1. Here is a good place to see why the Buddha rejected both the concept of a “self” AND a “no-self” (or “soul” AND “no-soul”). We first need to realize that the task of purifying the mind is very personal; only you know about your mind and only you can purify it. The perception of a “no-self” is a bad starting point to do this cleansing.
- We can easily see that “a person” changes over time, both physically and mentally (see the next post). Thus it is easy to see that a concept of a “soul” or “self” does not hold water.
- However, each of us is DIFFERENT, and UNIQUE; no two are the same even at a fixed time. Even though each person changes, the change itself is unique to “that person” and CAN BE initiated by that person. What makes one person different from another is his/her character (gathi).
- For those people who say, “there is no-self” or “there is no real me”, I ask: “Then is it OK if someone hits you with a stick or hurt you badly in some way?”. Obviously, that is not fine. Just by denying something that is as real as suffering itself, will not make the problem go away. Just being philosophical is not going to make the problem disappear.
- This is why the Buddha rejected both extremes of “self” and “no-self”.
2. Actually as one increasingly realizes the fruitlessness of struggling to seek sense pleasures, the feeling of “self” starts to decrease. An Arahant is the closest to a “self-less person”; but even an Arahant has some unique character qualities: nothing to do with greed, hate, and delusion, but more like kammically neutral habits.
- For example, there is this story about a very young Arahant. One day a man came to take this bhikkhu to his house for a “däna”, which consists of a lunch followed by a gift (usually things that are needed for a bhikkhu like a robe, a towel, etc). On the way, they ran into some puddles on the ground and the young bhikkhu jumped over one. The man thought, “Oh, this bhikkhu is not even disciplined let alone having any magga phala; maybe I should not give him the gift”. They came across a few more puddles and the bhikkhu went around them. So, the man asked, “Why did you jump over only that one?”. The bhikkhu told him, “If I jumped over anymore puddles, I would probably lose my lunch too”. It turned out that the bhikkhu was an Arahant with abhinna powers and read the man’s mind! Also it is said that the bhikkhu was born a monkey for many lives in the recent past, and he still had that sansaric “monkey habit” of jumping over things.
3. Habits are formed via repeated use. The Buddha said, “yä yan tanha pöno bhavitha…..” or “bhava or habits are formed by tanha for various things, activities. Remember that Tanha means “getting attached to something via greed, hate, of ignorance”; see, “Tanha – How we Attach via Greed, Hate, and Ignorance“.
4. What we are concerned about is only getting rid of immoral habits and cultivating moral habits. This will make oneself a “better person” long before one even thinks about attaining Nibbana. This can be done with simple process called “äna-päna” or “taking in good habits” and “discarding bad habits”.
- The Buddha said, “bhävé thabbancha bhavithan, pahee thabbancha paheenan” or “keep doing what is good, get rid of those that are not good”. The meaning is a bit deeper than that because “bhävé” there refers to making “bhava”. The more one does something, it becomes one’s “bhava”. And the less one willfully stops doing, that “bhava” tends to go away. This is what the neurologists are re-discovering today; see, “How Habits are Formed and Broken – A Scientific View“.
- The bad habits need to be stopped each time it surfaces, right there. The Buddha said, “etté san uppajjamana uppajati, paheeyamana paheeyathi” or “each time a “san” (a bad habit) resurfaces, it needs to be recognized and stopped right then”.
- Therefore, one must do this not only in sitting meditation sessions, but as much as possible, whenever possible.
- This is what the Buddha also meant by “asevitaya, bhavithaya, bahuleekathaya”, or “associate, use, and do as much as possible whenever possible” everything that helps with anapanasati. These are described in the post, “Habits, Goals. and Character (Gathi)”.
6. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of understanding what is truly involved in änäpänasati. The recent findings on the workings of the brain really helps clarify and highlight some key points that the Buddha emphasized. I think it will help anyone understand the process much better. But first we will take a brief look at how these character qualities are inherited.