A Summer “No-Self” Reading List

One of the major themes in Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now is how we live driven by the “little me.”  Our actions, our thoughts, our feelings flow out of this one tap:  the ego tap.  And does it flow!   It keeps us stuck in patterns, it leads us blindly into mindless pursuit of meaningless pleasures, it strips us of our ability to relate to each other.  It plain old makes us miserable.

It’s a big undertaking to move to a maturity of spirit that allows us to put our ego in its rightful place.   Because once we do that–Wait!  There’s more!  We’ re still not done.   We may finally get to the stage where our ego is in our pocket, safely tucked about, to be pulled out to comfort us like a hankie, or played with like a set of keys.  But many spiritual traditions talk about emptying our pockets and moving into that realm of no-self.  In Buddhism, it’s called anatta, which recognizes the illusion of identification with the self.   In Christianity, the goal of no-self is union with God–breaking down the boundaries that separate us from God and merging into the Divine.

I think of an egg, as beautiful a solid as a solid can be, being cracked, broken, and then folded gently into the Oneness of God.

So, here are a few books that I’ve found to be helpful in understanding this a little more.   Maybe not light summer reading, but great reading nonetheless.

No Self, No Problem by Anam Thubten This book is very easy to read–twelve short chapters address such things as Meditation, Inner Contentment, Mindfulness, Acceptance, Transcendent Wisdom.  I noticed I have a few dog-eared pages with quotes I particularly liked:

Liberation is the cessation of all mistaken beliefs.  Mistaken beliefs become obsessions.  Obsessions are ego’s shameless effort and struggle to once again sustain its flimsy existence. Our thoughts are taking us for a ride without our permission We are hiding under this shell of ego, protecting ourselves from that divine rain.  We are afraid of that rain because it is going to destroy all of our illusions.  So we are hiding constantly under the shell of ego, trying to escape from the divine shower.  We are being blessed in each and every moment so we don’t have to do anything ultimately.  We don’t have to go anywhere.  All we have to do is come out o that shell called ego and let ourselves take a break.

 Stepping Out of Self-Deception:  The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self by Rodney Smith I read this book about Insight Meditation earlier this year, carefully and with lot of highlights.  He talks very conceptually, and building these concepts (such as “Primary Intention” and “Secondary Intention”) takes a bit of time, but if you put in a short amount of time to grasp these concepts, you will be paid off in insight.  His writing style does make it hard to find a good sound-bite, but here are a couple of good ones:

Reality is not fixed, but instead changes depending upon the perceiver.  We actively configure reality by what we think about it; we see what we want to see and become what we want to become.

Intention through seeing the absolute necessity to change, which is born from insight.

Insight usually takes a long time to integrate its way into spontaneous action and starts out as something we saw, and therefore something we ‘should’ do.  But the energy of the insight cannot become integrated into the body through a ‘should’ because the insight is being arrested within a mental paradigm.  What integrates insight quickly into consciousness is deliberate action.

The Path to No-Self:  Life at the Center by Bernadette Roberts This book is a road map to the unitive state, in which the endgame goes beyond joining the self to the Source/God to a place where the self ceases to exist.   Once again, this is quite conceptual and dense reading, and in my mind it bears some similarities to St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle.    Bernadette Roberts takes us on her own journey on the mystical path she took, and despite the ineffability of this path, like St. Teresa, she is able to articulate the six unique phases to union with God in the progressive death to self. Her journal entry at the moment in which she felt her self as being gone–absorbed in the unity of God–tells what the feeling is like:

What has happened is more than a union of wills, more than silence and peace; it is the total union of the faculties wherein I am only capable of attending to the present moment.  No thought ahead or behind.  To keep in this state I seem to need only remind myself of what I am doing.  I say to myself: now I am driving, now I am shopping, now I am writing, etc.  My mind seems incapable of wandering.  To wander is fruitless and unnecessary, and to force the mind is a sin.  So as long as I lose myself in the present moment, all is well; but to think of the past or future is like kicking against the goad and causes unnecessary suffering.

I have long had one of Bernadette Roberts’ quotes on my bulletin board in my home office.  It says to me so assuredly that “all shall be well,” in Julian of Norwich’s words.  This quote is actually from a follow-up to The Path to No-Self, called The Experience of No-Self:

Until we go beyond our notions regarding the true nature of life, we will never realize how totally secure we really are, and how all the fighting for individual survival and self-security is a waste of energy

Beyond the Self: Teachings on the Middle Way by Thich Nhat Hanh  If you only have a long weekend at the shore and you don’t have time to get into Bernadette Roberts, read this little discourse by Thich Nhat Hanh. In it, he focuses on a couple of core Buddhist teachings like The Sutra of the Middle Way and Dependent Co-Arising,

Dependent Co-arising is sometimes called great emptiness (mahasunyata). The word ’emptiness’ means free from all notions, ideas, and attachments. You can’t’ say phenomena don’t exist, you can’t say they do exist, you can’t say they’re born or they die, you can’t’ say phenomena are the same, you can’t say they’re different; all phenomena lie in their nature of emptiness and cannot be grasped.

If we look carefully into the twelve links of Dependent Co-arising, we will see the teachings of emptiness. The Buddha said, whoever sees Dependent Co-arising sees the Buddha, and whoever has seen the Buddha has seen Dependent Co-arising. In our daily lives, we may ask, “Wo am I? What am I doing here? Where did I come from? Where will I go?” These are philosophical questions. The Buddha said the reason we ask such questions is that we are caught in the idea of self, in the idea of me and mine. If we can see Dependent Co-arising, we will not ask these questions anymore.

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse  Great classic, great “long weekend” book, and great if you’re really in the mood for fiction, because profound spiritual truths are conveyed in the form of a story of the life of Siddhartha. I just re-read this recently and it was like good leftovers–much  more satisfying the second time around.

Think on These Things by Jiddu Krishnamurti  Back to some mind-bending ideas. Krisnamurti was well-known as a spiritual teacher and writer in the 20th century. He had a “conversion” experience in his youth which brought him to a place of mystical union. From that point on, it was difficult to see division in anything. He said the “truth is a pathless land.”  Here are some of the notes I have highlighted in this book:

The mind that dies every day to the memories of yesterday, to all the joys and sorrows of the past–such a mind is fresh, innocent, it has no age; and without that innocence, whether you are ten or sixty, you will not find God.

If your heart is full of love, then you never ask to be loved, you never put out your begging bowl for someone to fill it.

The man who is joyous, really happy, is not caught up in effort.

There is fear as long as you want to be secure.

There are a few more I could mention, like Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, and Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa, but alas, I’ve run out of time for today!

Happy reading!

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