Anatta: The Teaching of Not-Self
1:43PM Aug 19, 2021
Good morning. Today is Sunday, August 15, 2021. And we're just launching right into teisho here. I'm the only person in the zendo who doesn't have a mask on, and we're forgoing chanting. I hope people aren't too envious of my not having a mask. I do have to give this talk. I think it comes out even.
My topic today is on anatta. It's the Pali word for not self or no self. And that's one of the three characteristics of existence as defined by the Buddha, and the three are dukkha, or suffering or vexation, dissatisfaction; anica, which is impermanence, the law of ceaseless change; and anata, the teaching of no self. Really, these three things sum up this world we live in. It's universally true, something that we believe we can come to believe intellectually, and then through practice, we really come to understand it on a deeper level,
the Buddha taught on a tie as in in two ways, it seems to me looking at the teachings. First is the natural consequence of impermanence. If there's nothing permanent, or everlasting, nothing can have a fixed self, and everything is in flux. He also, he also taught it by pointing out that nothing is under our control, not our mind, not our body. And of course, not the world that we see it's outside ourselves. And I'm going to briefly read from this book, why Buddhism is true by Robert Wright, where he outlines the Buddha's argument. Just so you know, I did read from this book, in a Dharma talk, maybe a year and a half or so ago. Robert Wright is a evolutionary psychologist, Professor, and also a practitioner of personal Buddhism. Really good book, why Buddhism is true, especially if you're overly intellectual like I am. So this is the beginning of a chapter called your your CEO is Mia. And he says this. Apparently the Buddha's famous discourse on the not self didn't immediately convert everyone to his way of thinking. Sometime after delivering it according to Buddhist scripture, he runs into a man named I give Asana a braggart, who has assembled a large audience to help watch him vanquish the Buddha. In a debate about the self of the sun, I begins the proceedings by challenging the Buddha's claim that the self can't be found in any of the five aggregates. So just to back up here are the five aggregates are also known as the five skandhas, which are the Buddha said was the basically, our entire being is composed of these five aggregates. So we're not going to go too much deeper into that right now. But just to go on with Agatha Sahni, he declares forum is myself. Feeling is myself. Perception is myself. mental formations are myself. Consciousness is myself. So he's now named each of the five skandhas. And Robert Wright goes on. This is a pretty blatant provocation, a direct assault on the Buddhist worldview. But the Buddha being the Buddha remains calm. He says very well then I'll give the sun I will cross question you on this matter. If you've read many of the Buddhist discourses you know, that I have a son his convictions will not survive the ensuing dialogue in good shape. The only question is which rhetorical tool the Buddha will use to dispel his interlocutors interlocutor his confusion. Turns out the answer is the king metaphor. The Buddha asks, would it consecrated noble warrior kings such as King pass and die of casula or King Raja to agita satu vet I had put out a of maga wield the power in his own domain to execute those who deserve execution to find those who deserve to be fined and to banish those who deserve to be banished. Yes, master goat him up answers like Asana, he would wield it, and he would deserve to wield it. The Buddha then says, What do you think of Asana? When you say form is myself? Do you wield power over that form? May my form be thus? May my form not be thus, of Asana says nothing. The Buddha repeats the question of Asana remain silent. Now the Buddha pulls out the big guns. He reminds logical, og of Asana that when anyone doesn't answer when asked a legitimate question by the target, that is the Buddha, up to three times, his head splits into seven pieces right here. At that point, I have a sign that looks up and ominously sees a spirit with an iron Thunderbolt in hand. The spirit is aptly named Thunderbolt in the hand.
The Spirit speaks up warning that if I give Asana doesn't answer, when asked a legitimate question by the blessing one up to three times, I will split his head into seven pieces right here is incentivized I got this on it answers the Buddhist question, no master go to my he doesn't. He admits, having complete, he admits have complete power over his body. The Buddha then runs through the other aggregates, feeling perception and so on. Asana sees that No, he doesn't have the power over any of these things that a king has over his domain. So the Buddha has made his point you the quote you that experiences, feelings and perceptions and entertains thoughts isn't really in complete control of these things. If you think that somewhere inside your head, there's a kind of supreme ruler, a chief executive? Well, there's some question as to where exactly you would find it. 2500 years later, the science of psychology is talking the Buddha's language. Well, not exactly his language. Psychologists don't often assert that you're not the king of your personal domain. Since these days, there aren't many kings who wield actual power over their own domains. Psychologists use more modern terminology. As Robert Kurtz bond, a professor of psychology at Penn puts it, you aren't the president, that Central Executive, the Prime Minister. conscious self is not some sort of all powerful executive authority.
So you can get added either way, you can see that if there is a there, there can't be any self that has any kind of unchanging nature. And if there is a self, what does it do? If it can't control our mind or body? Anything? That's us? How can we say that there is some sort of self now this sometimes gets into a bit of a argument or discussion among Buddhist teachers? It's really, I think, a problem of terminology. Many people including some a lot of the Vipassana teachers have pointed out that the Buddha never said, there is no self, instead of was this formulation of not self. And when the Buddha was actually asked directly by somebody else. Master is there a self he didn't answer? He said he remained silent. And when the questioner then asked, well, then is there not a self? Again, he didn't answer. And after the person who left his attendant, a Nanda came to and said, Why did the bison one not answering this question? And he said, basically, there are certain questions that are better left unanswered because the answer only leads us into speculation and leads us away from the practice of dropping our desires, dropping our attachments and he said The either side saying there is no self or there is a self leads to one extreme or the other, either to annihilation, there's nothing there I can do whatever I want, or to the false belief in the eternalism. There's something permanent that exists throughout time.
I went to while hula rappeler, while Paula wrote a book called what the Buddha taught to get the official and official definition. And here's what he says, what we call AI, or being is only a combination of physical and mental aggregates. And again, those are the skandhas form, perception, feeling, mental formations, consciousness, which are working together interdependently, in a flux of momentary change within the law of cause and effect. And there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging, and eternal, in the whole of existence. What there is, then is just dependent co arising. Because this happens, that happens, though it's never so simple is one cause and one effect. The closer you look at existence, the deeper you appear, the more complicated and amazing it is. Remember, when I was studying biology, on my way to becoming a nurse, I was just amazed at what an incredible Rube Goldberg Machine living beings are the processes that go on within ourselves, our level of complexity, that's just absolutely astounding. And when you've understood one level, great, because there's more levels down beneath it. It just, it's like some sort of fractal nightmare. It's really everything that we think we know about reality is so crude and simplistic, and so completely separate from the real truth. It's like it's I've said before, it's like a child's crayon drawings pinned up on the refrigerator. And of all those things, our belief in some sort of self is really a classic example. So then it leads you to ask well, okay, right, right. The self isn't the way I'm picturing it, in my mind, but but there's something what is the sense I have of a self? What is the sense of other people that other people have, that I'm a person. And I've sometimes tried to explain that in, you know, introductory talks and whatnot, with the metaphor of an eddy in a stream. So you've got a stream flowing past, and let's say there's a bush or a tree on the bank, and it's dipping down there's a twig dipping dipping down into the water, and right there with the stream goes by that forms little Eddy, you know, and I can point to it and say, Look, there's a little Whirlpool there about that. And there is there is something there, but what is it is it a thing, the water in it is is moving through at the rate of whatever rate the stream is going, if the twig moves, the eddy changes if the tree is cut down, there is no Edie. This is self of ours, whatever it is, is totally contingent. Our existence, as the Buddha often pointed out, is contingent on our taking our next breath, stop the breathing. Boom, it's gone. I did some reading. Part of this book why Buddhism is true is Robert Wright interviewing Joseph Goldstein. Joseph Goldstein is of a person a teacher who studied with a John Cha, tie Thai forest Master, who we'll get into later. He trained as a monk in the Thai forest tradition, and later became one of the founders of the insight meditation center in Barre, Massachusetts. He has been practicing since 1975, with teachers in the Terra vodun and the Tibetan traditions, has written some books. And he he's really good on this whole question of sort of understanding what we mean by a self and one of his examples is a rainbow. We can definitely see a rainbow. There it is. It's pretty amazing. But you can't pick it up. It's just an artifact. Light refracted through water droplets. And it's temporary. It's not going to last. But the example he gives I like the best is the Big Dipper. And I'm going to read from that. This is in an interview his interview with Robert Wright.
My imitation of Roshi, now shuffling my papers. So here it is. This is Joseph Goldstein speaking, you go out at night. And if it's a clear night and the stars are out, most people can recognize the constellation of the Big Dipper. The question then is, is there really a big dipper up there? The Big Dipper is a concept, which we're overlaying on a certain pattern of stars, but there's no big dipper. So self is like Big Dipper. The notion of self is a concept just like Big Dipper as a concept. And we're overlaying that concept of self onto this pattern of mental physical, emotional content. We're putting a name, we're giving a designation of Joseph, Bob, Big Dipper. But what's interesting is that even though we know the Big Dipper is a concept, and there's no big dipper in the sky, to go out at night, look up at the sky, and see if it's possible not to see the Big Dipper, it's very difficult. Because we've been so conditioned to see it in a certain way, it's helpful to realize that the concept of Big Dipper can be useful, just like the concept of self can be useful. One of the stars of Big Dipper actually points to the North Star. Well here I'd quibble it takes two stars to point. But it's true. If you take the two stars on the far side of the bucket, and go up from the bucket, you'll reach the North Star and then you'll know which way north is says if you're out in the middle of the ocean and you want to navigate, you need to find the north end the concept can be helpful. We're not suggesting either with Big Dipper or self to get rid of the concept. But to understand that that's what it is. When we see the Big Dipper as a concept, even though we use it, what happens is that when we look up at the sky, we see the sky and divided, it's possible to see all the stars as part of a unity. Imagine what it would be like if we could experience the whole world not bound or limited by the concept of the self. We need to use it to operate on the relative level. But if we have a deeper wisdom, that it is just a concept, then so many aspects of our separateness falls away.
And that's why this whole question of self this whole teaching of no self is so important, because really are clinging to this crude and inaccurate belief in this me in here that I need to protect and give preference true to you is the cause of suffering of pervasive suffering. The Buddha spelled it out really in his diagnosis, which is the second noble truth, the cause of Dhaka, the cause of vexation cause of suffering is our self referential grasping, and avoiding a reflexive belief in a self that needs to be protected and promoted.
It can help to think it through and know a lot more as done with that in Vipassana Buddha Buddhism, and we do in Zen. But in both, the real key is meditation is just that repetitive practice of finding yourself caught up in thought and feeling in delusion, and just letting it go and returning to what's actually there. Being able to look up at the sky and not Have that overlay not see that big dipper. There's a reminds me of a joke that Steven Wright told, I don't know how many people know who Steven Wright is rather unprepossessing guy with a very sort of depressed f act, who just has a whole string of amazing one liners. So one of them is this says, I have a map of the United States. Its actual size, which is pretty cool. That's a really good map. But we all have maps that are not actual size, and which leave out what's real and put in what's not real. Like the overlay of the Big Dipper, the Chinese teacher Sheng Yen, who died some years back, had an exercise he used to give people late and sesshin. I don't know how often he did this, but in one session where I read the read his talks, which was just to go outside, this was late in sesshin, when you know, the mind was fairly clean and, and you can do it and just look at everything without a label. Just look, it's it's kind of fun to do that. You know, sometimes when you're on a walk, of course, you're you're focused on your practice, but you can set that aside for a moment and do this other practice, which is just to see everything without laying anything on top of it. Is the Chinese master Josue, the ancient Master said, Put your mind where there is no design.
reminded also something that the French poet and philosopher Paul Valery, who lived until 1945, said to see is to forget the name of the thing one sees. So long as we've got the label in there, we're not really seeing we're, we're divided.
And that's why Zen is called a teaching beyond words and letters. words and letters are powerless, to actually paint a true picture of the world world. Well, Valerie said something else great, he said, the best way to make your dreams come true, is to wake up.
One thing that may be helpful to understand, hopefully, I have time to squeeze this in, is how it is that we come to believe so strongly in itself. And here, Robert Wright is really helpful. Being an evolutionary psychologist, that's of course where he finds a problem. And this is a little further on from the previous passage that I read. And it's in a section that says the Darwinian benefits of self delusion. And he refers to something he talked about earlier in the book, where they took a guy and send us a message, a subliminal message to him that could only be seen by his right hemisphere. That was a cue for him to walk, but couldn't be seen by his left hemisphere. And then they asked him what he was doing when he got up and started walking. And he said he was going to get a soda. So basically, he made something up to explain what he was doing because his left hemisphere had no idea why he was doing it. So he says, Remember the guy whose right hemisphere was told to walk in his left hemisphere? When asked where he was going, said he was going to get a soda? His answer wasn't really true, but it does inspire a kind of confidence in him. He seems like a guy who is in charge of himself, who doesn't go around doing things for no good reason. compare him with a guy who offers a more truthful account. I don't really know why I got up or where I'm going. Sometimes I just do stuff for reasons that make no sense to me. If those two guys were your neighbors in a hunter gatherer village, which one would you want to go hunting with? Which one would you want to become friends with? During human evolution? The answers to sucks such questions mattered. If you were thought unworthy of collaboration and friendship, your genes were in trouble. In short, from natural selections point of view, it's good for you to tell a coherent story about yourself to depict yourself as a rational, self aware actor. So whenever your actual motivations aren't accessible to the part of your brain that communicates with the world, it would make sense for that part of your brain to generate stories about your motivation. Reminds me of Roshi Kapleau is saying, the reasons people give for what they do are never the real reasons, which I always took to be the people sort of lied about it to make themselves look better. But I've come to see, it's because they fool themselves to somebody asks, you know, why are you practicing? Then maybe you come up with an answer. But do you really know? I remember a discussion that happened in the zendo. Many years ago, 40 years ago, people were talking about why they came to the center, a bunch of idealistic 20 somethings. And one guy who was from New York City and had a thick New York accent said, I come here buy in the stick. Probably the best answer. He says he goes on. Of course, of course, coherence of motivation, though desirable, quality, quality, and a friend or collaborator isn't by itself decisive. If someone has clear, consistent goals, but always fails to reach them, or fails to contribute much to Team endeavors, or doesn't keep promises, he or she won't be overloaded with friends and collaborators. So you would expect us to tell and believe not just coherent stories about ourselves, but flattering stories. And by and large, we do. And then he tells about other studies that show that whenever people are asked to rate their skills in any dimension, you put them all together, and it seems that everyone is above average, just like on Prairie Home Companion. He says this sort of self appraisal confirm Li resist evidence. One study of 50 people found that on average, they rated their driving skill toward the expert end of the spectrum, which would be less noticeable if it were not for the fact that all 50 had recently been in car accidents. And two thirds of them had been deemed responsible for the accidents by police.
And then he goes on beyond that and talks about moral fiber, everyone thinks that they're more moral than the next person. All of us have this tendency, and it's built into us to attribute the best of motives to ourselves when we do something wrong. And to suspect others of having the basis of motives is this this this inbred, self referential bias, and it is inbred. That's what what Robert Wright is saying is something that's been passed down to us through our genes. And so it's difficult to overcome. Not saying that it cannot be overcome. But you shouldn't be surprised when you find that you're selfish. If you're in a crowd of people, and someone says your name, you hear it amid all the clutter all the different words that you easily ignore, your name pops out. It's because of this, this deeply built in habit.
Okay, I want to I want to move ahead and get into the practice aspect of this teaching is teaching or no self, and I cannot think of a better place to go than John cha. As I said earlier, he's a forest master in the Thai forest tradition
died fairly recently.
You live from 1919 to 1992. And he was a teacher of a whole generation of American Vipassana teachers. And there's a number of books by him I'm going to be reading from one called everything arises, everything falls away, teachings on impermanence and the end of suffering. And this is all from a section called
Going to break in in the middle here. He says, The Buddha used this analogy, the aggregation that is us is merely a coming together of the elements of earth, water, fire and air. Of course, earth, water, fire and air is an old understanding. But we can just say, atoms and molecules and subatomic particles, and just all the stuff of this world. If you try to find an actual person there, you can't, there are only these collections of elements. But for all our lives, we never thought to separate them like this to see what's really there. We have only thought, This is me, this is mine. We've always seen everything in terms of a self, never seeing that there are merely earth, water, fire and air. But the Buddha teaches in this way, he talks about the four elements and urges us to see that this is what we are, there are earth, water, fire and air, there is no person here. Contemplate these elements to see that there is no being or individual on but only earth, water, fire and air. It's deep, isn't it? It's hidden deep. People will look but they can't see it. We're used to thinking in terms of self and other all the time. So our meditation is still not very deep. It doesn't reach the truth. And we don't get beyond the way things appear to be. We remain stuck in the conventions of the world. And being stuck in the world means remaining in the cycle of transformation, getting things and losing them dying and being born, being born and dying, suffering in the realm of confusion. Whatever we wish for and aspire to doesn't really work out the way we want. Because we are seeing things wrongly with this kind of grasping attachment, we're still very far indeed, from the real path of dharma. Let's get to work right now. Our practice of Dharma should be getting us beyond suffering. If we can't fully transcend suffering, then we should at least be able to transcend it a little now in the present. For example, when someone speaks harshly to us, if we don't get angry, we have transcended suffering. If we get angry, we haven't transcended DACA. So this is a really good point. We tend to think in terms of all or nothing of enlighten enlightenment or neither enlightenment or full enlightenment or not full enlightenment. Becoming a Buddha or being an ordinary person. But the fact of the matter is, the minute we begin practicing, the minute we sincerely sit down and drop our thoughts and our prejudices, things start to change and shift. And we do find often, that criticism rolls more easily off our back, are better able to take the bad news of things that we've screwed up and, and see ourselves whole and be okay with that.
You can avoid that kind of progress by continually seeing your practice in terms of self aggrandizement. comparing yourself with other people or braiding yourself. Because I'm not very good at this. I don't know why even bother. It's a much healthier way to just realize, okay, I am who I am. I'm full of problems. I'm full of shortcomings. But I have faith that if I follow this path, if I turn my mind in a wholesome and healthy direction, things will change. The law of causation will begin to work in my behalf. He goes on and says if someone speaks harshly to us, if we reflect on Dharma, we will see that as just heaps of Earth involved. Okay, he is criticizing me. He's just criticizing a heap of Earth. One heap of Earth is criticizing another heap of Earth. Water is criticizing water. Air is criticizing air. Fire is criticizing fire. But if we really see things in this way, then others will probably call us mad. He doesn't care about anything. He has no feelings. When someone dies, we won't get upset and cry, and they will call us crazy. Okay, at this point, I cannot resist. Truman knows what's coming and go I have to dip into Anthony de Mello. So, Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest, and gave a lot of talks and seminars all over the world and out of one of them. This book was created from the transcript is called awareness, the perils and opportunities of reality. And right to our topic, is Anthony de Mello. And he says, Do you want to see how mechanical you really are? By That's a lovely shirt you're wearing? You feel good hearing that, for a shirt for heaven's sake. You feel proud of yourself, when you hear that? People come over to my center in India, and they say, What a lovely place these lovely trees, this lovely climate. And already, I'm feeling good, until I catch myself feeling good. And I say, Hey, can you imagine anything as stupid as that? I'm not responsible for those trees. I wasn't responsible for choosing the location. I didn't order the weather. It just happened. But me got in there. And so I'm feeling good. I'm feeling good about my culture and my nation. How stupid can you get? parenthetically, let me mention that there are a lot of stupid people in this world. How stupid can you get? I mean that I'm told my great Indian culture has produced all these mystics. I didn't produce them. I'm not responsible for them. Or they tell me this country of yours. And it's poverty. It's disgusting. I feel ashamed. But I didn't create it. What's going on? Did you ever stop to think people tell you, I think you're very charming. So I feel wonderful. I get a positive stroke. That's why they call it I'm okay. You're okay. I'm going to write a book someday. And the title will be, I'm an ass urine house. That is the most liberating wonderful thing in the world, when you openly admit you're an ass. And as you're conditioned, it's wonderful. When people tell me you're wrong, I say, what can you expect of an ass? Everybody has to be disarmed. In the final liberation, I'm going to ask urine as normally, the way it goes, I press a button in Europe, I press another button and you're down and you like that? How many people do you know who are unaffected by praise or blame? That is inhuman, we say, human means you have to have a look, you have to be a little monkey. So everybody can twist your tail and you do whatever you ought to be doing. But is that human? If you find me charming, it means that right now you're in a good mood. Nothing more.
skip ahead a little bit. He says, Do you like being controlled? Let me tell you something. If you ever let yourself feel good, when people tell you that you're okay, you are preparing yourself to feel bad when they tell you you're not good. As long as you live to fulfill other people's expectations. You better watch what you wear, how you comb your hair, whether your shoes are polished. In short, whether you live up to every damn expectation of theirs. You call that human?
This is what you'll discover when you observe yourself. You'll be horrified. The fact of the matter is that the are neither Okay, nor not okay. You may fit the current mood or trend or fashion. Does that mean you become Okay, does your okayness depend on that? Does it depend on what people think of you? The Great physicist Richard Fineman wrote a book entitled, what do you care what other people think? Anybody who's focused on something worthwhile, has to throw away their reliance on the opinions of other people. It's extremely helpful in Zen practice to stop caring quite so much about what your teacher thinks of you, or how you measure up to other people. This practice is an experiment we're doing on our own. We're really for the most part self directed the teachers role, for the most part is just to encourage you to continue to find your own way. Very little that you can be told that you wouldn't be better off finding out on your own.
Does your okayness depend on that? Does it depend on what people think of you? Jesus Christ must have been pretty not okay by those standards. You're not Okay, and you're not not okay, you're you. I hope that is going to be the big discovery at least for some of you. If three or four of you make this discovery during these days we spend together, what a wonderful thing. Extraordinary. Cut out all the okay stuff in the not okay stuff, cut out all the judgments and simply observe you watch, you'll make great discoveries, those discoveries will change you, you won't have to make the slightest effort. Believe me. I'd qualify that a little bit and say you do have to make an effort. But it's not an effort to affect a change. Zen is simpler than that. Just an effort to look directly the effort of dropping the things we get caught up on that we're caught up in that we're reluctant to let go. Okay, thank you for indulging me, I'm going to go back to our John cha. Where he said if someone dies, and we won't get upset and cry, they'll call us crazy. It really comes down to practicing and realizing for ourselves. Getting beyond suffering doesn't depend on others opinions of us, but on our own individual state of mind. Never mind what they say. If we experienced the truth for ourselves, then we can dwell at ease. When difficulties occur, recollect, recollect to dharma. Think of what your spiritual guides have taught you. They teach you to let go to have restraint and self control, to put things down. They teach you to strive in this way to solve your problems. The Dharma that you study is just for solving your problems. What kind of problems are we talking about? How about your families? Do you have any problems there any problems with your children, your spouse's, your friends, or your work? All these things give you headaches sometimes, don't they? These are the problems we are talking about. The teachings are telling you that you can resolve the problems of daily life with dharma. We have been born as human beings, it should be possible to live with happy minds. We do our work according to our responsibilities. If things get difficult, we practice endurance. earning a living in the right way is one sort of Dharma practice the practice of ethical living, living happily and harmoniously like this is already pretty good. We usually take a loss, however, don't take a loss. If you go to a center or a monastery to meditate, and then go home and fight. That's a loss. Do you hear what I'm saying? It's just a loss to do this. This means you don't see the Dharma even a little tiny bit. There's no profit at all. Of course, we all slip up. I don't think that everyone who's come to the center and began a practice of meditation has avoided all arguments, or fights. I haven't quite managed to do that myself. But it's it changes over time. The less tightly we hold on to our picture of ourself, the easier it is to let those things go, the less affected we are by criticism. The less importance we give to the importance of other people. It is true that it's kind of strange when you find somebody who isn't that affected by what others think. But it's also kind of wonderful. I know when when I was younger, my sense of self was just a horrible burden. Maybe that's the reason why I took up Zen practice. There I found that when I when I would talk with someone, half of my mind was standing behind myself trying to see what I looked like, is just this painful self consciousness and how that went away, I don't even know. But at some point, it just wasn't there anymore. A lot of it fell away from me when I stopped drinking and started going to a because a lot of a involves getting rid of that overwhelming sense of self. They're really into that they're really tuned in to that.
So I know within just a few weeks, I remember walking into my house, and I would walk up the driveway and walk around this big bush and in the front door. And I noticed that something was different and what was different was as I walked around the bush, my mind didn't jump up into the imagination of some sort of projection of what I would look like to somebody standing on the street and watching me walk into my house that just went away. And it hasn't come back. And good riddance.
Okay, I've got to go on with a little more, make sure I'm not in trouble. With a little more of our John cha. He says, whenever you come to the monastery, you keep hearing the same thing. This is not us. That is not ours. The conflict goes on the world in the Dharma are in conflict. The world will not give up its viewpoint, this is us. These things are ours. But the John's that as a teacher is keep telling you, this is not us. These things are not ours. After some time, after getting these reminders regularly, and looking at your experience, you can start to gain insight into the way things really are, and your thinking will change, then you will recognize that what the John's have been telling you is true. But if you only come once in a while, then you are hearing one thing in the monastery. And as soon as you go back home, you will be hearing and thinking something else in the struggle in dissonance Go on, it will take a long time of going back and forth to see the truth and make up your mind. If you have to go through this experiencing confusion as to you have to go through this experiencing confusion as to who is telling the truth. But thinking it through and meditating on it, you can start to see clearly. Listening to Dharma has value like this. Over time it sinks in and you begin to investigate sincerely and persistently. It's one of the reasons teachers say the same thing again and again. takes time to sink in. Even the great teacher is like I'm thinking of bunk I just again and again, saying the same thing. Learning about the shortcomings of the world becoming aware of your aging, you begin to take it to heart. It's another thing that helps getting older, you realize oh yeah, I am becoming old. And that might mean that I am going to die. It's very hard to pick that up early, although some people do. Most people resist hearing these things at first, but after some time, we may come around, then we realize that the teachings are true. What is called ours is just a convention. What we call me is just a convention.
If we think about this, we will approach and enter the Dharma genuinely, it's like seeing a poisonous snake, such as a cobra that comes slithering along. It has a lot of poison. And if we don't know what it is, or we don't see it, we won't be cautious of it and we might step on it and be bitten. But we know what a cobra is. We know it's poisonous. When we see one coming, we recognize it and don't go close to it. We keep a safe distance and then we won't be harmed. Even though the snake is poisonous, we aren't affected. We leave it alone and protect ourselves. The poison is still there, but it's as if it weren't. And we don't have to suffer. Like this, we recognize what is harmful and we stay away from it. body and mind are their own sort of poisonous snakes. Have you ever noticed this? when your body is healthy and strong? You're exuberant? Yes, the stars are in my favor. But sometimes you're tormented by illness or pain and you moan Oh man, what kind of karma is this? That's a poisonous snake. It's the same for the mind. If things are going well. You're pleased and feel that life's not bad. Then something upsets you and you may lose sleep over it. Lying in bed with your tears flowing. It's poisonous like this. The snake is biting us, but we aren't aware of it. Buddha wanted us to study Dharma to know our own minds and bodies. Every morning in the monastery chanting service we recite bodily form is impermanent, sensation is impermanent. Perception is impermanent. mental formations are impermanent. Consciousness is impermanent. Throughout body and mind, there's nothing but in permanence. There's nothing that is us or ours, existing and then gone, appearing and passing away. This is the way it is at all times and in all places.
And skipping ahead again, the terrible sufferings that people experience are only products of their own minds. Some people are very fearful, because they let their minds run wild, thinking things over excessively. When they are low, they are alone in some dark place, they become terrified thinking of ghosts or whatever, and they may jump up and run away. It's all the thinking that makes them run, the ignorant mind proliferates its thoughts in this way. It's not us, not ours, not certain in the slightest way. That is the ignorant mind, but it can be trained. If one is bold, one will think differently, increasing boldness and driving out feelings of fear.
So I really, I find it helpful. Reflecting on these teachings. as an adjunct to Zen, the two together really bring us to an understanding that we can get by a reader just by reading a book. And the most important thing is just that practice of dropping. It helps to a view reflected because it helps us see some of the ridiculous things that we entertain in our mind. We need to be we need to follow through with that, you know, we may know that chastising ourselves and saying I'm no good, is totally unhelpful, and therefore unwholesome, but are we willing to let go of that? Sometimes, you know, we were we're all aware of people who can't stop praising themselves. But it's just as big a problem, maybe it's even a bigger problem, people who can't stop criticizing themselves. As John Charles says, we can train this ignorant mind, we have to be thorough, and we have to be, we have to be convinced. And we have to be patient. Because you can do it once, twice, 10 100,000 times, and it may not change a whole lot. So I'm paying patterns are etched deeply. Some patterns are written in our genes. But it does change. It's why there's this image in in Buddhism of an Zen especially of training an ox, ox is so gigantic, massive, strong, to pull that head away from the grass and back onto the path. Again, And again. And again. It's really a good metaphor for what our practices life like. And as we go on, we begin to get a sense of freedom. And it's freedom from grasping and from pushing away. It's basically freedom from the cause of suffering. begin to realize that there's nothing that we have to protect the so called self doesn't need our protection. All we need to do is to do our best. Again, to realize there's no place we need to go, we have less of a compulsion to cut to the chase, get on to the next thing. Maybe we'll begin to sit rounds Zen where we're not looking forward to the end. It's amazing to me when I examined myself, how many times a day that comes up, you know, How soon will this conversation be over? How soon will I have finished mowing the lawn and I can go on to something else. But the minute you see that, just go right into it go right into what you're doing. It's really where happiness lies, where salvation lies. All right, because we didn't do any chanting ahead of time. It's probably way longer now that I've talked that I normally would. So we will stop now and recite the four vows