The Buddha is quoted in the Pali Canon as saying that to define yourself in any way is to limit yourself, and that the question, “What am I?” is best ignored. So it’s useful to notice where we get caught up in believing we are this material form, the feelings/moods/preferences we experience, or any other of the Aggregates we will be investigating. As we practice in this way, we eventually become aware that not only will we not find ourselves in them, but that finding ourselves is not the goal. Learning how to relate to any experience with awareness and compassion so that we do not cause suffering to ourselves or others is the only purpose of any Buddhist practice, and this one is no different. So while it may seem we are on a journey, and we will most likely make discoveries, this process is more like spring cleaning than a quest.
When we do spring cleaning, we are not searching for something within our home. When we investigate these aggregates, we are not searching for that true thing that is ‘I’. In both cases, we are looking with fresh eyes and seeing what is in the way. This fresh view is very much about questioning what is cluttering up the space. What can be let go?
In the home it might be piles of old magazines and newspapers that we never read, but every time our eye rests on them we get distracted from simple presence.
We might see that a poorly-placed piece of furniture always bruises our thigh, and for some reason we have been living with it that way, but now we see that if we move it four inches, that would make all the difference in creating a sense of spaciousness and non-harming.
When looking at the aggregates, we can see how clinging to this or that idea of self causes a different kind of bruising and limits our motion in a different kind of way. When we recognize this, we are ready to let go of these habituated ideas we held about who we are. The letting go is not painful but liberating. We haven’t lost anything of value, only things that were causing suffering and confusion.
Once we recognize it as clutter, it’s much easier to let it go. If it is not easy, then we are caught up in another struggle. This means we are not bringing awareness and compassion to the process. Instead we might be striving to prove something to ourselves or to others. There is nothing to prove. This is a timeless process and we each find our own pace. This is not about ripping the rug out from under ourselves. But we might take up the rug and flap it a bit to let the dust go rather than sweep the dust under the carpet!
We also don’t need to rush out and replace what we have released with other people’s clutter or other people’s beliefs. We are just in a more spacious easeful home, a more spacious easeful mind, appreciative of the fresh, clean airy feeling and the simple joy of being.
A friend of mine happened to mention this poem and I felt it was a must-share while we are exploring the Buddha’s Five Aggregates.