Experiencing the Absence of Self (Adyashanti)

Nonduality teacher Adyashanti addresses the central teaching of the Buddha, which is the idea of “self.” He invites a direct investigation and experience of who we really are: what is it that we identify as the “self” and does it really exist?


Up until you see beyond it, everything is dominated by one’s self, is it not? “I want to be awakened.” “I want to be enlightened.” “I want to have some spiritual liberation.” Which is really no different than, “I want an ice cream cone.” “I want to be loved.” “I want to be agreed with.” “I want to be disagreed with.”I like…” or “I don’t like…”

You see how the fiction of self always keeps itself center of one’s consciousness. And spiritual awakening is seeing through the fiction of that, that there isn’t actually a self in the center of one’s consciousness. That’s what this term that I use–that a lot of people don’t like, it frightens them—emptiness means “empty of self.” Full of reality, absolutely full of the divine, but empty of self.

Of course “self” wants it both ways. It wants to have the divine but “make sure I’m here” to experience it. And if you experience it then it wants to make sure it’s there to try to maintain that experience.

But anybody in this room who had even a glimpse of an awakening to “real” reality, one of the hallmarks is the absence of self. That’s the beauty of it. But most human beings, most of us, are so deeply in a trance state that it’s even hard to consider what you would be, that you could be, something other than a self.

Think of yourself as something other than a self. If you really want to confuse yourself, just try, “what could I be other than a self?” Whether it’s an enlightened self, or a little human ordinary self, or a super self, or a good self or a bad self. You see what I mean? A self that’s in heaven or hell or enlightened or unenlightened—all of that is just more self-seeking. We’re so encultured into this that it’s almost impossible for most people’s minds to actually think of themselves what they could be, the reality of them in any other terms other than a self. That’s how complete the fiction has become.

So I come here, I just come to help each person, anybody who wants—anybody who doesn’t want, that’s fine—but anybody who wants, to actually look into the nature of their experience here and now. And the first thing you might see, you might begin to see–even though your mind doesn’t understand it, even though it’s baffling–you might see there isn’t actually self-nature in any of this experience.

You might see it. You might see it like you see a teacup or orange or microphone. You’re like, “I see it, there’s really not…” Confusion is confusion. Clarity is clarity. Happiness is happiness. Sadness is sadness. Consciousness is consciousness. And there isn’t a self to which all that’s pertaining. You might see it.

It’s also possible you might go beyond just seeing it because to see it isn’t quite the same as to realize it, is it. It’s in the same way that to see an orange is not the same thing as eating an orange. So you can have it pointed out to you, “Yes, there’s an orange.” You go, “Oh, I’ve never seen one, lovely.”

But to see it, to see the absence of self, is one thing, to experience it is quite something else. But to see it opens the doorway to the experience. It opens a doorway.

It is ironic, is it not, that the thing that terrifies one’s self the most–which is the absence of self as a very terrifying notion to a lot of people–is actually the exact same thing which gives rise to liberation, the liberation from self.

About Adyashanti

AdyashantiAdyashanti (/ˈædjəˌʃɑːnti/; Sanskrit word meaning, “primordial peace”) is an American spiritual teacher from the San Francisco Bay Area who gives regular satsangs in the United States and also teaches abroad. He is the author of several books, CDs and DVDs and is the founder of Open Gate Sangha, Inc. a nonprofit organization that supports, and makes available, his teachings.

Born Steven Gray in 1962, Adyashanti studied Zen for 14 years under the guidance of his Zen teacher Arvis Joen Justi. Justi was a student of Taizan Maezumi Roshi of the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Gray (Adyashanti) was regularly sent by Arvis to Zen sesshins, where he also studied under Jakusho Kwong Roshi of the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center. At age 25 he began experiencing a series of transformative spiritual awakenings (see Bodhi).[1] In 1996, around eight years later, he was invited to teach by Arvis Joen Justi.

Adyashanti’s nondual teachings have been compared to those of the early Zen masters and Advaita Vedanta sages. Expressing both the infinite possibilities and the ordinary simplicity of a spiritually realized life, Adyashanti’s teachings are directed to those who are sincerely called to awaken to their true nature and embody this life-changing realization. For more, visit adyashanti.org.

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george says:

I want to be free from self help

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