Doctrinally Based Grasping for the Self of a Person

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Review

We have been speaking about incorrect consideration, and if we think in terms of incorrect consideration of “me,” a person, or a self, whether it’s with respect to ourselves or others, what’s incorrect here is to consider that there is a “me” that’s separate from a body and a mind. What kind of relationship does that “me” have with a body or a mind? What we might imagine, what it might feel like, although it’s incorrect, is that there is a “me” that lives inside the body, lives inside our head, as if it were a home.

We might also think that “me” is something that possesses or owns the body, controls it, and uses it, as if there were a “me” behind a panel with a computer screen, with the information coming in through the eyes, through earphones, and there’s a “me” in central control. We think, “What should ‘I’ do now?” or “What should ‘I’ say now?” and then we push the button and the hand moves and does this, or the mouth says that, and so on. “I have to get ‘myself’ up out of bed in the morning. The alarm rang; I have to go to work,” as if there were a “me” inside that now has to somehow press a button and get the body up out of bed. It’s an incorrect view, but that’s the way it seems.

It’s interesting when we start to analyze, because we have these types of feelings, let’s say in terms of the arguments that women make about having the right to decide whether they have an abortion or not. “It’s ‘my’ body; ‘I’ own it and I can do with it what ‘I’ like. It’s ‘my’ choice.” What is this based on? We’re not discussing the correctness or incorrectness of abortion; we’re talking about the attitude toward the body, as if it were a possession, that it’s “mine,” that there is a “me” that’s separate from it and that can do with it what that “me” likes.

We could be taught this type of attitude toward ourselves, our body, or our relation to our body; but this feeling or belief can also just automatically arise. However, this is an incorrect consideration. What is correct is that there is a person, me, that is an imputation on a body, a mind and so on, but it’s not some separate entity from them. Just as the body is going through changes moment to moment and so its age changes from moment to moment; likewise, as the body, the mind and feelings will change from moment to moment, as we're aware of things differently and do different things from moment to moment, there is a “me” that is changing. It’s not separate from them and it’s not some entity inside them.

Grasping for an Impossible “Me”

We’ve spoken about various types of incorrect consideration, and now we can put some of these together. We all experience what’s known as “grasping for an impossible self,” an impossible “me.” Now, there is a doctrinally based grasping and an automatically arising type of grasping. When Buddhism speaks about doctrinally based grasping for an impossible “me,” that’s speaking about some idea that we might have of a “me” that we were taught and accepted, one that’s coming specifically from a non-Buddhist Indian system.

The Non-Buddhist Indian Assertion of an Atman

Indian systems of philosophy and religion speak about an atman. I think probably the closest that we can translate it is as a “soul.” It’s a soul that goes from one lifetime to another lifetime. We wouldn’t automatically think that we have a soul that goes from lifetime to lifetime, so we have to be taught that. Such a soul has certain characteristics that come all together in one package here. When I say “package,” I’m talking about a group of three specific characteristics that come together. 

One characteristic is that it is static. Here, we’re not talking about “eternal” because Buddhism also says the mental continuum has no beginning and no end. Even the conventional “me” has no beginning and no end, but we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about a “me” that doesn’t change from moment to moment; it’s always the same. That means a “me” that’s not affected by anything. Like a suitcase moving along on a conveyor belt through time from childhood to old age, from one body to another body.

It is partless; that’s what it means when we hear the word “one.” “One” means that it is a monolith; it’s partless. Either it’s the size of the universe, like this whole idea of “atman is Brahma. I am the universe,” or it’s like a tiny spark of life, or something like that. However, this is one of the characteristics – partless, monolithic.

The third characteristic is that it can exist separate from a body and mind – namely, with liberation. So, it comes into a body and remains static. It is partless and, living inside a body, it controls it, uses it, and so on, and then goes on to another one until it becomes liberated from rebirth and then continues to exist all on its own. 

Doctrinally Based Grasping 

Buddhism is making certain differentiations here that might not be so clear, so let me explain these a little bit more.

We’ve already encountered certain aspects of this impossible soul in our discussion of incorrect consideration – specifically, incorrect consideration of something nonstatic as static. It’s as if there were a “me” that’s static, always the same and permanent, not affected by anything. We could believe that we exist like that based either on just being taught that or we could experience that belief automatically arising. It’s the same thing in terms of believing that we could continue to exist without a body after death. 

We could have a Christian or some other religious system’s idea of a soul with some of these qualities as well, which we had been taught. Such beliefs can lead to many disturbing emotions. However, when we speak about doctrinally based grasping for an impossible “me,” we’re talking about a “me” that has a combination of these three particular qualities of an impossible “me” as taught in a non-Buddhist Indian system. That we have to be taught. We wouldn’t get the whole package, with all of these qualities, automatically.

Do you follow that? Buddha was originally teaching to an Indian audience, so he spoke about the incorrect view of an atman or soul specific to them. However, different aspects of such a soul can be found in non-Indian religions and non-Indian philosophies as well. If we know what this or that technical term used in Buddhism refers to, we don’t get confused about what could automatically arise, what we would have to be taught, and so on.

How do we understand, then, what goes from lifetime to lifetime, since Buddhism also asserts rebirth? I’m not an expert in Christian theology, and I’m sure that there are many different views within Christianity as to the nature of the soul, but Buddhism also wouldn’t agree with the Christian view, namely that the soul is created by God. I don’t know if Christianity says that once the soul is created, then it’s eternal, it doesn’t change and it just has one other lifetime after this, heaven or hell. These are other views that perhaps we would need to refute.

I raise all these points because there is a lot of confusion that we as Westerners often have in studying this material, because there are many disturbing emotions that could be based on an incorrect view of “me” that we were taught. But doctrinally based grasping for an impossible “me” is talking only about a view of the self that is taught in non-Buddhist Indian systems; Hinduism, Jainism, etc. 

As Westerners, we could object, “I didn’t study Hinduism or Jainism, so how is that relevant to me? I don’t believe this, I never even heard about it, so how can it be that in the Buddhist presentation of the stages of the path, I need to rid myself of such a doctrinally based incorrect view?” Nevertheless, each of the qualities of this soul taught in Hinduism or Jainism is based on some incorrect consideration. If we look at our own concept of a soul or our belief that there is no soul, “I just become a nothing at the time of death,” there are other incorrect types of consideration that are involved. Buddhism is dealing with any possible misconception that we can have. It’s not only talking about a misconception that was formulated in ancient India.

The question becomes, “Who do I think I am? Am I a soul, am I something else, am I my body, am I my mind? What am I? What is it that my selfishness is based on, such that I want to be the first in line, I want to get what I want, I am the most important one, or I should be the most important thing in your life?” What are the qualities of that “me?”

When we believe in some type of “me” like this, some solid “me,” then we feel, “I always have to have ‘my’ way.” Then, there is grasping, there’s greed, attachment, and so on; if I don’t get “my” way,” there is anger. Or we get jealousy, “You don’t love ‘me’; you love somebody else.” We get arrogance, “I’m so wonderful,” or indecisive wavering, “What should ‘I’ choose? There are 150 breakfast cereals; which one is going to make ‘me’ happy?” – so I want to choose the right one that will make “me” happy. “What computer or mobile phone should I buy?” There are thousands of choices, but I want to get the right one for “me.” What is this “me?”

Questions about the Self

In Christianity, we try to have an ethical “I” that doesn’t want so many things; so what’s the point? Fighting selfishness seems common to all spiritual paths.

That’s true, but the issue that comes up here is an issue that we’ve mentioned already, which is, “When we are refuting a misconception about ‘me,’ have we refuted enough?” In other words, in other systems – even within Buddhism there are many systems – we might refute certain characteristics that are impossible. However, if we haven’t gone deeply enough and refuted everything that’s mistaken, still there can be a subtle level of selfishness that comes up.

For example, we might be extremely generous and do so many things for another person or our children, so it seems as though we’re not selfish. Nonetheless, we want to be appreciated; we want to be thanked. We remind the person what we’ve done: “I’ve done so much for you and you don’t appreciate it.” There is still a feeling of a solid “me” underneath this generosity, even though we’re not being so selfish.

Furthermore, we can go on a martyr trip, “I am the martyr, I am the saint, I’m doing so much for the world,” etc. and it becomes a big ego trip. Or, “to overcome my selfishness, I have to whip and beat myself because I’m bad for being selfish.” Sure, we can be very generous and very helpful to everybody else while holding such a belief, but that’s certainly still a very disturbed state of mind, and we’re still thinking of a guilty, bad “me,” a solid “me.” I’m giving as an example an extreme; however, our misconceptions can be very subtle.

Why do we have to renounce the atman?

The point is that we are not denying the conventional “me.” Whether we want to call that a soul or an atman, it doesn’t matter what name we give it. There is a conventional “me,” and Buddhism is not refuting that; it’s not saying that there is nothing. However, the point is, “How does it exist?” If we don’t have a sense of the conventional “me,” then we’re not motivated to do anything. Why should we try to gain enlightenment?

On the basis of a correct view of a conventional “me,” we get our lives together. We get up in the morning; we get dressed; we make a life for ourselves; we take care of ourselves. However, is there a dualism here of a “me” and a “myself” that I have to take care of, as if they were two different things? And “I have to stop myself and control myself from being selfish,” as if there were a “me” that is the judge, the disciplinarian, and another “me” that is the naughty one? Such a view is very neurotic and leads to guilt.

In psychoanalysis, that’s the “super-ego.”

Is that super-ego something that is separate, existing all by itself? Are there two “me”s there, a “me” and a super-ego? This is rather strange.

Buddhism speaks in terms of mental factors. They are all included in the five aggregates, which is a classification scheme for many different nonstatic components that make up each moment of our experience. For example, in one moment of experience there can be an ear consciousness of the sound of an alarm clock and the sound that we hear, and the mental factor of a feeling that accompanies it, which maybe is not very happy, and a mental factor of distinguishing of the sound of the alarm clock from the sound of the birds singing outside, or the sound of the traffic going by outside our window. Accompanying this can be the mental factors of laziness and anger, “I don’t want to get up,” as if there’s a separate “me” from all this that now has to get up. Nevertheless, there can also be accompanying this moment of experience a mental factor of intention to get up and the mental factor of discipline.

Many mental factors are there, and that’s all that’s happening from one moment to the next moment to the next moment. It doesn’t require some separate “me” sitting behind the control board, with the sound of the alarm coming in through earphones, and then this “me” presses the button of discipline and now discipline comes in, and then, “I have to get myself up out of bed.” It’s not like that.

With correct understanding of the aggregates and the mental factors and no separately existing “me,” we just get up. We just do it, without all these unnecessary garbage thoughts of, “Aaah, ‘I’ don’t want to get up,” and, “Now I have to force ‘myself’ to get up,” and, “Why ‘me?’ Why do ‘I’ always have to get up and go to work?” All of these are garbage thoughts, which are usually experienced with great unhappiness.

The hearing of the alarm clock is experienced with unhappiness, so what? “OK, there may be unhappiness in this moment. That doesn’t matter. I’m not attached to it, I’m not identifying with it,” and then in the next moment, because of the habit of discipline and motivation, we get up. 

Now, what’s “me” here? Well, who got up? I got up; it wasn’t somebody else. So, there is a self that is an imputation on the continuum of this sequence of moments, made up of all these parts that are changing, “me,” and it functions. It’s not just that a body gets out of bed; I get out of bed. There aren’t two separate things getting out of bed, a body and a “me.” “My body gets out, but I don’t want to get out.” It’s not like that. We need to analyze quite deeply, what is the cause of our unhappiness when we have to get up in the morning?

Questions and Discussion about Reincarnation

You know two incarnations of Serkong Rinpoche. What reminded you of the “first” Serkong Rinpoche? What did you find in common? What did you find in this continuum that was similar to the previous incarnation?

Now we open up a large topic. We have to consider “continuums” and, first, a continuum within one lifetime. If we look at a continuum of “me,” or of somebody else, such as my teacher Serkong Rinpoche, there probably wasn’t even one cell in his body – I’m talking about the older one, from when he was born to when he died – that remained the same throughout his lifetime. Everything changed. This is really amazing if we consider how much food went in and how much waste came out. His body was changing from moment to moment, and nothing stayed the same. Furthermore, the amount of knowledge he had changed from moment to moment, Certainly, it was not the same when he was two years old and when he was 60 years old.

Everything changed, yet there was a continuity; there was a continuum. How was the continuity maintained? This is a very big question that is analyzed and explained on many different levels of profundity in Buddhism. Did he turn into somebody else from when he was a child to when he was an adult? No. It’s the same issue in terms of two lifetimes as it is in terms of one lifetime. Basically, there is a continuum moment to moment to moment, and nothing is remaining the same. A person, an individual, is an imputation on the basis of that continuum.

What maintains the continuum; what is it based on? It’s based on a sequence of cause and effect. It’s very simple. We put some food in our mouth and then, the next moment, there is a sensation of the food going down, and the next moment there’s a sensation of the hunger going away, and so on. There’s a causal sequence. It makes sense, and “me” is merely an imputation on this causal sequence.

There are also various habits that are imputations on this continuum. What’s a habit? “I have a habit of drinking coffee.” What’s that? I’m not drinking coffee every moment of my existence, but there’s a sequence of various occasions in which there is a drinking of coffee, and on the basis of that, we say there’s a habit. It’s a way of putting it together. Is the habit something solid? Can we find it? No. Does it exist? Yes. Does it produce effects? Yes. Because I have a habit of drinking coffee, I probably will drink another cup of coffee tomorrow.

When we speak about a continuum from one lifetime to another lifetime, like with my teacher Serkong Rinpoche, what do we find that is in common, besides being given the same name? What is there a continuity of? Certain habits, certain instincts. Now, if we look in terms of our history, particularly over many lifetimes, there are so many habits, so many different things; not everything is going to occur at the same time.

I had habits when I was three years old that I don’t have now. This is very clear. As a baby, I had a habit of going to the toilet in my pants and putting food all over my face, as I couldn’t get it into my mouth when I fed myself. They were habits that repeated when I was a baby. I don’t have these habits now. I don’t do that now – hopefully. With Serkong Rinpoche, there are certain habits that are similar to what he had in the previous lifetime, for example, a sense of humor, and so on.

We could object, “Well, lots of people have a sense of humor, so it’s not necessarily a continuity of the previous lifetime’s sense of humor.” True. However, what was convincing for me was his familiarity with people from his previous lifetime. We might have experienced this: we meet somebody, and automatically we feel as though we’ve known this person forever. Automatically we feel very close, or automatically we feel very distant as there’s an instant aversion to this person.

I first met the young Serkong Rinpoche when he was four years old. He came to Dharamsala and when I walked in his room to meet him, the attendant who was taking care of him asked, “Do you know who this is?” And the little boy said, “Don’t be stupid, of course, I know who this is,” and instantly, from the very beginning, he was totally familiar with me, totally warm and close. He wasn’t like that with other people. And this was coming from a four-year-old! You can’t fake that as a four-year-old. This sense of closeness was there, just as it was in the previous lifetime. Well, sure, in each moment it’s slightly different, so closeness is just an imputation on that continuity, but this was very convincing for me.

Of course, there are also some things that he might remember from a previous lifetime. Once, we were watching once a video together, a recording of a teaching that he had given in his last lifetime, and he said, “Ah. I remember saying that. I remember doing that.” There is no reason for him to lie to me.

Now we get into a discussion of Nagarjuna’s presentation. Is he the same person, totally identical to the one in his previous lifetime? No. Is he totally different? No, not totally different. It’s a continuum, a continuity. Is there something solid that’s going like a piece of luggage from one lifetime to another lifetime? No. Is there a continuum? Yes, there’s continuity. So, neither the same nor different, not totally identical nor totally different and unrelated.

Why would some of Rinpoche’s memories of his past life be more clear and others not so clear?

This is the same in terms of, “What do we remember in this life?” Do you remember everything that you ate in your life? Can you even remember every word that you just said 30 seconds ago and repeat every word exactly?

So, why do we remember this and we don’t remember that? That’s a difficult question. I suppose it has to with how interested we are and how much we pay attention. Was there a strong emotion at the time or not a very strong emotion? If there’s a strong emotion, usually we tend to remember it more. There can be something that reminds us of a previous thing, and if we don’t come across something that reminds us, then we don’t remember it.

There are many, many factors to why we remember something – everything depends on circumstances. It’s the same thing in terms of habits. There are so many habits. Not all the habits will manifest in the next lifetime – some will, some won’t. It all depends on the circumstances. If I had the habit of eating mangoes and I’m born in a place where there are no mangoes, I’m not going to eat mangoes. I won’t even think of eating mangoes.

I’m not convinced by your explanation. The deepest impressions on Rinpoche’s mind should be of the most recent part of his last life because they are the freshest. Why should Rinpoche remember one teaching that he gave, but not the most recent one?

It’s not the freshest thing that we remember. Certain things we remember and certain things we don’t. It’s dependent on many, many different factors. We might remember a nursery rhyme from our childhood, but not where we put our keys last night. It’s very difficult to actually analyze and explain why we remember one particular thing and not another.

So is it completely arbitrary?

No. We can’t say that it is arbitrary, that it’s just by chance that we remember something. There have to be certain circumstances. The young Serkong Rinpoche didn’t remember everything. We watched many different videos of the old one teaching but he remembered only one teaching in them, so it seemed a little bit more familiar. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know what was going on in his mind when he actually taught that. You’re asking a question that is very difficult to answer because it’s the same issue as, “If we have so many karmic potentials from beginningless lifetimes for all sorts of results, why does this particular karmic potential ripen in this moment and not another one?” It’s the same question as why do we have this memory now and not another one?

Buddhism explains that things don’t happen for no cause at all, as then anything could happen at any time and there would be no sequence or no sense in anything that happens. This is not the case. If things depend on circumstances, then what are the circumstances? It could be that I meet an object that is similar to something before. It could be the influence of another person. It could be an influence of the weather. It could be an influence of so many different things.

How do we remember somebody’s name? So many times, we can’t remember some person’s name. We know the name; we know that we know the name, but we just can’t remember it. That happens to me a lot; so, what do I do? I go through the alphabet and say in my mind each letter at a time. I pronounce each letter of the alphabet and, usually, it acts as a trigger and I can remember. Something like that just happened yesterday. I couldn’t think of the name of a friend in Latvia, and so I went through the alphabet, and when I came to K, it triggered the memory, “Ah, his name is Karlis.” There can be various things that remind us, that help us. In this case, saying the letter K was a circumstance. We can create circumstances to remember something either consciously like this, or simply seeing something or meeting someone can trigger a memory.

There are other things that I don’t have to go through a method like that in order to remember. The habit is so strong that, whenever I see Massimo now, or Claudia, I don’t have to go through the alphabet to remember their name. I remember. However, there is a circumstance for why I remember their name now – I see them every day during this teaching. But, a year from now, I may not remember at all the name of the person who translated for me in Italy. I don’t remember.

Interest has to be there as well. Once I stayed at a friend’s house for four months. I used the bathroom every day. One day we went to a store to buy a shower curtain and my friend asked, “What color should we get? What would match the walls?” I had no idea what color the walls were. I had used the bathroom every single day. Then my friend asked me, “What color is the bedroom you’re staying in?” I had no idea whatsoever because I’m not interested. I’ve been staying in this room for the last several months. I had no idea whatsoever what color the walls were. I never paid attention to it, so how could I remember?

If something is important to us like, “Where did I park my car?” then we remember it. If it’s not important to us, “I don’t remember where I parked my car,” we’re in big trouble.

If you died this evening, the most recent thing that you did was give this teaching, then why would you not remember it as a two-year old child?

There are many circumstances. I would have to learn again; I would have to study again. The actual physical basis of the brain and so on wouldn’t be developed enough. I wouldn’t have the language skills to be able to repeat it. Just because something happened recently doesn’t mean that we remember it. Can you remember and repeat exactly, word for word, what you just said? Most of us can’t do that. Or what you just heard?

That’s very difficult. We have to really have the strong intention to be able to do that. Let’s say if we are an interpreter, then we remember what the person just said. If we are a teacher, then if somebody asks us, “Could you repeat that? I didn’t understand,” it’s very embarrassing if we say, “I don’t remember what I just said.” We have to remember to be able to repeat. So, different motivations. Motivation is important.

Did I understand you correctly? When meeting the present Serkong Rinpoche, you recognized some habits of the previous one, but none of the personality?

I didn’t say there was none of the personality. I said that there was continuity, but not continuity of everything. It’s not the same personality, but I don’t have the same personality that I had when I was a teenager. Some things are similar, and some things are quite different.

Some things like love and compassion should be expressed continuously during the life of a bodhisattva. However, from what you say, the only things that bear on this continuum are just a series of causes and circumstances and nothing else.

Well, yes everything is arising based on causes and circumstances. What I was trying to illustrate was that, for instance, if I could meet a hundred people who are very loving, why is one a continuity of the previous incarnation of my teacher and not another? Just because somebody has love, doesn’t mean that it’s a continuity of a specific person’s previous lifetime.

With a tulku, a reincarnate lama, it’s very special because somebody actually recognizes them and gives them the name of the predecessor – at least the general name, like “Serkong.” They also have a personal name, which is different. What would have happened if no one recognized the child, if nobody found him, and I just happened to meet him? It would be the same thing. There would still be the close connection.

I’ve met many people in my lifetime that, instantly, from both sides, we felt extremely close to each other. This has happened. I’ve been teaching in a room of a hundred people and my eyes keep on going back to somebody, all the way in the back of the room. My attention keeps on going to this person, and then, all of a sudden, at the end of the teaching, that person comes up and starts to talk to me and we develop very quickly a very close friendship.

The old Serkong Rinpoche was like that. We would be in a group of people and he would say, “That one over there, get that person’s name.” And sure enough, a very strong relationship was there. We don’t need to know what such a person’s past lifetime and what his or her name was, but we experience things like that. I’ve certainly experienced it and perhaps you’ve experienced something similar, that instant friendship, an instant feeling of closeness with somebody. Why? Is it just based on desire – we find them attractive? Not necessarily.

With the young Serkong Rinpoche, it was really quite extraordinary. He was born in the Spiti Valley on the Indian side of the Himalayas. The old Serkong Rinpoche was almost like the saint of this valley. As he had revived Buddhism there, everybody had a picture of him in their home and this little kid, a year and a half, two years old, when he’d just first learned to speak, he would go over to a picture and point to it and say, “That’s me!”

When people from his predecessor’s household went around in the region, looking for the reincarnation, this little boy recognized one of the members of the search party. He ran into his arms and knew his name. Then, all he wanted to do was go with them to Dharamsala. He felt – he told me this later – that there was somebody important there whom he needed to meet, which was His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When he left Spiti for Dharamsala, he was four years old and never ever asked for his parents again, never cried. It wasn’t that his parents were cruel and horrible people; they’re very nice people. Where is this coming from?

Put all these things together and I’m quite convinced that he is the reincarnation of the old Serkong Rinpoche. I have been thinking about rebirth for a long, long time. I’ve been involved in studying Buddhism for 45 years now. Nonetheless, this really took me over the border of, “Do I actually believe in rebirth?” It’s very hard to get a gut feeling for rebirth. We can intellectually believe it, but an emotional feeling? Is it really so? That’s difficult, but this convinced me. However, is he the same person, identical? No. It’s like that.

Résumé

OK, we’re going to stop for this evening. Perhaps we can spend a few minutes, before we leave, to just try to digest what we have been talking about. Let’s try to remember. Let me provide a circumstance to help you remember. I will recap the main points. 

We were talking about voidness, remember that? Then, about an impossible “me” and that there is no such thing. We might think that there is, and it might feel as though there is, but it doesn’t refer to anything real.

Then we spoke about Serkong Rinpoche in two lifetimes. The two people had the same name. Were they exactly the same, static person from one lifetime to another lifetime, not affected by anything and so the young one should remember instantly every word that he said in his previous lifetime? No, there is no such thing as that type of person. He’s affected by causes and circumstances: where he was born and the people who raised him; all sorts of things affect what manifests in this lifetime. Is there a person, Serkong Rinpoche, separate from all of this, from these two bodies? No. If there were, where is it? What is it? Is there a Serkong Rinpoche who was living inside the old body and now is living inside the new body? No, this is impossible.

We tend to think like that. “Who will I be in my next lifetime?” as if there could be an Alex that now is reborn inside a dog, Fifi the poodle. I wake up and like in a Hollywood movie, “Oh, my god, I’m inside the body of a poodle,” and everybody is calling me Fifi and putting pink toenail polish on me, or something like that. It’s not like that. It’s not that there’s this solid “me” in another lifetime who is the same as “me” in this lifetime, but now in another body. That’s impossible.

In this case, we cannot pray to Serkong Rinpoche because he’s not there anymore?

There’s a continuum. Just as this chair isn’t solid and my body isn’t solid, nevertheless, I don’t fall through the chair; similarly, although there isn’t a solid Serkong Rinpoche going like a piece of luggage through a conveyor belt, one lifetime to another lifetime, nevertheless, one can offer prayers and so on, and this is of benefit. Shantideva spoke about that in terms of how can we build up positive force by praying to a Buddha who has already died, or to a stupa? It’s because there is a continuum.

Could you be more precise?

We could be more precise; that’s true, that’s exactly it. That’s why we haven’t gotten to our discussion of mental labeling. We need to go deeper to address the issue of how do we establish that there is such a thing as “me” as an imputation on an individual continuum of everchanging aggregates?

Your presentation of reincarnation sounds unusual to me. Now I understood that there is no Serkong Rinpoche who reincarnates, but just some parts of him: very small parts?

A nose has reincarnated?

It’s not Rinpoche, who has reincarnated but a very small part of the continuum?

Are you saying that Rinpoche as a whole hasn’t reincarnated? The whole has not reincarnated, but a small part, a habit, or something like that? No. There is no findable habit either. What is a habit? There isn’t anything findable, solid, whether a habit, a nose, a Serkong Rinpoche, or whatever, that has gone from one lifetime to another lifetime. Remember our example of a habit. “I drank coffee yesterday, I drank coffee today, and I’ll drink my coffee tomorrow.” So how do we put this all together? You say there’s a “habit.” A habit isn’t something solid. Similarly, there is a person who has continued from one lifetime to another lifetime. It’s individual; it exists, but not as something solid. Please think about that.

[Meditation]

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