The Experience of No-self

The Experience of No-self by Bernadette Roberts

It's a true story of how one can achieve the cessation of self (one of the important characteristics of people who are free)

Bernadette Roberts was born in the pious Catholic family in the state of California, USA

Since childhood she has the talent to meditate, sit quietly in his room. Father & mother of Bernadette encourage this talent.

At age 15 she entered the monastery, became a nun. The goal is to develop the talents of meditation.

According to the teachings of Christian mysticism, the goal of meditation is to unite with God. That is the ultimate goal. There is still 'self', it's just that at its peak, 'self' is not separate from God.

In the convent, Bernadette claimed to have achieved the highest goal of Christian mysticism. Every night she went into the depths of her mind which she called "the still point" (point of silence), and be with the Lord, which compared like a coin, on one side is God and on the other side is Bernadette, and can not be separated. Describes the situation as a distinguished atmosphere of serene, safe and peaceful, where there is no disturbance of mind and desire can enter.

Bernadette reach the ability to enter and exit from the 'still-point' whenever she wants.

At the age of 25 years, she disrobe. The reason is there are not anything more that needs to be done and needs to be achieved in the monastery. In fact, according to her, with God's existence must be tested "in the market", in crowded public life.

She is married, and had four sons. She attended again, reaching S2 degree in education, then taught at a high school. Meanwhile, she still running role as housewives.

So life went on for 20 years. Every night she remained in meditation, entered into a "still-point", "united with God." Her husband and her children are very supportive of their mother's behavior which "strange".

Twenty years later there was a tremendous event, which was not expected and it never occurred to the minds of Bernadette.

Remember, she was a Catholic, she never read the books of an Eastern spiritual or mystical (Buddhist, Hindu, etc.).

During that time, she knew just a smart books for the monks /nuns of Catholic, written by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. The purpose of Catholic mysticism in both books is "union with God." It never occurred to her the possibility of self / I was able to disappear.

One night, when she will enter into the "still-point", she could not find that "still-point". Instead, she saw only a kind of "black hole" in her mind. The "Black hole" is getting bigger, filling the whole himself, and then erupted like a balloon. She was like dropped from the elevator that broke the chain as high as 100 floors down.

Arriving at the "bottom", she opened her eyes, and see everything around her, in her room, no one changed. But there is one major change: she could not feel her inner self! No emotion, no self-feeling, as the center looked around. No more me, a subject, which deal with the object. Everything is an object, even her own body was seen as an object, which is no different than bodies of others. No subject, who was at the center of its existence.

No emotion, no pleasant feeling, happiness, and no sense of grief, suffering. The body remained there, five-senses still functioning perfectly, intellect and memory of factual menacing still there, but no more self / subject in her mind. The body exists, there is physical pain, but no longer feel suffered because of physical pain.

She must learn again to adapt for two years to return to serve as a member of a distinguished family & society whose "normal." She must learn to see her husband is different from other men, although there was no longer feeling that the man is "MY-husband". Similarly, she must relearn her role as a mother to four children who are teenagers; the four children that are different from their other teenager friends, though in her mind there was no longer feeling of "They are MY kids."

And most interesting is, when self / I was lost in the events of that night, along with that, the God whom she knew was gone! She can no longer find God whom she was familiar and with whom she was in the "still-point" every night for twenty years.

But instead, everywhere she looked, in her mind's eye she saw something else. 'Something else' is seen pervading everything imaginable in her view. And she INTUITIVELY knows that 'something else' is the source of all things imaginable in this universe, and into which everything will be back.

I remember Udana 1.10: "In reference to the seen, there
will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference
to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized.
That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen
in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the
sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the
cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in terms of that. When there is no you
in terms of that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are
neither here nor yonder nor between the two."

Until now Bernadette Roberts is still alive. But she could not be reached, because she does not have an email address. Bernadette's friend made a website / blog about her, "Bernadette's Friends",

This is one of statement taken from interview with Bernadette Roberts:

Stephan: How does the path to no-self in the Christian contemplative tradition differ from the path as laid out in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions?

Bernadette: I think it may be too late for me to ever have a good understanding of how other religions make this passage. If you are not surrendering your whole being, your very consciousness, to a loved and trusted personal God, then what are you surrendering it to? Or why surrender it at all? Loss of ego, loss of self, is just a by-product of this surrender; it is not the true goal, not an end in itself. Perhaps this is also the view of Mahayana Buddhism, where the goal is to save all sentient beings from suffering, and where loss of ego, loss of self, is seen as a means to a greater end. This view is very much in keeping with the Christian desire to save all souls. As I see it, without a personal God, the Buddhist must have a much stronger faith in the "unconditioned and unbegotten" than is required of the Christian contemplative, who experiences the passage as a divine doing, and in no way a self-doing.

Actually, I met up with Buddhism only at the end of my journey, after the no-self experience. Since I knew that this experience was not articulated in our contemplative literature, I went to the library to see if it could be found in the Eastern Religions. It did not take me long to realize that I would not find it in the Hindu tradition, where, as I see it, the final state is equivalent to the Christian experience of oneness or transforming union. If a Hindu had what I call the no-self experience, it would be the sudden, unexpected disappearance of the Atman-Brahman, the divine Self in the "cave of the heart", and the disappearance of the cave as well. It would be the ending of God-consciousness, or transcendental consciousness - that seemingly bottomless experience of "being", "consciousness", and "bliss" that articulates the state of oneness. To regard this ending as the falling away of the ego is a grave error; ego must fall away before the state of oneness can be realized. The no-self experience is the falling away of this previously realized transcendent state.

Initially, when I looked into Buddhism, I did not find the experience of no-self there either; yet I intuited that it had to be there. The falling away of the ego is common to both Hinduism and Buddhism. Therefore, it would not account for the fact that Buddhism became a separate religion, nor would it account for the Buddhist's insistence on no eternal Self - be it divine, individual or the two in one. I felt that the key difference between these two religions was the no-self experience, the falling away of the true Self, Atman-Brahman. Unfortunately, what most Buddhist authors define as the no-self experience is actually the no-ego experience. The cessation of clinging, craving, desire, the passions, etc., and the ensuing state of imperturbable peace and joy articulates the egoless state of oneness; it does not, however, articulate the no-self experience or the dimension beyond. Unless we clearly distinguish between these two very different experiences, we only confuse them, with the inevitable result that the true no-self experience becomes lost. If we think the falling away of the ego, with its ensuing transformation and oneness, is the no-self experience, then what shall we call the much further experience when this egoless oneness falls away? In actual experience there is only one thing to call it, the "no-self experience"; it lends itself to no other possible articulation.

Initially, I gave up looking for this experience in the Buddhist literature. Four years later, however, I came across two lines attributed to Buddha describing his enlightenment experience. Referring to self as a house, he said, "All thy rafters are broken now, the ridgepole is destroyed." And there it was - the disappearance of the center, the ridgepole; without it, there can be no house, no self. When I read these lines, it was as if an arrow launched at the beginning of time had suddenly hit a bulls-eye. It was a remarkable find. These lines are not a piece of philosophy, but an experiential account, and without the experiential account we really have nothing to go on. In the same verse he says, "Again a house thou shall not build," clearly distinguishing this experience from the falling away of the ego-center, after which a new, transformed self is built around a "true center," a sturdy, balanced ridgepole.

Quote from Bernadette Roberts:
What is false never lasts, it falls away of its own accord.
While what is true, remains, because truth does not come and go, it is always there.



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  3. read the interview with Bernadette Roberts. she agree with Buddhism. she won't change her religion because she firmly believe that for more than 50 years.

    you're not reading the book. union with God is phase 1 of her contemplation life.
    this is taken from her book:
    When the joy of my own emptiness began to wane I decided to rejuvenate it by spending some solitary time gazing
    into my empty self. Though the center of self was gone, I was sure the remaining emptiness, the silence and joy, was
    God Himself. Thus on one occasion, with full hedonistic deliberation, I settled myself down and turned my gaze
    inward. Almost immediately the empty space began to expand, and expanded so rapidly it seemed to explode; then,
    in the pit of my stomach I had the feeling of falling a hundred floors in a nonstop elevator, and in this fall every sense
    of life was drained from me. The moment of landing I knew: When there is no personal self, there is also no
    personal God. I saw clearly how the two go together and where they went, I have never found out

  4. she doesn't knew buddhist meditation. she was using reference from Saint John of the Cross & Saint Teresa of Ávila. but that only until phase 1. in phase 2 she can't found what happened with her in that reference.

    it seems your religion can't answer my question.