2020-09-28 Mindfulness of Oneself (1 of 5) Finding the Treasure of Oneself
3:10PM Sep 28, 2020
So the title for the, this five part series this week is mindfulness of oneself. And I am partly inspired to do this, because it's very valuable to become really attentive and mindful of oneself. And to know how to do that in a way that is beneficial. But also that one of the important teachings in Buddhism is the idea of not self. And this often gets misunderstood. And so in the course of this week, I want to address this particular teaching.
But I want to put the teaching in a context in a bigger context. Because I get the sense sometimes this not self teaching is taught out of context, or out of its original context, or where the Buddha offered it. And sometimes I think it's given more prominence, important as it is, it's given much more prominence in modern Buddhist teachings than it is in the teachings of the Buddha, where it has a very particular meaning, very particular context for where it becomes alive and valuable and maybe even inspiring teaching.
So I want to kind of talk about the wider context of it all. And one of them is that the Buddha talked a lot about used lot of language about oneself. And the word atta is self, and they say, it can be both a philosophical term or a metaphysical term for something like a soul. But it could also just be an ordinary personal pronoun, kind of myself, I and I'm sitting here, and someone might say, the atta sitting here, just as much as they would say, the the, I'm sitting here. But we get a lot of emphasis in the early teachings, on what we would in English would call the self, on paying attention to oneself. And if we use the expression, one self, maybe it's a little bit frees us from quickly getting mixed up with this teaching of not self, and then feeling that they're opposed to each other.
There was a story of a group of aristocrats, at the time of the Buddha who went to a park to enjoy the afternoon or the day. And they had a picnic. And they're all these couples, I guess, married couples, but there was one aristocrat who came with a courtesan, as his partner, to the to the picnic. They all had this wonderful picnic, and then they all took naps. And while everyone else was sleeping, the courtesan went around, and stole all the jewelry that everyone was wearing, and disappeared. When they woke up, they noticed that they had been, you know, that they had, you know, what had happened, and that the courtesan was gone. So they went looking for her. And elsewhere in the park was the Buddha who was meditating. And they came to the Buddha, and they said to him, Have you seen a courtesan? And the Buddha said, would you rather find a courtesan, or yourself? And so that got their attention. And so instead of looking for the courtesan and their jewelry, they sat down to sit with this spiritual teacher to find out what is he teaching. What does it mean to find yourself? And so but this contrast between jewelry and courtesans, and finding what's been stolen, and finding yourself is, you know, kind of a dramatic contrast that maybe the greatest treasure, the greatest jewelry we have, is found within. And maybe that has the most value, and to spend time chasing after physical jewelry, jewelry, when we can discover the jewels within is a great, you know, it's kind of a be unfortunate. At least from the point of view of what's the treasures we can find inside ourselves.
Buddhists, you know, they're here, these these people, we're just kind of being introduced to Buddhism with that teaching. When people follow the whole path of Buddhism to the end, they sometimes are called great selfs, Maha-attas. Or our Naga-attas, selves that are like great serpents, great, great, powerful beings.
And so there is not a shyness in the early tradition, to use the word atta as a strong word in reference to people like. And also, there's no shyness to talk about an individual from terms of being kind of a strong, powerful person. Before the Buddha was enlightened, and he would, someone came to see me he was already a mendicant practicing. And I guess he was practicing in the woods. And someone came to him and said, you know, it's pretty scary to go meditating alone deep in the woods. And the Buddha said, Yeah, I realized that, and when I was thinking about going off to practice, I thought about the fear. And I realized that if a person doesn't have concentration, it's easy to be afraid in the woods, but I have concentration. If a person has not, does unethical conduct in body speech in mind, it's easy, then to go into the woods and be afraid. But I don't have unethical conduct and body speech in mind. If a person has covetousness, and greed, it's easy to be afraid in the woods. But I don't have that. If a person has hostility and hatred, it's easy to be afraid and deep in the woods, but I don't have that. They went through all this list, he's checking himself out, he's getting to know himself, or he knows himself really well. And he knows that if he goes into the woods, those things are not going to be there, to trip him up and make it difficult or frightening to be in the woods. So here's a person who really knows himself in a situation where it's important to do so. Because if you go into the wilderness, alone, in a sense, you only have yourself to survive, to find your way to be to take care of yourself. And you can't call first responders, you can't call, you know, someone to help you if something happens, you have to really use your own wits and your own abilities to be able to manage, including managing, not getting frozen or lost in fear. Back, you know, there's lots of stories of monks, even in modern Thailand, relatively modern Thailand, maybe not in the last decades, they went to practice in the woods and had experiences with wild animals with tigers and different animals, that they had to deal with their fear.
So there are times there are places we go, we're clearly we're responsible for ourselves. Clearly, it's about us, me, myself, and mine to really find my way with that. And the person needs to have skills, needs to know themselves well, to find their way with that, and be responsible for themselves. No two ways about it I think, for the most part. And there are personal places where people go in the modern world, and then we're not in the wilderness, that we have to be responsible for ourselves. And we have to track ourselves and know ourselves and take responsibility for ourselves in a way that you know that we don't expect anybody else to do it. I mean, I apologize maybe for this kind of this may be silly or inappropriate example. But no one else goes in pee for us. If we have to pee, we have to do it for ourselves. And so there is a place a context for connecting and knowing oneself well. When we close our eyes and meditation, in a sense, we are going into an inner wilderness and inner nature. And this in meditation with our eyes closed for in spite of all the support we get from sitting with people and teachers and teachings. Once the eyes are closed, symbolically, it's okay. It's just, me and me, you and me. Here we are. And let's do the best of it. Let's find out. That's not the only thing we do in Buddhism.
One of my favorite quotes with the Buddha is when he defined what it is to be a wise person. And he said a wise person is someone who is concerned with the welfare of oneself and hear the word is atta, the word for self. One is concerned for the welfare of others, and one is concerned for the welfare of both self and others, and when it's concerned for the welfare of the whole world. So it's clearly the focus on safety.
In meditation and Buddhist practice, which is a lot of it there is not meant to be selfish or self absorbed. Also, there's a concern for others. Also, there's concern for the relationship between others, the us, self and others, and for the wider world, and in different contexts, the attention of care goes in different directions. But there is a context for doing it here for us as an individual. Some people are uncomfortable with that, and they want it to be kind of amorphous we or amorphous we're not separate from everybody else. And that's a fine thing to want in some ways. But to do that without becoming centered and stable here, becomes strong here. So that we have more to offer, as we care for the others, as we care for the world around us.
Some people are afraid of really standing up here and recognizing who they are, and respecting themselves and really becoming embodied and full with who they are. In English, we say be full of oneself, and that's kind of a form of conceit. And so we can be afraid of that conceit, to be so full in everything. And, but this is a fascinating teachings in the Buddhism about this, where conceit is viewed as being three different types of conceit. There's a kind of conceit that many of us think of as conceit, thinking that one is better than others. There's a kind of in Buddhism is also a conceit, a way of thinking about oneself, that solidifying around oneself, that thinks of oneself as less than others. And the third kind of conceit is the idea that we're equal to others. And that's particularly challenging for some people in a society where being equal is considered to be, you know, the right way of being. So neither higher, lower or equal, is all three of those because they're a form of conceit. So what's the alternative? It seems like there's nothing nothing left. What's left is not to play a comparison, comparison and self game, not to judge ourselves either kind of way, because it involves an excessive preoccupation with self. And that's what makes it a conceit, of excessive preoccupation with I have to be a certain way, I have to be better than others, worse than others, or I have to be equal, we all have to be equal. And that also can lend itself to a lot of constriction and tightness around self, as conceit as a form of attachment. So clearly, conceit, attachment to identity, attachment to view, attachment to, you know, these things are clearly something that Buddhism wants to let go of, but not at the expense of becoming fully embodied people. Fully present, strong, valued, respected. And there is a kind of way in which doing this practice, at least from the point of view of the Buddha, is to help us become powerful in a benign way and beneficial way, in a peaceful way, in a harmless way. But we're becoming abundant. And this is the words of the Buddha. Language of the Buddha were becoming, there's an abundance, rather than being wasted or deficient or not quite kind of living into our fullness. So and that's one of the divisions that Buddha made, when he divided people not by better or worse, inferior or superior, but he used the word there are some people are deficient, or deprived or wasted. And some people have an abundance and meditation practice and the spiritual practice of Buddhism is to feel what is deprived, feel that what's wasted, and become abundant from the inside out.
So that's beginning of this context for the Buddhist teaching of self. And thank you and look forward to doing more or less through the week.