Friday, December 4, 2009

Empty of Self, But Full of Dharma, Part 2

Continuing to deepen into the Dharma of anatta (the absence of self), I would like to present what I have found to be the most easy to understand description of this doctrine. It comes from Old Path, White Clouds: Walking In the Footsteps of the Buddha, by the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh.

In this passage, the Buddha is discussing the doctrines of anatta and interdependent co-arising (see the previous two blogs for more information on this) with a Hindu brahman named Master Kassapa, one of the most revered teachers of his time.
"Master Kassapa, all things depend on all other things for their existence. Take, for example, this leaf in my hand. Earth, water, heat, tree, clouds, sun, time, space - all these elements have enabled this leaf to come into existence. If just one of these elements was missing, the leaf could not exist. All beings, organic and inorganic, rely on the law of [inter]dependent co-arising. The source of one thing is all things. Please consider this carefully. Don't you see that this leaf I am now holding in my hand is only hear thanks to the interpenetration of all the phenomena in the universe, including your own awareness?"
[This discussion continued into the next day, when Master Kassapa said,] "Yesterday you said that the presence of a leaf resulted from the coming together of many different conditions. You said that humans, too, exist only because of the coming to together of many other conditions. But when all these conditions cease to be, where does the self go?"

The Buddha answered, "For a long time humans have been trapped by the concept of atman, the concept of a separate and eternal self. We have believed that when our body dies, this self continues to exist and seeks union with its source, which is Brahma. But, friend Kassapa, that is a fundamental misunderstanding which has caused countless generations to go astray.

"You should know, friend Kassapa, that all things exist because of interdependence, and all things cease to be because of interdependence. This is because that is. This is not because that is not. This is born because that is born. This dies because that dies. This is the wonderful law of dependent co-arising which I have discovered in my meditation. In truth, there is nothing which is separate and eternal. There is no self, whether a higher or lower self. Kassapa, have you ever meditated on your body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness? A person is made up of these five aggregates. They are continuously changing rivers in which one cannot find even one permanent element."

Uruvela Kassapa remained silent for a long moment. [Then he] lifted his head and looked into the Buddha's eyes. "If there is no self, no atman, why should one practice a spiritual path in order to attain liberation? Who will be liberated?"

The Buddha looked deeply into the eyes of his brahmana friend. His gaze was as radiant as the sun and as gentle as the soft moonlight. He smiled and said, "Kassapa, look for the answer within yourself." (p. 169 - 173)
A few days after their discussions, Master Kassapa was ordained as a monk in the Buddha's sangha. After the Buddha's death, the Venerable Kassapa played a vital role in recording and categorizing the Buddha's teachings.


No comments:

Post a Comment