The self?

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The self?

Postby Curious Dog » Thu Apr 28, 2011 10:40 am

Hello all,

I am 22 and very much new to Buddhism in the sense of looking deep into its teachings and dilligently practiscing meditation. I am thoroughly enjoying the exploration but was yesterday hit with a feeling of confusion over the notion of the self. I have read recently that Buddhism teaches that in an emprical sense there is a 'self' but not in a metaphysical sense. My confusion comes from the fact that Buddhism seems to on the one hand promote an understanding of the idea of 'no-self' but on the other hand has some very introspective elements promoting improvement of oneself and showing compassion to other 'selves'. If we say outright that there is no self then this must also exist for other selves and so why show compassion or any particular feeling to anything? However if there is indeed a self then one of the fundamental beliefs of Buddhism seems difficult to maintain. I presume the key is in the metaphysical/empirical distinction and as with the philosophies of men such as Schopenhauer, it is dependent on one's perspective. Could someone please give me a little clarity on this issue?

I hope the dilemma is clear and any help is greatly appreciated. Furthermore apologies if this is posted in the wrong area,

Ben.
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Re: The self?

Postby Freawaru » Thu Apr 28, 2011 11:22 am

Curious Dog wrote:Hello all,

I am 22 and very much new to Buddhism in the sense of looking deep into its teachings and dilligently practiscing meditation. I am thoroughly enjoying the exploration but was yesterday hit with a feeling of confusion over the notion of the self. I have read recently that Buddhism teaches that in an emprical sense there is a 'self' but not in a metaphysical sense. My confusion comes from the fact that Buddhism seems to on the one hand promote an understanding of the idea of 'no-self' but on the other hand has some very introspective elements promoting improvement of oneself and showing compassion to other 'selves'. If we say outright that there is no self then this must also exist for other selves and so why show compassion or any particular feeling to anything? However if there is indeed a self then one of the fundamental beliefs of Buddhism seems difficult to maintain. I presume the key is in the metaphysical/empirical distinction and as with the philosophies of men such as Schopenhauer, it is dependent on one's perspective. Could someone please give me a little clarity on this issue?

I hope the dilemma is clear and any help is greatly appreciated. Furthermore apologies if this is posted in the wrong area,

Ben.


Hi Ben,

your confusion is shared by many. The problem is that the Buddhist definition of atta, translated as self, does not exist in the Western, Christian based, culture. It's origin is re-incarnation, the idea of a spiritual essence that is born and dies and born again into different bodies (or different spiritual bodies). In the pre-Buddhist cultures this atta (or atman) was considered to be eternal and self-originated. If one compares to the Christian view the only truly eternal and self-originated something is God. But Christians don't think that God reincarnates himself into bodies again and again until Enlightenment happens - thus there is no concept like atta/self in Christian thinking.

The Western definition of self, i.e. the personality, does exist in Buddhism and plays in fact an important role. But it is considered, just as in our Western thinking, as non-permanent and changing and based on other processes. Buddhism kept the concept of been born again and again as in the Indian cultures of it's time but without the idea of a self-originated, eternal essence moving through it. To develop compassion to these various personalities is a part of the practice.
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Re: The self?

Postby Dan74 » Thu Apr 28, 2011 12:44 pm

Good question, Ben, and one worthy of an ongoing exploration, in my opinion.

My (very provisional) answer is that although we are not separate selves in the sense it is usually seen, there is a delusion of a self and this delusion or misunderstanding causes much suffering. When this is seen to some extent at least, the one thing that comes naturally, the one thing that truly makes sense is to act with kindness and compassion. It's not that one thinks "oh I will be kind and compassionate - this makes sense", it's more like pulling your hand out of fire or reaching for the pillow at night - when it's not really "my" hand, or "my" head, then you naturally do the same for "others". Even though they (and you) are not separate selves or rather because we are not separate selves.

Not sure if this makes any sense. Many of us think too much about these things and logical thought is quite limited in this regard because it is also based on the prism we process our perceptions through, which is the prism of self. Best is to practice and see how your understanding of "I vs. They" changes.

Good luck!!!
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Re: The self?

Postby chownah » Thu Apr 28, 2011 12:46 pm

Curious Dog,
I don't think that anyone will be able to give you clarity on this issue. It is one of the BIG BIG BIG issues that people keep fighting with and disagreeing and seems that most people never get a grip on it....in fact alot of people are of the view that if you actually do get a grip on it then you are already guaranteed to be destined for enlightenment. Because of this view people spend alot of time trying to figure it out...try to come to grips with the issue of the self. The Buddha, though, taught that no matter how we try to concieve of the "self" we will only end up with delusion...so....the Buddha taught that we should have no doctrine of self whatever....and this is often taken to mean that we should not have a doctrine that the self exists nor should we have a docrine of self that the self does not exist. It seems that the Buddha taught that any way that you try to analyze the "self" will not be helpful in following the path. To illustrate one facet of how our views of "self" are mistaken the Buddha gave the teaching of the chariot......a chariot is made up of parts...is a pile of parts a chariot?....certainly not.......if one takes an axle and a wheel and connects them do you have a chariot?....certainly not.....so then when all of the parts are assembled the concept of chariot arises but really it is just a bunch of parts brought into close proximity to each other.....likewise our concept of "self" is just a collection of feelings and thoughts which when viewed in the regular way gives rise to the concept of "self"....the Buddha teaches that it is possible to view these feelings and thoughts and NOT give rise to the concept of "self"....and that's the way to go.....but its a difficult thing to accomplish taking a high degree of concentration and introspection....which is why people meditate...to develp the concentration to make the introspection.....I guess....

I think that the most imporant thing is to understand that whatever way you conceive of "self" it will not direct you toward ending suffering....it is by emptying the mind of all vestiges of a concept of self that will be helpful.

These are my views only and you should check to be sure that I have represented the Buddha's teachings properly......
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Re: The self?

Postby kirk5a » Thu Apr 28, 2011 1:40 pm

Curious Dog wrote:If we say outright that there is no self

Greetings Ben

It's tempting to look at what the Buddha taught as a description of what is/what is not. However, what the teachings really are about is ending suffering.

You might read Ven. Thanissaro's essay on the subject, hopefully that will give you a less confusing footing.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tself.html

excerpt:
Although the concept "not-self" is a useful way of disentangling oneself from the attachments & clingings which lead to suffering, the view that there is no self is simply one of many metaphysical or ontological views which bind one to suffering.
"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: The self?

Postby Kenshou » Thu Apr 28, 2011 2:26 pm

The things we identify as our "self" are there, your mind and your body. But these things are not, nor do they contain, some continuous constant autonomous agent. Instead they are a process in constant flux which operates by causes and conditioning. But these beings as fluxional processes are still there, that is not denied, and they still experience suffering and respond to conditioning, for better or worse.

So this isn't incompatible with self development (in this context, the 8 fold path) and compassion for others. We can still use the word "self" for the sake of convenience in the context of Buddhist practice without getting caught up in the erroneous assumptions that it usually entails.

I don't think that a metaphysical/empirical distinction is a problem that even exists in this context, but there are probably folk better qualified to tackle that.
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Re: The self?

Postby pulga » Thu Apr 28, 2011 2:37 pm

His views on experience are rigorously phenomenological, but if you're up for the challenge, Ven. Ñanavira's Shorter Note on Attá might be of benefit to you.

http://nanavira.xtreemhost.com/index.ph ... &Itemid=66
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Re: The self?

Postby Nibbida » Thu Apr 28, 2011 2:45 pm

Here's some useful points:

It's not that we don't exist, more a matter of how we exist. We don't exist in the way that we seem to. We appear to be separate, but we are actually interdependent with everything around us. The apparent boundaries are more conceptual than actual. We are not static entities, but rather a changing set of processes, streams of mind & body activity (i.e. khandas). In this light, it does make sense to develop certain characteristics like wisdom, concentration, equanimity, loving-kindness, etc. But at the same time, that doesn't mean we exist as the separate entities that we appear to be.
"Dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body, acquire strength by exercise." --Thomas Jefferson

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Re: The self?

Postby ancientbuddhism » Thu Apr 28, 2011 2:55 pm

MN.1.3.2 (MN.22)

244. “attani vā, bhikkhave, sati attaniyaṃ me ti assā”ti?

“Monks, surly, there being a ‘self’, would I know of things pertaining to this ‘self’?”

“evaṃ, bhante”.

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“attaniye vā, bhikkhave, sati attā me ti assā”ti?

“And surly, Monks, because of these things pertaining to this ‘self’, would I know of this self?”

“evaṃ, bhante”.

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“attani ca, bhikkhave, attaniye ca saccato thetato anupalabbhamāne, yampi taṃ diṭṭhiṭṭhānaṃ -- ‘so loko so attā, so pecca bhavissāmi nicco dhuvo sassato avipariṇāmadhammo, sassatisamaṃ tatheva ṭhassāmī’ti -- nanāyaṃ, bhikkhave, kevalo paripūro bāladhammo’”ti?

“Monks, because this ‘self’ and things pertaining to a ‘self’ are not true and reliable, this position on views: “Of this ‘self’ and conditions, this will be after death – everlasting, constant, permanent, eternal, remaining unchanged for eternity”, monks, is this not a totally and absolutely childish theory?”
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: The self?

Postby ancientbuddhism » Thu Apr 28, 2011 3:06 pm

From No Ajhan Chah

Non-Self

93

A devout elderly lady from a nearby province came on a pilgrimage to Wat Pah Pong. She told Ajahn Chah she could stay only a short time, as she had to return to take care of her grandchildren, and since she was an old lady, she asked if he could please give her a brief Dhamma talk. Ajahn Chah replied with great force, "Hay, listen! There’s no one here, just this! No owner, no one to be old, to be young, to be good or bad, weak or strong. Just this, that’s all - just various elements of nature going their own way, all empty. No one born and no one to die! Those who speak of birth and death are speaking the language of ignorant children. In the language of the heart, of Dhamma, there are no such things as birth and death."
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: The self?

Postby Ben » Thu Apr 28, 2011 11:21 pm

Hi AB,

ancientbuddhism wrote:MN.1.3.2 (MN.22)

244. “attani vā, bhikkhave, sati attaniyaṃ me ti assā”ti?

“Monks, surly, there being a ‘self’, would I know of things pertaining to this ‘self’?”

“evaṃ, bhante”.

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“attaniye vā, bhikkhave, sati attā me ti assā”ti?

“And surly, Monks, because of these things pertaining to this ‘self’, would I know of this self?”

“evaṃ, bhante”.

“Yes, venerable sir.”

“attani ca, bhikkhave, attaniye ca saccato thetato anupalabbhamāne, yampi taṃ diṭṭhiṭṭhānaṃ -- ‘so loko so attā, so pecca bhavissāmi nicco dhuvo sassato avipariṇāmadhammo, sassatisamaṃ tatheva ṭhassāmī’ti -- nanāyaṃ, bhikkhave, kevalo paripūro bāladhammo’”ti?

“Monks, because this ‘self’ and things pertaining to a ‘self’ are not true and reliable, this position on views: “Of this ‘self’ and conditions, this will be after death – everlasting, constant, permanent, eternal, remaining unchanged for eternity”, monks, is this not a totally and absolutely childish theory?”


Interesting translation, where did you get that from?
kind regards

Ben
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loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725


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Re: The self?

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Apr 29, 2011 2:45 am

MN 22 PTS: M i 138

Nyanaponika:
22. "You may well take hold of a possession,[26] O monks, that is permanent, stable, eternal, immutable, that abides eternally the same in its very condition. (But) do you see, monks, any such possession?" — "No, Lord." — "Well, monks, I, too, do not see any such possession that is permanent, stable, eternal, immutable, that abides eternally the same in its very condition."

23. "You may well accept, monks, the assumption of a self-theory[27] 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."

24. "You may well rely, monks, on any supporting (argument) for views[28] from the reliance on which there would not arise sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair. (But) do you see, monks, any such supporting (argument) for views?" — "No, Lord." — "Well, monks, I, too, do not see any such supporting (argument) for views from the reliance on which there would not arise sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair."[29]

25. "If there were a self, monks, would there be my self's property?" — "So it is, Lord." — "Or if there is a self's property, would there by my self?" — "So it is, Lord." — "Since in truth and in fact, self and self's property do not obtain, O monks, then this ground for views, 'The universe is the Self. That I shall be after death; permanent, stable, eternal, immutable; eternally the same shall I abide, in that very condition' — is it not, monks, an entirely and perfectly foolish idea?" — "What else should it be, Lord? It is an entirely and perfectly foolish idea."[30]


footnotes:
26.Pariggaha.m parigganheyyaatha. This links up with §19: the anxiety about external possessions.
27.Attavaadupaadaanam upadiyetha. While in most translations the term upaadaana has been rendered by "clinging," we have followed here a suggestion of the late Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, rendering it by "assumption" [see The Wheel No. 17: Three Cardinal Discourses of the Buddha, p. 19 (Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy)]. In this context, the word "assumption" should be understood: (1) in the sense of a supposition, (2) in the literal sense of its Latin source: adsumere, "to take up," which closely parallels the derivation of our Paali term: upa-aadaana, "taking up strongly." In this sense we have used it when translating the derivative verb upaadiyetha by "you may accept." Attavaadupaadaana is one of the four types of clinging (see Nyanatiloka's Buddhist Dictionary), conditioned by craving (tanhaa). This term comprises, according to Comy, the twenty types of personality-belief (sakkaaya-ditthi).

Quoting this passage of our text, the Ven. Dr. Walpola Rahula remarks: "If there had been any soul-theory which the Buddha had accepted, he would certainly have explained it here, because he asked the monks to accept that soul-theory which did not produce suffering. But in the Buddha's view, there is no such soul-theory..." (What the Buddha Taught, London, 1959; p.58).

28.Ditthinissaya.m nissayetha. Nissaya, lit.: support basis. Comy explains this phrase as the sixty-two false views headed by personality-belief (see DN 1, Brahmajaala Sutta). They form the theoretical or ideological basis, or support, for the various creeds and speculative doctrines derived from them. Sub-Comy: "The view itself is a support for views; because for one with incorrect conceptions, the view will serve as a prop for his firm adherence to, and the propagation of, his ideas." Alternative renderings: You may well place reliance on a view, or may derive conviction from it.

See Satipatthaana Sutta where, in explanation of anissito the Comy mentions tanhaanissaya and ditthi-nissaya, "dependence on craving and views."

29.In this section, according to Comy, a "three-fold voidness is shown," i.e., referring to external possessions, self-theory and reliance on speculative views.

30.The two supplementary statements in this section suggest the following implications: The concepts of "I" and "Mine" are inseparably linked; so also, in philosophical terms, are substance and attribute. If there is personality-belief or self-theory, there will be necessarily acquisitiveness or possessiveness in some form or other; at least these views themselves will be held with strong tenacity and be regarded as an "inalienable property" (see Note 22). There is no pure, abstract self or substance without its determination, property or attribute. On the other hand, acquisitiveness and possessiveness — even if of a quite unphilosophical character — cannot be without at least a tacit assumption of a proprietary self; this applies also to materialistic doctrines (annihilationism). Since in truth and fact neither an abiding property (or attribute) can be established nor an abiding self (or substance), either of these terms is left without its essential referent. Hence the conception of individual immortality as formulated in the sixth ground for views, is found to be devoid of any basis and is, therefore, rejected by the Buddha as a fool's doctrine, being outside of serious consideration.

Comy: Here a "two-fold voidness" is shown, that of self (atta) and of property (or properties) belonging to a self (attaniya).


Thanissaro:

"Monks, where a self or what belongs to self are not pinned down as a truth or reality, then the view-position — 'This cosmos is the self. After death this I will be constant, permanent, eternal, not subject to change. I will stay just like that for an eternity' — Isn't it utterly & completely a fool's teaching?"


Ven Bodhi:

Since a self and what belongs to a self are not apprehended as true and established, then this standpoint for views, namely, 'This self, this is the world; after death I shall be permanent, everlasting, eternal, not subject to change; I shall endure as long as eternity’ -- would it not be an utterly and completely foolish teaching? -- MLDB, p 232.


Rupert Gethin:

Good, monks, I too do not perceive a theory of self where taking it up would not bring about grief, sorrow, suffering, unhappiness, and distress for the one taking it up. . . . But if both self and what belongs to the self are not in actual fact found, then the point of view that the world and the self are the same and that after death this is what one will be, permanent, enduring, eternal, not liable to change, one will remain like that for all eternity, is a totally and completely foolish idea. SAYINGS OF THE BUDDHA, p 164.


And add to the above:

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


Really no notion of a self is to be held onto, given that any notion or experience of self, no matter how rarified or supposedly transcendent, is tied up with the khandhas.
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: The self?

Postby cooran » Fri Apr 29, 2011 6:36 am

Hello curious dog, all,

I would strongly recommend reading this chapter in ''What the Buddha Taught'' by Venerable Dr. W. Rahula
And then I would strongly recommend reading the rest of the book.

The Doctrine of No-Soul
http://www.quangduc.com/English/basic/6 ... ht-06.html

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Re: The self?

Postby Curious Dog » Fri Apr 29, 2011 11:01 am

Hello all,

I just wanted to say thank you very much for all your replies. I of course cannot expect the issue to be made suddenly clear through brief discussion and I look forward to going deeper into the rabbit-hole. However, the directions, translations and thoughts you have posted are greatfully received and have certainly sharpened my thoughts on the subject.

Cheers everybody,

Ben. X
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Re: The self?

Postby LastLegend » Sun May 08, 2011 8:45 am

The attachment to the body that we wear and acting upon it is what self is.
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