If the I is Just A Thought, Then Who’s the Thinker?

If the mind is like a cloth, and all experiences (including the experience of self) are folds and wrinkles in it, then who’s folding the cloth?

This is what we identify with, ya know? If we just identified as a fold—a product of the mind—from the get-go, then there’d be no problem. Instead, this fold somehow clings to a folder and calls it, “I,” and the folds, “Mine and not mine.”

Essentialist faiths input a soul or essence here; nihilists or nominalists believe that there is no folder, that the whole thing just happens (or that nothing’s happening at all, dismissing the mind altogether).

Both are extreme views. The Middle Way is: “There’s no folder, no actor; but this absence of a folder or actor exists.” The same way that the space inside a cup exists. When a cup’s empty of water, it’s full of space.

The doorway to limitless loving-kindness, equanimity, and sympathetic joy is realizing that all beings are just like this: All are filled with the absence of themselves, the absence of the imaginary self/other divide. And space is just space, it isn’t a multitude. The emptiness of me and the emptiness of you are both the same.

When we realize that ignoring this fact causes suffering, that’s the gateway to tireless compassion. Each being we meet has this sense of being isolated from whatever it is they’re experiencing—this is dukkha.

The bodhisattva’s meditation object during Samatha is this spaciousness, this emptiness of subject and object. It isn’t something added to experience, it’s already present even among total delusion. It’s just, well, how often do we pay attention to space?

Q: If subject/object don’t exist, but their absence does, then how do these folds happen? Space doesn’t cause things to happen.

A: The capacity for wind is present everywhere, but it still needs a fan to come alive. That fan is karma, latent tendencies inherited from our ancestors and reinforced through conditioning. Ignorance of the Dharma is far more conducive to survival than wisdom.

Imagine where our species would be if no one ever formed the delusion of separation, or of a self that exists outside the mind. We’d probably be extinct! We’d be unable to perpetuate violence, and we owe our existence—to some degree or another—to violence. Violence is natural. We’d be unable to hate, to be jealous and envious. We couldn’t steal, not even to keep ourselves alive.

No, being wise is unnatural in this perspective. The brain’s modus operandi isn’t to paint experience as it really is but to give a derivative approximation; that saves energy which allows it to multitask and form snap judgments. These snap judgments tend to be stored and then used to interpret each similar experience in the future, which saves even more time and energy.

Returning to the source, to the original absence of self and other, means overturning conditioned and inherited dispositions, habits, and temperaments many of which were put into place for our survival in unforgiving environments.

We can do that now. We’ve come far enough to be able to set these delusions down and still survive, thrive even. Because it isn’t just us alone against the hyenas anymore; we have each other, we have our technology. Egocentric consciousness is an outdated relic that, when placed into civilization, only causes problems.

Take these mass shootings and all the rage about the 2nd amendment. This is all due to egocentric consciousness, it’s what happens when you put a wild animal in a cage; an animal that has selfish instincts put into place for its survival and the survival of its species.

We’ve gone too far to close the zoo, most of us couldn’t survive without the security that civilization offers—I know I couldn’t. But we can adapt to the ease that society offers, we can tame our archaic instincts and, by doing that, recreate this zoo into a more compassionate environment conducive to basic sanity.

Q: So what happens when we overturn our delusions? Since self and other are imaginary, is there just nothingness?

A: The absence of self and other is present right now, right in this experience. This emptiness is just imperfect, like a fart in an elevator. When we open the doors, the fart flows out, but where does the space go? The space is unaffected, fart or no fart.

This is called the perfected process (Parinispanna), it’s just ordinary experience (dependent arising) without self and other distinctions. The imagined process (Parikalpita) is the same thing with an imagined experiencer and experienced projected onto the act of experiencing.

The imagined process is thinking that there’s a folder folding the cloth, that there’s a self outside of the mind or that the mind is a self. Really, mind is the cloth and all the folds and wrinkles in it are experiences—including the experience of self and other; this is the dependent process (Paratantra): dependent on karma (meaning our inherited physiology here), mind arises. Dependent on mind, experiences arise. If karma is afflicted by ignorance, clinging, and craving then the imagined process arises from these experiences. If it isn’t, then the perfected process is unobscured.

The perfected process is just the dependent process minus that imagined folder; instead, there’s the presence of folderlessness.

These three processes are an antidote to the self-view. Realizing that they’re at work in all beings is the antidote to other-view. But it’s important to know that the perfected process isn’t some kind of realm outside of ordinary experience; we aren’t attaining some altered state that isn’t already present.

Practice isn’t about picking up something, but setting things down and letting them be. What we’re setting down and letting be is our egos and the egos of others and, instead, seeing the egolessness that’s actually present.

We already talked about one form of Vipassana. There are easier methods too that I’ll touch on later on down the trail. But the practice with the three natures is Samatha which, in this paradigm, comes after Vipassana practice.

In Samatha, we rest our attention nowhere. Each time attention grasps onto something, whether it’s a view, thought, feeling, perception, etc., we pull it away and rest it in something that doesn’t make contact with us. It’s a process of elimination: whatever you’re experiencing isn’t it, it’s a fold. What we’re looking for is the absence of the folder, a nondual awareness—bare consciousness.

Mindfulness and compassion inform Samatha practice. Dedicating the sit to the liberation of all beings from the suffering of the self/other delusion is a powerful way to free ourselves from that same delusion. And mindfulness is remembering what it is we’re doing: trying to see the absence of that delusion.

So we sit without preference, without grasping or pushing anything away, simply using Right Effort to center attention nowhere. Because, in Vipassana, we’ve already looked at everything else. So, now we’re going where Vipassana doesn’t: nowhere in particular.


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