Who am I – The Buddha’s Teachings on No-Self


There is no independent, permanent, unchanging “I” or “You” or “Ven. Chuan Guan”, but our existence in the various roles that we play.  That exist.

No One Role Defines Us

Given conditions, “you” exist, and as a son or daughter wrt to your parents, as a niece or newphew to your uncle and aunts, as a friend to your peers, as a colleague at work, etc. These roles collectively is who you are, yet none of it totally define you.

Sometimes we forget and overemphasis one over the other, or totally neglect this or that role. Other times, we forget to stop playing certain roles even when that role is no longer needed or relevant.  It is almost like the music that continues to play in our mind even when we stop listening to it. We continue to play some roles even when the conditions and situations have changed. Read More …

I Will Be Happy If … …

“If someone will call me or text me at 12 for my birthday …
if someone will give me a present (that I want) …
if I get what I want ….
then I will have a happy birthday …
then I will be happy … ”

… such a person hands over their happiness to others like the remote controller of a air-con unit, allowing others to raise or lower our emotional “temperature” and happiness in our life.

你變心了 Your Heart Has Changed!

I don’t know about now, but this used to be a common line in movies and soap operas.  Usually expressed when the other party has a change of heart, falling in love with another person.


If one’s heart is unchanging, then it would have been impossible for the two parties to even start liking each other.  With the first change of heart, there is interest.  With the second change of heart, there is liking.  With the next change of heart, there is love.  We like these changes of heart, but when the change of heart results in a fall out in the relationship, we fret.  We are unhappy.  We throw tantrums.  We scorn at this change of heart.

We ridicule it, calling it heartless to have such a change of heart.  We cry.  We lament.  We shout!  We are angry.  We are sad.  We cannot understand how this is possible.  We start to question.  We question the other person.  We question ourselves.  We question the neighbour’s dog.  “Doggie, do you know why?  Was it because of the way I eat?  No?  You saw another person with him / her didn’t you?”  We question the ants that crawl through the vents in the wall.  We try to pry an answer from them but to no avail.

We question the aunty pushing the carts in the streets.  We question the bus driver.  We question our little niece and nephew.  No, that is not your nephew, but your stranger’s son.  We question.  We doubt.  We wonder.  We ponder.  We want an answer.

But the answer was always there.

If we care to listen.  If we care to be quiet for awhile and just watch and observe.  Right from the start, the heart was ever changing.  No, there was no start.  There was always a preceding moment.  Obfuscated by our limited senses, we cannot phantom the preceding moments before our birth or our conception in our mother’s womb.  But the wise one shared us a peek and let us in on the secret.  That life is a continuum of mind and body, with one preceding the next.  If we were to observe closely enough and were to watch really mindfully, we will see the truth in that.

That the mind is in a constant state of flux.  The heart that is.  The way the heart-mind 心 is, is to change.  And it changes according to conditions, not according to anyone’s whims and fancy.  So how can there be unchanging love?

And yet, there are numerous accounts of love-lorn pairs who remain faithful to their dying days.  There is something sadistically beautiful about the human idea of love.  We admire two person being tormented their whole life, apart from the one they yearn.  If one party were to have a change of heart and actually be happy with someone else, we may even frown upon it!  How strange this “love” is!

And yet, if we do have true love that is unchanging, then what value is it?  If your partner has no choice but to love you, would that not cheapen it?  Isn’t it greater when your partner has a choice and yet chooses to
love you, to be faithful, to honour and cherish you.  Not because you are the best or the loveliest, but because he or she loves you?  But we want to believe that we are the best in our partner’s eyes.  And sometimes it is.  For some days anyway.  But perhaps it is when on the worse days, when your partner sees the worse in you, when he or she has a choice to choose better, and yet despite these, he chooses to remain faithful to his choice, that makes that fragile, changing love even more meaningful and worthy.

Love.  Dependent on conditions it arises, without which it ceases.  Fragile.  Destructible.  Ever changing.  Empty of any inherent, substantial existence.

It is precisely because it is dependent arising, empty of any intrinsic substantiality, that makes it so precious and unique.  Knowing thus, we should not and do not take it for granted.  We cherish it.  But at the same time, we know that it is subject to change, so we do not affix to it any fixed form or state.  It must be like this or like that.  This love between us and the joy therein must be so and shared between us only.  Forever.  No, we stop making such internal dialogue.  We realise that this is impossible.  We do not cling unto such deluded distorted fantasy.

We know that love must be nourished and sustained.  And it will change.  So we do not hold onto it and try to shoehorn it into a size 7 glass sandals when it is bursting to become the size 10 that it has become.

We learn to love and not hold onto love.  We learn to care and not wait for care to come to us.  We seek the welfare and happiness in others that we love, and not cry for the world to hold and love us.

Oh, my heart has changed, has been changing.  Have yours changed?

Which Part of “All Conditioned Phenomena Are Subject to Change” Do We Not Understand?

So we started off with wood for our tools and made many things with it.  We chose the trees that are strong and durable.  That was good for awhile.  Then we dried them, treated & processed them and made them last longer.  Along the way, we also used stone.  Oh, stone is so much harder and last longer.  But it was not as malleable as wood.  So we used both for a long time, complementing each other.

We then discovered smithing and started using copper, tin, bronze,  iron and many others.  Along the way, we developed and learnt how to make them stronger and more durable.  With each innovation, we found a way to prevent them from rusting, from breaking down.

Beyond wood, stone and metal, we also used glass and clay.  Unlike wood, glass and clay can be molded into various shapes needed.  Strong and yet lighter than metal, it was great.  But they were brittle.  Very brittle.  Modern tempered glass can be made stronger, but then it is heavy.

Then we invented a magical material.

It was malleable and yet hard.  If you needed, soft variants can be made.  You can make it into thin strands like cotton thread, or have them shaped into bigger stronger structures if needed.  And it was durable.  It would not decay or rot like wood, nor rust like metal.  It was water resistant and can have high heat tolerance if needed.  You can even shape it the way you want it.  Exactly.  Precisely.  It was the perfect, magical material.

We invented plastic.

Now we have the ideal material that allowed us to do whatever we want.  Perfect ideal material.  Magical.  Only problem:  We are too successful in our pursuit.  Most plastics will outlast several generations of human beings.

Some people say that we should bring our own bags when we go to the market or mall.  I agree.  But I think many Singaporeans reuse that *ntuc* plastic bag as trash bag.  If we bring our own bags, we will end up buying trash bags, which we are presently not buying.

The problem is that we cannot see across time and space.  We can only see what is near, so it is hard to visualise how the whole earth is changing because of our habits.  We also cannot see these changes to our environment because we do not have the patience, energy or ability to watch over a span of several months or years.  And even if we could, we mostly lack the ability to see the patterns within what we observe.

We are unable to link our habits (cause) with the environment harm (results).

The same goes for the Law of Karma.  Untrained, it is not easy for us to see directly the functioning of karma.  But if we train our mind to be more observant, calm and mindful, we can start to see the patterns emerging.  Patterns of wholesome actions
leading to happiness, peace and calm, and patterns of unwholesome actions leading to sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair.

To observe the long term effects of our actions on the environment, scientists take sample data from various environment metrics to develop a model.  Through this model, they can approximate and project the possible impact of our actions before it occurs.  So far, the picture is not a pretty one.  We are going into our 59th minute or 11th hour.  Our time is running out.

The world as a whole need to rethink how we use the earth’s resources.  It is not an finite source unlike the US dollar (or other currency) which the US treasury can simply print more green back and flood the market with it.  If a certain natural resource run low or run out, we cannot simply produce more of it.  Natural resources cannot be manufactured so to speak.  It can only be replenished over time as nature take its course.  A broken wooden chair when left to the element, decay and rot over time.  Its constituent parts, be it the four elements or its hydrocarbon molecules, break down as it interacts with the environment.  Over time, a chair that is untreated will totally disintegrate and so call ‘disappear’; the ‘chair’ disappeared’ but the elements move on in this earth, is absorbed or combine with other entities.  This process of decay and decomposition do not speed up just because scientific advances allowed us to speed up the manufacturing process. 

Scientists are also trying to speed up the decomposition by tweaking certain bacteria to act on certain ‘protein’ in plastic, and a teen managed to do just that.  “The Waterloo, Ontario high school junior figured that something must make plastic degrade, even if it does take millennia, and that something was probably bacteria.”

It all boils down to control.  We want changes that suit us.  But nature has other plans.  This very physical world has other plans.  It will change, not according to our whims and fancy.  It will change only according to conditions.  In a simplistic sense, science is really about understanding this world so that we can steer how it changes in order to satisfy our needs and wants.  When we want it not to change, we paint it, lacquer it, glaze it, electroplate it, wrap it with vinyl, enshrine it in glass or make it chemically inert.  If we want it to change, we heat it up, toss it around, dissolve it, charge it, or even send our bacterial minions to do our bidding.

Scientists in some ways are like the Buddha.  They try to know and understand this world to make our life easier, better, without so much stress and suffering.  Difference is that the Buddha discovered that the nature of this world is that it is impermanent, subject to change and cannot be controlled by any single entity, but goes in a constant flux of transitions according to conditions.  Instead of changing the world, the Buddha realised that we have to change ourselves.  By reducing our craving and attachment, our suffering reduces, by realising the true nature of all phenomena, one’s habit of delighting, craving and attachment / control subsides and ceases.  With that, suffering also ceases.

Scientists instead went the other way to change the world.

As I type on this keyboard, made mainly of plastic, I wonder how we can balance between changing the world and changing ourselves.  Each of us have to find that balance that work for us at this moment.  I just hope we find that balance sooner.

So, which part of “All conditioned phenomena are subject to change” do we not understand?