Buddhism in context: Anatta

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Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Mon May 17, 2010 9:09 pm

I recently read Richard Gombrich's 'What the Buddha Thought', which has really influenced some of my thinking about the meanings of the Buddha's teachings. Gombrich is a highly esteemed scholar of early Buddhism (recently retired). He sheds fresh light on some of the teachings by putting them back into their original cultural context, especially the early Upanishads which he persuasively argues that much of the Buddha's teachings are a response to and that only by seeing them in that context can we really understand them.

I'd like to share some of my understanding of these insights here - insights into Anatta. This is variously translated as 'no self', 'no soul', or more accurately as 'non-self' or 'not-self'. But even this is difficult to make sense of when we look at the texts.

The Nikayas are largely very coherent and systematic. However, if we look at the key text that describes Anatta, Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic , we find an argument for it, which doesn't appear to make much sense.

    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...
    (and so on for the other skandhas)

If form (matter, the body) was self it would not lead to affliction.
Why if form was self could it not lead to affliction? Surely if it was one's nature to lead to affliction then self could lead to affliction.

If form was self we could decide it's nature
Again, why? Many people are not in control of themselves so why would we necessarily be able to control form if it was our self.

Later the Buddha asks:

    "Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, venerable Sir." — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? — "No, venerable sir." etc

The logic here is:
Form is impermanent
Impermanent therefore unsatisfactory
Impermanent therefore not me, possessed by me or my self


The three characteristics (anicca: impermanence, dukkha: suffering/unsatisfactoriness, anatta: not-self) are usually presented as three independent attributes. But here we see them presented in the form of an argument.

Elsewhere we see this argument:
    "What is impermanent is suffering, what is suffering is not-self"
    S. 35:1; 22:46

The logic here is:
Impermanent therefore unsatisfactory therfore not-self

The key to understanding all this of course is that 'self' refers not to one's sense of self or one's psyche or oneself in terms of pure reference. It refers specifically to what is known in Vedic thought as as the Atman (Pali: atta). The Buddha was responding to one of the dominant concepts of Vedic thought as found in the early Upanishads, which teach that each individual person has a permanent, unchanging Atman that is reincarnated from one life to another. The separateness of each Atman is also taught to be an illusion and that in reality the Atman has the same identity as the ultimate essense of reality (Brahman). Only by realising this directly (moksha) can we escape from the cycle of birth and death (samsara). The Buddha's enlightenment clearly has parallels with this, although without the concepts of Atman or Brahman. Another parallel is that in Vedic thought, Brahman had three characteristics: Being (permanent, unchanging existence), Consciousness (absolute ground of awareness) and Bliss. It is Bliss because it is absolute Being. Given that Atman and Brahman are identical, the arguments above now make sense.

No phenomena are permanent (not-Being) therefore they are unsatisfactory (not-Bliss) therefore they are not the Atman (not-Atman, Anatta).

Form is not Atman. Were form Atman, then this form would not lead to affliction... And since form is not Atman, so it leads to affliction

This is an argument against the dominant self-theory of the time, abandoning such self theories is a step towards becoming free of the conceit 'I am' and becoming liberated from dukkha.

I'd appreciate your thoughts.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Ben » Mon May 17, 2010 10:08 pm

Thanks Shonin

Gombrich is cool. If you haven't read it, How Buddhism Began: the conditioned genesis of the early teachings is well worth the effort of tracking it down. It may still be out of print but an electronic version is available on google books if you search for its title. What the Buddha thought is definitely on my list.
I'll respond to the content of your post after I've had a chance to read through it again.
kind regards

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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 12:25 am

Ah yes, How Buddhism Began I've read and definitely deserves a re-read.

Looking forward to your response.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby retrofuturist » Tue May 18, 2010 12:46 am

Greetings Shonin,

Against the background of the Upanishads, it made sense for him to say these things were not-Atman.

If he taught in the 21st century instead, there may be more emphasis on not-I.

This is an argument against the dominant self-theory of the time, abandoning such self theories is a step towards becoming free of the conceit 'I am' and becoming liberated from dukkha.

There is some use in knowing these things that Gombrich talks about. For example, if you read the Digha Nikaya you see that it's very much a response to other religionists and is generally framed in such a way. To an existing follower of the Buddha, there is barely any new, interesting or original material that isn't already covered in the Samyutta or Majjhima Nikayas. However, on the flipside, you get suttas in the Samyutta Nikaya (just to give the opposite end of the spectrum) which are nearly always given those who are already his followers. The Samyutta Nikaya is replete with teachings on the five aggregates, the six sense bases and dependent origination.

Does Gombrich mention asmi (I am) or mama (mine) in his works? It is in the suttas, and doesn't point specifically to the metaphysical notion of atman, but addresses the actual experiential sense of "I" that puthujjanas and sekhas feel.

Consider also these extracts from MN 1, bearing in mind that the trainee (sekha) has abandoned any views based on self/atman.

The Blessed One said: "There is the case, monks, where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — perceives earth as earth. Perceiving earth as earth, he conceives [things] about earth, he conceives [things] in earth, he conceives [things] coming out of earth, he conceives earth as 'mine,' he delights in earth. Why is that? Because he has not comprehended it, I tell you.

...

"A monk who is a trainee — yearning for the unexcelled relief from bondage, his aspirations as yet unfulfilled — directly knows earth as earth. Directly knowing earth as earth, let him not conceive things about earth, let him not conceive things in earth, let him not conceive things coming out of earth, let him not conceive earth as 'mine,' let him not delight in earth. Why is that? So that he may comprehend it, I tell you.

...

"A monk who is a Worthy One, devoid of mental fermentations — who has attained completion, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, destroyed the fetters of becoming, and is released through right knowledge — directly knows earth as earth. Directly knowing earth as earth, he does not conceive things about earth, does not conceive things in earth, does not conceive things coming out of earth, does not conceive earth as 'mine,' does not delight in earth. Why is that? Because he has comprehended it, I tell you.

This is, I believe, sufficient to show that anatta is not just a way of countering atman, but also an actual instruction to those who have already abandoned the atman-view, but still experience the conceit "I am". Some people take secular analysis too far and use it to try and suggest that anatta is not of relevance nowadays, but the Buddha's instructions to the sekhas disprove this. It is relevant and necessary from the early stages of Right View through to the attainment of arahatship.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby retrofuturist » Tue May 18, 2010 1:16 am

Greetings Shonin,

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... (and so on for the other skandhas)

If form (matter, the body) was self it would not lead to affliction.
Why if form was self could it not lead to affliction? Surely if it was one's nature to lead to affliction then self could lead to affliction.

If form was self we could decide it's nature
Again, why? Many people are not in control of themselves so why would we necessarily be able to control form if it was our self.


The sense of "I" is meaningless unless there is the perception of some mastery over "I" and what "I" does. "I take the dog for a walk", indicates that "I" decide what "I" does. But what is this mastery but conditions, when mastery of anything would necessitate standing outside the influence of conditions?

Some relevant words from Nanavira Thera...

Attā, 'self', is fundamentally a notion of mastery over things (cf. Majjhima iv,5 <M.i,231-2> & Khandha Samy. vi,7 <S.iii,66>). But this notion is entertained only if it is pleasurable, and it is only pleasurable provided the mastery is assumed to be permanent; for a mastery—which is essentially a kind of absolute timelessness, an unmoved moving of things—that is undermined by impermanence is no mastery at all, but a mockery. Thus the regarding of a thing, a dhamma, as attā or 'self' can survive for only so long as the notion gives pleasure, and it only gives pleasure for so long as that dhamma can be considered as permanent (for the regarding of a thing as 'self' endows it with the illusion of a kind of super-stability in time). In itself, as a dhamma regarded as attā, its impermanence is not manifest (for it is pleasant to consider it as permanent); but when it is seen to be dependent upon other dhammā not considered to be permanent, its impermanence does then become manifest. To see impermanence in what is regarded as attā, one must emerge from the confines of the individual dhamma itself and see that it depends on what is impermanent. Thus sabbe sankhārā (not dhammā) aniccā is said, meaning 'All things that things (dhammā) depend on are impermanent'. A given dhamma, as a dhamma regarded as attā, is, on account of being so regarded, considered to be pleasant; but when it is seen to be dependent upon some other dhamma that, not being regarded as attā, is manifestly unpleasurable (owing to the invariable false perception of permanence, of super-stability, in one not free from asmimāna), then its own unpleasurableness becomes manifest. Thus sabbe sankhārā (not dhammā) dukkhā is said. When this is seen—i.e. when perception of permanence and pleasure is understood to be false --, the notion 'This dhamma is my attā' comes to an end, and is replaced by sabbe dhammā anattā. Note that it is the sotāpanna who, knowing and seeing that his perception of permanence and pleasure is false, is free from this notion of 'self', though not from the more subtle conceit '(I) am' (asmimāna); but it is only the arahat who is entirely free from the (false) perception of permanence and pleasure, and 'for him' perception of impermanence is no longer unpleasurable.


Source: http://nanavira.xtreemhost.com/index.ph ... &Itemid=71

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby BlackBird » Tue May 18, 2010 1:20 am

Personally, I think Gombrich is barking up the wrong tree regarding anatta. I am more inclined to view anatta in terms of the personal existential problem rather than some metaphysical refutation of doctrine... Makes more sense to me anyway.

metta
Jack

P.S. Thank you for posting the Nyanavira quote Retro.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby retrofuturist » Tue May 18, 2010 1:32 am

Greetings,

BlackBird wrote:Personally, I think Gombrich is barking up the wrong tree regarding anatta. I am more inclined to view anatta in terms of the personal existential problem rather than some metaphysical refutation of doctrine... Makes more sense to me anyway.


Me too... it's also more aligned with what the Buddha said in MN1 above in relation to the sekhas.

S. Kierkegaard wrote:Let the enquiring scholar labour with incessant zeal, even to the extent of shortening his life in the enthusiastic service of science; let the speculative philosopher be sparing neither of time nor of diligence; they are none the less not interested infinitely, personally, and passionately, nor could they wish to be. On the contrary, they will seek to cultivate an attitude of objectivity and disinterestedness. And as for the relationship of the subject to the truth when he comes to know it, the assumption is that if only the truth is brought to light, its appropriation is a relatively unimportant matter, something that follows as a matter of course. And in any case, what happens to the individual is in the last analysis a matter of indifference. Herein lies the lofty equanimity of the scholar and the comic thoughtlessness of his parrot-like echo. --- S. Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, tr. D. F. Swenson, Princeton 1941 & Oxford 1945, pp. 23-24.

:ugeek:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 2:03 am

retrofuturist wrote:Does Gombrich mention asmi (I am) in his works? It is in the suttas, and doesn't point specifically to the metaphysical notion of atman, but addresses the actual experiential sense of "I" that puthujjanas and sekhas feel.


I believe that Anatta is for the purpose of ending suffering and is neither idle philosophical speculation nor is it ontological/metaphysical in nature. Thanissaro Bhikkhu makes a strong case for this which I imagine you are familiar with. Gombrich talks about 'I AM' in two ways as I recall:

- The sense of 'I AM' was the Atman for the early Upanishads (he argues that the later Upanishads were influenced by Buddhism in that the personal sense of self was regarded as an obstacle to seeing the true nature of Atman).

- The Buddha talks about the conceit 'I am' as one of the fetters, which is dependent on views or theories about self / Atman

retrofuturist wrote:Consider also these extracts from MN 1, bearing in mind that the trainee (sekha) has abandoned any views based on self/atman....

...This is, I believe, sufficient to show that anatta is not just a way of countering atman, but also an actual instruction to those who have already abandoned the atman-view, but still experience the conceit "I am". Some people take secular analysis too far and use it to try and suggest that anatta is not of relevance nowadays, but the Buddha's instructions to the sekhas disprove this.


I agree. There are arguments which I highlighted which only make sense in reference to the Upanishadic notion of Atman, however this is just a contextual detail for a method of unravelling the conceit 'I am' leading to Nibbana. Impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-atman/not-self are all points for contemplation.

Consider this from the Meghiya Sutta:

    "...the cultivation of impermanence should be cultivated for the removal of the conceit 'I am'. For when one perceives impermanence, Meghiya, the perception of not-self is established. When one perceives one reaches the removal of the conceit 'I am', which is called Nibbana here and now"

The ending of the conceit 'I am' may be brought about (at least in part) by the realisation of Anatta, but Anatta is not identical with the ending of the conceit 'I am'.

Not-me and not-the-atman basically meant the same thing in Buddha's day and there is no linguistic distinction between the existential sense of self and the belief in a metaphysical self, although Buddha does seems to distinguish anatta and 'the conceit 'I am''. But basically, ideas about the Atman are just part of the 'thicket of views' about self which are to be seen through and abandoned.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby retrofuturist » Tue May 18, 2010 2:13 am

Greetings Shonin,

Shonin wrote:- The Buddha talks about the conceit 'I am' as one of the fetters, which is dependent on views or theories about self / Atman

I hope it's your recollection of Gombrich which is a bit faulty here rather than what Gombrich states, because the suttas clearly state that the Sotipanna has abandoned self-view or "views or theories about self / Atman" as you put it, but still has the residual tendency (anusaya) to have the conceit (mana) "I am" (asmi)... or when combined, called asmimana.

Shonin wrote:Consider this from the Meghiya Sutta:

"...the cultivation of impermanence should be cultivated for the removal of the conceit 'I am'. For when one perceives impermanence, Meghiya, the perception of not-self is established. When one perceives one reaches the removal of the conceit 'I am', which is called Nibbana here and now"

The ending of the conceit 'I am' may be brought about (at least in part) by the realisation of Anatta, but Anatta is not identical with the ending of the conceit 'I am'.

The ending of the conceit 'I am' is only brought about by arahantship, which is synonymous with "Nibbana here and now". Complete "Realisation of Anatta" is only fully complete with the attainment of "arahantship", yet the abandoning of the "thicket of views" relating to self may occur much earlier.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 2:25 am

retrofuturist wrote:The sense of "I" is meaningless unless there is the perception of some mastery over "I" and what "I" does. "I take the dog for a walk", indicates that "I" decide what "I" does. But what is this mastery but conditions, when mastery of anything would necessitate standing outside the influence of conditions?


The notion of self being immune to affliction does not fit with our western notion of self, but it fits perfectly with the Upanishadic notion of Atman, which is exactly the tradition that Buddha would have been taught by his teachers and surrounded by with his peers. Nor do the arguments:
NOT PERMANENT therefore NOT SATISFACTORY and therefore NOT SELF and
NOT PERMANENT therefore NOT SELF
make sense unless we are talking about a self that is imagined to be both permanent and completely satisfactory ie. the Upanishadic Atman.

Also (and this is more speculative on my part) surely only if mastery was absolute would it not lead to unsatisfactoriness. And only an absolute self could have absolute mastery.

retrofuturist wrote:I hope it's your recollection of Gombrich which is a bit faulty here rather than what Gombrich states, because the suttas clearly state that the Sotipanna has abandoned self-view or "views or theories about self / Atman" as you put it, but still has the residual tendency (anusaya) to have the conceit (mana) "I am" (asmi)... or when combined, called asmimana.


My understanding of the Pali Canon is quite rudimentary and I may have made a mistake. However, I don't see a difference between the above and what I've been trying to say.

retrofuturist wrote:The ending of the conceit 'I am' is only brought about by arahantship, which is synonymous with "Nibbana here and now". Complete "Realisation of Anatta" is only fully complete with the attainment of "arahantship", yet the abandoning of the "thicket of views" relating to self may occur much earlier.


The first point I agree with and I think you are right about the term 'thicket of views' - in that case my point is that Anatta is part of the abandonment of the thicket of views. Do you have a reference in the Nikayas for the second point ("Complete "Realisation of Anatta" is only fully complete with the attainment of "arahantship"")?
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby BlackBird » Tue May 18, 2010 3:08 am

Shonin wrote:make sense unless we are talking about a self that is imagined to be both permanent and completely satisfactory ie. the Upanishadic Atman.


Actually, far from being a doctrine exclusive to the Upanisads - This is in fact the way the puthujjana regards things in absolutly every situation he is engaged in, whether he is aware of it or not.

Whether the experience is immediate or the result of reflection, it's always 'me' that experiencing it (whether we conceptually deny this or not) and it's always me that's reflecting upon it, and reflecting upon the reflection and so on... Subjectivity is the problem that anatta seeks to answer.

The problem with Gombrich's hypothesis is that the Buddha Dhamma is not a doctrine unique to Gotama Buddha - The Buddha himself states that he is not the first Tathagata, therefore the doctrine of anatta cannot have arisen dependent upon some Upanishadic Atman concept that needed refuting - I doubt there were Upanishads around in the time of Kassapa Buddha, for example.

metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby retrofuturist » Tue May 18, 2010 3:27 am

Greetings Shonin,

Shonin wrote:Do you have a reference in the Nikayas for the second point ("Complete "Realisation of Anatta" is only fully complete with the attainment of "arahantship"")?

With reference to the earlier selections from MN 1, the sekha has seen enough of sabbe dhamma anatta (all dhammas are not-self) to have no doubt about this (skeptical doubt being one of the 3 fetters broken with stream-entry), and to abandon self-view (one of the other 3 fetters to be broken for stream entry, the only other being superstitious views regarding rites and rituals) and thus strives to perceive things appropriately, or perhaps more accurately, strives to not perceive things incorrectly. The fact effort and striving is required shows it can still be a challenge at times... hence why they are called sekha (trainee). They know what is right, but they need more work before they know it inside out by ferreting out any places the perception of "I" might habitually hide. This is the transformation from Right View to Right Knowledge. On that, see...

Right Knowledge by T Prof. P.D. Premasiri
http://www.bps.lk/olib/bl/bl_155.html

As for the phrase "complete realisation of Anatta", I don't know whether it's ever worded as such anywhere, but if you're familiar with the vipassana-nanas of the Visudhimagga, you might find some explanations or classifications to your satisfaction there. For me, it's sufficient to know that whilst any vestige of I, me, mine, or I am remains, there will still be a way to go and that the teaching of anatta still has value.

(p.s. good discussion, by the way :) )

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Goofaholix » Tue May 18, 2010 4:57 am

Shonin wrote:The notion of self being immune to affliction does not fit with our western notion of self, but it fits perfectly with the Upanishadic notion of Atman, which is exactly the tradition that Buddha would have been taught by his teachers and surrounded by with his peers. Nor do the arguments:
NOT PERMANENT therefore NOT SATISFACTORY and therefore NOT SELF and
NOT PERMANENT therefore NOT SELF
make sense unless we are talking about a self that is imagined to be both permanent and completely satisfactory ie. the Upanishadic Atman.


Where did the therefore's come from? replace them with "and" and it will make more sense.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Goofaholix » Tue May 18, 2010 5:15 am

BlackBird wrote:The problem with Gombrich's hypothesis is that the Buddha Dhamma is not a doctrine unique to Gotama Buddha - The Buddha himself states that he is not the first Tathagata, therefore the doctrine of anatta cannot have arisen dependent upon some Upanishadic Atman concept that needed refuting - I doubt there were Upanishads around in the time of Kassapa Buddha, for example.


If you believe that the Buddha Dhamma existed in a time before history then it's probably not so silly to believe that a doctrine along the lines of the Upanishads did also.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Shonin » Tue May 18, 2010 6:17 am

Goofaholix wrote:Where did the therefore's come from? replace them with "and" and it will make more sense.


Either 'therefore' or 'if/then' or 'when one percieves X, Y is perceived/established'. These are all conditional statements rather than independent attributes (although the latter could be seen as not logically conditional exactly but perspectives conditional on previous perspectives established through contemplation perhaps).

    "Bhikkhus, how do you conceive it: is form permanent or impermanent?" — "Impermanent, venerable Sir." [IF IMPERMANENT] — "Now is what is impermanent painful or pleasant?" — "Painful, venerable Sir." [THEN "PAINFUL"] — "Now is what is impermanent, what is painful since subject to change, fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, this is I, this is my self'"? [IF IMPERMANENT AND THUS "PAINFUL" THEN NOT SELF, OF SELF ETC]— "No, venerable sir." etc
Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic

Thanissaro translation:
    "What do you think, monks — Is form constant or inconstant?"
    "Inconstant, lord."
    "And is that which is inconstant easeful or stressful?"
    "Stressful, lord."
    "And is it fitting to regard what is inconstant, stressful, subject to change as: 'This is mine. This is my self. This is what I am'?"

    If form were the self, [IF FORM = SELF] this form would not lend itself to dis-ease [THEN FORM NOT SUBJECT TO "DIS-EASE] [FORM SUBJECT TO DIS-EASE THEREFORE FORM NOT = SELF].
Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-self Characteristic

    "What is impermanent is suffering, what is suffering is not-self" [IF IMPERMANENT THEN SUFFERING, IF SUFFERING THEN NOT SELF]
S. 35:1; 22:46
    "For when one perceives impermanence, [IMPERMANCE IS PERCEIVED] Meghiya, the perception of not-self is established [THUS NOT-SELF ESTABLISHED]. When one perceives not-self [NOT-SELF PERCEIVED] one reaches the removal of the conceit 'I am,' ["I AM" ENDS] which is called Nibbana here and now."
Meghiya Sutta
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby Paññāsikhara » Tue May 18, 2010 7:08 am

Viz "complete realization of anatta" discussion above:
In general, may wish to make a distinction between attan, attaniya, & mana.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby PeterB » Tue May 18, 2010 7:30 am

BlackBird wrote:Personally, I think Gombrich is barking up the wrong tree regarding anatta. I am more inclined to view anatta in terms of the personal existential problem rather than some metaphysical refutation of doctrine... Makes more sense to me anyway.

metta
Jack

P.S. Thank you for posting the Nyanavira quote Retro.

Its possible that it is both.
I think that it is clear that some important aspects of the Buddhas teaching was indeed to distinguish it from the prevailing religious culture. This was not merely negative but a neccessity. Which does not at all dilute its aspect vis-a-vis the personal and existential.
The irony is that a few hundred years later certain aspects of that which he refuted reappeared in a different form..but thats by the by in this context.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby tiltbillings » Tue May 18, 2010 7:35 am

PeterB wrote:
BlackBird wrote:Personally, I think Gombrich is barking up the wrong tree regarding anatta. I am more inclined to view anatta in terms of the personal existential problem rather than some metaphysical refutation of doctrine... Makes more sense to me anyway.

metta
Jack

P.S. Thank you for posting the Nyanavira quote Retro.

Its possible that it is both.
Of course it is both.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby PeterB » Tue May 18, 2010 7:38 am

BlackBird wrote:
Shonin wrote:make sense unless we are talking about a self that is imagined to be both permanent and completely satisfactory ie. the Upanishadic Atman.


Actually, far from being a doctrine exclusive to the Upanisads - This is in fact the way the puthujjana regards things in absolutly every situation he is engaged in, whether he is aware of it or not.

Whether the experience is immediate or the result of reflection, it's always 'me' that experiencing it (whether we conceptually deny this or not) and it's always me that's reflecting upon it, and reflecting upon the reflection and so on... Subjectivity is the problem that anatta seeks to answer.

The problem with Gombrich's hypothesis is that the Buddha Dhamma is not a doctrine unique to Gotama Buddha - The Buddha himself states that he is not the first Tathagata, therefore the doctrine of anatta cannot have arisen dependent upon some Upanishadic Atman concept that needed refuting - I doubt there were Upanishads around in the time of Kassapa Buddha, for example.

metta
Jack

The earliest Vedas predate The Buddha by some considerable period and we have no reliable information about Kassapa Buddha that we can disentangle from the mythos.
Your point about the existentialist position of the puthujjana and the role of the Anatta doctrine with reference to the subjective seems to me to be spot on Jack.
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Re: Buddhism in context: Anatta

Postby mikenz66 » Tue May 18, 2010 7:56 am

tiltbillings wrote:
PeterB wrote:
BlackBird wrote:Personally, I think Gombrich is barking up the wrong tree regarding anatta. I am more inclined to view anatta in terms of the personal existential problem rather than some metaphysical refutation of doctrine... Makes more sense to me anyway.

Its possible that it is both.
Of course it is both.

I agree. I think that having a better understanding of the context that the Buddha was talking in doesn't diminish or particularly change the message, but it makes some aspects of how he presented things more understandable.

I read "How Buddhism Began" a while ago and didn't find it particularly convincing, but having read "What the Buddha Thought" (thanks Ven Huifeng! - who said monks don't give dana?) I can see more of what he's getting at.

There are a number of passages in the Suttas that are addressed to people with particular backgrounds, and knowing something of their views makes some aspects a little clearer. This not something unique to Gombrich. Many commentators point out, for example, that the "Fire Sermon" is addressed to fire worshipping ascetics with whom the similes (perhaps metaphors in that one, but never mind...) would particularly resonate. But what Gombrich brings to the table is detailed research on beliefs such a fire worship, rather than guesses or assumptions about it.

In most cases I don't think Gombrich is arguing for a big change in interpretation. There are a couple of cases where he does (to do with the brahmaviharas and dependent origination), but the reader is free to take or leave his arguments (which would take us too far off topic for this thread).

Mike
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