"Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby EricJ » Mon Jun 14, 2010 5:53 pm

gabrielbranbury wrote:Hi Eric,

Its not a justification. Its the way things are. It is the middle way.
Respectfully, I disagree. Your statement implied that there is a need to justify the "reality" of things. Specifically, I am referring to the part of your post where you said "This is the way in which "things" are "real". It avoids the idea that things do not exist and it avoids the idea that they persist in any other way.

There is no need to justify the reality or nonreality of anything, because either tendency strays from the middle, as shown by those sutta excerpts I provided (the Kaccayanagotta and Assutava).

Also, you can't just counter my point without providing evidence or a coherent argument for your POV.

gabrielbranbury wrote:I dont think that it necessarily implies that there are isolated "things". One might read that meaning into it but that is one of the problems with communication.
I disagree, respectfully.

You stated that "all phenomena possess the innate characteristic of being supported by causes and conditions," and that this innate characteristic makes those phenomena real. Speaking in an ontological sense (as opposed to conventional/experiential) how can any one thing possess an innate characteristic without being an isolated phenomenon? The term innate is defined in three ways by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary wrote:1 : existing in, belonging to, or determined by factors present in an individual from birth : native, inborn <innate behavior>
2 : belonging to the essential nature of something : inherent
3 : originating in or derived from the mind or the constitution of the intellect rather than from experience
We can discard the first and third defintions because they relate to people. So, that brings us to the second entry: "belong to the essential nature of something." This is an impossibility. If something has an essence, it can be called real (and therefore isolatable) as per my first post in which I provided a definition of reality.

Kalaka Sutta, 4.24 wrote:"When cognizing what is to be cognized, he doesn't construe an [object as] cognized. He doesn't construe an uncognized. He doesn't construe an [object] to-be-cognized. He doesn't construe a cognizer.

Thus, monks, the Tathagata — being the same with regard to all phenomena that can be seen, heard, sensed, & cognized — is 'Such.' And I tell you: There's no other 'Such' higher or more sublime.

"Whatever is seen or heard or sensed
and fastened onto as true by others,
One who is Such — among the self-fettered —
wouldn't further claim to be true or even false.

"Having seen well in advance that arrow
where generations are fastened & hung
— 'I know, I see, that's just how it is!' —
there's nothing of the Tathagata fastened."

Sunna Sutta wrote:Then Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One, "It is said that the world is empty, the world is empty, lord. In what respect is it said that the world is empty?"

"Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ananda, that the world is empty. And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self? The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms... Eye-consciousness... Eye-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.

"The ear is empty...

"The nose is empty...

"The tongue is empty...

"The body is empty...

"The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas... Intellect-consciousness... Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Thus it is said that the world is empty."

Mulapariyaya Sutta wrote: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.
The Buddha repeatedly warns against assigning innate qualities (essences, selves) to phenomena, such as you have done by making an ontological claim that there are real phenomena which possess the innate (that is, belonging to the essence of something) quality of being upheld by causes and conditions and which express that quality.

As to your statement that language tends to sway towards reality or nonreality, I would say that happens whenever we attempt to make an ultimate, ontological claim (as opposed to conventional/experiential/practical claims) about reality. It is simply unnecessary to make these types of claims, because they are of no practical use and they stray from the middle way between reality and nonreality (dependent origination).
I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.- Gandhi

With persistence aroused for the highest goal's attainment, with mind unsmeared, not lazy in action, firm in effort, with steadfastness & strength arisen, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Not neglecting seclusion, absorption, constantly living the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, comprehending the danger in states of becoming, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
- Snp. 1.3
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Prasadachitta » Mon Jun 14, 2010 8:07 pm

EricJ wrote:Respectfully, I disagree. Your statement implied that there is a need to justify the "reality" of things. Specifically, I am referring to the part of your post where you said "This is the way in which "things" are "real".


Hi Eric,

You say I have "implied that there is a need to justify the "reality" of things". I dont think we need to justify what is simply the case. Our unenlightened experience includes the experience of things as real. So long as this is the case we will benefit from recalling a practical way of understanding how this happens. Ontological reality is not really something I know about.

You stated that "all phenomena possess the innate characteristic of being supported by causes and conditions," and that this innate characteristic makes those phenomena real. Speaking in an ontological sense (as opposed to conventional/experiential) how can any one thing possess an innate characteristic without being an isolated phenomenon? The term innate is defined in three ways by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary wrote:1 : existing in, belonging to, or determined by factors present in an individual from birth : native, inborn <innate behavior>
2 : belonging to the essential nature of something : inherent
3 : originating in or derived from the mind or the constitution of the intellect rather than from experience


I understand definition #2 as the way I use the term. So "inherent" is as good at "innate". All I am saying is that the same truth is inherent in all things. You ask "how can any one thing possess an innate characteristic without being an isolated phenomenon?" And I say; It can if all things possess the same characteristic. The very fact that all things have this quality means that they are not isolated phenomena. It is a qualified kind of "real". For me this is a very practical way to approach practice. I dont really see what you disagree with.

The Buddha repeatedly warns against assigning innate qualities (essences, selves) to phenomena, such as you have done by making an ontological claim that there are real phenomena which possess the innate (that is, belonging to the essence of something) quality of being upheld by causes and conditions and which express that quality.

As to your statement that language tends to sway towards reality or nonreality, I would say that happens whenever we attempt to make an ultimate, ontological claim (as opposed to conventional/experiential/practical claims) about reality. It is simply unnecessary to make these types of claims, because they are of no practical use and they stray from the middle way between reality and nonreality (dependent origination).


I am merely making a practical claim about how we can effectively relate to our experience. If the question arises for us "how is it that this is like this?" An effective answer is... It arises in dependence on causes and conditions. This will of course not be a problem when the question does not arise. Since this is what the OP asked and this is the Discovering Theravada section I figure its the best way to say how things are "real".


Metta

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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Tue Jun 15, 2010 9:01 am

Sorry for butting in again, GB.

gabrielbranbury wrote:You say I have "implied that there is a need to justify the "reality" of things". I dont think we need to justify what is simply the case. Our unenlightened experience includes the experience of things as real. So long as this is the case we will benefit from recalling a practical way of understanding how this happens. Ontological reality is not really something I know about.


It's not something that anyone knows about. Life phenomena are just as they are, saying they are 'real' doesn't really add anything, since there are no unreal phenomena in existence. It is not necessary for phenomena to have any innate characteristics at all in order to save them from non-existence. It isn't a choice between
A: Having an inherent nature (a self) or
B: Non-existence

When Buddha taught the middle way between existence and non-existence (that is dependent arising), he was saying that things do not absolutely exist ie. by virtue of inherent characteristics (eternalism), nor do they absolutely not-exist ie. that they are they inherently nothing at all (nihilism). Instead what we have in reality is existence which is contingent and provisional (dependent origination).

You ask "how can any one thing possess an innate characteristic without being an isolated phenomenon?" And I say; It can if all things possess the same characteristic. The very fact that all things have this quality means that they are not isolated phenomena. It is a qualified kind of "real". For me this is a very practical way to approach practice. I dont really see what you disagree with.


Every entity possessing the same self (inherent characteristic) is not the same as them being free from inherent characteristics. In fact this is remarkably close to the Upanishadic view of beings each possessing an identical inherent self - the Atman - the true identity of which is the universal Atman - Brahman. Buddha rejected this view.

Lacking inherent characteristics is not an inherent characteristic. You are taking the absence of a thing as a thing. And it makes it sound as if these phenomena are distinct from one another. Phenomena are not inherently anything at all. There is only the unfolding dynamics of causes and effects, with nothing to obstruct that. The very positing of inherent characteristics (ie. ontology) is an unnecessary step and a tendency that Buddha discouraged. It's like saying that Impermanence is permanent. (Similarly saying that phenomena are non-existent is positing an inherent nature of 'nothingness')
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby PeterB » Tue Jun 15, 2010 12:15 pm

As the risk of going off topic Shonin how would your acutely reasoned response apply to concepts like " Buddhadhatu" ?
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Annapurna » Tue Jun 15, 2010 1:40 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Annapurna,

I think the best sutta you'll find on this subject is...

SN 12.15: Kaccayanagotta Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Metta,
Retro. :)


Kaccayanagotta Sutta, SN 12.15 wrote:"'Everything exists': That is one extreme. 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle...


Thank you Retro! That was very helpful.

"Everything doesn't exist", = "nothing exists".

And is, as I thought, an extreme view, which should be avoided.

I also thought it is an incomplete statement, because it would make much more sense if it were in context with:

"Nothing exists permanently". Shunyata.



So, a statement should ideally be delivered in it's proper context, and suddenly Buddhism makes sense to newcomers.

Right? :anjali:
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Tue Jun 15, 2010 1:42 pm

PeterB wrote:As the risk of going off topic Shonin how would your acutely reasoned response apply to concepts like " Buddhadhatu" ?


I'd say that there are two ways to interpret Buddhadhatu. Both of which are clearly evident in the history of Mahayana Buddhism:

1. Literally/absolutely: as a transcendental absolute Self - either as something inhering independently in each individual (corresponding to Atman theory) or as a universal omnipresent essence of reality (corresponding to Atman-Brahman theory)
or 2. Provisionally/Soteriologically: Anatta/Sunyata (as we have seen) is prone to being misinterpreted as Nihilism. It is possible to express the same principle in positive terms such as Dependent Origination, Thich Naht Hahn's 'Interbeing' or as 'Buddhadhatu'/'Tathagatagarbha'. The danger in these cases that the provisional teaching is taken over-literally and misinterpreted as an ontological absolute.

The Theravada way is negation in this regard. As I see it, the same realisation can be expressed in positive or negative terms with equal validity. The key in both cases to take such expressions as provisional rather than positive or negative ontological absolutes.
Last edited by Shonin on Tue Jun 15, 2010 1:49 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Tue Jun 15, 2010 1:46 pm

Sorry - butting in once more...

Annapurna wrote:"Everything doesn't exist", = "nothing exists".

And is, as I thought, an extreme view, which should be avoided.

I also thought it is an incomplete statement, because it would make much more sense if it were in context


Yes, agreed apart from one thing...

Annapurna wrote:"Nothing exists permanently". Shunyata.


That is covered by Anicca - the characteristic of Impermanence. Anatta/Sunyata means that things are not/don't have a self or do not exist by virtue of being/having a self.

Annapurna wrote:So, a statement should ideally be delivered in it's proper context, and suddenly Buddhism makes sense to newcomers


Yes, totally. People throw these kinds of statements around and cause all sorts of misunderstandings.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Prasadachitta » Tue Jun 15, 2010 1:56 pm

Hi Shonin,

Shonin wrote:Lacking inherent characteristics is not an inherent characteristic. You are taking the absence of a thing as a thing.


If this is true why are annica, dukka, anatta, called marks? Are these not characteristics?

I am not taking the lack of something as a thing. As far as Im concerned when people use words such as "real" and "existing" they dont mean to be understood in an absolutely philosophical sense. I take it for granted that when someone uses such a word they mean something by it which corresponds to their experience. If I am conversing with someone regarding what they take to be "real" what I can be the most confident about is that whatever "it" is they refer to "it" must have arisen due to causes and conditions. I understand what you are saying I simply feel that on the level of experience it is appropriate to affirm the reality of that experience within the context of Dependent arising. This is how our tangled mess in untangled and I do not think I am adding further tangle by saying that this experience of dukkha has an inherent potential to be instructive of the way out.

Metta

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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Annapurna » Tue Jun 15, 2010 2:42 pm

Shonin wrote:Sorry - butting in once more...

Annapurna wrote:"Everything doesn't exist", = "nothing exists".

And is, as I thought, an extreme view, which should be avoided.

I also thought it is an incomplete statement, because it would make much more sense if it were in context


Yes, agreed apart from one thing...

Annapurna wrote:"Nothing exists permanently". Shunyata.


That is covered by Anicca - the characteristic of Impermanence. Anatta/Sunyata means that things are not/don't have a self or do not exist by virtue of being/having a self.

Annapurna wrote:So, a statement should ideally be delivered in it's proper context, and suddenly Buddhism makes sense to newcomers


Yes, totally. People throw these kinds of statements around and cause all sorts of misunderstandings.



Thank you Shonin.

Anatta/Sunyata means that things are not/don't have a self or do not exist by virtue of being/having a self.


I still have trouble with this:

I do have a self, I feel. I am clearly not my cat, which had another self, and I am not my best friend, she has her own self.

But we don't have a permanent self. Right. Right?

So the statement "we don't have a self" seems again incomplete to me, because, ideally, it should read: "We don't have a permanent self, but a temporary self".

Is this correct understanding?

I'm sorry if I am giving you all stress with this, but it just makes no sense to me put in any other way, it may be difficulty with words! -please bear with me,- although I have the same trouble in German!

Reduced to a skeleton statement I miss the spirit of a truth. Does that make sense?

with metta,

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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby PeterB » Tue Jun 15, 2010 2:54 pm

Shonin wrote:
PeterB wrote:As the risk of going off topic Shonin how would your acutely reasoned response apply to concepts like " Buddhadhatu" ?


I'd say that there are two ways to interpret Buddhadhatu. Both of which are clearly evident in the history of Mahayana Buddhism:

1. Literally/absolutely: as a transcendental absolute Self - either as something inhering independently in each individual (corresponding to Atman theory) or as a universal omnipresent essence of reality (corresponding to Atman-Brahman theory)
or 2. Provisionally/Soteriologically: Anatta/Sunyata (as we have seen) is prone to being misinterpreted as Nihilism. It is possible to express the same principle in positive terms such as Dependent Origination, Thich Naht Hahn's 'Interbeing' or as 'Buddhadhatu'/'Tathagatagarbha'. The danger in these cases that the provisional teaching is taken over-literally and misinterpreted as an ontological absolute.

The Theravada way is negation in this regard. As I see it, the same realisation can be expressed in positive or negative terms with equal validity. The key in both cases to take such expressions as provisional rather than positive or negative ontological absolutes.

Equal validity ? I think not. But we are very unlikely to find a form of words on which to reach agreement.
I think Anna that your understanding is correct. Of COURSE we have a self. Only the highways and byways of nihilism and /or delusion could possibly cause us to deny it.
Its just that the self we identify with is ever changing and arises dependantly along with everything else.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:01 pm

Hi Anna,

I think we need to define our terms clearly here.

Annapurna wrote:I do have a self, I feel. I am clearly not my cat, which had another self, and I am not my best friend, she has her own self.

But we don't have a permanent self. Right. Right?

So the statement "we don't have a self" seems again incomplete to me, because, ideally, it should read: "We don't have a permanent self, but a temporary self".

Is this correct understanding?

I'm sorry if I am giving you all stress with this, but it just makes no sense to me put in any other way, it may be difficulty with words! -please bear with me,- although I have the same trouble in German!


It isn't correct understanding Buddhism to say that you temporarily have a self and then you stop having a self. This sort of view is associated with Annihilationism and Materialism, which Buddha rejected.

Of course you feel, you have a sense of identity, you have a personality, there is physical and mental space between you and your cat. Yes you exist in this way. And so do I. We all have different thoughts and tendencies and we are in different places in space. When you pinch yourself it hurts and you can't read my thoughts. But Anatta is not a denial of that. Atta is an inherent nature, an absolute identity, an essence. Are these phenomena due to an Atta or are they due to causes and conditions with a mere appearance of you having or being an essence?

When 'you feel' what is it that is actually experienced? The phenomena that we call 'feelings' arise. There is also identification with those feelings since you experience them as 'you' or 'yours'. This identification produces the compelling illusion that it is a self or is due to a self, the existence of which is never directly observed, it is just kind of implied by mental processes. In reality identification is another process / phenomenon. So, phenomena of feeling are arising and phenomena of identification (a kind of grasping) are arising. There is no inherent nature involved.

What is temporary is your body, your personality, your mental states etc. Yet none of these things is due to being/having a self (in the Buddhist sense), so there is no self that arises and no self that comes to an end.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby PeterB » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:15 pm

Of course there is a self that arises Shonin. It doesnt arise independantly, and when any of the causes for its arising cease it ceases to arise.
But while it is arising together with its causes, its a self and it exists. The length of rope is not a snake, but it IS a length of rope.
This is not mere semantics but clear blue water...
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:31 pm

PeterB wrote:Of course there is a self that arises Shonin. It doesnt arise independantly, and when any of the causes for its arising cease it ceases to arise.
But while it is arising together with its causes, its a self and it exists. The length of rope is not a snake, but it IS a length of rope.
This is not mere semantics but clear blue water...


By 'self' here I think you are referring to the physical and mental phenomena that constitute a human. Yes these phenomena exist (contingently and provisionally as per all phenomena), but they do not constitute, nor contain nor are the possession of a 'self' in the precise Buddhist sense of the word.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby EricJ » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:43 pm

PeterB wrote:Of course there is a self that arises Shonin. It doesnt arise independantly, and when any of the causes for its arising cease it ceases to arise.
But while it is arising together with its causes, its a self and it exists. The length of rope is not a snake, but it IS a length of rope.
This is not mere semantics but clear blue water...
Are you saying that there is an ontological self? Does the Buddha say this anywhere in the suttas? I was under the impression that anything that could possibly be taken for a self (the five khandas) were dukkha, anicca, and anatta.
I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.- Gandhi

With persistence aroused for the highest goal's attainment, with mind unsmeared, not lazy in action, firm in effort, with steadfastness & strength arisen, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Not neglecting seclusion, absorption, constantly living the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, comprehending the danger in states of becoming, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
- Snp. 1.3
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby PeterB » Tue Jun 15, 2010 5:03 pm

The self is an activity,a verb, not a non existent noun object. While that activity ( which is the operation of the kandhas ) continues it does not give rise to permanence . Anicca is already the case. That activity does not proceed from an atta. Anatta is always the case. The identification of any khandic activity with permanence or changelessness is Dukkha, which then becomes the case.
However the activity, the verb, which is the self continues to Enlightenment.
The refracted colours of a pigeons neck are not intrinsic to the feathers, they are refracted light. Nevertheless they exist. As long as the conditions, the pigeon, its feathers arise, the colours continue to arise.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby acinteyyo » Tue Jun 15, 2010 5:47 pm

PeterB wrote:The self is an activity,a verb, not a non existent noun object. While that activity ( which is the operation of the kandhas ) continues it does not give rise to permanence . Anicca is already the case. That activity does not proceed from an atta. Anatta is always the case. The identification of any khandic activity with permanence or changelessness is Dukkha, which then becomes the case.
However the activity, the verb, which is the self continues to Enlightenment.

So do you want to say that there's no activity (operation of the khandhas) after enlightenment?

best wishes, acinteyyo
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Api cāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare, sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññāpemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadan. (AN4.45)

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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby PeterB » Tue Jun 15, 2010 5:54 pm

I have no idea Acinteyyo. :anjali:
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby acinteyyo » Tue Jun 15, 2010 6:01 pm

What exactely do you mean by activity (operation of the khandhas)? Do you have any example?
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Api cāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare, sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññāpemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadan. (AN4.45)

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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby Shonin » Tue Jun 15, 2010 6:13 pm

PeterB wrote:The self is an activity,a verb, not a non existent noun object. While that activity ( which is the operation of the kandhas ) continues it does not give rise to permanence . Anicca is already the case. That activity does not proceed from an atta. Anatta is always the case. The identification of any khandic activity with permanence or changelessness is Dukkha, which then becomes the case.
However the activity, the verb, which is the self continues to Enlightenment.


OK, fair enough. However, I don't know where your disagreement is then, except your insistence on using the misleading word 'self' (a noun) for that which by our agreement is Anatta (non-self) in the Buddhist sense and better referred to by a verb than a noun.

The so-called 'self' that continues is a nominal category for an ever-changing but recognisable pattern of contingent phenomena. Ha! :juggling: Damn I used a noun.
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Re: "Nothing exists", or (how) does it?

Postby PeterB » Tue Jun 15, 2010 6:46 pm

Well quite Shonin....its just too much of a bore to go right round the houses rather than use the " s" word.
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