Posted inDogen, Henry's Messages

Message from Henry: “Selfless”

November 8, 2016

To study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to drop the body and mind of self and other… -Dogen


There are different meanings of “selflessness.” In common parlance we call someone selfless who acts on behalf of others, thinking little about themselves. If their behavior, in thought, word and deed, shows that their primary concern is for others, not themselves, they are “selfless.”

Secondly, in meditative Dharma training there is a loosening of the conviction of self-as-thing, and instead the discovery that “self” is a process, composed of various strands of experience. Because these strands get “tangled,” the idea of self as an entity is conjured. It’s sometimes called “identifying.” To disentangle our channels of experience can lead us to “disidentifying,” and seeing through self-as-thing to self-as-process. This is not so much a description of behavior or orientation, as of the state of things. To discover this “selflessness” is to see through a veil of illusion and discover one aspect of “anatta,” or no-self.

Thirdly, through practice and training we may come to see that even the strands or channels of our experience have no substance – they are “empty, hollow and insubstantial,” as Buddha said. Let alone self-consciousness, consciousness itself is a mirage, and can disappear. This is a further clarification of Buddha’s term “anatta.”  It can reveal an impossible marvel that is nothing at all yet at the same time the heart of all being: the “mani-jewel,” the “one bright pearl,” the “single treasure.”

“To study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to drop the body and mind of self and other,”

…as Dogen said. Thank you, Dogen Zenji. Thank you, Shakyamuni Buddha, for opening and sustaining this Way. What a selfless act that continues to be.


Message from Henry is from our November 8, 2016 Newsletter
Image: Field commitment, by Unsplash, CC0 Public Domain, from

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