How to untangle Buddhist No-Self riddles to create powerful life strategies

How to understand the Buddhist No-Self riddle

By: Don Tipon
Updated: May 5, 2019
Category: Self | Tags: Theory
Table of Contents (click TOC in the top menu)

Over two thousand years ago, Buddha said identifying with worldly things such as your body causes suffering. This began the Buddhist tradition of not identifying with anything, or achieving “No-Self”.

“No-Self” is a difficult concept to understand. When a person misinterprets the “No-Self” spiritual goal, it can cause harmful attitudes and activities.

Many people struggle and cannot achieve the No-Self mind state and feel guilty or deeply troubled.

Others who maintain a No-Self attitude become depressed, have no motivation or cannot succeed in life.

These tragedies contradict promises of curing selfishness, breathing new life into humanitarian goals, eliminating suffering, and uplifting you into cosmic consciousness.

You can solve and correct the No-Self riddle with a clear definition of its meaning.

This article explains new methods for analyzing and understanding any concept.

With this information, you can easily avoid problems caused by misunderstandings and you can create powerful life-changing strategies.

The Buddhists are right, identification causes suffering

Identification reduces you to your concepts

When Buddhists use the word “identify” they mean you think you are what you identify with. So if you identify with your body, you think you are your body.

Obviously, you are not just a body. So, most people identify with many things.

You may think of yourself as an adult, your unique personality, a male or female, a husband or wife, a father or mother, your profession and so on. These things become your identities.

Understanding who you are is useful. It helps you know what to do.

The problem is, identifying is saying you are exactly the thing you identify with. Nothing more and nothing less.

You are declaring the following logical equivalence (3, page xcvi).

You ≡ your concepts

When you consider yourself equivalent to your concepts, it means your ideas could replace you, and the world would be exactly the same.

Believing you and your concepts are equivalent is a simple-minded and primitive way of thinking.

Native Americans and many primitive people around the world often make this type of error. They believed photographs would steal their soul. Photos were not only equivalent but somehow more real, stealing their essence.

You may consider yourself a modern thinker, but if you think your concepts can capture your essence, you have a primitive and childish thinking style.

No matter how hard you work to define yourself with concepts, your concepts will never come close to describing all that you are.

You are an infinitely complex entity, always changing and interacting with your entire environment.

Let’s analyze other problems caused by identification.

Grasping an identity causes suffering

Imagine a man named Bob who believes a good husband and father is always the primary provider for his family. Bob gets sick and cannot work. His wife must get a job to support the family.

Bob now considers himself to be a failure. He is ashamed and feels guilty. His thoughts have trapped him in a rigid identity that makes him a bad father.

The more Bob clings to his identity, the more he will suffer.

Some people go to greater extremes as explained next.

Desperately defending an identity causes suffering

In the above example, Bob becomes desperate to keep his status as the primary provider for the family.

So he does things to prevent his wife from working or earning enough money to support the family.

This causes bigger problems, arguments, stresses, and anxieties.

The whole family suffers.

When people fight for their identity, they cause more suffering.

Identification can cause other disasters as revealed in the following section.

Identifying with other people’s concepts is dangerous

Most cultures require men to be courageous. This creates a lot of social pressure for men to show their courage.

Fulfilling other people’s expectations can make you believe in the following logical equivalence.

You ≡ other people’s concepts

Now you believe you are what other people think you are. This puts you at the mercy of other people’s whims.

When a man identifies with his courage, this equivalence will act like a Voodoo doll. If someone sticks a pin in his beliefs about his courage, he feels pain. Any attack on his courage is the same as an attack on his physical body.

An attack expressed in words can be worse than a physical attack. Anyone can verbally insult or humiliate a person with little effort compared to a physical attack.

Sticking pins into people’s identities to manipulate or destroy them is a sad tale told many times throughout history.

So why is identifying so damaging? That is next.

Identifying with non-realistic concepts causes suffering

When you equate yourself to non-realistic concepts, you will suffer.

For example, if you identify with Superman, you will fail. You will hurt yourself and others when you attempt to perform super-human stunts. Trying to be Superman is not realistic.

Just don’t identify with non-realistic concepts like trying to be Superman.

Sounds easy, right?

Actually, that is impossible as explained next.

Buddha

All your concepts are unrealistic

Your problems start with your non-realistic perceptions

Most people assume their sensations accurately describe the real world.

But, your brain modifies, organizes, and simplifies all your sensations so you can quickly respond.

The following examples prove your conscious mind receives a heavily falsified version of your sensory data.

You have two eyes and receive two images of the world. But you see only one view. Your brain merges all the data so you have one simplified view of the world.

Also, you have a blind spot in the back of each eyeball where the head of your optic nerve takes up space, leaving no room for light sensing cells. You are not aware of this blind spot because your brain substitutes a guess for the missing data. You can detect your blind spot and see the fake data your brain injects by performing simple experiments described at the Internet website Visionary Eye Care.

When physicists analyze the human eye, they know the lens of the eye inverts all images. Yet, humans perceive things to be right-side-up. This means the brain must invert all your visual data before presenting it to your consciousness.

A psychological experiment proved that the human brain inverts everything you see. In the experiment, they fitted people with lenses in front of their eyes to invert all images. Initially, they saw everything upside down. But after a few days, their brain flipped their images, and they perceived everything to be right-side-up. When they stopped wearing the inverting lenses, they saw everything up-side-down. But in less than a day their brain flipped their perception again, so they would see everything right-side-up.

Optical illusions are instances where the brain produces views with errors. You can see examples on this website: Optics 4 Kids.

These examples and many others prove you have a simplified and false view of reality.

Next, you will learn how your brain further degrades your perceptions.

Your subconscious mind throws away a lot of your sensations

Your senses detect a small fraction of what happens in your environment.

But, did you know that your brain throws away a lot of the sense data it does receive?

Neurologists performed experiments to understand how your brain handles sensations. They know that millions of sensations constantly flood your brain. A multitude of subconscious groups of neurons or sub-minds process each input. These subconscious units throw away sense data received for less time than 66 milliseconds. They discard longer duration data if it is not recognizable by the viewer.

Then another layer of subconscious neurons selects a portion of sense data to make a single coherent presentation. Your conscious mind can handle only one worldview at a time.

The subconscious mind throws away all sense data that does not agree with or enhance the single selected view. The chosen view becomes your conscious view of the world only after the subconscious mind broadcasts it to many other parts of your brain (Dehaene, Stanislas, et al. What is consciousness, and could machines have it?, Science 358, pages 486-492 (2017) 27 October 2017).

Therefore, all conscious perceptions are simplified and inaccurate summaries.

A better name for these summaries is abstractions.

An abstraction is a brief description or summary created by removing most of the details.

An example is the abstract you see at the beginning of most technical articles.

But the simplifications and modifications do not end with the subconscious mind.

Now, let’s see how the conscious mind reduces the accuracy of your perceptions.

Your conscious mind forgets most of its perceptions

Your conscious mind selects a small portion of your sensations to store in your short-term memory. They call it short-term memory because you can recall it for about 15-30 seconds after you sensed it. But if you do not rehearse the data, which stores it into long-term memory, you lose it forever.

In your long-term memory, you also lose most of your sense data.

What you can recall about reality is a small portion of your already simplified view.

The next section shows how your knowledge about reality gets worse.

Words reduce the accuracy of your memories and concepts

You use words to describe your memories, give them meanings, and compute new concepts.

Words destroy accuracy because they are mere symbols for real things.

For example, I can use the word “Earth” to discuss an aspect of our planet. Just think how this single word refers to so much but has so little detail.

Does the word “Earth” tell you what the planet was like four billion years ago? How about the planet today, or a billion years in the future? Does it describe all the people who live on the planet? Does it say anything about all the changes happening on the planet right now? No.

Words can never capture the complexity of the real world. They are extreme abstractions.

You use words to describe your memories, build meanings and create new concepts. At every stage of your thinking, words destroy details.

Words are lifeless symbols with no meaning until a human imagines a meaning. You cannot see, hear, touch or sense that mental meaning. Word-meaning is a ghostly, momentary modulation of brain waves, that occurs only when you interpret words.

It is illogical to equate yourself to the chirping of brain waves. Believing you are equivalent to words or thoughts is a gross error. And when you make gross errors, you will suffer.

That is why identification with your concepts is unrealistic and why it causes needless suffering.

But there is a solution.

How to be immensely successful even with your unrealistic concepts

Understanding the curse of ignorance

Game of Go The growth of human knowledge is like a game of Go. Starting from a single small point representing zero knowledge, people explore outward into the dark unknown. We only experience levels of ignorance, never absolute knowing.

Humans think about their world and create theories and laws. But they often discover their facts to be fiction and their fictions to be facts. The following is one of many examples of how truth and fiction often switch positions.

When people first thought about the Sun and its interaction with the Earth, they concluded the Earth was the center of the universe. This was logical since a person standing on Earth felt no motion and their tests verified no motion.

When new instruments and new explanations contradicted natural observations, most people rejected the new ideas as pure fiction.

Then additional instruments and concepts proved the Earth was spinning on its axis and orbiting the Sun, causing facts and fictions to switch position. Just like in the game of Go where a successful attack flips many black tokens to white or many white tokens to black.

The old way of thinking about the Earth became known as an illusion and a false model in people’s minds.

Today, the new model has completely replaced the old. The Sun as the center of our solar system is the undisputed truth.

So, how are you to know what is real when fact and fiction frequently switch?

Apply the Scientific/Buddhist approach to your unrealistic concepts

Human sensations and concepts are inaccurate and often erroneous as shown in the section All your concepts are unrealistic.

But why are Physics and other physical sciences so productive when scientists also have unrealistic concepts?

Here are a few methods scientists apply to their faulty thinking.

  • Scientists know that human observations and conclusions are often inaccurate and faulty. So scientists demand rigorous methods for verifying their laws. They specify conditions in great detail for testing laws. Then they test, retest and continuously retest to make sure their facts are still valid.

  • Scientists know language injects errors into ideas, so they require other scientists who use other languages to test and verify laws described in their foreign language.

  • Scientists work to specify all the conditions required for a law to be valid.

  • Scientists realize that any amount of testing will not prove a law is always true. They know any law may test false if a new test condition occurs that they previously did not know about and did not test.

  • Scientists assume all measurements are inaccurate and often specify the amount of error in their measurements and in their predictions.

  • Scientists know many laws cannot predict with absolute certainty. So they specify a probability of a prediction being right or wrong.

  • Scientists know many predictions are only statistically correct and require large numbers of test samples to verify the statistical predictions.

  • Scientists know many things in the real world are not determined. In Quantum Mechanics, subatomic particles do not have an exact position and speed. The future is also undetermined.

  • Scientists know that laws are not always true and strive to specify conditions that invalidate a law.

  • Scientists strive to tell others which ideas are guesses and not supported by test results.

  • Scientists strive to identify where the engulfing dark unknown boundary begins.

  • Scientists strive to probe, map and push back the boundary of the dark unknown.

As you can see, scientists take a very critical view of their knowledge.

Your concepts will never describe the real world exactly. Equating yourself to your concepts is a big mistake.

The next topic explains something more important than scientific methods.

Your imagination is more important than scientific methods

For thousands of years, people thought the Earth was the center of the Universe. This was the only logical conclusion because they felt no movement whenever they stood still. They could see the Sun, Moon, and stars moving. So, they created a model with the heavenly objects rotating around the Earth.

Only a mad, evil, heretic like Galileo would dare say a person on the Equator is moving at 1000 miles per hour because of the spin of the Earth on its axis. Or, you and the Earth are orbiting around the Sun at 67,000 miles per hour.

Now, in our modern schools, we tell children the Earth spins on its axis and travels around the Sun. We expect them to believe this against all their natural observations.

The only evidence of a Sun-centric Solar system are minuscule anomalies, hear-say data from instruments never seen, and stories from people who say they have traveled around the world or into outer space.

How is it possible that even children can understand concepts that contradict all their everyday experiences?

Imagination!

Just as a child can easily imagine Unicorns or Superman, they can imagine the Earth spinning and orbiting the Sun.

Once you show a child a physical model or a video of our Solar System, they can recreate this model in their mind.

A child can also imagine the Earth as the center of the Universe. Then compare information about both models and decide which concept they wish to believe.

That’s why your imagination is so powerful and why you are constantly using your imagination.

You are traveling through a dimension not of sight or sound, but of mind. This dimension is your imagination. You must push aside the endless possible dream worlds. If you gaze too long into a fantasy, it consumes your entire reality. Oh, ha-ha-ha. This is your stop.

Twilight

Now you need to know what a model is.

A model is a concept for predicting the future

Scientists spend a lot of time struggling with models to make predictions about the future so they can control what happens.

The Oxford online dictionary provides this definition of a model, “A simplified description, especially a mathematical one, of a system or process, to assist calculations and predictions.”

The Solar System model allows scientists to predict the motion of all the planets and their moons as they orbit the Sun. This model enables scientists to send satellites into Earth orbit and land probes on distant planets.

Other models allow engineers to build tall buildings and long bridges that survive storms and earthquakes.

Models are beneficial and allow people to do things that would otherwise be impossible.

A more exact definition of a model is:

A model is a planned activity that imitates a real-world sequence of events for the purpose of understanding, predicting future events and altering the event sequence to achieve an intended result.

But models are not real. Models are simple, symbolic representations of the real world, magically suspended in your imagination.

As mental constructs, they have all the faults and frailties of human thinking.

So, how can you get beneficial results from your faulty models? That is next.

How to use your models

You can easily create mental models of almost anything such as unicorns, Superman, or the solar system.

Your imagination is unlimited.

But the important thing is–is the model helpful, or is it harmful?

That all depends on how you use your imaginary abstractions.

Here are a few rules for using your imperfect models.

  • Apply the scientific methods described above. Constantly question, test, and improve your models to make sure they are helping you achieve your goals.
  • Learn from the Buddhist and never identify with, cling to, or try to live inside your models.
  • Measure the value of a model by how much it helps you achieve your real-world goals. How it makes you feel in your mind has zero value.
  • Approach a new model with the kill-it-quickly attitude. Think of the easiest and quickest test that might prove it false. Most new models are useless and you must dispose of them quickly or you will never find a good model.
  • Apply these suggestions when a model breaks
    • Always keep in mind that models suffer from inaccuracy, random failure, and could flip to false whenever new conditions invalidate old assumptions.
    • Check all the statements in your model for Semantic errors. Statements are often self-contradicting or pure nonsense (3).
    • Reduce your modeling errors by studying logical fallacies, cognitive biases and critical thinking (2).
    • Even real-world events can be misleading. Search for meddling humans or other spoilers disrupting conditions and results.
    • Figure out why the model failed and try to upgrade the model.
    • Be willing to let go of a model that no longer works and switch to a better model.
  • Have plans and procedures for handling prediction failures. Your models will fail.

There is one other very important factor that determines the usefulness of your models.

The meaning of a model depends on the context, called a viewpoint

All symbolic representations such as words, concepts, and models lack meaning unless couched within a context.

For instance, the word “big” has little meaning without a context.

If the context is animals on Earth, then a Blue Whale is big compared to other animals.

If you are discussing world politics, then the President of the United States is a big influencer.

Notice that the word “big” may mean relative physical size, relative political influence, or relative anything.

The more context you provide around a word, the more robust and exact the meaning.

Words are like sand. One grain of sand by itself means nothing. But when billions are skillfully sculptured together, they create magnificent meaning.

Meaning from sand

When working with a model, you create the model within your mind. As part of the model, you must also imagine its environment. The imaginary theater of application you create is best referred to as a viewpoint, emphasizing its mental nature.

As an example of how viewpoints alter predictions, consider this simple model: choose activities that improve your health, prosperity, and abilities to achieve happiness.

Now, if you ask ten people what this model means, will they all give you the same answer? Absolutely not.

Why? Because they all have different viewpoints.

A young independent person with no immediate family will say the model recommends activities that quickly improve his/her personal health, prosperity, and happiness.

A father or mother would emphasize health, prosperity, and happiness of all family members. This would extend over the lives of their children. These people prefer projects with long-term and persistent results.

A person concerned about the future of humanity for the next thousand years would interpret the model to recommend activities spanning hundreds of years.

People in these three viewpoints would disagree on what activities are most important, even though they are using the same model.

Which position would be right? They could all be logical and practical. A model and its predictions are valid if they work in the conditions (context) of the viewpoint.

This brings up how to use viewpoints.

How to use your viewpoints

As shown above, changing the viewpoint of a model changes its interpretations and predictions.

Confusion and arguments occur when people apply multiple viewpoints to one model or multiple models to one viewpoint and expect the same conclusions.

To eliminate unnecessary confusions, use the following rules.

  • A viewpoint is a planned mental activity in an area of study which compares things in that area to detect, classify, measure and record their differences.
  • Use the information generated by a viewpoint to design models and develop concepts.
  • A viewpoint by itself, without a model, has no predictions and has no purpose. A model without a viewpoint lacks specific conditions of application and so its predictions are vague and useless. A prediction without a viewpoint or model does not specify when, where, how, or on what to apply the prediction.
  • A statement makes sense only if it defines a single viewpoint, with a single model, predictions from that model and any necessary supporting concepts as a single unit (VMPC stands for viewpoint, model, predictions, and concepts).
  • A VMPC is valid only if all parts test valid with each other in the real world.
  • When trying to get multiple VMPCs to agree on the preferred activity to achieve a goal, use the following rules
    • Define each VMPC as a separate unit.
    • Validate or reject each VMPC separately.
    • Attempt to correct a rejected VMPC and then re-compare it to the others.
    • When valid VMPCs have serious conflicting predictions, find better models and concepts within each viewpoint that provide more compatible predictions.
    • If valid VMPCs still have conflicting predictions, work to improve the viewpoints until they produce more compatible models and predictions.
    • As a last resort to resolve conflicting VMPCs, try to agree on priorities and compromises.

Multiple viewpoints are a lot of work, but they are helpful. They can provide a more complete and realistic understanding of reality.

Always remind yourself that no matter how good your solutions look, they are not reality nor the best solution. They are imaginary models severely limited by your abilities.

Now for an overview of all these concepts.

Primitive versus meta-cognitive thinking

Primitive thinking people cannot understand new situations. That is why primitive people think a photograph is the person. The photograph looks the same as the person. Therefore, the photo is the person.

Even if a primitive person realizes a photo differs from a real person, they struggle to understand the differences. They wonder if the photo has stolen part of the person, such as their soul.

They lack the thinking methods to detect, measure, and classify differences. This mental vacuum of differences forces them to assume the photo is equivalent to the person. Then they must respond to the photo and the person in the same way.

Modern people think primitively when they identify with their concepts or anything else. They do not understand the differences between their concepts of things and the real world. In their confusion, they focus their attention on their concepts and do nothing about real-world conditions. They waste their time on senseless rituals, worthless status symbols, and useless fantasies.

An example is a ninety-year-old, gray-haired person dying their hair jet black. Does that help them in some way? Or, does it only change how they think about themselves?

The solution to this lack of thinking skills is to apply a mental procedure for handling novel situations. First, analyze a situation from various viewpoints. Recognize novel differences. Then classify and note relationships. Create models, predictions and supporting concepts. Then test your concepts to make sure they work. Your new understanding of the novel situation will allow you to control future events.

This process for working with your thoughts yields a rational and realistic understanding of a novel situation.

Notice that this work is not accidental. You must be aware of how you are using your thoughts and carefully perform the mental procedures for developing realistic ideas.

Thinking about your thinking is called meta-cognition. Something that a primitive person could never do.

Recognize that meta-cognitive thinking is itself a novel activity. An in-depth explanation of meta-cognitive thinking goes far beyond this article.

For now, apply viewpoints and models as a new meta-cognitive activity.

Now, one final reminder.

Know when to hold’em, and when to fold’em

Your viewpoints, models, predictions, concepts, and sensations are tools.

Realize your thoughts create illusions that feel real to you, but they are only mimicking the real world.

Don’t become attached to any concept. You can easily imagine better ideas.

Never forget to measure the value of your imaginary world by how much it helps you achieve results in the real world.

Always test how well a tool is working.

Know when you need to switch to a better tool.

Follow this excerpt from the song “The Gambler” about knowing how to use your cards when playing poker.

   You've got to know when to hold 'em
   Know when to fold 'em
   Know when to walk away
   And know when to run 
   Every gambler knows 
   That the secret to survivin' 
   Is knowin' what to throw away 
   And knowin' what to keep 
   'Cause every hand's a winner 
   And every hand's a loser 

Written by Don Schlitz and recorded by Kenny Rogers

How to have fun with riddles

Now I will apply viewpoints, models, predictions, and concepts to a few Buddhist riddles.

Analysis method

I am sure you have heard many statements and riddles that cause confusion and arguments. You can dispose of problem statements if you apply the principles explained in this article. Here is a quick summary of what to do. In the following sections, I will use these methods on some common but bewildering statements.

  • All human thoughts are abstract and symbolic representations of reality, far removed from reality.
  • Words and any constructions with words are extreme abstractions, further removed from reality.
  • People use words to construct meaning, but they often build statements that are nonsense, self-contradicting or lack context which creates vague meanings.
  • For a statement to make sense it should have a single viewpoint, a model, the models predictions, and supporting concepts. All of these components should occur and work together in the real world.

Now let’s have some fun.

Riddle #1: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

This sentence contradicts itself. One hand cannot clap.

It’s the perfect example of how words can produce nonsense.

This riddle is a joke. Anyone who tries to make sense out of nonsense is wasting their time.

Always look for language errors first. Statements may produce pure nonsense, self-contradiction, have no meaning or an invalid meaning (3).

Riddle #2: “No-Self, no problem”

No-Self is a popular spiritual pursuit. Here are some common statements you may have heard.

“No-Self, no problem.”

“I can do good deeds because I don’t care about what happens.”

“No-Self, no selfishness, no separation from others.”

People who think primitively will interpret these statements to mean they should identify with their concept of being nothing. As explained earlier, all identification causes suffering. But this is a fault in people and not in the statement.

The first step in analyzing “No-Self” is to check for self-contradiction or nonsense. These statements do have meaning. So the next step is to look for the viewpoint, model, predictions, and concepts.

The statement “No-Self” or “Non-Self” rejects the viewpoint of self but does not specify what the viewpoint is. This vagueness has caused endless confusion.

Buddhist monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu clarifies the meaning in the following quote from his article (1).

If we create a fixed view of who or what we are, we limit ourselves. We keep on creating suffering and stress. But if we see we can create many senses of self and can learn to use them as tools, we’ll be in charge of our happiness. We can use these tools to bring suffering and stress to an end.

As with any tools, we have to learn how to use them well, and part of using them well is learning how and when to put them down. Otherwise they get in the way of what we’re trying to do. If we carry them around all the time, they weigh us down for no purpose at all.

This is where the teaching on not-self comes in. It, too, is an activity–a strategic activity–that has to be mastered as a skill: knowing how to put down a particular sense of self when it’s no longer skillful, and ultimately, when your selves have taken you as far as they can, knowing how to let go of them all.

When you understand both self and not-self as activities in this way, it’s easy to see how the Buddha’s teachings on this topic are answers to his basic question for fostering discernment: “What, when I do it, will lead to long-term welfare and happiness?” When, through practice, you’ve learned how to use perceptions of self and not-self in a skillful way, you’ll know for yourself that these skills are a very effective answer to that question.

This quote and additional information in the article are amazingly similar to the information presented in the section “How to use your viewpoints”. The terms are different. Monk Bhikku uses the term “senses of self” instead of viewpoints. But, in general, his approach is the same as presented in this article. He also provides a model, predictions, and procedures for getting the results you want.

Riddle #3: “The world is transient, but you are an eternal being”

This riddle has two statements. Statement 1: “The world is transient.” Statement 2: “You are eternal.”

The first statement is valid since there is abundant proof that things in the real world are changing.

But the second statement has a major problem. The word “eternal” cannot be defined. Does eternal mean beyond this universe? Does it extend into an infinite series of universes? Or does it imply a parallel universe on a different timeline?

You cannot test, falsify, verify or define the meaning of a statement containing the word “eternal”. Discussing this statement is a waste of time. Its meaning is unknown for all humans. Its models and predictions are unknown. This statement has little practical value.

But, is statement 2 useful as a viewpoint?

For centuries many religions told people they were an eternal spirit to help people imagine the big picture and be more responsible.

That worked fine because ancient people received only one religious point of view.

Our modern world has changed all that. Now a powerful entertainment industry bombards you with endless viewpoints about the future.

Even worse, the media industry captures people’s attention with immediate cheap thrills, life fulfilling fantasies, and imminent dangers.

The concept of eternal existence just doesn’t capture people’s attention in our modern world.

This viewpoint is not helpful.

More useful viewpoints are thinking about what to do for the next year, or the next ten years.

Riddle #4: “I am one with everything”

Some people interpret this statement to mean you should identify with everything. Being exactly equal to your concepts of everything is impossible. If a person attempts to be everything, they will have serious problems. As always, identifying causes suffering.

But could this statement be helpful as a viewpoint? Viewpoints are worth investigating because they are so quick and easy to imagine.

Being one-with-everything is a very heady viewpoint and it could help a person be more responsible. But humanity does not have the immense library of models necessary for improving everything. Not even close.

This viewpoint quickly hits a road-block and must be abandoned.

The biggest mistake that people make is they assume they know much more than they do just because they use big words like “everything” or “eternal”. Anyone who claims they understand everything is unrealistic.

The most intelligent and honest people will tell you exactly where their knowledge ends and the dark unknown begins.

Riddle #5: “Everything is changing and so the self is empty”

This riddle is like the following statements.

  • “You own nothing”
  • “I am not this body, so I was never born and will never die.”

These statements recommend you do not identify which is valid.

But many statements like these do not say what you should do.

The solution is to use viewpoints, models, predictions, and concepts.

Riddle #6: “I am everything, and I am nothing”

This riddle states an obvious contradiction. You cannot be everything and nothing at the same time.

But you can compare the viewpoint of being everything with the viewpoint of being nothing. In fact, using multiple viewpoints will provide a more complete picture of the subject.

Using viewpoints freely is a powerful tool. This statement is acceptable when interpreted as advising you to be flexible with your viewpoints.

However, the real challenge for this statement is finding models of action common to both viewpoints that will provide beneficial results.

How to use concepts

Models versus identities

Identities and models are both abstract concepts. The most important difference is your attitude.

An identity is a concept you consider as more valuable than your real self or the real world.

A model is a concept you know is inaccurate, static, and faulty. The only reason you still use it is because you have not yet designed a better tool. You would upgrade in a second if you found a better model.

Models help you as explained next.

You need models of your body

Many models of your body are subconscious. They are sometimes referred to as muscle memory. These models are wired into your brain so you can walk, run and play sports without thinking.

You also use many conscious models every day. You have a model of your body so you can choose the best fitting clothes, what physical activity you can do safely, and the foods you have learned are good for your body.

Body models help you avoid problems and achieve your goals.

But there are other necessary models.

Models help you achieve your goals

Models tell you how things work, predict future events, and inform you how to alter the sequence of events to get what you want.

The reason we think as we do is that we inevitably and inescapably create our own personal models of the world as the mental maps which we then use to get around in the world. We derive information from what we have seen, heard, and felt, and construct a mental picture so that we can operate in the world – survive and thrive. Survive in meeting our basic needs and thrive in getting along with others, in our career, financial well-being, health, etc (Hall 97).

As your models improve, you increase your ability to create the life you want.

The landing of astronauts on the Moon proves you can overcome all limitations of the physical universe by using models.

Man on the Moon

You have a “Self”

Your “Self” is your collection of models and associated viewpoints, predictions, and supporting concepts about yourself.

The proper attitude is to despise this collection because it sometimes fails and causes problems.

But, it is helpful most of the time. So you use it and constantly try to improve it.

Determine your future with your new thinking skills

This article is a quick overview of how to change your thinking style to be more realistic and successful. With this knowledge, you can do the following.

Avoid ancient and modern errors in your thinking.

Prevent confusion which causes fear and stress from not know what to do.

Resolve wasteful arguments to everyone’s satisfaction.

Now you have powerful tools to handle situations you have never understood before.

You can imagine viewpoints to discover novel differences and compile new knowledge.

Design new models to mimic the real world.

Test, verify and improve your models.

Predict the future with the help of your models.

Bend the sequence of worldly events towards your desired conditions.

With this new knowledge, you can create the life you want.

References and Notes

The writing of this article would not be possible without the study of the following publications and others from these authors.

1. Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. (2011). Selves & Not-self The Buddhist Teaching on Anatta. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/selvesnotself.html.

2. HALL, L. MICHAEL. (2018). EXECUTIVE THINKING: Activating Your Highest Executive Thinking Potentials. Clifton, Co., Neuro-Semantic Publications.

3. Korzybski, Alfred. (1933). Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristoteliean Systems and General Semantics. 5th ed., Fort Worth, Tx., Institute of General Semantics, 1994.


If you have any suggestions or questions please email me at DonTipon@FixYourThink.com


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