Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Tue Jun 09, 2009 10:09 am

My understanding is that sunnata is the basis for anatta. But what is actually the difference between them?

Rick
User avatar
Spiny O'Norman
 
Posts: 851
Joined: Sat May 23, 2009 8:46 am
Location: Suffolk, England

Re: Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jun 09, 2009 10:29 am

Hi Rick

In Theravada suññatā refers only to anattā, unlike in Mahayana...
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... dic3_s.htm
Suñña: adj., Suññatā: noun: void ness, empty emptiness. As a doctrinal term it refers, in Theravāda, exclusively to the anattā doctrine,.i.e. the unsubstantiality of all phenomena:;Void is the world... because it is void of a self and anything belonging to a self; suññam attena vā attaniyena vā S. XXXV, 85; also stated of the 5 groups of existence khandha in the same text. See also M. 43, M. 106. - In CNidd. quoted in Vis.M XXI, 55, it is said:,Eye... mind, visual objects... mental-objects, visual consciousness... mind-consciousness, materiality... consciousness, etc., are void of self and anything belonging to a self; void of permanency and of anything lasting, eternal or immutable.. They are coreless: without a core of permanency, or core of happiness or core of self.; - In M. 121, the voiding of the mind of the fermentations, in the attainment of Arahatship, is regarded as the;fully purified and incomparably highest concept of voidness. - See Sn. v. 1119; M. 121; M. 122 WHEEL 87; Pts.M. II: Suñña-kathā; Vis.M XXI, 53ff.

Suttas: M121, 122
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


Mike
Last edited by mikenz66 on Tue Jun 09, 2009 10:34 am, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10280
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Jun 09, 2009 10:32 am

In Theravada suññatā refers only to anattā, unlike in Mahayana...


But do not forget that all dhammas are anatta.
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
User avatar
tiltbillings
 
Posts: 19404
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jun 09, 2009 10:37 am

tiltbillings wrote:
In Theravada suññatā refers only to anattā, unlike in Mahayana...


But do not forget that all dhammas are anatta.

Of course, but as I understand it Mahayana goes further than emptiness of self.
A succinct explanation of the difference from someone knowledgeable would be helpful...

Metta
Mike
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10280
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Jun 09, 2009 10:43 am

Essentially, the Mahayanist like to say that they teach emptiness of self and dharmas. The Theravadin looks at him (or her) and sighs, stating quitely: "Been there done that." What the Mahayanists do is very directly tie paticcasamuppada to emptiness.
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
User avatar
tiltbillings
 
Posts: 19404
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby Individual » Wed Jun 10, 2009 1:32 am

mikenz66 wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
In Theravada suññatā refers only to anattā, unlike in Mahayana...


But do not forget that all dhammas are anatta.

Of course, but as I understand it Mahayana goes further than emptiness of self.
A succinct explanation of the difference from someone knowledgeable would be helpful...

Metta
Mike

Mahayana does not go further than "emptiness of atta", but rather, it understands atta\atman differently. It interprets atta more broadly as "identity" (applying to both personal object, that is, people, and impersonal objects, like chunks of rock) rather than simply narrowly as "personhood" (applying only to people, to sentient beings). So, anatta in Mahayana is a "lack of intrinsic identity of anything" (a rejection of svabhava, literally own-being or own-existence), whereas Theravadins interpret anatta as the mere non-existence of personhood, and their Abhidhamma is more or less materialistic and realist in treating mental qualities as derivatives of the four physical elements (earth, fire, air, water), which are paramatha, or "ultimate". It would be a distortion to conflate the Mahayana position with nihilism or non-realism.

So, for a Theravadin, anatta means, "I have no self\soul\personhood\status as an agent. You have no self, etc.. We have no self.. Nobody has a self, etc.. The self's existence is not exactly rejected, but no self can be found anywhere, so it cannot be said to exist." For a Mahayanist, anatta means, "I have no self, etc.," but this means, "I have no self-nature," and so, also, "Tree has no tree-nature. Rock has no rock-nature. Television has no television-nature. America has no America-nature" etc.. Everything completely lacks intrinsic identity.

One Mahayana cosmology illustrates its notion of emptiness and its distinction from non-realism by means of an analogy: Indra's net. Indra's net is described as a net of jewels which stretches out infinitely in all directions. Each jewel has no color of its own. Each jewel's bright glowing color is merely a reflection of every other jewel in the net.

This is a description of what it means to say that the world is empty: No sentient being, but also no object at all, has any identity of its own, no independent existence. This is because of dependent-origination; all existence is causally dependent (an "independent" causal force is the definition of an agent, a self). Each object, whether it's a sentient being or not, is impermanent and is defined by an infinite set of causal relations among which a beginning or end cannot be found -- like a single jewel among a never-ending sea of jewels, which each reflects one another.
The best things in life aren't things.

The Diamond Sutra
Individual
 
Posts: 1970
Joined: Mon Jan 12, 2009 2:19 am

Re: Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jun 10, 2009 4:24 am

literally own-being or own-existence), whereas Theravadins interpret anatta as the mere non-existence of personhood, and their Abhidhamma is more or less materialistic and realist in treating mental qualities as derivatives of the four physical elements (earth, fire, air, water), which are paramatha, or "ultimate".


Things probably are not quite that simple.

Nanamoli in a footnote in his PATH OF PURIFICATION, pages 317-8, states: "In the Pitakas the word sabhaava seems to appear only once...," it appears several times in Milindapanha, and it is used quite a bit in the PoP and it commentaries. He states it often roughly corresponds to dhaatu, element and to lakkhana, characteristic. An interesting passage from the PoP reads:

"On the contrary, before their rise [the bases, aayatana] they had no individual essence [sabhaava], and after their fall their individual essence are completely dissolved. And they occur without mastery [being exercisable over them] since they exist in dependence on conditions and in between the past and the future." Page 551 XV 15.

Nyanaponika quotes a sub-commentary to an Abhidhamma text: "There is no other thing than the quality borne by it." (na ca dhaariyamma-sabhaavaa an~n~o dhammo naama atthi). Abhidhamma Studies, page 40. Which is to say: We cannot simply say a dhamma is..., because a dharma, in fact, ‘is’ no thing, yet a term denoting (not being) a certain relation or type of relation to thought, consciousness or mind. That is, dharma is not a concept in the accepted terminological sense of the latter, but a purely relational notion. -- Piatigorsky, THE BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY OF THOUGHT, page 181.

Harvey in his excellent INTRODUCTION TO BUDDHISM, page 97, states in reference to the Mahayana critique of the Abhidharma (of the Sarvastivadins): "That is, seeing a dharma as an ultimate building block of reality, with an inherent nature of its 'own', is to hold that it can be identified without reference to other dharmas on which it depends. This implies that it can exist independently, making it a virtual self."

Harvey characterizes the Theravadin position, page 87: "'They are dhammas because they uphold their own nature [sabhaava]. They are dhammas because they are upheld by conditions or they are upheld according to their own nature' (Asl.39). Here 'own-nature' would mean characteristic nature, which is not something inherent in a dhamma as a separate ultimate reality, but arise due to the supporting conditions both of other dhammas and previous occurrences of that dhamma. This is of significance as it makes the Mahayana critique of the Sarvastivadin's notion of own-nature largely irrelevant to the Theravada."

Warder, in INDIAN BUDDHISM, page 323, discussing the Pali Abhidhamma commentarial literature, states: "The most significant new idea in the commentaries is the definition of a 'principle' or element (dharma): dharmas are what have (or 'hold', 'maintain', dhr. is the nearest equivalent in the language to the English 'have') their own own-nature (svabhaava). It is added that they naturally have this through conditions."

By arranging the mental factors in relational groups a subordinate synthetical element has been introduced into the mainly analytical Dhammasangani. By so doing, the danger inherent in purely analytical methods is avoided. This danger consists in erroneously taking for genuine separate entities the “parts” resulting from analysis, instead of restricting their use to sound practical method with the purpose of classifying and dissolving composite events wrongly conceived as unities. Up to the present time it has been a regular occurrence in the history of physics, metaphysics, and psychology that when the “whole” has been successfully dissolved by analysis, the resultant “parts” themselves come in turn to be regarded as little “wholes.” Nyanaponika ABHIDHAMMA STUDIES, page 41 BPS; page 42 Wisdom.


In the Pali tradition it is only for the sake of definition and description that each dhamma is postulated as if it were a separate entity; but in reality it is by no means a solitary phenomenon having an existence of its own. . . . If this Abhidhammic view of existence, as seen from its doctrine of dhammas, cannot be interpreted as a radical pluralism, neither can it be interpreted as an out-and-out monism. For what are called dhammas -- the component factors of the universe, both within us and outside us -- are not fractions of an absolute unity but a multiplicity of co-ordinate factors. They are not reducible to, nor do they emerge from, a single reality, the fundamental postulate of monistic metaphysics. If they are to be interpreted as phenomena, this should be done with the proviso that they are phenomena with no corresponding noumena, no hidden underlying ground. For they are not manifestations of some mysterious metaphysical substratum, but processes taking place due to the interplay of a multitude of conditions. Prof. Dr. Y. Karunadasa, THE DHAMMA THEORY, page 9.


Dhammas are "ultimate things" only as a way of talking aspects of the relational flow of experience, not in terms of describing static realities. In other words, dhammas are empty of self.
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
User avatar
tiltbillings
 
Posts: 19404
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:25 am

Re: Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Jun 10, 2009 7:49 am

Thanks Tilt, I must read that book again, it's great:
Up to the present time it has been a regular occurrence in the history of physics, metaphysics, and psychology that when the “whole” has been successfully dissolved by analysis, the resultant “parts” themselves come in turn to be regarded as little “wholes.” Nyanaponika ABHIDHAMMA STUDIES, page 41 BPS; page 42 Wisdom.

Luckily we've made a little progress in getting over that since 1949 (which is about when people like Feynman, Schwinger, etc, really got a good grasp of quantum fields) but it's very difficult to shake off the idea that the theories we use to explain the experiments are just fancy versions of building blocks. Actually Feynman did us no favours by inventing his clever diagrams, which generation after generation of physicists (and especially non-physicists) reify, forgetting that they are just a cunning way to calculate a whole mess of multi-dimensional integrals... :thinking:

Actually, I just realised that this book is available on-line: http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/abhistudy.pdf
Silly me, I keep having to fetch it from the library...

Mike
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10280
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Wed Jun 10, 2009 12:40 pm

Thanks for the interesting contributions. I agree with the idea that the Mayahana broadened the scope of anatta out from the person, although it seems to me this general application of the principle is implied in the "not-self" teaching, and so isn't a giant leap. I'm still not clear what the difference is between anatta and sunnata ( or sunyata ), since both appear to be based on dependent arising. Perhaps sunnata comprises both anatta and anicca?

Rick
User avatar
Spiny O'Norman
 
Posts: 851
Joined: Sat May 23, 2009 8:46 am
Location: Suffolk, England

Re: Anatta and sunnata - what's the difference?

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Jun 11, 2009 2:16 am

Greetings Rick,

Rick O'Shez wrote: Perhaps sunnata comprises both anatta and anicca?


That's how I understand it.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
 
Posts: 14656
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia


Return to General Theravāda discussion

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: GengisAmon, Google [Bot], Khalil Bodhi, Nicolas, Sam Vara, SamKR, Zenainder and 11 guests