Chanshi Niepan on the Self

Lunhui: The Tathagata said that there is no self within, outside, or as the body and mind since all things are empty of individual cores. But, couldn’t it be said that, whatever interacts with this mind and body, is the self then? That as I breathe out, I’m breathing out myself. As I sweat, and water evaporates and then falls as rain, this rain is myself?

Niepan: For all things to be Self, means that there’s still attachment to things, and to self-views. If there’s attachment, then there’s aversion and confusion. If there are attachment, aversion, and confusion, then there’s suffering.

Because from confusion comes sorting appearances; from sorting, comes pleasant and unpleasant feelings associated with sorted appearances; from feelings associated with appearances, comes attachment and aversion. Since all appearances are impermanent, is and isn’t are always switching places, that’s why attachment and aversion cause suffering.

The view, “This is Self,” is based on sorted appearances. “All is Self,” still holds the view, “Other,” within it, because without, “Other,” there can be no basis for, “Self.” Without sorting appearances, that view can’t arise.

Lunhui: So then the only way to be free of suffering is to view all things as empty, as not-self?

Niepan: Not-self and empty also arise from sorting appearances. It’s another extreme.

Lunhui: But Buddhism is supposed to be the Middle Way between extremes, and emptiness and not-self are fundamental Buddhist teachings.

Niepan: There are no fundamental teachings, and there is no Buddhism. Those are also sorted views. To create Buddhism, we have to sort it out from everything that’s not-Buddhism. Since we’ve sorted it, we’ve fated it to impermanence. If it’s impermanent, then there’s nothing fundamental about it.

Lunhui: If there’s no self, and no not-self, then what is there?

Niepan: Vimalakirti’s, “Thunderous Silence,” is the direct teaching, the Middle Way. Just this is what the Buddha Awoke to; just this is what he passed on to others. Everything else is a helpful means to point confused minds toward their source.

But, really, we can’t speak of pointing, confused minds, sources, Vimalakirti, or teachings. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas practice heterodox methods and pickup extreme views for the sake of all beings.

Lunhui: What is this, “Thunderous Silence?”

Niepan: (Sat silently).

Lunhui: I don’t understand.

Niepan: The ears don’t hear it, thoughts can’t think it, and the mind can’t know it. It has no dwelling place. It’s heard with no-ears, thought with no-thought, and known with no-mind. Non-dwelling is its dwelling.

When there’s neither confusion nor wisdom, attachment or non-attachment, aversion or non-aversion, the empty field will shine by its own light, and there’ll be nothing left for you to accomplish.

Lunhui: I still don’t understand.

Niepan: That’s a good start.

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