Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Atman: Brahman (cosmic unity of all things) in personal form as the Supreme Self, as the Original and Originating Soul or Self; the Singular Cause of that exists (aka ‘creator-god’).
Anatman: there is no Original or Supreme Self or Singular Cause; there is multiple causality
Saying “there is no self” is the same thing as saying “there is no singular cause of all that exists” or “there is no creator god”; things arise from multiple conditions.
But the path of practice is the evolution of consciousness that exceeds the body. Consciousness and form evolve together, but the evolution of evolution is the evolution of consciousness beyond the limitations of the body.
The evolution of evolution: life shifts from evolution that is limited to the body, to the evolution of consciousness that is not tied to the body or genetics, but to learning and culture, and passed on to countless bodies and lives.
There is also the mammalian self, the primate self, that nurtures and cares for others, that feels and acts on empathy and compassion, that seeks the security of the tribe, that transcends the tribe and helps the stranger and the enemy, the “communal self”, the social justice self, the “I care about others” self, the “we” self. This is collective consciousness.
Our current evolution of evolution is cultural evolution; cultural evolution that is freed from the evolution of the body, that survives the body, that goes beyond the limitations of body, birth and death, that is passed on through culture.
The next evolution of evolution will be an evolution of consciousness, an evolution into awareness that is beyond the limits of self, beyond culture, beyond the collective, a cosmic consciousness.
Non-self doesn’t mean you don’t have a self, whether a function of the brain and CNS or “real” self or a product of social construction (social or psychic self, self as “subject), or a delusional non-existent self.
I would agree with Buddha that it doesn’t matter whether the self is ‘real’ or socially constructed or a non-existent delusion.
In any case, the Buddha offers an invitation to go beyond the self, beyond the self that is limited to brain/CNS, beyond the self that is socially constructed, beyond the delusional/non-existent self.
It is an invitation to a next level of consciousness that is not limited by self, an existence beyond the limits of the self that is tied to survival, birth, individuation, ‘becoming’ somebody, ending in death. For all that becoming and individuation, what’s left when you face death? Nothing; it’s all for nothing.
Buddha is pointing to an existence, a consciousness that is beyond the instinctual survival-self, beyond the psycho-social individuating self, beyond the communal “we” self, to a consciousness that is beyond self altogether.
Buddha had a body that suffered pain; Buddha got sick and died. But he experienced a level of consciousness that was beyond self. Furthermore, the suttas say that he was able to maintain that state of consciousness for as long as he lived, until he died.
It goes even beyond the communal self, the empathetic self, the “we” self. But it includes all those selves as part of the path to the evolution of consciousness. All those selves must be healed and developed and then transcended: the instinctual, survival self (grasping, craving), the individuating self (ego, becoming), the “we” self (caring, belonging, defending), the collective consciousness. All those selves, whether biological or socially constructed or collective or delusional, must be transcended.
“I have seen the deathless.” It is a consciousness, or an existence that does not die with the body, because it’s not confined to the body; it’s not limited or attached to the body. It is not a ‘self’ existence. It is an existence beyond self.
At that future stage of evolution, we still function with a body; we still develop as individuals, we still live in small groups, but our consciousness will exceed all those limitations. Buddha taught that ordinary and even spiritually advanced conscious states are still dependent on the body. But there is an understanding or experience of being that transcends the body.
We already have this capacity now. It’s in all of us. it’s totally natural. It has to be developed, but it’s already within us. We already have this capacity.
Evolutionary pressures will cause us to develop that capacity further. We will either develop that capacity, or we won’t survive as a species. It’s our only way out of the ecological trap we are in. We have to develop cosmic consciousness or we won’t find a way out of the extinction trap that now engulfs us. What Buddha was able to achieve as an individual, we must all achieve as a species, otherwise we may not survive as a species.
Tich Nhat Hanh has done it. He has seen the deathless. Jesus did it too. It was misinterpreted as ‘god-man’ or ‘Son of God’, that ‘God became flesh and dwelt among us’ but that was all just a theistic misinterpretation. He was a human that made it to the next level of evolution of consciousness. Jesus tried to help the Jews go beyond the limits of the law, the limits of the tribe or collective, beyond the limits of a punishing ‘god’, to get to the cosmic consciousness that is beyond the collective, the tribe, ‘god’ and religious justifications
The only way out is through. We first have to experience that state of consciousness, and then we’ll know what to do with it. We have to become completely cognizant of every living creature, and aware of every interdependent system. Every thought, every act must be an act for all, for all living things.
It’s a knowing that self, whether biological or developmental or collective, is at best a temporary construction that serves certain purposes or needs, but it is not “real”, i.e. absolute or permanent, and it does not even describe the complete state of our existence. Our state of existence goes beyond those limitations, needs and purposes. We already exist on another plane that is beyond that.
The functions that self serves are critical, but very small, very limited. They are not even the greater part of our existence. When we identify with that small, limited self and its small (but critical) functions, we delude ourselves into thinking that is all we are. But its a very tiny part of our existence. The larger part of our existence doesn’t have a self.
Our existence extends beyond the self with its functions and needs. We exist on another level that is beyond bio-psycho-social needs and functions. But that existence is not a ‘me’ or a ‘we’. it is “transpersonal.’ [We] are part of a living cosmos that is constantly evolving, the whole cosmos together is evolving, and life and consciousness is evolving within it. As [we] are part of it, ‘we’ are evolving with it. Our consciousness is the shared consciousness of the cosmos, and that shared consciousness is evolving. The earth is our body, and so are the solar systems and galaxies and the universe itself.
The Earth is my body, the Sun is my body, the Moon is my body, the planets are my body, the galaxy is my body, the stars are my body.
Going beyond self is important, but going beyond the collective is just as important. We have to go beyond the tribe. That’s what the Mahayana is about. It is caring and compassion for the collective, but it transcends even the most vast collective that one can imagine.
Up until this point, I had thought that transcending to empathizing with the total collective was the end point, but it’s not. And then I thought that transcending to planetary consciousness was the end point, but it’s not. The outer limits are the universe itself.
At that level of existence, there is no ‘me’ or ‘you.’ There is just the vast expanse of the universe.
So what is the path? Honour, heal and transcend the self.
Instinctual, survival self. You have to honour the survival self and its critical function to help us survive. But it causes strife, craving, grasping, addiction, primal self-centredness, and separation from others. It defends against pain and loss. We have to heal that survival self, with it’s grasping and craving, insecurity and addictions. We have to let go and transcend that self, its craving and grasping. Physical suffering.
Developmental individual ‘becoming’ ego self. We have to honour that developmental self that enabled us to develop our full capacity as an individual. But it is afflicted with ego-suffering: neurosis, jealousy and envy, shame and guilt, inadequacy, self-hate, critical self-judgement, competition, stress and the need for constant achievement. The ego self also separates us from others. You have to heal that developmental self and let go of the ego-drive to individuate, to become somebody. You have to transcend the individuating developmental self. Ego suffering.
Collective ‘subject’, communal self. We have to honour that communal self that longs to be part of a tribe, to belong to a community, to feel that kind of security and love. That tribal, communal self helps us to thrive, to go beyond ego-self and to love others in a very real, intimate way. But that tribal, communal self is also prone to criticism, rejection and alienation of ‘the other”. It is prone to defend the tribe and hate and fear “the other.” It leads to the collective suffering of social oppression, of racism, misogyny, cultural, religious and political conflict. We have to go beyond family and tribe, and even ‘stranger’ and ‘enemy’; beyond ‘self’ and ‘other.’ Go beyond collective suffering: marginalization, oppression, fear-hatred, go beyond the collective self. Collective suffering.
Self is a delusion in that ‘self’ only serves a particular purpose at a certain level of functioning and existence; it serves a function, that’s all. But our lives are more than that particular function; even our bodily lives are more than that. That’s not all that we are.
The Buddha offered many practices to heal each of these kinds of suffering. If we had no experiences of the suffering self, he would not have taught meditation, or the 4 truths or the 8-fold path, or the virtuous practices. The Buddha’s teachings and practices identify and heal these various selves and their sufferings and also help us to transcend them.
The path to the end of suffering is to heal the suffering of each of these kinds of selves at each of these stages of consciousness. Honour, heal and let go of that self. As we are able to transcend each of these selves and transcend their critical functions, the ‘self’ becomes more contingent, more transparent, more ephemeral, until it at the post-collective, planetary and cosmic levels, it disappears completely.
Overcome craving and grasping (survival, addiction); overcome ego-identity (neurosis, 8 worldly dharmas); overcome collective suffering (oppression); break through to cosmic consciousness which has no self, no needs, no self, no function, no self, no other, no self, no collective, no self.
Rohitassa Sutta: When this was said, the Blessed One responded: “I tell you, friend, that it is not possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one does not take birth, age, die, pass away, or reappear. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering & stress without reaching the end of the cosmos. Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos.”
We come into being with the whole cosmos coming into being; we evolve with the whole cosmos. The cosmos too, comes to an end, in this form, and out of it another cosmos arises. But there is no self at this level of existence and it does not suffer.
There is no suffering at the level of the consciousness of cosmic existence. And then we discover that there is no suffering self at any level, just our co-existence with the whole universe.
Then we learn how to fulfill those critical functions of survival, living as an individual and as part of a collective, without needing a self.
The softening and fading of the boundaries of self enables the flow and outpouring of love.
“So, truly, the wise one, an expert with regard to the cosmos, a knower of the end of the cosmos, having fulfilled the holy life, calmed, knowing the cosmos’ end, doesn’t long for this cosmos or for any other.” (Rohitassa Sutta).
What this sutta says to me is that the whole universe is a cosmic organism that is evolving, and we are evolving with it. Our species has the capacity to transcend all these selves and reach cosmic consciousness at a species level, but it is a process of evolution.
What we can do is practice cosmic consciousness in our lives and thereby create a path for that evolution. In this way, our own liberation becomes the path to liberation for all beings on this planet. It is another way to understand the Mahayana dharma, “I vow to liberate all beings.” Our liberation creates an evolutionary path for the whole species to evolve into cosmic consciousness.
(My apologies for the cryptic writing, but I’m in the middle of writing my dissertation, which takes precedence. But I’ve also found that if I don’t publish what I write as soon as I write it, it tends to get lost.)