Personal identity as suffering, or support?

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Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby phil » Sun Dec 26, 2010 8:51 am

Hi all

I was interested to come across a Bhikkhu Bodhi footnote to an Anguttara Nikaya sutta in which he said that since the First Noble Truth is ultimately defined as the clinging aggregates, we could extend that to saying personality (as an expression of the aggregates) could be said to be the first noble truth. Interesting. I can see that said about personal identity. But whether personality or personal identity, I feel these days that a personality or personal identity that is more and more associated with wholesome behaviour can be a support on the path. I was writing that about self-esteem the other day. If we have self esteem, if our personal identity is rooted in a deepening connection to Dhamma, doesn't it help to support Sila, and therefore, in the long run, liberation? Is that dangerous thinking, or a healthy, pragrmatic approach to the inevitability for us to cling to personality and personal identity for now? Since we're likelyto do so in this lifetime, let's strive to make it a good one, kind of thing, and right theoretical understanding can help remind us that our personal identity is a fabrication....

I am not proposing the ultimate existence of self, of course, just saying that unlike some Dhamma friends I know, I don't see why playing with a sense of self is so dangerous, I think it can help us. THen again, there is a sutta that says we should strive to get rid of self-view with the same urgency we would strive to deal with a turban on fire, so maybe I am playing with fire here...

p.s I'll add as an edit that some of us do not have the conditions for intensive meditation practice, or have very, very powerful and thick hindrances that make such practice in this lifetime very unlikely. I think if I had conditions for intensive meditation practice, I would not be thinking like the above, I would go after the roots of personal identity more aggressively...
I hope that every time I post it will be accompanied by a wish for the wellbeing of everyone in this sangha and all beings.
(so I don't have to write "metta" every time!)


Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)
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Re: Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby ground » Sun Dec 26, 2010 9:17 am

I think here a (subtle?) borderline between the psychological and the buddhist approach may be detected.

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Re: Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby phil » Sun Dec 26, 2010 9:29 am

TMingyur wrote:I think here a (subtle?) borderline between the psychological and the buddhist approach may be detected.

Kind regards


Hi TMingyur

Yes, some people have said I have a pop Psychology approach to the Dhamma. I guess they are right, because pop psychology aims at happiness, and for me Dhamma means happiness in this lifetime, wholesome happiness in line with sila. I can't pretend otherwise, I don't seem to have any aspiration for liberation yet, a lack of samvega. Any samvega I have is really about how to behave so I can be happier. Does that mean there is no place in the Dhamma for me. I don't think so, I think the desire for happiness will mean firming of sila, and that could lead to better conditions for understanding. Anyways, thank you, yes, an interest in psychology and mental well-being (for others as much as myself) lurks behind my interest in Dhamma.
I hope that every time I post it will be accompanied by a wish for the wellbeing of everyone in this sangha and all beings.
(so I don't have to write "metta" every time!)


Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)
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Re: Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby ground » Sun Dec 26, 2010 9:52 am

Hi phil

phil wrote:... and for me Dhamma means happiness in this lifetime, wholesome happiness in line with sila.

I guess this is in line with the Buddha's teachings.
Example: viewtopic.php?f=16&t=6580&p=105628#p105628

Actually contentment and a gladdened mind are prerequisites for successful meditation.

But of course also a mind intent on liberation is a prerequiste for liberation.

Kind regards
Last edited by ground on Sun Dec 26, 2010 9:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby Kenshou » Sun Dec 26, 2010 9:53 am

I feel these days that a personality or personal identity that is more and more associated with wholesome behaviour can be a support on the path. I was writing that about self-esteem the other day. If we have self esteem, if our personal identity is rooted in a deepening connection to Dhamma, doesn't it help to support Sila, and therefore, in the long run, liberation?
I think it does. The path is a gradual thing. We can't just uproot all of our conditioning at once. But we can influence it for the better by supplanting unwholesome qualities and desires with ones that point us in the right direction.

It's just the old raft metaphor again.
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Re: Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby kirk5a » Sun Dec 26, 2010 4:04 pm

Ever get hooked by a cat's claws? You can't pull back, because the claws dig in deeper. So your hand gets drawn right into its mouth hehehe The Dhamma is like that in my experience.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby phil » Mon Dec 27, 2010 12:35 am

Thanks for your comments, everyone. I think posting this helped push the issue to the forefront of my attention, what will it take for an earnest aspiration for liberation from samsara to arise? I think of some people I know, here and elsewhere, who truly seem to have it. I, on the other hand, seem content with life and use Dhamma as a kind of sweetener. At least I'm addicted to the sweetener and get my hands on it every day. But will it take some kind of miserable event for a real aspiration to arise, and would that be a wholseome aspiration, or a desire to escape rooted in aversion. That's another topic, interesting.

Back to the topic. I found this in my notes today, a verse from Dhammapada: attanam ce piyam janna/rakkheya nan surakhitam, which I think is something like "treat your self as dear, protect it like a treasure." It's in the Dhammapada chapter entitled "Atto vago"、"The Self." Again, I'm not proposing that the Buddha did *not* teach that there is no self, I know that is a debate point sometimes but I'm not intending to go there, I'm just always wondering in which ways he knew that treasuring a self image could help us early on the path. As Kenshou said, the raft metaphor, maybe that's all it comes down to. But the raft metaphor is usually used for the teachings, right. Playing with self image could be getting more firmly attached to a raft that would be harder to drop....
I hope that every time I post it will be accompanied by a wish for the wellbeing of everyone in this sangha and all beings.
(so I don't have to write "metta" every time!)


Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)
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Re: Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby ground » Mon Dec 27, 2010 5:46 am

phil wrote:... and would that be a wholseome aspiration, or a desire to escape rooted in aversion. That's another topic, interesting.
...
Playing with self image could be getting more firmly attached to a raft that would be harder to drop....


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .bodh.html


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Re: Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Dec 27, 2010 6:38 am

Here is something I posted in an earlier thread that may have some bearing on this discussion:

An unchanging self certainly would not be able to feel since it would not be influenced by or even aware of its surroundings (which would be the khandhas). It would be meaningless to say that this unchanging “being” was impure and wanted to change to a state of purity.

The Buddha clearly stated: Monks, whatever contemplatives or priests who assume in various ways when assuming a self, all assume the five clinging-aggregates, or a certain one of them. - SN III 46.

The idea that there is some unchanging thing, some “being,” some self, that we really in fact are that is different from the khandhas is meaningless. An unchanging “being” cannot act, cannot feel, is not aware, would have no qualities by which it can be defined, cannot influence or respond to that which changes, the khandhas.

‘”I am’ is derivative upon form … perception … feelings … volitional formation … consciousness’ – S XXII 83/iii 105

We make a radical, unstated assumption that the "self" -- this “being”, this "I am" that we assume that we are - does - in some fundamental way - exist, not changing, and that it is an independent agent behind what we experience. As we have seen the Buddha, however, points out that our sense of self, no matter how “refined” is derived from our experiences, it is a conditioned experience.

The assumption, the radical feeling is that we are in our heart of hearts, in the very core of our being, this self, this “being”, this “I am,” - and this assumption, this radical feeling that this self, this “I am” is an unchanging agent is the fundamental delusion, the base ignorance. The insight that arises from the Dhamma practice allows us to see that this "self" - this “I am” - is both conditioned and conditioning. The self - the “being” - does not exist independently of the rise and fall, the ever-changing flow, of conditions.

The radical insight of the Buddha is that we are not a singular independent self, but we are, rather, a dynamic interdependent process where choice, feelings, sensations, the whole catastrophe plays itself out without a need for an unchanging self, no matter how rarified we imagine the “I am”, the self, the “being” to be. Though there is an intellectual component to this teaching of the Buddha to which we can give assent, it is really a matter of cultivating mindfulness that gives rise to the insight into seeing what we truly are.

". . . the perception 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 not-self one reaches the removal of the conceit 'I am,' which is called Nibbana here and now." U iv 1.

In the mean time - until we are awakened - we have to deal with this sense of self, this sense of “being”. We can tell it where to get off, but being stubborn, recalcitrant, and primal it won't get off. The sense of self, of “I am”, persists. So, in a very real sense, via the practice of the Dhamma, we cultivate the self, we train it, we tame it via Right View, the precepts and meditative practice, through giving and lovingkindness practice, all of which help thin the walls of delusion of permanence with which we surround the self and by which we build up the sense and idea of “being.” The insight - vipassana - from practice of the Buddha-Dhamma allows us to see the self's actual interdependent nature, which allows us to let go of that sense – delusion -- of self, of being, that we seem to think is so real.

Basically, an unchanging self - a “being” - separate from the khandhas is a silly idea. The idea of an unchanging self - a “being” - of any sort is a silly idea given that it is no thing, capable of doing no thing. And as far as this thread is concerned, such an unchanging “being” cannot feel, manifest or receive compassion.

It is that we are not an unchanging “being” that cannot act or interact, which gives us the possibility of awakening and the possibility of compassion, because we can and do interact with others, seeing that their changing nature is just like ours. We are not independent beings; rather, we are interdependent:

"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.
Sn 705
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: Personal identity as suffering, or support?

Postby phil » Mon Dec 27, 2010 11:38 am

Hi Tiltbillings

tiltbillings wrote:In the mean time - until we are awakened - we have to deal with this sense of self, this sense of “being”. We can tell it where to get off, but being stubborn, recalcitrant, and primal it won't get off. The sense of self, of “I am”, persists. So, in a very real sense, via the practice of the Dhamma, we cultivate the self, we train it, we tame it via Right View, the precepts and meditative practice, through giving and lovingkindness practice, all of which help thin the walls of delusion of permanence with which we surround the self and by which we build up the sense and idea of “being.” The insight - vipassana - from practice of the Buddha-Dhamma allows us to see the self's actual interdependent nature, which allows us to let go of that sense – delusion -- of self, of being, that we seem to think is so real.


"Being stubborn, recalcitrant and primal, it won't get off....(snip) all of which help thin the walls of delusion of permanence with which we surround the self and by which we build up the sense and idea of "being."

Thanks, nicely said. I sometimes see sila helping to kind of illuminate the sense of self, making it more transparent, easier to see through.

I guess the kind of understanding I expressed earlier in this thread and you expanded on nicely is not revolutionary, but having come from a Dhamma discussion milieu where sensible ideas such as those written above (such as cultivating the self) are torn down obsessively as WRONG VIEW!!! it's nice to read.

Thanks also TMingyur.

p.s I've been curious, Tiltbillings. Around 10 years ago when I was starting out in Dhamma I joined a Buddhist forum at Beliefnet and there was an experienced practicitioner from Madison who helped me out a lot then. (I was called luxalot.) I remember that fellow had some epic debates with a devotee of Soka Gakkai, I'm wondering if it was you, not that it really matters so much.. :smile:
I hope that every time I post it will be accompanied by a wish for the wellbeing of everyone in this sangha and all beings.
(so I don't have to write "metta" every time!)


Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)
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