In the Cula Saccaka Sutta, the Buddha teaches Aggivesana that your real Self/Soul (Atta or Atman) to be like a King who rules with absolute power within his domain such that he could say things like:
– “Off with his head!” – and his men would carry it out, no questions asked.
– “Banish him!” – and the person would be taken out of the country and banished forever
– “Fine him!” – and it would be done.
What’s this sort of power called?
It is Sovereign Power – Power over your domain – “May it be thus, may it not be thus power”.
– The King is the Master of the Domain
– He wields absolute Power over his Domain
The King says, “May it be thus!” – and it will be carried out without question.
So power over the domain is the test to see whether something is really your self/soul or not.
Let’s test this out – try to apply the Buddha’s teaching rather than just read about it.
So what do we usually think is our self?
Our body? Is this body of mine my self?
Now our body fools us into think that our body is our self because we have partial control over it – we can extend our arm and it will do so – so we have some degree of natural control over it. However, we do not possess absolute control over it.
For example, if our arm gets seriously injured – we can no longer extend it – our body will no longer respond to our commands. So we no longer have, “May it be thus, may it not be thus” power over our body in this instance.
Further, if we get sick, can we tell our body, “Don’t be sick, be healthy instead” – we can, but it won’t obey us.
When we get old, can we tell our body to “Don’t get old, be young instead” – will it do so? No.
If we’re not born beautiful, can we tell our body, “Don’t be ugly, be beautiful instead!” will our body do that? No.
And when our time is up, and we die – can we tell our body, “Don’t die, live forever instead” – we can think that, we can try to command our body to do that – but our body will die anyway.
So that’s the test – “May it be thus, may it not be thus” – to see whether our body is our self or not. And it fails this test. Therefore our body is not our real self – it is anatta (not the self, not our soul) – it’s just something that we temporarily rent and use for a short period of time – and then we have to give it back to nature. The body is like a puppet – but it is our self that pulls the strings.
That’s why in Chan/Zen, they ask the meditation question to be investigated deeply, “Who is it that is dragging around this mass of flesh?” – who is it that is controlling your body? What is it that is controlling it? The answer to this question must be searched for and investigated deeply – til you understand it first hand.
So what else do we think is our self? Our mind. Is our mind our self, our soul?
Well, not the intellectual mind (comprised of our thought processes and emotions) – our intellectual mind is more like the CPU of a computer – which processes and integrates information that we receive from the rest of our 5 senses (collectively, this is called sensory consciousness). So our brain with its intellect is just like a computer, which processes information – it is not the user of the computer – not our real self. We would never say that this computer with all its computing power is me, right?
So let’s apply the sovereign power test to our mind as well. Do we have power over our thoughts? Somewhat. So this is how it fools us too – we have some power over our thoughts – to think this and that. But sometimes, isn’t it true that our mind does not obey us?
For example, if we are sad, isn’t it true that sometimes, we can’t stop being sad? (Now as a Buddhist, you will have tools to combat this – see my Vipassana 101 post) So we can’t really say to our thoughts, “Don’t be sad, be happy instead” – because the sadness will still stay around. Now we can try to fake it and tell ourselves affirmations, “I’m doing great! And getting better and better!” – so you can try this to see how well it works, but that’s all fake and is more like a bandaid, quick fix. If you haven’t solved the problem, you will still have sad thoughts dwelling in your mind involuntarily.
So no, we do not possess, “May it be thus, may it not be thus” power over our thoughts and emotions either – we do not possess absolute power over this domain either. So our intellect, our thoughts and emotions – are also not the self, not our soul (anatta).
And because they do not pass the sovereign power test – our body with all its physical and mental processes (collectively called the 5 skandhas in Buddhism) are not fit, not worthy to be regarded as the King – they are not the self, not the soul – because we do not possess absolute power over those domains.
Now this mind that we have just spoken about (spelt with little “m”) is not our real Mind (spelt with big “M”). So in Buddhism, as you can see, there are 2 types of Minds – which is an extremely important distinction to be aware of. And this True Mind of ours is indeed our Sovereign Self – it is the King, it is our Buddha Nature.