Early on some of the Western psychologists who were beginning to learn from the Buddhist tradition – members of the transpersonal and other movements – came up with the idea that the relationship between Buddhist and Western psychology is this: “Western psychology helps somebody who feels they are nobody become somebody, and Buddhist psychology helps somebody who feels they are somebody become nobody.” This idea is not even remotely correct.
Realizing your selflessness does not mean that you become a nobody, it means that you become the type of somebody who is a viable, useful somebody, not a rigid, fixated, I’m-the-center-of-the-universe, isolated-from-others somebody. You become the type of somebody who is over the idea of a conceptually fixated and self-created “self,” a pseudo-self that would actually be absolutely weak, because of being unrelated to the reality of your constantly changing nature. You become the type of somebody who is content never to be quite that sure of who you are – always free to be someone new, somebody more.
The Buddha was happy about not knowing who he was in the usual rigid, fixed sense. He called the failure to know who he was “enlightenment.” Why, because he realized that selflessness kindles the fire of compassion. When you become aware of your selflessness, you realize that any way you feel yourself to be at any time is just a relational, changing construction. When that happens, you have a huge inner release of compassion. Your inner creativity about your living self is energized, and your infinite life becomes your ongoing work of art.
Selflessness does not mean that you are disconnected. There is no way to become removed from yourself and from other beings. We are ultimately boundless – that is to say, our relative boundaries are permeable. But we are still totally interconnected no matter what we do. You can not disappear into your own blissful void, because you are part of everyone and they are part of you. If you have no ultimate self, that makes you free to be your relative self, along with other beings.
Infinite Life: Awakening to the Bliss Within
Robert Thurman is an American Buddhist writer and academic who has written, edited or translated several books on Tibetan Buddhism. He is the Je Tsongkhapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, holding the first endowed chair in this field of study in the United States. Thurman was the first Western Tibetan Buddhist monk.
Thurman is the co-founder and president of the Tibet House New York.
Books written by Robert Thurman include:
- Anger: The Seven Deadly Sins (New York Public Library Lectures in Humanities)
- Essential Tibetan Buddhism
- Infinite Life: Awakening to Bliss Within
- Inner Revolution
- Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit & Be a Whole Lot Happier
- The Jewel Tree of Tibet: The Enlightenment Engine of Tibetan Buddhism
- The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between
Robert Thurman on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/bobthurmanpodcast