Good afternoon, and welcome to the Curious Bodhi Podcast!
On our show, we are talk about one of the most mysterious and misunderstood terms in Buddhism. This is the notion of “not-self” or Anatta.
The Buddha taught the Middle Way between eternalism and nihilism. In Zen, they say: “if your mind is leaning [to the left or right], then you have lost the Way”. We often forget this as our mind leans towards either philosophising/intellectualising or clinging to our notion of self (in the false way).
So, how do we explain what not-self is, if it’s not mere intellectual and not completely personal?
Firstly, the Buddha taught there are five aggregates which compose our everyday experience. They are:
All of these make up each moment for us. However, when we don’t have enough distance from them (non-duality) or cling to them as definitely “me” and “my experience, as opposed to anything or anyone else” (duality), then our mind is leaning.
When we understand the Middle Way, composed of duality and non-duality simultaneously, then we can make light of our experience and stay in the moment.
Have a listen to our podcast for an in-depth explanation. Here is Sri Acharya’s video on Sanatana Dharma & Buddhism which I reference in our show:
*Please send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will answer them on our next show.
Shambhavi is the spiritual director of Jaya Kula: a non-profit community with spots in both Oregon and California. Shambhavi is a long-time practitioner of Trika (or Kashmiri) Shaivism. What is this ancient and beautiful tradition?
Similar to other direct realisation paths, like the Tibetan Dzogchen, and even Advaita Vedanta, this path takes everyday experience and sees the divine. Nothing is created nor destroyed, because it is already here. However, the tradition is super spontaneous and “messy” as Shambhavi likes to say, because it often attracts those with higher emotional and artistic leanings.
In her Satsangs, questions are always pummeled at her, and she doesn’t miss a beat, because she has been there before in her 30+ years of practice. Her podcast called “Satsang with Shambhavi” explores everything from loneliness to the nature of Reality to puja and the natural waves and troughs of waking up. Oh – and she teaches me once again how to relax!
Visit Jayakula.org to learn more about Trika Shaivism and join Shambhavi in your spiritual quest!
What is true non-judgement? First of all, it is love at the root of all things. Love for all experience, love for every situation, love for each landscape you find yourself in, and love for your emotions, reactions, and actions. Then there’s love for other people you come into contact with daily.
Other people are not “other” — they are YOU. You created everything you see here on earth and every interpretation, no matter how subtle or gross. So owning them all, including what we call “evil” will help you move past delusisons and unnecessary pain, frustration, and avoidance. There is nothing that is not you. So each time you come in contact again and again, do not hurt yourself.
Secondly, if we still see other people and their behaviour that we dislike or are judgeing, then we can ask ourself if what we assume is actually true. The Buddha and Jesus were great role models for teaching non-judgement; they hung out with harlots, they hung out with regular people, and they hung out with the most high spiritually. It didn’t matter, because they knew that formwas not the reality.
Form is simply part of materiality that we should use to express the divine.
We should be expressing Nibbana; Bhakti; Love; Kindness; Understanding; Reflection; Creativity; Flowing; and Foresight. Noble qualities!
If you read the Buddhist suttas or go back to my past 3 episodes, I have uploaded brilliant suttas to begin to understand the Dhamma and the Buddha talks about form and the truth about form.
is his full name: it means “He Who Sets Dharma In Motion”. For the past 40+ years, Sri Acharya has been a sincere transmittor of peace and authentic Vedic spirituality. Though he has an unimaginable list of academic qualifications, he is no armchair philosopher – he is an everyday activist and regularly speaks to large groups and officially teaches Sanatana Dharma to students. He left the academic life to pursue the spiritual path of Sanatana Dharma, specifically, and to share his wisdom and knowledge with others.
In our first episode together, we touch on a few fundamental questions that should begin every spiritual conversation. Here is a brief synopsis of what we cover.
1. Are all spiritual paths the same, eventually leading everyone to the same goal, since we are all in Samsara, after all?
We can take many angles with this question, depending from the standpoint – Jewish, Vedantan, or Buddhist, etc – but is everyone going in the same direction, regardless of the spiritual path or lack thereof? Sri Acharyaji goes on to explain this in a logical fashion, which leads into our next question:
2. How and why can we know that Vedic scriptures are more valid sources than other spiritual scriptures? What’s the difference?
I ask, because almost all holy books I’ve come across have a claim of transcendent nature. This is why, when devoutly religious people are asked challenging questions about the nature of life and reality, they usually revert to two tactics: instead of making up their own mind from experience, they go into the scriptures and quote the answer, as they are believed to be transcendent. Secondly, if the answer is not found in the scriptures for one reason or another, then they say “that’s the way it is, because God is mysterious” or “only God knows the answer, and I trust God”. When we want answers, though, what good is it to give our power of intellect, emotion, and mind to a source when we are not sure how accurate that source is? (I have talked previously about the pitfalls of trusting in outside, authoritative, sources in my post, here, with Greg Lawrence.) So, we either have to experience for ourselves (find out if the fire is hot by touching it) or we have to make sure the source is trustworthy. However we approach a source, it should lead us back into our own experience for validation. From here, I ask Sri Acharya:
3. As in Buddhism, which relies heavily on experience and experimentation, how does experience play into Sanatana Dharma and knowing Krishna as the absolute?
I picked this quote out of our interview, because it is extremely telling. Acharyaji says:
“If we think we are our own guru, then we have a fool for a disciple”.
What does this mean? It means that, before we can teach or even learn, we need to have a clear goal and also have a clear and true answer that either comes from ourself or our guru/master – that is, a guru who is not lying and has cleared his way, such as the Buddha and other awakened beings walking this earth. (See footnote below on the subject of the authentic guru.¹) Many aspects of ourself can get in the way – this is called “ego” and consists of our biases, past experiences as individual bodies/minds, and feelings or emotional tendencies that may actually be leading us astray. So, experience is essential, but weeding out the true from the false experience is also a skill we must learn as spiritual beings.
4. Why do we have this material body? Did we choose this before coming into existence?
Karma is a hefty subject in both Vedic and Buddhist teachings, but the simple answer is because of our karma. We will do another episode on karma, so don’t worry about the nitty-gritty details just yet. Acharyaji gives a brief synopsis of how karma functions.
5. What is this whole ‘unconditional love’ business about, and why does God need it?
Does God need anything? Why does the pendulum swing towards love and not another facet of our being? I’ve always wondered this. It is in my understanding, thus far, that the Supreme does not need anything but if there is a truth regarding this question, then there must be an answer. And as beings who experience a whole range of emotions and sensations that continually change, then we must whittle it down to the base perception and what that actually is. Could it be unconditional love?
6. What role does intuition or the personal intuitive factor play in Sanatana Dharma?
As above, since we all are independent agents (or at least think that we are) and have a broad range of feelings and emotions, we must be able to tell a true feeling from an untrue feeling. Some people have better intuition than others and this guides their experience in a harmonious direction; yet, all of us have a degree of intuition, or we wouldn’t be able to function. Should I walk left or right? Should I duck down if that bird is flying my way? Should I give my money to that person or not? These all rely on some ‘sense’ we have, and that sense can be honed – we may not even realise when we are using our intutitive force! Acharyaji talks about intuitive recognition in Sanatana Dharma from here.
I hope you enjoy our episode, and please drop me a line at email@example.com or see Sri Acharya’s contact at www.dharmacentral.com.
Peace to you, however you are and whatever stage of life you are in! May you and everyone you know be happy and free from all forms of suffering!
¹ A teacher, guru, or rishi, one has to undertake many years of training to earn this sort of title – “Acharya”, “Swami/Swamini”, etc.
In Vedanta (of which there are many, many schools) and Sanatana Dharma, the role of the guru is regarded as of utmost necessity on the path, because they have done the work of cleaning up their own act and their own mind to be a true transmittor. Too often in our world, whether in politics or business or in spiritual circles, leaders abuse their power, because they have hidden motives and this is due, really, to the unclean mind of grasping and ignorance. I recommend two videos by Sri Acharya that touch on this subject: How to Recognize an Authentic Guru and The Age of Anti-Guru.
Meditation is such a vast topic, but Eric and I whittle it down to what it means to him. Firstly, before undertaking a spiritual path, Eric was deeply addicted and involved with various substances. Meditation helped him break away from his afflictive behaviour. Listen above to hear about both our meditation journeys and pick up some advice! Here is a brief article on my views on meditation:
“Mantric meditation or meditation on the Vedic mantras with concentration,
Visual meditation or meditation on a particular deity with illumined thought,
Absorption in mind and heart or meditation on illumined insight residing in the mind and the heart.”
And, in the Upanishads, which are much more explicit philosophically and revelatorally, we have the additional mention of:
“Samadhi or the experience of the ecstatic state of Brahman was the fourth state of Brahman, which is not mentioned in the Rigveda but described in the Mandukya Upanishad as the Fourth state (turiya)..”
On from this, we have the mention of the terms “Dharana” and “Dhyana” in both Jaina texts and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. According to Pantanjali in his eight limbs of yoga, Dharana precedes Dhyana as a means of reaching Samadhi. Dharana is one-pointed concentration on an object/idea with inevitable associative thoughts on the object. In Dharana, if one is meditating on a cup, one might think of the concept of morning or what the cup could be filled with or the shop the cup came from; the personal ego is still there. In Dhyana, the cup is the cup without associations and the meditator is not aware of him/herself as a personal ego associated with the cup; they become one. Dharana is becoming aware of the thoughts and Dhyana is uninterrupted flow with no sway by the thoughts. Samadhi is the highest form of meditation where the meditator and the cup become one and the same with a state of bliss, because there is no separation and concentration is complete.
Historically, we can see that meditation can encompass spiritual reflection, oral or silent mantra recitation, concentration, Tantra, and Samadhi — which all lead to bliss and peace eventually. This is when the Buddha steps into the picture and gives new additions to meditation: mainly Mindfulness, which can be found in the Satipatthana Sutta, and the Jhanas. Beautifully, the Buddha came to enlightenment through intense reflection under the Bodhi Tree, re-thinking his patterns, behaviour, and life decisions. All styles are valuable.
Living in Vedic society and undertaking at least six years of aescetic practices, the Buddha was quite adept at knowing Vedic philosophy and regularly debated with Brahmans. Thus, some instructions are quite similar and have roots in ancient Dharma.
His meditation instructions range from practices in concentration, to mindfulness, to the Jhanas, to Samadhi, and various instructions in between. Mindfulness, as it is known in popular culture, is not simply paying attention to the present moment nor the breath – though those are the basic foundations. The Sutta includes meditations on the five elements, what are called the cemetery contemplations, the repulsiveness of the body (which is recommended if one is naturally inclined towards worshipping the body as the self), mindfulness on bodily postures, and generally paying attention to the activity one is engaged in.
Meditation is like a rung of the ladder on the Buddha’s 8-fold path to reach this ultimate goal. In both the Vedic and Buddhist Dharma, ‘equanimity of mind’ has to be cultivated first by most people until it is permanent. Whether Buddhist or Vedic, meditation’s ultimate goal is either Moksha (Vedic) or Liberation (Buddhist sense). Liberation/Moksha comes after Samadhi and is the end of the suffering mind
First and foremost, as in Vedic history also, the Buddha instructed concentration practices, because he found the mind is prone to wandering and has a life of its own; it does not yet contain peace. As we go along in Buddhist meditative practices, concentration is not so important. What is important is realising self as non-existent, as it is wrong identification that binds us. The more a person meditates, the more spacious one becomes, until the lines of conditioned reality are blurred and separation between self and other – including inanimate objects – disappears.
Most of our lives consist of empty space.
For context, Dzogchen, Advaita, and Vedanta all aim to incorporate practices that are open and spacious in nature. When space is created in the mind, one can begin to see that mind contains everything — including the contracted self or form we have taken to be ourselves all along. Then the mind can be transcended altogether.
What do I mean by this?
Take the body, for instance. We sincerely believe, and this is true for every human being, that we are a body which has had things happen to it in a continuum of time and space. Sometimes we were the doer, and sometimes things just happened to us out of our control. Every human being has to experience this point of view for survival reasons. We think we are the one looking out of our eyes in case there’s danger up ahead or there is some delicious food to eat within our sight. The mind’s job is to keep the body alive by searching, strategising, and planning. With more sophistication of the human species, however, especially as people have evolved into civilisations and societies that are relatively peaceful, survival is no longer such a struggle in the jungle.
In modern and even Vedantic societies (and most likely many societies before them) we are not so desperate to watch our backs all the time. Even so, the ways of the mind are ancient! We still have it in us that we need to struggle to feed our close relatives, make a living, be tribal and form exclusive groups, and worry about the future. This keeps us locked in the body/mind duality… unless there comes an interest spiritual progress.
The body and the mind never cease to function until death, yet, the body and mind believe wrongly that they are in control and thus, they try to prolong life or avoid death. This simply cannot happen – at least not the death part. Human beings can stay stuck in one mental system for an entire lifetime; conversely they can try everything in their creative power to change and manipulate the earth or their own and others’ circumstances – but this is not an antidote for death.
Meditation helps a person see, first-hand, that they are not the workings of the body nor mind, regardless of how fixed or fickle. It helps unlock the door to the vast, empty space that is “another part” of our being. In this space, our body and mind are contained. So, we are much larger than we think! The body and mind are limited, so when they are identified with, this creates a limited experience. This limitation is called a “person” with past, present, future, and innumerable assumptions based on the body/mind already knows or assumes.
Space creates insight. It cannot be any other way. Meditation is a key to putting a stop to Samsaric existence – also known as “the universe’s biggest status quo”.
How can we know what we don’t know, which cannot be answered by the mind?
Why am I here? What is my purpose? Who am I? How do I know God? Are there other beings, such as gods, goddesses, devas, ghosts, and intelligent life forms with material bodies in other places? What happens after death? Are people reborn? Where does consciousness come from?
These are all questions the mind cannot answer. Those who have written books about it or talked about it were either lying (I have to say this for logical conclusion) or have had their own answers through insight. True knowledge is obtained through experience and not reliance on others’ thoughts and feelings without experimentation. We know the sun exists, because we see and feel it everyday – we don’t have to read it in a book, though there are many books about it. So meditation instructions are there to gain insight and make real progress – not to gather what we commonly call “knowledge” in the Western sense. Real knowledge is called “Jnana”, based on our “Buddhi”. “Buddhi” is our wisdom faculty. It is the clear mind, cultivated through meditation and loving-kindness and compassion.
Some beings have the good fortune of coming into existence with a degree of these faculties already in place. For example, this would be a being who is already and naturally kind and non-discriminative towards others. Then there are those who may need to purposefully cultivate the qualities they wish to emanate, and this can be done through knowing the inner mind and reflection. For ideas, these qualities can be: the elimination of fear, consideration of others and their well- being, flexibility of personality, cooperation with circumstances especially out of one’s control, patience, awe, curiosity, wonder, not putting self or other down, humour, energy as opposed to laziness or sloth, and appreciation or gratitude.
Once the mind is looked into for its patterns (karma) and pitfalls, they can be overcome. Meditation is transcendental and trans-rational. Because we are in Samsara, our faculties are not yet used to their full potential. Their full potential is omnipotence and unlimitedness – when this discovery is made, then the body/mind can express its full potential and truest nature. And this is the point of meditation!