By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei
When we speak about the Buddhist principle of non-self (anatman) we attempt to envision the notion of a self as expressing Universal realities without making the distinction that we are independent of all other Universal expressions. Never an easy exercise. One example of this would be that our human expression is only different from other animals simply by the complexity of our behavior — not just behavior, but our ability to reason. Our ability to learn, gain knowledge that promotes wisdom, and thus act with reasoned intent, is what advanced human specie development. In general, most individuals work to understand knowing something by penetrating what lies behind the appearance of things. This approach is good enough most of the time perhaps, but considering how our mutual causal Universe expresses itself, we need to work hard to find the change that is presented in each moment’s situation in order to awaken to truthful-realities that consistently challenge the view we have of the world around us as having some kind of permanence. Our quest for “truth” can never be fully realized when we ignore that change is always a factor in everything we encounter, so “truths” are only momentary, and a state of permanence is only an illusionary concept.
This brings to my mind several questions. Is our knowledge of things sufficient to understand how they really are? Is the language we use to describe how we are interconnected to things capable of fulfilling our needs as realistic as how they actually can? Is our Buddhist practice, as manifest in our intentional actions, able to help us realize a better future for ourselves and others? Is there such a thing as unconditional obligations in a Buddhist practice? When considering ethics pragmatically, I have great doubt about the suggestion that anything is unconditional as the driving force of self-interest is a natural aspect of the human condition. When we introduce the element of social relationships weighted against the distinction between routine and non-routine civil behavior as judged by cultural norms, we encounter possible inhibitors when we act from a feeling of what is natural to “us”, but interpreted as unrealistic to others, even when we are both using the same set of ethical expectations. These inhibitors come into play when our personal needs begin to clash with those of others.