The Great Minds of Philosophy series continues with our discussion on Buddhism. Explore what liberates an individual from the false sense of self and how to experience true reality. In this episode, we dive deeper into some core concepts of Buddhism, including:
How to Experience True Reality Transcript
Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let's begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I'm Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We're so excited to host part two of our series on Buddha. We were doing a series this summer on the great minds of philosophy. Last episode, we talked about Buddha. Of course, we have so much to cover, so we're going to continue this episode going a little deeper. But before we start, if you are listening to us on Spotify, iTunes, any other podcast hosting services, we'd love for you to subscribe, so you do not miss another episode and can listen to part one of this series.
Robert Maldonado 01:03
I'd like to dedicate this show to our students in the spiritual teacher training program. They're just a joy to work with. We love you guys.
Debra Maldonado 01:13
Today we're talking about Buddha. The last episode we talked about the Four Noble Truths.
Robert Maldonado 01:19
We introduced this idea of Buddhism and Buddhist teachings as a philosophy. Again, we approach it more from looking at his teachings as philosophy and also with the point of view of psychology. What was he getting at? What gold is there in his teachings that we can use today? There's a couple of aspects, last time we talked about the Four Noble Truths. Number one is that life is suffering. Number two is that attachment and desire are the cause of our suffering. There is a way out of suffering. The fourth one is that the Dharma, Buddha's teachings, are the way to transcend that suffering. Now we go into some of these aspects of what are the subtle implications of Buddhist philosophy. There are three really important ones: that the world is impermanent, life is impermanent, in general.
Debra Maldonado 02:25
It's so obvious, but it's not. When you start just thinking about it, it really is mind blowing. The second one is the concept of no self, which is also mind blowing, especially if you grew up Christian, you have a soul., there's this unique part of you. Buddhism is like “That's not even there.” It's very different.
Robert Maldonado 02:50
The last one is the implications of if there is no self, what about karma? The final one is this idea of emptiness, which is central to Buddhist philosophy as well. Let's start with the impermanence of the world. This is not metaphysics because we can verify this. Try to find something that is permanent, that is stable, that is always there in the same way it was even a few seconds ago. You won’ find anything in the manifested universe that is always stable and constant.
Debra Maldonado 03:35
Galaxies are constantly moving, we’re on a rock hurtling through space, stars are being recreated and destroyed every moment. Even in those rock formations — if you go out to Utah, you see those rocks, they've been there for millions of years. Guess what, they didn't always look like that. Millions of years of the wind hitting the rocks created these amazing shapes. If you haven't been to Canyon Lands in Utah, it is incredible, or Sedona. Just to look at these shapes that come out of the rock being smoothed with all the wind. It feels solid when you look at it, but it's actually impermanent because a million years from now it probably won't be there anymore, definitely not in this shape.
Robert Maldonado 04:21
Even very solid appearing objects, if we look at them through a microscope or through whatever instruments we have, the molecules are in constant change and movement. There's nothing that is permanent, still, constant.
Debra Maldonado 04:44
The good news is that maybe nothing good lasts, but nothing bad lasts either. Wherever you're in life, it frees you that you're not stuck anywhere. We're always in movement. We can be repeating that pattern, but to know that when it's impermanent, there is an end to suffering, it's going to pass. This too shall pass. I've heard this many times before, you've probably heard it too: the happiest day of your vacation is the day before you go, because as soon as you get on your vacation, the time is ticking away, you're thinking about going back to work, it’s one more day left, you're not really enjoying the moment because you're really attached, then impermanence of time, you're always moving through time. It’s very interesting to contemplate, when it comes to even striving for good things because they can't last.
Robert Maldonado 05:45
Buddha is inviting us or teaching us to accept this fact, not to ignore it, also not to despair about it because it's a function and principle of the universe. It is simply the way we exist. Our bodies are impermanent, every material aspect of the universe is impermanent. Therefore, if we fool ourselves, if we act as if things are permanent, we're setting ourselves up for suffering. It's one of the principles of suffering, that we're misperceiving our reality and acting in the wrong way.
Debra Maldonado 06:30
It feels a little insecure, there's a groundlessness about life, there's nowhere to stop. But also that's the reason why we suffer, because we're looking for that place where we're finally going to be happy, we're finally going to have the things we want, when everything's all going to line up, and it just isn't there. We have a false sense of security when we think things are set and we can relax, then life happens.
Robert Maldonado 06:56
Something wonderful happens when we accept this fact, we relax, we understand that this is the way life is, we embrace it in its impermanent nature. Of course, we see human beings have done it all along, simply enjoy the ride and enjoy the experience. Not only out of pleasure, if tomorrow we die, let's just eat, drink, and be merry, but in the sense of we can do this life with compassion, with thinking about others, helping others ease their suffering. It's not just the philosophy of nihilism, of what's the point if nothing's going to last. Buddha includes these ideas of cultivating the best in our nature. It's a very rich and complete philosophy in that sense.
Debra Maldonado 08:03
It makes you feel uncomfortable, but then it shows that before, what you believed was a false sense of security. You're now questioning, it opens up to ask other things about life, which is number two: if nothing's permanent, that means we're not permanent.
Robert Maldonado 08:22
There is no self. This is another principle of the Dharma that there is no self. This includes our idea of an individual's soul. In Buddhism, in the traditional Indian philosophy of Buddhism, he preached that there is no self, there is no core to us. Instead, he says, we are formed out of these aggregates, we’re made up of these interconnections with the universe, with the world. He says, there are several: form, feeling, perception, mental formation, and consciousness or awareness. You put these together and receive out of these forms the sense of self. The sense of self emerges from these aggregates, the conjunction of these elements.
Debra Maldonado 09:30
It's different from the self in the Vedanta, where it's the collective everything. This is more of the ego, the individual conscious self, there's a you that is there, it appears to be a you. In one of our lectures we went to the Buddhist center, she was like “If you had your arm cut off, is your arm part of you? Is that you? Are you not you anymore without your arm?” If you cut your hair, if you change your clothes, it's all separate parts of our body. When we think about people with dementia, they don't have the memory. Where is that person? Is that the same person? There is a movie called Still Alice, it came out about 10 years ago, but it was really interesting. If you don't remember who you are, we’re our memories, we’re our identity, what degrees we received, what awards we've won. We think there's an ego I, we cling to it. If you try to figure out where that I is, it's not in the brain, it's not even in the body because our body regenerates itself every seven years. Everything is impermanent, like we said before.
Robert Maldonado 10:49
There’s scientific information or data that points to this fact. If we think about how our body is created, first of all, we have genes that half come from our mother and half from our father. Already, there's an aggregate of two things coming together to form this new body. This idea of aggregate certainly was on the right track.
Debra Maldonado 11:24
Even about epigenetics, there's things we inherit in our genetics from our ancestors that we take on as I, culturally, fears, personality traits. Are we our personality? If you think about when you're a child, the 12 year old in you, the 5 year old, the 25 year old, 45 year old, are they different people? Are they an individual rising separately? Is that part of you? Do all contain you? Or are you you now, and that's not you anymore? It’s a challenge to the mind because we just assumed that as long as we have a body, this is me, I'm the sum of my past experiences, I'm identified with all those things. Buddha says there is no you, which is a hard concept because we want to be someone. Our ego wants to be someone.
Robert Maldonado 12:33
The illusion is seamless. Our mind creates a sense of I as ego sense that is very powerful. It functions very well in the world, it helps us survive, helps us fit into society, yet it's hard to find because it doesn't really exist. It's an aggregate or an emergent property of these aggregates.
Debra Maldonado 13:00
In Jungian psychology, we talk about projection. Even other people's ideas of you, your parents’ idea of you, a lot of people identify with “People like me, I'm a friendly person, I’m likable, I’m kind.” Those are also aggregates because it's all in context of behavior, experience, perceptions of others and your self perception. How do you define who you really are in the world if you're always looking for other people to help you define yourself?
Robert Maldonado 13:33
That would be lent credence to this philosophy that these aggregates — genetics, epigenetics, conditioning, learning, cultural inculcation of what is proper behavior and what is not — all these things come together to give us a sense of ourselves. But which one are we? Are we the genetics, are we the cultural being, or are we learning our narrative about ourselves? All these things together contribute to that sense of self. But if you tear them apart, you see that there is no true self.
Debra Maldonado 14:22
In meditation, the goal is to drop that ego, to drop that sense of self. If there's no pre-conditioned expectation of your life and who you are, you can be anything at any time, not attached to what other people think or how you see yourself, there's a freedom there. When we identify with our personality or accomplishments or failures or successes, we're trapped. We feel trapped stress of trying to be somebody. The ego wants to be somebody. Feelings too, that's another one.
Robert Maldonado 15:06
Feelings are an important element in conditioning of the way we feel about circumstances, relationship, situations. They imprint strongly on the mind and give us a sense of ourselves and what we can expect from the world.
Debra Maldonado 15:27
Feelings are impermanent as well. A lot of people, myself included in the past, label people as an angry person, or she's a sad person, she’s an aggressive person, he's a pompous, arrogant person. We label people. Feelings, expressions they have, what they pull from us, we label them. Then ourselves, I'm tired, I am depressed, we identify with the feelings we're having.
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Robert Maldonado 16:51
We can see why the West would see this philosophy as nihilistic. What's the point, if there is no self, if we are simply in this impermanent universe, suffering? What's the point? But again, there's a liberation that comes when we accept these practices of meditation and compassion. It liberates the individual from the false sense of identity, it gives you freedom to really experience the true reality. We're going to get to the true reality when we get to it. Let's go through karma first. Because if there is no self, what is this idea of karma? Karma is supposed to be the good or bad karma, as people think about it.
Debra Maldonado 17:55
You did something bad, so something bad's gonna happen to you. There's an ego, or persona acting that gets a reaction.
Robert Maldonado 18:04
It goes back to the idea that karma only applies if you're caught up in the delusion of being yourself, in ego and persona, thinking of yourself as the body. If you think of yourself as a body, then certainly karma is going to apply to you.
Debra Maldonado 18:30
Karma is cause and effect. It's not some deity in the world, dictating what’s happening. It's basically what you put out, you get back. If you work really hard and get success, that's karma. If you're lazy, you don't move and don't do anything, your karma is going to give you a certain result, cause and effect. We want to take it without judgment, there's no good or bad. It's just a cause and an effect. What happens with us is that we think that when bad things happen to us, we must have done something bad to deserve it. When we're acting, in order for us to judge something as good or bad, we have to have an ego, because it's always connected to us. Your failure, your success, your achievement, your setback, it's always identified with the self. As long as we're identified with this ego, we have karma and feel the effects of it. But if we're seeing ourselves beyond the ego, we're free of that, we can act out of choice, we can act out of freewill. We teach in our coach training that karma is about conditioning. Iif we don't identify the ego’s conditioning of cause and effect from early in life and all through life, we're constantly being conditioned, we end up not having control over our destiny because we're just living out the reactions that we set up in the past.
Robert Maldonado 20:11
We see the repetitive history, people replay their old patterns over and over again. It's a law of the universe, if you believe yourself to be an I, an individual ego, it has to go by its past experience, which is the karma, the karmic imprints playing out over and over again. The way to freedom from this karmic wheel, of course, is through meditation, practice of the Dharma and development of compassion and the higher elements of the mind to reach nirvana. In nirvana, you experience emptiness. Again, you can see why people accuse Buddha's philosophy of being nihilistic, but emptiness is not empty in the way we think of emptiness as nothingness. Here emptiness is more the sense of pure awareness. Pure awareness is empty because it has no objects. It itself is not an object. A good way to put it is that there are objects that have experience. But the experiencer, or what allows that object to be experienced, is empty of those objects. If we remove the objects, the experiencer is still there. In Vedanta, in the Upanishads, this is defined as the true self. But Buddha decided that because that would contradict the sense of no self, he called it emptiness.
Debra Maldonado 22:13
A good practical example of this is two people having the same experience of something unpleasant. Let's say they had a setback with money, they were concerned, a bill came in that they didn’t expect. One person, if their karma is always worrying about money, always feeling in lack, is going to have a different experience, they're going to be attached, they're going to give all power to the money, to the bill, to the external, and suffer and say “I'm bad, I might have bad credit”, all the things we identify with money in our identity. The other person can have the same exact experience but with non-attachment, using that experience to be non-attached, notice that they used to be like person number one, but they are working beyond that. The idea of emptiness means that the event itself is empty of meaning. It's the person who experiences it, or the ego tied up in it will experience the same event based on their karma, based on how they have been conditioned to see the event. But the event itself, we can say that's a terrible thing but we don't know if that setback motivates that person to go off and be wildly successful or makes a person go deeper into despair. They get that choice. It’s all about how the mind approaches the event. The emptiness in mind fills in the aggregates, it fills in all the narrative of what that means from the past and places it on that experience, but the experience itself is empty.
Robert Maldonado 24:09
In the Upanishads, Brahman, the universal consciousness, is often described as niguna. Guna means quality, so niguna means no qualities. It's empty of qualities. This is the emptiness Buddha was talking about. He experienced it directly in nirvana in his deep meditation. He decided to teach it this way that at the core of our being is this emptiness, pure awareness that has no objects, it has no qualities to it. Just like in Dao, the Dao that can be named is not the Dao. That's the same principle here. Anything that we name as consciousness is not consciousness because consciousness is what’s allowing us to think, ask the question, perceive, and experience. But it itself has no qualities.
Debra Maldonado 25:21
If you think about just the quality, name, and form, you go into a restaurant, see a server, and label that person a server, you don't see anything else but that person being a servant to you, getting your food, taking your order. You don't know what's going on in that person's life, you don't know what other dreams this person has. We collapse people and things into this limited snapshot with labels, that’s a very limited way to look. I always think about people. We were at a restaurant the other night and talked to the waiter, he told us his story. It was so interesting to know this person besides being a waiter, as this person, what they're experiencing, what their life is like. We want to dig deeper a little bit and not collapse everything into a judgment. The ego loves to do that because it needs to survive, it needs to take what we learned in the past. It's a security mechanism, “I know how to deal with this, I know what to expect.” But it limits us because when things happen, events happen, we meet people looking differently, wearing uniforms, doing certain jobs, we have an assumption of who they are. We collapse them. Or even having an emotional outburst, someone who's fighting with a clerk, you collapse that person into that identity. We’re not freeing ourselves, we're not freeing that person from that framework. This impermanence, this no self is a more fluid way to be in the world and less suffering. It takes practice because our ego is conditioned to act this way. We need a way to practice. The best practice would be meditation, it’d be a good way to start, self inquiry, meditating on this idea that it doesn't have any meaning, except the meaning I give it.
Robert Maldonado 27:29
This philosophy technically arose from the Upanishads, like yoga and Vedanta. It's essentially the same message couched in a different cognitive structure. Buddha was very much into systematizing our cognition and our human experience, so that we could reach nirvana. How do we free ourselves from the misperception of the world as permanent and ourselves as a false self? Through understanding the principles that the world is impermanent. What we're seeing is an appearance very similar to the concept of Maya. It’s illusory in the sense that the meaning we see in the world is our meaning. We're the ones that project meaning onto it, it itself has no inherent meaning. He goes even further and says that the objects, the world that we experience, does not have an independent existence from our mind. We’re creating it as we experience it.
Debra Maldonado 28:53
So what we're experiencing is our mind.
Robert Maldonado 28:57
Further than that, he says this no self, the experiencer of the world, it appears there are two things, there's the world and there's this self, this I. He says even that is an illusion because the I is also an object in the world.
Debra Maldonado 29:18
In one of our spiritual retreats in Greece, you had said “You're an object in the Maya, this illusory world.” I was like “That’s really mind blowing to think that you're watching yourself as an object instead of you.” There's objects in the world, you are also a part of the objects. Another player on the team.
Robert Maldonado 29:43
The realization of this emptiness is nirvana, it is total freedom from this karmic wheel of suffering.
Debra Maldonado 29:56
I love the idea that nirvana is something that's in us already, it's just suppressed by our suffering, our identification with the ego. When we drop the ego, it naturally arises. It's not something we have to go and cultivate. “I gotta feel nirvana, I gotta go to a beach and bathe in the ocean and be in nature to get nirvana”, it's already there. It's just dropping the suffering, it naturally arises.
Robert Maldonado 30:24
It's more of a letting go of this false identification with the I.
Debra Maldonado 30:30
It's actually so hard to keep hanging on to the side, it's tough. When we let it go, it's so freeing, we wonder why we hung on to it for so long. It’s a process, it's not something you can do in a retreat on a weekend to just let go of your I. You go back to the world, and guess what, everyone's operating with their little I all around, you're back into the world again. It's a lifelong practice of mastering this idea. The concepts are so simple, but they're so life changing. You don't have to go to a cave in the middle of nowhere to experience this or have that metaphysical experience. You can practice in your everyday life. How do I let go of my attachment? What meaning am I putting onto this? Who am I? That's one of the big meditations to sit with. Who am I? Am I my arm, my hair, my clothing, my digestion, my illness, my health, my perfect body, my chubby body. All this stuff we identify with that makes us unhappy. If we just sit with it and practice, this wisdom is ready to understand. Wrapping up, life is impermanent, there is no self, the way out of karma is to drop the ego. After that you achieve nirvana, or emptiness. Thank you, Rob, for a fantastic talk on the Buddhism. We’ll be continuing our series. Before we go, I do want to remind you, if you are listening to us on the podcast services, don't forget to subscribe before you click the next episode to make sure you get notified of every episode. We're going to continue our series on the great minds of philosophy. We'll have another episode for you next week.
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