vinasp wrote:Hi ancientbuddhism,
While reading what Conze has to say about the Personalists, I found this
"It was clearly a mistake of lesser minds to deny categorically
that the self exists. As the Personalists pointed out, it had
been said that 'to say that the self does not exist, in truth
and reality (satyatah sthititah), is a wrong view'". (33)
Note 33 reads: AK ix 270
AK is the Abhidharmakosa by Vasubandhu, [ 4th century C.E.]
[ Buddhist Thought in India, by Edward conze, London, 1983, page 130 ]
What do you make of this remark by Conze?
Do you know where the quotation comes from - is it from Nagarjuna perhaps?
With reference to Conze's remark and what follows it on the same page:
Buddhist Thought in India p. 130
"It was clearly a mistake of lesser minds to deny categorically that the self exists. As the Personalists pointed out, it had been said that 'to say that the self does not exist, in truth and reality (satyataḥ sthititaḥ), is a wrong view'".(n.33: AK ix 270)
Although Châu referenced Vasubandhu’s Abhidharma-kośa with different conclusions:
2. The same ideas are expressed in another Pudgalavādin work, the Sns (Sāṃmitīyanikāyaśāstra): ‘The characteristics (hsiang, lakṣaṇa) of the self (ātman), etc are accepted through faith. As the Buddha said to the sectaries (tīrthika): «Although a Me exists, it is only a designation, it is not a reality. It is based on defiled aggregates (āsravaskandha) ». In seeing (impermanent) things which come and go, the Buddha calls that the self, (but) it is not a real self. As the Buddha said: « (The self) relies on compounded things (saṃskāra)». The term (of self) is derived from compounded things». That is why the Buddha speaks (of a self). Such is the explanation of the term self’ (Sns, 464b 5-10).
‘Being blinded by ignorance (avidyā) one considers the five aggregates (skandha) which are not the self as being the self. (It is like) an uncomprehending baby which sees the mother of others and calls her its mother. It is the same for those who call self the five aggregates which are not the self, Such is the teaching of the Buddha’ (Sns, 464b 12-16).
These ideas are confirmed by an extract by Vasubandhu in the Abhidharma-kośa devoted to the argument in defense of the Vātsīputrīyas when they are attacked over the concept of attachment to the Me and Mine and affection for the Me and Mine:
‘When one recognises a self in what is not a self, as do the sectaries, one feels affection for that supposed self; however, when one sees the self in the ineffable pudgala, as do the Buddhas, no affection is aroused regarding the self’(n.534: Kośa IX, p.273).
Thus, the Pudgalavādins had understood the fundamental teachings of the Buddha, particularly the doctrine of insubstantiality which vigorously rejects belief in a substantial, permanent self (ātman). Indeed, the Buddha is specifically called ‘the master of the doctrine of insubstantiality’ (anātmavādī). Only the doctrine of insubstantiality, not being found in other systems of Indian thought, constitutes the fundamental teaching of the Buddha. Consequently, without a correct understanding of this doctrinal notion, it is impossible to have knowledge and practice in conformity with Buddhism.
[bold emphasis mine]
– The Literature of the Personalists of Early Buddhism – p.136
Continuing with Conze:
Every statement must be viewed concretely, in the context of the discussion, and in each case one must consider what is asked, what are the needs of the questioner and his mental level, what is liable to be misunderstood, etc. Everywhere the compassionate intention of the Buddha must be taken into account. For the Buddha was out to help, not to make theories.
so far so good, but…
One must distinguish between a specific negation, stating that the self cannot be identified with a clearly defined range of items, such as the skandhas, and a general negation, which says that 'the self does not exist anywhere'.
Actually the Buddha did both in MN.22. These are not mutually exclusive, and were not considered so by the Buddha’s noble listeners who understood that the Upaniṣadic notion of ātman
as support of the khandhas
is non different than Ātman
= Universal Brahman.
The latter is a universal theoretical proposition, (n.34: vidhi, Kamalaśīla RO viii, p. 91. ibid. p. 93: The Mīmāṃsa distinguished vidhi from anuvāda, e.g. ‘form in not self’ is said with reference to a specific heresy, and is not a proposition about the existence of non existence of an ātman.) which is of no use in any context except that of philosophical disputation, answers no worthwhile questions, removes no misunderstanding, and does nothing to further salvation.
Which would be true if not for the Buddha’s noble listeners understanding paṭiccasamuppāda
as a schedule of empirical evidence of how the notion of ‘self’ is propped up, and the direct knowledge and experience of this developed through contemplative work. With reference to the claim in fn. 34 ‘form is not self’ as not with reference to the non-existence of an ātman
, fails to consider the ontological proposition of ātman
in the Upaniṣads which is the support of corporeal existence, which in addition to an analysis for contemplative work, was clearly the target of the Buddha’s anattā
doctrine throughout the Nikāyas.
The non-apprehension of a self - essential to a religious life on Buddhist lines - is greatly cheapened when it is turned into a philosophical statement proclaiming that the self does not exist. Candrakīrti has well shown (n.35: Prqas. Xviii 354-8.) that under certain circumstances it may be useful to teach that there is a self, (n.36: e.g. against the materialists, who denied the continuity of karman and its results, and thereby took away the philosophical basis of morality.) under others that there is none, under others again that there is neither a self nor a not-self. But all these statements are circumscribed by their context, and outside it they lose their significance. In the context of salvational practices an absolute 'is' or 'is not' is useless and misleading. The Buddha, as a matter of fact, in a famous dialogue with Vatsagotra had refused to commit himself on the question of the existence of the self.(n.37: SN iv 400. Samyukta 34, 15. cf. AK ix 264-6.)
And here is the Not-self/soteriological strategy that Collins put forth in ’83 and Ṭhānissaro in ’93, which is at best too simplistic and in Ṭhānissaro’s usage, simply wrong. But that is a dead horse already beaten in another discussion here