Anam Thubten’s training in Tibet and his years of experience teaching Westerners are beautifully distilled in his remarkably clear book, No Self, No Problem. This excerpt describes the core of the spiritual path.
When awakening happens, there is no longer any desire to become someone other than who we are. Every previous idea of who we are vanishes and along with it the pain, guilt, and pride associated with our body. In Buddhism this is called no self. This is the only true awakening. Everything else is a spiritual bypass. This awakening is what we should be aiming for from the very beginning of being on the path. It will rescue us from falling into unnecessary spiritual traps.
When we are openhearted and ready to drop our previous perceptions of self, then spiritual awakening can happen at any moment. There is a beautiful analogy. Imagine a dark cave that hasn’t been illuminated for a million years. Then one day someone brings a candle into the cave. Instantaneously the darkness of a million years vanishes. Like that, when your true nature is realized there is no longer this “I” searching for anything else. The awakening has nothing to do with our background. It has nothing to do with whether we have been meditating for a long time or not. It has nothing to do with meeting impressive teachers or gurus. It is simply dependent on whether or not we are open to it.
This opening, this receptivity, is basically related to our ability to resist arming the ego with concepts and ideas. A true spiritual path transcends all concepts and belief systems. It is not about reinforcing the mind’s illusion of self as an identity. It is not about being a Buddhist, a saint, or a better person. It is really about deconstructing all of our illusions without any mercy.
It is very important to look into our mind to see what we are looking for, what we are seeking. This is especially relevant when we are going to receive spiritual teachings. When a spiritual teacher impresses us, we might discover that our desire is completely antagonistic to authentic awakening. Perhaps our mind is looking for comfort, for validation, for a spiritual high, or a new set of beliefs. Sometimes our ego convinces us that we are realizing this sense of no fixed self but at the same time we are holding on to another concept like trying to be sacred or spiritual. Holding on to concepts such as “sacred” or “spiritual” while we are working towards transcending self-attachment is very subtle.
Perhaps this sounds like a lot of work, like an arduous insurmountable task. It isn’t when we find the secret ingredient. That is to know that this “I” is a fictitious entity that is always ready to wither away the moment we stop sustaining it. We don’t have to go to a holy place to experience this. All we have to do is simply sit and pay attention to our breath, allowing ourselves to let go of all of our fantasies and mental images. Then we can experience connecting to our inner world.
As we begin to rest and pay attention, we begin to see everything clearly. We see that the self has no basis or solidity. It is a complete mental fabrication. We also realize that everything we believe to be true about our life is nothing but stories, fabricated around false identifications. “I am an American. I am thirty years old. I am a teacher, a taxi driver, a lawyer…whatever.” All of these ideas or identities are stories that have never really happened in the realm of our true nature. Watching the dissolution of these individual stories is not painful. It is not painful to see everything dissolving in front of us. It is not like watching our house burn down. That is very painful because we don’t want to lose everything. Spiritual dissolution is not like that because what is being destroyed is nothing but this sense of false identities. They were never real in the first place.