Buddhist Self Help ~ Guest Post by Marcus of Marcus’ Journal

Nate, at the Precious Metal blog, had the great idea of an article swap in which Buddhist bloggers would appear as guest writers on other Buddhist blogs. So today on ‘Sweep the dust, Push the dirt’ you’ve got me, Marcus from ‘Marcus’ Journal’, writing about a topic suggested by John – Buddhism as self-help. Meanwhile I asked Shane from ‘Zenfant‘ to write about a favourite sutra as a guest on my blog.

In setting the theme of this post John was very generous, making clear it was just a suggestion and inviting me even to vent if the need arose. What he was interested in, he said, were my opinions on “the current movement of Buddhist practice in the west towards a secular or ‘self-help” approach… Anything from being a more compassionate individual to “living the mindful life” or the 12-steps.”

However, having lived in the west for only two out of the last fourteen years, and not being particularly interested in Buddhism when I first left, I can’t say I’ve had much direct experience of self-help Buddhism except for seeing, and sometimes reading, the odd blog post now and then. In fact, I think there was one on this very blog not so long ago.

What I do know, however, is that many new to Buddhism often pick up the wrong idea that the Buddha taught there is no such thing as a self. Perhaps this is why some would be against ideas of self-help, self-development, or self-reliance, perhaps they think that such programmes run counter to the Buddha’s teachings. Far from it. The Buddha taught self-help.

What the Buddha denied was the Atman, the concept of a permanent, solid, unchanging self. He also warned against Vibhavaditthi, the view that you have no self. What he said is that what we think of as self is subject to change and is interconnected with everything else. The idea, often voiced I think in western Buddhism, that we must destroy the self, is nihilistic nonsense.

I heard Venerable U Vamsarakkhita speak in Bangkok recently on this very issue. What the Buddha did not teach, he said, was detachment. The Buddha did not tell people to cast aside their bodies and thoughts and feelings. Rather, the Buddha taught people to examine them. And then, through this investigation, they will be better able to live in the moment, experiencing a richer more fulfilling life.

My own root teacher, Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim, writes “There is no substance to the I that people have thought of as themselves. However, it is said that I has no substance, not because such a reality does not exist, but because what is called I always changes from moment to moment.” And thank goodness for that. It is this constant change that makes self-development possible.

And so the Buddha developed one of the very first 12-step self-help programmes, only he called his the Noble Eightfold Path. And he talked about developing skillful states such as morality, generosity, and wisdom, and breaking free of greed and anger and delusion. Right Effort was an integral part of his 8-step programme; and he encouraged people to support each other in this programme.

So if self-help practitioners draw from the abundant storehouse of Buddhism, making use of the teachings and practices, that is entirely wonderful and I don’t think anyone in the Buddhist world will do anything other than celebrate. My only concern would be only if those parts of Buddhism most readily useful to a western therapeutic approach were presented as the entire Buddhist story.

This could be a problem if western self-help Buddhists came to believe that theirs was in some way better than the Buddhisms found in Asia, or if they had no access to the fullest teachings. Because self-help is not the final goal of the Buddha’s programme. Liberation is. But, like John himself said recently here on this very blog, “We need to work with the small first and move the rest of the way up as time and ability permits.”

Thank you John and to all the readers of ‘Sweep the dust, Push the dirt’ for having me here today as a guest. May all beings everywhere be safe, well, happy, and free.

Thanks Marcus!  Love to open the doors for you over here!  I appreciate your input and insight. Cheers!  For everyone else, I have listed the participants of the blog swap.  I will update the posts as they come out and I notice them.

*Deep Bow*


11 thoughts on “Buddhist Self Help ~ Guest Post by Marcus of Marcus’ Journal

  1. Pingback: Dec 1st is The Great Buddhist Blog Swap! « Sweep the dust, Push the dirt

  2. Pingback: The Great Buddho-blogging Article Swap « Precious Metal: the blog

  3. Thank you!

    Thank you Jack for your nice words and for having me here! This blog-swap has been a great experience.

    And thank you too Adam for your kindness. And I loved your post on ‘selling Enlightenment’ btw.

    And thank you again to Nate for the great idea! Looking forward to part two!

    All the best,


  4. Great post, Marcus. It coincides well with my post over at Rev. Danny Fisher’s blog. I’m glad that we agree that “self-help is not the final goal of the Buddha’s programme.”

    I would like to inquire about your translation of vibhava ditthi. I can’t find any description of this being the view that there is no self; rather – as in the “Buddhist Dictionary” by Nyanatiloka, it is equated with uccheda ditthi, or the “annihilation-view” and the next entry, vibhava tanhā, is the craving for self-annihilation. So, as you noted, the idea of destroying a “self” is mistaken.

    But, to my knowledge, this is precisely because there is no self to be destroyed. 🙂 And that is the point of anattā (an = no/not/non and attā = self/soul), a central teaching of the Buddha.

  5. Hi Justin,

    Yes, I noticed, and was delighted, that we had both written about the same thing, come from it from different angles, and overlapped a good deal too. Wonderful.

    As for Vibhavaditthi, well, I’m no scholar, least of all a Pali scholar, I mentioned it in my post simply because I’d very recently heard the term mentioned in a Dharma talk and scribbled it down for future use.

    The particular Dharma talk I heard it from was by Phra Cittasamvaro, who also left extensive notes, which I used in this post. These notes, well worth a read, are here:


    I also note the use of vibhavaditthi in an essay by Bhikkhu Nanamoli, edited and revised by Bhikkhu Bodhi, in an introduction to ‘The Shorter Discourse on the Lion’s Roar’, in which he describes vibhavaditthi as the view of non-being. Which, as you say, is “identical with annihilationism (ucchedavada)”.


    However, the question remains – do we have a self? Well, of course the answer is yes. My name is Marcus, I’ve liked Marmite all my life, I prefer warm weather to cold weather, my friends recognise me from blocks away, my signature and fingerprints are pretty unique. To say we have no self, to try to deny that this self exists, is nonsense.

    But, is there a permament Marcus? No. Neither is there an independant Marcus. So, in that sense, there is no Atman. So in that sense, do I have a self? No.

    Yet it is the self with which I am familiar, the self of everyday speech, that takes refuge in the Triple Gem, and that works (or often otherwise in my case!) on finding and relying upon that which can be called the True Self – The Buddha-nature that trancends, underpins, and connects everything.

    Which is also a central teaching of the Buddha.

    Phew, what a long comment! Thanks for allowing me to go on! Of course though, as you know better than me, these words mean really very little. Self, no self, True Self, – it all has to be found through practice, not blog posts! So I’d better shut up now! LOL!

    All the very best and with palms together,


    • Hey Justin and Marcus! I’ll just throw in my own non-philosophic reply to the self issue. It doesn’t matter because when we get attached to the self we are off the path and when we are attached to non-self we walk off the path. The easiest way is to de-emphasize the self to the point where we see it as a part of our own perception.

      When we see our self as seperate from our perception we gain some insight into how much our self can dictate our life. When we practice we give our self a swift kick to the balls!

      Ouch…thinking hurts!



  6. I am john martin, an old friend of “U”
    I live in vancouver close to Sechelt where he lives.

    Please tell me how to contact him to obtain teachings.

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