robertk wrote:Dear Ed
The view carries no more weight with me than if you told me that Martians were in Halley's Comet and will take me to eternal bliss in another galaxy. I understand the view thanissaro puts about well enough to know that it is eternalism and certainly opposed to Theravada teachings.
Of course if one dismisses the Abhidhamma, many suttas, all the ancient Commentaries then one might be able to digest it without choking. But then why do that?
Thank you for your reply.
Please be patient with me. I will have to respond to you in stages and this will take some time.
First I would like to address the charge that Thanissaro Bhikkhu adheres to eternalism. (In subsequent responses I will address the rest.) Eternalism is, in essence, the view that a permanent, unchanging self exists or, as the Brahmajala Sutta (DN 1) defines it in verse 31, “The self and the world are eternal, barren, steadfast as a mountain peak, standing firm like a pillar. And though these beings roam and wander (through the round of existence), pass away and re-arise, yet the self and the world remain the same just like eternity itself.”(1) It is one of the wrong views given at MN 2.8: “It is this self of mine that speaks and feels and experiences here and there the result of good and bad actions; but this self of mine is permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change, and it will endure as long as eternity.”(2)
Since an eternalist espouses a belief in an eternally immutable Self, Thanissaro Bhikkhu cannot be an eternalist, as near as I can tell, despite what some have concluded from his interpretation of Not-Self as a strategy. In the course of explaining his understanding of Not-Self (which he derives from MN 2) in the book Buddhist Religions
, he actually agrees that a Buddhist should not believe in a permanent self
for the following reason: “To believe in a permanent self, he [the Buddha] says, is to deny the possibility of spiritual self-change.”(3) He does not want to utterly deny the existence of a self in all possible senses, however, because he does not want to “deny the worth of a moral or religious life.”(4) Where he departs from the commentaries is in rejecting all views of a self, even as a conventional truth: “…a person seeking Awakening should entirely drop the question of the existence of the self and focus instead on the categories of the Four Noble Truths so as to avoid the pitfalls entailed in any view asserting the existence or nonexistence of the self. For a person well advanced on the Path… the question of whether or not there is a self simply would not occur.”(5) What he says about the strategy is this: “the not-self doctrine, like the teaching on suffering, is to be regarded as a strategy for undercutting craving and clinging in the formula of dependent co-arising. The meditator is taught simply to observe the five [aggregates] as they occur and to let go of them by noting that they are not self. This would open the way for the experience of the unfabricated [Nibbana], to which labels of ‘self’ or ‘not-self’…would not apply.”(6) (Let me be clear: I am not agreeing with this interpretation. I am merely attempting to explain it according to my understanding of it.)
I think that it is clear from the preceding that Thanissaro Bhikkhu, however unusual his interpretation may be, is not a proponent of a view of a permanent Self or of any self for that matter. Moreover, if he were, then surely he would have said so. For decades a number of diverse, heterodox Thai Buddhists have argued quite openly (and erroneously) that the Buddha taught the existence of a “true Self.”(7) If Thanissaro Bhikkhu really held this view, then I see no reason why he should not be communicative about it.
Now you might say, “A surviving super-consciousness (or whatever it is) that never completely ceases to exist once and for all must be permanent and therefore a Self,” but this would be to miss a crucial aspect of the radical view of impermanence taught by the Buddha. As the Paramatthajotika
Commentary puts it: “When the Aggregates arise, decay, and die, O bhikkhu, every moment you are born, decay, and die.”(8) In other words, the Five Aggregates are constantly arising and ceasing. Anything that constantly arises and ceases must be “impermanent” or “subject to change.” Whatever is impermanent is not Self, according to the Buddha.(9) If Ven. Thanissaro’s “mind like fire unbound”(10) constantly arises and ceases, then it cannot be a Self, even if it continues to exist indefinitely.
1. Bhikkhu Bodhi, trans. The Discourse on the All-Embracing Net of Views: The Brahmajala Sutta and Its Commentaries
(Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1992) p. 62.
2. Ibid. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha
, 3rd edition (Somerville, Mass.: Wisdom Publications, 2005) p. 92.
3. Richard Robinson, Willard Johnson, and Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Buddhist Religions: A Historical Introduction
, 5th edition (Belmont, CA: Holly J. Allen, 2005) p. 28.
5. Ibid. pp. 28-29.
6. Ibid. p. 29.
7. Paul Williams, Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations
, 2nd edition (New York: Routledge, 2009) pp. 125-127.
8. quoted by Ven. Dr. Walpola Rahula in What the Buddha Taught
, 2nd edition (New York: Grove Press, 1974) p. 33.
9. e.g., Majjhima Nikaya
22.26, 35.20, etc.
10. Ven. Thanissaro finds his definition of Nibbana as “unbinding” in Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga
and sees it as signifying “release from bondage”:“Thus the metaphor [for] nibbana in this case would have implications of calming together with release from dependencies, attachments, & bondage. This in turn suggests that of all the attempts to describe the etymology of the word nibbana, the closest is one Buddhaghosa proposed in The Path of Purification
: Un- (nir) + binding (vana): Unbinding.” http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ire/1.html