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.
I think it is worth noting that the Buddha also
often used the word "self" or atta
in the conventional sense, as a convenient way to refer to a confluence of the Five Aggregates, like you or me. He denied it in the ultimate sense, as an independently-existing, unchanging, blissful essence, but embraced it as a conventional designation. To quote Maurice Walshe's intro to the Digha Nikaya, "In the same way, all such expressions as 'I', 'self', and so on are always in accordance with conventional truth, and the Buddha never hesitated to use the word atta
'self'... in its conventional and convenient sense." I think that an excellent example of this is chapter 12 of the Dhammapada
, as is especially evident in more literal translations. "If one knew the self to be dear, one would guard it well." (Attānañce piyaṃ jaññā
...verse 157 or Dh. 12.1) "The self is indeed the lord of the self..." (Attā hi attano nātho
, verse 160 or Dh. 12.4) "By the self alone is evil done..." (Attanā hi kataṃ pāpaṃ
, v. 161 or Dh. 12.5). These are among the passages that give misinformed people the impression that the Buddha taught an Upanishadic Atman (something he repeatedly refuted in such passages as MN 22:15, 22-23, 25, etc.). Steven Collins also addresses this in section 2.2 of his excellent book Selfless Persons
. He mentions such Pali terms attavetana
("supporting oneself," in the ordinary sense, not supporting an Atman), khematta
("at peace with himself"), attanuvada
My point is merely that one can use the word "self" to refer to a confluence of the Five Aggregates without violating the doctrine and method of Anatta or Not-Self. (For a variety of false "Selves," see, for example, the Brahmajala Sutta