This issue of Inquiring Mind concludes our series on the three characteristics by focusing on one of the Buddha’s most difficult teachings—that of anatta, or not-self. We begin with excerpts on the subject from the Pali Canon, compiled for us by Ajahn Amaro, coabbot of Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, California. Spirit Rock teacher Guy Armstrong then provides a clear explanation of what the Buddha meant, and didn’t mean, by anatta. Ajahn Sundara, a senior nun from Amaravati Monastery in England, explores the insidious assertions of our “silly” self.
We include more reflections on anatta from senior teachers of different traditions—the late Thai forest master Ajahn Chah and Pema Chodron, abbess of Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. Bringing the teachings on not-self to life are experiential essays from writer and Zen practitioner Noelle Oxenhandler’s recent book, The Eros of Parenthood; and from Joan Tollifson, student of Springwater Center’s Toni Packer and author of Bare-Bones Meditation.
Physicist and meditator Robert Fraser offers a modern scientific perspective on selflessness and free will, using the laws of physics and evolutionary biology to support the Buddha’s understanding. Advaita student Dan Clurman’s interview with Eckhart Tolle, author of the best-selling The Power of Now, adds the provocative Advaita Vedanta approach to not-self.
The question of self in relation to the wider world is explored by journalist and writer Jon Stewart, who looks at the effects of the Internet from a dharma point of view, while Buddhist author and activist Ken Jones asks us to examine how our lives are intertwined with the global economy and cultural conditioning. Our practice column is by Swiss dzogchen teacher Charles Genoud, who introduces the Tibetan practice of exchanging self with other.
This issue of Inquiring Mind also features an interview with Indian vipassana teacher S. N. Goenka, whose renowned ten-day courses have brought vipassana practice to literally thousands of students worldwide. We end with Robert Coulthard’s reflections on meditating in prison.
The terrorist attacks of September 11 took place just after we had finished layouts for this edition of Inquiring Mind. We extend our compassion to all who grieve along with us, and extend our deepest wishes for nonviolence in this wounded world. In these difficult times, we are thankful for the refuge of the Triple Gem. May the light of the dharma be of aid in guiding all the world toward wisdom and peace.