George Grimm starts off his excellent book, “The Wisdom of the Buddha” by asking one of the most important questions, “What am I?”
(As opposed to “What is the world?” – because it’s possible that if you know who or what you really are – then the world may not interest you much longer).
So you can ask yourself this question right now – who are you, really? What are you? Are you just this lump of flesh with physical functions, its thoughts and emotions – or is there more to it than this?
He then takes us through a process of deep reflections:
The External World – as conveyed through the 5 outer senses – is not my Self
- The sights we see with our eyes
- The sounds we hear with our ears
- The scents we smell with our nose
- The flavours we taste with our tongue
- The physical objects we touch with our body
So these are all external things to us. Because we have to use our senses to touch/contact them – that’s the only way we know that they exist – they first have to pass through our senses first before we can be aware of them.
Suppose ALL these external objects that we sense with our 5 senses – were to disappear… their destruction would not touch my true Self.
In other words – suppose you sit still with your eyes closed in a quiet room – so that no external sense objects are impinging upon your 5 senses. So all of your senses are not being activated – so all of your senses become quiescent – so the external world has disappeared for people in deep meditation – their reception of the external world has been switched off. Their attention no longer wanders outside into sensory stimulation and the delights of the world of the senses externally.
So the outside world of the senses has disappeared for them – and yet – this disappearance of the external world (see the Rohitassa Sutta for more) – no external sensations impinging upon them – in no way touches the essence of who they really are.
So therefore, the external world – as conveyed to you by your 5 senses – has nothing to do with your True Self.
Mental Objects (dhammas/dharmas) are Not my Self
The 6th sense is thinking/cognition – used by the organ of thought (the brain). But what is thinking anyway?
The “objects” of thought – are actually the objects of the 5 senses and their relationships with each other – these form all possible phenomena in the external world. So using the information from our 5 senses, the brain integrates and constructs thoughts, ideas, abstract concepts and pictures in our imagination. In the Shurangama Sutra – the Buddha calls thoughts and memories as being like “shadows” of sensory information that the brain creates.
Yet these “objects” of the the organ of thought (brain), i.e., thoughts, ideas, memories, concepts and imagination – are just creations of the brain created from the external stimuli gathered in from our 5 sense organs – even though utilize them – they’re not even real. So they have nothing to to with my real Self either.
So thus far, we’ve eliminated all of the objects from our 6 senses – ALL “objects” from our 6 senses (called the Sabba or Sabbe dhamma – which comprises the 6 senses and their objects) – can not possibly be our true Self (for the reasons mentioned above). Hence why the Buddha said sabbe dhamma anatta – all phenomena (perceivable through the 6 senses) are not self – people think this is an absolute no self statement, but “All phenomena” only applies to all the phenomena of 6 senses as defined in the Sabba Sutta (it does not apply to noumena).