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“Not-self” from the Beginning

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

There are a lot of things you could focus on right now, so focus on something that’s good, that brings the mind a sense of peace and well-being. Just pay careful attention to what you’re doing right now and the effect that it’s having on the mind.

One of the reasons why we meditate is to train the mind to realize how important it is where it chooses to focus its attention. As for things right now that are not useful to focus your attention on, you can just think of them as not self. This is where the “not self” teaching is very useful right from the very beginning.

When the Buddha gave breath instructions to Rahula, he prefaced them with a number of meditation exercises, one of them the topic of “not self.” We tend to think of that as a very advanced teaching. But here it is right at the very beginning to remind you that your sense of self is something you choose to identify with. It’s not that your self is a given, that you’ve got this conventional self or you’ve got this ultimate self that’s there willy-nilly, whether you like it or not. Your sense of self is a jumble of choices you’ve made. Some of them are coherent. Some of them are incoherent.

This is why when you start looking into what you are, you get all kinds of different answers. But for right now use that “not self” teaching as an aid in your concentration. Anything that makes it difficult to stay here with the breath, just think of it as “not self.” That’s not you. It’s not yours. Just let it be.

There’s a lot in the world you can’t control, as if we’re running around trying to control everything. It’s like a mother chicken trying to chase down all her little baby chicks. It’s not worth it. There are a lot of things you can let go of right now. Things you would normally identify with. But it’s good to realize you don’t have to. Nobody is forcing you. You’re the one who made the choice to identify.

That takes a huge load off the mind.

This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the talk, Power of Choice, September 14, 2012.

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