/ Insight Knowledge of No Self in Buddhism: An Epistemic Analysis
Nibbāna is the summon bonum of Buddhist practice. Putting aside mystical descriptions, a central tenet of nibbāna, as described in early Buddhist tradition, is that it yields a complete understanding of the truth of no-self. Sometimes called ‘awakening’, the realisation is said to permanently free the aspirant from the affective, behavioural, and motivational drives that stem from having a sense of self. It is said to be a state of utmost contentment and equanimity, with no capacity to mentally suffer (hence no unpleasant emotions such as fear or gloom). Attention is sharp and never lost in thought. There is immense compassion towards people’s suffering, yet without any attachment to outcomes. There is no identification with elements of the mind and body, which would give rise to such thoughts as ‘this is me, this is mine, this is my action’. The process of understanding the reality of selflessness is thus said, in the Buddhist tradition, to be not merely intellectual, but deeply transformative — integrally connected to the experience of eliminating the sense of self and its psychological structures. Such structures are said to sustain mental ‘defilements’, such as preferences and aversions, which make one attached to things being one way rather than another, causing us to suffer when our desires are frustrated. On the insight into selflessness, a leading scholar monk, Bhikkhu Bodhi, writes:
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