Strategies for Deconstructing Jealousy
Freiburg, Germany, March 2004
Session Four: Voidness
Let me review a little bit. We were speaking about examples of some type of emotional problems that we have and we were using, as our theme, jealousy. And without repeating the whole analysis of jealousy and envy, what is underlying it is a basic confusion about reality, about how persons exist: “me” and “you,” “me” and others.
And one of the phenomena is that we think in terms of solid categories – for instance, “winners” and “losers.” And then, we not only imagine that these categories are solid, with solid lines around them, but we also imagine the same thing about “me” and “you,” that we’re sort of, you know, solid entities with lines around us. And then, like sorting vegetables into two bins – the solid “me” into the solid “loser” box and the solid “you,” and probably everybody else, into the solid “winner” box. And freeze it in the refrigerator.
“Me” and “you,” we’re not talking about them as categories, like apples or oranges. That’s getting a little bit confused here, because in a sense “me” and “you” are categories, because everybody thinks of themselves as “me” and we all think of everybody else as “you,” so those are categories. But here I was referring to individual items: an individual “me” and an individual “you.” We’re not just talking about vegetables and fruit; we’re taking about one particular vegetable and one particular fruit. We need precision when we’re talking about very delicate things like this. Otherwise, we don’t get a clear idea.
Now, we spoke about what is the issue involved with the whole discussion of voidness in Buddhism. We’ve discussed this. And what we’ve seen is that it’s really talking about what proves – or establishes, is the technical word – what proves that something exists? And it’s a delicate word; it’s not what makes it true, “prove” is really the meaning here. The same word is used in the Tibetan context to prove something.
Now the definition of something that exists is something that can be validly known; not like invaders from the fifth dimension, that can’t be validly known. We have a fantasy that there are invaders from the fifth dimension, but there are no such things. It’s not a valid mind that would see them. That would be a hallucination, or a vision of paranoia.
OK, so now the issue is how do we know that, “I’m a loser and you’re a winner?” What proves it? Not so much how do we know, but what proves it? What proves that, “I’m a loser and you’re a winner?” It’s an interesting question, I mean if we think that, “I’m a loser and you’re a winner,” well, what proves that? Or is it just a fantasy? Because obviously if we’re upset, it’s on the basis of that we believe it’s true. We believe that, “I really am a loser,” that that corresponds to reality, and everybody else are winners. Isn’t it?
And it feels like that, that’s what so terrible. I mean it feels like that, so we believe it. Because this confusion and these projections just automatically come up; it’s not that we have to think about it and decide, “Ah, yes, let me look up in the dictionary, ‘loser’, ah, yeah, that’s what it means and that’s what I am.” And, I mean, it just automatically came up. OK. In some cases it is like that – you don’t know what sort of disease you have, and you have to go to the doctor, and the doctor gives you a piece of paper, “You have this disease.” But here in this case it’s not quite like that, is it? It would be amusing, wouldn’t it, if we went to a doctor or advisor, and they gave us a piece of paper certifying that we’re a loser.
Translator: Many people look up in help books in the Internet to find out what they have, and they get into all sorts of projections.
Alex: Right, absolutely. So that’s even more a demonstration about what I’m talking about. And out of paranoia, you know, the people who look through all these medical websites, ones that go crazy in terms of self diagnosis, that they have this or that disease – that’s even more of a demonstration of what I’m trying to explain here, and what voidness is talking about.
Now, there are these categories, “loser” and “winner.” So we have to examine what has made those categories. And we see that categories which are designated by words – you know, we have a word “winner,” we have a word “loser” – categories are based on definitions, aren’t they? OK, so, where do these definitions come from? Well, somebody made it, the mind made it, didn’t it?
Now, if we look at life in general. What is going on in life? Ya? Life is made up – if we speak in a very general word – moments of experience of countless number of individual living beings. Everybody is experiencing every moment of their lives – animals, insects, everybody. And, what they are experiencing? Events, that’s what they’re experiencing. Things are happening. And these events don’t have to be very dramatic; the event could be standing up, the event could be scratching our head, the event could be moving our head and looking over there, the wall over there. This is what our moment-to-moment experience of life is all about, isn’t it, its contents.
And each moment of experience, each event, is different. Now, for any individual being there’s continuity of events, and they make sense. They follow one another; they’re not random unconnected moments. And we’re not the only ones; it’s not only one movie playing, as it were. This is going on with countless beings: countless moments of experiencing of events. And even if we look at something like motion, moving the cup from this part of the table to that part of the table, that’s made up of moments, individual moments. And those moments are different. It’s a different event. Now there’s the moment of moving my hand twenty centimeters toward the cup, and now the next moment is moving my hand, the hand is now eighteen centimeters from the cup. And the next event is moving the hand… You know, like that. Every moment is different.
Now, how do we make sense of these moments of experience? Well, we look for patterns, don’t we? So, we look for some defining characteristic. We’re talking about defining characteristics that would help us to classify and, in a sense, digest and relate to the event into some larger category of what’s happening. And how do we classify it into this category of what just took place? With the defining characteristic of the category. Now, the defining characteristics that we’re looking at here can be very varied. And the categories that we can use to apply – the technical word is “mentally label” – what’s going on, can be quite different, and there are many, many ones which can be valid, which can be accurate.
Let me try to illustrate that with an example. The example is the event, let’s not put it into words, unfortunately it doesn’t get on to the tape, but I will do an event. OK. What categories can I include this event in? OK, so first category is moving my arm. I mean of course that gets into a weird thing of who moved the arm, but let’s leave that for a moment because that’s a further complication. Let’s collect some more.
Alex: Well, when we talk about an event, an action – I was nourishing. Drinking. Taking a drink. What else happened?
Translator: Giving an example.
Alex: Giving an example, right. I was giving an example. What else happened?
Translator: Having thirst, being thirsty.
Alex: Being thirsty. And also trying to eliminate the thirst. But maybe I wasn’t really thirsty, it was just habit, I want to stay more awake. And did I just take a drink or was the event also drinking some tea?
Translator: You were doping…
Alex: I was doping. What else? Being nervous. Well, we have to check is that accurate or not. That’s an interpretation.
Translator: To put the cup back…
Alex: Right. Drinking wasn’t followed by dropping the cup on the floor, for example. What else? Was I teaching the class? Was I breathing? Was I being in Freiburg? So there are many things that were going on; many categories that we could accurately use to describe the event. That’s what we we’re doing, aren’t we? We’re describing the event.
Each of these categories of activity that we use to understand the event – they are based on a certain definition, aren’t they? The words had definitions. So now the question is what proves that what was going on fits into that category? What makes it fitting to that category?
I was illustrating an event and one of the categories that we put it into was taking a drink. Now, the question is where are the boundaries in which that event begins and the event ends? So how do we form the category? That’s an additional question, but the first question – the question that immediately I can answer – the question is what sets the boundaries?
Translator: In this case you made the definition – “I make an example” – so you set the boundaries.
Participant: Because you said there is a continuity of events…
Alex: Right, there’s continuity.
Participant: And you were saying, “Now I’m giving an example,” but still it was a continuity.
Participant: So in this case you were setting a boundary that maybe most of us accepted. But actually what makes it into a category if you’re saying, “This is the piece that I want to look at?”
Alex: Right, this also is arbitrary. You know, where we parcel out an unbroken continuity of an experience. Because we saw that we could parcel it out differently in terms of moving my hand from my side to the cup – that was part of the event – or drinking – that was part of the event.
But actually drinking is just when it’s at my mouth. So, that was a smaller part of the event, or we could also include putting the glass back on the table, or we could fit it into a larger parcel of a continuity in terms of teaching the class. But I don’t teach the class all the time. So we could also fit it into a larger parcel of breathing. That’s totally arbitrary, how we parcel out the continuity.
And that’s what’s often a big problem – we focus on one small event of our lives and we blow it out of proportion. You know, “I lost my job” or whatever. Or, “This person just yelled at me,” and it becomes the biggest event of our life and we lose the larger packet of our whole life’s experiences. Seen in the perspective of a whole life’s experiences, this is just one little event. Like you’re two years old, falling down and bruising your arm. At that time it seems like the most horrible thing in the world. But in the perspective of our childhood, let alone our whole lives, it really is no big deal.
So, what fits into our definition of drinking? Does it include the intention and wish to take a drink before I moved my hand to take the cup? Did it just end after the tea was in my mouth? Or did it continue when it went into my stomach? What about the rest of the time, after it left my stomach? Is that also in “drinking a cup of tea?” So, even the boundaries of taking a drink are arbitrary. Not totally chaotic; in arbitrary, I mean that it could be set in different ways.
Question: She is stuck with the question how could she possibly know that the definition is accurate.
Alex: Thank you, that’s where I want to go back to the discussion where we left it before the question. How do we know what makes the event fit into any of these categories? What proves that it’s in this category? What proves it?
Alex: [repeats] So we made the category, and the definition fits the experience. Well, what proves that?
Participant: I made the definition…
Alex: You made the definition, so then, is there anything on the side of the object that’s going on that allows you to label it correctly? I could also label what you might call “scratching my head” as “drinking.” Wow I decide that I’m going to use the word “drinking a cup of tea” for this action, what you might call “scratching my head.”
Participant: So we have changed the language.
Alex: OK, we’ve changed the language. Or we’ve change the meaning.
Participant: That’s because we have the same language, that we say it’s not valid.
Alex: Ah, we have the same language and that’s why we say it’s not valid. Very good. I mean this is a very important point that we just sort of said like that. Are any defining characteristics findable on the side of the object? And if they are, that allows you to put it in a correct category, in an accurate category, where are they? Considering that it’s a continuity, you know, each moment is different. Not totally different because they’re related, but it’s different.
And here we’re talking about something that I think is a little bit more obvious – an event, an action. That we call “drinking” or “breathing” or “moving my hand,” stuff like that. It’s a little bit more sophisticated in terms of an object. But with an action, I think it’s a little bit more clear. Take a moment to actually reflect on that. That’s not something that you just say, “Well, ah, yeah, OK, now what?” The consequences of that are enormous.
So, was there something present on the side of the content of each moment here that made it fit into the category of “drinking?” In each moment that made up the sequence that we called “drinking,” was there something inside each moment that states the same? I mean it would have to state the same that made it a part of the category “drinking.” And then also something there that made it part of a category of “moving something.” And something there that made it part of the category of “being in Freiburg.” Something that made it into the category of “teaching,” “class.” It would be very packed, wouldn’t it? With things on its own side, in each moment. Wouldn’t it?
And if we had people observing, who spoke many different languages, uhhh, would it be packed with the different words, because how do we know a word is associated to a meaning? What makes that? From the side of the events, from the meaning side, from the word’s side, where?
Translator: She makes a point that we talk about the events like an unbroken chain as if they were coming from nowhere and going, but beforehand, this morning you mentioned the items “motivation” and “aim.” So actually she says that the chain of events has to do with the motivation and the aim.
Alex: And not only does it have to do with the motivation and the aim, it has to do with all the causes as well, as in the person who made the tea, the store that sold it and so on, because all we’re doing is drawing a line, to speak about a certain part of it. And it also has all the consequences that follow from that. From drinking this as in not dying from thirst, being able to continue to teach.
And we’re not only talking about the causes and effects that are connected with my own personal experience. Also all the causes and effects which were part of other people’s experience, as in the kind motivation and thought of the person who made it, and also the effect such as somebody in the room sees me drinking this and it acts as a circumstance for them to have the thought, “Gee, I wish I had a cup of tea.”
Translator: I hope he’s not jealous.
Alex: They could be jealous also, of course. But that’s a very good point, that’s an excellent point – and they could be jealous. It acts as a circumstance for a disturbing emotion to accompany the next moments of their experience of their life. Cause and effect – it’s not limited to any specific time period. Actually it’s endless, in both directions of past and future.
So it’s just how we make sense of each moment of our life. And we naturally make sense of it in terms of these categories and language. And it’s not just for our own sake to be able to make sense of it, but also to be able to communicate with others. We’re not the only ones in the world, and being able to communicate, share experiences and so on, is totally dependent on this.
Even on the most basic level of watching me drink this cup of tea, if each of you took a photograph of that, the photograph would look different, because each of you is seeing it from a different angle and a different distance. Yet, we are able to agree on a – here’s the key word – “convention.” Based on having a common language, that that was drinking a cup of tea. It’s amazing, isn’t it?
Some of these pictures will be in focus, some won’t. And some of you maybe weren’t paying attention. And so at that moment, if you took a picture of what went on with your eyes, maybe it was the wall, or maybe your eyes were closed. But you agree even if you didn’t really see it or pay attention, “Well, yeah, sure, I’m drinking a cup of tea.” I mean it leads even further – now I’m playing with you – what proves that I drank a cup of tea? You can come up here and in my stomach, and some tea pours out? Was that the drinking? Maybe that liquid got in my stomach a different way. How do you know?
Once you start this deconstruction process, in a sense everything starts to fall apart from the side of the objects. But it’s not now nihilism, nothing. You have to be very careful. And how do you know, when you look inside the cup and you see a certain level of different colors, white and brown in there, and you see there’s more white than brown, how do you know there was more brown tea in there before? How do you know? What proves it? It’s not there anymore. Was it ever there? How do you know?
Hmmm, you need to relate to previous experience… I mean there’s a lot of things, but nothing from the side of the object. You can’t find anything on the side of the object; it’s all proven, everything is demonstrated from the side of the mind. And conventions, but conventions are made by the mind. And language, language is made up by mind. Definitions, they’re made up by mind. And how do we know that it’s accurate? What makes it accurate?
Well, you said it before, there’s a commonly accepted language, a convention, that’s the first criteria. It fits in to the convention that we’ve all agreed upon and words. And it’s not contradicted – I mean the way it’s said in Buddhism is with a few negatives here – it’s not contradicted by a mind that validly sees conventional truth. What that means is that if you take a picture of it and your hand was shaking, or you didn’t take the whole picture and you know, you were looking at part of the wall, or you had your glasses off or something like that, so you thought it was something else, or there wasn’t enough light, but if you turned on the light and you held everything in focus, this is the conclusion that you would come to. It’s not contradicted by that. It’s in a sense reconfirmed. It was an accurate seeing; it wasn’t a blur or something like that. So you have to check.
And the third criteria is that it’s not contradicted by a mind that validly sees the deepest truth. So, if you have some wild fantasy, like there was something findable on the side of the object that made it that, this is like saying there was an invader from the fifth dimension on the side of the object. When you really know what’s going on and see accurately, understand accurately – it contradicts that. So it has to be not contradicted by something that validly sees the deepest truth, what’s going on. And all of those are coming from the side of mind. Nothing from the side of the object.
Question: What you express is that somebody who would look at the deepest truth, he would not contradict on a conventional level it was drinking tea?
Alex: No. It would not contradict on the deepest level that there was nothing on the side of the object that made it into a drinking.
Question: And the other side?
Alex: Was that the mind that has the glasses on and so on wouldn’t contradict that what you saw was drinking tea?
Translator: On the conventional level.
Alex: On the conventional level. The conventional truth of what happened. It’s not that these are two separate levels, you know, in different realms; they’re just two facts about the event. Was the drinking of a cup of tea and what made it a drinking of a cup of tea – that was nothing on the side of the object. That’s what void; void of anything on the side of the object that make it a drinking of a cup of tea.
So let me apply this to what our relevant topic is here. “I lost my partner.” “I lost my job.” “Am I a loser? I think I’m a loser. What makes me a loser?” OK, now, if one were to describe the event “to lose something” – that’s pretty abstract, isn’t it? In terms of each moment of what happened. But OK, we have the convention and the word “lose.” You lost the job, and you don’t have it anymore; lost the partner, the partner went away. So it fits into the convention of losing something. That’s accurate. That’s what we’d call it, that’s what everybody would call it.
Second criteria: If I went to the office again, other people would say, “What are you doing here? You lost your job.” And so, it’s not contradicted by what they observe. I go to my old partner again, and my old partner and his or her new partner look at me and say, “What are you doing here? It’s finished.” So that’s the second criteria. Maybe I was wrong; I thought I’d lost my job, but I didn’t. So I go there, and check up. Maybe I forgot, maybe I’m confused, I’m getting a little old. This proves that I lost my job, we ask the other people.
Now, the third criteria, and this is the most important here. “I think that I’m a loser, I’m a real loser. There’s something inherent and findable on my side that makes me a loser, and something inherent and findable on your side that makes you a winner, and so I feel deeply hurt and I’m extremely jealous.” So it’s as if there’s something on my side, some findable defining characteristic on my side, made me fit into this category, this box, this word “loser,” which is just a convention, we saw, that puts me there, dooms me there forever.
So now, if we really think about it, from what I said, that’s contradicted. Because when we investigate, where do I find these defining characteristics of being a loser? It’s not anywhere. Where is it? Is it in my nose? Where is it? In my mind? Where? And what event made it there? Was it there always? From the moment I was born, where is it? It’s only a convention to describe the event. That’s all, nothing more. I’m not inherently a loser. That’s ridiculous. Then our emotional response is totally different.
Question: As I followed the discussion, the first argument was that the trees are common to any culture; they all know tress. But then you said, well, one culture or one language draws the line between a tree and a bush at a different level, at a different thing. So that proves that it’s an arbitrary category.
Alex: Right, it’s culturally and linguistically defined.
Question: Yes, because it’s culturally and linguistically defined, and we see that they define it differently, so this is the proof that it’s arbitrary. So then, her new idea is to say, but there is the recognition of a human face common to all and any human society. There’s not even one human society who would mistake a human face for an ape’s face.
Alex: Well, that’s very clear. Look at all this big scientific discussion about evolution and what point in evolution, you know, finding all these bones from ancient times, can we say that in the evolutionary process that this is in the category of “ape” and this is in the category of “humanoid?” I’m saying the boundaries, what makes it a human? Or what makes it an ape?
Now, to say that these categories are linguistically and culturally defined – and we were using this loose word “arbitrary,” which is maybe not a very responsible word to use, I must say, I will confess – it doesn’t mean that it’s chaotic. That anything can be called anything. That’s why we have these three ways of validating, of labeling. But the question is – and this is the objection that always comes up – but isn’t it really a tree? Isn’t there really a tree?
This is why we say, well, there’s nothing really on the side of that object that proves it’s a tree. Now you get to a deeper level of understanding, it’s like an illusion; like an illusion. It seems that there’s something on its side that makes it into a tree. It’s not like that. Yet it functions; yet other people who know that same language and agree on the same definition would also call it a tree. They wouldn’t call it a dog.
But this is a more subtle level to really understand, that’s why you start on an easier level, with, “I don’t fall through the chair, to the floor.” Even though on the deepest level I know that it’s not solid. I know that the chair is made of atoms and the atoms are made of subatomic particles, and that’s mostly empty space. And I know that the same thing is true of my body. Nevertheless, I don’t fall through the chair, the chair functions to support me. But the fact that it supports me, does that prove that it exists as chair, or that this thing exists as a tree? There’s a little bit of a problem with that. Because how do you know it functions as a tree? What proves that it functions as a tree? It gets complicated.
Translator: I can make a chair out of it.
Alex: Yes, but the whole question of function is getting back to this question of drinking. We’re talking about actions. Cause and effect, the connection between cause and effect, that’s a very deep, subtle question. Because there’s only one moment at a time. What connects them? What connects each of these moments, so that in the end we say they perform the function. And what perform the function?
So it’s a very complex thing, that’s why on a simpler level, on level one or two or three, you’d say what establishes, what proves that it exists is that it functions. But then we have to be careful here; “I think that there’s an invader from the fifth dimension under my bed.” Does that function? “Well, I’m scared out of my mind.” But the invader from the fifth dimension didn’t cause that; my belief that there is an invader from the fifth dimension caused it. So all these things, one has to look very carefully. And also what is it that’s functioning.
So, you can use that criterion on a simple level of “it functions,” therefore that proves that it exists, and make a division between what exists and what doesn’t exist, like the invader from the fifth dimension. But as I said, that is still a superficial understanding, not the deepest.
Question: This deconstructing of categories, as a dissolving attitude, a dissolving way to approach things, like you have the solid box of a loser and you slowly dissolve, you deconstructed. So in the end where does it lead to but to an enormous insecurity? And the second point was, like in the postmodern society there’s much been spoken about emptiness, but it doesn’t mean voidness, but it means an emptiness of meaning, of ethics, of rules and so on. This deconstruction that we have in the postmodern and he liked it to be distinguished…
Alex: Right, that’s the nihilist thing. When we talk about voidness in Buddhism, what are things devoid of? It’s devoid of anything on its own side that proves that it exists. That’s what’s absent. It doesn’t mean that nothing exists. How does that exist? Like an illusion. What proves that it exists? Well, there are words, people agree, it’s not contradicted. And be satisfied with that – that although it seems to be solid and all these other things, it’s not – so the voidness – but nevertheless, everything functions. And that’s enough. Don’t worry about it, no reason to be insecure.
But of course, when approaching this, it does make you insecure. That’s why one great master, Tsongkhapa, when one of his disciples was meditating on voidness, the disciple all of a sudden grabbed hold of his shirt collar. And Tsongkhapa said, “Ah, this is very good, you just reconfirm the conventional reality of everything.” So we need to reconfirm that. It’s not negated. What we’re negating is similar to “What proves that I exist” – well, I think what proves that I exist is that I can go to the fifth dimension. This is ridiculous.
Equally ridicules is to think that the referent objects of our words and concepts can actually be found out there. In other words, that there are findable objects with findable defining characteristics out there that correspond exactly to these boxes and categories that words and concepts imply. And that the fact that we can find them establishes or proves that these things actually exist. But in fact you can’t find the referent object, you can’t find the defining characteristic on the side of the object, and so that’s not what proves that something exists; this is something that is totally absent. The objects, which do conventionally exist, are devoid of these things that would establish them to exist, or prove that they exist.
Now that doesn’t mean that our words and concepts don’t refer to anything; they do refer to something. But what they refer to cannot be found and do not correspond exactly to the words and concepts. As if language categories existed out there. No, they’re mentally constructed. But that’s how we know the world, that’s how we describe it. So fine, it functions. We can communicate. I can understand, fine. Enough. Get on with life. The conventional truth is not a level. It’s not as though there are two levels, like a transcendental and a worldly level – no dualism there. So there’s no reason to be upset about anything.
A Zen master, in the same situation, when the disciple freaks out, “I don’t exist, nothing exists,” what then does a Zen master do? He’d hit the disciple. “Did you feel that?” “Yes.” “Did it hurt?” “Yes.” So, conventional truth.
Question: This postmodern person that for example goes to the psychiatrist and says, “Well, although I function in this world – I can go to the shop and so on and so on, I don’t have problems with reality, I do function – nevertheless, I feel this emptiness within me, this meaninglessness within me. I cannot really connect to what I’m doing, I cannot connect to persons, I feel so alienated.” So how does this correspond to what we’re speaking about here?
Alex: That’s why all this discussion about voidness is within the context of the rest of the Buddhist teachings; it’s not just by itself. So we have in Buddhism what’s called “refuge.” That’s a misleading word. It’s talking about a direction in life; a safe direction in life of working toward becoming a Buddha, basically – to getting rid of this obscuration, this confusion, realizing how things are, the way that the Buddha has done, the way that this community of people who have partially realized it and are continuing on the way. And this is the direction that I’m going in my life, and it could be either just simply because I’m disgusted with all the problems that I have – I want to get out of it and I’m willing to stop – or, in addition, because I have compassion for others and I want to help them, because they are suffering terribly. And when I’m messed up, I can’t really help them; when I’m confused, I can’t really help them as well as is possible. So the understanding of voidness is within this context in which life has a tremendous amount of meaning. It’s not just then by itself.
So, compassion by itself is not enough, because then you get discouraged, “Oh, the people are suffering” and “Oh, my God, and I can’t help.” It’s not enough just to feel compassion and love; you have to have understanding. Because compassion by itself without understanding – you get attached to the people you’re trying to help; you get greedy for affection back from them; you get angry with them when they don’t follow your advice; you get discouraged; you get depressed. Compassion and love are not enough. And the understanding by itself is not enough, because then life is meaningless. And there’s no purpose. So, Buddhism always puts these two together, within the context of having a safe direction in life; know what am I doing in life, where am I going. Putting that direction, that’s why we say “take refuge.” “Refuge” is too passive a word, it’s as if we’re going to a game reserve and now we are saved. It’s not that. Active – put a direction in your life; a positive, safe direction, meaningful.
Question: What about the voidness of the “self?”
Alex: Right, voidness of the self, thank you. “Me,” “you” – it’s a category. Same as “tree.” But not the same type of phenomenon as a tree; a tree has physical characteristics. “Me,” I don’t have physical characteristics. My body has physical characteristics. Do I have physical characteristics? “Me?” A little bit more abstract. “Me” is – to put it in simple language – it’s an abstract phenomenon. Not something with physical characteristics, not a way of being aware of something, like seeing or anger or love. That’s a way of being aware of something, of perceiving something, or experiencing something.
So, it is an abstraction. So how is it used? There’s a continuity of experiencing. I’m not speaking about experiences that are out there; there’s a continuity of experiencing, moment to moment, the experiencing of this, the experiencing of that, subjective. Experiencing, experiencing, experiencing. Content’s constantly changing. And, each moment of experience of course has contents; you can’t be experiencing without experiencing something. So there is always contents. And that’s changing from moment to moment; it’s made up of many, many parts: visual, shapes and forms, sounds, and all this sort of things; and various ways of being aware: seeing, hearing; various emotions: anger, attachment, happiness, unhappiness, concentration, attention. All these ingredients you have, made up of an unbelievably complex network – they’re all interacting with each other, they’re all interconnected. And what’s really amazing is every single part of it is changing at a different rate. And this is what makes up the each moment of experiencing. Deconstruction, getting back to our deconstruction word.
But there is continuity. What makes the continuity is a different question, a very difficult question. On the deepest level, there’s nothing on the side of the experience that provides the continuity. There is continuity, be satisfied with that. But we think that there’s something solid there, that is there all the time, like the screen on which the movie is being projected. “Me” – I’m there all the time; that’s what proved the continuity. And unfortunately it feels like that. “Here I am. Went to sleep last night, got up this morning, here I am again. Same ‘me.’” It feels like that, doesn’t it? We certainly believe it. “I’m here again. I’m still here.” It’s like an illusion, of course, but it feels like this and we believe it. And on the basis of “You just hurt me, I’m a loser” – this solid, findable “me.”
But “me” is really an abstraction, with which we can label, designate, all this
continuity of experiencing, so that it makes sense, just as we organize what we see into trees… categories, a way of organizing it so that we can deal with it. And conventionally it’s true – “me”, not “you;” my house, not your house; my experience, I experienced it, you didn’t experience it.
OK, so it’s conventionally true, but it’s just an abstraction. We’re talking about individual “me,” of course; there’s the general abstraction, with everybody’s “me” and everybody’s “you.” But even the individual members of this category of “me’s” and “you’s” – we can use that in the plural – are abstractions. So in this case, “me” is not the same as some physical thing, like a tree. In the case of trees, there’s the category “tree,” which is an abstraction, but then the individual items in that category are physical objects, individual trees. Here, in the case of “me,” not only is the category “me” an abstraction, but the individual items in that category – in other words, the individual “me’s” – are also abstractions. And of course, individual “me’s,” despite being abstractions, are changing each moment, because what the individual “me” is experiencing is constantly changing.
Now, there’s the word “me” or the concept “me.” “Me” is not the word, is it? I’m not a word. I’m not a concept. Or an illusion. OK, so what’s “me?” “Me” is the referent object, what it refers to. Our society made up and agreed upon some acoustic pattern to represent it. It was even weird that they agreed upon a sequence of lines on a piece of paper to mean that as well. That’s really weird. That means “me.” Pretty strange for the dog, or pretty strange for a Martian, but anyway.
We have the word and concept “cup.” What does refer to? It refers to a cup, a thing. Now, what is the basis for the designation? What’s the basis for a cup? This part of the handle, that part of the handle? The rim? The empty space inside, is that a cup? There’s all these parts, and of course the causes and so on – it’s on the basis of this that I apply, our society applies a terms or a concept: “cup.” What’s a cup? Is it the handle? Can you find it? No. we have “cup,” you know, a word; sound, vibration of air. That’s not the cup, obviously.
Then there’s the basis. And you certainly can’t find the defining characteristics of a cup anywhere on the basis. You can’t find the defining characteristics of a handle; you can’t find anything. So, what’s a cup? It’s like an illusion. It’s what the word refers to when it’s designated on the basis of a designation that other people would agree. I mean, it has to be valid. You can’t call this a cup, it’s a table; you can’t call the dog “table.” So it’s like an illusion, it seems as though there’s actually a cup, but really it’s like an illusion, sort of this thing almost like in between the word and the basis. Yet it functions, despite of that.
Is it absolutely unfindable? Well, it’s only when we analyze, when we really look very deeply, we can’t find it. If you relax, and we say just in general, “Where is the cup?” “Oh yeah, it’s over there.” But it functions, I mean the universe functions, it works. But when you look really deeply, you can’t find anything; devoid of anything on its own side that proves that it exists, makes it exist.
OK, so now, “me” is an abstraction to put together a continuity of experiencing. What’s “me?” Well, I’m not the word. And all of these moments of experiencing which are made up of millions of parts, that are changing all the time at a different rate, where can I find “me” in that? None of them are me. And so, what’s “me?” “Me” is what the word refers to, on the basis of a continuity of experiencing. Is there anything on the side of “me” – conventionally true “me” – that makes “me” “me?” There’s nothing on its side that makes “me” either a “me” in general, or that proves or establishes my individuality.
And it’s a big hang-up in the West, so I have to prove my individuality. “I have to prove that I’m ‘me;’ I have to establish my individuality, separate from my parents.” It’s pointless. You are an individual; nothing’s going to prove it. Of course you are an individual. So what establishes and proves the individuality is the continuity of cause and effect of the experiencing – makes sense. Is there anything on the side of the experience that connects the cause and effect sequence? No. It really is like an illusion, but you see this is a very subtle, deep level, being like an illusion, that’s why we work first on if I can grasp that and accept it on the level of “I don’t fall through the chair, when I sit down,” then slowly slowly we get ready to deal with “me” being like an illusion. So there’s nothing that makes the continuity. There is continuity; there is cause and effect. Cause and effect is a label to describe the continuity. Can’t find cause and effect anywhere.
But we need to reaffirm: there “me,” that’s true; it’s not you. And then we have to take responsibility for our behavior, that the way that we behave is going to affect what I experience next, going to have effect on others. We have to take care of ourselves in terms of eating and getting enough sleep, not walking into walls. This sort of things. But, where we get into trouble is making the “me” into a big solid thing that I’m worried about – “Nobody is going to like me and I’m insecure.” “I get angry when I don’t get my way” – “me” – “and I have to get more things to ‘me’ to make ‘me’ secure” – that’s where we get into trouble. But just be satisfied – I exist, I function. And just get on with life, in a positive direction, further and further, trying to help others more and more – without putting this seemingly solid “me” into a seemingly solid box of “loser” when things don’t go well and we lose our job or lose our partner; and putting a seemingly solid “you” into a seemingly solid box of “winner” when that person succeeds, which is of course the misconception behind our jealousy.
So the best strategy for overcoming our jealousy is to deconstruct this whole misconception that we have about “me,” about “you,” about categories, about winner and losers and so on, and in this way we can deal with life and deal with the ups and downs of life without becoming upset, without causing ourselves and others so much suffering. And as a consequence we can perhaps be of best help to everybody.
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