’s also easy to see how we cling to ourselves as being singular. We don’t think of ourselves as five skandhas. This is the ignorance with respect to objects, clinging to singularity with respect to various objects. How do we mistakenly apprehend objects?

The object for our mind that conceives of a self is no other than the five skandhas. But the skandhas are five, they are not one thing. So the mistake is when the mind sees the five skandhas and takes them to be one.

As for the clinging to autonomy, this comes about because our five aggregates are subject to karma and kleshas (mental afflictions), so our aggregates are subsumed under karma and afflictions, but we have the mistaken notion that we are in control. Yet we are often under the sway of karma from previous times and from our own afflictive emotions.

So therefore we’ll look at the five skandhas in an abbreviated fashion.


In terms of self, the form skandha is the body. From the tips of the hairs of our head, to the soles of our feet, is the form skandha.

We should look into how it is that clinging to the idea of a self arises in relation to the form skandha.

The body itself does not exist as a singular entity; it is not one thing. It is something composed of multiple parts. We can start at the top of our body and see how many hairs there are, then go to our head and see how many parts, and so on throughout our whole body... limbs, organs, etc. So even to cling to the body as something singular is mistaken, because we cannot find any one thing that is the body.

So when you analyze the skandha of form and see, “Where is this sense of I?” Try to pinpoint. Is it in our head? The hair? We should ask ourselves questions like, “Is our brain ourself? Are the eyes ourself?” and so on. We should ask in this way, proceeding through each part of our body.

This is taught in the Bodhisatvacharyavatara (Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life) by Shantideva.

We should look for a self in our physical body, and when we don’t find, we should rest in the non-finding. Let go.

Shantideva advises that we first need to meditate using the notion of nonexistence as a tool for dismantling the notion we have of existence, because that is the strongest clinging we start off with. So we use the idea of nonexistence as a tool.

When you don’t find any solidly existing self anywhere in the body, rest in nonfinding.

Then you may think, the self is not in any of these individual parts, but in the collection. The whole of the form skandha, for instance.

Then we should analyze, “What is a collection?” A collection does not exist without parts. When we go through the parts of the body and see that they are not self, we exclude them. How does a collection of no-self become a self? That is not reasonable.

So if none of the individual parts are a self, it is impossible to create a self out of parts that have no self.

“Collection” is a concept. From each individual part there are just parts. We put them together as a collection in our mind.

If a collection of all together is a self, if you lose one part of the skandha of form, then you lose part of yourself as an individual. So when you look at this notion of a collection, it is very conceptual.

You can analyze the form skandha down to the particles, but when you do according to modern physics, you divide more and more until you get to quarks and so on, and then space. So there is no solid basis for a form which could be the object of self-clinging.

So we should analyze the form skandha in terms of whether it is permanent, singular, and autonomous.

There are a lot of problems that come about if we think ourself is one thing. If our self was one thing and we had a headache, and we said, “I have a headache,” then that only our head was ourself. No other part of the body would be would be allowed to be ourselves. The same with any part of the body that we identified with.

But we don’t think of ourselves as being that way. We think of ourselves as being all the parts of the body.

Therefore it is not singular. In such a way we should analyze ourselves in our contemplation.

So we will do a contemplation now:

When we do the analysis, it becomes helpful to first do a little shamatha meditation to calm the mind. Within that calmness, then you reflect on this notion of self-clinging, clinging onto oneself as “I.”

The basis of such clinging can be realized as the five skandhas. And when you see the five skandhas, go through each skandha. First, try to find the self in the form skandha.

Guided Meditation

  • First, calm your mind.
  • From within this calm mind, look at the apprehension toward a self... the thought that thinks “I,” “me.”
  • Give rise to this thought that thinks “I” or “me” in a very clear and vivid way and observe it.
  • The first basis for this vivid thought that thinks “I” and “me” is the body -- the form aggregate -- so we should look into how this thought of “I” or “me” arises in relation to the body.
  • We should look into where this clinging to an “I” arises in our body.
  • Is this clinging to the “I” found in our head? Our torso? In any of our limbs?
  • When we’re looking at our skandha which is the object of our fixation on a self, we should intersperse this with brief moments of looking at the mind that clings to a self.
  • When we speak about fixation on a self, this is none other than thoughts that think, “I” or “me.”
  • We don’t need to look for anything else. We simply need to look at that kind of thought.
  • Is the self the same as the aggregate we’re looking at?
  • Or are the self and the aggregate different things?

Now we’ll sing a song about selflessnes.

Song: From The Verses on the Middle Way
(from the Noble Condensed Prajnaparamita Sutra)
Know the five skandhas are like an illusion.
Don’t separate the illusion from the skandhas.
Free of thinking that anything is real,
This is perfect wisdom’s conduct at its best.

How does illusion arise on the basis of so many parts and fixations? What Buddha taught in the sutra is that what we experience as a self or the clinging that we experience is simply an illusion, a wonderful illusion.

As long as we want this illusion, don’t analyze, then it’s fine. When you analyze, it’s hard to find the solid existence of this illusion.

Verse by Nagarjuna: Knowledge Fundamental to the Middle Way
Like a dream, like an illusion
Like a city of gandharvas,
That’s how birth, and that’s how living,
That’s how dying are taught to be.

For homework, do the meditation as described above.
First, shamatha,
Then analyze the form skandhas.
If your mind starts getting too far out, come back to your breathing and do some shamatha,
then resume your analysis.
Don’t keep going on with your discursiveness.

Look at the skandha of form and the notion of self-clinging, analyze together, and have the sense of calmness and analysis together.

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