Stepping Out of Self-Deception: The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self, by Rodney Smith — a book review by Peter Carlson

I bought this book at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies on the last day of my 3-month retreat at the Forest Refuge, on the first day of December, 2012.  I started reading it that day and just finished it today, April 29, 2013.  This is a much longer period of time that it usually takes to read a book on the Dhamma, the reason being that it’s a remarkably deep rendering of anatta, the Buddhist term to describe the complex interdependence of my lived experience.  This is a book to savor—to read a bit at a time, allow an inner space to grow, then revisit.

This doctrine was developed by the Buddha as a contradiction to the prevailing belief in the culture he lived in.  In that doctrine, the essence of humanity was considered to simply be an emergence of individuality, known as atta in Pali, the primary Buddhist dialect.  Anatta simply means the absence of individuality, an enduring self or soul.  Anatta is one of the three fundamental characteristics of Buddhism: anicca (impermanence), dukkha (the dissatisfaction produced by craving and clinging), and anatta.

Rodney Smith has a style of writing that expresses very subtle and complex aspects of anatta that is both understandable, enjoyable and accurate.  My appreciation of his writings may be the result of my more than 30 years of studying and practicing Buddhism, so this book may not appeal to every reader.

Here are some chapter titles: “The Sense-of-Self”, “Questioning the Known”, “Selfless Intention”, “Language Entrapping View”, “Free Awareness from Self-Control”, and “The Resolution of Paradox”.  If any of these titles seem attractive to you, perhaps you will enjoy this book.  As for myself, I imagine this is a book that I will repeatedly read and ponder.  —I wish you well, Peter Carlson