September 25, 2013
Bhante Gunaratana in Mindfulness in Plain English notes that selflessness is letting go of the sense of ego which is a feeling of separation. The hindrances such as greed, lust, hatred, and anger help to sustain that feeling of separation from others. Mindfulness helps us to recognize these hindrances and let go of them.
There is a Zen aphorism: Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. How does this apply to selflessness? One of the Buddha’s teachings was called the “Second Arrow” (The Sallatha Sutta: The Arrow http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.006.than.html). The Buddha noted when a knowledgeable disciple is struck by an arrow:
“Now, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones, when touched with a feeling of pain, does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. So he feels one pain: physical, but not mental. Just as if they were to shoot a man with an arrow and, right afterward, did not shoot him with another one, so that he would feel the pain of only one arrow. In the same way, when touched with a feeling of pain, the well-instructed disciple of the noble ones does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. He feels one pain: physical, but not mental.
As the Buddha points out, physical pain exists but the misery or mental pain (as if it were a second arrow) does not have to come to be.
The way that we can avoid the second arrow, misery, suffering or whatever you want to call it, is to deeply know the selfless nature of the mental pain that is just another phenomena arising in the mind tempting us to identify with it. It does not belong to us unless we try to take if for our own (identification). Bhante Gunaratana calls identification: “disturbing phenomena with mental attitudes.”
We cannot “own’ anything if we are truly the witness. We just see all phenomena both pleasant and unpleasant, arising and falling away.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox in 1916 composed a poem about our journey through life using a nautical metaphor:
“Tis the Set of the Sail
One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
‘Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.
Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
‘Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife”
What is the set of the soul? It is engaging in mindfulness, realizing that the calm or the strife are all the same: selfless phenomena of the mind.
As you experience physical pain, look to see if you are allowing a second arrow to strike you causing misery. Can you separate the physical pain from this other phenomenon?