Selflessness

Question: What life lesson had the most profound influence on your development?

Robert Thurman: Well I wouldn’t say that there was a greatest lesson like one single aphorism that you could say that’s the thing, you know, not really.  I think that the discovery of what it’s called, selflessness, the idea that the sense of absolute self is illusionary and what is only relational self, and the sort of understanding that philosophically, resolved my philosophical quests, which is what I had been on, and had really presented answers.  So the concept of selflessness, or emptiness, is the one that I would say made me feel most released and wonderful, and I would say it fit with a concept that I had naturally had from youth, which I had, for which I had defended myself, intellectually, from being boxed into various dogmas, which was the concept of infinity, I was very fond of the concept of infinity, as a, as a youth, before I really knew much about it.  But emptiness and selflessness is really in that same category, and it’s sort of a releasing concept where, you know, really leading to a real experience of true relativity, not only a partial relativity like Einstein’s but a complete relativity.

Question: How is selflessness taught?

Robert Thurman: How does one encounter it?  Well, they say that you can only understand selflessness yourself, and they say you can only really understand it when you encounter someone else who understands it.  They have this funny double bind sort of thing in the tradition, and I think that does work out kind of in a certain way.  Of course, people will only understand selflessness in the West, including many Western Buddhists, as meaning somehow that you don’t exist, that your real nature is that you don’t exist.  And that it’s a big discovery, like a big sense of disappearing that makes you feel better, you know.  But that is not the case, it’s much more subtle, it is a gradual melting down of the rigid sense of the – separate, absolute self apart from the world into become a relational interconnected self that is more aware of its relativity and therefore more responsible for its shaping of itself.  Constant shaping and reshaping, and aware of influences that also shape it, and guarding against negative ones and cultivating positive ones because of the fact of you having become, having recognized that you are, know what’s happening, you know, totally relational, and there’s no non-relational component of us and so that’s a gradual thing that sort of dawns in a slow and steady way, and there are little leaps and little moments like epiphanies, but the idea that there’s going to be this sudden poof experience –

Because you sort of disappear, and that disappearance is your real being of no self, or something, that’s the way people understand it, but that’s not correct.

Recorded on: 6/1/07

Thurman talks about meditating on and teaching selflessness.

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

Golden blood: The rarest blood in the world

We explore the history of blood types and how they are classified to find out what makes the Rh-null type important to science and dangerous for those who live with it.

Abid Katib/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Fewer than 50 people worldwide have 'golden blood' — or Rh-null.
  • Blood is considered Rh-null if it lacks all of the 61 possible antigens in the Rh system.
  • It's also very dangerous to live with this blood type, as so few people have it.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists create a "lifelike" material that has metabolism and can self-reproduce

An innovation may lead to lifelike evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less