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Wednesday, June 02, 2010

How Do Love Your Self if There is No-Self?

Buddha is well known for teaching that there is no such thing as a "self" but something I have struggled with for some time is, "how does self-love fit into that context?" My therapist is trying to help me love myself more because I don't always have the best self-esteem. I believe the Buddha too has taught about the importance of self-love.

So, my dilemma from a Buddhist standpoint is, "how can I "love" my "self" if attaching importance (which love does to a degree) to a sense of, "self" is delusion that causes suffering? That conversation with my doctor brought this to the surface, and I'm fairly perplexed by it. One is always learning on this path, so, I'd love to hear what your ideas are upon this conundrum of mine. I have some pretty wise readers, so I am hopeful that some of you can shed a little light upon my road-block (bowing).

~Peace to all beings~

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Frank Reiter said...

Although the Buddha is often quoted as saying there is no self, my understanding is that in the sutras what he really says is that you cannot pointw at anything in particular and say it is part of a permanent self. thus your body, your thoughts, your emotions, your feelings, all of these are transient and not you. That is not HHS same as saying you do not exist.

If you rephrase "love yourself" as "develop compassion for yourself" you may recognize this as a common Buddhist goal rather than something in conflict with the teachings.

Here is a metta meditation that I think I got from a Jack Kornfield book years ago:

May I be filed with loving kindness
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy

Namaste and best wishes.

One said...

dIf you move towards loving or compassion for all then that would include everything including what you now consider yourself. In the future you may or may not discover that what you see as you is actually not what you think it is. Temporary bridge.

One said...

If you show compassion for all sentient beings it will include yourself. This can be a bridge to a time when you may discover that yourself is something entirely different.

Cynthia said...

First of all, the concept of enlightened "no-self" is an understanding that cannot be restricted to verbal explanation. :) I only know that when we have not yet transcended our delusions, our understanding of "no-self" is also restricted and incomplete. It will not be the same complete understanding of Buddha's "no-self".

But to answer your question about reconciling the belief of "no-self" and "loving myself", the point to note is that we are still deluded beings with an attachment to the "self" - no matter that this "self" is inherently empty.

I agree that identifying the "loving myself" concept with having compassion for all sentient beings is a very good method.

We always forget to have compassion for ourselves because we expect too much from ourselves. We may be practicing to attain enlightenment but we need to remember that it is usually not an overnight process. Meanwhile we are still unenlightened sentient beings craving happiness and afraid of suffering, just like everyone else. :)

Meredith said...

In the manner that you love the earth, the sky, the birds, trees, and flowers, you will find this deep well of love for yourself. It isn't complicated, it's pure and beautiful. You are loveable, just the way you are. And as your friends here suggest, finding self compassion is such an important step on your journey. From this tiny seed, compassion for all living things will grow.

Warm hugs,

Sebouh said...

The way I see it, the only way you can even ask us this question is by the use of a self, and a self is selfish. Trying not to be selfish seems to be the delusion, the departure from reality. From the perspective of the self, the Buddhist teaching of "no self" means that everything is self. So knowing this, just go with what you and all of us know best - be very, very selfish.

Sebouh said...

Here is what His Holiness The Dalai Lama has to say about this in his book "The Compassionate Life" (pg. 33-34, via Rev. Danny Fisher's blog):

"Love for yourself does not arise from some great debt you owe yourself. Rather, the capacity to love yourself is based on the fact that we all naturally desire happiness and want to avoid suffering. And once you recognize the love in relation to yourself, then you can extend it to other sentient beings. Therefore, when you find statements in the teachings such as “Disregard your own well-being and cherish the well-being of others,” you should understand them in the context of training yourself according to the ideal of compassion. This is important if we are not to indulge in self-centered ways of thinking that disregard the impact of our actions on others."

Chodpa said...

Sometimes trying to think oneself out of these apparent conundrums isn't that helpful.

Are you able to feel love towards yourself at time? Can you feel love towards others? Love is also a means towards insight. It helps break down the barriers between a hard sense of 'me' and a sense of 'them'. Gradually, over time, the self-centredness may diminish. This is the skilful means of loving kindness.

As it does, our knowing (not understanding) of emptiness deepens. This makes love come more naturally. Each support the other - one being to do with how things seem to appear, the other with how things 'really are'.

Don't worry about apparent contradictions - practice will rub away those hard edges!

Mramli said...

I dont see any conflicts here. The doctrine of "no-self" is to help us let go our attachment or ego. We tend to discriminate others because they're different from us, if we realize that we're all just human being and develop loving kindness then there is no conflict here.

"By letting go of our attachment we're in a way loving ourselves"

Jayarava said...

"Buddha is well known for teaching that there is no such thing as a 'self'"

He is well known for teaching this, despite the fact that he did not teach this. Though of course no one can entirely agree on what he meant when he taught that the ātman can't be found in the khandhas...

Rather than write it all out again I would direct you to what I've already written about self.

dragonfly said...

I haven't had a chance to read all the comments so apologies if this is redundant to you...

I have also struggled with this and my understanding, when it is clear which isn't always, is that this sense of no-self is only limiting when we apply it only to our own self. If we accept that it applies equally to all, then our practice of compassion for all beings must also apply equally to ourselves.

We are all struggling with the delusion of ego, yet our buddha-nature lies pure in our heart - the jewel in the lotus and all that. That jewel is the true source of our beingness in this world. Just as we strive to see it in others, to be less reactive to their less than jewel-like aspects, so too can we cultivate gentleness for ourselves when we do the same, rather than condemning ourselves as 'bad' or 'worthless'.

Pema Chodron says alot about this, most directly in her more recent CD collection Perfect Just As You Are.

How can we be walking the boddhisattva path with such a heavy heart and dim view of our own basic goodness and expect to inspire others to cross the stream with us? Why bother if it is such a miserable, nihilistic process?

Discrimination (and not the wise kind) begins in our head and can't really be transcended in the world until we get past the judgement of ourselves, with all our foibles and fantasies.

As elusive as it can sometimes be, a deep, calm, abiding love and compassion for our little no-self self seems to be the root of true compassion for all beings.

They call him James Ure said...

I understand the teaching of "no self" -- that's not my problem. I get that there isn't anything that is independent of anything else. Therefore, the "self" is delusion.

My confusion was just a philosophical one I guess. Wondering out loud how I can "love" or show compassion to myself, if I have no self.

However, the third person love answer toward all beings, (that MUST include this being labeled James) makes sense. Thanks everyone :)

Susan Higgins said...

I believe that we are all God - you, me... everyone. So, by loving God (not an external God but your internal God), you will find your answer.

Kristian said...

Don't let us think this through for you :)

Low self-esteem:

You find yourself from a situatian where you want to be something. You try and try to be the something. You fail and fail. Why so ? Are you a bad actor ?


Can you love yourself within an eternally sealed room that only has gray walls ?

Jayarava said...

To be more explicit I don't think the polemic against ātman was intended as a psychological statement. You do have a self, just not an unchanging self that transmigrates from life to life (i.e. you have no ātman). That changing self can identify with the other selves around it as similar, empathise with their suffering and feel compassion. Without any self at all I don't see how a person could exhibit human emotions in any way.

One needs to look more closely at the Brahminical doctrine of ātman found in the early Upaniṣads to see exactly the wrong-view Buddha was trying to counteract. The Brahmins weren't troubled by Western style egotism, they were bogged down in the idea that they possessed an ātman - an unchanging essence that went from this world to the next (the world of the fathers) and then returned to this world in an endless cycle. So the Buddha set up the anātman teachings in order to counteract that view.

K8B said...

How do you show compassion towards yourself?
Meet your needs - rest, food, exercise and shelter for example.
If you are unwell then care for yourself as you would a dear friend.
If you mess up then you accept it, do what you can to remedy it, make a firm resolution not to behave unskillfully again and move on.
Be kind to yourself. No name calling, no lectures, plenty of humour.
With love and kindness

Paul said...

Hi James,

I haven't commented on here in quite a while but have been reading your posts. This one made me jump up and feel the need to respond as it is definitely something that I can relate to on many levels.

I too suffer from very low self esteem and have always had difficulty in 'loving myself' but I am certainly able to love others.

I understand what people are saying here as that there is no self as it 'individualizes' (hmmm that word contains the word DUAL) ourselves when everything is connected and everything we do is reflected in everything else. So how could we love ourselves without loving everything else. Its a contradiction to not love everything, we are all one, we love flowers or whatever it is so therefore we love everything else.

Saying this, James, I too understand mental illness as I too suffer in that way so I can certainly relate to how quizzical it all may seem. I can relate to "I love everything and others, but I hate myself".

I'll be very interested in the responses to this post.


They call him James Ure said...

Thanks everyone.


I hear you. Thank-you for relating to what I'm going through. It means a lot coming from someone who struggles with the same thing.

Dharmadhatu said...

I also tend toward low self-esteem, and I wonder about the significance of that vis-a-vis Buddhism.

Perhaps when you say "How can I love myself if there is no self?", you are saying, "How can the following four states come about?: The aggregate of feeling is feeling pleasure. The aggregate of consciousness is sensing the five aggregates including itself. The aggregate of cognition is perceiving the mental construct "aggregates". The aggregate of volition is intent upon love." When these four states coincide, that is loving oneself.

I regard "self" as an abbreviated way of saying "the aggregates of form, feeling, cognition, volition, and consciousness". The mistake is to suppose that "self" is anything more, or to suppose that these five aggregates are permanent. To love oneself is to love one or more of the aggregates, which of course means that the aggregates, coinciding in the above-described way, love one or more of the aggregates. Seeing as this is rather complicated, it's rather understandable that the aggregates should coincide in such as way as to be a person thinking in terms of self. It simplifies things.

But you know what? Maybe self-esteem is valued by modern psychotherapy, and self-doubt is valued by Buddhism, and these are simply contradictory thought systems which simply make contradictory prescriptions. Or maybe not.

Rob Gee said...

James --

I relate powerfully to what you are struggling with. I too have schizoaffective disorder and I underwent an expansion of consciousness when I was extraordinarily negative, particularly about myself. Simply put, I hated myself... Enough to manifest my own death numerous times. It was a real struggle to overcome this self hate, but I did so in much the way that has been suggested by previous commentators.

What started with a mere understanding of interdependence, oneness, etc. eventually became something that completely altered the way I perceived myself and the Universe. I can now say that when I look myself in the mirror, I see All That Is, and when I look upon another, I see All That Is, and when I eat a piece of bread, I eat All That Is. My warm-hearted compassion extends to All That Is.

This deep recognition of unity enabled me to love myself the same way I love my girlfriend, the same way I love my dog and cats, the same way I love my mother.

When I realized that my love could be truly Universal and that to exclude myself from that would be completely backwards, it all made sense. After practicing that for a year or so, it finally became real to me.

I was the last recipient of my own love, but today I love myself.



They call him James Ure said...

@Rob...Oh, wow, it's rare to meet a fellow schizoaffective. It's quite a unique disease. As for the love and compassion for all and oneself I like how you worded it.

I'm getting there but sometimes get frustrated with setbacks from the mental illness. However, the way you wrote it out really reflects the reality you and I face with the SA disorder.

I feel oneness profoundly often as well and many times I feel that love for all (including me). It's just now and then when I go through a period where I struggle with self-esteem.

@Dharmadhatu...I like what you said about Buddhism and self-doubt. Some feel self-doubt it counterproductive but I feel much can be learned from doubt. Blind faith never seemed to do much for me except plunge me further into delusion.

Rob Gee said...

James, it is really something else living with SA. Outside of mental hospitals you are the first person I have encountered who has this condition. I find it both humorous and remarkably coincidental that we are both online blogging about Buddhism, random bits of philosophy and so forth. The conscious expansion that comes with SA really made me stop and think about everything that I experience, and I consider myself so blessed to have had conscious realizations of interdependence, unity, non-Self, etc.

It helped me a lot to stop thinking of myself as a sick person and start thinking of myself as a gifted person. The same ability to manifest reality that once had me plagued by demons who tried to possess my body and kill me now allows me to have conscious communion with Christ and Buddha. That same ability to affect reality now allows me to do things like take people's headaches away with the power of my faith and theirs.

SA can be an extraordinary gift and there is a purpose to everything.


Fr. Robert A. Dalgleish said...

I'm a Christian but am drawn to the "monism" of Buddhism i.e., all are One. In other words that we and God are one.

"We live and move and have our being in God." (Acts 17:28). Also Jesus said, "I and the Father are one." (John 10:30), also ". . . that they may be one as we are one: (John 17:22. These and others suggest that Christianity while considered a dualistic religion may in fact have "Monistic" i.e., we are one with God, roots that need - just maybe - to be rediscovered.

Do you know any Christians/Buddhists interested in exploring this with me?

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