Not Self

At times I receive e-mail asking me to explain some point of the Buddha's teachings. Questions are often asked about anatta. Anatta is usually translated as "not self". It refers to the fact that nothing has an inherent existence; every thing is empty in that it arises from causes and conditions, is maintained by causes and conditions, and will eventually disappear leaving behind only the result of its actions (kharmic resultants) if it is a sentient being. Below is a series questions and my answers. Perhaps you will find them useful.

Lately I've been wrestling with the idea of no self. i'm not sure how i feel about it. it seems that in the Theravada tradition (I may be completely wrong) the goal is some type of nihilistic self-suicide.

You are completely wrong - but that's OK - most people find this a very difficult teaching. The goal is to understand that our usual way of thinking of ourselves as separate entities is an illusion. We are extremely interconnected and the mistake we make is assuming that I am the sum total of my body, thoughts, emotions, memories and sensory input. But all of these things are not "mine", they arise because of causes and conditions.

nibbana/nirvana is this ultimate goal.

That is the name given to it. But it is not a thing in the ordinary sense and should not be sought in an ordinary way.

In The Questions to King Milinda, it is said that nirvana is supreme bliss, but if there is no self... who experiences it?

The question as phrased cannot be answered - there is no who which experiences anything. The Buddha used the example of the question "Which was does a fire go when it goes out?" See, the question makes no sense.

But I understand what you are getting at. Bliss is experienced. But the experience of bliss does not involve a reference to an experiencer - the experiencer is a by-product of the way our minds process data - in particular how we break the holistic input of the sense organs into discrete objects (thereby also creating a subject).

One who is enlightened (apparently - I don't know from 1st hand experience ;-) has no "sense" of self. They can still communicate with others using the words "I", "me" and "mine", but they don't mistake these for anything more than a useful convention. They have achieved a breakthru in consciousness such that they are no longer fooled by the illusion. Just like when you go to the beach, you don't think that the world ends 6 miles offshore - you understand the illusion and when a ship sails out of sight, you don't think it fell of the edge of the world. The self needs to be seen for the illusion it is - that's enlightenment (at least as far as my unenlightened mind can conceive it ;-)

If nirvana is "union with the absolute or the universe" as i have read...

This is a Hindu belief and is definitely not what the Buddha taught. But it is a common misunderstanding. In actuality, since the self is an illusion, it can't unite with anything!

I'm not positive if this is the proper view. maybe it's just the fact that i really like being a self.

No, it's that you like having a sense of self! But you are not a self and you do not have a self - that's only an illusion. However until someone can make the breakthru in consciousness called enlightenment, they like having a sense of self - even if they know deep down that it is an illusion!

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Leigh Brasington / / Revised 18 Oct 12