Chapter 20: The World of No-Thing
The first question:
Is there a difference between the real self and no-self?
The no-self is the real self; there is no difference at all. It is just a different way of expressing the same thing. The “real self” is a positive way of expressing it, and “no-self” the negative way.
But always remember, the negative is far better than the positive. The greatest masters of the world have always expressed in the negative way for a certain reason: the positive can deceive you, can easily deceive you. If it is said that you have a real self, what are you going to understand by it? You will think of whatsoever you understand about yourself, that the real self will be a purified state of the same thing, higher, holier, more dignified, deathless, divine - but you will conceive of it according to the idea of the self that you already have. Your real self will become only a modified idea, a decorated idea of the false self. That is the danger.
The real self is utterly different; not only utterly different from your false self, it is diametrically opposite to it. You cannot have any idea of the real self through the unreal self. The unreal has to cease for the real to be. The unreal has to go absolutely.
What idea can you have of light if you know only darkness? Whatsoever you will think of light will remain a form of darkness. You know darkness.
That’s why Buddha has chosen a negative way. He does not talk about the real self, atma, soul, atta. He talks about anatta, no-self, anatma, absence of self. He negates the whole idea of the self because the idea of the self will carry, will remain continuous with, your false idea of the self.
You have to disappear as you are, then the real arises. You don’t have any idea, not even in your dreams, of what is the real. You are unreal and you live in unreality. You live in dreams, you are fast asleep. You cannot conceive of what awakening is going to be.
Only one thing can be said: whatsoever you know will not be there. This is the negative way of saying it.
Sufis have also chosen in the same way. They say fana - first dissolve, dissolve in toto. Nothing is to remain of you; and only then that great transformation. When you are absent, God becomes a presence in you - but only then. That condition has to be fulfilled.