Non-self

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Non-self

Postby Cilla » Thu Sep 29, 2011 4:33 am

I would like to hear your explanations of what the buddhist concept of non-self is. I am assuming its a concept common to all traditions of buddhism so i am assuming more advanced buddhists here will know what i am talking about and be able to explain it fairly clearly.

If you feel it better to provide a link, would you also humour and provide your own definition since i often find links too long, too convoluted in their explanations or for some other reason, i can't get out of them what the poster wants me to get. If the link is really great that would be good but i am not so good with flowery language. I like things to be clear and precise. Thus i am probably not going to be a very good reader of sutras or suttas and original texts at this point in my learning. Thanks.

Also while i think of it, do the advanced members of this group regularly coming into the discovering buddhism forum to answer our questions or is mainly beginners answering other beginners questions. If so, perhaps i should ask this question in another branch of this forum.
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Re: Non-self

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Sep 29, 2011 4:48 am

Here's a link: http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... natt%C4%81
where the first sentence provides a standard definition:
Anattā: No-self, egolessness, soullessness, impersonality, absence of identity, is the last of the 3 universal characteristics of existence ti-lakkhana [[url]http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Buddhist.Dictionary/dic3_t.htm#ti-lakkhana][/url]. This anattā doctrine, which only is taught by a Buddha, teaches that neither within the bodily, material and mental phenomena of existence, nor outside of them, can be found anything at all, that in the ultimate sense could be regarded as a self-existing, real & same, ego-entity, identity, soul, self or independently existing substance.
...

This definition perhaps sounds a little too much like a "view about non-self" but the key phrase is: "[nothing] can be found". The instruction is to examine experience and see that one cannot find a "self", not to assert by logic that "there is no self" (which would be a view).

:anjali:
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Re: Non-self

Postby Ben » Thu Sep 29, 2011 5:13 am

Hi Cilla

This forum was established so that those new to the tradition could get authoritative responses that are pitched at the level of interest and knowledge of the OP. Hence, replies get cued and need to be approved by the mod/admin team. Those that do not comply with the guidelines for this forum are not approved.

Mike has given you an excellent response regarding your question regarding anatta, in which case I have nothing more to add.
kind regards,

Ben
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saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
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Re: Non-self

Postby nameless » Thu Sep 29, 2011 5:44 am

Expanding on "to examine experience and see that one cannot find a "self", not to assert by logic that "there is no self" (which would be a view). ", I think it is worthwhile looking at what one typically assumes to be 'self', and see the nature of it.

For example, how do you define yourself?
Maybe by your body, your name, your likes or dislikes, your personality, your relationships.

For myself, for example, I realize there's no 'me'-ness in my personality. I don't have this personality because I am me, I have this personality because of a combination of genetics and experiences, and it's entirely possible that if my parents made different decisions I would have ended up a different 'me'. There's no 'self' in me that would have made me end up the same way regardless.

This is one example. Each person I think, has to observe themselves and their sense of self and see what is there (or what is not). Giving you too many examples might just give you more concepts to hold on to. But I think a better way is to just observe. Not even with the intention of finding non-self, but just observing and seeing what things are like.
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Re: Non-self

Postby Cilla » Thu Sep 29, 2011 9:20 am

mikenz66 wrote:Here's a link: http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... natt%C4%81
where the first sentence provides a standard definition:
Anattā: No-self, egolessness, soullessness, impersonality, absence of identity, is the last of the 3 universal characteristics of existence ti-lakkhana [[url]http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Buddhist.Dictionary/dic3_t.htm#ti-lakkhana][/url]. This anattā doctrine, which only is taught by a Buddha, teaches that neither within the bodily, material and mental phenomena of existence, nor outside of them, can be found anything at all, that in the ultimate sense could be regarded as a self-existing, real & same, ego-entity, identity, soul, self or independently existing substance.
...

This definition perhaps sounds a little too much like a "view about non-self" but the key phrase is: "[nothing] can be found". The instruction is to examine experience and see that one cannot find a "self", not to assert by logic that "there is no self" (which would be a view).

:anjali:
Mike


Thanks mike. You see i find that a bit of a tricky thing to get my head around. I am jsut sure there is something much more simple. It doesn't sound like a "view' to me. It sounds like a definition. someones attempt of a definition. It seems to me that this no self thing is a very difficult concept to define that's why i think it always fails to convince me of its being correct.

However, i do believe there is something of value behind it all when the buddha was talking about it. Its just hardly anyone seems to cut to the chase. They make it complicated.

I think the trouble starts when the buddha and those that follow start by trying to say that there should be a stable findable self. To me there is still a self even if its unstable and changeable. I mean you cannot be me. You cannot be like me no matter how hard to try. Only i can be like me. That indicates to me that there is something about me that particular to me and only me. And whatever that is, is my self.

I don't know if the buddha was arguing against a soul. I don't believe in souls. I am extinguished at death. That is also why i have no problem with a concept of self. I think the buddha would have been more accurate to say the self is unstable and changeable and impermanent. But i think he didn't because perhaps he wanted to find something common between us all to unite us - to make us care for each other. To make us care more for each and less for ourselves. I think the motive is good but the conclusion is wrong. That's partly also why i am keen to keep on hearing these defintions of self in case there is one that actually makes sense to me.

I am starting to find one in a zen book i am reading. I mean its not a definition as such but there is an indication that what is meant by no self is an instruction to be selfless. And that is very good. And a very good teaching. But i haven't got to the bottom of that particular teacher has to be say about anything metaphysical or theoretical. But he is a master i can say that. But as he's from zen i won't go on about him.
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Re: Non-self

Postby Cilla » Thu Sep 29, 2011 9:21 am

Ben wrote:Hi Cilla

This forum was established so that those new to the tradition could get authoritative responses that are pitched at the level of interest and knowledge of the OP. Hence, replies get cued and need to be approved by the mod/admin team. Those that do not comply with the guidelines for this forum are not approved.

Mike has given you an excellent response regarding your question regarding anatta, in which case I have nothing more to add.
kind regards,

Ben


Ben i am not sure what prompted you to make this reply. Was it something i said?
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Re: Non-self

Postby Cilla » Thu Sep 29, 2011 9:32 am

nameless wrote:Expanding on "to examine experience and see that one cannot find a "self", not to assert by logic that "there is no self" (which would be a view). ", I think it is worthwhile looking at what one typically assumes to be 'self', and see the nature of it.

For example, how do you define yourself?
Maybe by your body, your name, your likes or dislikes, your personality, your relationships.

For myself, for example, I realize there's no 'me'-ness in my personality. I don't have this personality because I am me, I have this personality because of a combination of genetics and experiences, and it's entirely possible that if my parents made different decisions I would have ended up a different 'me'. There's no 'self' in me that would have made me end up the same way regardless.

This is one example. Each person I think, has to observe themselves and their sense of self and see what is there (or what is not). Giving you too many examples might just give you more concepts to hold on to. But I think a better way is to just observe. Not even with the intention of finding non-self, but just observing and seeing what things are like.


But i do think there is a me=ness in you. I think its hard to identify in yourself. But i am sure other people who know you well have no difficulty in identifying teh me-ness in you. I mean lests say by magic, you your personality quirks, style of thinking and speech were to be put into another body. I am sure those who know you would recognise you just as if someone else were in your body, they would recognise your body. YOu are the whole package. you are your body, you thoughts, your styles of speech adn movement, your genetics, your health, your past and your future. You are not sharable. you are not reducible. YOu are you and that is yourself. You are a complex thing. YOu can lose and arm and still be you but you are you are then you without your arm. Losing your arm would be part of you. I think the whole problem was begun because of poor philosophical thinking in the first place.

I think it began because people believed in souls and knew nothing about genetics. Of course people have always recognised that we are in many ways like our parents and that there are family traits and such. But its odd how these philosophies don't concern themselves with that. That's because these philosophies are overly concerned with the world of the sprit and the afterlife and not concerned enough with life on earth.

I think its been a great mistake in the history of philosophy eastern and western and a great shame.

Another thing that kept everyone on their toes is the elusive thing called consciousness. Scientists are getting close to it but they still haven't got the whole picture. Consciousness one of lifes greatest mysteries still but i believe it is solveable. I believe that one day and perhaps fairly soon, we will know what causes consciousness to jump start.

But back to no self. If anyone still has a better clearer definition of no self i'd still be glad to hear it.

As the first person says not being able to find a self is the key point. So perhaps there is no more to be said about it. If that's the case, then that's quite helpful.

Also one last point. People here use the word view because it seems to me that the word view is used in books. But in our everyday language we use the word opinion more comfortably. I think its a better word to use than view and it basically means the same thing. Some times, often actually, i think the problem i have with understanding posts and texts is word choice. People don't use the obvious common word the words we all use most comfortably. I wonder why that is.
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Re: Non-self

Postby befriend » Thu Sep 29, 2011 9:46 am

to me there are atleast three ways i can think of that describe non self. your are not in control of your body or a lot of things, you dont say hey i will grow old and get cancer now, the body does that automatically, that is an aspect of non self. impermanence is seeing non self, because how can anything be self if everything is impermanent. and also the nature of the mind is not self or personality the nature of the mind is empty. if the nature of the mind wasnt empty how could you think a thought? for example how could earth exist if there was not outer space, how could you put things in a bowl if the bowl was not hollow. it is emptiness which gives room for anything to happen, because it is wide open space. metta -Befriend
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Re: Non-self

Postby daverupa » Thu Sep 29, 2011 11:25 am

nameless wrote: I think it is worthwhile looking at what one typically assumes to be 'self'


It's better to see precisely what sort of atta is that to which the Buddha refers.

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=3167&p=150385#p144836
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Non-self

Postby Prasadachitta » Thu Sep 29, 2011 5:55 pm

Hello Cilla,

Im going to say something which is pretty much in line with what others have said. Not because its any more accurate but because it may shed a bit more light on the topic.

There is a sutta (Historical record of what the Buddha said) were the Buddha talks about identifying what is not self (annata). He directs the attention of his student towards five categories. These five categories divide up all the components of our unfolding experience. Here are the categories:

1)Form
This is the subjective texture of experience. It could be further divided into the types of sensation or elements of experience like hardness, Fluidity, motion, heat, etc etc.

2)Fealing
This is the preferential tones which accompany experience. They fall into three categories: Pleasant, Painful, and Neither Pleasant not Painful.

3)Perception
This is the identifying at every level which picks out particular details of and interprets experience.

4)Metal Fabrications
This is a hard one to get at but in this context I think its best understood as volitional predispositions in action.

5)Consiousness
This is the objectifying aspect of attention which is constantly projecting a subject in relation to an object.

The Buddha points out that if these components don't meet certain criteria they should not be regarded as a self. So he is asking us to systematically look into our experience using the categories above to see if they meet these criteria. That way we will begin to have a more appropriate understanding of how to regard our experience.

These criteria are:

1) It is not conducive to dis-ease.
2) We are able to will it to be as we wish it to be.
3) It is constant or without fluctuation.

So...

We look into these five aspects of experience and we find that they are not constant and that we cannot consistently will them to be as we like. In short they are conducive to dis-ease and it is not appropriate to regard any part or combination of them as a self. When we begin to see this clearly we will become ever more calm, patient, kind, and compassionate. We will become disenchanted with any goals other than those connected with releasing beings from suffering and stress.

This is all from the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.059.than.html

I hope it helps

Take care

Prasadachitta
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Re: Non-self

Postby Cilla » Fri Sep 30, 2011 10:17 am

Oh dear! dave rupa it would have been more helpful to give me a quote not a whole library. I am not inclined to read all those links. My studies will take a long while that's for sure and I will get around to studying the original texts but i am not quite ready to plough all that lot.

befriend, I find it a little difficult to follow what you are saying but reading the last posters post i start to get it. But it makes me start to think that the self has lost the battle right from the start because of the way the buddha has tried to define it.

Now let me look at what Prasad says since i think his post is probably the most useful to me. I mean not to offend anyone, but that it actually gives me something i can chew on and which is fairly clear. so let me see.

Im going to say something which is pretty much in line with what others have said. Not because its any more accurate but because it may shed a bit more light on the topic.

There is a sutta (Historical record of what the Buddha said) were the Buddha talks about identifying what is not self (annata). He directs the attention of his student towards five categories. These five categories divide up all the components of our unfolding experience. Here are the categories:

1)Form
This is the subjective texture of experience. It could be further divided into the types of sensation or elements of experience like hardness, Fluidity, motion, heat, etc etc.


The subjective texture of experience - what is that exactly? It surely isn't fluidity motion heat etc. Subjective experience means my experience as i experience it. It is subjective. You can't experience my experience because you aren't me. It is particular to me. But being an experience, it certainly is not me and it is not my self. But it is part of my self i think. Or it becomes part of my self. It affects my self. It helps bring change to my self. You see i have no problem with the fact that the self changes and is impermanent. So then the subjective texture of my experience - texture is a hard word to define here. I know what is meant but i can't find other words but i know it has nothing to do with those examples given. And that is the thing too isn't it. Good writers are good at describing the subjective texture of experience, be it their own or their characters. Bad writers are not good at it. Most people are not good writers so most people can not articulate very well the subjective texture of their experience. Its always going to be a partial and limited explanation if one is to try to convey it ot someone else. Suffice to say that the subejctive texture of your own experience can only be fully understood and felt by your own self. No one else can get the whole picture.

2)Fealing
This is the preferential tones which accompany experience. They fall into three categories: Pleasant, Painful, and Neither Pleasant not Painful.


I know what feeling is. These are also part of the self but they are not the whole self. They are fleeting its true. they are not a permanent part of experience but they often do recur don't they. I read some useful thing about pleasant unpleasant and neutral feelings today. Of course we know in hte modern world that htere are more than these three feeling states but this is jsut a general classification. No we wouldn't ordinary say that our feelings constitute our self. But they are part of our experience so therefore i would say they are part of what makes up our self.

3)Perception
This is the identifying at every level which picks out particular details of and interprets experience.


Yes my perception is part of my experience i think. What i perceive is not always the same as what you can perceive. My ability to perceive is not necessarily the same either. You could be blind for example so you wouldn't be able to see what i can. But anyone who can see what i see can therefore perceive what i perceive. and then...But no perception does not interpret experience. Interpretation i think is part of mental fabrication. To perceive is to feel, see, hear, touch, taste, smell and sometimes also to intuit.

4)Metal Fabrications
This is a hard one to get at but in this context I think its best understood as volitional predispositions in action.


Mental fabrications are not a hard one for me. These are our intepretations of what we perceive. For example, if we see a hollow round white object on a flat board. I might say its a cup. Someone else might say its a bowl. For me who believes its a cup i would think i could drink out of it. for the person who interprets it as a bowl, they might also eat out of it. Or they might use to store things in. That is very basic. But this type of mental fabrication is conceptualisation. We name things. But mental fabrications are also fanatasies. And then all manner of personal mental tricks that modern psychologists have analysed very well such as denial, rationalisation, projeciton and so on. Mental fabrications are what we do in our minds with what we perceive. Its how we think about things. These are very very personal. They are very subjective and mostly lacking in objectivity.

5)Consiousness
This is the objectifying aspect of attention which is constantly projecting a subject in relation to an object.


I am not sure what you mean here. Sometimes i myself am not sure what is meant by consciousness. To me it means to be aware of myself and to be awake in the ordinary meaning of hte word. IT gives me trouble when scientists say that animals don't have consciousness because i think they are almost as much aware of themselvse as we are of ourselves. Certainy they are not robots. They can make choices and have feelings. they are not asleep either. Consciousness itself is not our self but without consciousness we would be dead.

The Buddha points out that if these components don't meet certain criteria they should not be regarded as a self. So he is asking us to systematically look into our experience using the categories above to see if they meet these criteria. That way we will begin to have a more appropriate understanding of how to regard our experience.


These criteria are:

1) It is not conducive to dis-ease.
2) We are able to will it to be as we wish it to be.
3) It is constant or without fluctuation.


How does he arrive at these criteria? Are they trustworthy? ie why should it be constant and unchanging. Why must the self be permanent and non changeable. Perhaps this is where the problem lies for me. Perhaps these criteria are not great criteria for describing what a self is.

So yes none of these things alone seem to me to constitute a self. But i think they are part of the self. The self is definitely a tricky creature whatever it is.

I Hesitate to try to give a definition myself since i have only just begun thinking about what a self might be and the fact that the buddha doesn't think we even have one. But i am familiar with thinking about the concept of self in terms of psychology since i used to read a lot of psychology books and psychologists are very concerned with the self.
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Re: Non-self

Postby nameless » Fri Sep 30, 2011 12:54 pm

I mean lests say by magic, you your personality quirks, style of thinking and speech were to be put into another body. I am sure those who know you would recognise you


I would think realistically, those who know me would just think this is a different person who is just oddly similar to me. If someone behaved oddly similar to one of your friends but looked obviously different, would you think that 'hey, that must be my friend in a different body'?

But nitpicking aside I understand what you are saying. I have certain characteristics, and it is possible to recognize this group of characteristics as me. And it is a unique group of conditions including body and whatever, that is only identifiable as me. I'm not denying that.

What I'm asking is, where do these characteristics come from? Is there some essential me-ness that would have given rise to the same characteristics no matter what happened in my life? My answer is no. If I went to a different school, had different friends, had different physical/mental conditions, I would be a different me. That's what I mean by there's no me-ness.

I think non-self is useful to contemplate suffering, and maybe not try to understand or accept as a concept. Following up on the example, we attach to a me-ness, for example, my personality is to be angry at situation A, and if I attach to that, whenever situation A comes up I HAVE TO get angry, and I say that, hey, that's my personality, if you know it you shouldn't create situation A. But if I see it as just the way I've been conditioned, it is easier to uncondition myself.
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Re: Non-self

Postby Kenshou » Fri Sep 30, 2011 6:12 pm

daverupa wrote:
nameless wrote: I think it is worthwhile looking at what one typically assumes to be 'self'


It's better to see precisely what sort of atta is that to which the Buddha refers.

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=29&t=3167&p=150385#p144836
While this is true, I think it's also clear that the aim is the ending of all forms of "I am", with the Vedic atman being one particularly worth refuting often since at the time it was such a prevalent idea. The view of an impermanent, stressful "I" would not be good either and doesn't fall under that category, though it might be a little closer to the truth.
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Re: Non-self

Postby Prasadachitta » Fri Sep 30, 2011 8:11 pm

Cilla wrote...
But i do think there is a me=ness in you. I think its hard to identify in yourself. But i am sure other people who know you well have no difficulty in identifying teh me-ness in you. I mean lests say by magic, you your personality quirks, style of thinking and speech were to be put into another body. I am sure those who know you would recognise you just as if someone else were in your body, they would recognise your body. YOu are the whole package. you are your body, you thoughts, your styles of speech adn movement, your genetics, your health, your past and your future. You are not sharable. you are not reducible. YOu are you and that is yourself. You are a complex thing. YOu can lose and arm and still be you but you are you are then you without your arm. Losing your arm would be part of you. I think the whole problem was begun because of poor philosophical thinking in the first place.


Hello Cilla,

This is an introductory part of the forum so Im not sure if I should continue to address your opinions . The Mods will make the choice.

However, It appears to me that what you call "me=Ness" is the unique combinations of qualities and experience that we can perceive. I think this is a bit of a red herring. In other words it has little to do with the observation that there is not an unchanging "Me=ness". You can observe what you call a "Me=ness" and ask yourself "is it stable?" "is it reliably under my control?" Sure, it is an amazing and wonderful mystery that we have a unique experience which changes all the time. But, how does being amazed and dumbfounded at the complexity and uniqueness of individual experience help us relieve the stress and suffering of our impending loss of all that we hold dear? I think the problem goes much farther back than poor philosophical thinking.

Take care

Prasadachitta
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332
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