Spiny Norman wrote:I find the broader question of no-self more difficult. But it is the case that in the suttas the Buddha consistently refused to make ontological statements about self/no-self ( among other things ). And something I find puzzling is the way in which no-self is equated with annihilationism in the Ananda Sutta, given that annihilationism is seen as wrong view.
I have a very pragmatic approach to all this, and it seems to be in agreement with the Suttas and with Thanissaro Bhikkhu's teachings on the matter.
Namely, my experience upon being told "You are this, you are that, this is who you really are" - ie. statements about what my true nature is, who I really am - is bewilderment, consistently so.
For example, when a Mormon tells me "You are a child of God," or a Hare Krishna tells me "You are part and parcel of God," or "You are a spirit soul in a body," or when a Western psychologist tells me "You are the epiphenomenon of the neuro-biological processes in your body," or when just someone tells me "You are an idiot" or "You're awesome" - what on earth am I supposed to do with that??! Those identifications are absolutely bewildering to me. I can neither accept them, nor reject them - although it seems clear enough that the person who identified me as this or that wants something from me, but it's not clear what.
Whatever identification of my true nature is proposed, there is a problem with it - and this is the problem with identifications of true nature:
If I am a child of God, then why doesn't God take better care of me? Or does God just not particularly care about me anyway? If so, why bother?
If I am a part and parcel of God, and I am unhappy, then this means that God - despite His omnipotence - is unhappy too. And that is a miserable outlook.
If I am a spirit soul in a body, then how come I don't experience myself that way?
If I am the epiphenomenon of the neuro-biological processes in my body - then why bother with anything, given that I am just a glorified robot?
If I am an idiot, then how come I have a sense of right and wrong?
If I am awesome, then why do I suffer?
If I am a Buddhist, then why am I not enlightened?
If I am not a Buddhist, then I can have no hope of ever becoming enlightened, so why bother with anything.
And so on.
And it is on the grounds of these considerations that I approach the teachings on anatta. Whatever I would take as the truth about myself, as the truth about who I really am, I end up confused, bewildered, and then paralyzed.
Having a view about "who I really am" is a recipe for the strenghtening of the hindrances.