Tag Archives: Buddha

What is this Self that we are so sure we have?

The Buddha’s most difficult teaching is that of not-self. When some people hear about not-self, no-self, non-self, they put on the brakes and stop meditating altogether. Not-self sounds scary. Who am i, if i’m not a self?

So let’s start here. What is this “self” anyway?

The Buddha has given a list called the 5 Aggregates. Combine (or aggregate) these 5 things, and voila! You have a self.

Namarupa–name & form. Yes, this body seems to be my body.

Vedana–Feelings or hedonic tone. Yes, my feelings are my feelings.

Perception–Yes, my 5-sense door perceptions are my perceptions.

Consciousness–Yes, my consciousness seems to be my consciousness.

Sankharas–of which there are 52. Yikes! These are variously translated as concoctions, fabrications, mental formations (Yes, my thoughts and dreams are mine.)

But let’s leave this mind-boggling list behind. What, in your lived experience, is the self?

First, where is the self located? Say “I, I, I, I, I” until you feel it in your body. Say “me, me, me, me, me” until you feel it in your body.

Some people say the I is behind the face or more specifically behind the eyes. Isn’t there a homunculus sitting behind the eyes pulling the gears and levers? Sort of like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain? Some people point to their chest; some to their belly.

Ask “Who am i?” for 10 minutes at the end of meditation. Jot down your list. No need for the mind to go chasing after answers. Simply drop the question into the quiet-ish pool of your mind. Let the question sink. Maybe no answer arises. That’s okay. Keep asking.

Ask “What am i?” and jot down that list.

Whatever you have on your list, use that as a contemplation the next time you meditate. Ask yourself: Do i have a soul? Is something in me continuous? Am i a very particular collection of patterns and habits? Is that true? Truly true?

Keep looking for that self that feels so sure of itself.

Who Do You Spend Time With?

If, in your course, you don’t meet

your equal,

your better,

then continue your course,



There’s no fellowship with fools.

Dhammapada 61

Reading this verse from the Dhammapada, I imagine the ascetic Buddha walking down a dusty road. A farmer falls in beside him and chatters on about his sons and his crops. Perhaps on another day, a villager talks about the politics of the village he lives on. Or maybe a young man is in love and tells the Buddha how beautiful the girl is. Oh, if only his parents would agree; if only her parents could afford the dowry.

That’s when I’d want to extract myself as gracefully as possible and ask, “Which way are you going? Oh, I’m taking the other turn at the crossroads.”

Then I imagine another scenario as the Buddha happens to meet up with Sariputta. “Which way are you going, friend? Let’s walk together.”

I start my day by spending Zoom time with my noble friends—my meditation friends. At six, I meditate for an hour on Skype with Elizabeth, who I met at a five-day retreat with Culadasa in September 2017. That retreat offered a bi-weekly study group as a follow-up, and one Sunday afternoon, Elizabeth asked, “Does anyone here want to meditate for an hour in the morning?” I jumped at the opportunity.

In his book The Mind Illuminated, Culadasa recommends meditating for at least an hour a day; I knew I was unlikely to follow through on that intention all by myself, so I am grateful for the spiritual companionship. After an hour of meditation, we chat about our practice for a few minutes. I am inspired by Elizabeth’s steady progress.

Thanks to Zoom, I can hop over to the 7 a.m. meditation at Vermont Insight Meditation Center. Though I am always five or ten minutes late, the timekeeper lets me into the silent Zoom room. Afterwards, I stick around to chat and catch up on any local Dharma news.

My neighborhood meditation group meets at 8 a.m. as it has for the past 24 years. It’s a big enough group that there are always at least two of us; in Zoom times, there may be five of us; if we meet in person, there may be eight. After catching up on neighborhood news and reading a page of a Dharma book, we sit for twenty minutes. We close with chanting the refuges and reciting the precepts.

By 9 in the morning, I’ve spent between two and three hours meditating with my Dharma friends, my noble friends. These are the friends who always encourage me to take the high road, even when I’m feeling low.

Following in the Buddha’s footsteps, I spend as much time as possible with my wise, spiritual friends.