Selfless Sense control

How to control the senses if they are not-self?


Attending to the birds, the suttas disappear.
Attending to the sutta, the birds disappear.
Attending to the attending, the attending disappears.

Which reminds me. I have to go walk now. Excuse me…:pray:


I’m not sure how that answers the question, but it does remind me of what Nietzsche said about how " they muddy the waters, so to appear deep". He was referring to how poets try to hide their non-clarity on a given subject through their works.


Apologies for the terse answer. The question was rather abrupt as “how to control the senses if they are not-self”. I simply related my experience with “controlling the senses” while walking meditation listening to the suttas.

When walking meditation attending to the sounds of birds, the sound of the sutta fades away from awareness. Neither are self.

When walking meditation attending the the sutta, the sounds of the birds fade away. Neither are self.

When walking meditation watching the mind attending to this or that (for example birds or sutta) , one notices that the mind eventually just calms done and attends less to particular things and attends more generally to everything.

Generally speaking, one relinquishes control and self-ness in practice such as satipattana as described in MN10.

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No problem, thanks for the response anyway.

However, I find that its easy to see that birds are not-self and the suttas and of course many other things.
It seems that while you are walking, you eventually notice that the mind is calm and then become more interested in your general mood. You attended to particular things, then you attended to a general thing.
This is how attention works, I agree.

To relinquish control as a practice, seems to inherently suggest that one has control in the first place.
The idea that one is in control first and then can decide to relinquish control, seems like another way of controlling…therefore there is self, because I am in control?

Ah Ok.

I think we might agree that “control” is “volition applied to a goal.” Without a goal, no need for control.

If that is acceptable as a premise, then we might ask, “what goal?”. This is where it gets interesting in the exploration and where it is helpful to understand the dependent origination chain as described in SN12.23. Part of that chain is “grasping”, which is really about control. And grasping is dependent on feeling, which is dependent on contact. Contact is a Buddhist term that describes a moment of recognition when the amorphous sensation snaps into a form (e.g., “birds twittering”). At this point we have several things:

  • the recognition of a sound as bird twitter
  • a neutral feeling (i.e., “what is that?”)
  • a grasping (i.e., “what bird is that?”)

And these are sufficient for the building blocks for identity. We have a “grasping aggregate”. We have the beginnings of a curious self.

Notice that that curious self has started to ignore the suttas, and has taken control. Consciousness has focused on the bird song.

One of the key facets of self is that self ignores other and prioritizes self over other, over all. So this little teensy “harmless” tickle of birdsong is really the beginnings of a teeny tiny self.

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I begin with your premise:
Volition is in regard to a goal and without a goal then one cannot imagine volition, or Intention is in regard to the intended and without an object of intention, intention is inconceivable.
You seem to imply that volition/intention is ‘control’, is ‘yours’?

It seems to me that ‘self’ has already taken place, and I cannot see the beginnings of it. There is already grasping, there is already an assumption of control.
I think that you are looking at the self-grasping-situation as if you were able to step outside of that “self-grasping-situation” and look at it from the outside so to speak, …where you then start to notice the beginnings of a self, but if you were able to go ‘beyond’ your self situation by choice then would you not be free from it?

Let me know if I missed your point?

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Yes. The specific advice in the suttas is, for example:

Rāhula, you should truly see any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all form—with right understanding: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.

I have found this advice extremely helpful in defusing unhealthy attachments and cravings. It permits a “stepping back” to take into account saner considerations than immediate gratification. The continued practice of “not-selfness” has been helpful to me. We follow the teachings not really to find self. We practice to end suffering.

Being aware of the ephemeral nature of attachment (e.g., bird song/sutta sound) is also part of the practice as one can see the start of the grasping, the start of the self. And then one can simply not grasp it and let go.

In my experience I can never control my senses. But I can develop the mind to understand my senses. When I investigate why I like or hate something so much I realise it’s the “sense of self” that is making me have those feelings. So there is no-self but there is the delusion that there is a self. So when we try to control it thinking it will have the effects we intend on having, it never really goes “our” way. Why? Because there is no-self controlling it. Things happen according to causes and conditions.

If your question is about meditation , I don’t think it is about control. You sometimes change the conditions around you so that there is calmness externally to start gaining calmness internally. (Even if you are in a retreat you can still hear people cough, sneeze , open/shut doors which you can’t control)
You shut your eyes so that one sense is not taking in external images, sit comfortably so you don’t have to think about dodging things while walking etc., even then there are so many things that could bother us which is out of our control.

I also don’t think there is control in watching the breath if you don’t force it but really watch when the attention is lost and bring it back gently. In conclusion you can’t control anything but you ‘think’ you can. And the components of that thought process need to be understood. That’s when you need to calm the mind so you can investigate.


Does there have to be a “restrainer” to have restraint? (saṃvara)

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Still how can ‘you’/self step outside your situation( 5aggregates)? With what, do you step outside of your situation?
Are you apart from the five aggregates?

I am still not convinced that one can see the beginning of grasping, all I see is that there is grasping, and if grasping ceases in every moment then there is the end of grasping, which then contributes to more grasping.
If I can see the beginning of it then I am in a position of non-grasping, but isn’t the self the result of grasping?

A person can see self with self,
Or can see not-self with self, but only an ariya can see not-self with not-self. ( I can’t remember which sutta that is from?)

Also I would put what you said differently:
Being aware the nature of attachment/upadana is the practice as one can see that it is already ‘there’, operating, without my decision. And then one can be in a position to understand that, such is the nature of attachment, it attaches at that which cannot be attached to.

As a Dhammapada verse says: " his very self is not his own" i.e seeing attachment as being there Already, one understands it cannot possibly be owned, and thus it falls apart.

I know most Buddhist practioners do not try to find a self, but what is it then that we refer to as not-self if not the very assumption of a self.
I must admit I see myself, I can refer to myself, I cannot deny the existence of that assumption, but I believe I should understand it and thus it will no longer be an assumption.

In terms of the senses:
Seeing that you cannot possibly own them,create them etc then assumptions of control stop. At which point indulgence in them becomes quite silly because the passion in them has been removed , by seeing that they were never mine to begin with yet I indulged with them as though I were them.
Knowing ignorance ends ignorance in that sense.


Yes, we cannot control everything and we can to some extent change our surroundings so as to be more calm for example.
However as the sutta that Karl just referred to says:
Rāhula, you should truly see any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all form—with right understanding: ‘ This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.
All things with the Nature of form, have as their nature the nature of anatta.
Understanding this would then result in you not needing to change your environment at all because no matter what form appears, one sees it correctly and it cannot be a problem.
Having to change your environment because one is disturbed is a sign that one has not understood what form is.

If one has the understanding of form, which can only be acquired through trying to understand what form is (and not through changing forms), then whatever form appears, it only serves as a reminder of your understanding.

I agree also that if you are not in a calm environment/lifestyle then you can’t investigate the mind.

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I think as we begin restraint we naturally begin where we are i.e being the restrainer. But with understanding of the senses, fully, passion in regard to them is ended and so indulgence inconceivable and therefore a restrainer is not needed.

Sorry I did not watch the video, maybe it’s saying the same thing?

Yes. That makes sense to me as well.

It is actually very hard to see the beginning of contact. When one sees a “beautiful person” one is attracted. It happens very quickly. With meditative immersion that process slows down and stretches out.

I suffer from very very bad eyesight and am going blind. This means that I see very very slowly. I actually see the blur become a face and it takes enough time for the other person to get annoyed that I haven’t recognized them. This means that I can look at two people standing together and eventually see one as more attractive than the other. They both start out as blurs–I can’t even tell what gender they are or how old. Slowly, painfully, my brain figures things out and then it limps along to contact. And it is in the process of contact that attraction is established. Attraction is the self-oriented assignment of value to another. Attraction causes one to treat two people differently. Attraction is a preferential feeling. It is, well, self.

When I put my glasses on, things happen much quicker. For my peace of mind, I simply take off my glasses. I am immersed in blurriness.

It is ethics. We fade into Right View. We practice self-effacement as in MN8. Yes, you could say that the larger community of sentient beings or even beings is just another “self”. That can work as well, but then the larger self gets so unwieldy that it doesn’t really fit in my poor little head. It’s just easier to look at all that stuff and just say “not-self”.

In terms of interaction with the world I’ve noticed that it’s just clunkier to hold a self in mind. That self always has imperatives and is a whiny pest impossible to please. Having a self is like driving a car worrying about getting ahead or getting somewhere instead of simply moving in harmony with traffic towards a destination.

This did not work for me as I was cowering in fear for my life. I felt a total lack of control and ever-present danger. I even knew that my fear was a delusion yet it simply would not stop. It took a long time to work out that fear, it was much much deeper than a thought or concept or insight. It took an adoption of right view as well as diligent practice for many many years.

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I am not sure I fully understand this question. Please give me an example. [quote=“Noahsark, post:11, topic:11820”]
I am still not convinced that one can see the beginning of grasping,

Do you mean the moment you realised you want something? Or the beginning of grasping in the universe which I think only the Buddhas can see. (Aganna sutta)

We need healthy food for sustenance. But the moment we want a particular type of food so bad that without it we think our life is meaningless (over exaggerating here :wink:) that’s the point you start noticing why you want it so badly.
Just now I had a piece if chocolate. Then I wanted another piece (as I was watching a meaningless funny drama series on netflix). When I went back for seconds I noticed that particular chocolate of which I had the last piece (apparently) was no longer available. Then I looked for another kind because I wanted it so badly like “what’s my life without this piece of chocolate” kind of way :worried:. As I was looking I knew craving for taste has started (I am not a chocolate fan like some people) and made up excuses like its my hormones (that time of the month), I am bored etc., The actual reason was watching stupid series and eating unmindfully. Why ? Because of five khandas, which is always changing. It was a thought process.
Anyway I had my second piece and kept watching. Because I investigated I stopped at the second piece. The series is so stupid but has funny dialogues and I still seem to want to watch it as I have nothing better to do today. But I can stop it too and grasp on to another like how I am typing here on the forum. (My sense of self wants to tell you “my” point of view so badly).

So yes it’s a series of moments of grasping. As long as it doesn’t have lobha,dwesha and moha we just live in that moment till it passes away. But if I start to argue here, contradict things because my way or highway that’s where the danger comes re: dependent origination where we create bava (existence?) according to my limited understanding.

I am still not sure about your confusion. Maybe I haven’t understood your question or maybe I just want to tell you what I know.

End of the day do you see the silliness of this “self” we hold so dear? It’s hilarious sometimes. ( just by looking at the things I do during the course of the day because of my sense of self) :roll_eyes:

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This is true… but it’s the first step to the path if understanding. People have to start somewhere. As one develops one doesn’t need to change the environment to see things as they are or to close eyes. But people are conditioned to prefer things perhaps from aeons of life times. So we have to let those be where they want to be. As they develop they will see that even if those conditions change it doesn’t matter to them. It will be like “meh” to them.

I think I made a blunder of replying to your post meant for Karl. See what did I tell ya… ? I do silly things everyday.

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:rofl: it was too quiet in here.

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Self is a false assumption of the mind born out of its ignorance. Senses will continue to function and gets controlled in spite of the assumption. I think our job is to meditate and eradicate the clinging of the senses to the false “I”. Thanks😀

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Anatta does not mean that we have no access to bodily, sensorial, emotional, and cognitive functions, but only that we regard them merely as various “natural functions” rather than operations of our personality or ego, or as functions (or choices!) that are arising from any independent and conscious will or desire. So the idea is that they are precisely beyond our control, even when we wish to control them. This understanding allows one to grow increasingly dispassionate about every bodily and mental function, and thereby free from their emotional impact. With this understanding and dispassion, these functions begin to change accordingly and of their own accord, because they have their roots in “cognition”. In other words, we use human cognition as a capacity to subvert human cognition as a set of ideas, just as we use the same power of “reasoning” to formulate a puzzle and also to solve it, or to both invent a visual or auditory symbol and ascribe a specific meaning to it. All these functions are done by means of cognitive capacities, and that’s why animals cannot attain nibbana.

All sentient beings have a karmic (natural) inclination to feel the “I”, “me”, and “mine”, but only human has the cognitive capacities with which to either reinforce or withdraw from these natural tendencies. That’s how animals are more or less equal, but in human you will find both self-obsessed villains and absolved saints! So as Buddhist practitioners we use our cognitive capacities in ways which differ from the norm, instead of reinforcing identification with the senses and emotions, and instead of regarding them as things emanating from our independent and free will, we alienate ourselves from them and do not identify with them, or ascribe any sense of self to them - we see them just as if they were external stimuli.

But this does not make our cognition, or capacity to understand, to be the self, because cognition too, is a natural process. This part is somewhat subtle and is what causes a lot of confusion: The Buddha says that, just as a light or sound stimulates the eye or the ear, thoughts stimulate the mind, so “thinking” is just a stream of ideas which come to the mind, uninvited, just as a flash of light or vibration of sound touch the eyes or ears. It only so happens, naturally, that if the mind attends to a thought of sensuality, or hatred, or any other such samsaric reality, it tends to follow these thoughts, and possibly all the way to death; while if the mind attends to Dhamma, it naturally tends to follow it, and possibly all the way to nibbana. It all depends on what the mind finds attractive to attend to, and we are all disadvantaged because the mind is wired by nature to attend to sankhara or to forms and to seek their pleasurable effects, rather than attend to Dhamma, renunciation, and seclusion - that’s why most people are suffering and are headed to rebirth, and are not free from suffering and the round of rebirth!

But this nature of the mind can change gradually, depending on whether it understands Dhamma and nibbana, and whether it finds them attractive, too! But it’s not “you” that attends to this or that and finds them attractive or repulsive; the mind naturally attends and feels, and evaluates and seeks, and even observes itself as it does all these things; so not even self-awareness is a self or ego. Again this does not mean that these things are not real or are insignificant, but only and simply, they are not to be regarded as “personal” or emanating from any freewill or conscious choice. So I don’t “choose” to write this reply to you now, the mind is doing it, and it is also wondering at the same time whether you will understand it and whether it is worth the effort, and it also reviews the motivation behind writing it. The mind is doing all that and is self-aware of all that by way of meta-cognition. And you probably already know that meta-cognition, that is, being aware of being aware, can go ad infinitum; but suffice it in Buddhist practice, that awareness should float freely, unfettered by behavioural, emotional, and cognitive conditioned responses.

But much of this is only conceptual, experientially speaking a sense of self persists in me as i’m writing to you now, and always: despite of my understanding and belief in the delusional nature of that sense of self, it lingers, because it is naturally instilled in the deepest recesses of our consciousness. So I, or more accurately the awareness side of cognition that is embodied in what is customarily called myself, recognises this sense of self as a profound delusion that is harmful and afflictive, just as I also recognise all emotions to be. But a progressing Buddhist practitioner, that is, his awareness, which inclines to Dhamma and pursues nibbana, finally witnesses the continual decline of that natural sense of self, and finally realises, intuitively and experientially, rather than abstractly or conceptually, that no self exists aside from that delusional phantom, which continues to dissipate as we speak. Unfortunately, it is not possible to experience this dissipation of this profound delusion of selfhood and personality, and the sense of agency and intentionality, without practice.

I really hope this helped!

So by understanding that “lack of control” in regard to the senses, by seeing that they are natural functions, the senses will gradually restrain themselves?

If for example, the eye looks at an attractive sight, should I allow it to do so, while considering that I am not the eye?

If there is an intention to continue looking at an attractive sight, should that also be left alone to go its own way, while I consider that I am neither the intention nor the eye etc?

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