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Anatta language

Anatta language means that to avoid the use of the word I there will be the more cumbersome use of Bill the experiencer, Zandtaomed the elder, and Zandtao the seeker; here is why.

As part of MwB ("Mindfulness with Breathing" by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu) grows the awareness of the 3 characteristics of anatta, anicca and dukkha yet alongside this awareness conditioning continues to create the egos that make up anatta especially. Despite the awareness there can still exist a self that is being clung to.

One way this clinging to self continues is through the use of language. Language belongs to the world of conditioning so it is not surprising that language does not make it easy to go beyond conditioning. When speaking of anatta it is usually accepted that we use I as a convention of language and that when we use that I we are not accepting there is a self just using the word I for ease of communication. There is a risk of delusion in this position as it could be a way for self to regain a hold.

Recently there was a clear example of this. At 23 I had an upheaval and have often referred to it as “I had a partial awakening”. How did this partial awakening occur? The way this sentence reads there is agency for the I in having that awakening, it is as if a self emerged from the awakening. In fact in a negative way that did happen. In writing, the period following that upheaval is described as 2nd childhood in which experience was gained, experience that included experience not gained in the 1st childhood. But what was happening during the gaining of that experience? A self that had emerged from upheaval was being built, during 2nd childhood even though there had been a partial awakening a self was being built.

Only recently did it become clear that this self had emerged. In upheaval there was a focus on the partial awakening of “I had a partial awakening”, and the emerging self was not recognised. At the root of this was a misunderstanding of what had happened during upheaval. The previous understanding was that I, a self, had grown to be aware that middle-class conformity was harmful and this growing awareness had knocked that conformity on the head leading to a loss of some conditioning and a growing self-awareness. It was awareness and this self that grew through 2nd childhood until eventually a self decided that that was enough of teaching and retired to meditate write and study.

All of this contains agency of self and this agency is not a correct understanding of anatta. There was not enough emphasis on conditioning, and when through Prajna there was a greater emphasis on conditioning then the agency disappeared. Here is how Zandtao sees the conditioning that was occurring. With the new awareness of anatta language writing is going to include Bill, Bill is the experiencer of this life prior to Zandtaomed and Zandtao. Without discussing the details of his middle-class home, recognise that Bill grew up in an environment that encouraged middle-class conformity. But Bill’s investment in this conformity was limited, in this conditioning environment there was very little self. There was no self-confidence and so much shyness because of this lack of confidence in this conformed middle-class self. When Bill went to uni through drink Bill started to experience and gradually developed an academic ego as part of this middle-class conformity. But Bill without drink still had little self-confidence other than the academic ego.

When Bill started work he had a good job, and a life connected to that job which included drinking, being Up West, and playing football for the firm’s team. At the end of this year his ego was hit because the firm said they didn’t want him – token wage increase, and he changed jobs. This change took Bill away from all that his job had attached him to – it was not Up West, and he could find no football and social drinking in his new location. He was still drinking but mostly alone. He completely failed at this second job that he didn’t care about, he had no social life and the drinking became a problem. Eventually there was a breakdown – the beginning of upheaval.

This could be seen as an emerging self but given anatta ie that there is no self what was actually happening? It is all about conditioning. Bill was being conditioned into middle-class conformity but instead of engaging in this conditioning Bill was not invested primarily because of home conditioning. Although Bill went through the motions of this middle-class conformity there was no self-motivation because there was no investment – attachment - indicated by the extreme shyness showing as a complete lack of self-confidence. At uni some egos and self-confidence were built up but through the first and second jobs these were completely blown away. At the time of upheaval there were no egos or attachments from Bill blocking the path – sunnata, and so there was a partial awakening as the path that is always there came through. That is what happened during partial awakening, because of the lack of self path could come through, and not as Bill interpreted it a self emerging.

Because of this misunderstanding even though Bill held strongly to the path his self grew and grew during 2nd childhood. But in mid-life Bill went through a mid-life review that led to his becoming a Buddhist. With the Buddhism Bill meditated, and this led to a lessening of self as he released the attachments. Eventually enough attachments were released - whilst at the same time he was fortunate enough to have sufficient finance, so he retired to meditate study and write.

This explanation by conditioning is so much more consistent. Through the assessment of an emerging self on the path why did Bill stray so far? Why didn’t his partial awakening lead to a fuller awakening? Because the self that emerged at upheaval was growing blocking the path. The self of Bill always thought the problem was that the imposition of middle-class conformity had led to the upheaval, but in that case why weren’t all the other middle-class conformed individuals breaking down and starting upheaval – their paths? It was because other people had stronger selves - were more invested in the conformity, and so could cope with the knocks. Bill had a very limited self because of his lack of investment from his home background, so when he had those knocks in the first two jobs he broke down. Because of the path’s awakening eventually the conditions arose where the path started to emerge again and Buddhism led Bill to retire to focus on meditation, studying and writing. A much better explanation, and one which is anatta – explained through conditioning and not self.

Going back to the use of language, the way language was used with the I of “I had a partial awakening” reinforcing the misunderstanding concerning the emerging self at upheaval. From now on there will be an attempt to avoid the use of I. As much of Zandtao’s analysis reflects on the experience gained in earlier life, the use of Bill as the experiencer will be used. In his life there were conditions that gave rise to the way the self Bill behaved, this will all be summarised by the use of Bill in reflecting.

This also fits in with the threshold. Zandtao’s seeking took him across the threshold as discussed – with the warning of the Diamond Sutra. Going into the unknown Zandtao’s seeking will be investigating Prajna in the Prajna Portal yet at the same time following the advice of the Diamond Sutra to accept atammayata as indicated by:-

This is the path as taught by Zandtaomed. Zandtao is seeking across the threshold but does not want to encourage seekers to follow him; Zandtao wants them to follow their path and if it takes them across the threshold it is not through following him. Therefore the teachings are limited to Zandtaomed, if the path followed through the Seeker Story crosses the threshold such a seeker will have the autonomy to decide on the threshold. The teaching stops with Zandtaomed.

In terms of language there will hopefully be no I, there will be the experiencing of Bill, the path and its teachings with Zandtaomed, and Zandtao seeking across the threshold. Anatta is so important and there is no wish for misuse of language to encourage conditioning; apologies if it appears cumbersome. After this reflection had been completed Zandtao decided that capitalisation of Zandtao, Zandtaomed and Bill is a convention of self as well, so from now on the conditions that make up Zandtao will be zandtao, similarly for zandtaomed and bill. Occasionally there is capitalisation of Path and Dhamma demonstrating priority.

Zandtao Meditation page Advice from Zandtaomed

Books:- Zanshadtao/Viveka-Zandtao/Treatise, Pathtivism Manual, Pathtivism Companion/ Wai Zandtao Scifi/ Matriellez Education.
Prajna:- Prajna, Prajna, Reflections
Blogs:- Zandtao, Matriellez, Mandtao.