In Pali, the self is called atta, and no-self is called anatta. Buddha is the first man in history who has used anatta: no-self is your reality, you don’t have any self. You are just like an onion: you go on peeling it, thinking that beyond this layer you will find something. You find another cover to peel off. You go on peeling, and finally nothing is left in your hands. That nothing is anatta.
You are neither the body, nor the mind, nor the heart, nor even the self. You are just a pure awareness beyond all kinds of cages. But don’t ask a question. Rather experience it, because it is not a question-and-answer thing. It is not something to be believed, it is something to be lived.
“The moment you ask, your essential nature and your action become separate.…Do not be deceived. In and out of the world there is not a thing that has a self-nature…”
He is very clear. Not a single thing in the whole world has a self-nature, because if things have self-nature, then they will never be able to merge into the universal. They will always remain separate islands; tiny, imprisoned in their own body-mind-self.
He is really a man of courage to say,
“There is not a single thing that has a self-nature, nor a nature that is productive of a self. All is but empty names, and the very letters of these names are also empty.
“If you take these empty names for real, you make a big mistake. For though they exist, they belong in the realm of dependent change, are like robes to put on and off.”
You have been in many bodies, in many species. You have changed your clothes many times, you have changed your residence many times; you have changed your address and name many times. It has been for centuries that in sannyas you are given a new name. It is indicative: you consciously change the name so that you know it is just a fiction. The old name had become a great reality; the new name is not yet conditioned. It is symbolic, that everything in you is continuously changing, eternally. Even your self is not the same, it goes on changing. Then what remains?
Rinzai is very straightforward. He says, “There is the robe of bodhi,” – even enlightenment is a robe, don’t get identified with it – “There is the robe of bodhi, of nirvana, of deliverance, of the trikaya – the three bodies we have talked about. But these are all changing layers; nothing of them is to be made a permanent home. “…of objective wisdom, of bodhisattvas and of buddha.” Even if you think you are a buddha, don’t get identified with it, it is just a passing phase. It is just a bridge to nothingness. The most perfect bridge, of course, but still a bridge.