No-self care.

My last post failed to deliver the punchline.  I didn’t connect my closing thoughts about patience, forbearance, and forgiveness with the broader lesson of the sutta about the two acrobats, where I had begun.

Looking at forbearing or forgiving more as “clearing away some of the hard feelings, dislike, and confusion we have,” I became focused on “the irony that the more we focus on getting our own self straight, the less of a self we have to be smug about.”  And stopped.  In truth, however, this mode of practicing forgiveness is another example of the sutta’s teaching that we can take care of ourselves by taking care of others, and of others by taking care of ourselves.

Just as forgiving can be a way to care for others by factoring self out of the equation, so too does the sutta’s method of self-care (“practice, meditation, and continuous practice”) lead to no-self.  As the Buddha told Bahiya, through practicing meditation we learn how to experience “… in what is seen … only what is seen, in what is heard … only what is heard, in what is sensed … only what is sensed, in what is cognized … only what is cognized,”  When that happens

Bāhiya, you will not be with that; and since, Bāhiya, you will not be with that, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be in that; and since, Bāhiya, you will not be in that, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be here or hereafter or in between the two—just this is the end of suffering. Udāna 1.10

As I thought more about this idea of no-self caring, I was reminded of a practice that had helped me in the final months of Laura’s life.  I had gone on family leave and was spending all my time and energy on caring for my dying wife and our teenage daughter.  Any self-congratulatory feelings were brought up short by one of Tricycle magazine’s Daily Dharma emails with a quote from Ezra Bayda’s article on “The Helper Syndrome.”  I put each of his questions on a separate line to give myself a checklist.

Do we need to be seen as a helper?
Do we need to feel and believe that we are, in fact, a helper?
Do we need to see people as benefiting from our help?
Or do we serve in order to be seen as a worthy person?
Are we helping out of a sense of “should”?
Can we see how attached we are to our self-image, our identity?
Who would be we without it?
What hole are we trying to fill with it?
How are we trying to avoid the insecurity of groundlessness?

After my last post, it occurred to me that these questions can be asked along with some of the practices currently popular among Western Buddhists.  I had quoted the Bahiya sutta before as an alternative to contemporary “feel good” Buddhism. Now, it seems to me that Bayda’s questions can be used to help do some of these popular practices without the me-myself-and-I.

Take “gratitude,” for instance.

Do we need to be seen as a having gratitude?
Do we need to feel and believe that we have, in fact, gratitude?
Do we need to see people as benefiting from our gratitude?
Or do we have gratitude in order to be seen as a worthy person?
Are we feeling gratitude out of a sense of “should”?
Can we see how attached we are to our self-image, our identity?
Who would be we without it?
What hole are we trying to fill with it?
How are we trying to avoid the insecurity of groundlessness?

Or, the ever-popular “self-compassion.”

Do we need to be seen as having self-compassion?
Do we need to feel and believe that we have, in fact, self-compassion?
Do we need to see ourselves as benefiting from our compassion?
Or do we feel self-compassion in order to be seen as a worthy person?
Are we feeling self-compassion out of a sense of “should”?
Can we see how attached we are to our self-image, our identity?
Who would be we without it?
What hole are we trying to fill with it?
How are we trying to avoid the insecurity of groundlessness?

Just as Bayda’s original questions were antidotes to my desires for sainthood, these variations could be used as antidotes to some of the tendencies I find in contemporary practices.  I had promised a dharma-buddy that I would move on from my criticisms of me-myself-and-I “feel good” practices and write about some actual ways we can practice no-self caring.  My last post reflecting on the “two acrobats” sutta and this one are just down-payments on that promise.

 

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