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Excerpts about Selflessness

Dynamic of Self and No Self

We can observe a similar dynamic in the realization of selflessness, which is an important realization in most spiritual teachings. Most traditions agree that if you don’t get to a place of selflessness, you are still stuck with a self. That is also true on this path, but we see that, at some point, as realization reveals more of its freedom, it also frees itself from the position of selflessness. We can recognize that selflessness already implies some kind of memory of a self, whether as a knowing that it is possible to be a self or as an awareness that there was a self that is now gone. Either way, we are still referring to the concept of self. The mind is still thinking of its experience in terms of self or no self. But when reality manifests its featurelessness, the consciousness or the beingness is not thinking of itself in terms of self or no self. Not only are we not thinking in those terms, but those categories are extraneous to our experience. And even though these categories don’t apply and are not necessary, it doesn’t mean that the experiences of self and no self are completely gone. With total openness, sometimes it seems as if there were no self, and at other times it seems as if there is a self. So there is a fluidity and openness to experience that reveals that these are different ways that Total Being manifests itself. We see that we can experience Total Being in one way or another and also that Total Being can experience itself as not concerned and not affected by any particular feature of experience. Because of its total nonconceptuality, this openness has no problem with concepts. It can hold both the conceptual and the nonconceptual in its awareness, in its consciousness, and recognize them as valid ways of experiencing reality even though they happen to be opposites.

Integration of the Instincts Into a Perspective of Compassion and Selflessness

The wisdom traditions have recognized that a human being is mature and complete—that is, fully human—when the soul has integrated her essential nature fully and harmonized it with her animal potential. In other words, the struggle between the angelic and animal is characteristic of half-grown human beings, of incomplete human beings. This happens to be the station of the vast majority of humanity, but the complete human being, the being who is fully human, is one who has fully realized and integrated the two sides of the soul’s potential. The fully human being retains animal instincts, for instance, but these instincts are integrated into a perspective of selflessness and compassion. Even though the wisdom traditions have understood this and developed ways and methods for accomplishing it, the paths are so steep and difficult that many involved in these traditions settle for an unbalanced development that usually involves suppressing and splitting off the animal side. The rest of humanity continues the struggle, balanced on the side of the animal, which is the path of least resistance.

Our Deepest Nature is Pure and Absolute Selflessness

More precisely, to experience the absolute is to experience the absence of self, person, entity, soul, essence, substance, presence. We realize very distinctly that the sense of the entity of the self is actually a result of holding different things together with some sort of glue. The glue is the concept of entity, giving the illusion of entitihood. When this holding is relaxed, then nothing remains; there does not remain even a sense of being.10 In other words, when we realize our deepest nature we realize it is pure and absolute selflessness. We have nothing inside, even though we are the source and ground of all existence. We are not a self, and do not have a self. We are the mystery of nonbeing, the absence of any basis for self or personality. Because there is no inner content, not even sensation, there is nothing to reflect back on. The moment we reflect on ourselves, and look inward, there is nothing to perceive. Our awareness simply comes back to awareness of “external” phenomena. In other words, in the experience of ourselves as the absolute there is no self-reflection; in fact, the possibility of self-reflection disappears. Reality has a front and a back, phenomena are the front and the absolute is the back. However, since the absolute is actually nonbeing, Reality becomes simply the front. There is no back. There is no back to reflect on, no inside to look into. We are the freedom of the world, the liberation of all

The Notion of Service

It is not easy to be free from the constraints of the self—it comes at us from so many directions and in so many areas of life. Some of the angles are quite subtle, as we are seeing with selfless motivation. Selflessness is good and signifies that we are moving toward reality, but the idea or concept of any motivation already has in it an appropriation, which means that the self is there and asserting itself in some subtle way. The discovery of the self in the midst of selflessness can be challenging for us. We might feel the challenge as if it’s coming from left field, in a way that we haven’t anticipated. We might be surprised. “I didn’t know the self was there. I thought I was being selfless all this time because I served others. I’m so sure service is selfless.” Although we might not like it, the concept of service is pervaded by the concept of self. The notion of service is good, and very useful, but it approximates how reality works. Realization must go beyond approximations in order for it to deepen itself, to go to a deeper realization. Living our realization, which is what we are working with, means establishing realization in life. You see, even that language, the way I’m speaking about it, is not completely accurate. I catch myself—the language smacks of the self. When I say “establishing realization,” who is going to establish what, and for whom? We need to be careful because we use those words to mean something that is useful, but if we reify those expressions, we get ourselves in trouble again. We create another obstacle to the full expression of the enlightenment drive.

We Don't Know the Value of Selflessness Until We See Selflessness

The ego controls how you feel. If you don’t let yourself surrender to the situation or to the teaching, how are you going to learn to be selfless? How are you going to learn to let go of your boundaries? How are you going to learn to trust reality if you can’t trust your teacher when she asks you to do some simple task? You might not know why, but you trust that it is going to be good for you. Most of the time in our work it is obvious why we do certain practices. But sometimes it might not be obvious, and you won’t understand what’s useful about the activity until several years of practice. We don’t know the value of selflessness until we see selflessness. We don’t know the value of boundlessness until we experience boundlessness. We don’t know the value of surrender until we experience surrender. If you want to learn from the teaching situation, you need to let your teacher teach you. That’s part of the price you pay. But if you always have to do things according to your own choice, that is an assertion of the ego. And since your teacher knows that, she might ask you to do things that are silly, that don’t make any sense, so that you do something without calculating your self-interest. Some teachers ask students to do things for years that have nothing to do with the work simply so that the student can develop the capacity to act without being self-centered.

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