Wednesday, June 25, 2014


‘Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what
had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.’
Alcoholics Anonymous.

‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds!’
Bob Marley.

Well, are you in prison? You will probably say, ‘Of course, I’m not,’ unless you actually happen to be reading this post while behind bars. However, I suggest to you that it is highly likely that you are in imprisonment to a greater or lesser extent. Please read on.

If there is a bedrock or foundational idea in Buddhism it is the teaching with respect to dukkha (Pāli; Sanskrit: dukha). Life is said to be characterised by dukkha. Now, this word dukkha is usually translated into English as ‘suffering’ or ‘dissatisfaction,’ but there is no one single English word that is adequate to describe or rather compress all the aspects of the meaning of the word dukkha. For want of a better word, the English word ‘unsatisfactoriness’ comes closest as it arguably includes almost everything which dukkha embraces---things such as, but not limited to, unfulfilled desire, suffering (both physical and mental), distress, dissatisfaction, discomfort, discontent, disquiet, disharmony, pain, sorrow, heartache, affliction, bodily ailments, misery, unhappiness, anguish, angst, anxiety, depression, stress, tension, insecurity, unease, dis-ease, conflict, separation, alienation, frustration, emptiness, and insubstantiality. All these things make for imprisonment.

Unsatisfactoriness is certainly a big part of our lives. This can be demonstrated empirically. For example, get yourself into a comfortable position---and now try staying in that position for any length of time. Sooner or later you will become uncomfortable and will be forced to change your position in order to get comfortable (again). And on it goes. Now think of something joyous and uplifting. Sooner or later a disquieting or otherwise sad thought will enter your consciousness. It will happen every time. All that is satisfactory will become unsatisfactory---sooner or later ... and ordinarily sooner rather than later. One thing about Buddhism---it espouses an empirical, realist psychology. That is one of the reasons I like it.

Now, this is not to say there is no joy in life. Of course, there is joy in life, but it is undeniably true that nothing in life will satisfy us indefinitely---not even joy. Really. Sooner or later, we will always find that something that gave us joy or pleasure no longer does so. We are always searching for something new and fresh---something to relieve some state of unsatisfactoriness in our lives ... at whatever point in time. In time, that new and fresh thing becomes stale, and on it goes. The teaching of dukkha simply affirms that unsatisfactoriness is inescapable and ever-present in our lives in varying degrees from one moment to the next. Here are the written words of Shakyamuni Budhha on the nature of dukkha:

This, bhikkus, is the Noble Truth of Dukkha: birth is dukkha, aging is dukkha, sickness is dukkha, death is dukkha. Presence of objects we loathed is dukkha; separation from what we love is dukkha; to not get what is wanted is dukkha. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are dukkha.

Yes, negativity in any way or form is dukkha, or unsatisfactoriness. Being born, aging, sickness, death, separation---all these things are or involve dukkha.

Buddhism would be very depressing if there were no ‘cure’ for dukkha, but that is not the case. However, we must first enquire as to the cause of dukkha, and according to Buddhism the cause is this---upādāna. That Sanskrit and Pāli word literally means ‘fuel.’ Heard the expression, ‘to add fuel for the fire,’ in the sense of making a problem or bad situation worse? Well, the word upādāna is used in Buddhist teachings to mean clinging, grasping, and attachment, and any and all of those things will simply add ‘fuel’ to the ‘fire’ of our lives. In short, clinging, grasping, and attachment (including aversion, being a 'reverse attachment,' but an attachment nevertheless), cause suffering, unsatisfactoriness and bondage of various kinds. Listen to these words of one of the greatest exponents and interpreters of Buddhism in the 20th century (indeed of all time), Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu [pictured above right]:

Wherever there is upādāna, right there is bondage. The bondage may be positive or negative, but both are equally binding. By regarding things and clinging to them as ‘I’ or ‘mine,’ bondage occurs. When bound to something, we get stuck in it, just like being stuck in prison.

All of the Dhamma principles of Buddhism can be summarized as: upādāna is the cause of dukkha, dukkha is born out of upādāna. …

In my counselling work, I teach and use what is called ‘self illusion therapy.’ This form of therapy was developed by a wonderful Australian psychologist Jim Maclaine (now deceased) [pictured left]. He was one of Australia's most experienced and respected drug and alcohol counsellors and addiction psychologists. He worked in that field for some 40 years and he helped literally thousands of alcoholics, other addicts, and persons with obsessional behaviour, to overcome their various addictions and obsessions, using self illusion therapy. I was one of the many persons Jim helped. Self illusion therapy works. I personally can vouch for that fact. 

Self illusion therapy will help you to overcome any and all of your problems---yes, all of them---not just those in the form of addictions. Actually, we are all addicted to something or someone, and generally several things. One of the things we are addicted to in our Western society is the whole notion of ‘self.’ Self is an illusion in a very special sense. When you truly understand what that means, you will be free from the bondage of self in all of its myriad manifestations.

The basic idea is that ‘self cannot change self,’ because ‘self,’ which in any event is simply a mental idea or image in our mind of the person we supposedly are, is the problem and, as William Temple [pictured right] pointed out, ‘no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavour.’ Also, ‘self,’ of which there are literally hundreds in our mind that wax and wane from one moment to the next (although some are quite persistent over time, forming part of our personality) are, as I’ve said, ‘illusory.’ 

Now, the use of the word 'illusory' in this context does not mean that these 'selves' don’t exist. It simply means they have no separate, independent, permanent existence apart from the person each one of us is. Indeed, these selves have absolutely no substance or power in and of themselves whatsoever. They are only images---not visual ones by the way---that we feel. Images of our sense of what is are. Some may be true, and some are false. Yes, they are felt images (eg ‘I am little, and less than others’). For more on this subject you may wish to read this post. Now, once a person really understands this idea, they can begin the process known as ‘letting go of self.’ The result? Freedom from bondage. Happiness. Peace of mind. Serenity. Improved relationships. And much, much more. Sounds too good to be true? Well, it is true---but letting go of anything---especially ‘self’---is never easy.

Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu, in a wonderful little pamphlet (actually, the transcript of a lecture delivered by Buddhadāsa in 1988) entitled The Prison of Life that is worth its weight in gold---it has helped me greatly in my own life---lists these ten things as the several causes of upādāna:

1. Life. Yes, life itself causes upādāna. True, life can be very enjoyable, but the far too many people live merely for the enjoyment of life. What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, it sounds great, but if that’s all we do, and if that is our sole aim in life, sooner or later we will become infatuated with and engrossed in life. In time, that will turn out to be a prison.

2. Instincts. We all live under the instincts. These instincts (not just the sexual ones) force us to follow their concerns and needs. Buddhadāsa notes how we all like to show off and brag---our new car, boat, house, clothes, jewelry, etc, etc. These are prisons.

3. Senses. The five senses plus the mind itself (which, in Buddhism, is considered the sixth of the senses [the six āyatana]) become senses without much trouble at all. Yes, these six āyatana are exactly what the word āyatana means, namely, tools or means for communicating with the external world, but the problem is we all end up serving---yes, serving---these senses in order to satisfy them. The result? Imprisonment to the senses.

4. Superstition. Religious people are especially prone to this one, but we are all victims of superstition to some degree or another regardless of whether or not we are religious in any formal sense. Superstition quickly becomes a prison.

5. Sacred institutions. So-called holy, sacred or ‘miraculous’ places, churches, temples, mosques, are prisons, and imprison those who cling to them.

6. Teachers. Adherents of Eastern religions are especially vulnerable to this one, but Western religions have their esteemed teachers, saviours, messiahs, as well. All so-called teachers imprison their disciples and pupils. In any event, they cannot grant you what you really need (that is, salvation, enlightenment, emancipation). At best, they can only point the way, and most of them can’t even do that. Each of us has to be our own teacher and disciple/pupil. We must look within to find the answer to our problems.

7. Holy things. Yes, things such as holy water, sacred relics, and all kinds of sacred things become prisons before you know it.

8. Goodness. We all, except the most evil of people, love good, and teach good to others, but as soon as upādāna gets mixed in with the good, the good becomes a prison. In fact, wherever there is upādāna, you will find a prison.

9. Views. There is a Pāli word for things such as personal thoughts, opinions, views, theories, beliefs, preferences,  interpretations, judgments---diṭṭhi. Yes, the conditioned mind is perhaps the main obstacles to achieving freedom from bondage to self. In order to be truly free we must learn to see things as they really are. We cannot do that when everything we see and experience is filtered through a conditioned mind. Getting rid of all beliefs, and seeing things as they really are, is what this whole blog is about. My mission in life is to get people to give up all their beliefs, and I suggest various ways in which people can do that in order to develop an unconditioned mind. Unless you do this, you will never be free from the bondage of self.

10.  Purity. Yes, purity (or innocence), like goodness, if clung to and ‘worshipped,’ or used for show and competition, soon becomes a prison. Buddhadāsa says this is the ‘highest prison.’

So, what is the answer? How do we get out of prison? The answer is ‘voidness,’ that is, not having any self, living free from self, and void of all ideas and notions of self. You see, when there is upādāna, then ‘I,’ the self (the false self) is born. For example, you May cling to tobacco. You are attached to nicotine. You are addicted. There is upādāna, and a self---one of many, many such selves---is born. ‘I need/want a smoke.’ Get the idea. Every self or ‘I’ in us (eg the ‘I’ that wants to smoke, the ‘I’ that doesn’t like chocolate, etc), every like, every dislike, every strong opinion and bias, is the result of some upādāna.  When there is no upādāna regarding ‘I,’ there is no bondage, and there is freedom from the worst bondage of all---the bondage to self and the false notion of self (attā).

All prisons are gathered in that Pāli word attā. The truth is there is no permanent, separate, independent thing as the ‘self.’ This idea is called anattā, a Pāli word that means ‘no-self’ or, more correctly, ‘not-self.’ Buddhadāsa says, ‘destroy attā, then all the prisons are finished and we won’t build any more of them ever again.’ It has been written, ‘no anattā doctrine, no Buddhism.’ The concept of anattā is bedrock to Buddhism as well as the ‘self illusion therapy’ I employ in my counselling practice. By the way, the teaching of anattā can also be found in all other major religions including Christianity, where Jesus is reported as having said, ‘I can of mine own self do nothing’ [Jn 5:30]. Having said that, self illusion therapy can be used without, and does not depend upon, any religious framework.

The Buddhist teaching of anattā affirms that there is no actual ‘self’ at the centre of our conscious--or even unconscious--awareness. Our so-called consciousness goes through continuous fluctuations from moment to moment. As such, there is nothing to constitute, let alone sustain, a separate, transcendent ‘I’ structure or entity. We ‘die’ and are ‘born’ (or ‘reborn’) from one moment to the next. You are a person---a person among persons---not a ‘self.’

The answer to your problems and mine is this---get rid of self. The key? Self-observation. Watch. Observe. Live with mindful, choiceless awareness of what unfolds as your moment-to-moment experience of life and the person that you are. ‘Tear out the foolishness that creates attā, along with attā itself,’ writes Buddhadāsa, ‘and all the prisons will be gone.’ That is the only way to be relieved of the bondage of self.

Do you think it’s time you left the prison? It’s up to you, you know. The key to unlocking the prison gate is inside you. Look within to find it. You will not find the key anywhere else.








IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via

1 comment:

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.