This book is deceptively complex.
I started out with the audiobook version, but after listening to the first two CDs about three times and not really taking any of it in, I checked out the hardcover from the library. That worked somewhat better, but the book was still quite confusing.
In a way, it seemed like a very long koan. If the self doesn’t inherently exist—although it does, in fact exist—what is its nature? If you can’t locate it in the mind or the body, where is it?
One thing that I found frustrating (beyond the basic incomprehensibility of the book) was that the Dalai Lama asks these questions and then gives the answer while insisting that the process of exploring the questions is more important than just having the answer. I don’t doubt this is true, I would just kind of prefer if he kept the answer a secret and let me figure it out on my own. Or at least gave a spoiler alert. Having an endpoint for my contemplation makes the contemplation itself less satisfying.
The sensation I had reading this book kind of reminded me of when my then-five-year-old asked me where we were before we were in our mommy’s bellies.
“Where do you think we were?” I asked, thinking that, since she’d been there more recently than I had, she might have a better idea than I did. (“Nowhere,” was her matter-of-fact answer, incidentally).
I’m not at all sure I get the book, although what I think I get is fairly liberating, if I’m actually understanding it correctly. Of course, the fact that I use the word “I” so often is probably evidence that I’m not getting it at all being that it’s all about the emptiness of existence of the self.
From the book:
“Ordinary happiness is like dew on the tip of a blade of grass, disappearing very quickly. That it vanishes reveals that it is impermanent and under the control of other forces, causes, and conditions. Its vanishing also shows that there is no way of making everything right; no matter what you do within the scope of cyclic existence, you cannot pass beyond the range of suffering. By seeing that the true nature of things is impermanence, you will not be shocked by change when it occurs, not even by death.”
At any rate, this book seemed to fit well with the daily meditation practice in which I’ve been engaged for the past five and a half weeks. And contemplation of the nature of the thing I think of as “I” has been…interesting. I’d read it again.