Anatta is typically translated as Non-Self; during this talk, Peter provides an alternative meaning: The absence of an enduring and autonomous self. Another of the basic concepts of Buddhism, Anicca, the ever-changing nature of subjective experience, counters the illusion of an ongoing self (This topic is reviewed during the talk on May 5, 2021). Even though a superficial view of experience strongly suggests that there is a separate self, close analysis reveals that self-experience is deeply conditioned by largely unaware memories from earlier in one’s life. During the talk, Peter reviews contemporary psychological research, Attachment Theory, which strongly suggests that human personality dynamics emerge from the countless social exchanges we all experience from our earliest life experiences–this view suggests we are all “co-creating” each other throughout life, which counters the belief that we are autonomous beings. The talk further reviews various ways that mindfulness meditation can “deconstruct” the illusion of an enduring, autonomous self (For more support, go to the archived “Guided Anatta Meditation”, recorded and posted the same day as this talk). The presentation was followed by discussion among those participating in the Zoom meeting regarding this topic.
Here are the notes prepared for this talk: Buddhist Characteristics
Next week’s talk will begin a comprehensive review of the Satipatthana Sutta, using Analayo’s authoritative text “Satipatthana–The Direct Path To Realization” as a primary source. His research finds the translation of Satipatthana to be “attending with mindfulness” rather than “the four foundations of mindfulness”. The review will selectively emphasize those parts of the discourse that seem most relevant to contemporary practices, supplemented with current psychological and neurological research which is supportive of the discourse.
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During this talk, Peter described satta visuddhi, the stages of awakening developed to provide “markers” of spiritual attainment after the time of the historical Buddha. Beginning with fulfilling the precepts and setting aside the effects of the hindrances, the cultivation of the seven factors of awakening and vipassana reveals the three characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and non-self at deeper and deeper levels of awareness. The realization of these different stages develops gradually and progressively, eventually leading to the experience of nibbana (nirvana).
Here are the accompanying notes: STAGES OF AWAKENING
Next week’s discussion will focus on the various understandings of the unconditioned from the Buddhist perspective.
This dialogue explores the Third Foundation of Mindfulness, cittanupassana, translated as mindfulness of the mind. After reading the content of the third foundation from Analayo’s book on satipatthana, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, Peter related this to what our era calls “mood”, that is, a pervasive emotional state. The neurological and hormonal aspects of mood were described. This was followed by a group discussion emphasizing the impersonal nature of moods.
During this second of two talks on the Third Noble Truth, Peter reviewed last week’s dialogue, which was focused on understanding how emotionally potent memories (karma) bias the data input through the sense doors, the result being that we “imagine” our way through life. Mindful investigation allows these emergent processes to be noted sooner, and Right Effort allows the unintegrated self states to become more coordinated and less conflicted in function. This process sets the stable platform of samadhi, and allows the integrated personality structure to be investigated, producing a process of spiritual awakening. Peter then read a long excerpt from Rodney Smith’s book: “Stepping Out Of Self-Deception-The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of Non-Self”, to illuminate how important letting go of egocentric thoughts are for the awakening process. For Those who might be interested in looking up the excerpts, they cover several pages in the chapter entitled: “Action From Emptiness”.
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The Buddhist concept of selflessness is not well understood by many Westerners. The misperception is that selflessness means emptiness like interstellar space, or a blank mind. This is not the understanding expressed by Peter in this guided meditation. When the mind is stable in focus and serenity is experienced, there’s a quality of softness or spaciousness in the mind. When the mind is caught up in the internal narrative that we call “myself”, it’s as if looking at a page and only seeing the print. The spaciousness is noticing the paper around the print as well as the print. Selflessness goes even further–it’s noticing the paper, the print, what’s around the paper, what sounds are apparent–the totality of present moment awareness without preference for any part of the experience, including the “self” that seems to be witnessing all this! During this meditation, Peter helps the listener open more and more to the inner spaciousness and quietude, until all the sensations that are in awareness have no reference to a body. Sensations that would normally be assigned a “space” in the body, such as pressure of the back on the chair, aches in the knees, sounds, etc., would not necessarily be identified as such. Instead, what is noticed is a difference in vibration, contraction, pressure, heat, etc. that exists as different than where there’s no sensation. Even the “self” that’s noting the sensations becomes another area of very fine vibrations, but doesn’t demand a location–just present awareness. This direct awareness of the field of awareness without any designation can be considered as selflessness. It’s quite peaceful, and reduces the strongly conditioned concept of self that we normally identify with.