Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

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Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby Coyote » Sun Jun 17, 2012 4:19 pm

Hi everyone,

I thought of making my own thread but since this one is already here I won't bother.
I too have trouble understanding anatta. Not so much the doctrine itself, which seems to be essential in Buddhism as it explains perfectly the reasons why craving exists in a theoretical sense.
But why it matters in terms of personal practice.
It seems that the buddha just comes along saying that the search for a "true self" or permanent entity that was the foundation of pre-Buddhist spirituality in India is a complete misunderstanding, and I just don't get why. From where I am sitting there may as well be a self as a no self. Neither is something that I can see for myself at this time. It seems to come down to who I take as more authoritative - the Buddha or the writers of the Upanishads. In terms of deciding where to start on one's spiritual path it seems a pretty crucial question and yet there seems to be no way of evaluating whether the Buddha's analysis of the Atman as being a product of craving is true or not.
So, any practical insight as to how I can "know for myself" that the Buddha was right in his analysis of the Atman?

Metta,

Coyote
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Jun 18, 2012 1:20 am

Greetings Coyote,

The Buddha's analysis of atman doesn't deal in metaphysical propositions (i.e. Self, No Self) beyond real or possible experience.

Whenever anatta is mentioned, it is always mentioned with reference to something, and in fact applies to the not-self-ness of all dhammas.

Because all formed dhammas are impermanent (anicca), it is possible to see that any thing experienced is impermanent and consequently, should not be regarded as self.

By not finding anything within your experience that is permanent, you know the Buddha was right.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby manas » Mon Jun 18, 2012 2:58 am

Hi Coyote,

there are a few resources that I have found very helpful in this. You might have already read them, or not, but I offer them up:

Questions of Skill by Thanissaro Bhikkhu http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tions.html

No-self or Not-self? (T.B.) http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... self2.html

Sabbasava Sutta: All the Fermentations: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Here's a quote from the Alagaddupama Sutta:

"You may well accept, monks, the assumption of a self-theory from the acceptance of which there would not arise sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief, and despair. (But) do you see, monks, any such assumption of a self-theory?" — "No, Lord." — "Well, monks, I, too, do not see any such assumption of a self-theory from the acceptance of which there would not arise sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el048.html


with metta,

manas. :anjali:
Last edited by manas on Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:52 am, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby pegembara » Mon Jun 18, 2012 3:59 am

"Bhikkhus, form is not-self. Were form self, then this form would not lead to affliction, and one could have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.' And since form is not-self, so it leads to affliction, and none can have it of form: 'Let my form be thus, let my form be not thus.'

"Bhikkhus, feeling is not-self...

"Bhikkhus, perception is not-self...

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nymo.html
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby marc108 » Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:13 pm

I've struggled with this myself. Prior to my exposure to Buddhism, I was in a Upanishadic Yogic tradition.

My personal opinion is that one not need take either the Buddha or the Upanishads as intellectually authoritative, and to do so without a commitment to experimentally proving it to yourself is really limiting your own personal progress ... intellectual speculations about these things will only lead to frustration, because they both 'make sense' but speculation is inherently devoid of direct, personal experiences that will allow you to prove or disprove these ideas for yourself.

What you need to do is make a serious commitment to the practice, and see if you can find anything inside that resembles a permanent unending entity.
"It's easy for us to connect with what's wrong with us... and not so easy to feel into, or to allow us, to connect with what's right and what's good in us."

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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby Coyote » Mon Jun 18, 2012 6:57 pm

Hi everyone and thanks for the suttas and quotes, I will read through them.

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Coyote,

The Buddha's analysis of atman doesn't deal in metaphysical propositions (i.e. Self, No Self) beyond real or possible experience.


My guess would be that from the position of someone proposing the atman, an experience of this would not be beyond real or possible experience.

Whenever anatta is mentioned, it is always mentioned with reference to something, and in fact applies to the not-self-ness of all dhammas.

Because all formed dhammas are impermanent (anicca), it is possible to see that any thing experienced is impermanent and consequently, should not be regarded as self.

By not finding anything within your experience that is permanent, you know the Buddha was right.

Metta,
Retro. :)


I see what you are saying, and certainly agree that none of the 5 aggregates could be considered self due to the fact none are able to be controlled.
However, isn't it more the sense of "I" itself or the experiencer that is considered the atman of upanishadic thought?
I can't see how the Buddha's arguments negate an eternal agent such as the atman which is the experiencer. Isn't the whole point that Maya (illusion) is getting in the way of seeing "our true nature"? Same with self-view ect.
Without having an experience of the atman or having the ilusion of self-view removed I don't see what is between the two.

The upanishadic seers obviously had what were some very real experiences from their point of view. I don't see any way of proving that their experiences were based on craving.

Metta,

Coyote
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby Coyote » Mon Jun 18, 2012 7:14 pm

marc108 wrote:I've struggled with this myself. Prior to my exposure to Buddhism, I was in a Upanishadic Yogic tradition.

My personal opinion is that one not need take either the Buddha or the Upanishads as intellectually authoritative, and to do so without a commitment to experimentally proving it to yourself is really limiting your own personal progress ... intellectual speculations about these things will only lead to frustration, because they both 'make sense' but speculation is inherently devoid of direct, personal experiences that will allow you to prove or disprove these ideas for yourself.

What you need to do is make a serious commitment to the practice, and see if you can find anything inside that resembles a permanent unending entity.


Me too (kinda). I was interested in the upanishads before Buddhism though I got no where near involved.
I see what you are saying. For me the move (via Christianity) was because the Vedic teachings did seem to feed the ego (and I got fed up of thinking around how Brahman and Maya could exist at the same time).
I wonder if you wouldn't mind sharing how you came from the upanishadic tradition to Buddhism, as your understanding might be relevant here.

Thanks and metta,

Coyote
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby marc108 » Mon Jun 18, 2012 7:51 pm

Coyote wrote:I wonder if you wouldn't mind sharing how you came from the upanishadic tradition to Buddhism, as your understanding might be relevant here.


it was more of an organic process than and intellectual understanding and conscious switch.

I had issues with some of the Yogic theories, namely the idea of surrender to an unseen and unknown deity... The idea that the deity would make itself known after surrender, rather than having surrender be caused by the deity making itself known. I feel truth should be self-evident and not bound to any sort of intellectual framework. If you have to build an intellectual framework in order to have spiritual realizations, those realizations are corrupted imo. I'm not sure if that makes sense or not? I think this applies to Buddhism as well... My opinion, is that the Truths offered by Buddhism dont require the building of an intellectual framework around concepts like Anatta in order for those truths to be realized. This, imo, is what makes the Buddha's practice superior. The practice will produce the truths, without any prior intellectual understanding of those truths.

It's also clear (to me) through historical research and study of both traditions that the 8 fold path laid down by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras is built around the structural framework of the Buddha's 8 fold path... just omitting certain things and replacing them with Hindu, Upanishadic religious theories. Dont get me wrong, I still have a great love and respect for Yoga & I think it has a lot to offer... but it seems to me to be a highly edited version of Buddhism mixed up with Hindu religious philosophy.

The second, and most major issue for me was the fact that the Masters I met were seemingly emotionally unstable. They were very accomplished meditators, clearly capable of profoundly deep levels of Samadhi in meditation... but off the cushion they were angry, and unstable people just like the rest of us... Slaves to the defilements.
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby intex » Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:07 pm

Coyote wrote:However, isn't it more the sense of "I" itself or the experiencer that is considered the atman of upanishadic thought?


Hello,

I think you are right - not only with regard to the upanishads, since 'being the experiencer' is certainly the core of any self-view. So one might think: "Whatever 'I' experience might be impermanent, but this does not touch me." And indeed, it seems that even quite a lot of Buddhists understand anatta in this way (Georg Grimm was perhaps the most prominent amongst them).

I think the point is that any exertion of control cannot go beyond experience, i.e. experiencing itself is beyond one's control. So the very experience, in which the phenomenon of (limited) 'control' certainly plays its role, is beyond control. In other words: Experience is not self-made. It's not that there is no control at all or no sense of self, but this sense of control or self manifests only within the experience which is uncontrollable. So if I claim the experience to be mine, I should be able to excercise control not only within but over the experience itself, which is impossible, since whenever I try to control something, the experience is already there, i.e. I am always too late to be in any fundamental control of it. Waking up in the morning is not my doing, so to speak. So it is not my experience. But if it is not my experience, I cannot be the experiencer. That's how I would describe my current understanding (which is far from being complete).

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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby befriend » Mon Jun 18, 2012 8:18 pm

the experience of impermanence, suffering, and non self, are practical in daily life as when you come back to conventional reality from doing vipassana there is more selflessness less craving and aversion. now after experiencing the 3 characteristics you are more loving patient etc....

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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby Rui Sousa » Tue Jun 19, 2012 10:45 am

Coyote wrote:Hi everyone,

I thought of making my own thread but since this one is already here I won't bother.
I too have trouble understanding anatta. Not so much the doctrine itself, which seems to be essential in Buddhism as it explains perfectly the reasons why craving exists in a theoretical sense.
But why it matters in terms of personal practice.
It seems that the buddha just comes along saying that the search for a "true self" or permanent entity that was the foundation of pre-Buddhist spirituality in India is a complete misunderstanding, and I just don't get why. From where I am sitting there may as well be a self as a no self. Neither is something that I can see for myself at this time. It seems to come down to who I take as more authoritative - the Buddha or the writers of the Upanishads. In terms of deciding where to start on one's spiritual path it seems a pretty crucial question and yet there seems to be no way of evaluating whether the Buddha's analysis of the Atman as being a product of craving is true or not.
So, any practical insight as to how I can "know for myself" that the Buddha was right in his analysis of the Atman?

Metta,

Coyote


Hi Coyote,

Having read the Upanishads before I started understanding Buddhism, I believe I understand were you are sitting.

In a practical sense, you could notice how these ideas affect you: "I am <whatever>", "<whatever> is mine", "I am not <whatever>".

For example, you see your self as a deeply ethical person who keeps the precepts and has a moral high stand. And then someone points out that you just lied to a friend while explaning why you were late for dinner (a very umimportant matter). What happens in you mind? Do you feel OK about it, do you feel the person is being unfair, get angry and answer back harshly? what consequences does that idea bring into your live.

Sometimes people think "I am stupid" and simply don't take opportunities. "I won't go to college because I am stupid, I will keep this loosy job." This idea can be a source of huge suffering and discomfort. Or you might think "I am very smart, I understand things very easilly", then you meet someone who is smarter, faster and understands things more in detail. You feel bad about yourself, you feel depressed, sad, and so on. No good.

This is MY idea. This is MY car. This is MY friend. When they go away you will feel the sadness of loosing them.I AM NOT a lair, I AM NOT a thief, I AM NOT harsh with people. Whe you are, and unless you have removed the conditions for these things to happen you will be, you will feel sad, uncomfortable, and so on.

Observe these on your dailly life. That is how I try to see that believing in a self, having a set of ideas that define what I am, or I am not, just brings bad things into my mind.
With Metta

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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby reflection » Tue Jun 19, 2012 5:43 pm

If you want to understand annata, you have to meditate. This is not an intellectual matter. With intellect you can indeed end up with different views. But looking at your own mind can show the truth. What can you find there? How deep can your stillness go? The deeper you go, the more the sense of 'self' is gone, generally. If you also follow the rest of the path, gradually this idea of a self will start deminish if you are willing to let it go.

Have fun!

Metta from Reflection

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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby Parth » Tue Jun 19, 2012 6:06 pm

Dear Coyote,

You wanted a practical insight to know thyself, well there certainly is and one which does not demand any belief not on Buddha not on god not on belief of self or not self. The path is ' Vipassana' the technique rediscovered by Buddha, through which he himself attained nibbana and so many after him have. It is just meditating on the self ie the body and the mind. If the is a self that is where you have a maximum chance of finding it, inside you.

These courses are taught at many places, I myself follow the technique as taught by Shri S.N. Goenka. If u want more info please do let me know, will be glad to help.

Metta

Parth

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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Tue Jun 19, 2012 7:38 pm

Coyote wrote:So, any practical insight as to how I can "know for myself" that the Buddha was right in his analysis of the Atman?

The only way is to practise insight meditation and attain at the very least to Purification of View. No amount of reading, discussion, or cogitation will develop genuine insight.

See also The Shorter Elephant Footprint Simile — That means the shorter discourse, not the shorter elephant. :)
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby Coyote » Wed Jun 20, 2012 11:56 am

Hi everybody,

After thinking about this for a bit, I see that you are all right. This isn't something I can know without insight or practice. I certainly see the point of the teaching on Anatta and its place in liberation - and that is as much as I can know for now.
I also have a follow on question about Anatta - is the teaching on Anatta "there is no self" or "all things are not-self" or what? I see different teachers saying different things. My guess would be that both "I have a self" and "I have no self" both assume a self-view, so the correct one would be "there is no self". Any help would be appreciated.

Metta,

Coyote
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed Jun 20, 2012 3:01 pm

The teaching is:

Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā'ti all conditioned phenomena are impermanent.

Sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā'ti all conditioned phenomena are unsatisfactory.

Sabbe dhammā aniccā'ti all phenomena, both conditioned and unconditioned, are not-self.

The way I put it that the self is like an illusion. We take that illusion to be a really existing thing. Only insight will break the hold of the illusion over the mind. The deeper the insight, the weaker the hold that illusion has on us.

Even though we know, theoretically, that the self is not real, if we think that people insulted us we still feel insulted as long as all traces of pride and egoism are not uprooted. It is not a simple task to uproot personality-view, selfish thoughts, and pride.

People then to fall into one of two extremes — eternalism or nihilism. That is why you see so many disputes about rebirth/reincarnation. If there is no self, what is reborn after death? Both extremes are the result of grasping at views of self. “I exist” and “I do not exist” are both based on a self-centred view.

The annihilationist who does not believe in rebirth after death, wants to enjoy all kinds of pleasures in this very life, without contemplating too deeply the inevitability of death and the uncertainty of life. The eternalist likes to enjoy pleasures, and hopes for more pleasures in future existences. Neither type of person likes to contemplate that all conditions are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and beyond one's wish or control.
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby Coyote » Wed Jun 20, 2012 4:11 pm

Thank you Bhante.
I hope you can clarify a little more. You talk of the extremes of eternalism and nihilism and the middle doctrine of Anatta. Is this the same thing being referred to, for example here?:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one.


I think that this is also talked about in DN 1.

I only ask because these kind of views seem to be about the world rather than the self being eternal or annihilated. So I am not sure if these views are the result of self-view or not.

Metta,

Coyote
"If beings knew, as I know, the results of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would the stain of miserliness overcome their minds. Even if it were their last bite, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared."
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Re: Was the Buddha right in his analysis of the Atman?

Postby DarwidHalim » Wed Jun 20, 2012 5:09 pm

Let's see anatta using this example: The reflection of the moon in the water.

If you see the reflection of moon in the water, there is no moon in the water. The moon is in the sky.

It is clear here from the reflection of the moon in the water:
1. There is appearance of moon.
2. There is no core of moon.

When you look precisely that moon in the water and you ask yourself: Is there a moon? Clearly, there is no moon.

We don't care whether there is an appearance of moon or not, the one that make the moon is the moon is the core of the moon. Not the appearance of the moon. Even you have appearance of the moon, as long as there is no core there, it is clear - there is no moon in that (reflection of) moon.

It is important to have a solid understanding here:
The one that make something exist is the core, not the appearance.
If there is only appearance but no core, we cannot say the moon exist.

Now, let's see the real moon in the sky.

Everyone will say, there is no moon in the water reflection, but almost no one will say there is no moon in the sky. If you say there is no moon in the sky, they will say you are blind.

But, remember the one that make moon is the moon is the core of the moon, not the appearance of the moon. Everyone says the moon definitely has a core. We can land on it, we can touch it, etc.

Fine, if there is a core, we can accept there is a moon in the sky. But, if I prove it, there is no core, can you accept this statement - there is no moon in the sky, even there is no moon there?

So, we need to prove whether in the sky has a moon or not.

You take the moon, you cut it again and again, you will find nothing. Like an onion, it looks there is an onion, but when you peel it layer by layer, what you find at the end is just empty air. No core.

So, even the moon in the sky, doesn't have core. It looks as if it has a core, because it has a dimension and look solid, but there is really no core, like onion.

So, you really cannot say there is a moon. There is an 3D appearance of moon, but there is no core of moon.

The one that govern moon is moon is the core, not the appearance.

That is why there is no moon.

This point is very critical, because when the first time we look at it, there is a strong contradiction. We need to get familiar with it.

Now, everything in this universe, none of them have core. Your eyes have no core, your nose has no core, etc.

There is no eye, there is no nose, etc.

Anatta means no core. Anatta doesn't mean no appearance. Many people associate anatta with no appearance, that is why they get lost.

When we say this nose is empty, the first impression is there is no appearance of nose. THat is not what anatta mean. Anatta mean no self, no core.

In ordinary life, you can't say there is no eye, no nose, no ear, etc. because your surrounding are deluded human beings. Most of us can't see this. This is hidden. Anatta cannot be seen with eyes. Eyes see appearance. You need a strong mind which is not deceived by your human senses.

Initially, when this anatta is just intellectual understanding, this understanding seems no use. It doesn't give us a punch or kick in our daily life.

But, when your anatta wisdom has started to grow intuitively, the power of this understanding is beyond limit.

Now, we try so hard not to attach. There is a great effort here. But, when the wisdom of anatta mature, you don't to worry with attachment anymore, it will never ever grow. That attachment is not abandon, that attachment is not hiding, but completely gone. Attachment comes because of cause, and that cause is the view there is something. When you always see there is nothing, don't worry, just relax, you won't have attachment.

Initially, we need an ideal place, free from disturbance, noise etc., to observe this anatta. Slowly slowly you will see clearly in your meditation, no matter how many thoughts flying around, you will sense a feeling of there is actually something deep inside that doesn't move anywhere. This view will grow and you will sense there are so many things, so many sounds, etc., you know this very vivid and very clear all of them, but at the same time, you can really have an intuition nothing is moving. You don't scare with any disturbances etc, because your wisdom of anatta is powerful enough to see the hollowness or voidness in all those disturbances.

Btw, this is just an opinion without any real testing, hehehe.

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I am not here nor there.
I am not right nor wrong.
I do not exist neither non-exist.
I am not I nor non-I.
I am not in samsara nor nirvana.
To All Buddhas, I bow down for the teaching of emptiness. Thank You!


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