Beyond Self – A Pathway to Liberating Spiritual Intimacy….
A reflection on practice by Brian Lesage
‘I am’ is a conceiving;
‘I am this’ is a conceiving;
‘I shall be’ is a conceiving;
‘I shall not be’ is a conceiving;
‘I shall be possessed of form’ is a conceiving;
‘I shall be formless’ is a conceiving;
‘I shall be percipient’ is a conceiving;
‘I shall be non-percipient’ is a conceiving;
…. By overcoming all conceiving one is called a sage at peace.
The Buddha in The Middle Length Discourses 140:31
Have you ever felt confined by another person’s way of conceiving of you? Have you had someone always see you as a negative person or a sensitive person or an angry person and each time they interact with you they keep you in that box? Have you noticed how we can do this to ourselves by confining ourselves to some small concept of who we are? Concepts and identity can be useful but when they become fixed and static, discontentment arises.
Beginning to see and become free of this dynamic offers one gateway into the Buddha’s teaching on Not-Self. In the Anatta-Lakkhana Sutta, said to be the second discourse spoken by the Buddha, he gives us a way of stepping out of the confines of this type of narrow conceiving. He states: “Any kind of [experience] …whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, …should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.'” –The Connected Discourses of the Buddha SN22:59
Here the Buddha is pointing out that freedom unfolds when we deeply see that the aspects of experience we tend to identify with are, in fact, not us, not ours, and not our selves. Towards what kind of freedom does this relinquishing of identification lead? The Pali discourses describe this new-found freedom as a heart free of greed, hatred and delusion.
In his book “Liberating Intimacy,” Zen scholar Peter Herschock frames the liberative aspect of the Buddhist path in terms of intimacy. He says “…Buddhist salvation is not a liberation of any individual ‘you’ or ‘me’ but rather of intimacy itself.” I find this a compelling and inspiring way to look at the process of becoming free of greed, hatred and delusion. It helps us to understand that the practice of this path is not essentially about liberating me, an individual self, but rather allowing intimacy to flow freely. When I no longer conceive myself, or others, or the world within a narrow, fixed conceptual framework, an intimacy with all things shines forth. The 8th century Chinese poet, Li Bai, beautifully describes this unfolding process in this poem: “The birds have vanished in the sky, and now the last cloud drains away. We sit together, the mountain and I until only the mountain remains.”
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