Non self

Recounting my dance with this concept.

Like most people, I first read about the concept of non self or soulessness in buddhist books. I was twelve or thirteen and this idea just flew past me. No idea of its significance as a Buddhist cornerstone concept. Too profound to grasp.

The 2nd time I heard about this, I caught a glimpse of its meaning. The idea made me froze with fear. I was around sixteen and attending a Buddhist class in school. Infatuated with my youth and life, proud about myself as a young adult, the idea of me not really existing made me froze with fear. That few seconds of fear seemed like a long time, as I sat stunned while the teacher ramble on from the textbook. A profound experience that I remember up till now. NONSELF, HER FACE IS REALLY TERRIFYING.

I DECIDED to run away from her. Too profound I told myself. Not suitable for beginner.


The third time I was introduced to this concept, I did not recognise it. She is presented as a female deity, blue in colour. Maybe there were explanations but my karma did not allow me to get the message. So for the many years. I just imagine embracing her like I was told.

The 4th time I met her was in a China airport. I was beginning to doubt the purpose of my imaginative lady. What’s the purpose of all that imaginative embrace? Will it lead to happiness and enlightenment? While waiting for my flight home from a business trip, I decided to spend time in a bookshop. HER picture appeared in a book about Tibetan Buddhism. Then I realise her chinese name means nonself (无我空行母). It’s like finally knowing your wife after many years. (It was an arranged marriage afterall) A smile lit up my face. Ok, I can accept that practice of embracing selflessness. The practice became more appealing to the philosophical side of me. Seems to be in line with all my past Buddhist education from Theravada and Chinese Mahayana Tradition. My relationship with this concept began to warm. I am opening up to this concept. A concept that paralyse me with fear during my teenage years.

The 5th time, I had good intimate contact with her in a cafe. A very random situation. I was waiting for my friend and decided to read the biography of Dipama and a short little paragraph made me light headed.

Dipama was a famous Theravadian meditation master reputed to be enlightened.

According to what I read and interpreted, she was visiting a western country and saw an automated teller machine (ATM) of a bank.

She asked her disciples why are the people queuing in front of a wall. They told her that they are withdrawing money from a bank.

Dipama exclaimed that the person working behind the wall must have felt terrible.

HER disciples laughed and explained that there is no one working inside the wall. The ATM is just a machine.

Dipama said. “Now that isn’t so bad, no one inside is suffering.”

My mind went blank after that. It seems like Dipa ma was speaking to me. Hairs on my arm stood on ends and the cafe just melt away for a second. Tears (of relieve) just welled up without control. I think I must have appeared completely zoned out in that corner of Starbucks.

The imaginative self inside us causes us so much pain. If there is no little man or woman trapped inside our body, operating our heart, our eyes, our nose etc. Then, it is just an automated machine running on karma isn’t it?

Why magnify the illusion of a self and in the process magnify the suffering?

I guess the years of embracing the concept of non-self metaphorically did help condition the mind to be more open to it. Like all domestic relationship, there is still conflict with my lady. Sometimes she soothes me and sometimes she confuses me.

This relationship is still on going. The dance with her is still on going. Mood swings are there and I hope I am not going mad. I guess this is the time to check and make sure my dance steps are correct…..



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2 replies »

  1. Jamyang, you definitely have a way with words. Your beautiful experience proofs again, that things truly unfold, when we are ready for it, maybe all the times before your mind or soul wasn’t ready yet to understand the entire messages, which were sent to you. Thank you for sharing


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