Bell Hooks wrote, “If I were really asked to define myself, I wouldn’t start with race; I wouldn’t start with blackness; I wouldn’t start with gender; I wouldn’t start with feminism. I would start with stripping down to what fundamentally informs my life, which is that I’m a seeker on the path. I think of feminism, and I think of anti-racist struggles as part of it. But where I stand spiritually is, steadfastly, on a path about love.”
A path about love… This was the point I think for The Buddha. His was a path of love. His years of hardship and deprivation were about love of other sentient beings; his wish to relieve us all of our suffering – all beings for all time. He said, “I teach one thing and one thing only, suffering and the end of suffering.” He had the idea that if he could find the answer for himself then he could give it to everyone and we could all be free. He continually taught that the path to greater happiness is not the self-centered thought, but the other-centered thought. Not in a co-dependent way but in an altruistic way. The question is not “How can I take care of you?” but rather “How can I be of benefit to you?” Even our meditation practice is for the benefit of all sentient beings. Our wish is to relieve all beings of their suffering. We know some things innately that are true: we are connected; we are all creating this reality together; and that we are responsible for one another. So, with our open heart of love, we sit and breathe.
“What are we made of? What is this thing we call “self”? We assemble it ourselves, according to the Buddha.” Lion’s Roar Magazine
Buddha taught that our sense of self, the process of building an identity, is based on the five aggregates or heaps…skandhas in Sanskrit.
Most of us have spent a lot of time–and money–trying to figure out who we are and what our purpose is in this life. It seems that we are are this body and, even though it changes moment to moment, we have this idea that it will last forever… and that we ourselves, our identity will also last forever. The Buddha said that “we” are a moment to moment process. We are completely impermanent and the identity that we hold so dear is not the self. That, indeed, there is no enduring separate self that exists in the world. Rather, the collective parts of form, feeling, perception, concept or mental formations, and consciousness. come together and instantly rearrange themselves like the shifting sands of a vast desert.
Ajahn Punnadhammo clarified this teach somewhat when he wrote, “The most important use of the five skandhas as a teaching device is to illustrate the doctrine of anatta (not-self). The idea is that when one looks within, only the five skandhas are seen, and no self-essence is found among them. In the Samanupassana Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya collection of suttas, the Buddha enumerates twenty ways in which beings imagine a self by misapprehending the skandhas: “He assumes body to be the self, or the self as possessing body, or the body in the self, or the self in the body,” and so on, for each of the other skandhas.“
Ajahn Chah said, “In our practice, we think that noises, cars, voices, sights, are distractions that come and bother us when we want to be quiet. But who is bothering whom? Actually, we are the ones who go and bother them.
We go out and bother them? I think he’s saying that we bother ourselves over these distractions with an expectation that everything will be quiet to accommodate us. Or that the environment will adjust itself to our expectations. Even if we were sitting in a cave rather than a corner or our living room, there would be some kind of noise around us. Nature is pretty busy! So much of our suffering is caused by our expectations. The wonderful thing about mindfulness practice is that we can see how our expectations create stress and and try letting go of how life “should” be or feel or what “should” be happening… maybe just saying, “expectation, expectation, expectation” and then noticing how expectation feels in the body. Or how it feels to try to let our expectations go and just sit accepting what is rather than being disappointed with what isn’t?
Then he says “see the world as a mirror” … yes, we already “know” this, but do we reallyknow that the world is showing us things about ourselves all the time? Our struggles, our likes and dislikes, our neuroses are so in our faces as we live in the world. Maybe we have the same kind difficulty in relationships, with money, in our work life. Meditation offers us the opportunity to look at these difficulties, realize the similarities and what we might be missing and make a change. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the way we think about what’s happening. This is the only way that real change can happen–through understanding, through seeing life as it is.
The Buddha taught that everything is interdependent and in process–-subject to Karma and conditioning. He called this conditioned existence “ saṃsāra ,” a Sanskrit word that means “perpetual wandering” or the “wheel of suffering.”
Saṃsāra is the beginningless and endless cycle of repeated birth, existence and dying again. Saṃsārais considered to be dukkha, unsatisfactory and painful, perpetuated by desire and ignorance, and the resulting karma. Thanissaro Bhikkhu gives us this explanation of saṃsāra:
” Saṃsāra is a process: the tendency to keep creating worlds and then moving into them. And note that this creating and moving in doesn’t just happen once, at birth. We’re doing it all the time.”
We create our reality and we create ourselves. The Buddha taught that what we think of as our permanent self, our ego, our identity, is just an illusion. Moment to moment, we create ourselves anew. What appears to be permanent is truly only temporary. Everything changes continually… especially our body, our mind our identity. Our attachment to a permanent self and a permanent reality thus create our suffering and our perpetual wandering.