Self, No Self, Without Self

Self, No Self, Without Self

Yueh-Shan Hung-tao was sitting [in zazen], a monk asked him, “When you are sitting immovably, about what do you think?”  The master replied, “I think about not thinking.”  The monk responded, “How does one think about not-thinking?”  The master replied, “Without thinking.”

This has been translated in various ways to show the distinction between thinking, not-thinking and without thinking (sometimes translated as nonthinking).

I want to highlight the correlation between self-inquiry and thinking-inquiry.

In thinking: the object content is whatever shows up.  Thinking of what to make for dinner, how to calm down a friend, and so on.

In not-thinking: the object content is thinking itself.  This is the attempt to stop thinking, which is a common aim of some meditators, under the idea that not-thinking is a correct and useful path to awakening.

In without thinking: there is no position taken with respect to everyday content, or with thinking itself.  It is a meta stance to thinking and not-thinking (which are not a polarity, for operating on different levels, as mentioned above.)

Self behaviour is akin to Thinking.  It operates at the level of everyday, conditioned content.

Not Self/No Self is akin to Not-Thinking.  It’s focus is not on everyday content, but on the negation of self as a persistent separate entity.  Hence its operating on a different level.

Without Self is akin to Without Thinking: It holds no position with regard to self content, or a negation of  self as no-self.  Life is experienced as it is, which includes the positive activities of self, and the negation of self called no-self.  It is outside the game.  All questions of self/no-self are moot.

Championing No Self is to remain inside the paradigm of self/no-self.



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