/ Insight Knowledge of No Self in Buddhism: An Epistemic Analysis
Mary Analogue is about to give a talk on ‘no self’. It is the most anticipated talk at the conference because word has it that she, like her cousin the famous colour scientist Mary, knows everything there is to know about her subject-matter. At least, she knows all the theory. In particular, she knows that there is no self of a certain kind that most humans deeply buy into: a personalised and persisting centre of agency and ownership, a centre with elusive boundaries that enclose a thing of utter uniqueness and axiological salience that must be protected. It is the self on behalf of which people seek to satisfy their desires, dreams and ambitions: the thing that feels emotions of pleasure (such as excitement, lust, joy) if the desires are fulfilled, and displeasure (such as anger, fear, disappointment) if they are frustrated. It is the thing that is perceived to initiate such actions to satisfy the desires. Mary has closely studied a rare sector of the Buddhist community (called arahants) who, through years of meditation practice, are rumoured to have seen through and overcome this illusion of self. She has extracted every fact from the rumour: she knows all the intricacies of their cognitive transformation to nibbāna (as it’s called) – how meditation changes their brain and eliminates those complex and pervasive patterns of desire-driven emotion and action that stem from an assumed identification as a solid, separate self. Amongst the emotions strikingly absent in arahants is fear: for just as our awakening from a dream disperses any fear of a dreamt-of tiger, their ‘awakening’ from the illusion of self disperses any fear on behalf of the formerly-assumed self-entity.
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